Sunday, December 23, 2018
HEA or GTFO
There are certain arguments/attitude problems that the romance genre deals with on a regular basis. They crop up so often, in the same worn, smelly cheap suit, that we largely just roll our eyes and move on.
But the words still hurt, still frustrate, and sometime still enrage because we are tired of being willfully misunderstood. Of being talked down to, and ridiculed, and dismissed, like a bad dog too stupid to figure out what it's doing wrong.
Romance is "just" porn, that's a classic. Just fluff. Unrealistic. Bodice rippers. Junkfood. People love to bag on us for basically being worthless, despite the fact we make more money than the next two highest grossing genres combined. Romance clocks in at 1$.44 billion (the next genre down is Crime/Mystery at &729 million). Pretty good for a genre that's garbage.
But the thing we probably hear the most bitching about is the #1 rule of the genre: the book must end in an HEA or HFN (Happily Ever After/ Happy for Now). Almost every other rule in romance is somewhat flexible, but this one is inviolate. It's important to readers, it's something they count on, look forward to, and pretty often need. It's one of the main reasons they come to the genre. No matter what the characters go through, whatever tragedies or strife they face, they'll come out on the other side happy--and happy together.
So we get pretty angry when people tell us that we're vapid for wanting and needing this. That it makes our stories less, somehow, than those that end in tragedy or ambiguity. Because somehow, in a way I've yet to figure out, sadness is better and more real than happiness.
Do other genres put up with this? Does someone show up with a fun, light-hearted, laid back book that has a chill and friendly ghost and demand to be included in horror even though there are no horrific elements?
Do people write books where the mystery has already been solved, and it's just about the tedious court hearing and the struggles of the lawyer, and demand it be labeled a mystery even though there's no mystery at all?
Does any of that sound stupid and implausible to you? Now you're getting why we hate when people show up with a love story or a tragedy and demand it be labeled a romance.
The HEA requirement isn't just a rule tacked on at the bottom of the list, it's one of the foundations of the genre. It helped to shape and mold it, and make it the powerhouse that it is today.
I just found out yesterday that one of my cats is going to die soon. He might live a couple of years, but more than likely he'll die in the next few weeks or months. A couple of years ago we had to watch another one of our cats get sick and wither away, and finally had to put him to sleep because there was no saving him
There was the year my brother tried to commit suicide twice.
There's the fact I am struggling with fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and all the ways those things affect/shape my life. There are days I simply don't want to endure it anymore, when just the fact I have to get out of bed and deal with it all leaves me in tears.
Romance novels, and the happiness they promise, get me through a lot of that. Because above all else, that's what it is. Not a rule. Not a convention. Not a tiresome requirement getting in the way of your realer and more authentic sadness. It's a promise that everything will be okay, no matter how terrible things might get.
The Painted Crown is a novel I wrote about a man who deals with chronic pain (though his is from war injuries), suffers from depression and anxiety, and tries to commit suicide. Writing all those things was hard. But I got to give him his dreams. I got to write his happy ending. That helped me in ways that literally nothing else could.
And every romance writer and reader I know has similar stories to tell. We don't read this genre because we're emotionally weak or deficient. Because we're vapid and need our silly Disney movie endings. We read them because everyone deals with the world in different ways, and this is the way we choose. Because we're smart, strong, capable, and love to read about people finding each other and facing the world together, be it lovers, friends, family, or all of the one.
Some people find strength and enjoyment and more in reading love stories. In tragedies. Some prefer literature. Some enjoy nonfiction or poetry or mysteries. That's the best thing about books: you can write or read whatever you want.
And to make it easier for all of us to find what we want, without accidentally reading something we hate or that will upset us, we have genres. When you go to the fantasy section, you know what you're getting. Same with romance, horror, and so forth.
To show up with a love story, which has it's own tropes, conventions, and expectations, and demand it be considered a romance novel? Is shitty and unprofessional. You would never show up at to a pie contest with a cake and whine that nobody considers your cake a pie. You'd never expect anyone to consider your beer a wine at a wine-tasting just because you like beer and hate wine.
The problem is not the genre. The problem is the people who want to write love stories/tragedies and then shove them into romance even though that's not where they belong. Do not invade our space. Go to where your book belongs, and stop expecting an entire industry to change just because you decided the rules weren't for you.
And for the love of god, can we stop having this argument. This horse would like to be given a respectful burial already. You aren't controversial, your opinion isn't new and bold, you aren't shocking anyone. To quote one of my favorite shows:
Respect the genre and the people in it or GTFO.
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