Although I’ve never been religious, I enjoy visiting temples. They’re peaceful. They’re serene. They are examples of how the locals spend their time and see their own worlds. Thus when I went to Thailand, I went to temple after temple, usually dragging my friends behind. When we got to the town that was the most known for temples, Chiang Mai, I reserved the whole first day for visiting temples in the Old Town. We gave up on finding Wat Chedi Luang before having a lovely photo session at Wat Phra Si Luang. Then my friends rebelled and I had to let them eat lunch. But in the afternoon, I was relentless. We went to Wat Hua Khuang. Then we went to Wat Lam Chang. We spent an especially long time at Wat Chiang Man, which had some pretty elephant statues and even a temple dedicated to elephants. Then my friends dumped me and I had to go back and find Wat Chedi Luang by myself, but I didn’t care. I’d had a lovely (if hot) day of visiting lots of beautiful temples.
When it came to writing THAI TWIST, I naturally wanted to make the most of my experiences. Even before I left home, I had the idea of writing a novel about Thailand, so I was on the lookout for things I could write about. And naturally, one of the things I wrote about was temples. And more temples. And yet again more temples.
To me this seemed perfectly natural. I’d made one sister out to be the museum-nerd-temple person, so why shouldn’t she drag poor Gina to all the temples of the area? After all, I didn’t spend paragraph after paragraph describing these temples. I simply explained about them, some with more detail than others, and then eventually let Gina carry on with the storyline. No problem, right?
When I thought I was finished, I sent the manuscript to a couple of nice, well-meaning friends. They liked the novel, but they claimed they didn’t have any suggestions. Then I asked a good friend and, more importantly, a very good reader, to take a look.
“I liked it,” she said. “Very interesting. Nice dynamic between the two sisters. The mystery part is fun. I found the sisters’ adventures believable.”
“Great,” I replied. “But there’s something you’re not telling me.”
She sighed. I could tell she didn’t want to disappoint me, but after all, it was her job to do just that.
“I think there are some things you could change,” she finally said.
“Well, there are too many temples.”
I was stunned. I was prepared for too much dialogue, too many red herrings, too many cities, too much sex! But too many temples?
“They don’t really help the storyline.”
Sadly, I went back to the manuscript. I asked myself hard questions about what really needed to go in and what could easily be left out. I had two victims, a chapter about riding elephants which, while fun, was also outside the plot line, and a very fat chapter about visiting temples. (Temple-lovers should not worry; there are still some temples left in the novel.)
The result was a much smoother, more interesting novel. It was also a big lesson for me. No matter how much I might focus on something myself, it’s important to keep in mind the poor reader. While it’s lovely to go around Thailand visiting temples in person, a literary tour might not be quite as exciting—at least not until the next novel. I’ll have to make that one about a monk!
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