Godsguilty.com is the fictional web site of Stacy, Fourth Person of the Blessed Quad, in the novel Risk of Ruin, by Arnold Snyder. In the novel, Stacy’s web site is published online in over 100 languages, with the Deities and doctrines adapted for different religions.
It’s the web site She set up to inform the world that people had misunderstood Jesus, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, and also misunderstood the Bible. Stacy’s message was that the Bible was a test, set up by God, to see if people would worship the evil God presented in the Bible, or resist Him in the name of good. Most people have flunked the test.
On Her web site, Stacy presented a New Ten Commandments, which you will find below.
The Ten Commandments of Stacy,
Fourth Person of the Blessed Quad
1. Don’t worship. God is not worthy of worship. No one is.
2. Forgive God for Her neglect and incompetence. She’s trying.
3. Remember that every day is as holy as every other day and every place is as holy as every other place. Get rid of the churches, temples, synagogues, mosques. They’re an insult to God.
4. Honor those worthy of honor, rarely your parents.
5. You were created killers. I’m sorry.
6. Thou shalt not commit fidelity. Sex is a sacrament. Fidelity violates your holy nature.
7. Ownership is theft. Thou shalt share.
8. Thou shalt not get on thy neighbor’s nerves.
9. It’s okay to covet thy neighbor’s wife, but only fuck her if she consents to it. Yes means yes, but no means you have to live with coveting her.
10. Covet whatever the hell you want to covet. Just remember, ownership is theft, so if you attain it, you must share it.
Interview with Arnold Snyder,
Author of Risk of Ruin
[Arnold Snyder was interviewed in San Diego on September 10, 2012, by Brent Laurence for his upcoming book on the renewal of American fiction.]
Q: How did you come up with the characters of Bart and Stacy?
A: I wanted to write a romance novel that violated the standard formulas for the characters in romance novels. In these novels, the male protagonist is generally tall and successful. In Risk of Ruin, my hero, Bart, is five-foot-three and a loser. Also, Bart’s grimy, with permanent grease under his fingernails from working as a hack motorcycle mechanic. He’s crude. His language is foul. He’s broke. All of these things are the opposite of what the hero is supposed to be in a romance.
Q: You dedicated the novel to a deceased friend who went by the name of Paladin, and in one of your blog posts you mentioned that you based the character of Bart on Paladin. How similar was Paladin?
A: Bart was loosely based on Paladin, and I think people who knew Paladin would see a lot of him in Bart. But Risk of Ruin is definitely a work of fiction. To my knowledge, Paladin was never into blackjack or gambling. Also, Bart was taller than Paladin. I think Paladin was four-foot-eleven. Paladin rode chopped Triumphs, never a Harley.
Also, Paladin always had girlfriends, and often really gorgeous girlfriends who were taller than him. He was brilliant and very funny, so he attracted women, despite his lack of leading-man credentials. The reason I chose Paladin as a model for Bart was because Paladin was precisely the type of character who would never be cast as the hero in a novel, yet he was heroic. He had guts. He followed his heart. He was true to himself.
(For more information on Paladin, see “Desperately Seeking Paladin”.)
Q: How about Stacy?
A: Stacy was primarily based on my first wife, El, who is also now deceased. She committed suicide about ten years ago, though we’d been divorced about twenty years at that point. We were married for ten years in our youth and had two children together.
El was clinically schizophrenic. She was also a talented writer and artist, which was what attracted me to her. A lot of Stacy’s beliefs about being God were things El expressed to me. We got married in 1967 and moved to San Francisco. I took quite a bit of acid during the ten years or so we were together, which really helped me to understand her. She didn’t care much for drugs and sure didn’t need them to get high.
(For a very different fictional depiction of El, see Arnold Snyder’s short story “Finding God on LSD–A Short Story on Schizophrenia”.)
Q: Stacy’s revelation reminds Bart of an LSD experience he had. Have you had a similar experience?
