“Home is Behind, the World Ahead” (Fairy Tale Fortnight)

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In the spirit of Fairy Tale Fortnight (brought to you by The Book Rat and A Backwards Story) and in anticipation of the June release of my fourth Wilderhark Tale, “The Song Caster”, I’ve been sharing excerpts from a never-before-released (and not entirely finished, yet) story chronicling the life of our minstrel in blue prior to his introduction in Wilderhark Tale #3. Part 1 is linked here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and below is the final installment (until the rest of the story releases in full, someday). Enjoy!

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Three harvests, the Gant family shared together. But by the time the season for the fourth had arrived, and after some weeks of illness, Jeromey Gant had died. And Jackillen was a little surprised at how terribly sorry he felt. After all, he had lived far fewer years with the man than he had without him; surely the thought of things returning to the way they had been before was not such an unpleasant one?…

But to Jackillen’s further regret, things did not return to the way they had been, for Wendara refused to give up her beloved Jeromey’s farm. She stubbornly struggled with all she had to bring in the harvest without the help of her late husband, and almost as little help from her son, who developed the maddening habit of disappearing whenever there was a task in want of tending to (which, on a farm, there always was). Many a time had Wendara begun to outline a list of things to be done, glanced away for the merest moment, and looked back to find that she was talking to an empty room. Many a time would she pause to rest in the middle of a long, hot day of toil, and turn her face into a cool refreshing breath of a breeze, only to realize with a jolt of anger that she could detect the faraway sounds of an all-too-familiar duet of voice and plucked strings, carried on the wind.

“What kind of a son are you?!” Wendara railed, when at last she had had enough. “What kind of a son leaves his widowed mother with only the scantest of farming experience to handle everything on her own?! You haven’t lifted a finger to help me since the harvest began, and now look!” She jabbed a finger at the window. “Winter’s first snowfall, and only half the crops brought in – if that! – and no thanks at all to you, you worthless, selfish, lazy boy!”

“Well, that’s a fine way to talk,” said Jackillen, his expression wounded. “Worthless, selfish, and lazy, she says… It’s not that I’m lazy; more like gone-half-crazy, just sitting around this dull town in the Down…”

“Don’t start that again!” Wendara shouted. “I’ve heard enough of your complaints about our home here, and MORE than enough of that absurd, sing-song manner of speech!”

Jackillen’s eyes flashed as he strove to keep his annoyance in check. “There is nothing absurd in attempting to word things in ways that are pleasing for ears to hear. And as for your having to handle everything on your own, that is hardly necessary. It’s not as if I’m the only able-bodied young man in the vicinity. The most able-bodied, most likely, but not the only. Why don’t you hire a fellow or two with naught better to do than root ‘round in the ground to assist you in doing just that?”

“Hire them with what?” Wendara demanded. “Where do you think a farming family’s money comes from, a goose laying gold in the barn?! We need produce to sell, Jackillen; produce from the surplus of what we harvest for ourselves. But because you could not be bothered to help me, we shall be fortunate to have just barely enough to last us through the year and put next year’s seed in the ground, with nothing to spare for sale. So unless you’re planning to sell that blasted lute of yours, which I am seriously of half-a-mind to see that you do…”

“What, sell my lute?” said Jackillen, brows lifted in surprise. “Oh, indeed, no – that would be most foolish. There is far more money to be gotten from keeping my instrument than from selling it. You go ahead and hire a boy or two to assist with the farm, come spring; promise them wages at the end of the year, for by then we will have more than enough to pay.”

Left as she was with few options other than to place her trust in her son, thus did Wendara do. And on the Forespring day when the snows first melted, this selfsame son – a boy-turned-man clothed in a commoner’s finery made all of the blues of the sky he loved so well, his lute and a traveler’s staff crisscrossed upon his back – half-walked, half-bounded away from the Down and the farm and his mother and the Jackillen Gant he’d been. For Jackillen Gant, though a wonderful name for an ordinary person, was no sort of name for a professional minstrel – particularly a minstrel as far from ordinary as Jackillen was sure he could not help but be.

