What “The End” Really Means…

I imagine for most novelists, writing the words, “The End” (or whatever arrangement of words by which a book comes to a close) is truly a moment of deep satisfaction, a sense of completion, as well it should be. However, the real “end” comes after the first draft manuscript is sent to the publisher, is assigned to an editor, survives the editor, and is thereafter revised by the author. At this point, a point at which an author can truly say the last word has been written, worked, reworked, and flogged into its final form, does “The End” finally come.

TODAY is that day for A Murder of Crows, Book II of A City of Seven Gates.

Tomorrow, I’ll send the FINAL manuscript to the publisher, along with acknowledgments, the dedication, etc., and it will be in her caring hands to actually publish the book. I’ve had a celebratory whiskey and cigar this evening, and I wanted to share it with you, My Reader. After all, I’ve pressed all the way to “The End” just for you.

St. Andrew’s Church in Penrith, England

The Murder is Coming

It’s been a bit over a year since my last post, and for that, I apologize. It’s been far too long. Not that I haven’t thought about posting–I have, about a thousand times. I just haven’t known quite what to say, and it’s felt as if, whatever I would say, should have a little weight, not just the meandering drivel of a random afternoon’s thought-for-a-moment. (In fact, I always feel that way before posting. There’s so much empty chaff out there, I’d like what I say to be the grain.)

Not sure this post has that “weight” in a reflective kind of way, but it certainly has the gravity of being exciting (for you, I hope, and definitely for me) and long overdue (for both of us I’m quite sure).


I am delighted to announce that A Murder of Crows, my second book, and the next installment in A City with Seven Gates series, is completed! The book is currently with the editor, and it’s cover artwork is nearly finalized. I can’t tell you how excited I am!

Nicolas, a year older, finally returns to the world of Telluric Grand only to find himself on the knife’s edge of an invasion of War Crows. He arrives in a fracturing First Kingdom, it’s crown city unprepared and purposely distracted by something’s, or someone’s, dark and malevolent intentions. The Crows, fast-crowding into their black longboats from across the Cold Sea, can smell the Kingdom’s weakness, and they’re eager for violence and blood. In the end, Nicolas, alone and unsure of what he’s doing, uses the only thing he can to lure the Murder of Crows into their own deadly fate … himself.

“Still alive, are you?” the man mused lightly, his flinty voice almost unconcerned, the question neither demanding nor curious.
Nicolas, unsure of what to say or how to say it, said nothing.
Lord Cadwallon, the War Marshal of the Second Grey Legion, a man whose sword had killed enemies of the First Kingdom for the past two-and-forty years stood in his stirrups and looked away into the deep glooms of Wistman’s Wood.
“Still alive,” he repeated, his voice now harder but still indifferent. “Alive yet not long for the grave.”

A Murder of Crows, Chapter 18, “The Dying of the Light”

The Struggle …

I can hardly say with much authority what the hardest thing is about writing. Every author is different, although most would agree on certain areas of difficulty, such as finding the time (for the vast majority who cannot, or never will, pursue writing as a full-time job this is huge), developing characters, coping with self-doubt (this becomes all the more daunting when a writer’s aim is to become a full-time author), plot construction, and the time-worn, well-known, persistent curse of “writer’s block.” All these challenges are real even if seasonal for many writers as they come and go (like a failed harvest, failed whether plagued by drought or by floods). I’m not immune to any of these, and might, over time, find I’m even more vulnerable to them than I now think I am. However, there is one particular struggle I commonly experience that isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) shared by many writers … by the way, I arrive at this conclusion as a reader and not as a writer.

Here it is: crafting the exact right words in just the right way to say exactly what needs to be said, in the way in which it needs to be said, without any misdirection, misadventure, or derailing superfluousness.

Eesh! What does that mean?? It doesn’t, necessarily, mean using fewer words (as a poet might do), or by using “correct” grammar and syntax as an academic might do, or by using five-dollar words (as a lawyer might do). What I mean is finding precisely the best words, arranged in the best way, to tell the best story possible without letting the reader know he/she is actually reading. Suspending disbelief as letters become words, words become sentences, and sentences become real: watching and feeling the story with all of its anxieties, joys, losses, triumphs, failures, and expectations.

I sit at my keyboard, not usually wrestling with plot or characters or a “blank screen” (although these hurdles do occur). Instead, I sit at my keyboard, surveying those twenty-six letters and the myriad of punctuation marks, and I struggle to piece them together into precise instruments of storytelling—genuine storytelling, the kind where you want to get up, sell all your belongings, and jump headlong into the pages, shouting, “I’m here!”

For those of you who are, and have been so very patiently, waiting on the second book—on Nicolas’ next journey into Telluric Grand—know it’s coming. I’m very near the end of A Murder of Crows. My publisher is primed and ready. My editor is waiting in the wings. And I’m struggling to get it right. To tell the story, each word of it, in a way where you, like the quiet boy from a small farm outside Plumpton Head, England, can find your way there through a magical door made of words.

