One morning in 1995, I visited Laguna Seca Raceway, located a few miles inland from
Monterey, California. As I wandered around the circuit, I saw someone standing alone by the
chain-link fence, mesmerized by the action. I wondered: who was this person? A fan? A
competitor? Such musings comprised the dawn of the novel’s central character.
I returned home and contemplated writing a book about Formula One racing, set a few
years into the future, a tale in which the protagonist resembled the person who I saw at Laguna
Seca. I started telling my friends that I was writing a novel.
“Wow, that’s great, Dave,” they said. “How far along are you?”
“I have a title.”
“Really? Any story to go with it?”
“No. Not yet.”
Such exchanges went on for approximately … two years. But during that period, I began
to imagine the central character’s background and competitive nature. In my mind, I
choreographed the races that would form the framework of the story. I challenged myself to
make each race distinctive. When I began to imagine conversations between characters, I knew
that I needed to start writing. (I subsequently learned that the stage during which an author
daydreams about writing a story is known as the “the gestation phase.” At the time, I thought I
merely was procrastinating; I didn’t realize that I was actually working.)
During the summer of 1997, my employer graciously permitted me to work part-time,
which enabled me to spend afternoons drafting the manuscript. Having prepared a rough outline
of 50 chapters, and with exactly 100 days available to draft the novel before I returned to work
full-time, I attempted to write one chapter every two days. At the outset, that schedule appeared
reasonable. By Day 3, however, I realized that writing 10 pages each afternoon was more easily
imagined than accomplished. Occasionally, I found myself staring at the computer screen long
enough to become hypnotized. And I became mired in strange, frustrating predicaments such
as, “I need a verb that I haven’t used yet to describe a racecar going really fast.” By Day 10, I
felt as if my brain was breaking. A voice within me said, “Just quit.”
In an effort to counterbalance the mental exhaustion, I began training to compete in a
marathon. At the outset, that also seemed like a good idea. By Day 20, however, my brain still
felt like it was breaking―and I could barely walk.
But each task eventually began to energize me to perform the other. Ideas for the story
began arriving at all hours, often when I was driving. That led me to jot the thoughts down on
whatever was handy―an envelope, a gas station receipt, a movie ticket. Once I parked my car
to write some dialogue on an ATM slip and my pen ran out of ink, but I scrawled the words,
anyway. Later, I gently rubbed a pencil over the words to make them appear. Sometimes, ideas
for the story arrived only partially formed; for example, I once wrote down the name of the 1989
movie, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. Later, I spent several hours
contemplating why I did that, and sometimes I still do. I never saw the movie and I never have
figured out why I thought its intriguing title might fit within the story.
At home, I began typing faster than I thought possible; my attempting to write a novel in
100 days focused my energy. After I had written 1,000 pages, I naïvely believed that I had
completed a book. In fact, I had written 1,000 pages. Big difference. I wanted to edit the work,
but other challenges intervened. I set the manuscript aside. Eventually, I forgot about it.
The book would have remained forgotten, unpolished, and unpublished but for the
intervention of my wonderful daughter, Alex. One day in April 2007, she asked me what had
happened to the book that she recalled me writing one decade earlier when she had been six
years of age. I replied that I thought it was located somewhere in storage.
“You should publish it,” she said.
Her encouragement and positive energy provided me with the spark that I needed to
revisit the work. I retrieved the manuscript, which was written on an obsolete computer program
and stored on floppy disks. Her mother converted the program into something I could work with.
I initially believed that I could revise the manuscript in three weeks’ time. That estimate
proved to be unduly optimistic. The process instead required more than three years. I began by
deleting hundreds of pages, then writing new passages to add depth to the characters and more
motor racing to the plot. I wanted to create a crisper, livelier tale. The story evolved through 12
drafts that I wrote in 1997, 23 additional drafts that I wrote in 2007-2009, and 9 sets of galley-
proof revisions in 2009-2010.
Circus Before Dawn fulfills a childhood promise that I made to my second-grade teacher
at a San Francisco public elementary school. One day she asked each of her students what we
wanted to be when we became adults. Some said doctors, teachers, or movie stars. My answer
was author. And so, as a book is nothing without a reader, I thank the reader, for helping me to
realize a lifelong dream and fulfill that promise I made long ago.
CIRCUS BEFORE DAWN