It was too coldl to sit in the yard, so David A. Drake had been working on the sun porch. A Christmas tree, with a lone piece of silver tinsel, was propped in a corner. The picnic table was cluttered with photographs and guidebooks to Istanbul, Turkey, where his latest book is set. There was a thermos of hot tea to the side, and the writer sat in the middle, pen poised.
But he wasn't working. His workday ended at noon. Outside, his two motorcycles were covered with snow, and Drake planned to spend the afternoon writing to friends.
"Plots are cheap," said the fantasy and science fiction writer, who will be a guest panelist this weekend at the ChimeraCon convention at the University of North Carolina. "Characters are people you meet every day. The difficult part of writing is the development of the idea. The writing is months and months of hard work, and there's no way around that."
But Drake, who has 11 books in print, two in the hands of publishers, and seven under contract to be written, isn't afraid of hard work. About 50 of his short works were published in magazines and anthologies while he was assistant town attorney for Chapel Hill from 1972 to 1980. In 1980, he left law to drive a bus part time so he could spend more time writing. "I made even more the first year writing than I had as a lawyer, so I quit driving the bus also," he said.
But being his own boss has not affected Drake's discipline. He starts writing at 7 AM and each day and doesn't stop until he has 1,000 to 1,500 words of rough draft, which is usually about noon. "I work," Drake said. "I work seven days a week. I don't have an artistic temperament. Nobody expected me not to show up for work when I was a lawyer, and I don't expect not to work now that I'm not a lawyer."
Evidence of his dedication made a colorful wall display. The book jackets on one wall of the living room represent a variety of science fiction and fantasy literature. "It's a mix," Drake said of his writing. Time Safari is a time travel book. Dragon Lord, of course, is an Arthurian myth. Sky Ripper is a somewhat science fictionalized present-day spy novel. Forlorn Hope is strictly space fantasy. Killer (written with Karl Edward Wagner) is set in Rome in 91 A.D. Across the Stars is far planet. Active Measures (written with Janet Morris) is a near-future suspense thriller, you know, set in 1995. Birds of Prey is set on Earth in 262 A.D."
Drake also edited Window of Opportunity, a high-tech, political book by US Rep. Newt Gingrich, the conservative Republican congressman from Georgia. But Drake said that he probably will not edit any more books for politicians. "It's sort of like the way I feel about 'Nam," said Drake, who spent 1970 in Southeast Asia. "It gave me something to write about, but damn if I want to go back there."
Drake didn't expect to publish so much so quickly. "I'm just flabbergasted," he said. "I didn't think there was a living in it for me. But it's just incredibly easy...in fact, there's so much money in it, you know, that's the icing on the cake."
The icing may be the money, but the cake is certainly the freedom writing affords. Travel. Time with his wife, Joanne, and their 12-year-old son Jonathan. "I'm working 20-hour weeks. I'm getting paid two to three times as much as I ever was with the town as a lawyer. I get to travel. I get to meet interesting, worthwhile people. I get to live any place I please...I'm in a situation where I can dump a publisher if I have to, and I'm in a situation where I can give back any advance I've ever gotten. No problem. It doesn't change what I do or how I intend to do it, but the level of freedom is something that you never have if you're working for somebody else. And that's real. That's very real."
"There are easier ways to make money that writing, although God knows I haven't found any."
No, the writers' creations haven't come to life. Most of the fantastic creatures will be ordinary earthlings underneath. "Most" is appropriate, because, well, you never know. With about 200 fantasy and science fiction fanatics descending on the Carolina Union, there's no telling who might show up.
ChimeraCon II, a convention sponsored by Chimera, UNC's fantasy and science fiction club, will bring 12 North Carolina writers and critics to campus Saturday and Sunday. Lectures, panel discussions, movies, games, a cantina and an art show all will focus on fantasy and science fiction.
Some things are given. A science fiction convention would not be complete without old "Star Trek" episodes and vintage movies such as "I Married a Monster from Outer Space", "The Man Who Fell to Earth", and "Wolfen". Many have art shows and games. And almost every "con" (that's science fiction fan's lingo for convention) has "some girl running around in a metal bikini," said Danny R. Reid, who founded Chimera in 1981 when he was a physics student at UNC.
But ChimeraCon is different in that it has a hefty pool of local talent. Recruiting the guest speakers was the easy part, said Dorothy M. Wright, a December graduate of UNC and convention manager. "The Triangle has about 10 established science fiction and fantasy writers," she said.
"Its a Bermuda Triangle, I think," said Karl Edward Wagner, one of those writers and ChimeraCon's Guest of Honor. "(The area) sucks minds in." Wagner, who is most known for his stories about the dark hero Kane, came to UNC's medical school in 1970 to be near science fiction great Manly Wade Wellman, who will also be at the convention. Wagner never left Chapel Hill, and after a year's residency at John Umpstead Hospital in Butner, he gave up his psychiatry career to write full-time.
Fifteen years and 24 books later, Wagner will be the keynote speaker at Chimera's second fantasy and science fiction convention. In his address Saturday, Wagner, who is writing the Conan III screenplay for producer Dino De Laurentiis, said he will talk about what it's like to write for a living. He also will participate in several panel discussions with other authors, including Wellman, John Kessel of Raleigh, David Drake of Chapel Hill, and Orson Scott Card and M.A. Foster of Greensboro.
Science fiction attracts fans like no other genre of literature.
Reid agreed. "Some people are attracted to it in a superficial way," he said. "They like gizmos, they like shiny gadgets or they might like dragons or unicorns...Other people are interested in it just as English majors are interested in literature as a whole. I'm interested in the literature primarily as a by-product of my interest in science and technology as a whole."
Registration for ChimeraCon begins Saturday at 10:30 AM in the Carolina Union. Cost is $5 for both days or $2.50 for one day. Call Danny Reid at 962-8503 days or Dorothy Wright at 847-3644 nights.