How the Eye in the Stone was written

The Eye in the Stone was published in 1988, the same year as Below the Threshold. They weren’t written the same year, publishers have their own schedules, which is why writers must be patient. More on that another time.

Many, if not most books that have magic, make it just a part of the world, even if the world is our own, or something like it. Everybody knows about it, as in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. But what if there was magic in the world we actually live in? How could we not know about it? The answer to that question was one of the keys to The Eye in the Stone — magic is hidden because it’s practitioners would be seen to be dangerous, they would be feared, and either controlled, “cured,” or lynched. Okay. But again, how could I make the existence of real magic in our world plausible to readers who can see no evidence of it?

Besides putting magic in the “real” world but not letting anybody know about it, making it truly secret, I made the world just a little bit different, the way some writers give real places or real people different names. I could then use all the rest of the world just as it is. I gave my real home town a different name, Harbor Beach. I made Detroit the movie capitol. Los Angeles is famous for its jewel-like climate. The most ubiquitous fast food franchise is McDougal’s Emerald Arches. I didn’t change anything else. Not quite urban fantasy.

I knew most of the story elements before I started, but mostly I just let my story tell itself, except for the magic. I created a huge magic system, with words, gestures, symbols, colors, all inter-related and inter-connected. I think I may still have it somewhere, but maybe not. It was a couple hundred pages, including lists, diagrams, and charts. I actually used only a little of it.

The writing was easy. Sometimes I was surprised by how the story developed. I knew what the ending was about, but not exactly how I would get there, or how the ending would actually turn out. I like it when my writing works that way. My hero, Morgan Scott, made friends, confronted demonic forces and evil minions, discovered dark secrets, practiced his magic when he had to, accepted his familiar’s help when he needed to — Phoebus was a black and red tabby cat, very large, invisibly part dragon. Morgan chased, and was chased, through strange astral layers, and at last came to the end. It was not a happy ending, even though he succeeded. I left him wounded and bleeding, waiting to recover from his tragic losses.

My editor didn’t like that ending, and made me change it. I added a character, included him in the plot, and let him be the one who had to die — someone had to die. My editor also thought that a fascinating astral scene was unnecessary, and cut it, telling me I could use it somewhere else. Which I have never been able to do, because it was written explicitly for that story, and doesn’t fit elsewhere. I don’t think I even have it any more. And my agent insisted that I add something at the beginning, to show Morgan’s arrival in Harbor Beach, and introduce his cat, and set up the scene where’s he’s watching a suspicious character’s house at night.

I reread the story a couple times. I can’t tell now where my new beginning merged with my original start. My extra character has a real place in the story, and does not feel like an add-on. I’m not sure just where the scene the editor deleted originally was. But I really didn’t like doing those things, because now it was not completely my own story, it was something different.

At last the manuscript was accepted and, with only minor editorial changes, all acceptable, it was published. It made back its advance and then some, and there was a very positive fan review. I don’t think there will be a sequel, but I have an idea for something similar but different. When I find the time.


You can read a sample here.