“HEA?” you ask, “what the bleep is HEA?” Well, don't feel bad I didn't know either. HEA is an acronym for “happily ever after” the standard ending for fairy tales and contemporary formula romance novels – except I didn't know about the latter until recently and I've gotten myself in a lot of hot water over it.
|Look! If you squeeze her shoulders |
her boobs pop out!
Now, let me hasten to point out I have nothing against HEA and, in fact, quite a few of my stories end that way but it is the mandatory part that annoys me. When I start to read a book I don't want to know in advance how it turns out. Much of the adventure is wondering how on earth this will all come together. But I got into a little squabble about it recently on a discussion board for writers and, heaven's to murgatroyd, I had no idea how humorless hard-core genre romance people can be about their demands!!! I've blogged a couple of times about how confusing I find the strict rules governing “romance” in modern day literature. To me romance has always meant beautifully crafted stories which involve interesting people and all the things they must go through for love – and often it doesn't work out! Boy, was I wrong! Turns out that, according to the genre-romance standards, Romeo and Juliet, that most romantic of romances, is not a romance at all! America's greatest Colonial romance, Last of the Mohicans, isn't either and don't even get me started on the many accounts on which Wuthering Heights fails the test! I was informed in the discussion that NONE of those authors would get published by a “reputable” romance publisher today (whew, bet Shakespeare was worried) and they are NOT romances, they are “love stories”. I was also informed that Nichols Spark writes love stories, not romances, because they have depressing, sad endings.
In fact one genre-romance lover informed me if an ending is NOT HEA it is depressing. I brought up my favorite example, that most romantic of adventures, Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek, and was promptly slapped down – it did not end HEA because she realized what a good man her husband was (after he saved the life of her lover) and went back to him. Sounded pretty happy to me – especially because he took her back.
But what bothers me the most about all of this is that the lovers of genre-romance will not even for a second consider the possibility that a book can end positively if the “H” and the “h” (even those designations kind of bug me) do not wind up together. Suppose the heroine decides she is happier and more fulfilled pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor and goes back to med school, or that she loves the H until she meets his brother (or sister) and decides to delay the engagement until she checks that out? She's happy, isn't she? Does her happiness not count?
Therein lies the message of these mandatory HEA books: A woman can only live “happily ever after” bound to an H. No other alternative can really bring her happiness.
In the course of the discussion most of the genre-romance fans claimed that they read widely among other genres so they get plenty of alternative endings. However, bookstore owners have long maintained that the majority of their customers who read within a genre rarely stray outside of it and actually get offended if they suggest a book to them that does not fit the formula. I had an experience like this some years back when I recommended a book to a co-worker who was a die-hard genre-romance fan. I told her how much I loved a book and offered to lend it to her. The ending to the book was sort of ambiguous but I loved it. My co-worker HATED it. Not just hated it, she was furious with me for suggesting she read it! She claimed it depressed her for weeks. I'm still expecting to be served with papers over that.
The genre-romance people I was talking to also could use a sense of humor, if you ask me, but we all know how skewed my humor is. Within the course of the exchange someone said “you can call yourself a romance novelist if you want to...” to which I replied that I would rather call myself a Glenn Beck fan or Charlie Sheen's therapist. Boy, did that put some bees in their bonnets!
The big retaliation is “well, romance is the MOST popular genre (so there)” which is true – just like McDonalds is the MOST popular restaurant. It probably was imprudent of me to point out that genre-romance is to literature as Big Macs are to cuisine... oh well.
So today is Ash Wednesday and Lent is now upon us. I have committed to a minimum of three meatless days a week and am considering giving up chocolate (not quite there yet). I think I'll also give up talking about genre-romance. That's infinitely more difficult than it would be to give up actually reading the stuff. Where's Lady Gaga?