When Your Novel is Actually A Thank-You Letter…

No book comes out of nowhere.  In fact, no book comes out of only one direction.  There’s the trigger, the push that takes a story from faint germ to realized idea, of course.  And the faint idea grows out of anywhere from three to three hundred background points, gathered over a period of time and stored in our brain’s back room until needed.

But often, there’s something more.  Something that sets up shop long before we even start to subconsciously gather material…..

My most recent, SILVER ON THE ROAD, was already a finished book, the second book already a draft, when my brain woke me up to explain something to me:  The grandfather, or godparent, or guiding influence, whatever term you want to use, for the series was Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books.  Specifically, TARAN WANDERER.

Those books were….everything to me, as a kid.  Ev-ry-thing.  Those books are still important to me as an adult – one of the seven books I have that are signed treasures is a copy of TARAN WANDERER, the last trade edition before Mr. Alexander died.  The messages in those books are layered in my bones, the characters and their joys and sorrows as real to me even now as people I went to school with.

But I didn’t realize until after the fact that I’d taken all of that, had filtered that influence through my own culture, only instead of a never-existed magical Wales, I set my story in a never-existed magical North America.

Oh, there’s not an exact correlation.  I don’t have an assistant pig-keeper, or a princess.  Or a Gurgi, which pains me something fierce.  But the sense of learning your place by learning your country, of an adventure that has nothing to do with an object quest, of letting friendships and obligations be the forge in which you are shaped…?

All there. Isobel and Gabriel, the Boss and Marie, even Farron, madman that he is.

That was the lesson I took from the Prydain books.  That growing up isn’t about taking on burdens, or even succeeding in grown-up things, but something inside, something no-one can give or grant you, not even something you can earn.  It’s about acceptance, and resignation, and letting go of dreams, and finding your joy in being awake.

Thank you, Mr. Alexander.  I hope I passed the lesson along with even half the grace and skill with which you taught me.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


When Your Novel is Actually A Thank-You Letter… — 5 Comments

  1. If you survey the field of fiction you can see books that are often written (either deliberately or unconsciously) as an answer to previous works. The Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud were written as an answer to J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. TOM JONES was an answer to PAMELA. We can talk, not only with authors who are alive today, but those of the past!

  2. Had I known you were a fan of the Prydain books while you were still here, we would have lifted a glass to Mr. Alexander. Maybe I love The Thirteen Clocks slightly more. But only maybe (and perhaps there should be a book with just a Gollux and Gurgi, but then the world might explode).

  3. I loved those books – I am planning to re-read them. It was a significant disappointment to come to the Mabinogion a bit later and realise that Gwydion is actually a bit of a bastard, to put it mildly.

    (Also I’m not sure if Alexander’s Wales isn’t actually the real one – a friend on the Gower found a huge white sow in her garden shed one New Year’s Eve: no-one ever claimed her. A, who is familiar with the legends, says that she was not oracular as far as they could tell, but they may not have known how to listen).

  4. Lovely, Laura Anne. It’s good to know how far back we go, but not until we’ve started the journey ourselves. I was surprised that Kim was one of my touchstone books. But there you have it.

    I first read that series as an adult, but I loved his take on the hero’s journey.