Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Assumption of Ever After

What differentiates a romance-genre book from, say, a woman’s fiction novel or a mystery novel is—according to industry pundits—the requirement in a romance-genre novel of the HEA. The Happily Ever After. This, like a lot of terms in publishing, is shorthand for a style and a series of events that will leave the reader with a positive feeling a book’s end, rather than puzzlement, depression, horror or whatever you’d like to tack on.

That’s why strictly speaking neither Gone With The Wind nor Romeo and Juliet qualify as romance-genre fiction. They don’t end with a positive (happy) commitment between the two lead characters.

Interestingly, what seems to twist the anti-grav panties of the SF set is this very same thing: the HEA. The Happily Ever After. This seems to be a kicking-point when speculative fiction is combined with romance.

What I’ve found interesting, though, is that the non-romance reading set in SF seems to layer a deeper assumption of EVER AFTER on to that HAPPILY than many of the authors—myself included—intend.

A month or so back, in a shameless and blatant effort to get a buzz going for my February 24, 2009 release, Hope’s Folly, I offered electronic ARCS (Advance Reader Copies) to a handful of book bloggers. Most had read me before. Most were chosen because they’d read me before. Stacking the deck, Linnea? Sure. But Folly is book three in the Gabriel’s Ghost/Dock Five universe (both monikers are floating around out there.) I’m not out there to get bloggers to go WTF? as they try to catch up with the storyline.

But as happens with electronic copies, they get passed around to other bloggers (and I’m fine with that). So I was interested to find a blog comment on Hope’s Folly on a blog (Oct. 16, 2008) I’d not specifically sent the ARC to. The comment was decently positive except it raised the issue I’ve started to raise above. The assumption of EVER AFTER.

To wit: “I'm not a romance reader; I'm very much a sf/f reader. Perhaps it's not so surprising, then, that I really enjoyed the sf parts and was mildly appalled at the romance parts. I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship. *sigh*”

Things like this make me want to pound my head on my desk, more than I usually do.


Here’s a direct quote from the Folly manuscript where the main character is giving some very realistic appraisal to his impromptu and admittedly foolish marriage to the other main character:

“So, how’s our second week of dating going so far?” he asked. Most people dated first, then got married, but that wasn’t how their life had worked out. Marrying her had been an impulsive move. But it was a move he wanted to be permanent.

So did Rya. The fact that she now had her M-R-S degree, as she called it, was no guarantee of permanency. A real marriage took work. Commitment. Patience and respect.

And that took time.

So now they were dating. Married but dating. Philip rather liked the idea.

Am I—via the character—not saying exactly that? People in real life and in books get married for all sorts of reasons, many of them not the wisest or best. They either make it or they don’t but they do—in fiction and in real life—have the option of trying.

At book’s end—and this is really the last two pages—that’s all my characters are doing: realizing the situation they’re in is not the easiest and asserting that they’re willing to at least try.

Since when does TRY equate LASTING?

In the minds of SF readers who read romance, that’s when. I’ve seen this corollary far too often in blogs and reviews from SF-ers dabbling into SFR.

They assume—ASSUME—that because the two main characters are in a compatible situation on the last page that it’s white picket fence and roses forever.

None of my books promise that. None.

It’s an OPTION. It’s never a GIVEN.

My books end—as most of my readers know—at a point where the two main characters in the romantic relationship have either overcome or ignored whatever major conflicts separated them and are willing now to give their relationship the biggest, bestest try they can. That’s all. It’s a potential of a future together but it is not a guarantee of a future together.

Now, for romance readers who want to envision a FOREVER for my characters, that’s fine. Again, it’s an option. Not a given. But at least the romance readers aren’t damning me for it. Or—to take what I would see to be the opposite side of the coin—they don’t write in blogs that I haven’t shown the two main characters breathing their lasts breaths together at age ninety-nine and then going on to be buried side-by-side in graveyard plots marked Mr. and Mrs.. That, to me, is as much of an off-base interpretation of a science fiction romance novel as it is to assume that the characters have, at book’s end, a perfect and forever after relationship simply because they’ve decided to HAVE a relationship.