Tunnel Vision

Writer’s block is the time-worn, well-known bane of writing fiction. Because I most often begin with a full story in my head, I don’t often have writer’s block (although there are moments when I struggle to “move” a character within a scene or between scenes). Where my greatest challenge occurs is within the “tunnel,” something I haven’t often heard writers talk about. (Maybe I’m inventing the idea right now.)
What is the “tunnel”? For me, it’s when I isolate and focus on a scene, a dialogue exchange, a paragraph, a sentence, or sometimes worst of all, a single word, and I worry over that bit of writing until everything else fades away: It’s just me and it, and the entire rest of the chapter/book/story is on hold until I can find my way out.
The “tunnel” usually comes in the guise of trying to find the perfect wording, the perfect description, the perfect collaboration between images, words, and even the sounds they make as they roll off the tongue. Quite impossible really. I can stay inside a tunnel for hours or even days; frankly, it’s frustrating even when I’m pleased with the ultimate result (which is never a predictably certain thing). I want so desperately to tell a good story, not just to tell a story.

At least most tunnels come with light even if the light seems faraway and unpromising. I hope, at the end of all this, what I write genuinely delivers; that it fulfills its promise to the reader. I’ll have gone through a lot of tunnels to get there.

A Dragon in the Backyard…

My first novel, A Place With Dragons, opened with an acknowledgement “To You the Reader,” suggesting that each of us “keep a wary eye on life’s quiet shadows” because we’re apt to “find dragons in the most unexpected places.” Yesterday, I found one…

While putting part of a new fence in place, I spotted a lattice of sparkling of purple on something buried in the mud where I was working. It didn’t look like a rock, and it had the peculiar look of miniature scales. “Ridiculous!” I thought. But, since my daughter is a budding geologist, I guessed it might be fun for me to dig it out and let her determine what it was. I plopped the strange lump of sticky, clay mud inside an old coffee can for her to clean up; a little while later, after applying several baths of water and some scrubbing from an old toothbrush to remove the casket of mud surrounding it, she showed me what it was…a dragon head.

For those of us who might sometimes begin to think the magical reality of other-worldly adventure feels too far away, take heed!… Perhaps we do live in a place with dragons…

#fantasy #fantasybook #highfantasy #dragon #acitywithsevengates #aplacewithdragons #telluricgrand #stevenlovett #crow #wisp #warcrows #cityofrelic #dmp #dragonmoonpress

A Chapter’s Name

As a lifelong reader, I have loved it when an author has decided to give each chapter in a book its own title. Over time, I’ve come to see chapter titles almost as names. They can characterize the tone of a chapter. They can create expectations (which feel wonderful if met). They can, almost like a poetic line, convey a perspective or an emotion the author wants a reader to have. They’re the “children” who populate the “family” of a book. Maybe all of that’s placing too much significance on chapter titles (and sometimes they have little more significance than providing the next numeric designation), but when a chapter title is thoughtful, purposeful, and well-written, it adds another facet to the story. The names of chapters–once a book is put down for a long time before it is read again–have struck me as being like the names of old friends. In a few words, or in one word, they carry fond memories of time once-spent, and a journey once-taken, in another place and sometimes in another world. I hope all of my chapter “names” will eventually do that, too.

Here’s the name of Chapter 8 in A Murder of Crows…

Behind the scenes…

One of the things I enjoy the most, and one of the things that slows down my writing, is making sure the details are genuine; even in high fantasy, I think, this is critical to the believable accessibility of the story and, hopefully, makes it more enjoyable on several levels. Whether describing a newspaper article, a train schedule from Carlisle to Northampton, a bottle of old whiskey, or the finer points of an invented royal crest (hint for the second novel, “a twin of holly leaves on either side of the dropping bell of a snowdrop flower”), I love spending the time it takes to research each of these things. I have this idea in my head that some readers might take a passage out of one of my books and “fact-check” me someday, or that an occasional reader who happens to be schooled in botany will take delicious pleasure in the fact that I’ve properly described the Galanthus nivalis and have even used its historical significance to provide another level of meaning. But even if no one ever does, it’s still one of the things I enjoy most about writing. And I hope I get it right…at least most of the time.

Things Gone Wrong…

Nicolas has finally made it inside the Gate of the Deep, and to his surprise and delight, has run into Adelaide Ashdown… But the circumstances of their brief encounter are troubled. Adelaide cryptically alludes to “things gone wrong”–after Nicolas left, it seems his three friends have been encountering strange hardships; perhaps are even in danger…

Nicolas unexpectedly faces the possibility of his own trial by the Laird of the Gate but for reasons that are unclear to him… And a “rook” of War Crows is being held in the “bilge,” the Gate’s dungeon, awaiting a far more mortal fate…

A writer’s desk…

While a bit of this second book has, and will be, played out while I’m tucked safely in the warmth of our quiet home, sitting at a homemade desk in a small bedroom upstairs…I find my most of my muses huddled around a wood-burning stove out in the shadowed shop behind our house. A fitting place, I think, for Nicolas to come to grips with the Gate of the Deep. The City of Relic’s gatekeep that faces the dreaded fog-banks of the Cold Sea…