As a neurosurgeon, it would have been nice if a colleague could have inserted a wire-thin electrode into one of the creative centers of my brain. When he turned on the juice, elegant prose would have flowed out of my fingertips and onto the computer screen.
Unfortunately, deep brain stimulation hasn’t advanced quite that far. Therefore, my career as a brain surgeon didn’t help me to write The Never King any more than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work in a customs house helped him to write The Scarlet Letter.
What did help me to write The Never King is my long-standing interest in the legend of King Arthur and in Celtic folklore in general, including the Celtic “fairy faith” (which is a religion that’s older than Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Indeed, I’ve gradually assembled a considerable library of the classic works on those topics and they are the source of most of the ancient beliefs, fanciful tales, and Celtic arcana that are resurrected into the modern world in my novel.
So far, most of the reviews say that I’m a solid writer, so where did a neurosurgeon acquire that skill? Well, I began to acquire it almost 50 years ago when one of my high school English teachers took an interest in paring down my style in order to make it clearer and more direct. In the ensuring years, I was successful in writing a couple of dozen medical and scientific papers and even a text book. However, I’ve always had an active imagination and love to make up fantastic stories just to entertain myself. Therefore, it was almost inevitable that I’d eventually try my hand at a novel.
In writing this novel, I violated many of the rules that are followed by professional writers. For example, I didn’t outline the book or even write a plot summary that could be gradually expanded. Instead, I started with the first sentence and then tried to let my imagination do the rest. It was like sitting in a darkened theater watching a movie unfold. I simply wrote down what I saw. Sometimes the movie took the form of a dream that I scribbled down when I awoke before I could forget it. At other times the images suddenly came to me in unguarded moments like when I was showering or petting one of my four black cats. Frankly, dreaming up the plot was the easy part. The hard part was editing my narrative so that my words didn’t get in the way of the story.
And for that I got professional help. I found an uncommonly bright young lady who had once worked for some literary agents and who was willing to read several drafts of my novel and offer her criticisms. She seldom made suggestions regarding individual words or sentences but instead focused on the pace of the novel and the development of the characters. In hindsight I’d say that she acted less like an editor and more like a reader or, to put it another way, she gave me the feedback of a one-woman focus group. Because of her efforts, The Never King became tighter and I learned some key lessons that I won’t soon forget. (For example, I learned that you have to be willing to delete the best lines that you ever wrote if they do nothing to develop the characters or move the story along.)