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.