Let’s parse that blogger’s comment:

“I can't buy True Love between characters who've known each other a week. That's infatuation. “

Of course it’s infatuation. Every relationship one week in is highly based on infatuation. Physical (and other) attraction. But without infatuation, without physical (and other) attraction, the relationship would never start. That is where relationships start and from there the infatuation matures and the physical attraction matures and the relationship matures.

Moreover, in Folly, both character are very aware this attraction is nuts, too soon and at the wrong time. And they spend a lot of book-time realizing that:

Rya stayed by the ladderway, alternately damning herself and calling herself an idiot. She now had a ridiculous, full-blown crush going on Admiral Philip Guthrie, and every time she thought she’d managed to get hold of her emotions and shake some sense into her head, he’d lean against her or look at her with those damned magnificent eyes, and her toes would curl and she was lost.


This was just so very much not like Rya Taylor Bennton. She did not get crushes on guys—not since she was ten years old, anyway. Rya Taylor Bennton found hard-bodies who amused her and bedded them. Sex was fun, great exercise, super stress relief. Nothing more.

Then Philip had walked—well, limped—back into her life, amid guns blazing and punches flying. And in two, three short hours her life changed.

Further, I never said it was True Love. The characters never say it’s True Love. Rya sees it as a ridiculous crush.

As for Philip:

He was certifiably insane. He was sure of it. These past few months, the physical damage his body had taken, the stresses of losing one command and gaining another, the deaths of friends and crew—it had all taken a toll. That was the only explanation he could come up with as to why he was so emotionally vulnerable to—and fixated on—Cory Bennton’s twenty-nine year old daughter.

This had to stop. But when the lights had failed again and he’d almost found her in his lap, and then when all means to escape the ready room were exhausted and she was again those few tantalizing inches away from him, and he had the damned stupidity to make the flippant comment that if he’d been ten years younger...

Hell’s fat ass. He was certifiably insane.

She was twenty-nine. She was Cory’s daughter. She had some young buck named Matt hot for her back on Calth 9. She was not for Philip Guthrie, divorced, jaded, and limping around like some ancient—yeah, Welford had deemed him so—relic.

Plus, he had a ship to refit and a war to get under way.

But when he was around Rya... he just wanted to keep being around Rya.

This was not good.

Both realize AND TELL THE READER they’re not at the point to experience True Love. They can, however, experience the beginnings of an attraction that can lead to love and can, legitimately, share that they feel that way. Just like in real life.

What I feel I’m seeing here and in other blog comments like this is an unwitting-or-otherwise filling in of the blanks: This is a romance so this must be about True Love. (Side Note: I don’t think one can define True Love and I wouldn’t attempt to.) There is an assumption that an HEA ending also means Perfection. No more problems, ever. (Tell that to Dallas and Roarke in JD Robb’s IN DEATH series.)

Maybe at one time in romance novels, the Ever After in the HEA acronym did mean an unequivocal forever. But looking at romance fiction today, I don’t think that’s true anymore. I don’t think romance readers buy into “Perfect.” I think romance readers do relate to and respect characters who TRY. Who care enough to TRY.

Moreso in SFR, where there are so many other variables, I think a white-lace-and-roses perfect romance ending would be unrealistic. I don’t write them. That’s why I’m so surprised when some readers take it upon themselves to insert them—and then damn me for it.

I don’t see the same SF readers assuming every one of the antagonists or every one of the political problems is completely vanquished at the end of an Honor Harrington book or the end of a Cherryh book. Cherryh’s FOREIGNER series is, what, eight, ten+ books in? And Bren Cameron still has a lot of work to do. I can’t think of one SF or Fantasy novel I’ve ever read where I felt that Life Was Perfect from thereon in for the characters. Even if the bad guy was shredded, the princess rescued the prince, and the evil empire was in disarray.

