On Writing “Happiness: How to Find it”

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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.  I am glad I wrote it because I can say with­out hes­i­ta­tion that Hap­pi­ness helped me to grow as a writer more than any­thing else I have writ­ten.  It’s a good sto­ry and I’m thrilled to be able to share it.

My grand­moth­er was the read­er in our fam­i­ly.  Her liv­ing room was a wall-to-wall book­shelf crammed full of books bear­ing bare-chest­ed mus­cle men hold­ing brazen women with lusty gazes despite the fact that romance nov­els were held in dis­dain by her Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es reli­gion for stir­ring up the body mem­bers to inap­pro­pri­ate pas­sions.  When I stayed at her house, I nev­er did read the bodice rip­per paper­backs instead opt­ing for the goth­ic hor­ror of V.C. Andrews.   In ret­ro­spect, my dark and twist­ed fic­tion today prob­a­bly has a small root in the seedy soil of Flow­ers in the Attic.

Writ­ers are often asked where they get their ideas.  It is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the con­cept of a per­son­al muse is lost on this age of log­ic and rea­son, though I’m still a believ­er.  I do know 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, heavy with deep sym­bol­ism and over­reach­ing themes.  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.

Writ­ers have cer­tain tools in their belts, but when they cross gen­res they may dis­cov­er that some of their tools don’t work.  Genre nov­els by nature can be for­mu­la­ic, which requires learn­ing new ways to tell a sto­ry. Like Haiku poet­ry and Michael Bay film­mak­ing, there is a chal­lenge in the lim­i­ta­tions. In order to pre­pare to write my romance I picked up A Walk to Remem­ber by Nicholas Sparks.  As they say, you can’t judge a book by its cov­er and I was dis­ap­point­ed that Mandy Moore wasn’t in the book. If you ever need encour­age­ment of the “I can write bet­ter than that” vari­ety, noth­ing beats a Sparks book. A writer friend also rec­om­mend­ed I read the non-fic­tion Writ­ing the Chris­t­ian Romance which pro­vid­ed an exten­sive list of “Thou Shall Not’s” for the genre.  I broke quite a few of the rules, in Hap­pi­ness there is mild swear­ing and body gaz­ing, but no real alter calls or NASCAR.

I had hoped that Hap­pi­ness would be some­thing that I could quick­ly write and for­get about, but it took many months to fin­ish.  I owe much to Suzanne Hart­man, author of Per­il, who point­ed out the impor­tance of quick­ly jump­ing into the main con­flict of the sto­ry.  She also showed me how to show and not tell a required writ­ing skill that I strug­gle with. Many thanks to High School Musi­cal and Tay­lor Swift for pro­vid­ing a writ­ing sound­track that cap­tured the angst of teenage long­ing and the thrill of mass com­mer­cial­ism. I also owe some­thing to my grand­moth­er, who served as the tem­plate for my heroine’s own round-face, romance-read­ing, coun­try grand­moth­er.

While I had expect­ed to write some­thing trite, it wasn’t long before the sto­ry start­ed speak­ing to me.  I quick­ly began to take the nov­el seri­ous­ly and give the char­ac­ters, how­ev­er quaint, the respect that they deserved.  I loved my main char­ac­ter Rose for all of her back­woods back­ward­ness, and want­ed her to over­come the strict con­trols that were placed on her shel­tered life.  The theme of the nov­el is sim­ple, but impor­tant:  love, not just roman­tic love, is a pow­er­ful thing, and some­times reli­gion is its fiercest oppo­nent.

If you are a writer I encour­age you to exper­i­ment, per­haps writ­ing in an unex­pect­ed genre.  That’s what pen names are for, right?  If you are a read­er I look for­ward to hear­ing what you think of my lit­tle love sto­ry. Check out Hap­pi­ness: How to Find it, start­ing July 26 at Curios­i­ty Quills.

¶ Despatched on Monday, July 9th, 2012 at 1:44 pm and sorted in Writing. ¶ { ReTweet }

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