Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A TALE OF TWO TALES: The strange saga of my unfinished novel

Talk about synchronicity, try this double whammy concerning my unfinished novel, The Dreamstone.

Whammy No. 1 - In 1979 I conceived of and began writing a story called The Dreamstone. My ultimate dream was to have it turned into a full-length animated film. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?

Ideally, I wanted the remarkable fantasy artist, Brian Froud, to be the art director and to design the characters and the creatures featured in the story.

About half way into the writing of the story I decided to send queries and chapter excerpts to publishers, naively hoping maybe I could get an advance to finish the book. Yeah, I know. But hey, I was young and stupid and I didn't know anything about the real world of publishing. Anyway, the first query went to Harper & Row in New York. Several months later, I received their rejection letter.

That slowed me down a bit and I wondered if the story was worth finishing. I worked on it now and then, still thinking it was a good story. Then along came a full-length animated film by Jim Hensen (of Muppets fame) called The Dark Crystal. Not only was the story uncomfortably similar to my Dreamstone (both feature gems of crystal that need to be restored/recovered in order to fix the situation in their respective worlds) but the art direction of Dark Crystal was based on the work of... wait for it... Brian Froud. Seriously? Unbelievable.

So then I figured, why continue with The Dreamstone because every publisher was surely bound to dismiss it as an obvious Dark Crystal rip-off. So I let the story sit, unfinished, for years.

Whammy No. 2 - A few years ago I dug out the partially finished Dreamstone manuscript and decided to give it another go. A bit more sophisticated about writing at that point, I realized the proposed ending for the story was completely unsatisfactory. It just would not do. Not no way. Not no how. But that presented a major problem. I couldn't figure out a way to remedy the situation. I puzzled over it now and then for many months but simply could not come up with a solution. Then, a couple years ago, I came up with a solution. With just a slight revision in the plot I was able to see how a satisfactory ending could be achieved! Yaaay! I was really excited to get to work on the story and finish it at long last.

I told my girlfriend about it and, knowing about the past situation with Dark Crystal (not to mention a similar situation that happened with a song I wrote) she suggested maybe I should Google the word "Dreamstone" to see if anyone else had used it. I laughed. Impossible. I made up the word. Right? But was I in for a shock. A Google search turned up the following Wikipedia entry:

"The Dreamstone was a British animated television series that ran for four series of 13 episodes between 1990 and 1995."

And, as if that wasn't enough, compare the following:

This is from my personal notes concerning my story:

"The World of Dreams is divided into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. The Kingdom of Light is ruled by the Old One, the DreamMaster, G’rah B’el and the Kingdom of Darkness is ruled by the evil D’rath K’ahn, the Sender of Nightmares, the Imperial Lord of the Kingdom of Darkness."

Compare that with this from the Wikipedia entry:

"The Dreamstone was set in a fantasy alternative world ... and concerned itself principally with the struggle between good (personified by The Dreammaker, a Gandalf-esque white magician), and evil (personified by Zordrak, Lord of Nightmares)."

Quite a coincidence, eh? Could there be more? Oh yes.

More, from my personal notes concerning my story:

"D’rath K’ahn has grown bored with people having nightmares so infrequently so he has sent one of his Dreamons to steal the Dreamstone and bring it to him. Once the Dreamstone is in his possession it will cause more and more people to begin suffering from nightmares every night. If the situation is not remedied then this will become a pandemic and soon no one will ever have a good dream or a good night’s sleep ever again."

Compare that to this from the Wikipedia entry:

"Zordrak would instruct his henchmen to steal the Dreamstone, which he planned to destroy, so that nightmares would plague the sleeping world."
More, from my personal notes:

"Separating these two kingdoms there is a very strange and very gray realm known simply as In Between. In the realm of In Between everything seems vague, hazy and undefined."

Compare that with this from the Wikipedia entry:

"...Sergeant Blob, an archetypal Sergeant Major type - would cross the Mist of Limbo (a vast Purple Mist) to get to the Land Of Dreams."

All of this was disturbing enough to make me wonder if somehow the creators of this British animated series had come across my story and basically ripped me off. But then I thought, no. After all, I began writing my story way back in 1979 . This British story wasn't aired until 1990. It was such a long span of time between the two that it must just be a coincidence. It was then that I noticed, in small print at the top of the Wikipedia page, a link to something called the Ealdwood Stories from which The Dreamstone was apparently adapted for television.

So I clicked the link and it took me to another Wikipedia page where the "coincidence" became even more incredible.

It involved an author by the name of C. J. Cherryh who wrote a collection of fantasy stories under the title, The Ealdwood Stories. Given the fact that I began writing my story, The Dreamstone , in 1979 and given the fact that it was in that same year that I sent my query and chapter excerpts to Harper & Row Publishers, the real topper to this strange series of "coincidences" was this quote from that Wikipedia page:

"Cherryh first introduced readers to the world of Ealdwood in 1979 with her short story The Dreamstone."

