Romance is a popular book genre. Romance novels follow a predictable pace toward a predictable happy ending. They are light reads which leave the reader feeling optimistic in the end. I have read many romance novels in my life and enjoy them when I do, so I get the draw. I understand why they are important. I understand why, now that e-readers make reading more private, many men are beginning to read them.
But my books are not romance novels. I love romance *a lot* and so I typically include lovers in my stories. I write about relationships, but not with the intention of leaving you on cloud nine in the end.
I’m taking some time to write this blog post now because I often see people complaining about books which do not have a “Happily Ever After”. I see people complaining about characters dying because they are targeted for their race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc as if the author is actually the murderer just for having written such a storyline.
And this brings me to a conclusion I feel I need to proclaim: I do not write books to make readers feel good. (Though you will sometimes)
Additionally: I do not write books *solely* so you can see yourself in the pages. (Though you will sometimes). I aim, mostly, to make the reader see how not to be the villain.
When I set out to write Winter Seedlings, Jute and Allie were meant to move off to Illinois and open a little bookstore on the corner of some downtown street. That’s what I wanted to happen. Two girls in love finding a happily ever after. But Winter Seedlings was never a F/F romance novel. From the very beginning, Winter Seedlings was about childhood sexual abuse and how challenging it is to define love because of it. Jute withdrew herself entirely from intimacy while Allie did the opposite; she believed her only value was in how well she pleased others sexually. I wanted to explore what would happen when those opposite forces collided together. In the end, Winter Seedlings was meant to give those who have never experienced the trauma of abuse a glimpse into the psychological effects it sometimes causes.
I wrote Winter Seedlings for people who did NOT already know what it’s like to be abused.
And maybe I’m wrong for having approached it that way. Maybe I should have created it in a way that was light and fluffy and left everyone feeling warm inside.
But honestly, I was pretty upset about the issue. I didn’t want people to read it and walk away feeling like they hadn’t a care in the world. I wanted them to walk away feeling very, very thoughtful. I wanted them to care about what happened to those characters in a way that would stay with them in the real world where they could make a difference in real lives.
The same was true for Silencer. I tackled a lot of tough issues in that novella. Race, police brutality, mental illness, grief. Silencer is the kind of book that is meant to get inside you and twist you up, make you feel what you don’t want to feel so you’ll walk away with a lot more empathy when it’s over. It’s not written to make you feel good. And it’s absolutely not written because *I* as an author want bad things to happen to minorities or the mentally ill.
Not everyone can read books like I write them. Not everyone wants to dig so deep and work so hard emotionally. I don’t blame them. If you’ve lived your life with a certain pain, the thoughts of rehashing it through fiction can seem like torture. I do make an effort to avoid minimizing the bad things that happen in my books as if those bad things are easy to get over, and I make an effort to write from the victim’s POV and not the abuser’s. I avoid sensationalizing trauma for those who feed off hurting people. But I know my efforts can still, at times, not be enough. I respect anyone who says to me “I couldn’t read your book because it was too triggering”.
I have pulled my books out of LGBT fiction categories because most booksellers market that category like romance. Initially, I don’t think I had a clear understanding of where my books fit in. I still don’t. But, I have gained a better understanding of *why* readers read certain genres, and that has helped me know where my books do *not* belong. If a bookseller has a Psychological Fiction category, that’s usually a safe place for me to set up residence.
So, what have you learned from reading this? Hopefully, you don’t read it and think I object to your reading preferences, or your need for a HEA (happily ever after). I think you should be able to reliably find the books you are seeking and shouldn’t have to read books that upset you.
BUT, I also think that you shouldn’t complain about the existence of books which do not have a HEA. Complain if the author categorizes such books as romance, yes. Complain if the trauma is sensationalist and the storyline lacks empathy, but don’t complain just because someone dared to write a tragedy.
Oddly enough, I’ve actually been knocked for one of my books ending in a way that was “too tidy”. I don’t know what readers want from me. 😉
If you are an author, cherish every reader who “gets you”. Because there will always be plenty of others who would only use your book as a doorstop, or perhaps as a projectile aimed for your head.
My final thought: Let’s all try to see the best in each other.