Reader: Is this book a Romance?
Seller: I think so
R: No I mean is it ROMANCE
S: *waggles eyebrows* yeahhhhh mm hmmm
R: *rolls eyes* No, how does it END? pic.twitter.com/AxccIRVeFd
— Susannah Reilly (@shrewandsnail) May 30, 2018
IT MIGHT ROMANTIC AND/OR ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS BUT IT ISN’T ROMANCE IF IT DOESN’T HAVE AN HEA
The most cherished convention of the genre romance is the HEA/HFN -- the promise that whatever the obstacles, angst and turmoil the protagonists have endured they find a way to be together in the end. This is a powerful promise and one that readers and writers should cherish. It gives readers security and confidence to invest in emotional stories and it sets writers a challenging goal to not just tear things apart but to find a way to build relationships we can believe in. How satisfied we are with the ending, with the way the characters come together and move forward often determines how we feel about the story as a whole. .
I read an erotica story today that had a lot of my catnip tropes...only for the end to be of the man standing over the woman's grave. I'm back, romance. I won't leave you again.
— Meka (@mektastic) May 29, 2018
THE PROMISE ALLOWS US TO INVEST EMOTIONALLY IN THE STORIES
Many of us have been were Meka was at, reading something that seemingly hit all our buttons and then with no warning, tragedy. For me that book was The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I read it back when I still read Lit fic, but was developing a taste for Romance. The story was romantic, complicated and beautifully written. The gut blow comes fairly early but the sadness becomes more and more oppressive as the book progresses and as a reader you realize significance of that earlier event. I had grown to love these characters, to care about their fictional lives and things were not okay in the end, not really. That book helped propel me into the arms of genre romance, because I wasn’t okay with it. After reading dozens and dozens fantasy, YA and Lit Fic novels in life, I needed the promise that I wasn’t going to put down the book sadder than when I picked it up.
#RomBkLove That's my rule for angst. You can break my heart, turn me into a sobbing mess, and I'll love you for it but only if you bring an equally amazing HEA to make up for all that angst.
— Lillie (@lillie_80) May 21, 2018
THE HEA CAN’T BE SIMPLY TACKED ON
There is nothing worse than reading a rushed and unearned ending, books that drag you through an emotional wasteland and then try to make it all better with a few punishing kisses and marriage proposal. Endings need to be organic and make sense for the characters and the world established in it. For HEA to be emotionally satisfying it must fit the tone of the novel, and its characters. I think we have all occasionally felt the disappointment of an HEA that abandons previously established characterization for an epilogue full of babies and sunshine.
Because I've told them a dozen times that a relationship arc ending happily doesn't mean everything was easy or no one died or that readers have forgiven me for Beyond Surrender yet.
But people know what they're convinced they know and everyone knows romance is frivolous. pic.twitter.com/oGonGAUXul
— Bree (& 🐕) (@mostlybree) May 20, 2018
HEAs ARE NOT ALL THE SAME
Critics and naysayers point to HEAs, and dismiss the genre as formulaic, saying "they all end the same", echoing Tolstoy famous quote:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
But HEAs in genre romance, like happy families in real life are not all alike. As readers we often have differing expectations for just what makes an ending a happy one. Some readers need more than a sense of relational security, some need a firm commitment and others a formal proposal if not a full-blown wedding and baby epilogue Some also long for physical and financial security to be assured. So our genre provides all kinds of HEAs. Some are full of babies, weddings and long-ass epilogues, others simply full of hopefulness and the determination persevere against life’s challenges together. I find that my preference for certain kinds of endings have evolved, some endings that I loved once upon a time, no longer prove as satisfying upon re-reading and endings that didn’t work for me initially have started to make sense. Personally I don't need babies or surprise dukedoms although I do enjoy them on occasion, but I always need are sense of community, hopefulness and unity. What is important is that we have as genre all kinds of HEA for all kinds of people, POC and Queer characters included. I want us to use our imagination as genre to claim fluffy HEA for everyone not just those traditionally privileged.
I hope you find the HEAs you need in the romances you read, the ones below are HEAs I have loved and ones that have made me reflect what I consider important and necessary in a HEA:
- Amara Royce’s Once Beloved When I first read the ending of this novel, I struggled with it. I was used to historical romances that ended in weddings and Royce doesn’t do that.because one of the characters is unable to marry again. The characters are however deeply committed to each other. It was one of the first historical romance I read that made me re-examine what I considered necessary for HEA and conclude that what I needed was commitment versus marriage.
- Emma Barry's Party Lines: Rival political operatives slowly fall in love through the course of acrimonious political campaign where only one of their candidates can win. Barry does not sacrifice or minimize their political ambition and competitiveness or short-cut the time the need for their relationship to mature. Their epilogue is full of happy babies, just not their own, as four years later, they are still ardently pursuing their careers, surrounded by friends.
- KJ Charles's The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal’s ending is coy, hidden in hypothetical speculation by the narrator. I believe in Simon and Robert’s escape from war and tragedy to a secret little Mediterranean cottage because it fits the narrative style of the book and I understand that I am reading a genre romance.
- Kit Rocha's Beyond Surrender’s ending is bittersweet. As the final book in a nine epic series about a rebellion, some long-running supporting characters die along the way but I felt they did so without betraying genre expectations. I was heartbroken at points, but I also believed in the community they created, so while I ugly cried at the end for those who didn’t make it, not only was there hope for a better tomorrow for Nessa and Ryder, an the O’Kanes but for all inhabitants of the Sectors.
- Alyssa Cole’s Duke by Default: This book doesn’t come out till the end of July but it was one of the few books I managed read this month. In this story a troubled young woman gets an HEA with a secret duke. I was so invested in Portia and Tavish that I had to skip to the end and make sure it all worked out. I might say that I don’t need secret dukes and financial security for an HEA to succeed but Portia and Tavish’s romance totally did. Because how often is it that the black heroine get to become a duchess? Not often enough!
What are you HEA non-negotiable? Tell me about some of your favorite endings and why you love them!
Did you love #RomBkLove? Join Ellie Reads, Mary Lynne, Kini, Jen and I for #readRchat each month.