No single example illustrates this better than The Dragon Waiting and its aftermath. As Gaiman put it, “Had he taken The Dragon Waiting and written a sequence of five books based in that world, with that power, he would’ve been George R.R. Martin.” Ford opted instead to write two Star Trek novels (The Final Reflection and How Much for Just the Planet?, both unexpected delights) and The Scholars of Night, a riff on midcentury British espionage thrillers with no fantastical elements and a lost Christopher Marlowe play at its center. Gaiman still bemoans that The Scholars of Night “should’ve been marketed like The Name of the Rose. You needed to go, `We have a great writer who is really fucking brilliant and he has written a book that combines high and low culture.’ ” Instead, Tor, which had been recently acquired by St. Martin’s, published Scholars with a blank back cover. It didn’t exactly do Umberto Eco–level business.
Even if Ford had found a larger audience, though, his health problems and lack of insurance would have kept his finances on the thinnest of ice. “All it took was one bad infection and Mike would wipe out every penny he had,” Teresa Nielsen Hayden explained. “To be an adult about money would mean to be permanently impoverished, give up on books, give up on travel, give up on the things that made his life so much better. And so he didn’t.”