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June 2005 Message from Dan

Greetings Readers, Friends, and Other Visitors:

My new novel OLYMPOS, to be released in bookstores in late June along with the mass market paperback version of ILIUM which tells the first part of that epic tale, has been chosen as a Main Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club.

This pleases me because I know that some people come to SF – whether one translates those two letters as “science fiction” or “speculative fiction” – first or primarily through the SF Book Club. I hope they find OLYMPOS to their liking.

Ellen Asher from the Book Club later sent me the following invitation –

What we’re looking for is a personal note from you to our members. I want to stress “personal;” we’re not looking for a blurb or sell copy. But it can say anything you like: about the book, about science fiction, about writing, about yourself, or about anything else you think might interest them. It should be about 1425 characters long (including spaces) -- that's a maximum, of course; you needn't feel obliged to write that much. We'll use it in our magazine when we offer the book, and we'll also put it on our website. We also might use it (or a bit of it) in later promotions of the book.

Have you ever tried to write anything to a precise length? Specifically, to a length of 1425 characters, (including spaces?) It’s sort of a fun challenge. Of course, Ms. Asher said that this was the maximum length, that I could write the piece at any shorter length – speaking in number of characters – but it’s more fun to try to get as close to 1425 characters (including spaces) as possible.

This also reminds me of my old days with OMNI when my editor and dear friend Ellen Datlow would phone me – this was pre-e-mail – and say, “Advertising has sold a larger ad so on the last page of your story you’ll have to cut the last three lines by precisely 29 characters!”

And so I did. I can’t remember if we counted spaces as characters there but I presume so. Ah, the life of an artiste.

For those who are interested in how the SF Book Club hello to readers turned out, here it is in full. It seems appropriate to post it now on the very eve of the publication of the HarperCollins Eos edition of the novel. (If you’re an SF Book Club member and don’t want the surprise spoiled, just jump over all the following italicized paragraphs) –

     To anyone contemplating becoming a writer, especially a novelist, I would recommend this quote from Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowls – “The lif so short, the craft so long to lerne.”

     Not only is a writer’s craft never fully mastered, but merely deciding to embark upon two such epic novels as my Ilium and Olympos – requiring more than three years of research, obsessive reading, and constant writing – is the writer’s equivalent of Melville’s Ishmael in Moby Dick setting sail on a 19th-Century whaler for a multi-year voyage around the world through turbulent seas toward an uncertain destination.

     Is the voyage worth it? Is any voyage which takes up several years of one’s life worth it? In the case of Ilium and Olympos, readers and time will have the ultimate word on that question, but from the author’s point of view, the verdict is already in. What would-be novelists might not know about such projects is the deep pleasure the writer takes in immersing himself or herself in such a universe for a sustained period of time: in this case, the joy of relearning Homer’s Iliad in many of its brilliant translations, the treasure-hunt challenge of hundreds of quests into the geography of Mars or the physics of Calabi-Yau space or the works of Robert Browning or Proust or Shakespeare, the meeting and long conversations with scores of characters who remain in the author’s mind and heart years after parting with them.

     But how does one decide to embark on such a journey? To answer that I would commend the would-be writer to a quote by Horace – Dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude: Incipe – “To have begun is to be half done; dare to know; start!”

Of course, even with the greeting to readers, this didn’t come out exactly to 1425 characters (including spaces). My computer counted 1418.

As I write this, I’m packing to leave on a weeklong road trip in the morning, driving from Colorado back to my alma mater, Wabash College, in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Besides being a reunion (Class of ’70), I’ve been invited to give a short talk and reading from OLYMPOS. This will be the first public reading from that book and – as with most first-readings –won’t be very polished. But it should be fun.

Along with the reunion and reading, I look forward to seeing old friends such as Keith Nightenhelser (a classics professor who appears as a character in ILIUM and OLYMPOS), and head of the Wabash Religion Department Bill Placher (who has part of a planet named after him in HYPERION), and head of Publications Steve Charles (ask him about the toga he wears while playing his bongos), and President of the College Andy Ford (who ends up as a FORCE Lieutenant in one of the Hyperion novels) and theology professor David Blix (who has appeared in some small role in one of my novels but who will have a larger one in a book yet to come.)

I also look forward to speaking to some students – one just graduated, one just finishing his junior year – who were chosen last year and this year for the Wabash Hockenberry Writing Fellowship, a summer internship following the student’s junior year wherein the young man (Wabash is an all-male college) is expected to write fiction through the summer while his expenses and lodging are covered and he receives some walking-around money. I funded this project five years ago to support excellence in writing at Wabash and I named it the Hockenberry Award after my undergraduate friend Duane Hockenberry (Class of ’70), who was a gentleman, a scholar, a fine young writer, and my rival at producing fiction for four years. We always wondered which of us – or if either of us – would ever turn out to be a real writer.

Duane won’t be at this reunion; he was brutally murdered two years after our commencement in 1970.

He would have been a fine writer. He was a fine writer. I have fading copies of my 1969-1970 underground college newspaper/literary journal, The Satyr, with Duane Hockenberry fiction in it that will prove that point.

We young men in that war-ravaged spring of 1970 knew that the coming years would be one hell of a journey, but none of us knew the twists and turns and terrible dead-ends some of those journeys would bring. One never does. Commencement speakers always prattle on about such things – “life as a journey,” “beginning a new stage of your life,” etc. At Wabash we honor a 173-year-old tradition of allowing only a graduating senior to speak at commencement – no VIPs or graying alums or politicians or comedians. The senior class chooses one of their own to give the commencement address.

In 1970, that young man was my friend William Placher (now, as I mentioned, head of the Wabash Religion Department and an internationally known theologian.) No clichés in Bill Placher’s speech that beautiful May day in 1970. It was simply one of the finest talks I’ve ever heard in my life. Near the end, Bill compared our coming journey – out into the world in that Vietnam and counter-culture riddled year – to the then-recent film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Sure, the two heroes get shot full of lead at the end of the film, Placher pointed out, but by God they had a great time along the way. And when Sundance refused to leap off the 200-foot cliff into the raging river because he couldn’t swim, Butch reassured him with – “Don’t worry. Hell, the fall alone will probably kill you!”

That was our attitude then and it worked pretty well for most of us. Not so well for others.

So, if asked to say anything, what will I say to the young Wabash Hockenberry Fellows and other student-writers I meet there this week? I’ll say – Dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude: Incipe – “To have begun is to be half done; dare to know; start!”

Hell, the fall alone will probably kill you.



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