On Living Happily Ever After

I begin with a disclaimer:  I am not a writer of genre Romance.

This likely says more about me than it does about genre Romance, and really, for a while I thought that I would write Romance.  It could’ve gone that way; my reading, ‘way back when mass market paperbacks cost 35, 45, 60 U.S. cents, was split between SF and Romance, with a hearty side of Mystery.

At that time, Romance was pretty much all relationship, all the time; and SF was pretty much action-adventure with some cool shiny things tossed in for squee, and relationships both few and shallow. Obviously, this over-simplifies, but grant that the past is a distant country and we did things differently there.

What I found as a reader, ‘way back then, was that each genre was wanting in something that I did want — more action in the love story, and more love in the action story.  It could, as I said, have gone either way when I finally uttered that Fateful and Explosive Sentence “I can do better than that!” which graduates Readers to Writers.  But, when I landed, I came down on the side of SF, and have ever since plotted to include relationships (not just romantic relationships) in my work.

It might have been that the action-adventure in SF that seduced me, but I think, now, that I knew subconsciously even as a proto-writer that I could not do my best work under the constraints of HEA.

For those who are not Romance readers, “HEA” means “Happily Ever After” and it was for many years the mandated Romance novel ending.  I have been on Romance writer lists where the HEA is often a topic of intense conversation.  I think that perhaps the field is expanded enough now — and enough of the newer writers who came down on the Romance side of the equation had a love of SF/F or action-adventure — that there is a little give, some room for ambiguous endings.

Notice that I say ambiguous.  In genre literature it is of course one of the writer’s goals to leave the reader wanting more of this.  Therefore, a story that ends “and then they all died” (while apparently appealing to a certain subset of readers) really isn’t the way to go if the writer envisions a long-term career.

Ideally, a genre story gives the reader hope for the future, and a nice kick of satisfaction — the hero and heroine pledge their love; the murderer is discovered; the world is saved — each according to its own peculiar and particular rules.

Ideally, the ending of any particular story is predicated by everything that has gone before.  The ending ought not devalue the characters, nor their sacrifices and lessons.  This is why (IMNSHO) not all stories can have happy endings.

I was on a panel discussing SF Romance and Romantic SF at Oasis.  One of the very interesting questions posed by the moderator was how each of the panelists made their characters worthy of a happy ending.

This is a question that makes sense to a Romance writer, and to Romance readers.  The characters will have a happy ending; it’s mandated by the form. Therefore an important part of the tension of the story is how the reward will be earned.

In SF — and in Fantasy — it is by no means certain that the characters will achieve a personal happy ending.  They may do everything “right,” grow morally and spiritually; be brave, upstanding, true; see the resolution of their efforts fulfilled — and still be denied a Happy Ever After with the love(s) of their life.

I personally believe that this is. . .truer, and more resonant.  Sadly, I have read SF Romances (Science Fiction written from the stance of the conventions of the Romance genre) where the mandated HEA warped the entire shape of the story and negated everything that the characters had achieved.

In Romantic Science Fiction (Science Fiction that includes a strong Romance sub-plot while adhering to the conventions of the SF genre), the lovers may part, if the plot so demands, perhaps to meet again — or not —  when their respective work is done, thus allowing the character’s growth to continue beyond the end of the story.

One of the many interesting things said by my co-panelists at Oasis was the observation by Gennita Low, who writes espionage romances, that she tries to give her characters a happy ending, while realizing that — given the nature of her characters, in this example a professional assassin — the happy ending cannot be forever, or even, perhaps, for very long.

This felt true to me.  “And they lived happily ever after, for as long as they could,” is something I can accept, as a reader, and as a writer.

Notice that the Liaden Universe® novels tend to deliver “And they lived happily ever after, for as long as they could,” endings.  Given our characters, and the lives they lead, it does sometimes happen that a major character will die.  We try to keep these deaths to a minimum, and to handle them as respectfully as possible — by which I mean, as the character would have wished.  But!  Our characters know they live dangerously, and they know that sometimes things Just Go Horribly Wrong. On more than one occasion one character or another has given voice to a variation of, “Life isn’t safe; people die here.”  Which is something that we all know to be true.

As a writer, I would say that this knowledge increases the tension for the characters and for the reader, but it’s certainly not something that I could get away with in a HEA mandated Romance novel.

So, that’s why I write SF/F, and why I’m interested in the shift toward a middle ground, as Romance woos SF and SF tries to commit to relationships.

Books Read in 2010

Deceiver, C.J.Cherryh

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Half Magic, Edward Eager

Unknown, Rachel Caine

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson

Sunshine, Robin McKinley

Bone Crossed, Patricia Briggs

‘Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

The Ten-Cent Plague, David Hajdu

Bridge of Birds, Barry Hughart

Lee and Miller’s Oasis 23 Schedule

If you’re coming to Oasis and want to be sure to see (or avoid) us, our schedule is below.  We’ll probably also be findable in the art show, the dealers room, and any conveniently placed sofa.  The full program schedule is here.