A minstrel’s name was not a thing to be taken lightly, Jackillen knew; for it was that which first proclaimed to the world exactly who the minstrel was, or thought he was, which could well end up being truer than the truth, when all was said and done. Like Ioan-o’-the-North, a minstrel’s name ought to tell from whence the minstrel came, whether regarding literal geography, or no more nor less than the place inside where the songster’s fount of music sprang. A minstrel’s name, in short, bared a minstrel’s heart, and the home where the heart could be found. In Jackillen’s case, his heart was with music, and his home with the man who had given it to him: The music of a name in full, the music of a father’s love, and – perhaps most precious of them all – the music of his dearly cherished lute. In light of these things, Jackillen’s minstrel name practically chose itself. So it was that when Jackillen Gant, aged only eighteen, stepped out into the world as a minstrel, he did so as Gant-o’-the-Lute.

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And thus do the minstrel’s adventures begin, to be continued in “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)”! The book’s slated to launch on June 24th, but if you’re game to read and review the tale early, drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll send you a PDF of the tale in all its practically completed glory!

That’s a wrap for Ever On Word’s part in Fairy Tale Fortnight. But forget yet not, there’s still a little time left in my giveaway! Check out my feature on A Backwards Story and/or my interview with The Book Rat and enter to win a free paperback of Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Seventh Spell!

The Missing Note (Fairy Tale Fortnight)

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In the spirit of Fairy Tale Fortnight (brought to you by The Book Rat and A Backwards Story) and in anticipation of the June release of my fourth Wilderhark Tale, “The Song Caster”, I’m sharing excerpts from a never-before-released (and not entirely finished, yet) story chronicling the life of our minstrel in blue prior to his introduction in Wilderhark Tale #3. Part 1 is linked here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 is below. Enjoy!

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Like many a man before him who’d laid eyes on Wendara, Jeromey Gant found himself utterly infatuated – a fact which Wendara’s practiced eye noted at once. But, unlike those many men before him, when coyly invited to act upon this infatuation in the usual style, he evenly refused. Wendara, unused to the word “no”, was taken aback, and wondered if she had been mistaken in thinking he desired her.

But, “No,” he said again, “my desire is irrefutably for you. And when you have grown weary of your wandering, you have only to return to me, and I will have you, and no other.”

Wendara scarcely knew what to think. But following the meeting, as the traveling band put weeks and miles between themselves and that otherwise inconsequential stop in modest Emmett Down, kingdom of Anuranda, her thoughts turned with increasing frequency to Jeromey; to the man who had seemed to want her more than any man had before, and had yet refused to claim her. …And by so doing, Wendara realized, had quietly claimed her heart.

Jackillen was surprised by Wendara’s sudden insistence that the two of them leave the caravan and retrace their steps to Emmett Down. In all the fourteen years of his life, his mother had never expressed an interest in going back to any of her men friends before – for that matter, from what he understood, this man and his mother had never gotten very well acquainted at all. What, then, Jackillen asked himself, when he first saw the man for himself, was so special about this Jeromey Gant?

He was not especially handsome, Jackillen thought critically. He was not wealthy or important; like almost every other resident of the Down, he was naught but a simple farmer. And yet the look the man and his mother shared when they were reunited was unmistakably one of love.

Jackillen wasn’t altogether sure that he approved of any of this.

He turned his back on the courtship, focusing all of his attention on using a whittling knife to try to coax a lute out of a piece of wood. Frustratingly, Jackillen’s many talents did not include handicrafts; and between his lamentable lack of lute and the peculiar behavior of his mother and her new reason for living, Jackillen’s mood darkened by the day.

Then came the morning that Jeromey presented Jackillen with an exquisitely-wrought lute, shining with newness, almost audibly calling to Jackillen to be played.

“There’s sure to have been a less expensive way to buy my affection,” Jackillen said brusquely, for if the price of a well-made lute were in any way attainable, he would have purchased his own long ago.

“That may well be,” Jeromey said, expression placid behind his cover of close-trimmed brown beard. “But I did not set out to buy your affection. I set out to buy you a lute. As for your good favor, you may continue to bestow or withhold it as you choose. It will not cause me to love your mother or you any less.”

