The Feel Good Factor
Desperately in need of something to distract you from all the stupidity in the world? Carolyn Hector, Sasha Green, Aleksandr Voinov and Tara Taylor Quinn discuss how writing and reading romance novels supplies all the feels, and the importance of a happy ending!
Carolyn Hector Hall
First let me say, Happy Tiara Day for the 24th! A great day to read this post. There is a certain satisfaction, empowerment—you’re going to read a lot of that in this—when a person sets a tiara on the top of their head. I dare you to place one on top of your head and not feel like putting on any sort of airs.
How important is the sense of hope conveyed in the happy ending of a romance novel?
A romance novel without an HEA is like a beauty pageant without the final crowning. Glitz, gowns, even some backstabbing, you’ll find both in a beauty pageant and a romance book. Writing “The End” in a romance novel signifies a happy ending to me.
I don’t technically write the words, “And they lived happily ever after” but I do feel like I need to let you know these people are going to be together for a long time.
The End—Typing those two words have never made me happier for a couple of reasons.
1. It signifies that I’ve finished something from start to end. I deserve a tiara. *I* have accomplished something.
2. It also means that after playing puppet master for a few months with two people, drove them crazy with the other person’s antics, their story is done. The time it takes to get these two people to meet, become friends and fall in love...I’m invested.
Do we celebrate the optimism in these stories enough?
As the author, it’s important to me that you feel the triumph in my books. You know what I’m talking about, that feeling where your heart starts to thump and the corners of your lips turn up into a smile. When I write, I want to create real issues people face—so one can imagine being in the place of the hero or the heroine. I want you to see realistic situations that you may find yourself in. Now I’m not saying you have to be a beauty queen (if you’re thinking about that series) to understand disappointment. I’m talking about everyday situations. I’m no therapist but I do like to put into writing the worst thing my character thinks can happen… happens. To him or her there’s nowhere else to go but up.
While I can’t speak for everyone, for me, as a reader, the whole reason I pick up a romance novel is because I believe in love… I believe in hope. I want to see that happy ending of two people falling in love. I know when I pick up a Sherelle Green or Christy Jeffries book, I’m going to get my happy ending. Keyword, happy. I want to feel good when I close the page. I don’t want to throw the book against the wall.
How empowering is it to write these stories and share them with the world?
Next to being a mom—which is being a superhero in itself, I get a sense of empowerment from writing. My heroines, of late, have been beauty queens. Some may snicker or roll their eyes at the idea but each heroine I’ve created has been sparked from someone I’ve researched or come across.
Did you know that my heroine, British Carres is a compilation of a real-life beauty queen, Kára McCullough who is a scientist and Miss USA 2017, and a few inspiring middle school teachers? I am nowhere near as smart as these ladies I met. The research however, empowered me. I answer quicker on a few Jeopardy problems. I felt like a total bad-ass writing my character Harley Tomasello. She (I) knew weapons, how to fight, and how to be an undercover agent.
I feel like I peaked in high school. There’s a lot of things I could have done, should have done… But ya know, life happens. So I live vicariously through my characters and by writing, I am empowered. I cannot lie, as a new author, the empowerment can come from the email or DM I get from a reader who is curious about the next book I was totally like OMG OMG OMG someone read my book!
Is it still possible to become a published romance author and have it change your life or is it always an uphill struggle?
With each book I receive back with edits, I feel there’s an uphill struggle for me to be better with the next book. There’s something humbling about those red marks. It isn’t a struggle to come up with an idea, the hardest part is committing to the time it takes to get to The End. I’ve always written.
My friends will tell you that I’ve always found the romantic side of every situation. Sure, two in the morning on the side of the road with a flat tire is not the time to imagine the hot cop or sexy tow-truck driver to save the night and fall madly in love with one of us.
It is truth universally acknowledged that a story usually starts with a change. The characters in the story are living their lives, however happily or unhappily, and then something happens to get the action started. Often in romance this is when the two main characters meet, but it can also be when one of the characters gets a new job, or someone dies, or even when an eligible bachelor moves into the neighborhood... With crime fiction the kick off point is usually even more predictable.
