Yes, this is going to be an opinionated post. That is: it’s my opinion. You may have your opinion, and I look forward to hearing it.
However, just because you have your opinion it doesn’t make mine any less valid. In 1794 if I had said that I considered the French Monarchy was a waste of space and you were of the opposite view, who was right? Was your opinion right? Was mine?
I like the Happy Ever After. Don’t get me wrong. I do. I WANT the Happy Ever After. I longed for Jack and Ennis to have ridden off to California and set up home. I want Romeo to get the note to say she’s NOT dead. Every. Single Time. I weep BUCKETS when I don’t get what I want. Everyone deserves to be happy.
I’m not here to overturn the barricades and to change the world, chopping at the pearl-adorned necks of those ladies who say that the HEA must exist. The HEA is a Good Thing.
With me so far? Good.
What I do object to is a label on my book saying “Romance.” Because this label tells me that I WILL get a happy ever after. Whether I’m ready for one or not.
It’s a safety net.
It’s someone standing in the theatre queue and saying loudly “The Butler did it.”
It spoils me. It’s just as much a spoiler as “Harry Potter doesn’t die.”
As someone recently said to me, a book is about the journey – and I totally agree about that. I buy a book that I don’t know with a sense of huge and tingling anticipation. It’s a virgin steppe, it’s an adventure. It could hold anything. It’s a treasure chest that only needs to be opened. It’s a river that will take me on a journey I can’t imagine.
I plunge into the current. I learn the world, I meet the characters. I fall in love and I’m swept away in the UST, the angst and the conflict. I hope and pray that the characters – who are so clearly mad for each other – will get together.
I DON’T want to know that they will. I don’t want a little label on my book which tells me – even before I’ve opened the bloody book – that all will be well and that I don’t even HAVE to worry. Why give yourself high blood pressure? Why get invested in the story? Why fret? Look! There’s a label that tells you how the book is going to end. Hurrah!
Why then should I stress at your conflict? You might as well just tell me the end before I start. Oh, but you don’t have to. That little label “Romance” already has. Not hurrah.
Romance isn’t safe. It’s a leap of faith, a leap into the dark current of love and you risk all to hope you come out unscathed. When it ends well, it’s wonderful. When you risk all and lose? That can be wonderful too.
And what stories are remembered? Which ones live in the memory? Which ones live through time?
People don’t remember Caesar and Cleopatra, despite at least two of the best playwrights ever attempting to immortalise them. Despite them having their Happy for Now. Despite being “married”, and having at least one child. Or if they do, it is only because it is the pre-cursor to the greater and hugely destructive and doomed passion of Anthony and Cleopatra. That’s what people remember.
A lot of people don’t really care about what happens to Heathcliff after Cathy dies. The book ended there, for many many readers.
So who is going to remember the HEA’s of what is now marketed as Romance? In 100 years will we be still be reading and extolling “Tender Rebel” or “Captive of her Desires”? I doubt it.
But who is going to forget Tess, Juliet, Cathy, Madam Bovary, Anna Karenina, Scarlett, Jack and Ennis? Just because their stories ended badly, just because some American publisher or Board of some Romance Writers’ Association wants to slap a “Tragedy”, “love story” or “literature” label on them – does that make their romance any less valid?
I’ve had responses to my views before. “I couldn’t read those stories they upset me” – and that’s fine. But then if you haven’t read them, then you don’t get the right to criticise or deny the fact that they are romances. Great sweeping overpowering destructive violent romances, yes. But ROMANCES, over and above everything else.
I read a book a while back – written by one of the Macaronis, actually, but I won’t say who because if you are like me, it would spoil it for you. Right up until the last few pages I had no clue what was going to happen. In fact the author had convinced me that one of the protagonists was dead and I was weeping buckets. Brava!
If the book had been labelled Romance – I’d never have had that response. I would never have allowed myself to become so involved, to have invested such a huge amount of my emotion into it, because there would have been the safety net sitting there smiling and being SAFE. “It’s Ok,” it would have said, ” of course he’s not dead. See the label?” It would have ruined a great read for me, and would have been much less of a journey, an experience.
I’d like to see the categorisation changed; wishful thinking I know: it’s never going to happen, but in an ideal world I’d like people who want to be safe with their endings to have a sub-genre of their own such as “Romance – HEA” which guarantees the happy for the reader who doesn’t dare to dare. For the reader who wants to know where they are going when they get on the boat. For those who don’t want the current to sweep them away.
But just give me the genre of Romance, and I’ll take the risk with the protagonists. I’ll live every moment with them, I’ll cry, I’ll fear, I’ll laugh. And I won’t know what will happen until the protagonists do.
But I’ll HOPE. I’ll hope like hell.
And THAT’S what the journey is all about.