Romance, Realism, and...Happily Ever After?
April 19

Romance, Realism, and...Happily Ever After?

Lee Patton blogs:


It happened again on another Bold Strokes Books panel, this time when introducing my novel Coming to Life on South High. When asked to identify its genre and categories, I sputtered. “Uh, mainstream? New adult? Uh, love relationships, friends, family, and establishing a career…” 


Other writers on panels always seem to have exact, ready responses, and seem to savor describing their plots––a romance between a cop and an ex-con, say, or an S and M murder mystery in Barcelona, or a lesbian earth goddess who saves the entire planet with good mojo. In comparison to genre writers’ high concepts, realistic fiction can sound so sad: Uh, it’s about growing up, falling in love…and stuff.


As both reader and writer, I think my attraction to realism is temperamental. I see the word superhero and long for an un-super hero who saves lives by going to work in an emergency ward. I hear action-adventure and long for a tale about a couple adopting a lonesome orphan. Fantasy conjures dragons and other imaginary creatures when I’d rather get to know a moose (ideally named Bullwinkle). Erotica makes me itchy and scratchy and embarrassed; I had to close my eyes when I wrote PG-13 love scenes for Coming to Life on South High.


I always write about relationships but never have thought of myself as writing romance. The word itself makes me feel like an eight-year-old boy crying Yuck! The term romance writer once brought to mind sweet blue-haired ladies at some conference in Tampa, all wearing identical lime-green pantsuits. 


Then I was somehow put on a BSB panel with five romance writers and got an earful and an education. There wasn’t a pantsuit in the bunch, and these writers approached the theme Happily Ever After with professionalism and a serious sense of obligation to their readers’ desires, expectations, and hopes. Each writer was careful to stress realistic relationships but insisted on positive outcomes for lovers by the end. As Melissa Brayden summed up, “The world is a cruel, cruel place…we need things to work out.” She cited readers who tell her how positive outcomes in romance novels are their salvation.


I’d never thought of such a thing! Of course, I’ve always wanted to please readers with rendering reality into a compelling plot but never felt an obligation to give readers hope and joy––only that obligation to be real. Since relationships often go sour in real life, I’m intrigued by all aspects of that sour disintegration and want to share my intrigue, and be real with readers. 


Yet during that romance panel, I was forced to realize in every one of my novels, a renewed, hopeful relationship is suggested in the ending scenes, along with a new sense of acceptance, and even renewal, for the protagonist––almost happily ever after. Even more jarring, I was forced to admit that in real life, after decades wandering through the monotonous wilderness of serial monogamy, I’ve found what seems to be true love for over a decade now. Can that possibly be real?