“Love me?” said Jackillen, looking at Jeromey in sharp surprise. “Why should you love me?” Why should this stranger care for him when no one else would bother?

“Because I will soon marry your mother, making you my son.”

“Stepson,” Jackillen corrected.

“Son,” Jeromey repeated gently. “I mean to adopt you as my own, Jackillen. I will be your father, and you will have my name.”

“Gant…” Jackillen murmured. “Jackillen Gant…” His eyes widened, mouth drawn into a brilliant smile. That was it! – the missing note in the melody of his name! And this man had given it to him – given him a name complete, and a lute dearly-bought, and a third thing unasked for: Love.

Jackillen regarded the man before him with a new curiosity. He didn’t understand this Jeromey Gant, not one little bit. But, he reasoned, he now had a family name and a lute and a father; wanting understanding on top of all of that would just be greedy.

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More of the pre-“Song Caster” tale to come as Fairy Tale Fortnight continues!

And two things to remember: One, I’ve got a giveaway going on! Check out my feature on A Backwards Story and/or my interview with The Book Rat and enter to win a free paperback of Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Seventh Spell!

Two, I’m looking for advance readers! If you’re willing to read and review “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)” ahead of its scheduled release on June 24th, drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll send you a PDF of the tale in all its practically completed glory!

Song Caster Cover, resize

Jackillen and the Man-o’-Music (Fairy Tale Fortnight)

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In the spirit of Fairy Tale Fortnight (brought to you by The Book Rat and A Backwards Story) and in anticipation of the June release of my fourth Wilderhark Tale, “The Song Caster”, I’m sharing excerpts from a never-before-released (and not entirely finished, yet) story chronicling the life of our minstrel in blue prior to his introduction in Wilderhark Tale #3. Part 1 is linked here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 is below. Enjoy!

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Now that Jackillen seemed determined to remain underfoot during the traveling band’s stopovers – or worse, to wander off away from the towns and villages on his own – his elders lost little time in giving the boy something to keep him safely occupied.

“You’re young, but bright,” he was told by Yaradin, the caravan’s head. “We might as well get you started in learning a useful trade.”

“All right.” Jackillen nodded willingly. “I want to be a tumbler like Salomar. And a juggler like Keran. And a wrestler and stave fighter like Adu. And I want to bend myself into funny shapes like Jilal, and throw my voice like Dulai, and dance like Mother, and—”

“Whoa, now, slow down, little man,” Yaradin chuckled. “You can’t do everything.”

To which Jackillen answered matter-of-factly, “Yes I can.”

And he could. By the age of twelve, he could turn cartwheels on a high-wire while juggling handkerchiefs. He could knock down an opponent more than twice his size without missing a step in a jig. And he could strike up the song for that jig himself on any instrument his band could offer – drums and bells, pipes and flutes, and anything with strings, each mastered more quickly than the last as natural talent and diligence combined to match his skill level to that of his inborn confidence.

Jackillen had reached the point where he could indeed do everything his fellow entertainers could, and more. And it was about then he concluded that it was not enough.

This conclusion was drawn more quickly than it might otherwise have been due to another chance meeting in another town and land – this time in Chandling Town, kingdom of Lucerian. It was there that Jackillen – while off gallivanting by his lonesome, as he was wont to do – heard on the wind a most pleasant sort of sound: Notes of song, tripping lightly in a musical cascade; produced by some manner of stringed instrument, Jackillen wagered, though not one with which his ears were familiar. Intrigued, he followed the sound to its source, joining the small number of others who had paused in their doings to hear the musician play.

Jackillen waited for the melody to reach its end – even waited with something close to patience, placated as he was by the song – before he approached the musician and asked, “Your pardon, good sir, but what is the name of your instrument?”

“A lute, of course,” the fellow replied. “And it’s no good asking to touch it,” he added, knowing what it meant when young boys came around inquiring as to the tools of his trade. “No one touches this lute but Ioan-o’-the-North, ye ken?”

