Where’s that novel, anyway?

I’m often asked one question: “Why haven’t you written that novel yet?”

There are several answers, all of them invalid, but answers nonetheless. They all boil down to one thing: A fear of failure.

Now, look, I’m realistic. I know a lot of people never start a novel, so even the pure act of writing and completing one would be an accomplishment, even if it goes nowhere. A lot of people don’t even get properly noticed until they’ve got a couple of books under their belt. And a lot of people’s dreams end up on the dreaded “bargain book” table.

There are probably a dozen dozen equivalents of books we consider to be “great” or “classics” published every year that don’t get the recognition they deserve because of marketing, genre, or plain bad timing.

A lot of people don’t get that until they’re dead, even. So you can’t second-guess.

But I feel a lot of pressure, not so much externally but internally. What if it’s not good? What if it’s some laughable exercise no one in their right brain (or even left brain) would want to read?

I keep telling myself that if I’m going to do it, I have to do it *so* well that it’s undeniable. That I have to produce a Tolkien or Bradbury or a Stoker (both as in the award and the success of “that one particular novel,” which wasn’t really all that successful while the author was *alive*) right out. That I’ve probably only got one or two in me, so I have to go full on Harper Lee — or perhaps, J.D. Sallinger — with this thing, or I may as well not even do it.

And that’s where the vanity comes in, I guess. I don’t want to just “write a book.” I want to write something that gets translated into a bazillion languages and gets to travel with humanity to our eventual space colonies.

I guess that’s hubris, I don’t know. I do know it’s a great excuse to do nothing, and I probably need to get over it and myself.

But I do know that if I’m going to do it, I feel like I should give the people who are going to read it something not just good enough for now, but extraordinary.

It’s also colored a lot of my perceptions about what it can and can’t be. Anything set in the modern world eventually gets dated. I remember reading a novel a few years ago that referenced both an an Apple iPod and a particular single by Coldplay. Perfectly OK, I guess. But how’s that going to read a decade out? Twenty years out? Fifty years out? After about twenty years, you get the “ha, nostalgia!” moment, I guess. But that’s still a pretty limited range.

I don’t want some future reader thinking the equivalent of, “Well, they could have just solved all their problems if they’d only had a cell phone.”

Science fiction is great. I love it. But it, too, always becomes eventually dated. Sometimes lovably dated. Read some science fiction from the 1930s to the early 1960s. It’s great. A lot if it is now fully in that “classic” category. But it’s because, usually, there’s a great central idea at work, or some innovation that a writer intuits.

Sometimes someone gets to be the “inventor” or at least the codifier of a particular concept. Robert Heinlein and his power-armored “Rico’s Raiders” is the Final Form of earlier ideas from “Lensmen,” etc. that became the modern idea of the “space marine,” for example.

Generally, though, it’s hazardous. Our understanding of technology is especially a constantly-evolving thing, which means that something that sounds great now ends up clunking on the future. So that leaves something written in the past, or something written on a place explicitly not earth.

I’m not going to kid myself and give me the ability to write anything other than bog-standard fantasy. I’ve tried to play with ideas, but there’s just *so much* of it out there now, I don’t know yet how to craft something so distinctive that it stands out from the crowd.

I love horror. So it’ll probably have some of those elements. But I know that horror is an immediately limiting genre. Some people love it. Some people don’t. And as much as I enjoy it, I’m going to try to stay away from anything that can be read as “Lovecraftian.” Again, much to my dismay, I think it’s over-used now.

The problem with a novel set explicitly in the past, another option, is that there *are* people out there who will know every detail of a particular setting and will know, for example, that the type of fabric a character is wearing wasn’t introduced until 10 years later or that a particular brand of cigarette wasn’t available until 19xx on the West Coast or … whatever. Not to mention if you get any aspect of day-to-day life wrong. A historical novel requires research, and I know that I can get pretty obsessive over details.

So we have then perhaps something set in something that resembles a particular period, but not in our own world so that I can just tweak whatever I want. Maybe.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t look down on contemporary “literary” fiction. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of something with no genre connections at all. But I’m sure there’d still be some sort of light magical realism.

All of this is basically me saying I’m overthinking, probably. I should just write what feels good and not worry so much about “legacy.”

But I do. Because I feel like I have to get it “right.

“I’m probably going to repost this on the blog, so if you’ve read it one place or the other first, sorry. It’s more me thinking aloud than anything else.

Dunsany resources

For those interested in reading some of Lord Dunsany’s works, there are a number of good reprints out there now, including several excellent editions of his short story collections by Penguin.

In the Land of Time: And Other Fantasy Tales (Penguin Classics ...

