I can’t speak for other authors, but I’m always surprised – nicely surprised – at what readers have found in my books. I’ve learned that sometimes it takes a reader to show you what you done.
The writing of Dancing Priest happened over a period of years, but it followed a fairly standard trajectory. The idea for the story incubated for quite some time, and then the story line was envisioned in my head long before the first word was actually typed. I knew the story I wanted to tell; I knew who the characters were; and I knew all of the side stories that would be pulled along with the main story.
During the editing and publishing process, the draft actually changed very little from what I’d submitted, at least in terms of the story line. There was a considerable amount of editing, but the story line remained unchanged.
Once the book was published, my expectation was that readers would find that story line – they would find the story I wrote. And they did. But they also found more. In fact, they found more than what I had thought I’d written.
About three weeks after publication, I received a note from a reader. This is what it said: "Just finished Dancing Priest - one of the most compelling stories I've read. I kept thinking I want God to use me like this."
I did a double take.
Wait, I wanted to say, I was just telling a story. I wasn’t trying to tell people how they should live, or what they should want for their lives. Where could that have come from?
And so, I went back and reread Dancing Priest, with the specific thought in mind of what the reader had written to me. I looked for examples or themes of how God uses people.
I found the examples. I found a lot of examples. The examples were so obvious it was almost embarrassing that I had missed them.
The story of Ian and Iris McLaren accepting guardianship of a child at less than an hour’s notice. The story of how Sarah Hughes comes to paint again. The stories of Michael holding his hand to the side of an injured young cyclist’s head, or treating a prostitute no differently than he treated anyone else, or accepting responsibilities far beyond what he thought he was capable of. Or repeating what he had learned first-hand from his guardians and accepting a child.
It was all rather unsettling. How had I missed this in my own book?
It took me some time to find the answer, and it was another email that helped explain it.
Next: Part 2 – A Pastor Buys a Bunch of Books
Top photograph by Ben White via Unsplash. Used with permission.