My wife has told me that the Dancing Priest novels can sometimes feel creepy because, well, I write the story, and some of things, or similar things, happen in real life. Not long ago, I wrote a post about something specific that happened after Dancing Prophet was published, but there are examples from all five of the books.
She has what I think is a good explanation for this. My reading ranges all over the social, cultural, and political landscapes. Everything I read is potentially research for the books, and I become aware of things happening, things potentially happening, and events that almost happen. When something real does occur, it can look as if I predicted it in a book.
I’ve discovered that this can even happen when I’m in the middle of a manuscript.
I’m almost 30,000 words into a new novel. It’s something completely different than what I’ve written before. The setting is a lot closer to home than the Dancing Priest novels, and it’s generally along the lines of a coming-of-age story, told by a boy whose family goes through a convulsion that tears the family apart.
Life gets intense when I’m writing like this. I take walks, and I’m working through scenes. I’m in the shower, and I’m rewriting a conversation to add something it needs. I’m at the grocery store, wondering what one of the characters would be buying. I’m driving, and I go out of my way to get a close look at a house that might fit a setting in the story. Everything I read in the newspaper or online is potential grist.
On Wednesday, I opened the newspaper as I usually do when I drink my coffee. The newspaper has become easier to read over time; you can look at a headline or the first paragraph of a story and know almost instantly whether you’re reading news or an editorial disguised as news. (I skip a lot of what goes in the newspaper these days.) On an inside page there was a local story involving a school and a lawsuit. A fairly lengthy story, I was surprised that it was written as straight news. I was even more surprised when I started reading the last third of the story. It read like it was lifted from my manuscript.
I could not have predicted these real events described in the story. But I’ve been doing enough reading and research to know that what I was writing about was certainly possible. Things like it have been happening in other places. And now it had gone beyond possibility in my own community.
In my story, a student is accused of a crime at school. The accusation goes public. The news media, social media, parents, and school officials all assume the child’s guilt. Conventions and laws about media not naming minors involved in crimes are mown down in the eagerness to get the story. Adults and officials who are supposed to care about due process and facts disregard both in their rush for public virtue. And a family is destroyed in the process.
The heart of the story is about what it takes to bring healing, even when some things can’t be healed.
It’s not the big sprawling story of the kind that characterize the Dancing Priest novels. It’s about one family in one community and how people and children can be damaged in the tug of war of politics and ideology.
They say life imitates art. It may be more a case of art mirrors life and art mirrors things that can be expected to happen. This is not an easy story to write. It’s also not an easy story to live. And some people are living it.