My next novel was going to be Writer Writer. I would describe it but I’m shy about sharing too many ideas with the entire online population of planet Earth. When I was in Berlin with my daughter this past June, also a gifted writer, I tried to talk her into writing a fantasy trilogy. At some point, like a damned fool, I said: If I, as in me and myself, were going to write an epic fantasy, then this is what I would write. And godammit if I didn’t talk myself into writing a fantasy epic. I wasn’t on board until last week. I woke up at 3:30 AM, working out the story and couldn’t get back to sleep. That’s a sign. I’m already closing in on ten percent of Book One, called Wistþistle: Under and Over the Bridge. I’ve always loved Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy and have wanted to write high fantasy in that spirit—and so I’ve adopted the high mimetic style one finds in Tolkien and Le Guin’s high fantasy. (The trilogy is all about the power of language.) I’ve never found fantasies convincing when they’re written in the flat vernacular of contemporary English. Since there are only so many ways to map a world, mine is full of islands like Le Guin’s. Call it derivative, but the choice is to look like Le Guin or Tolkien. Anyhow, I just wanted to share a first fable that appears in the early pages of the novel.
And so the youth told her a little story about a fish that swallowed a fisherman’s boat and made the fisherman ride on her back until she had carried him to her own land and transformed into a beautiful young woman. So long as I stand on this isle, she said, I appear to you as what I am, yet the curse may be lifted if you love me as I do you. The fisherman, who hadn’t suffered the same sudden love as she for him, and having no way to leave the island without his boat, refused and begged her to let him go. She promised she would but first he would have to spend three nights with her and in return she would only ask for one thing already in his possession. The fisherman saw no harm in agreeing.
On the first night she took him to a room filled with gold treasures collected from the seabed. But a man may have as many treasures as he wishes if he will only work for it, he said. On the second night she seated him in a great hall and cooked such foods for him and served such wine as will never be tasted. He ate and drank but said he would not stay for a man might as easily learn the art of cooking as the art of fishing. Now the fisherman eagerly awaited the third day, but on the third day the beautiful woman said she had no more goods to offer. He was free to leave. His boat was moored and ready. Now I ask for my one gift, she said; and she took from him a kiss. This made the fisherman very angry for he had been spoiled by the treasure and food and expected more. And yet as he sailed home, and after he had forgotten the food and treasures, he was nettled by the kiss.
What use, he asked himself, was a kiss? And yet her kiss was like a hook in his heart. The more he resisted it, the deeper plunged the barb. And no man may have a woman’s kiss but from a woman. The kiss tugged and tugged at him. But where was the island? One day a stranger appeared at the fisherman’s door and said that there was an old witch who knew where the woman lived, and all the fisherman would have to do was to cook her the best fish of any tasted and to serve it on a flawless plate of gold. The fisherman spent the next years learning to cook and smithy gold. Then he went to the witch, who lived in a hut overlooking the expanse of sea and earth. When he served the witch, and the old woman was satisfied, the fisherman asked where the beautiful woman’s island was. Give me a kiss, she said, and I will show you. The fisherman might have refused, but now the hook in his heart was like a killing pain. He knelt in front of the old witch and kissed her, and when he opened his eyes the beautiful young woman of the isle sat before him, for a kiss is the only gift that receives what it gives in the giving.
And there you have it. I may also post the first chapter for first impressions. Don’t forget that my first book, Tiny House, Big Mountain, a novel about a girl and her mother’s spiritual journey in the Greens of Vermont, is in print and available. Feel free to ask me about it or to let me know what you thought of it, if you’ve read it.
up in Vermont | August 21st 2023