I went too far out – a novelist’s apology to his readers

“Fish that you were. I am sorry that I went too far out. I ruined us both.”
 (Santiago, The Old Man and the Sea) 

A reader recently asked…

Yang Shen, have both editions. When will James Lande’s next book be published? Hope it will be soon – he’s a great writer” (Brian).

Thanks to Brian and the handful of other readers who have liked Yang Shen for their appreciation of the book. Brian has been following Yang Shen since 2015, so he certainly deserves to know when I will publish again. I also would like to know.

In an interview last August (2016), Living the Taiping: Interview with James Lande, Isham Cook asked a similar question: This volume is only Book I and there are two more volumes to go – when will you finish?” I answered saying “At the rate I’ve been going on Book II it will need at least several more years. …Over the past year or so my steam engines have been throttled down to low ahead in order to navigate around obstacles like old-age, crippling arthritis, and dwindling enthusiasm for a book in which very few people take an interest.”

The interviewer also asked “How can you, at age 72, expect to finish this book or any others now that your waning powers languish on many years past the allotted span of more famous writers like Steinbeck [d. age 67], Faulkner [d. age 64], or Hemingway [d. age 61]?” I answered again, saying “First of all let us set aside those fellows, with whom there is no comparison. They are lodestars for the rest of us lesser lights, the definition of talent and persistence, their accomplishments something to strive for.”

“…Like Harry under Kilimanjaro, I have, if not entirely destroyed, at least compromised my “talent” by not using it and at this late date am scrambling to make up for the loss. I might live long enough and join the roster of Artful Codgers. Maclean wrote River at 74; Doerr published her first novel at 74; Updike was still scribbling at 76, Marquez at 81, Bellow at 85. Elmore Leonard is 87, Doris Lessing is 94, and Herman Wouk is 96, and they’re still writing. Will-o’-the-wisps? Maybe, especially if I don’t find a way out of the doldrums.”

“…Square-riggers were becalmed in the Horse Latitudes for weeks, occasionally a month or more, but with luck found wind in their sails before they starved. Dismasted and weather-worn, I may still be able to get up some wind that would take me into a current. Or maybe I’m not in the doldrums at all, maybe I’m already the walking dead and just don’t know it yet, won’t lie down like I’m supposed to. Imagine a gnarled hand gripping a broken quill pushing up through the soil above a coffin and scribbling in the dust.”

I regret deeply that barring some miracle I will not be able to finish the remaining volumes of Yang Shen. In addition to the other maladies noted, arthritis in my wrists makes it near impossible to type and so I now have to dictate to software that converts voice to text. More importantly, I also find that what once was my agile and tolerably inventive mind is no longer able to think metaphorically and that most of my facility for figurative language has expired, I cannot imagine writing anything new, and can only hope to edit and publish whatever already has been written.

Yang Shen Book II has been completed up to the sixth chapter, which describes the Foreign Rifles assault on the city of Tsingpoo in August of 1860. There is still some editing needed, however I’m considering publishing that draft of six chapters as an inexpensive eBook for readers already invested in the novel Yang Shen.

Several other projects are being edited for release as eBooks. 

Yang Shen Journals. Six short volumes of journals I kept while working on Yang Shen between 1995 and 2010, as well as several journals that followed.

An early novel, unfinished, called Land of Lost Content, set in an American university in the late 1960s.

Another early novel, also unfinished, called The Cinnabar Phoenix and set on the Chinese island of Formosa (Taiwan); this novel was to be worked up as the second part of a trilogy about the encounter of Americans and Chinese on the island.

Also in the hopper are several videos, one assembled from film taken in Taiwan in the 1980s, another a videolog of a week living in a truck camper in California’s San Gorgonio Wilderness, and more.

Hemingway’s Santiago went too far out to sea pursuing his great fish. He was too old – too far out in time as well – to have the physical ability to land a marlin longer than his skiff. I attempted a magnum opus before succeeding with smaller efforts, took on too late more than I was able to accomplish, and drifted too soon into old age and frailty and could not land a book as large as my ambition.

Like Santiago, I just went out too far.

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