Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Finding Bliss

By Spencer Dryden (Guest Blogger)

Scratch a writer about story development and you can sit back for an hour of uninterrupted babbling. We love to talk about where stories came from, but in fact many of us don't know. I don't really know where Bliss came from. (look already, he's ending sentences in a prepositions.) I am new to writing fiction. My bio says I was trained in fiction writing on the job with the sales and marketing reports I wrote for management. 

It sounds funny, but it is literally true. I was never an avid reader and certainly not a writer. This fiction thing is something that was hovering in the background for a long time. When I turned 62 (I'm 64 now) I realized I was running out of time to act on my dreams. My friends are retiring from long distinguished careers. I've never had one. They are also dying of natural causes now. When I go to class reunions only old people show up. The babes I lusted for in high school are grandmothers now. It's my time now, or never.

Luck, and the kindness of strangers are essential ingredients for writing success-everyone is talented, everyone works hard. I got lucky. Lucky, in that a friend who is a successful playwright read some of my initial scratchings I sent him on a whim. He told me I was a natural storyteller and I had a good ear for dialogue. Blew me away. I never would have started without that wonderful anointing. What ever it is he saw didn't come from the traditional path of reading, writing and dedication to learning the proper construction of the English language.

Many of my stories come out of the blue, as if delivered by the muse riding the purple unicorn blasting me with pixie dust. Bliss is very different from the other stuff I've written. If I were to put ropes around my writing, it is male erotica, laced with humor. I'm the guy who invented The Gueschtunkina Ray Gun-one blast from this weapon renders a woman into a high state of sexual arousal. That's funny. That's not Bliss. In fact it took me a couple of rejections to realize that Bliss wasn't romance or erotica. Fortunately the good folks at Breathless Press have a line for romantic suspense, Covert, where Bliss has found a home. More luck. I barely did any research before submitting to them. I'm even a little embarrassed to say I hadn't read a single offering in their portfolio when I pushed the 'send' button.

The story line of the book came from a practice I use that is not to far from the actors training of improv. I smash ideas together and see if I can make something begin to take shape-often with two characters talking. So, I though, suppose there is a woman who is suddenly elevated to the kind of career and social status that is the modern woman's dream. But she's unhappy because her husband has lost sexual interest in her and she doesn't want to lose him. She doesn't have tools to address the problem so she goes to a sex therapist where deep dark stuff comes out. Then, instead of a 200,000 word John Updike novel of midlife, suburban angst, which requires using words like avuncular, the story turns to the manipulation by her misogynistic pastor and his desire for spiritual purity among the men of his flock. So I'm smashing unresolved psychic trauma in youth into the burden of religious guilt and shame, imposed by charismatic man of God. Fun stuff.

Bliss is the story of a woman's struggle with sexual shame. Strip away the decoration and it is a story of the way society fails to protect women and even places blame on them, compounded by religion that keeps heaping it on. Christina McArdle was assaulted as a girl by a predacious boy no one would do anything about. When she struck back at him, she ended up being the one in trouble. Her challenge is she must cast out the demons of past and present or lose the love of her life.

In one of those quirky writing things, Bliss is not a state of being but is the name of the the mythical town in New Hampshire where the story takes place. In my original story line the pastor was going to be at war with the town's largest employer, Bliss Industries, a maker of sex toys. But it just wasn't working out. Not all smashed together ideas do. I found a much more nefarious plot line which I cannot reveal without spoiling the story, but I never changed the name. 
The story is set in 1995. There's nothing terribly memorable about 1995 but I wanted a story before cell phones became ubiquitous. (Hey now, there's John Updike word.) I also wanted it set long enough ago that my MC, Christina McArdle, (35 in the story) could have attended old time Catholic school. The guilt and shame thing plays heavily in this story. As a Catholic school kid of the 50's, I'm telling you, they could lay it on-never mind what the priests were doing to young boys. (This celibacy thing just has not worked out.)

Another quirky writer thing in this story, and all my stories, I name characters after friends who have passed. 
It's just a little tribute to their memory. The character in the story usually bears little resemblance to the one remembered. Unlike Hitchcock though, I do not make cameo appearances in my stories. There is enough of my real life buried between the lines already. Although there is a disclaimer in fiction books about representations of living persons, in fiction you can get the revenge that real life only affords with long jail terms. I love it.

I have to admit I am very anxious to get a gauge on how this story is received and interpreted by the reading public-which hopefully will be millions (right). I have been surprised by how different the story I write can be from the one that is read. Steven King reminds writers that once you put something 'out there' you lose control of how it is interpreted. This story has elements I think will resonate with a lot of women. It might also piss off a bunch of people as well. I guess if its a good story, it will do a little of both. If you happen to be motivated to read it as a result of this lucid post (my what an ego) I hope you'll send some feedback.

You can get the book from Amazon or your favorite e-bookseller.

You can reach me through my website:
At Twitter: @SpencerDryden
I am also on Goodreads and google+ and Facebook

About Spencer

Some men are born great, others strive for greatness; still others have greatness thrust upon them. Spencer Dryden is none of these men. In fact, he is so unimpressive, he leaves no footprints on newly fallen snow. He was trained in fiction writing on the job with the many sales reports he produced for his managers, winning the coveted “keep your job contest” three years running. His expense reports are still considered masterpieces of forgery by the bankruptcy trustee of his former employer. He lives an unremarkable life in a suburb of a northern city. His friends and family would drop dead in horror if they knew of his secret life as a writer of erotica. He hates the family cat but still loves to pet his wife.


Meg Amor said...

Aloha Spencer and Lisabet,

Wow, fantastic blog. I loved reading this. I think your 'regular' writing is just as interesting as your story writing Spencer. I've read Bliss. Highly intriguing and very well paced. The ending is brilliant. I really loved this story. And enjoyed this blog immensely. I like how you use people's names who have passed on. That's neat. :-) I have my mum in my books. :-)

Thanks and aloha Meg :-)

Lisabet Sarai said...

Great post, Spencer, and I have to say, it sounds like a wonderful book. From the other stuff of yours that I've read, I agree with your playwright friend.

I use the "smash together" method, too. The more outrageous the juxtapositions, the better. Just check out RAJASTHANI MOON if you don't believe it.

I hope the book sells phenomenally well. With five 5 star reviews already on Amazon, you're going in the right direction.

Spencer Dryden said...

Thanks Meg:
I've also used my stories to reek revenge on people who have done me wrong.

Spencer Dryden said...

Thank you Lisabet.

Henry Corrigan said...

Great post Spencer! I love how in depth you get about your writing process and how unapologetic you are about it. As ERWA's banner implies, there is no right way to write. What works for one person, won't work for someone else. Very well done

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