2012 Snapshot Archive: Dave Freer

First published at David McDonald’s blog.

Dave Freer is former marine biologist (an ichthyologist) who now lives on an island off the coast of Australia. Besides writing a lot of books and short stories he is a diver and a rock-climber and perpetually has his nose in a book when he’s not doing those three things. With his wife, Barbara, two dogs, three cats, three chickens, and other transient rescued wildlife, they’ve lived a sort of “chaotic self-sufficiency and adventures” life, sort of down the lines of the Swiss Family Robinson, only with many more disasters. He also has two sons and a daughter-in-law who will all tell you he hasn’t grown up very much.

A lot of Dave’s time has been spent (and still is) in small boats, or in water that no one in their right mind would get into, full of everything (sometimes entirely too close) from hippopotami (in Africa) to sharks (he was the chief scientist working on the commercial shark fishery in the Western Cape, once upon a time) and lots of interesting creatures like the blue-ringed octopus and poison-spined gurnard perch.

He’s written a slew of fantasy and science fiction novels, some with Eric Flint; being a scientist, he likes the strange creatures and machines he comes up with to work. His last book DOG AND DRAGON came out from Baen in April, and his next CUTTLEFISH from Pyr in July.

You can find out quite a lot more on http://davefreer.com/

You have a very unique place of residence, you describe it as “a remote island in the middle of the Bass strait, only reachable by plane or an 11 hour ferry trip”. And , of course, only cows are allowed on the ferry! Do you think that being so isolated has had an effect on your writing, whether positive or negative? Has this changed in the age of the internet?

Is it that difficult to moo? I live in ferry-lands, but if you can moo and travel yon broad, broad road, you too can be in fair…ferry land by nightfall. But don’t eat or drink there, or you may never return. Of course geography and the people affect my writing. Fortunately for me, this is a place ‘a savage place, as holy as enchanted…’ as well as Xanadu. It stirs me up. And the internet makes the world small.

 

You’ve had a long and productive relationship with Baen Books, not only releasing numerous novels on your own and in collaboration with other authors, but being involved in many other projects with them as well. How did this relationship begin, and what is it about Baen’s way of doing things that has meshed so well with yours?

How did it begin? Alphabetically. I was using that cutting edge of science publisher selection mechanism and working through all the publishers from A to Z. I didn’t get that far, as you can probably work out. How did the collaborations start? Argumentatively. Eric Flint and I had a huge public argument about writing on Baen’s Bar. He eventually clinched his argument with words to the effect that when I could get something published, I could tell others how to write. I wrote back to him, privately, saying I had no wish to make a public idiot out of him (the spat had been very funny – the monkey (me) / bear (Eric) battles were more like Monty Python than warfare, as I am quite hard to pin down and Eric is quite sharp.) but that my book was coming out from Baen in a couple of months. Eric did something which made me realise he was the ideal collaborator. He apologized and admitted he’d made a fool of himself. I like the ability to do that in myself (and I am good at making a fool of myself, and admit it) and admitting it engendered respect. We started talking on e-mail (while continuing riotous and ever noisier spats on the bar) and discovered we shared a lot of attitudes and, while we have very different points of view, we have a lot of mutual respect. Eric proposed the collaboration to Jim Baen, who let us have a go. Misty Lackey was one of Jim’s ideas, and it’s never been the same as letting oil and water find their own level. My latest two books are coming out from Pyr, although I still have several more books with Baen contracted.

Recently Tor made the decision to start releasing ebooks without DRM, but Baen has been doing this for a number of years. Do you expect to see more publishers follow suit? What impact do you think this will have on the industry?

You have to laugh, don’t you? Having urinated away generations of goodwill with this DRM rubbish – which assumed it was fine to treat all your customers as thieves… And Tor – as 1/3 owners of Baen knew it had proven long since to be a waste of time, goodwill and money, are finally following a decade old example… and being hailed as groundbreakers. The truth is the publishing world doesn’t like Baen. It’s all about politics, not common sense, or economics. Now that economics is finally forcing their hand a glimmer of common sense is being allowed through. You see, in the polarised world of the US publishing establishment, the left, if not far left, has been dominant for at least the last thirty years. The US market itself is far more divided, and Baen published work by authors that they thought they could sell. That included Socialist party members and Union organisers like my co-author Eric, hardcore Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans even odd foreigners. Left, right, center… Jim applied his own libertarianly inclined principles and let readers choose, just as long as the publishing house benefited. This was evil, according to the establishment. And thus anything Baen did, even if it worked really well (Baen made a success out of e-books LONG before the rest. Baen collaborations launched new authors very successfully. Baen gave away free stories on site. Baen had the free library of older work – which still makes us authors money, Tor is now finally doing a Baen’s Bar equivalent – etc. the list goes on) had to be done the opposite of. Before Amazon, as the publishing establishment effectively owned access to 90% of retail space… they could afford to. Now they can’t. And if Tor does it, it’s Okay to follow. Just don’t admit you’re following Baen, all right? Now of course Amazon has replaced and eclipsed Baen as prime evil, although it has done more for authors than all the big six publishers put together (access to bookscan numbers, rapid, transparent accounting, realistic e-book royalties, ability to sell your own work). I’m guessing within two years all publishers will be trying to sell DRM free books from their own websites. I’m also guessing that ‘stupid’ and ‘ídeology’ will continue to hamper at least some of them, and that learning from Amazon will be as hard as learning from Baen was. Some will learn, and some will go under.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

A Confusion of Princes, Garth Nix.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

I actually think the biggest changes are coming in the next couple of years. The real impact of e-books has yet to be felt here. I think, well, the publishing establishment is going to have interesting times here. My biggest fear is that we follow US trends – which is bad enough when they’re in step with the US but really not good when they’re 5-10 years out of synch with the causative agents on a world scale. The US went into overdrive with angst-and-literary driven sf/fantasy in the naughties – when the US was heading up toward the sub-prime economic crisis, but was doing rather well. It always takes these trends a few years to start and several more to die when the zeitgeist has moved on. And some sf/fantasy authors do suffer from low self-esteem and were pathetically eager (at least some of them) for the ‘respect’ moving the genre in this direction would bring. Well, I suspect they’re in for a rude shock as ‘literature’ is judged by time and not the current fashion in academics and the literati. Books these ‘judges’ set as literature seem destined to be tomorrow’s toilet paper, while their ‘trash’ – you know, Dickens, Shakespeare, Verne… endure. We need to let our books be judged by readers, and that, hopefully, is what e-books will allow. There’s a place and a market for literary sf, and it should be able to find publishers, but if I am right and publishing and Australia are in for some choppy economic waters, books that make people laugh, that give them battlers they can identify with, that will lift them and cheer them… those might be the ones to save the establishment. If I was to give a single piece of advice to publishing it would be to learn from Baen: stop betting the entire farm and putting all your resources into one chosen book, and spread your bets.

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