I don’t know why some readers cement the assumption of an unequivocal Ever After onto many romance novel endings when they clearly don’t depict that. They DO detail it is possible. They do NOT detail it is absolute.

One more note on the “one week” comment and “That is not a good foundation for a lasting relationship.”

I know this gal who picked up this guy in a bar in New Jersey back in February of 1979. End of February, to be exact. It was strictly on physical attraction: he was a 6’4”, green-eyed, blonde-haired hunk. They didn’t see each other nearly as much as Rya and Philip do. There was no daily basis thing. There also wasn’t the chance to see each other under fire, working, striving and surviving, which I think adds a different dimension to how and when a relationship progresses. But even given the normal weekend dating kind of thing, and the nightly telephone calls, this guy moved in with this gal after three weeks. He gave her an engagement ring shortly thereafter.

This guy and this gal will hit their 29th wedding anniversary in October of 2009.

Okay, this guy and this gal didn’t know True Love in one week. It took three weeks. And almost thirty years later, it’s still there.

I love you, Robert.


HOPE’S FOLLY, Book 3 in the Gabriel’s Ghost universe, coming Feb. 2009 from RITA award-winning author, Linnea Sinclair, and Bantam Books:

It's an impossible mission on a derelict ship called HOPE'S FOLLY. A man who feels he can't love. A woman who believes she's unlovable. And an enemy who will stop at nothing to crush them both.


  1. Heh. One of my best friends proposed to his current wife after meeting her a couple of times, and before they'd had a single "official" date. (They had a ton of online interaction, though.) They were married just a few months later. They've been married for about four years or so, have two kids, and show every sign of being in it for the long haul.

    Lisa and I got married within a year of our first date.

    I think it's just as naive to assume that you can't know right away if it's right as it is to assume that love always appears at first sight. There are just so many different ways for a love to grow, it's silly to say it has to be this or that specific way.

  2. Maybe it's a case of word choice confusion.

    After reading lots of Romance novels, including SFR, I've come to the conclusion I require two things of the author in order for a Romance novel to be a complete success with me. (Psst, I can enjoy a novel without every element clicking for me.)

    1) By 'The End' the Hero and Heroine *both* must be absolutely and completely committed to making Happily Ever After work for them.

    2) The author must have convinced me by The End that the Hero and Heroine are *capable* of that.

    'Trying' is not enough for me. As wise Yoda once said, "Do or do not. There is no 'try.'"

    In Real Life, the divorce courts are full of couples who 'tried' and it just 'didn't work out.' The word 'try,' therefore, does not give me warm fuzzies.

  3. There is, there MUST be "try," Kimber An. And yes, to some extent it's semantics but to a greater extent it's metaphysics.

    Please note I said a "willingness" to try. "Will" is a key factor.

    Commitment comes after the human/sentient will opens itself to try. Only then can commitment occur. If you rest or reside first in commitment, the human/sentient will sets up for failure.

    Your analogy of Yoda's quote: "There is no try" is not applicable here because what Luke was accessing at that point was not the will of another sentient but the Force. The Force is like Divine Grace. It IS. It ALWAYS IS. The Force/Divine Grace doesn't need the sentient to acknowledge it in order for it to exist. It doesn't need the sentient/human to acknowledge it in order for its power to exist. IT IS. Therefore, yes, one cannot TRY to find Divine Grace or the Force. One cannot TRY to find something that always IS. One can only open oneself to the experience through the acceptance (ie: DO) that Divine Grace or The Force is THERE.

    Not so with people/sentients and emotional relationships. There the WILLINGNESS TO TRY has to be the first step. The relationship between two people is NOT always there. It is something that must be cultivated, must grow (unlike Divine Grace). It takes a willingness especially in the sense of the use of FREE WILL to allow this relationship to begin to blossom (again, unlike with the Force or Divine Grace which is always present, whether the sentient chooses [free will] to see it or not.)

    I've read pretty much everything the mystic, Joel Goldsmith, has written and if you'd like a contemporary take (ie: this planet) on Divine Grace (you can read it as The Force), then I recommend his books, especially GIFT OF LOVE and THE INFINITE WAY. I also recommend Alan Watts' CLOUD HIDDEN (he's the Catholic Priest turned Zen Buddhist monk).