So that's all good for the beginnings, but what about the ending? Romance books often get criticized for their "predictable" endings, but if a murder mystery didn't end with the killer being revealed then there would be a large number of people who would find that story unsatisfying. When someone picks up a book which is described as being in a particular genre, they like to know what they are getting. I read a lot of romance novels, and I watch a lot of American "whodunnit" TV shows. I enjoy these stories because I want the satisfaction of knowing that everything will be sorted out by the end, and also being engrossed by what happens on the way. For romance, how does the relationship between the two main characters develop? What obstacles are there that they have to overcome to get to a happy ending? Does the internal conflict seem convincing or contrived? With crime, there is the additional chance to try and guess the solution before it is revealed, almost like a cryptic crossword puzzle.
But my love for these two genres goes much deeper than the love of a well-crafted story. I use a happy ending as a way to recharge my belief in the way I approach my life. Stories about fundamentally good people—no matter how flawed!—who are trying to do the best with what they have remind me that love is more powerful than hate, and that small deeds of kindness to others, especially those who may not look like us or have the same beliefs, is what keeps the world from falling apart. Just like a conversation with a friend who might tell me I’m doing the right thing, these types of stories show me I’m doing the right thing, by giving me examples of people who have fought against the odds and triumphed.
Which takes me back to why I started writing books about mental health. When I started seriously writing about six years ago then I knew I wanted to write about this really important topic. Back then there was no Heads Together, there was no #MentalHealthMatters, and the only mainstream fiction books I could find which touched on mental health were either about soldiers with PTSD or people trying to survive mental institutions. I wanted to write about people who to outward appearances might look okay, might seem like they are coping, but underneath they really aren’t. This is how I ended up with my main character Nick, who is pretty good at hiding his feelings, but when the book begins he is standing on a bridge contemplating suicide.
Writing these kind of stories, and making these kind of things part of everyday conversation, I do find incredibly empowering. Happy endings should be more celebrated, for the courage that they give people to go out and find their own happy endings in real life. And diversity matters; giving people characters that they can identify with in stories matters too. Books should be representative of the rich diversity that we have in our modern society. As a white middle-class author I am very conscious of the fact that most people in the publishing industry look like me, which is why I try to put a diverse range of characters into my stories, in the hope that it will inspire people from all walks of life to write books.
So will there be a happy ever after for me in my writing journey? Another published author said to me recently that a writing career is more like a marathon than a sprint; it’s an ongoing process which lasts a lifetime. To reach a happy ending means it has to be defined; I’ve achieved the publication of my first novel, but then the next question is, will people actually buy it? Will they like it? Becoming a published author is a big step, but what has been most life-changing for me is the people I’ve met along the way to becoming published; for example other writers—especially from the Romantic Novelists’ Association—who have encouraged me, and people who talk openly about their mental health. So I feel like my writing story is just beginning…
I wrestled for a long time with the definition of romance—what makes a romance novel? This was in the times when I was pretty conflicted about being a “romance writer” (because I had literary ambitions!)—see, I did buy into “romance = badly written fiction”. If the term “mommy porn” had been around then, I’d likely have bought into that as well.
That was all based on ignorance, of course. I still needed years to clarify in my mind why what I termed “love stories with lots of plot” still fall under the vast, and generous, romance umbrella. I’m active in the LGBTQ romance sub-genre, and the LGBTQ fiction I was reading growing up, dealt largely with trauma, suicide, murder, queer people as victims, as criminals, as suicides, as sufferers (AIDS death novels were a big thing).
In the mainstream, queer people only seemingly appeared to suffer and die; love is their undoing (I’m looking at you, Brokeback Mountain, Boys Don’t Cry and so many others). The portrayal might be sympathetic, tragic, heroic, but it never included hope. By now I’ve turned away entirely from fiction with queer characters that has a bad ending. I’m also not interested in shows that use queer-baiting. By all means, kill the straights, but if your one queer character is only there to pay the ultimate price, I’m not only not watching/reading it, I’ll also tell everybody what I think of the show/book.