A: I took LSD many times starting in 1967 and up through the end of the 70s. I never counted, but maybe a hundred times. At first, it alters your perceptions in such astonishing ways that it just seems like a crazy hallucinogenic drug. But after a while, you start to see that you keep going back to the same place and, for lack of a better term, it’s a spiritual place. You feel like you’re looking at the universe for what it is. It keeps showing you the same truth.
After I came to feel like I’d learned what it had to teach me, I didn’t need it anymore. Most drugs, you build a tolerance for them and it takes more to get you high. With acid, the more you take it, the less you need to get the same trip, and the less frequently you feel the need to take it. Or, at least, that’s how it worked for me.
By 1980, I saw no need to go where it took me, as I already knew where that was and it was a place I could go to pretty much on my own, without the hallucinations. I started taking it about once or twice a year, then even less than that. It’s been more than ten years now since I’ve had any acid, but at some point, I’ll probably do it again. It’s about time.
Q: You said you learned what it had to teach you. What was that?
A: There was a poster I used to see back in the 70s with a guru named “Meher Baba,” and the quote on it said, “If God can be found by taking a drug, God is not worthy of being God.” I think it was supposed to be an anti-drug message. But the first time I saw it, it struck me that Meher Baba was right, that God really wasn’t worthy of being God. And when I realized that—that the creator was incompetent, heartless, and totally neglected his creations, it was empowering.
I suddenly felt personally responsible for the world I lived in. It was up to me to create my own reality. LSD taught me that a human being had incredible potential, most of it unrealized.
For example, in 1980, I started writing books and articles explaining the mathematics of blackjack, important things that the mathematicians and computer programmers who’d analyzed the game had failed to see. This was pretty radical for me, as I’d never been a gambler, and had never even taken a college-level math course. Suddenly, I found myself in the midst of correspondence with mathematics professors about my findings and most of the top blackjack experts were praising my work.
The funny thing is that the formulas just came to me and I wrote them down and they worked. I suspect I could have done that without having taken acid—I always found math easy—but I don’t think I ever would have tried.
Q: Is LSD what got you writing fiction?
A: No, I’ve been writing forever, both fiction and nonfiction. My parents got me a Superior printing press for my ninth birthday. I was a book fiend, always had library books in piles around my room. And I’d just started writing short stories. So, I begged my parents for this printing press I saw in a catalog, probably the toy section of the Sears catalog, maybe Montgomery Wards. It had rubber type you could set into metal bars and it printed small pages when you turned a crank by hand. I started printing a news sheet—The Tacoma News. There was a corner store, a little neighborhood market, where they let me put it on the counter to sell for two cents each.
Q: Were you living in Tacoma at that time?
A: I was living in Detroit, on the east side. The street I lived on was Tacoma. It’s halfway between Seven Mile and Eight Mile.
Q: How long did it take you to write Risk of Ruin?
A: About three years. Technically, about six months to write it and two and a half years to get it edited into a book I was satisfied with, though of course now I wish I could polish some more. My first draft was about three times longer than the final version. I’m not a careful writer. I just plow through chapters and scenes then read it over later. I ended up throwing away a lot more than I kept. That was the painful part. Some scenes I really liked but they just didn’t fit the book.
I write fast because I prefer writing that sounds like a person just telling a story. If I’m telling someone a story in person, I don’t agonize over the words or pull out my thesaurus and dictionary. I just talk. I do go back and polish my writing, try to get rid of redundancies and clarify anything ambiguous, but I don’t want to spend too much time making my words and phrases precious, even though I greatly admire a writer like J.F. Powers, who got every single word perfect. I’m not writing poetry. I want my readers to be comfortable, to sink into the story and forget about the words.
Also, I started as a hack fiction writer, and though that quickly got intolerable, it taught me the importance of leaving handholds for your readers–signals that tell them they will be safe reading your story. If they’re not going to be safe–that is, if your story is going to disturb them–those handholds are even more important.
I’m very troubled that literary fiction has gotten to the point where no one but writers and academics read it, while corporate propaganda takes over the fiction for the masses. I’m very conscious of trying to write fiction that can be read just as easily by secretaries and letter carriers as by former English majors. I don’t want readers to feel they have to study my writing to get the meaning of what I’m saying. I want them to not be able to put my book down because they want to see what happens next. I don’t understand why plot has been so devalued by the academics.
