I was talking with my oldest son, who had asked copies of Dancing Priest and A Light Shining for a promotion he’s trying.
“So,” he asked, “if I understand all of this, you’re working on a non-fiction book right now?”
“Correct,” I said. I told him what it was about. The manuscript is due to the publisher in July.
“Well, is there going to be a third volume in the Michael Kent saga?”
“I’ll figure it out in July,” I said, “after I turn the non-fiction manuscript in. There is a manuscript for the third volume, but it needs work.”
I was silent for a moment and then said, “And then there’s the fourth book. That manuscript is largely completed. And it’s the one that’s the most personal.” I paused, “And I think it’s the best. There’s one character in it that I identify with.”
I didn’t mean for that to happen. And it began with a bike ride.
When I started biking in 2004, I mostly biked around our suburb of St. Louis. I gradually started taking longer rides, finding back streets to get to Grant’s Trail, a nice long stretch of several miles.
And then the trail was extended to about a mile south of my house. A few minutes on the bike, and I could start a 20-mile roundtrip. It was great.
The route to the trailhead took me past an aging apartment complex – eight or so brick buildings of eight units each. I rarely paid attention to the apartments, focused more on the hill I had to descend (or ascend, on the way back) alongside the complex.
This was the complex where police found Michael Devlin, a man who had kidnapped a 12-year-boy in a rural area near St. Louis. They also found a 16-year-old boy – who had been missing for four years. He had been kidnapped, too.
The news sent shock waves from our little suburb across the country. Film crews arrived. City fathers were mortified at the bad publicity.
I was horrified. This was the place I rode my bike past nearly every day, weather permitting. While I couldn’t have expected to know what was happening there, my reaction was profound, and deep, and I can’t really explain why.
I started writing. I literally wrote out my reaction in the form of a story. One character inserted himself, and ended up playing a critical role in the story.
When I reread the manuscript, I realized what I had done. I had written myself into the story, and I didn’t realize it until I had finished the draft. He had burst unexpectedly from my head and my heart.
In Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle explains very succinctly what happened to me as I wrote that story and created that character: “In the act of creativity,” she says, “the artist let’s go the self-control he normally clings to, and is open to riding the wind.”
I don’t know if that particular wind will ever see the light of publication, but I do think it’s one of the best stories I’ve written.