From my reading and watching, I was convinced all trans* people can hope for is loneliness, death, madness, suicide or violence. That didn’t help me (or others) to form a positive trans* identity (or even accept who we are and communicate that). And yes, statistics as far as mental health and violence and homelessness go are sobering—but that’s not an intrinsic flaw of trans* folks—it’s how society treats us, how cis folks still get away with treating, medicating, abusing and murdering us. And I could ask the question how much our portrayal in fiction has to do with forming/supporting those attitudes. I did enjoy Silence of the Lambs, but Buffalo Bill turned my stomach, and not for the reasons that a cis person might have felt a little bit ill.
So I came to fiction with the express determination to keep my queer characters alive. In fact, I was going to make sure they came out all right in the end, regardless of the trials and tribulations. Often, they fell in love as well, and there was no question about making that love story tragic or unhappy—my characters deserve better. Somehow, I’d moved towards writing romance as I wrote more and more about how love is the one true positive transformative power in our lives, how it changes and enables us, how it helps us overcome ourselves, our past, trauma, pain, and fear, and allows us to make that one gigantic leap of faith—declaring our feelings for another human being and embarking on that journey of forging a life together. I’ll never not be fascinated by that, and I’ll be happy to keep writing about that for a very long, long time.
You can have a love story without hope. Romance without hope is impossible. I believe that in a world where our values are under attack, and where just looking at the news can feel like the tide of nationalist supremacists are doing their damned best to roll us all back into the 1930's or even further back, that writing about hope and communicating hope is more important than ever.
And I’ll never be ashamed of doing just that—I’ll keep writing about human strength, resilience and how love and hope for the future helps us to keep going while it also makes us better people overall who see the humanity in others, regardless how different they might seem at first glance. Fulfilled hope is the one determining factor of a romance—the happy ending, whether forever, or for the moment, as people forge their futures together. Hope tells us “it’ll get better”, and “you can do this”, and “there’s something worth living for”, and if we can use our fiction to reach out to a person who needs to hear that and picks up a book because s/he needs a message of hope, there’s tremendous good in that.
Tara Taylor Quinn
I’ve written a lot of different kinds of stories. From intense, dark suspense to family drama. I’ve told the stories of a prostitute, a rape victim, and a man whose wife left him for another woman. I have an eighteen book series centered around domestic violence. And I’ve written the story of a psychic. And the one absolute, the one thing that every single book I was has in common is the happy ending.
I don’t write to the happy ending; I write for it. My life’s purpose is centered on that happy ending.
Every single life has struggle. No matter how privileged or blessed you might be, there are still challenges. Dangers. We all live in a world that is fraught with bad news. Scary news. With illegal drug epidemics, suicides, mass murders, racism and hate. These things exist in every city in every country in our world. In churches and sanctuaries. And evil breeds evil. It feeds off from it.
But there is one power that is stronger than evil. One force that can beat it. Love. And inside the love tool box you’ll find joy and happiness. Kindness. Compassion. These are our greatest strengths. Our armor. Our forces. Our troops. We all have these tools inside us, but if we don’t access them, don’t use them, they grow rusty. They might even get shoved so far back in the shed that we forget we have them. Or we know they’re there, but we fail to take the trouble to go get them. We might even stop believing that they’re capable of getting the job done.
And while our love tools are languishing, evil is happily breeding around us. We can let it consume our world, or we can get up, arm ourselves, and fight back. With love. Kindness. Compassion. With feel goods.
If we want to be happy, if we want our kids and those around us to be happy, we have to breed love. Fighting hate with anger only breeds more hate. I want to be happy. I want my loved ones to be happy. I want happiness for everyone. And the only way I know to do everything I can do to try to help that happen is to spread love. To tell stories that emulate our lives, and that give proof of the possibility of happiness. To spread hope with every word I write. To fill my little part of the world with happy endings.
Is writing and reading romance, with its sense that the odds can be overcome and everything will turn out okay in the end a much-needed escape from real life? Was completing your first manuscript euphoric and empowering? Let us know in the comments or use #AllTheFeels to join the discussion on our Social Media.