Q: You’ve been writing nonfiction for more than thirty years. Why did you suddenly decide to write a novel?
A: I lost a prop bet with God.
Q: Do you have a personal relationship with God?
A: I don’t believe in God. I’m an atheist.
Q: So … how could you have made a bet with God if you don’t believe in God?
A: I was delirious. I was very sick, had a high fever. I felt I was on the brink of death. Under those circumstances, I had a conversation with God. One sided. I did all the talking. I proposed this bet, including the terms. If he does me this one favor, I’ll write this book for him. Risk of Ruin. To my utter astonishment, my wish was granted, fait accompli within twelve hours.
Q: So, did God work a miracle for you?
A: No, not in my opinion. My standards for calling something a miracle are quite a bit higher than what happened, which was that I found a simple cure for what was wrong with me on the Internet. But whether it was a miracle or not, the one indisputable point was that, on the brink of death, my only regret was that I’d never told the world this crazy idea I had. I’d been carrying that book inside my head for fifty years. It was an idea that permanently changed my life and my perspective on the world and made me happy.
Plus, I had this sense of honor about the bet, crazy as it was. One of the worst things a gambler can do is welsh on a bet. You just don’t do it. If you lose, you pay. Doesn’t matter if you were tricked or if your loss was due to accidental circumstances, you have to pay up. So, yeah, I guess I did write the book in order to not welsh on my bet to God. I made the bet and I lost. God won. Miracle or no miracle. Which is really weird because I’m still an atheist.
Q: And what does it mean to you to be an atheist?
A: I don’t believe in proselytizing and I think faith, even faith in nothing, is something personal. I took a lot of acid in the 60s and 70s, so despite having no faith in the existence of a God, I still feel very spiritual. But my religious beliefs are of no consequence to anyone. You have to find your own meaning in life, if you can.
Q: You said you had your novel inside your head for fifty years?
A: Not this exact book, but one of the premises of the book—that the Bible was a test. I started a lot of different versions of it, initially just short stories back when I was in high school, completely different characters and settings—different stories with the same basic premise.
The idea was initially inspired by my reading of the Bible when I was fourteen years old and studying to be a priest in a Catholic seminary. I told a priest that I was reading the Old Testament and that I didn’t like God. He told me not to take the stories literally, but to try and figure out the messages in the stories, what God wanted us to learn from the stories.
Q: Did you do that?
A: Yes, I spent about a month, maybe a couple of months, rereading the Bible and reading parts of it over and over again from this perspective. It was like a mystery where I had to figure out why certain stories were included, not just what they said on the surface. If this is the word of God, what does God want me to get out of this?
Before I went into the seminary, I was addicted to both Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which were both popular weekly TV shows in the late fifties and early sixties that always had twist endings. I would watch these shows with my mother and we both loved trying to solve the mysteries and figure out the trick endings. So now I was reading the Bible to try and figure out the twist endings.
By the time I’d finished the Old Testament, I had what to me was a revelation. God had presented himself as a sadistic fiend who was demanding to be worshiped and praised by his own weak and struggling creations. But the one truly heroic figure in the Old Testament, the only one who stood up to God and refused to worship him, was Lucifer. Despite knowing he couldn’t possibly win in a battle with God, rather than sit in heaven and worship an evil God, Lucifer preferred to be cast into hell for eternity. I think that’s the most courageous and heroic act in all of literature.
Q: This is the same as the revelation Bart has in your novel.
A: Yes, that was taken from my own life experience. I went back to the priest and told him what I’d figured out. The conclusion I came to—the twist ending—was that God gave us the Bible as a test. God presents himself as a cruel tyrant, but in reality, God thinks that anyone who would worship such a God is hypocritical and unworthy of the real God, who’s loving and good, not evil.
God wanted to see if we would have the courage of Lucifer, to reject evil even if we had to suffer the consequences of hell. Only those who refused to worship the thug God would get to go to heaven.