“Ioan-o’-the-North…” Jackillen repeated. An odd sort of name, but pleasing to say; he relished the rhythm of it. “Well, surely you might make an exception for me? I am something of a musician myself, you see, and know how to handle an instrument with all due care, I assure you.”

But the lute-bearer shook his head. “Nothing doing, lad. First rule of the minstrels: Entrust your bread-and-butter instrument to no one’s hand but your own.”

Well, what was to be done? Short of taking the lute by devious means or straightforward violence, nothing at all. And while of course Jackillen could have effectively employed either method, the notion of parting a minstrel with his music did not sit well with him. So he merely sighed, in the manner of one expressing grave disappointment in a world he had really expected so much better of, and went on his way.

The fact that he went quietly, however, did not mean that he had put the encounter out of mind. On the contrary, he sulked about it for the rest of the day; well into the night, too, for he seemed to feel the need to sleep only one night in three, and this was not one such night. And in the morning, just as soon as his mother appeared to be waking or close to it, Jackillen demanded, “Why can I not have a family name?”

“Mm— what?” said Wendara, who had actually been farther from waking than her son might have wished.

“I met a minstrel yesterday,” Jackillen said impatiently. “A minstrel with a lute – a lovely lute, with a lovely sound, and you don’t even know how dearly I wished to play it, though he wouldn’t let me; most vexing. Ioan-o’-the-North, he called himself – have you ever heard such a name? A name like music; just trips right off the tongue. Not like Jackillen. Do you hear it? How incomplete it sounds, just Jackillen? It’s missing a beat, Mother! A waltz stopped too soon! – no resolution! Resolution I might have had if only I had a second name. So why can I not have a family name?”

“Jackillen, don’t be ridiculous,” his mother said testily. “You’re quite old enough to know why we have no family name.”

“Old enough to know it, but not to understand it,” Jackillen muttered, arms crossed. “Whether he who fathered me wanted to behave like a decent human being or not, the least he might have done was give me a name. Or didn’t he have one to give?”

Wendara shrugged irritably. “Not one that he ever spoke to me; so perhaps he had no such name after all.”

Wonderful; meaning that Jackillen’s father, whoever he was, was either a royal, an illegitimate, or a woman. Jackillen decided that he must have been a royal.

And what’s that leave me?, he thought, with another sigh of disappointment for the world. Unclaimed royalty with an incomplete name. Better a man-o’-music with a name to match than a king.

Two things Jackillen wanted more than anything, and saw little hope of having: A beautiful lute like Ioan-o’-the-North’s, and a musical name worthy of it. And as fate would have it, there would one day come a man who would give him both.

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More of the pre-“Song Caster” tale to come as Fairy Tale Fortnight continues!

And two things to remember: One, I’ve got a giveaway going on! Check out my feature on A Backwards Story and enter to win a free paperback of Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Seventh Spell”!

Two, I’m looking for advance readers! If you’re willing to read and review “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)” ahead of its scheduled release on June 24th, drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll send you a PDF of the tale in all its practically completed glory!

Song Caster Cover, front

Less Than a Nobody (Fairy Tale Fortnight)

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In the spirit of Fairy Tale Fortnight (brought to you by The Book Rat and A Backwards Story) and in anticipation of the June release of my fourth Wilderhark Tale, “The Song Caster”, I’m sharing excerpts from a never-before-released (and not entirely finished, yet) story chronicling the life of our minstrel in blue prior to his introduction in Wilderhark Tale #3. Part 1 is linked here, and Part 2 is below. Enjoy!

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Jackillen’s name had not always irked him. He had lived in ignorance of there being anything amiss for five blissful years. But this era reached its end on the day that the islander caravan made a stop at the small village of Burich, kingdom of Quist. Whilst the grownups engaged in whatever tiresome things that grownups will do, Jackillen capered off in search of playmates. He quickly fell in with a collection of young fellows who were near his own age, if not particularly near his own size; though in coloring the two could not have been much more dissimilar, Jackillen had inherited his mother’s diminutive frame.

“Hallo, chaps!” he called ahead of him, blithely. “Want to hold races?”

