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.
The writing of this grand epic extended from September 2005 to about the fall of 2007. The structure and main events of the story had worked themselves out in my head for three years prior to the beginning of the writing.
Once I started transferring it from my head to the computer screen, I didn’t think I was going to be able to stop. It didn’t pour out; it gushed. It was also a lot shorter in my head.
In the spring of 2008, I took the original introduction (the meeting of Michael Kent’s birth parents) to the annual Missouri Writers Conference. I received an editor’s critique (her first question: WHAT HAPPENS to Anna and Henry? – said just like that). I had a three-minute pitch session with an agent (“It’ll never sell. It has no vampires. Nothing sells today without vampires.”) He was so discouraging that I considered going home. But I stayed; he even came up to me later and asked me to send the manuscript to him. I never did; I knew he wasn’t the right person to be involved, and I wasn’t about to add vampires, werewolves or 50 shades of anything.
What kept me going was a roundtable critique session: 14 of us sitting at a big table and led by another agent. We didn’t read our manuscripts; we read each other’s manuscripts aloud.
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.
I’ll finish the story on Thursday.
Dancing Priest is free today:
Today, known as #cyberMonday in internet-speak, Dancing Priest was supposed to be a free download at Amazon Kindle. But it looks like it will be tomorrow instead. A Light Shining is currently available for Kindle and Nook in ebook format, and will be available in its print paperback edition in a few days.