First review of “Dancing Prophet” posted on Amazon: “Yes, it’s 3 am but I was reading a book that I couldn’t put down… I’ve just finished the fourth book in the ‘Dancing Priest’ series by Glynn Young, entitled, ‘Dancing Prophet.’ Wow, it lived up to the greatness of the prior three books that I’ve also read. If you haven’t read Glynn’s series, you need to get them and read them. (Book or Kindle on Amazon!) These novels are exciting, encouraging and uplifting. What is it they say in movie reviews?… “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…” but it’s true. I don’t know how or if Glynn will follow this one up, but I hope that he does. And what a surprise and honor to have him list my name as, “A friend who’s been with him since the beginning.” That’s true but unexpected and humbling. Glynn, thank you for using the gift that God gave you to bring joy to so many.”
My wife has said, more than once, that the main character in my Dancing Priest novels is an idealized version of me. The first time she said it, I disagreed. There were some things I shared with that character, but I never planned to write about making an idealized version of me.
After considering it, I thought, well, maybe. I thought about it some more, and I reverted to my original thought. Nope, he’s not me.
Not one of the characters across my four novels are disguised versions of real people. Instead, they are composites of people and experiences.
In Dancing Priest, Sarah Hughes has a conversion experience that is almost exactly taken from my own.
In A Light Shining, the political operative Josh Gittings is based on several people I’ve known from the political world.
The communications man in Dancing King is based on many of my career experiences, especially in crisis communications. His uncanny ability to spot what’s happening and ferret out what’s behind a crisis is based on too many of my own experiences. (I say “too many” because sometimes I was heeded, and sometimes I was not.)
And certainly the speechwriter in Dancing Prophet comes from my own career background, including sitting with an executive for an entire day to write an emergency speech while he did other work.
I can say my characters come from experiences, but where do their personalities come from? Likely our families, our friends, people who’ve influenced us or protected us, mentors, people we’ve have bad experiences with, even casual acquaintances.
For example, the villain in Dancing King, the PR operative Geoffrey Venneman, is a composite of several people I’ve known over the years. He serves his clients, yes, but he is all about serving himself. He looks for the main chance. He has no qualms about hurting others and that, in fact, is part of the game. He can affect a wounded innocence when it’s helpful to do so. His anger becomes uncontrollable when he’s thwarted. Yes, I knew people like this and had to work with them. It was not a pleasant experience, because you always had to be on guard.
In the writing process, however, I don’t consciously create characters. They seem to emerge as the story develops or when this kind of character is needed. Sometimes I know what kind of character is needed at a particular point, but the birth is an agonizing labor, requiring rewrite after rewrite.
I’ve had one exception to my “no real people” guideline. In Dancing Prophet, one character is based on me, less his experiences and more his personality. I admit it. Almost all of his actions and reactions in the book track with mine (that’s almost all, not all). I didn’t realize this until I was in the middle of rewrite #2 or #3, and then I saw it. The character had emerged, unconsciously, from my own life. He’s not an idealized version of me. In many ways, he is me.
It was a shock. For a time, it stopped all progress on writing the book. I had to take stock. What was I trying to say here, or understand? Was I trying to tell myself something? I had to try to answer these questions and others before I could continue.
The answer I came to was this: this character feels broken. It doesn’t stop him from having a successful career and a loving marriage. But it shapes him in obvious and less-than-obvious ways. And sometimes, in the midst of that brokenness, a character has to step forward and do something courageous.
No one ever said that writing would be this hard. No one ever said it would be this revealing.
Photograph by Hudson Hintze via Unsplash. Used with permission.
It happened about 10 days earlier than expected, but the paper edition of Dancing Prophet, fourth in the Dancing Priest series, is now available. You can find the Amazon listing here.
Amazon is still sorting through having the Kindle edition and paperback edition on the same page. In the meantime, the Kindle edition can be found here.
Two quotations from Dancing Prophet:
“Trevor Barry recognized the irony of him, an agnostic on a good day and essentially nothing on most days, being relied upon for advice and counsel by a deeply Christian king. At first surprised, Trevor had come to appreciate how much the King’s trust meant.”
“The last time the couple had seen Sarah was the beginning of her senior year in high school. She was now 26. The man figured that the crowd would be so large for her speech that there would be no chance of her seeing them. He turned out to be mistaken.”
