Happiness: How to Find It — Behind the Romance

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Week num­ber two of the Buc­ca­neer blogfest con­tin­ues, and our pirate flag whips in the sun as we search the lit­er­ary seas for booty.  Today’s prompt asks writ­ers a very com­mon ques­tion: where did you get the idea for your nov­el?

If you would have told me that one day I would write a romance nov­el, I wouldn’t have believed it. I don’t read romances and my usu­al taste in writ­ing is for dark­er fare.  How­ever, on July 26 my new romance nov­el Hap­pi­ness: How to Find It kicks off as a web ser­i­al on Curios­ity Quills.   It’s a good sto­ry and I’m thrilled to be able to share it.

So where did the idea for Hap­pi­ness come from?  The con­cept of a per­sonal muse is lost on this age of log­ic and rea­son, though I’m still a believ­er.  While I don’t know where it came from, I can pin­point when the idea for Hap­pi­ness hap­pened.  It was dur­ing an online chat with a friend and I was jok­ing about writ­ing a Jehovah’s Wit­ness romance nov­el.   The idea of writ­ing one specif­i­cally for the puri­tan­i­cal reli­gion made us laugh as I riffed:  “He adjust­ed the micro­phone stand, his mus­cles bulging as he tight­ened the boom, the back of his JC Pen­ny suit stretch­ing across the broad expanse of his shoul­ders.”

The con­ver­sa­tion was quick­ly for­got­ten until the fol­low­ing Novem­ber when I par­tic­i­pated in Nation­al Nov­el Writ­ing Month, a writ­ing chal­lenge where writ­ers attempt to write 50,000 words dur­ing the month.  Because I was work­ing a full-time job as well as attend­ing col­lege part time I didn’t feel I had the time or focus to devote myself to my usu­al labored writ­ing. Instead, I decid­ed to use the month for exper­i­men­ta­tion and write far out of my com­fort zone with a flip­pant genre nov­el.  Why not a romance?  If noth­ing else it would be goofy fun. How­ever, because I was writ­ing a Jehovah’s Wit­ness romance, it couldn’t be a tawdry, sweat-laced romp; it would have to be a gen­tler love sto­ry. The pin­na­cle of JW courtship is gra­tu­itous hand­hold­ing after all.

There was anoth­er rea­son I decid­ed to write Hap­pi­ness.  I had just fin­ished the first draft of a nov­el called Par­adise Earth, which is a piece of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion also deal­ing with the Jehovah’s Wit­ness reli­gion. The pic­ture that Par­adise Earth paints of the com­mu­ni­ty is pret­ty bleak and dark.  How­ev­er, even though I have severe griev­ances with the reli­gion, I can admit that the par­tic­u­lar hell has a spe­cial fond place in my heart.  I can relate to some­thing that Jeanette Win­ter­son wrote about her own strict reli­gious upbring­ing in her mem­oir Why Be Hap­py When You Could Be Nor­mal?:

It is hard to under­stand the con­tra­dic­tions unless you have lived them; the cama­raderie, the sim­ple hap­pi­ness, the kind­ness, the shar­ing, the plea­sure of some­thing to do every night in a town where there was noth­ing to do — then set this against the cru­el­ty of dog­ma, [and] the mis­er­able rigid­i­ty …

I want­ed to cap­ture my own rose-col­ored mem­o­ries with Hap­pi­ness as a lit­er­ary bal­ance to the heav­i­ness of Par­adise.  One of the rea­sons I set the sto­ry in the 1990’s, was that it would pair with my own teenage years.  There was an excite­ment at going to Dis­trict Con­ven­tions and tak­ing Bethel bus trips and con­gre­ga­tion get togeth­ers.  I cher­ish the mem­o­ry of the old­er pio­neer sis­ter who sang sil­ly songs as she drove us around in our min­istry in her mini-van.   Though I won’t spoil how things turn out, I can say that, as in my life, often love comes into con­flict with the dog­ma and rigid­i­ty and choic­es have to made.

As I wrote the sto­ry it became more about roman­tic love, but rather a cel­e­bra­tion of love itself.  Through Wyatt, Rose is learn­ing to open up to those around her.  That epiphany for me came much lat­er in life.   The lat­er moments of the book deal­ing with Wyatt’s “Oper­a­tion Hap­pi­ness” are prob­a­bly the clos­est thing to my own life.  Like Rose, I was inspired by a love song and that lead to reach­ing out to oth­ers, such as by writ­ing “Thank You” cards to every mem­ber of our con­gre­ga­tion.  If you take any­thing home from read­ing the nov­el, I hope it is this.  Acknowl­edg­ing and car­ing for oth­ers around you is an awe­some way to live.

¶ Despatched on Friday, July 20th, 2012 at 9:35 pm and sorted in Writing. ¶ { ReTweet }

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