Meg and I had our first release the same day back in January. Meg's latest book, Be My Baby, the third book in her Konigsburg series releases next Tuesday. So I'm thrilled to have her back on my blog, talking about ...
What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Happy Endings?
The biggest, most frequent complaint against romances that I’ve gotten from non-romance readers (other than all the sex scenes, of course) boils down to this: romances have happy endings. Always. No matter how much angst the hero and heroine of the romance endure in the story, they’ll end up together and it’ll be happily ever after. And this, we’re told, is a Bad Thing.
As to why this is a Bad Thing, well, opinions vary. “It’s unrealistic” (and, of course, all other forms of popular fiction rigidly adhere to realism). “It’s simple-minded” (so apparently only misery is intellectually pure). “It leads to expectations that can’t be fulfilled” (and all readers of romance get their life lessons from fiction).
The only one of these complaints that seems to have any real validity, as far as I’m concerned, is the idea that the required happy ending is limiting to an author. But while it’s true that we romance writers can’t violate this convention, most romance heroes and heroines still go through a lot of anguish to get there. Even writers like me who do comedy still have to work in a Big Black Moment somewhere along the way. And some comic writers, like, say, Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Loretta Chase, can make those moments pretty black indeed.
So what’s really behind this extreme aversion to happy endings, particularly from non-romance readers? I’m going out on a limb here and saying it’s related to the way “happy ending” is defined, or rather the way one of my favorite genders defines it. Because the biggest complainers about the happy ending rule, in my experience, are male. And the problem seems to be what they consider “happy.”
Let’s take an example here—Casablanca, the great forties movie. Now I’m really fond of Casablanca (in fact, I’ve managed to work references to it into several things I’ve written), but there’s no way I’d see it as having a really happy ending since Rick and Ilsa can’t possibly end up together. That can’t actually happen without getting rid of Victor, and without Victor there’s no beating the Nazis. So both Rick and Ilsa have to be noble and have that lovely, heartbreaking scene at the airport.
However, in my experience some men argue that that the ending of Casablanca is completely satisfying, happy in fact. Rick and Ilsa get a chance to work out their differences (and have one last roll in the hay), Rick renews his belief in heroism, and Rick and Louis head off to fight the Nazis while Ilsa heads off to America to raise money with Victor.
Although I have a lot of “yes, but’s” here, I can also see how, from a guy’s point of view, this constitutes the ideal happy ending. Rick gets to have sex with Ilsa, and then gets to leave her without any commitment to come back later and try to have a life together. Instead, he gets to go off and shoot bad guys while she’s not longer around to complicate things. Bliss!
So, okay, women (who make up the vast majority of romance readers) like to believe that it’s possible to have a long-term committed romantic relationship. And we like books that back us up. Men seem to prefer books where the hero gets to have a lot of sex, but doesn’t end up tied down to anybody in the end. And if you’re not sure about this, check out the numerous mysteries and thrillers written by male authors where the hero is always having bittersweet, short-term relationships with women who either die or take off. Women readers may not find this kind of ending particularly satisfying, but I’d argue a lot of men think it’s pretty neat.
Potato, potahto. Happy endings can be defined however you want them to be. Just don’t tell me the books I read are simple-minded because the hero and heroine end up together rather than heading off to troll for the next sex partner. If you can manage to do that, I promise I’ll refrain from even mentioning the words Peter Pan Complex in connection with happy endings that are hopelessly male.
Be My Baby
by Meg Benjamin
There’s no room in her life for love. Love has other ideas…Be My Baby releases from Samhain Publishing on Tuesday, December 8th.
Konigsburg, Texas, Book 3
If Jessamyn Carroll had only herself to consider, staying in Pennsylvania after her husband’s death would have been a no-brainer. Her vindictive in-laws’ efforts to get their hooks into her infant son, however, force her to flee to a new home. Konigsburg, Texas.
Lars, still wounded from enduring a nasty divorce from his cheating ex-wife, tries to fight his attraction to the mysterious, beautiful widow. But when an intruder breaks into her place, and Jess comes clean about her past, all bets are off. Someone wants her baby—and wants Jess out of the picture. Permanently.
Now Jess has a live-in bodyguard, whether she wants him or not. Except she does want him—and he wants her. Yet negotiating a future together will have to overcome a lot of roadblocks: babies, puppies, the entire, meddling Toleffson family—and a kidnapper.
Warning: Contains Konigsburg craziness, creepy in-laws, a conniving two-year-old, a lovelorn accountant, a sleep-deprived Web developer, and lots of hot holiday sex.
Meg Benjamin writes about South Texas, although she recently moved to Colorado. Her comic romances are set in the Texas Hill Country in the mythical town of Konigsburg. When she isn’t writing, Meg spends her time listening to Americana music, drinking Colorado and Texas wine, and keeping track of her far-flung family. She recently retired from twenty years of teaching writing, Web design, and desktop publishing. Meg’s Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com. You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), MySpace (myspace.com/megbenjamin), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1). Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at email@example.com.
I'm giving away an e-copy of Meg's Be My Baby (you'll have to wait until next Tuesday for its release before I send it to you though). Leave a comment about your favorite on-screen couple who haven't had their happy ending (yet, or maybe they have according to a guy), or your favorite in-print couple and why you want them to have a happy ending. Or not.