If ebooks are more your jam, then Project Gutenberg has a great collection, with everything available to read in a browser, in epub or mobi (Kindle) format, or in plain text. All are free:


Or, if you’re an audio book fan, Librivox has complete, free recordings of the vast majority of his works. If you’ve never explored it, the site is a treasure-trove of free audio books, read by a pool of extremely talented amateurs from around the world. Sample a few, find a narrator you like, and enjoy!


Have fun exploring. He’s a genuinely unappreciated author, in my opinion, and one whose grasp of language, emotion and imagery deserves to be appreciated.

And little he knew of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man’s thought for the wonder of later years, and tell of happening that are gone clean away, and be a voice for us out of the dark of time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries, even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills.

— Lord Dunsany
Amazon.com: Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) N18Th Baron Of Dunsany Also ...
And he was quite a striking fellow.

What does that name mean?

It probably deserves some explanation.

From Goodreads.com:

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist, notable for his work in fantasy published under the name Lord Dunsany. More than eighty books of his work were published, and his oeuvre includes hundreds of short stories, as well as successful plays, novels and essays.

Dunsany was a huge influence on H.P. Lovecraft, the (now) well-known American horror fiction writer. It was through Lovecraft that I found Lord Dunsany’s work, and I have been a fan of his particular brand of literary enchantment ever since.

“Come with me, ladies and gentlemen who are in any wise weary of London: come with me: and those that tire at all of the world we know: for we have new worlds here.”
― Lord Dunsany, “The Book of Wonder.”

His prose is dense but immensely lovely. I can fairly be accused of being a bit wordy at times, but I grew up admiring writers who were renowned for being florid. Perhaps no excuse, but still, it’s hard to not fall in love with such passages as:

“The witch approached it and pared its edges with a sword that she drew from her thigh. Then she sat down beside it on the earth and sang to it while it cooled. Not like the runes that enraged the flames was the song she sang to the sword: she whose curses had blasted the fire till it shrivelled big logs of oak crooned now a melody like a wind in summer blowing from wild wood gardens that no man tended, down valleys loved once by children, now lost to them but for dreams, a song of such memories as lurk and hide along the edges of oblivion, now flashing from beautiful years of glimpse of some golden moment, now passing swiftly out of remembrance again, to go back to the shades of oblivion, and leaving on the mind those faintest traces of little shining feet which when dimly perceived by us are called regrets. She sang of old Summer noons in the time of harebells: she sang on that high dark heath a song that seemed so full of mornings and evenings preserved with all their dews by her magical craft from days that had else been lost, that Alveric wondered of each small wandering wing, that her fire had lured from the dusk, if this were the ghost of some day lost to man, called up by the force of her song from times that were fairer.”
― Lord Dunsany, “The King of Elfland’s Daughter.”

And Ulf said, “There sets, O King, a river outward from earth which meets with a mighty sea whose waters roll through space and fling their billows on the shores of every star. These are the river and the sea of the Tears of Men.”

And the King said:

“Men have not written of this sea.”

And the prophet answered:

“Have not tears enough burst in the night time out of sleeping cities? Have not the sorrows of 10,000 homes sent streams into this river when twilight fell and it was still and there was none to hear? Have there not been hopes, and were they all fulfilled? Have there not been conquests and bitter defeats? And have not flowers when spring was over died in the gardens of many children? Tears enough, O King, tears enough have gone down out of earth to make such a sea; and deep it is and wide and the gods know it and it flings its spray on the shores of all the stars. Down this river and across this sea thou shalt fare in a ship of sighs and all around thee over the sea shall fly the prayers of men which rise on white wings higher than their sorrows.”
― Lord Dunsany, “Time and the Gods.”

“And presently I discerned, though faintly, the souls of a great concourse of cities, all bending over Andelsprutz and comforting her, and the ravines of the mountains roared that night with the voices of cities that had lain still for centuries. For there came the soul of Camelot that had so long ago forsaken Usk; and there was Ilion, all girt with towers, still cursing the sweet face of ruinous Helen; I saw there Babylon and Persepolis, and the bearded face of bull-like Nineveh, and Athens mourning her immortal gods.”

― Lord Dunsany, “A Dreamer’s Tales.”

Dunsany is an influence on so much of what I consider to be the best of modern fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien was influenced by Dunsany, as was Ursula K. Le Guin, for example. More recently, Neil Gaiman’s novel “Stardust” stands as a flat-out homage to Dunsany’s storytelling style.

So whence the title of this blog?

Dunsany was fond of reusing certain phrases. “The fields we know” are … well, here. This place we find ourselves. This world of imperfections, though at times he says it’s perhaps wise that we keep our proper perspectives and appreciate what we have.