It’s a fair point; the major tension in Dancing King is between the king, Michael Kent-Hughes, and the Church of England hierarchy at Lambeth Palace. Michael is speaking at churches for the need for reformation, and then makes a blow-out speech at a conference of bishops. Lambeth strikes back, however, employing all sorts of stratagems and accusations.
In Dancing Prophet, scandal erupts. What looks contained to one church is actually broader and deeper, involving churches and dioceses across the country and well beyond. The introductory sentence reads this way: “The match that ignited the reformation of the Church of England was lit by three teenagers.”
The heart of this story was written more than a decade ago, and then rewritten (many times) over the years. In one sense I did pick on the Church of England – the idea of the scandal in Dancing Prophet is actually inspired by the real institutional crisis the Catholic Church has been struggling with. In the story, Michael will realize that the situation is beyond reformation; the church as he’s known it is gone.
Dancing Prophet is fiction, but like all fiction, it can’t help but reflect the times in which it’s written. When the history of our times comes to be written, it may be title (or subtitled) “The Age of Institutional Crisis.” Our government structures aren’t working; the sorry spectacle of a U.S. Senator questioning a candidate for the Supreme Court about the references to body noises in his high school yearbook isn’t even funny as much as it is tragic.
Our language has become the language of extremes, suggesting a mutual contempt that’s hard for me to fathom. I’ve stopped reading the editorial and op-ed pages of my hometown newspaper; there’s virtually nothing in it that one could call a reasoned argument. Lots of polemics, to be sure; lots of barely disguised contempt for any opinion, belief, or value other than what the editorial and op-ed writers agree with. Snark rules.
The church universal is in crisis as well. Mainline Protestant denominations in the United States are in membership free fall. Evangelical megachurches are afflicted by their leaders abusing women and elder boards refusing to believe it, until significant damage is done. The Catholic Church is being torn apart. This looks like a winnowing of the church to me, a winnowing that will leave a smaller and perhaps stronger church.
This isn’t the time for reasoned arguments. This is the time for rule by the mob. I watch the news coverage, and I see the mob racing through the halls of Congress, screaming at senators and congressman. This is rhetorical violence approaching physical violence.
Some have compared this to the declining days of the Roman Empire; it’s closer, I think, to the declining days of the Roman Republic.
This is the world partially depicted in Dancing Prophet. Michael Kent-Hughes has been thrust into a position he never expected and never sought. He is not only dealing with ecclesiastical failure; he is also dealing with politicians increasingly reluctant to take responsibility and a London governing authority that ceases to work due to political disfunction.
Early in the story, two of the leading characters in Dancing Prophet are discussing how Michael came to occupy his position. Here was Michael, with no military background, no royal upbringing, and in fact nothing to recommend him for the position of king. He was a Church of England priest, and a young one at that, without any hierarchal experience.
And here’s what one of the characters says:
“God picks the man needed for the job at hand. And isn’t it fascinating that Michael had essentially been exiled to the hinterlands as a child, reared completely away from anything even remotely royal, felt called into the priesthood when he was relatively young, and was then sent to the outer edges of the Anglican world, away from the center and all that the center implied. God was preparing Michael, as surely as you and I are sitting here. And He was less interested in military and palace experience and far more interested in raising up a man after His own heart.”
And that’s the hope of Dancing Prophet, that even in the darkest times, God is raising up men and women after His own heart.
The ebook version of my new novel “Dancing Prophet,” is published today (paperback is coming in mid-October). In this fourth novel in the Dancing Priest series, Michael Kent-Hughes confronts a collapsing, scandal-wracked church and a collapsing city government. A trusted advisor finally confronts his own troubled past. And Sarah Kent-Hughes finds her long-disappeared mother and ministers to a dying soldier. You can find the ebook at Amazon.
As a special promotion, the paperback edition of Dancing King, the third in the Dancing Priest series, is available at Amazon for $3.07.
From the back cover of Dancing Prophet: “Newly crowned King and Queen, Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes are ready to get down to business, serving the people of the United Kingdom to the best of their abilities. Unknown to them, looming scandals in the Church of England and beyond are about to begin a cascade of events that threaten to destroy the Church, their family and society’s ability to function. Michael, Sarah and those closest to them will be forced to confront destructive and predatory sins in an attempt to save the Church and the future of the country.”