    So what this comes down to is why, yes, I believe that the element of a willingness to try is important to human relationship. If you accept or are willing to entertain the possiblity that humans/sentients or the characters in my novels have free will, then that opens the issue of positive/negative and acceptance/rejection. It brings the will--that which propels us out of bed each morning to do our appointed tasks--to the forefront. Love--a relationship in which two sentients acknowledge the mutual important existence of each other to the exclusivity of others in exactly that manner--starts with a conscious decision to relinquish that which says "I" am the more important one. It is not, like Divine Grace, a given. One must first be willing to try to go beyond the boundaries of Me First.

    And that's likely more than you wanted to know. :-)


  4. Linnea:

    I wonder if what you're talking about with "try" is "risk" -- "do" generally means there's no risk.

    That's the fearless mindset you must have to survive a direct encounter with The Force.

    But with love, and the opening to a bond with another human, you are risking your very Identity.

    As you said
    "..starts with a conscious decision to relinquish that which says "I" am the more important one."

    The danger that is acknowledged with the "try" attitude is the danger to the Identity. Once you combine, you will never be the same.

    Even "divorce" doesn't put you back to the pre-try condition. You have changed because of this attempted and failed relationship.

    So yes, I think Linnea, you are correct that the very first step in "Ever After" is the conscious choice to risk everything.

    In order to succeed at a relationship, you must confront and absorb the knowledge that you can fail.

    Wow, I love this blog!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  5. Approximately one month after I began dating Joe, I bought wedding dress magazines. I told my close friend, "I'm going to marry this guy. Help me pick a dress." And I did. I knew on the first date. I had no doubts. It can happen either way. People can grow on each other over time, or click immediately into place. We've done both. We clicked and continued to grow together. We've been at it for almost 12 years now. And we are still sharing new experiences with each other and loving it.

    As for your books, I've never assumed a happy ending is permanent. Given how you like to torture your characters, I am well aware that any state of bliss might or might not be temporary. There's always room for a sequel. Maybe it's the realist in me, but I prefer stories that way. The "too perfect" ending is one of the things I dislike about some romance novels. I know some people prefer everything to be nice and tidy, but I like a few dangers hovering in the background to be exploited (or not) in a later book.


  6. Linnea,
    I really have to agree with KimberAn on the commitment and capability of the characters. I do understand your being frustrated about someone imposing their false assumptions on you. Grrr! I have to admit that beyond being convinced of commitment and capability, I like an ending that implys continuing growth and further adventures. I really don't care for static endings.

    Oh yeah! About fifty years ago, I had a Girl Scout leader, a beautiful woman, who told us that her husband had walked up to her, out of the blue, and told her that he was going to marry her. She told him that he was out of his mind. Three weeks later, they were married. LOL They are in their late 80's now, and still happily married. :-)

  7. Absolutely, JL, "try" acknowledges the existence of risk. Try means there are bumps in the road that may be impediments. Commitment is the determination to get over those bumps but try is the engine.

    "Risk" is a major theme in a number of my books. The characters often state it outright.

    Sully in Gabriel's Ghost:
    "All of life's a risk," he said softly. "I'm about to take a big one."

    "Life was all about giving. Not about what she would get in return." —Lt. Rya Bennton, Hope's Folly

    Joe, I think the stories you relate only underscore that fact that love is elusive and to a great extent, uncategorizable. When you try to dictate terms (lenght of time, relationship of age or social standing) to love, love laughs.

    I know of couples who've dated for three, four years, mapped out their lives properly...and got divorced. I know couples who just winged it...and are crazy in love. And I've known the reverse of both.

    There are absolutely good, sensible guide lines for relationships. But those guidelines are flexible. Out of that flexibility are fun novels born.


  8. Frances said: ** have to admit that beyond being convinced of commitment and capability, I like an ending that implys continuing growth and further adventures. I really don't care for static endings.