“Beyond the fields we know” lie places of strangeness, beauty, danger and light. Vales of love, sorrow, hope and despair.

And wonder. Always wonder.

“To those who may have wisely kept their fancies within the boundary of the fields we know it is difficult for me to tell of the land to which Alveric had come, so that in their minds they can see that plain with its scattered trees and far off the dark wood out of which the palace of Elfland lifted those glittering spires, and above them and beyond them that serene range of mountains whose pinnacles took no colour from any light we see. Yet it is for this very purpose that our fancies travel far, and if my reader through fault of mine fail to picture the peaks of Elfland my fancy had better have stayed in the fields we know. Know then that in Elfland are colours more deep than are in our fields, and the very air there glows with so deep a lucency that all things seen there have something of the look of our trees and flowers in June reflected in water. And the colour of Elfland, of which I despaired to tell, may yet be told, for we have hints of it here; the deep blue of the night in Summer just as the gloaming has gone, the pale blue of Venus flooding the evening with light, the deeps of lakes in the twilight, all these are hints of that colour. And while our sunflowers carefully turned to the sun, some forefather of the rhododendrons must have turned a little towards Elfland, so that some of that glory dwells with them to this day.”

― Lord Dunsany, “The King of Elfland’s Daughter.”

I plan to use this space for several things. Maybe a few snippets of fiction, certainly longer-form essays that don’t fit well on social media. Mostly, it’s a place for my thoughts that I can better curate and tend.

I hope to share a bit more of myself, my real self, here. And I hope that you will find something you enjoy.

We all need a place of refuge, and I hope to make this one, far away from the ever-churning sea of social media, its tumult and fury. I find myself less and less interested in participating in the din.

And yet, I still want to share. And why not?

After all:

“A man is a very small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders.”
― Lord Dunsany

Moving ‘Onward’

“Onward” hit Disney+ today, so I immediately wanted to watch it. I’d wanted to see it in the theater, but then all of this mess started.From the time I saw the trailer, it immediately grabbed me. The combination of a modern world that used to be steeped in the tropes of epic fantasy was appealing, and the scenes on display, highlighted by The Cars’ “Magic,” one of my favorite songs, sold me.

I’ll be fair here and say it’s not Pixar’s best film. That crown still belongs — in my opinion only — to “Coco.” That film is a crowning achievement of design, storytelling, music, and heart.What makes “Onward” enjoyable is its meticulous world-building, its obvious, broad humor, a dozen dozen brilliant little Easter eggs, and the core of its story. It does not have the immediate gut-punch of “Up,” the wistful insight of “Inside Out,” or the gift of pedigree afforded to the “Toy Story” franchise. It’s a slightly lesser film than the first “Incredibles,” but certainly above its sequel and anything the “Cars” franchise has mustered.

I’d put it personally somewhere around “Ratatouille,” maybe a bit below “Wall-E.”Admittedly I’m a sucker for the fantasy elements, including the finding of lost ways, and the story, boys in search of their father, or at least a better understanding of their father, is almost tailor-made to elicit tears at appropriate moments.

It leans deeply on comedy, and so it has a fairly loose ambiance. But there are some important things being said about how our loved ones live on in ourselves and our families. Visually, it’s stunning. A few scenes, if you squint, are photographically realistic.

Voice acting is great, although again you’d expect that. Especially with Tom Holland and Chris Pratt on board as our leads.The resolution is satisfying, but I hope this is not the last we see of this world. The changes at the end open up wide vistas for sequels or a TV series. I’d hate to see all of that world construction go to waste.

The film was released at an unfortunate time, and I’m happy that D+ is giving a wider audience an opportunity to see it. I just hope we get more somehow.

There’s a whole world out there to explore, plenty of adventure to be had, and lots of Gelatinous Cubes and legendary foes to best for cool XP.

When the river meets the sea.

When the River Meets the Sea

John Denver, The Muppets

When the mountain touches the valley
All the clouds are taught to fly
As our souls will leave this land most peacefully

Though our minds be filled with questions
In our hearts we’ll understand
When the river meets the sea

Like a flower that has blossomed
In the dry & barren sand
We are born & born again most gracefully

Thus the winds of time will take us
With a sure and steady hand
When the river meets the sea

Patience, my brother and patience, my son
In that sweet and final hour
Truth and justice will be done

Like a baby when it is sleeping
In its loving mother’s arms
What a newborn baby dreams is a mystery

But his life will find a purpose
And in time he’ll understand
When the river meets the sea
When the river meets the almighty sea!!

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Paul H. Williams

© Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc