I never intended to write a series of novels. In fact, I never really thought about publishing what I was doing, first in my head and later on paper. Dancing Priest existed only in my head for almost five years. It began with an image and gradually progressed to a story.
You can tell a story in your mind much faster than you can write it down.
But I did eventually push it on to a computer screen, all 250,000 words of it. It was too big for a novel, too unwieldy, shooting off in too many directions. Metaphorically speaking, I took an ax to the manuscript at about the 110,000-word mark. And then I spent the next two years culling those 110,000 words down to about 90,000. I rewrote the story at least once. And that was what was eventually published as Dancing Priest.
The manuscript carcass – what was left over – had piled up. The publisher suggested a sequel. Out came the metaphorical ax again and chopped off about 65,000 words. Because of changes in Dancing Priest during the rewriting and editing process, those 65,000 words had to be reworked even more than the first manuscript. The story grew.
The editor suggested an additional villain And he was right. He didn’t suggest what kind of villain, only that one was needed. I created an assassin. Thinking I would come back and give him a name. After trying out various possibilities, I saw something else. Leaving him nameless actually heightened the tension of the story, and my nameless assassin carried that tension right to the end of the story. And the story was published as A Light Shining.
And there I stopped. My day job became crazy. I actually published a non-fiction book (Poetry at Work) the year after A Light Shining. At first it seemed easy. It was much shorter than the novels, but on top of the day job and my mother’s growing infirmities, it became increasingly difficult. And I was writing to a deadline. I made it, but I nearly collapsed from the effort.
Four years passed. And then at a lunch with the publisher of my novels, I mentioned I was trying to sort through a possible third novel. The manuscript was something of a jumbled 50,000 words, the last part of that original 250,000 words that came pouring out of my in the fall and winter of 2005. I had to reread Dancing Priest and A Light Shining – twice – to see how to shape and reshape, write and rewrite those 50,000 words. And this wasn’t the book I wanted to be working; the one I wanted to be writing would fall fourth in the series. But I couldn’t get to the fourth because too much would be missing after A Light Shining.
So Dancing King eventually saw the light of day. It started off as a kind of orphan; it ended up being my favorite of the three.
Now I’m deep into the fourth in the series. I have a working title in my head but I don’t know if it will stick or not. The manuscript is somewhere in the vicinity of 70,000 words at the moment, heading toward 90,000. It’s in two pieces – the new, rewritten and revised version, and the old manuscript (or what’s left of it). I’m reading and revising, reading and discarding, reading and adding something new.
I didn’t intend to develop a series of related novels, but there was simply too much story that I needed to tell. And so, there it is. A story about a priest dancing on a beach because a story about priest who was also a cyclist with a jumbled family and who eventually became a king.
And now he’s on his way to become a reformer, but not in the way he expected. And not in the way I expected.
Top photograph by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash. Used with permission.