In February, a woman at church asked me if I would be interested in talking with her book discussion club about Dancing Priest. She had read it, and the three published after it, and said she had recommended it to the club. The question became, how fast could I say yes?
Then came coronavirus, and everything went into hibernation. But Dancing Priest hadn’t been forgotten, and once our county emerged from lockdown (or sort of emerged), the discussion was back on. Last week, I sat for two hours with the club’s members, about eight or nine people in all, and talked about Dancing Priest, its successor novels in the series, and the new and final novel in the series, Dancing Prince.
Virus note: Yes, we wore masks and sat in a socially-distanced-approved manner.
The members are people who love to read. They’ve been meeting for several years and have become good friends. They take their books seriously, and they read a broad range of fiction and non-fiction. (Their next book is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.) Two of the people in the group had read all five of the Dancing Priest novels. Two had read the first two, Dancing Priest and In A Light Shining. The rest had read only the first one.
Any author loves to talk about his or her books. The best part of a discussion like this one is to hear directly from readers, particularly readers who love books. They ask questions, they make observations, and they offer deep insights and comments. They take what you’ve written very seriously.
Here are a few of the questions and comments.
Where did the idea of Michael Kent come from? A song, “Luna Rossa” by Mario Frangoulis. I heard it on an airplane flight to San Francisco, and the song evoked the image in my mind of a priest dancing on a beach (it’s an older song, popular in the 1950s, sung in Italian; I have no idea what it’s actually about). Music infuses all five of the books. The first two were written while I listened rather incessantly to two Frangoulis CDs, “Sometimes I Dream” and “Follow Your Heart.” The last three owe a debt to two instrumental albums by Michael W. Smith, “Freedom,” and “Glory.”
How many times have you been to Edinburgh? Since a good part of Dancing Priest and the others have a significant Edinburgh component, it’s a good question. The answer is – I have never been to Scotland or its capital city. But I have spent so much time on the internet doing research, and especially visual research, and I feel live a virtual resident. The home where Michael is raised outside Edinburgh is based on a real house, An Calla, just transported from an island on the western side of Scotland to the eastern side of the country. I used real buildings at the University of Edinburgh, real coffeeshops, and real theater venues.
In the last three novels, the scenes in London were all based on first-person visits – my own. During trips in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017 to London and England, I took a ton of photographs. I stood at the front of Southwark Cathedral and imagined what it would be like to preach a sermon there. I’ve done the tour at Buckingham Palace twice. I’ve stayed at a hotel on Buckingham Gate. I know the bus lines and the tube lines, and how to get from Hyde Park to Kings Cross Station. We had considered going to Edinburgh in 2020, but the virus disposed of that idea. Perhaps next year.
Who was your intended reading audience for Dancing Priest? My original idea was to write a romance that men could read. Yes, men. And, for the first two books, readers were about evenly divided between men and women. The reality is, though, that it’s mostly women who read fiction, including both Christian and general fiction. Interestingly, most of the emails and social media messages about the books have come from men.
Have you thought about turning Dancing Priest into a movie script? Yes, actually, I have, but I have zero experience in scriptwriting. In fact, it was the publisher who first brought the subject up, back in 2011. He even sent the book to a film production friend in California, who read it and said, “It’s a novel. I thought you were sending me a script.” The question comes from how visual the book seems to be. Even when I reread it, it seems like I’m watching a movie. But that’s how the book was born – in my imagination. I wrote the manuscript in my head for four years before the first landed on the computer screen, and in that sense, it was a visual story. This has been noted by some of the very first readers almost a decade ago.
How Sarah Hughes comes to faith is exactly how it happens for a lot of people. In Dancing Priest, Sarah and Michael have a major conflict over faith; it’s the central conflict of the story. When she returns to Los Angeles, her experience at UCLA is lifted almost exactly from my own experience at LSU. For the book club members, this deeply resonated; some have had similar experiences or have family members with similar experiences. One called it “completely realistic.”
Photograph by You X Ventures via Unsplash. Used with permission.