To this proposal, the other boys agreed wholeheartedly, one among them declaring, “I’ll go first! It’ll be me against you, Ardric. Then Terril against Lennard, and Earryn against… hey, what’s your name?” he demanded, pointing at the tiny stranger.

“Jackillen,” he replied.

“Jackillen who?”

Jackillen’s eyes – a bright green-blue color, ever-changing depending on how you happened to be looking at them, and they at you, at the time – blinked in surprise at the question. “Jackillen nothing. Just Jackillen. Jackillen of the islander band, if you like.”

“What, no family name?” asked the boy called Ardric.

“I suppose not,” said Jackillen, shrugging.

“But you’ve got to have a family name,” spoke the first boy. “Everybody’s got one. It’s Barr, for me; Rowland Barr. And Harritt for Ardric, Stand for Lennard…”

“Mofford, for us!” piped up Earryn and Terril.

“The only reason not to have a family name is if you’re royalty,” said Lennard.

“Which I’m not,” said Jackillen.

“Or if you’re a girl,” added Rowland.

“Which I hope I’m not,” laughed Jackillen.

“Or if you’re illegitimate,” said Ardric.

“Are those all the reasons?” Jackillen asked. “No others?”

The boys nodded.

“Well then,” he deduced, “I suppose that I must be illegitimate. What does that mean? Is it better than royalty, or worse than a girl?”

“It’s worse than anything,” said Ardric. “It means that your mother is cheap, and your father is negligent, and you basically amount to less than a nobody.”

At that, Jackillen’s eyes flashed like blue-green flame. “I am not a nobody!”

“I know.” Ardric nodded. “You’re less than one.”

In less time than it takes to relate it, Ardric was sitting hard on the ground, bawling and holding a bloody nose, and Jackillen was well on his way back to his caravan, having decided that he had no further use for senseless children.

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More of the pre-“Song Caster” tale to come as Fairy Tale Fortnight continues!

And two things to remember: One, I’ve got a giveaway going on! Check out my feature on A Backwards Story and/or my interview with The Book Rat and enter to win a free paperback of Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Seventh Spell”!

Two, I’m looking for advance readers! If you’re willing to read and review “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)” ahead of its scheduled release on June 24th, drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll send you a PDF of the tale in all its practically completed glory!

Song Caster Cover, front

In Which Jackillen Enters the World (Fairy Tale Fortnight)

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In the spirit of Fairy Tale Fortnight (brought to you by The Book Rat and A Backwards Story) and in anticipation of the June release of my fourth Wilderhark Tale, “The Song Caster”, I’m sharing excerpts from a never-before-released (and not entirely finished, yet) story chronicling the life of our minstrel in blue prior to his introduction in Wilderhark Tale #3. Here’s Part 1. Enjoy!

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Wendara Gant was not the sort of woman who could easily keep still. So much had this proven the case, that it was not until she had been a woman for a quite unrespectable number of years that Wendara became Wendara Gant in the first place. For perhaps it should be clarified that, when it was said that she could not easily keep still, it was meant as having less to do with her inclination to rove from town to town, and kingdom to kingdom, and hill to plain and back again, and more to do with her predisposition to flit from man to man, and mate to mate, and fellow to fool without any plans made to ever look back again.

It did not help that Wendara was so alluring. It may be that she would not have been seen as particularly so, had she remained in her birthlands – the desert isles of the Far East – where females of her kind were commonplace. But she had not remained there, having instead, while in her early teens, traveled oversea to the Great Land with other islanders of a sort who were not easily kept still. And the females of the Great Land were little like Wendara, causing the males of that place to look with wonder upon her strikingly petite stature, her glamorous, smoothly sun-browned complexion, and every little exotic movement or sound she made. In light of Wendara’s appeal, finding a young, unattached and overeager man with which to spend a night, or a week or month of nights (though rarely longer), came all too easily to her.

It is perhaps something of a miracle that only one of these thoughtless unions resulted in a child. Wendara did not view the matter as such. She viewed it, initially, as a minor inconvenience. Not long after the child was born, she modified her opinion, re-labeling it a major inconvenience. For the child was shaping up to have even less use for any sort of stillness than his mother and all the rest of her nomadic islander band combined.

