Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Does the shoe fit you now?

I love to get a jump on things, and not just in the filthy sense of the phrase.

Though snow won’t fly for at least a month in Central Oregon, I spent yesterday driving to the middle of nowhere for a good deal on a set of snow tires. It was a three-hour round trip through cattle country, with directions that included phrases like, “head west past Beaver Street, turn right on Cum Flat, and go 13 miles until the pavement ends.”

(I swear I that’s what I heard – I even asked the woman to repeat “Cum Flat” three times before I gave up and wrote it down. Turns out “Combs Flat” sounds different with a western twang).

There’s something about that sort of road trip that puts me in the mood to listen to country music. It’s not my normal fare, but since I went to college in Montana, I was required by law to listen to it and even have a few songs on my iPod.

The stories appeal to my author sensibilities. If you can listen to Rascal Flats sing Ellsworth and not sob like a baby over Grandma’s descent into dementia and unwavering love for Grandpa, you are dead inside.

I rolled down my windows and sang at the top of my lungs with Pam Tillis and Trisha Yearwood, and I swear only two or three cows covered their ears with their hooves. But when Suzy Boggus started singing Cinderella, I shut up and listened to the lyrics.

It starts with one girlfriend reminiscing about the other’s fairy tale wedding, then cycles through the realities of their happily ever after – kids, jobs, disillusionment, aging, lost dreams – all the fun stuff country music is made of.

It was the chorus that really caught my ear:

Hey, Cinderella, what's the story all about?
I’ve got a funny feeling we missed a page or two somehow
Oh, Cinderella, maybe you could help us out
Does the shoe fit you now?

There’s something ironic about a romance author divorcing the year her debut novel hits shelves. I’m doing ridiculously great now, so you can skip the butt pats (though you’re welcome to give me a flirty little pinch if the urge strikes). I can say with 110% certainty that things happen for a reason, and I’m in a damn good place now.

Still, my happily ever after doesn’t look much like I imagined, nor does it look much like the ones I write. Or does it?

I doubt I’m giving away any shocking spoilers by telling you that Alex and Juli sail off into the sunset together at the end of Making Waves. But then what?

As a romance author, I’m forced to end the story there, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining what might happen next. Maybe Alex waits five years into their marriage before confessing he’d like Juli to spank him with Cookie’s pancake turner on a nightly basis.

Maybe Juli’s OK with that.

Or maybe Juli gets drunk one night with Malcom the literary pirate and neither of them can remember later how she ended up with paper cuts on her thighs.

Given what I know about real-life happily ever afters, those things could happen. Does it make the ending of the novel any less poignant? Does it taint the tenderness of the happily ever after to know it might not look exactly the way you picture it when you’re surrounded by candlelight and the heady scent of squished roses?

I don’t think so, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you ever consider what comes after the happily ever after in love stories? Why or why not? Please share!

Oh, and just so I’m not the only one with that song stuck in my head all day, here you go:

18 comments :

Shakespeare said...

Oh, yes, the "real" ending goes on for years and years (or ends dramatically, with the paper cuts, as you say), but the book is only and ending for a certain conflict.

With your book, the main conflict is resolved, along with several other subplots... all resolved. Readers aren't wondering whether the two main characters will have 82 children and raise them on some tropical island... they want to know how their relationship forms now, and helps resolve the mess they've gotten themselves into.

The "ending" is another book entirely, and is not necessarily a romance novel, since it would be dealing with a whole other set of dramas (or perhaps their life is just blissfully happy, and thus pretty gooey-sicky-sweet and boring).

The musical INTO THE WOODS deals with this same after-the-ending sort of thing... with very un-nice endings to some favorite fairy tales. But romance novels are there to lend a bit of hope. Besides, one relationship ending leaves you open to something far better than you would have imagined, as well as showing you how well you handle being on your own (and you are handling it beautifully).

MJones said...

We write love stories, not fairy tales. Some love stories don't end like we thought they would.

Patrick Alan said...

Ok, you finally figured it out. My embarrassing nickname is Butt Pat.

No. No it isn't.

Anyway, this butt pat isn't for you, it's for me.

*pats butt*

Linda G. said...

I still love a good romance, even though I mentally edit the HEAs (Happily-Ever-Afters) to HFNs (Happy-For-Nows). I've been around too long to take "forevers" for granted. :)

Patty Blount said...

I adore happily-ever-after endings but you're right, the stories don't stop, particularly if we've developed larger-than-life characters.

One of my adult contemporary stories had characters that just keep living in my mind. I thought I'd write a series out of it 'someday'. (I do have about 20,000 words in book 2, but I shelved it to write SEND.)

What I've discovered is that the very things that drew them together in book 1 keep threatening to pull them apart. I will finish these sequels one day even if the first book is never published... just for me. :)

Jen J. Danna said...

I do love a good happy ending. But I've always had a thing for series because I get too attached. I don't just want a couple of sail off into the sunset, I want to see what else happens. Any one who's ever been married knows that the story doesn't end right there. And if you're good, you can keep things fresh. This is why I love series like J.D. Robb's 'In Death' books. Yes, you see Eve and Roarke getting together in book 1, but they don't get engaged right away, and then the wedding is after that. And there are disagreements and make ups etc. That's real life, seen through fiction. So yes, I do think about what happens ever after and it translates into both what I read and what I write.

Sarah W said...

I like finding out what happens after the story 'officially' ends. I like epilogues and sequels and previous character cameos in later stand alones.

Matthew MacNish said...

Not really. I don't read a lot of love stories, but for me, at least in a story, it's about the moment.

Heck, even in real life. I don't expect to love one person for the rest of me life. If I do, I'll be very lucky, and very grateful, but I don't worry about what will life will be like next year, because that would take away from my ability to live it right now.

