Ah, the HEA - "happily ever after." According to the Romance Writers of America, this is a cornerstone of romance. They define a romance novel by its:
"...emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."
When most people, including myself, refer to "romance novel," this is part of the idea. No matter what happens, you know there will be an HEA at the end. There's a certain R&R aspect to knowing how a book will end, and that it will end happily. This is part of why romances are such a good pastime for busy people. One can settle into it like a warm bath, and embrace the familiarity of it all.
But where, then, do we place non-HEA romance? Is there such a thing? I believe there is. I've read a number of books that I consider romances, yet which don't end happily. Romeo and Juliet, anyone? How many lovers has Nicholas Sparks killed off? Yes, I believe they exist. I know they do. Granted, people who want HEA might not like these romances as much, but I don't think that negates them as romances; they're just a different sort. In film studies, they are often called "melodramas," to distinguish them from "romantic comedies." "Romantic lit," maybe, instead of "genre romance", for our purposes?
Needless to say, I have nothing against HEA, and certainly nothing against traditional romance novels, as anyone who's familiar with this blog knows. Heck, all my books so far have been HEA or at least Happy For Now. (Oh no! Did I just **SPOILER** my entire opus there?)
However, I'm now working on a few projects where I don't know if they will end happily, especially in terms of any relationships therein. I can't guarantee the required HEA with those books, so I've already come to terms with the fact that I will be publishing them as non-romances, even though some of them have romantic aspects or even love stories. Romantic elements, yes. But the HEAs are iffy at best, if HEA allows only for coupling, and not for character development and triumph over adversity. (I.e., if "getting your man" is the only form of happy ending, it's not likely going to happen here.)
Will readers feel ripped off if they perceive me as a "romance writer," and I don't deliver? This is a worry I have, but I'm moving past it. I've decided not to split myself off into a new pen name for these books. I might shift/update some of my "image", but I will be keeping this name for these works. They will still be My Books, and they feel as much a part of me as my romances. I'm disinclined to exile them. Nor can I just shelve everything non-romance, because that wouldn't be satisfying for me.
It's time to test run the whole "brand the writer, not the books" theory of author marketing, I guess. I believe readers are savvy enough to handle this, and I'm okay if my "romance purity" cred slips because of these expansions.
This month, however, my distance from "romance" seems to have grown, somewhat against my will.
The HEA issue has been brought to the forefront in recent weeks due to some new rulings by RWA. As far as I know, RWA has long held that the HEA is definitive of romance as a genre. However, it did have an awards category for works containing a "strong romantic element," which basically means they aren't "traditional romances," but do have enough romance in them to be applicable to their awards and their common readership. Recently, RWA announced that this category would be gone as of 2014. Then, according to reports, they took the further move to clarify that those writers who do not write what they consider to be "real romance" (including HEA) are only eligible for associate membership, at most, leaving them either paying for membership without voting rights, or, well, leaving altogether.
In short, if you don't write romance-focused fiction, with a HEA romance between main characters as your "A Plot", you are not a romance writer, and are therefore ineligible. Oh well, it's their org, and their rules, so it's fair enough.
All it is means to me is that I guess I will never be a member of RWA now.
There have been several reasons why I've been reluctant to part with the money it takes to join RWA, so this is just the "case closed" seal. Other issues I've had included the absence of a convenient local chapter (one of the main things many RWA members love about membership), their stance on ebooks (though I gather that's changing) and non-advance paying publishers, and on erotica, and their often problematic views on LGTBQ fiction (I don't write LGTBQ fiction at present, but I stand with them on issues of equity). The likelihood I would ever attend their annual national shindig is basically nil, as well. It's always seemed to me that it's really an organization for traditional publishing, with agents and advances, and regular category romance through Big Publishers. There's nothing wrong with that, if that's what you want and where you are heading, but it's not me or my career, and I get plenty of contact with other writers through different means, particularly social media and forums. Why pay steadily increasing dues if I'm not sure it's right for me?
Honestly, I simply resist paying and joining groups unless I feel an affinity with them, and I've not felt affinity with RWA. Now the HEA thing just makes that possibility even more remote. I'm not heartbroken, though RWA was one of those benchmarks I held in mind when I first pictured myself as a romance writer. I've just come to face reality and change, that's all.
So, long story short - with my previous books, you will get an HEA (or HFN, "happily for now"), and I love that. With some of my future books, you might still get an HEA/HFN, when I return to romances. In the meantime, there will be some books that trip out of the genre, and might not be HEA or even HFN.
What was Marge Simpson's line? "It's an ending. That's enough."
And I'm okay with that. I hope you will be, too.
This is not "Goodbye to Romance." It's just a big Hello to other things, as well. But, I do believe it is goodbye to RWA, which I never really said hello to to begin with.