My novella "The Final Folly of Captain Dancy" has appeared in:
- The Rebirth of Wonder, Tor 1992
- Crosstime Traffic, Del Rey 1992/FoxAcre 2000/Misenchanted Press 2023
- The Final Folly of Captain Dancy and Other Pseudo-Historical Fantasies, FoxAcre 2011
- The Final Folly of Captain Dancy & Other Tall Tales, Misenchanted Press 2023
How I Came to Write "The Final Folly of Captain Dancy":
In 1990 or thereabouts I was in New York on business, and had a little time to kill, so I stopped into a record shop and noticed a "bargain bin" of cheap videotapes. One of them was "Nate and Hayes," starring Tommy Lee Jones, which I had never heard of, but it looked like fun. So I bought it.
Turned out to be a very enjoyable movie, and a purchase I've never regretted.
But there's one scene where Bully Hayes (that's Tommy Lee Jones) is leading his ship's crew through the jungle on a South Pacific island, and one of the crew gets picked off by an enemy and falls dead, and everyone else keeps going, and I found myself thinking, "If that bad guy had any sense, he'd have shot the captain, not an underling."
And then I got thinking, "What if he had shot the captain? Hayes hasn't told anyone else what's going on."
Whereupon I decided to write a swashbuckling adventure story where the dashing hero dies on the first page, before he's told anyone his plans, or even that they're starting a new adventure. The rest of the crew has to muddle through without him.
Usually, I plot my stories out in advance, but this time I didn't -- after all, the characters didn't know what was going on, so why should the author? I'd just make it up as I went along until it worked itself out.
So that's what I did.
I'm amazed it worked, but it did. I really had no idea where the story was going when I started. I had no idea how long it would be, either, whether I was writing a short story or a novel, which is probably how I wound up writing my only novella to date.
It was a huge amount of fun, building up bits of backstory for Jack Dancy as I went along. Of course he had several women in his life. Of course he had a long-time rival, Bartholomew Sanchez. Of course he had dozens of old enemies, and love-hate relationships with some of them. He was that sort of hero.
How "The Final Folly of Captain Dancy" Got Published:
I wrote my way happily through the story, and at exactly 20,000 words I was done -- and then I noticed the flaw in my plan, which turned out to be a worse problem than any of the flaws in Jack Dancy's scheme.
Where do you sell a 20,000-word swashbuckling fantasy in this day and age?
I tried various markets without success, but then stumbled upon the Tor Doubles. Their minimum length was 20,000 words. My story was 20,000 words. Excellent!
They bought it, and scheduled it for Tor Double #37, but then, due to booksellers who hated the whole doubles concept (where do you shelve them?) Tor cancelled the line after #36. #37 would never appear (though I did get a cover proof).
That was awkward. Tor owned the rights to a novella with no way to publish it. They'd paired it with Esther Friesner's Yesterday We Saw Mermaids, which was long enough to be published as a complete novel by itself, but "Final Folly" was only 20,000 words.
So they wanted me to write something they could package with it. The first suggestion was that I write a couple of prequels about Jack Dancy's adventures to fill out a book, but I had absolutely no ideas for anything like that -- I'd thought of his past entirely in terms of hints and implications, and the idea of actually writing those stories was intimidating, as I knew they wouldn't live up to the hints and implications.
But then I decided to write The Rebirth of Wonder, for reasons I've explained elsewhere, and that was a very short novel, so the two could be put together to make a decent little book.
So that's what we did.
Meanwhile, over at Del Rey, my regular publisher at the time (I was only dealing with Tor because they were doing the Doubles), we'd decided to do a short-story collection, since after all I'd won a short-story Hugo, but it was looking a little thin, so dropping "The Final Folly of Captain Dancy" in to fill out the book seemed like a great idea. The only catch was that Tor had the right to publish it first, and they were having trouble finding space in the schedule for The Rebirth of Wonder.
So the story got published twice in a month, and then not again for many years. Eventually FoxAcre Press reprinted Crosstime Traffic, and later put together a very small collection, The Final Folly of Captain Dancy and Other Pseudo-Historical Fantasies, as well. Late in 2022, though, FoxAcre's owner, Roger MacBride Allen, decided he wanted to focus on his own writing and devote less time to publishing, so FoxAcre dropped almost their entire line other than Roger's own work, and I found myself with the rights to seven books back, including Crosstime Traffic and The Final Folly of Captain Dancy and Other Pseudo-Historical Fantasies. I republished Crosstime Traffic pretty much unchanged, but I thought the other book was too short and expanded it into a new version, The Final Folly of Captain Dancy & Other Tall Tales, with six added stories.
Facts & Fancies
- The name "Dancy" came from one of my neighbors, a family that lived a block away and had a daughter the same age as my own daughter. It just seemed perfect for the character, so I got their permission to use it.
- Years after it was too late, I finally realized how I could have filled up a volume -- I came up with the idea for a novella called "The Further Adventures of Bartholomew Sanchez," about what happens to Jack Dancy's rival once he's lost his best enemy. And there could have been follow-up stories about other characters, too -- Billy Jones, the Caliburn Witch, Hastings Abernathy, and so on. But it was too late. Maybe someday I'll write those.
- I deliberately kept it vague as to what sea the story is set in, and what century -- it's not historically accurate anywhere. I tried to keep the other details as realistic and specific as possible, to make up for that -- despite his Welsh name, for example, Billy Jones' manner of speaking is specifically 19th-century Irish.
- Yes, I did know what the parrot was for before I finished the story.
The Final Folly of Captain Dancy
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
I was right there beside him when it happened, and I saw the whole thing. It wasn't anything but pure bad luck, such as could happen to anyone--but it had never happened to the captain before, and I'd guess he wasn't ready for it.
We had just come out of Old Joe's Tavern, where the captain had beaten the snot out of three young troublemakers, and we'd left by way of the alley, since the troublemakers had shipmates of their own, and that alleyway wasn't any too clean. I didn't see exactly what it was the captain stepped in, but it was brown and greasy, and when his foot hit it that foot went straight out from under him and he fell, and his head fetched up hard against the brick wall, and there was a snap like kindling broken across your knee, and there he was on the ground, dead.
It was pure bad luck, and the damnedest thing, but that's how it happened, and Captain Jack Dancy, who'd had three ships shot out from under him, who'd come through the battle of Cushgar Corners, where only three men survived, without a scratch, who'd sired bastards on half the wives in Collyport without ever a husband suspecting, who'd stolen the entire treasury from the Pundit of Oul and got away clean, who'd escaped from the Dungeon Pits of the Black Sorcerer on Little Hengist, who was the only man ever pardoned by Governor "Hangman" Lee, who'd climbed Dawson's Butte with only a bullwhip for tackle--that man, Jolly Jack Dancy, lay dead in the alley behind Old Joe's Tavern of a simple fall and a broken neck.
And that meant that me and the rest of the crew of the good ship Bonny Anne were in deep trouble.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: