It was part of the original manuscript. The 82,000-word novel was originally joined to the 93,000-word novel that became Dancing Priest. Yes, that’s a total of 175,000 words, not including the original 5,000-word introduction and the 11,000-word “wedding scene’ (it was more than the wedding) that were both dropped, and the 50,000-word section that followed the conclusion of what is now A Light Shining.
Doing the math: 241,000 words, give or take a few hundred.
Long before a publisher ever showed up, even I knew that was way too long for a novel.
I looked at the one I was to read, and realized from the first sentence that it was not just bad, but spectacularly bad. It had ghosts and other creatures (but no vampires), and the writing was just bad. Including the misspellings and grammar mistakes. A dilemma: I was holding someone’s hopes and dreams and hard work, and I could read it like it was written or I could do something else. I did something else. I put my speechwriting skills to work and essentially performed it like a speech, correctly the grammar mistakes as I went along (no one else but the writer and the agent would ever know). After the session, the writer told me that “you spoke it better than I wrote it.”
After the writer next to me read my manuscript, there was a kind of pause, and then the agent said, “I don’t handle your genre. If I did, I’d sign you right now.”
That was sufficient inspiration for the next two years.
I came back from the conference and divided the manuscript. “Dancing Priest 1” eventually became the published novel, Dancing Priest. “Dancing Priest 2” became the core of what is now A Light Shining. The last 50,000 words became what is now entitled “Dancing Priest 3” – a rather raw and unfocused manuscript with a directional outline of what it is about.
Dancing Priest was rewritten and edited at least a dozen times. The interesting thing was that I didn’t think it would ever be published, but I kept editing and rewriting.
In 2010, a guy I knew in St. Louis who had set up a small publishing firm said he had heard I have a fiction manuscript, and could he read it?
I said no. By this time, I think I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t be published.
But he kept after me, and one day in 2011 I surprised us both and said yes, let’s do it. So we did.
I edited the second manuscript, and gave it to him. He sent me a contract.
But that’s when things got complicated.
So I had a contract, The manuscript was in the hands of both a reader and the editor. Early reactions seemed positive.
Then the reports came back.
Suggestions for wholesale cuts.
Too much focus in the first section on “the warehouse kids.”
Too much focus in the second section on, well, just about everything in the second section.
The suspense ended too far from the end of the manuscript.
The whole last section could be cut.
I set the whole thing aside. That I hadn’t signed the contract I saw as a good thing, because if I accepted the suggestions, what would be left was a longish novella.
For the next two months, I came to accept the fact that A Light Shining wasn’t going to be published. I was discouraged, tense, irritable, and upset.
The one thing that stayed in my head was the suggestion by the editor for a new character, to help carry the suspense through to the end of the story. In August, I wrote a new first chapter, and posted it at Faith, Fiction, Friends, essentially to test the reaction. The responses suggested I was on to something, although a few people said they were rather “creeped out.” Which I took as a good thing – that was the whole intent.
It was at that point that I signed the publisher’s contract.
So, the new character was born. I started thinking about how to integrate him into the story. We went to London on vacation, and my laptop (and the manuscript) came with me. Getting away proved to be the best thing I could have done. I did spend some time working on the story in London, but not a lot. I spent more time reading the existing manuscript, deciding what to cut and what to add, and where to place my new character. I didn’t give him a name, because I wanted to come up with exactly the right one.
We returned from London, and the rewriting began in earnest. It was intense, and it happened within the space of a month. I slashed whole sections of the existing manuscript. I rewrote. I integrated. I rewrote what I had rewritten.
And then it was done. The new character still had no name. I fretted over it for a few days, and then realized he didn’t need one. In fact, the story worked better with my character remaining nameless. He had emerged as the major antagonist in the story – an antagonist that Michael and Sarah Kent-Hughes don’t even know exists until it’s too late.
The manuscript was finished. I sent it to the publisher, who accepted it, making only minor changes.
It was a different book from the first manuscript. But it was a better book.
Top photograph: A sunset view of Florence, Italy, a setting for part of the narrative of A Light Shining.