As you can imagine, that sat me straight up in my chair.

Cherryh's novel, based on her short story ( The Dreamstone ) went on to win a number of prestigious awards.

Now, of course, I had to once again consider the possibility that I'd been ripped off. When I sent my query and chapter excerpts to Harper & Row in 1979, did they recognize the potential of the basic storyline but - realizing I was an unknown writer with no sales track record to assure a return on their investment - they passed the idea on to Cherryh who did have a track record of successful book sales?

I supposed it was possible but, upon further research, I could find no link between Harper & Row and DAW Books, the publisher of Cherryh's work. It didn't make sense that Harper would turn over a good story idea to a competitor.

So here I am, pretty much stuck with the conclusion that all of this was just one strange string of coincidences or, more accurately, a true "synchronicity".

And there is still another odd thing to add to this tale of two tales:

In my story, the item known as the Dreamstone (visualized as similar to a crystal ball) sits atop an ivory statue about 3 feet tall. The statue is of three graceful faery figures standing with arms upstretched with their hands open in such a way as to accommodate the round crystal Dreamstone.

Sometime - I believe it was in the mid-1990s - I attended a kind of New Age expo, a big annual event in the Seattle area, where people displayed all sorts of products for sale.

As I was walking amongst the hundreds of vendor displays, my attention was drawn to something very familiar across the room. It was, unbelievably, a 3-foot tall, ivory-colored statue of three faery figures with their arms upstretched and their hands opened in such a way that they could hold a round object!

I inquired about the piece and learned that it belonged to a fellow whose name I was not only familiar with because of the bizarre conspiracy books he'd published, but also because his first name, Val, is my middle name. I also learned he lived in my home state of Washington although on the opposite side of the Cascade mountains.

So what are we to make of all this?

At this point I guess it's just a prime example of Carl Jung's notion of synchronicity. But, as a writer with an unfinished manuscript in my drawer, I'm left wondering if there is any point to finishing my story, The Dreamstone?

I haven't seen the British animated series based on Cherryh's book and I haven't read the book itself. However, having read some of the plot synopses online it seems pretty clear that there are many major differences in the details of our respective stories even though the basic theme is exactly the same.

Still I wonder, if I finish my story and self-publish it, will it now paradoxically be dismissed by readers as a rip-off of Cherryh's story? Or worse, could I be legally charged with plagiarism despite the fact that I have photocopies of the original, dated, query and chapter excerpts that were sent to Harper & Row back in 1979? Or should I just forget the whole thing and move on to something else? What an odd situation to deal with.

Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. And, just in case I decide to go ahead and finish the darned thing, I created a cover for it.



  1. I had finished college by 1972, and carried a story around with me, until 2007, when I got the chance to begin writing fiction more or less full-time. I finished it, Novella-length last year and set out to make connection with folks who might be able to provide a blurb/review/beta read. I had titled it Troll, and it concerned my take on something Tolkien once said about mythology and folklore being verbal history. I saw a parallel development of Homo cultures as the Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon overlapped in Northern Europe resulting in conflicts that I reasoned, were the true basis of the troll mythology. It felt like a breakout theory -- to me at least -- then, imagine my surprise as I began researching the latest science regarding the timeline of Homo evolution, that the overlap had been documented and it took a long time, plus the genetics had been mixed! Then a researcher in the UK brought out a book indicating that there might be more than xenophobia to our distrust of those not like us. The Neanderthal genome was fully documented the same year, and from the first researcher I got the news that a guy in Norway had written a book in the 1990s where he had the Cro-Magnons refer to Neanderthals as Trolls. Then I began seeing similar uses of the term in other work. I didn't let it get to me and published the novella to good review anyway. My take on it was that writers are human. We all simmer in the same stewpot of human experience, and ideas are absorbed here and there, many without interrelationship. Some are derived simply from the similarity of our shared lives, even if not taught directly, so while the terms and names in my novella might be similar to other stories, my story is my own, just as yours is.

    1. Thanks, Richard. Really interesting about the Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon/Troll concept. Never came across that before. I think you're probably right about the common "stewpot of human experience".

      Back in the mid-80s, when I was involved in the local singer/songwriter community, I wrote a song that I thought was unique. I used a weather forecast as a metaphor for the emotional trauma that a man was about go through due to a romance about to go bad. Then, about two weeks later, a new song, using the same metaphor, hit the charts. The lyrics, of course, were different (mostly, anyway) but the idea was exactly the same. It's almost as if there really is "nothing new under the sun", as the saying goes.

      Thanks again for stopping by to share your story. :-)