Yesterday, Nancy Franson posted a review of Dancing Priest at her blog, Out of My Alleged Mind (I like that title). Nancy read the novel while on her exercise bike, and I left a comment that said I had done the same thing in December – the first time I had actually read the book as a story instead of a manuscript.
Well, Sheila Seiler LaGrand, who blogs at Godspotting, left a comment and said she’d like to hear that story. Far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to talk about the book (Department of Shameless Marketing).
The story that became Dancing Priest percolated in my head for three years, and then I started putting words on paper (or on the computer screen) in the fall of 2005. It was not coincidental that it was right after Hurricane Katrina – which my then 82-year-old mother and 85-year-old aunt rode out together at my mother’s home in New Orleans. Yes, they had the opportunity to leave but chose not to. Fortunately, my mother’s house sits on some of the highest land in the area, what’s called the Metairie Ridge, and she didn’t experienced flooding. It took four days to get them out of the city, but they finally were able to leave.
I started writing the story not long after that. I needed to, I think. I had been confronted with the impermanence of life and however that worked in my head (or my heart), and I starting writing the story down.
Writing, rewriting and revising was what I did for the next five years. The only thing that remained the same was the working title of Dancing Priest. But for me, the story was never really a story in the conventional sense. It was always a manuscript, a document to be worked on over and over. It gave birth to a second manuscript, and then a whole series of manuscript children. But Dancing Priest was always a manuscript, and it was always work.
I had two weeks off from work in December, and spent a fair amount of time on a machine at the local Y called the NuStepper (a good exercise machine, similar to a stationary bike but without the pedaling; it’s good for people with herniated discs). I had my iPad with me, and the iBook version of Dancing Priest. And so, for the first time, I read Dancing Priest straight through as a novel, as a story, and not as a manuscript.
I experienced the book in a completely different way. Yes, I knew what was going to happen, but I read it like any reader would read it – as a story.
When I finished reading it, I had one thought. It’s a pretty good story. And then I had a second thought: It’s a big story, with lots of characters and some sub-plots and all kinds of things going on. And a third thought: I wonder when the sequel’s coming out. Oh, right, I’ve got some control over that.
I will also admit that, despite the number of times I have read the words and the sections and the scenes, I cried at two parts. I quietly looked around the exercise room at the Y before dabbing my eyes.
Since then, after reading the reviews, I’ve gone back to parts of the novel cited or quoted, fascinated with what people have said or the sections they’ve cited.
After all these years, I’m still surprised that Michael Kent and Sarah Hughes have stepped out of my head and my computer and into the light of published day.
Update: I was interviewed about the book on a radio program Monday, but the tape isn’t available on line. It was radio station WYDE in Birmingham, Alabama, and the program is syndicated in eight states. The interview lasted five minutes. I discussed what the story was about, and how it was a romance that even a man would read and enjoy (plug for Valentine’s Day).
The key question I was asked: “Okay, so I know Michael Kent is a British citizen, but if he could vote tomorrow in the Missouri primary election, who would he vote for?” After a stab of cold terror, I said, "Yes, he is a British citizen.” Slight hesitation, as I weigh if I should answer the question or not. “But if he could vote, he would vote for ___” and then I named a candidate. The interviewer shouted “YES! That was the right answer!” and then asked why. I said that the candidate I named was a conservative with heart, and heart was what Michael Kent was all about. She then said she had endorsed that candidate last week.
Any guesses as to the candidate I named?