    Neither do I, Frances, and I don't believe I said I did anywhere. "Continuing growth and further adventures" fits in EXACTLY with what I write--and what I said.

    Continuing growth to me implies that things are not Perfect at book's end but rather the characters have the capability to grow and explore and evolve and deepen.

    That can come from a long term relationship or it can come from a shorter term relationship. The SF problem seems to be the disbelief that anything other than long term can evolve or is even worth trying (taking the risk) for.

    THAT was the actual purpose of my blog--not to debate the differences between willingness to take a risk and ability to make a commitment.

    I mean, Dallas and Roarke could divorce tomorrow. But based on Robb's characters and characterization, that wouldn't be logical (at this point) to plot and characters (though I admit I've not read every IN DEATH book to date).

    The same is true of, say, Sass and Kel-Paten. Based on the characters as one has met them in the book, and based on their previous actions, and based on their GMC structure in the book, the likelihood of their relationship continuing is very high.

    In real life those same two people could split for godonlyknows why. But fiction--as I think Lawrence Block said or perhaps it was Jack Bickham--must be MORE LOGICAL than real life. So the author builds in certain characteristics into his or her characters that further cement the actions the characters take at book's end.

    But it's still not an absolute because that book dealing with that part isn't written. So it's up to the reader's imagination. The reader must draw inferences and logical conclusions based on the character as presented.

    But it is not an absolute until it is written so.

    In the same vein, the belief that a short term relationship is doomed for failure ignores the importance and impact of characterization (which was my point in my blog). Just as in real life, certain people can adapt much better to unusual situations, so can characters if they've been properly "designed." The comment that spawned the blog was NOT that the characters as presented didn't make sense in a relationship but solely that the time factor in which it was presented would prevent the possiblity of success. That's then ranking time as of more importance than characterization.

    Fiction, while being more logical in real life (in the sense we work with GMCs all the time) is also required to be MUCH LARGER than real life. As Jacqueline has pointed out many times, fiction is drama, fiction is entertainment.

    Given that, we tend to create stories of the more unusual circumstances rather than the mundane BECAUSE of the drama. People don't read to read about the ordinary doing the boring. They read to read about the extraordinary.

    And that includes the possibility of a one-week encounter turning into a potentially lifetime relationship. Among dozens of other very interesting things. ~Linnea

  9. Maybe it's a question of degrees, as well.

    Until a couple's relationship is mature enough for them both to put the full force of 'I will' behind a lifetime committment, I'm not buying their HEA. But, that's just me.

  10. Linnea Wrote in comments here:
    In real life those same two people could split for godonlyknows why. But fiction--as I think Lawrence Block said or perhaps it was Jack Bickham--must be MORE LOGICAL than real life. So the author builds in certain characteristics into his or her characters that further cement the actions the characters take at book's end.

    Yes, that's exactly IT!

    Fiction must be "more logical" in that the Artist's job is to take the pea-soup fog of "reality" and extract to the foreground an underlying, invisible, abtuse, and abstract philosophical TRUTH.

    The artist's job is to SHOW THE LOGIC of pea-soup reality, not tell it. Philosophers tell it. Religion feels it. Artists SHOW it.

    Fiction has to cut away the confusing ifs, ands, buts, and maybes to reveal what really IS underneath it all.

    With that clue, we emerge from reading a good book more heartened, stronger, more powerful in shaping our own reality with love.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  11. What I find interesting is the discrepancy in the willingness to believe. Here she is reading speculative fiction and she swallows whole the made-up parts and quibbles at the true parts. The "sf parts" which she "really enjoyed" are completely imaginary. But the "romance parts" and the "True Love between characters who've known each other a week" have been proven possible in real life by real people. It's not about the fiction really, it's more of a value judgment.

    I look for HEAs in my reading, but I don't generally like endings with tacked on puppies and kittens, picket fences and babies because, to me, they're too plastic and actually make the HEA less believable. True Love is Work, and if you're passive and don't continue working and trying, you'll lose it.