I’ve been looking at a few publisher submission calls lately, and there’s one thing I’ve noticed on every single one. A HEA (Happy Ever After) or at least a HFN (Happy For Now) is required. There’s not one call that I’ve found that wants tragic, sad or uncertain endings. I’m not attacking any publisher for this. They’re only commissioning the stories that they can sell, but I personally find it a shame that in romance genres especially, people feel the need to have everything work out for the best. That’s not how real life works, really, is it? We all die. We all have somebody we’ve loved and left behind, for good or ill.
I understand that after all the persecution and real-life tragedy for GLBT people around the world that this is a genre that needs happy endings badly. We need to know that our lives as GLBT people aren’t destined to be sad, broken shells. I argue that tragedies don’t have to be about self-loathing, that a tragedy can be a positive thing in the right hands, shaped with the right message. Courage is one thing we all need in spades, and there’s nothing I find more inspirational than the stories of people who rise up against evil regimes at the cost of their lives.
Tragedy can bring hope and deliver a message. We learn from the mistakes we make in our lives. The people we’ve lost brought something to our lives that can never be replaced, but we are always stronger and better for having known them. Sometimes a tragedy is the total end of all hope, but that can serve as a warning not to take people for granted or not to let people hold power over you. Some books would be totally meaningless with a happy ending, and some settings don’t lend themselves well to a happy resolution due to their horrific nature. Besides, there are many ways to overcome adversity. Death may be the end, but it does not always spell defeat. If you can die with love on your lips in a world that is trying to take that from you, have you not in fact won?
I understand why people seek out happy endings and avoid sad ones. Romance readers are looking for escape from their real lives. We’re looking for a wish fulfillment fantasy in which all of life’s challenges are surpassable and the Big Misunderstanding is resolved with intelligent, adult communication. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m partial to some fluff myself, especially around this time of year. Sometimes I want to read about gay weddings at Christmas or Santa kissing the elves. Especially when I turn on the T.V. to see nothing but tragedy. I love happy endings as much as anyone else, but sometimes I like to cry as well. Sometimes I like to watch people mess things up so badly they can’t put them back together. Sometimes I enjoy the unbreakable spirit of a person whose last words are in defiance of hate, or whose lives, while short, bring change to the lives of others. I love heroes, but they’re still heroes to me if they die or fail. It’s the act of trying that defines the human spirit.
The first book I ever wrote was a tragic lesbian romance. Both of my protagonists died at the end, but the ending was open to the idea that they might see one another again in a future life. I’ve written many sad stories since then, including New World Rising. Some of the best compliments I ever got about my stories were the comments that said that I made people cry. I liked to feel that I moved people that much. The fragility of human life always fascinates me. I’m frightened of dying or losing the people I care about but I also believe that the sum of our lives is in what we do with them, not how they end.
Let me know how you feel about tragedies. Do you love them? Do you loathe them? Tell me in the comments for a chance to win a digital copy of New World Rising in .pdf, .pub or .mobi. Leave your e-mail address in the comments if you want to win. A winner will be picked on December 31st.