Elise Andrews said...

Happily Ever After is why we read romances... real life is a hard working roller coaster. I don't want to know that the hero who made me all squishy inside turns out to be a selfish couch potato with baggage. I'm temporarily escaping that by diving into your book... give me DENIAL! hehehehe

Patrick Alan said...

This is why I prefer Fantasy novels rather than straight romance. In a Fantasy novel, the dude saves the world AND gets the girl. Who cares if she goes crazy in a year or two, he saved the freakin' world!!!!

Michelle Miller said...

It doesn't matter whether I'm reading a love story or anything else, if I cared about the characters - and they didn't all die in the end - I absolutely wonder what happened next. If the author doesn't give us an epilogue, or a sequel, I usually imagine my own. And, I must confess, I always hope they're happy.

We live in cynical times, and many of us have lost faith in 'happily-ever-after', but as my own relationship enters it's 21st year (my husband will tell anyone who listens that our marriage is finally old enough to drink) I have enough experience to say that the 'happy' part of 'ever' doesn't mean that we're blissful every moment. It means that no matter how much he ticks me off during the day, there's still no one I'd rather have in bed with me at night. All relationships end, if nothing else, some day one of us is going to have to bury the other. It is all the stuff that happens in between now and then that matters.

Alex and Juli sailing off into the sunset together isn't an end, it's a beginning, and it leaves me wondering what happens next.

dianehenders said...

I'm too old and cynical to believe in happily ever afters, which is one reason why I rarely read romance.

But I don't read books that don't have some form of happy-ish ending. And after I read the happy ending, I smile and walk away satisfied, and I never wonder about the "afterwards". "Now" is the only thing that matters. :-)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I do think about the rest of characters' lives a lot. That's the best part. Falling in love and getting married is a beautiful story, but in my experience, it's the real-life afterwards stories that change you, make you stronger. It doesn't always end happily, and I don't think that literature really pretends it does. A lot of books get criticized for happy endings - 'it never works that way in real life' - but the fact of it is that it does. Then it changes. We fall in love just like in the books. Then the hardships kick in.
Literature realizes that, immortalizes it, and makes sure we understand that just because something is over, it doesn't mean it was a mistake. It means our next 'mistakes' will be better, bigger, and more worth making.

Shannon said...

Okay, I think I'm going to make people puke with this one:

I absolutely believe in happily ever after. I'm living it. Before you roll your eyes and think I'm some silly girl, keep in mind that I've been divorced once and ended a 4 year engagement 2 months before the wedding. Yikes!

I think we're drawn to the "happily ever after" idea because deep down we believe it's possible, despite our efforts to be cold cynics. <3

Patrick Alan said...

What do you want from me? Pick up my socks? My socks are that important and so heavy that you can't pick them up? Are they as important as two years ago when I SAVED THE FREAKIN' WORLD? You picked up my socks then? Why is it a freakin' big deal now? You only like me when I am saving the freakin' world?

Fine! Fine! I'll save it again. I'll go release all those dragons and let them rain down hell and then when you're sure we're all going to die, I'll come kick their asses!

'Cause I am done talking about stupid socks!!!!

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

I dunno, even those imagined disasters for Juli and Alex sound...not very disastrous. Kind of exciting, even! Good for a long-term relationship. Keeps things spicy. I would read that sequel.

But then, people keep calling me and saying things like "Hey, I love the job you did on your blog and on the Etsy store descriptions; will you write reviews of male sex toys for us?" So I'm not a very good judge.

Tawna Fenske said...

Shakespeare, great point about what comes AFTER not being a romance novel at all. Not that it's bad, but once the will they/won't they is resolved, then the real life begins!

MJones, very true, but sometimes the new version is better :)

Patrick, please tell me you're patting your own butt again.

Linda G, I still like believing in the forevers, though I know they won't usually turn out exactly the way you expect.

Patty, I imagine this is so very true! "What I've discovered is that the very things that drew them together in book 1 keep threatening to pull them apart."

Jen, I've never read any of the J.D. Robb books, but I might have to just for that reason!

Sarah, funny, I adore epilogues, too. Why the hell have I never written one?

Matthew, dude, you're a cynic! >> "I don't expect to love one person for the rest of me life."

Elise, sheesh, now I'll be picturing every romance novel hero as someone who turns out to be a couch potato with baggage. Thanks for that!

Patrick, your world is a very strange place.

Michelle, your comment made me bawl. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

dianehenders, three cheers for living in the now! :)

Bethany, this is the most beautiful thing I've read all week: "alling in love and getting married is a beautiful story, but in my experience, it's the real-life afterwards stories that change you, make you stronger. It doesn't always end happily, and I don't think that literature really pretends it does. A lot of books get criticized for happy endings - 'it never works that way in real life' - but the fact of it is that it does. Then it changes. We fall in love just like in the books. Then the hardships kick in.
Literature realizes that, immortalizes it, and makes sure we understand that just because something is over, it doesn't mean it was a mistake. It means our next 'mistakes' will be better, bigger, and more worth making." Love it!

Shannon, amen! Hope is a wonderful thing. So are wonderful, inspiring stories like yours :)

Patrick, what are you drinking? Where can I get some?

Geoffrey, I should write a MAKING WAVES sequel like that, just for you!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Ruthanne Reid said...

Coming from a family in which there actually were some very real happy endings, I know they're possible.

And I think believing that they're possible is absolutely essential - because otherwise, we 1. view other people with the assumption they will hurt us badly, 2. will not enter into a relationship with our hearts open and fully giving, and 3. will honestly miss a lot of the beauty in life.

It's worth the pain of bad endings to keep looking for good ones.