She named her son Jackillen – a careless name meaning “child of a man”, for just another man was all his father had been to her; indeed, there was even a period of time when she had been unsure which specific man it was. But all uncertainty vanished as Jackillen began to move. He learned early – crawling over and under and through and around every obstacle with ease at a very few months. And by his first year, he was running, bypassing toddling and even walking altogether. Jackillen never walked; he ran, he sprang, he cavorted, he danced; he was one place, then he was another, but he could not be bothered to walk there. Wendara knew, then, who the father must have been – he who, too, seemed either above or incapable of merely walking. And she questioned the name she had given her son, who could be after all the child of no ordinary man.

But there was nothing to be done about it now. Jackillen he had been named, and Jackillen he was, whether the bearer was contented with the name or not. And he was most certainly not.

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More of the pre-“Song Caster” tale to come as Fairy Tale Fortnight continues!

And two things to remember: One, I’ve got a giveaway going on! Check out my feature on A Backwards Story and/or my interview with The Book Rat and enter to win a free paperback of Book Three of The Wilderhark Tales, “The Seventh Spell!

Two, I’m looking for advance readers! If you’re willing to read and review “The Song Caster (Book Four of The Wilderhark Tales)” ahead of its scheduled release on June 24th, drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll send you a PDF of the tale in all its practically completed glory!

Song Caster Cover, front

“Sequel”

It’s kind of hard to be at all aware of popular culture and not know what this noun’s second definition is: “A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative continues that of a preexisting work.”

            Hollywood thrives on sequels. (Or, some critics might argue, sequels are killing the industry.) In fact, some of my favorite movies are sequels – “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, “The Swan Princess: The Mystery of the Enchanted Kingdom” (okay, urgent disclaimer, that last one is a former favorite; way, way, way, former)… The reason that I was eager to watch these three movies, which all happen to be the third in their respective series, is that I had seen and enjoyed the movies that preceded them. That right there is the big draw of the sequel: Somebody liked that aforementioned preexisting work enough that they wanted more of it.

            It is a dismal truth, however, that sequels do not always live up to their predecessors. Many books and movies are milked well past the point of quality’s demise. Stories are stretched to ridiculous proportions, or shamelessly recycled, or (sometimes, it seems) barely bothered with, all for the sake of spending a little more time with these characters or in that world (or in the hopes of pulling in a few more dollars).

            As an author, I am faced at every book’s completion with a choice: Do I crank out Part Two/Three/Four…, or do I end it here?

            I could make an illustration of “The Wilderhark Tales”, but that’s been getting more than its fair share of shout-outs on this blog. I’ll use a different example: My “World of the Dream” saga. I wrote the first book without any ambitions for a follow-up. Bruno battles evil in his sleep – action, adventure, witty quips and unicorns, the end. I would have been happy to leave it at that… except that I was soon afterward inspired to do more. I saw a storyline that could be taken farther, deeper, darker, and more urgent than before. I ran with it, and it ended on a note that loudly demanded a third installment. With the trilogy concluded, I would have been willing to swear that that was that.

            That wasn’t that. For all kinds of reasons that I could go into, but then I’d have to kill you (spoilers, don’t you know), there needed to be a Book Four, which I wrote. And frankly, I would love a Book Five. But I don’t think there’s going to be one. Some sort of prequel, doubtful-but-possibly, or another related short story or novella (one has been written already). But not a Book Five. The fourth book’s final chapter felt as truly final as any ending I’ve ever typed.

            I know I said I’d leave “Wilderhark Tales” alone for this one (but it turns out I can’t, because I’m obsessed), but it was really the same way. Once I’d hit the fourth book, I was planning for seven, just because I thought the number suited the series. But by the time I was deep into Book Six, I could feel it: This was the end. Never mind the suitability of seven. Never mind that I could give my tailor seventy times seven books and still find more to say. (And I honestly can’t decide if that’s an exaggeration or not.) That narrative was over, and to try to force another book would have been pathetic overkill. An artist with a heart for quality has to know when to say, “Enough.”

            Whether or not Hollywood will ever adopt that attitude remains to be seen.