There are days when I toy with the idea of writing a book that leaves every single reader in tears with not a Happily Ever After in sight. On occasion, my books start out that way, with my rather calculating muse considering just how to permanently tear my loving couples apart. My release from earlier this year, The Whirlpools of Time originally had my protagonists, Erin and Duncan, ending up on separate sides of the great divide of time. I even wrote a heart wrenching scene with Erin on her deathbed, still yearning for the man she’d known and loved for such a short time before the fickle whirlpools of time sucked him out of her life just as quickly as they’d thrown him into it.
Thing is, while I aspire to write such a book, once I get to know my characters, I simply can’t put them through such pain. Nope, my lead men and women may have to fight their way through a series of obstacles to get to that sunset ending, but at least they do get there at the end. Somewhat marked by life, in some cases a tad damaged, but still alive, still together.
Should I write realistic books, my heroines would die in childbirth, my heroes of septicaemia. They’d end up hanged at the fickle say-so of a disgruntled king, perish in smallpox or the plague. After all, life is rarely rosy, is it? It sure isn’t now, and it deffo wasn’t in the past. After all, loving someone is no guarantee of a Happily Ever After—in fact some would argue that love just as often leads to loss and pain as a leisurely ride into the proverbial sunset.
And while I love the concept of time travel—hence those of my books that feature time travellers—I don’t think I’d like it much if I were to be thrown three centuries backwards in time. Plus, I seriously doubt I’d survive all that long in a world so lacking when it comes to the basics we take for granted—things like indoor plumbing and effective medicine. And I am not entirely sure meeting the man of my life would fully compensate for everything I lost, but I choose not to voice that out loud, as at present my latest time travelling heroine Erin is very, very angry with me for having
a) transported her to 1715
b) left her there, albeit with the handsome and protective Duncan at her side.
The above begs the question: does Erin really get a Happily Ever After when she’s stranded in another time? I would argue that she does—in the sense that she’s still alive as is Duncan, and that in each other they have found the partner they need to face the vagaries of life.
“Hmph!” Erin studies me while struggling with the laces of her bodice. “I should be satisfied with that, is that what you’re saying?”
“The alternative would be to wrench you apart—permanently,” I tell her calmly.
“The alternative would be to have us happy in my time,” she protests.
“Yeh, that would really work out with badass Josephine Wilkes breathing down your neck.” Well, in actual fact Ms Wilkes had just set fire to their house—with them in it. Not, IMO, the best of odds for reaching that elusive Happily Ever After.
Erin sighs. “Couldn’t you just kill her off?”
I scowl. No, I can’t just kill peeps off! There has to be some logic and structure to a novel, thank you very much. Besides, Josephine Wilkes is pretty scary—even as a figment of my imagination—so I prefer to keep my interaction with her down to a minimum.
Back to the compulsion to write books with a Happily Ever After: Like most writers, I write to please myself. Yes, obviously I want readers to love my books, but ultimately, writing is a lonely pursuit where there is only one taskmaster to please—me. When I write, I step into a bubble of make-believe, a world where, to some extent, I am in charge.
While any good book relies on plenty of conflict and tension to hook the reader, while all good reads must have characters that are somehow relatable—no matter when they lived, you have to highlight the characteristics that make them universally human—I can treat myself to adding the odd piece of pink and fluffy love. I need pink and fluffy love. I think most people do, actually, even if not everyone subscribes to the view that love is either pink or fluffy. I don’t either: my protagonists experience the thorny and darker aspects of love as well, but IMO some pink has never hurt anyone. In fact, the world would be a much, much better place if all of us embraced the pink and fluffy side of things a bit more.
I write to escape from the world around us. I enjoy submerging myself in the fantasy of a simpler world, one where I can somehow dictate how things will turn out. Mind you, quite often things don’t turn out as I planned. Seriously, some characters have major, major problems with authority, which is why my original plotline never holds. But so far, I have managed to keep my protagonists alive until the end of my books. I have maimed them, imprisoned them, abducted them, almost drowned them, enslaved them—but I’ve not killed them.
“And that’s supposed to be a comfort?” Erin asks from where she’s pilfered some of my tea and chocolate (Poor woman, stuck in a time where Hershey kisses have as yet to be invented, and tea is a luxury. I therefore pretend not to notice, no matter how anachronistic. I mean, she’s presently in 18th century Philadelphia, but I guess she needs a break from that reality by escaping into mine…)
“Would you rather be dead? Or would you have wanted Duncan to die from the injuries he sustained fighting those French Jacobites?”
She blinks. “No,” she says. “No,” she repeats and gets to her feet. “And if you ever—ever—put him through something like that again, I’ll…”
I grin. I knew she loved him more than chocolate and tea, more than TV and cell phones!
“Huh.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “Of course I do,” she concedes after a while. “After all, he’s my other half.”
And there, dear readers, you have it: while I yank Erin out of her context, while I dump her in an utterly unfamiliar world, put her through I don’t know how many harrowing moments, I give her a companion through life to help her handle all that. IMO, not a bad trade off.
In real life, very few of us are fortunate enough to meet that other half and form a bond that lasts a lifetime. But hey, I write fiction. More precisely, I gravitate towards romantic fiction, and so….taa-daa…you are always, always guaranteed a Happily Ever After and a love that transcends just about everything. Awww.
As I wrote to begin with, I have the ambition to one day write a book that will leave my readers in tears. Should I do so, that book will be labelled Historical Fiction, pure and simple. Mind you, I have days when I am not entirely convinced I can ever pull it off. I cry enough as it is when I write some of my scenes, and how on earth would I survive putting a beloved character through suffering if there’s no happy ending waiting for them? No, maybe I need to own up to the fact that I like—need—the romance element and am quite, quite addicted to the Happily Ever After, indulging myself with those little swirls of pink and fluffy. Because seriously, dear readers, what would life be without a dollop or two of love?
And yes, in case you were wondering, when I read I also tend to gravitate towards books that allow me to set them down with a smile and a warm feeling in my chest. Call me shallow, if you will, but life is short so why not treat yourself while you can???