I was struck by something Vicky mentioned in her post last week about the back-and-forth between her and her publisher over a semi-upbeat ending for her book. I’ve been getting email in advance of the release of my next book from readers anxious about whether or not the story will end on a happy-ever-after note. (I’m so naïve, I had to write back to the first person who inquired about an “HEA” ending and ask what the acronym stood for.)
Prior to the publication of my first book, I never thought of myself as a particular kind of writer one way or the other. Good novels ought to transcend genre, right? Imagine my surprise when I found myself lumped into various categories from women’s fiction (which I can halfway understand and live with) to chick lit (when my characters wouldn’t know a Jimmy Choo or a Cosmopolitan if you knocked them upside the head with it) to romance. Readers of the latter category seem to be the ones who most eagerly clamor for HEA endings.
To which I can only say, Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that.
Life isn’t neat and tidy, and I don’t think literature should be either. Even in the best of times, there are loose ends, dark undercurrents, things that don’t match up. While I like to leave my readers feeling satisfied, I also want them to work a little, to go beyond the last few words on the page to come up with their own versions of what they think happened to the characters once the story ends.
I realize this attitude may have already cost me a few fans, even had an effect on my relationship with publishers. But my new editor at Three Rivers Press, Allison McCabe, likes to use the term “hen lit” to describe what I’m doing and what she hopes is a future trend in publishing: stories about women of a certain age who’ve made it through the more conventional events of their early lives—courtship, marriage, babies—and have moved on to the grittier things—relationship problems, illness, job challenges, aging.
In this regard, I have to agree with my character Ash Farrell when he said, “I like baggage. It’s how you carry the good stuff.” If that means letting my Unboxed flag fly by delivering non-cookie-cutter endings, so be it. Hopeful? I can do hopeful. But Happy Ever After? Doesn’t exist, not in my book.