By James L. Davis
Well, that took a lot longer than it had should have. I wrestled with The Book of the Shepherds for forty years, or rather, I wrestled with some of the characters who live in The Book of the Shepherds for forty years.
For me, it was always about the characters, not necessarily the plot. Some readers might suggest that the books don’t really have a plot (I know, because they have told me), and I will not argue their point.
Some of the characters that appeared in the four novels first occupied my mind when I was seventeen and a senior in high school. First, there was Edward Toll, a little old apple peddler who was anything but. Then came the man with the shadows, the Greywalker. Next came Quinlan Bowden, and then Vicki Stark. Surprising, only because of when she first appears and how her story goes in directions I did not imagine as a teenager.
Then came Harley Nearwater, a man who is not a very nice man.
At first the story was going to be a modern-day fairy tale, and I started on the first draft after I graduated from high school. I made it roughly halfway through the story and then put it on the shelf. It wasn’t the story any of the characters wanted to live and they told me so every night when I tried to sleep.
I took more than a decade off writing fiction to fall in love, get married, join the Air Force, and try to figure out how to be an adult (still working on that one). The characters never stopped talking to me though, never relented in their pestering to get after it and tell their story.
I revisited them all when I found myself a single parent with a small boy and girl to raise. That was when Noah and Raizor were born as characters in my head. That might make you surmise that Quinlan is a representation of the author in his story. That is not the case. I am not as good as Quinlan, and not quite as bad as Harley, but I share a lot of their qualities, good and bad, I suppose.
Now, with seven people in my head screaming at my brain, I tried to tell their story again. This time it would be a horror novel with some fantasy elements. That one I completed the first, second, and third drafts on. It was a 227,000-word monstrosity, and when I finally stumbled upon the love of my life, I let her read the book. It horrified her, and I think she slept with one eye open for several months. The manuscript is in a box somewhere in my basement.
Even though I had finished the story, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone, especially Harley Nearwater.
“That’s just not me, son,” he would growl in my ear whenever I had a quiet moment.
But now I had a partner and our blended family consisted of two happy adults and five rambunctious children, so I put the voices in my head in a vault for another decade.
Harley still wouldn’t leave me alone, and I grew to hate him. I imagined him as a viciously mean man with no compassion for anyone. He was to be a minor antagonist who I quickly killed off. I relished the idea of killing him off, but he kept thwarting my plans.
“That’s just not me, son,” he’d say.
I had characters screaming for a world to live in, and I hadn’t a clue where to find that world.
In 2012, my now three adult sons came home for the holidays, and while we were sitting in the living room one evening, I asked them a question.
“What do you think the world will be like in 100 years or so?”
Two of my sons are electrical engineers, and the third earned his degree in history. We talked for hours, debating where we thought we might be heading as a species. We discussed everything from science to medical advancements, politics, poverty, automation, religion. It is my fondest memory of the kind of conversations I always crave, and to have had it with my sons was the greatest gift.
I didn’t take notes, but the characters in my head started clamoring. That was the world they wanted to live in, so a few weeks later I plopped them into the middle of it and waited to follow where they might lead.
It led to all the other characters that populate the books, first Jodi Tempest, then Cirroco Storm and the rest you will meet along the way.
I knew it was going to be an odd blend of fantasy and science fiction, and I didn’t want to give myself (or the characters) an easy out. I wanted an End of Everything, but not an end that could be thwarted. There would be no castles to storm, no armies to defeat. The end was coming one way or another.
Then I waited to see which character would head in an interesting direction, and it was no surprise when it ended up being Harley Nearwater.
Some of the characters living in my head do horrible things in the story, and some of them have horrible things done to them, even endure horrific things. I struggled writing some of it, but I discovered in the writing that I wasn’t telling the story as much as channeling the characters as they told their stories (and yes, I know exactly how that sounds). They were whispering to me the entire time.
And now, finally, it is done. When I finished, the characters who had been whispering in my head for decades stopped whispering, and it was quiet. Too quiet. I took a year off from writing because I wasn’t sure where to go next, or if there was a next.
I have another eleven stories in my aching brain, and slowly but surely characters are whispering which story they believe is theirs. Some of the characters readers of The Book of the Shepherds might recognize.
I hadn’t quite decided to continue with writing because all eleven of these stories reside in the same world as The Book of the Shepherds, some directly, some indirectly, and I wasn’t entirely sure I (or anyone else) would want to spend more time there.
In the end, the voices wouldn’t stop, and I am once again pecking away at the keyboard and listening to voices in my head.
My goal is to get all eleven books written in far less time than I did the first four. One a year or so for the next ten years (I might be more prolific when I retire from my day job). I don’t want these voices still pestering me on my 100th birthday.