Last week, I mentioned on Facebook that I had finished the first draft of a new novel. Tentatively entitled Stonegate, it finished at just over 92,000 words, about the same length as the first four of the Dancing Priest novels. The fifth included a 20,000-word novella, but without it, it would have been about the same length as the others.
The idea for the story was born in early 2019, but I didn’t seriously begin to tackle it until late last year, almost two years later. What had to be finished first was Dancing Prince, the final novel in the Dancing Priest series. I had to get the Michael Kent-Hughes story fully out of my system before I could turn to a new story.
I surprised myself when I started it. First, there were two very strong story ideas I’d been toying with, one based on my own family history and the other a more-than-half-written novel. But as these things will happen, Stonegate grew and became something real.
I believe the shift from the other stories happened because of the November election. Stonegate is not a political novel; it’s not about politics or red state versus blue state or personalities or anything like that. What it is about is a family, one having the familiar stresses of life in the 21st century. And it’s about what happens to that family when the oldest child is arrested for a hate crime.
The story is set in a suburb of St. Louis, not unlike the one I live in, but which could be any of about a dozen similar suburbs in our metropolitan area. Some of the houses of my suburb inspired settings in the story. But none of the characters resemble anyone I know or know about in our town. They are invented, fictional people. And nothing like what happens in Stonegate has happened in my town.
The story is a political one only in the sense of examining what happens when a child is charged with a hate crime – what happens to the child, his siblings, and his parents. The story is told from the perspective of the middle child, an 11-year-old boy, but it’s told as he ages from 11 to 31.
This past weekend, I finished what I call my “first read-through.” When I’m writing, I edit as a go a long, looping back periodically to reread (and edit) from the beginning. When I reach the end, I set it aside for a day or two, and then undertake a series of re-readings. I want to see if the story holds together as a unified whole, if it makes sense, if it seems like a good story, if it holds my attention, and if there are any glaring errors or omissions. If I lose interest in it, I can’t expect others to stay interested.
My “first reading” report: the story works. It holds together. It reads well, and it’s reads fast. It held my interest to the point where I didn’t want to stop reading. (It’s a good sign when a writer gets so absorbed in reading a work that he forgets he wrote it.) I did see a couple of similarities to my previous books, but they’re minor. This is a very, very different kind of story.
More full readings like ahead. The second reading usually focuses on major gaps, if any, and the third reading on minor corrections. If past novels are any guide, I will have read this story between 15 and 20 times before I submit it for consideration by an agent or a publisher.
Top photograph by Michael Hart via Unsplash. Used with permission.