I think Rod Serling would have liked that ending to the story of mankind. I can hear his voiceover on the Day of Reckoning: “The Human Race has entered… the Twilight Zone.”
Q: What did the priest think of your interpretation?
A: He wasn’t crazy about it. Probably not a Twilight Zone fan. He told me I didn’t belong in a seminary.
One thing I always keep in mind, though, is that the Bible really might be a test. So you better think twice about the God you’re praying to.
Q: Risk of Ruin will probably be characterized by some critics as a mockery of religion. Would you agree with that assessment?
A: I wouldn’t argue otherwise.
Q: In your book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Making Big Bucks, you parodied Deepak Chopra and the New Age spirituality movement. Risk of Ruin mocks the more traditional, time-honored religions. Why do you keep going after religions?
A: They deserve it.
Q: How would you respond to someone who says Risk of Ruin is anti-Christian?
A: The book satirizes organized religion and in that sense it ridicules Christianity as most people practice it. But I don’t think it’s anywhere near as anti-Christian as the Bible.
Q: You mentioned studying to be a priest–I’m assuming you had a religious upbringing?
Q: You went to church every Sunday?
A: Yes. My mother was very devout. Her father had his own parish in upstate New York, so she pretty much grew up in a household where her own father was a priest. He was Russian Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox priests are allowed to marry. Their basic beliefs and practices are similar to the Catholics, but there was a schism and my grandfather went with those who decided to break off from the pope over the right of priests to marry and have families. In that sense, my grandfather was a rebel and I’ve always admired him for that, despite his being a religious kook.
Q: How was he a religious kook?
A: I think being a monsignor and walking around in vestments his entire adult life puts him pretty solidly in the kook category. My whole family turned into religious kooks. They went from being Catholics to fundamentalist Christians. Catholics just weren’t nutty enough for them.
My parents were among the victims of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker’s retirement community scam. My brother went into a state of deep depression when Jimmy Swaggart was caught with a prostitute. Things in the news I would laugh at, they’d be crying about.
I’m the black sheep. My family spends a lot of time praying for me.
Q: How does your career in blackjack figure in this novel?
A: The blackjack scenes in the novel are based on personal experience. The hole-carding strategies described are among the top strategies being used by pro players today.
Q: On your blog, you discuss an early career writing true confession stories and porno novels for the pulp market. How does that experience figure in this novel?
A: What I learned from my hack writing days was that there are two great fiction archetypes—romance and porn—and I have that in mind whenever I write fiction. I even wrote two versions of Risk of Ruin—a romance version and a porn version. The romance version is the one that was published. The problem with the porn version was that porno in itself is so cartoonish in its descriptions of sex and relationships that it’s hard to satirize porn.
I started mixing the two versions together, going for a kind of “pornmance,” but that didn’t work either. The porno stuff weakened the romance. The first friends who looked at the manuscript saw the pornmance. The guys thought it was great, but the women thought the cartooniness of the porno stuff was tedious and killed the romance. The women were right. When I eliminated the porn, the novel got way more interesting.
(For more information on the two great fiction archetypes, see “Hack Writing 101: The Lost Meat Spear Manuscript.”)
Q: I think most readers would consider Risk of Ruin a love story.
A: It is a love story.
Q: Do you have any plans for another work of fiction?
A: I’m working on another novel. It’s about a professional gambler in Vegas. And, of course, a dancer. There just aren’t enough novels with strippers in them, in my opinion.
Q: There seems to be a surge in fiction writing (especially self-published genre novels) at the same time as a decline in fiction reading (or at least fiction book sales). What do you see as the future of the novel?
A: In my lifetime, I expect books to become collectors’ items, like old jazz 78s. Beyond that, I don’t have much hope for the human race. Books won’t survive because humans won’t survive.
I think at one time writers and artists and poets and composers had hope that their works would survive the test of time, be around for millennia. Now I think many writers and artists realize that time’s up. You create for the present, not posterity.
The artwork at the top of this page is from The Fall of Satan by Gustave Doré, one of Doré’s illustrations for Milton’s Paradise Lost. One of Bart’s tattoos in Risk of Ruin is based on this artwork.