Friday 03:00 PM What is the Future of Publishing?
E-publishing, self-publishing, The I-pad, the Nook, the Kindle. What will we be reading and how in 10 years?
Balder, Cowden, Fielding, Gittens, Miller, Roen(m), Wilson

Friday 04:00 PM Writers You Have Never Heard of, But Should Have Your favorite SF writers discuss who they are reading and recommending.
Byers, Lee, Miller, Wilber(m)

Friday 07:00 PM Opening Ceremonies and Cthulhu Chili Contest
Meet our guests and taste some great chilis.
Balder, Hinman, Lee, Miller

Friday 08:00 PM Favorite Characters, Favorite Books
Hear our panel of writers talk about some of their favorites from their own books.
Bova, Lee, McDevitt, Miller

Friday 09:00 PM Alien Artifacts
Our intergalactic archeologists evaluate rare objects from around the galaxy. They have all the answers; they just never agree.
Balder, Caldwell(m), Conrad, Lee, Miller, Mitchell

Saturday 09:00 AM Friends of Liad Breakfast in the Livingston Street Cafe (inside the convention hotel)  Join us for coffee! and breakfast!  and coffee!  and good company!  Did I mention coffee?

Saturday 01:00 PM Writer Guests of Honor — Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Our writer guests of honor discuss their work and answer questions.

Saturday 02:00 PM Signings
Bova, Lee, McDevitt, Miller

Saturday 05:00 PM Science Fiction and Comedy: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock
Come discuss your favorite SF comedies.
Balder, Finkelstein, Finkelstein, Hinman, Lee, Ranson

Sunday 10:00 AM Romance in SF and Fantasy
How is a work of fiction defined? What about a story classifies it as a romance as opposed to SF or fantasy. Was “Gone With the Wind” just another romance novel?
Dolamore, Lee, Low, Wilson(m)

Sunday 01:00 PM How to Make Sure Your Manuscript Gets Rejected
Authors discuss how they got published and what you shouldn’t do if you want to be published.
Dolamore, Lee, McDevitt(m), Miller, Roen, Wilson

Sunday 03:00 PM Closing Ceremonies
Balder, Hinman, Lee, Livingston, Miller


The Weekend Before the Week to Come

Next Tuesday, we begin our journey to Orlando for Oasis 23.  We expect to have a good time, and we’re really looking forward to seeing everybody.  The packing — eh.  But packing will happen on Monday, after work.

The first order of this weekend’s business is Ghost Ship, which, with one thing and another, has languished long enough.  In and around will be house-cleaning, so that Mary can find her way from the kitchen to the living room, and laundry, so we’ll have clothes to wear in Orlando, and a Serious Consultation with Steve regarding which plushy should accompany us on the trip.

That last is a tough choice.  For a good, long time, Hassan the Assassin was our default traveling companion.  Then Harwil the platypus entered our service at the KC Nebulas, and he became the companion of choice, mostly due to being much flatter than Hassan.  Steve’s Lord Black Cat has accompanied us on a couple of trips.  [Here’s a picture of Steve and Lord Black Cat and me and Hassan (and a host of others) at the Stuffed Animal Tea Party hosted by Alison Looney at Penguicon 4.0]

I feel a little for the other plushies, of which we own a ridiculous number.  There’s Sly the Fox, the day-job office plushy, who may be even flatter than Harwil and is certainly deserving of a vacation, and at least one of the hedgehogs is small enough to tuck into a traveling bag, not to mention the stuffed lizard (though that one’s stuffed with sand, and quite heavy, so maybe not).  The Looney Bloom Kristin Looney gave us (also at Penguicon 4.0; I think the idea was that Hassan needed someone at his back) can certainly fit in a bag.

It’s a puzzle, it is.

Which stuffed animal do you take with you when you travel?

Mouse and Dragon: Tweets for the Tweetless Day the Last

This is the fifth and final day of Mouse and Dragon Snippet Week, sponsored by Baen Books. Snippets to follow.

Aelliana: What would you be willing to do, in order to salvage Mizel?

Daav: On my honor, I will wait here until my brother comes.

Aelliana: You are delm of Low Port. I ask safe passage.

Daav: Stipulate that we are idiots of the first water, polished and ready to be set.

Aelliana: Daav, I think we should have another child.

Daav: I can scarcely argue with a lady who has a plan.

One week of snippets is now concluded. Thank you for your kind attention. Remember, Mouse and Dragon hits bookstores on June 1, from Baen.

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The above are snippets from Mouse and Dragon, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, for Friday, May 21.

Mouse and Dragon: Tweets for the Tweetless Day Four

Now beginning the penultimate day of the Mouse and Dragon Tweetathon! Snippets of Interest to follow.

Daav: Come out now, rogue, and show yourself to the pilot. I can do nothing if she decides to space you. She is the final authority here.

Aelliana: But how unhandsome! You leave me no words to say at all.

Daav: Torn from virtuous industry by a ravishing temptress; all — all! to be done over!

Aelliana: Did you know that a ship must be inspected and certified before a third-party lien may be set against it?

Daav: We will find the route, Pilot. I swear it.

Aelliana: One would welcome a cat, if possible.

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The above are snippets from Mouse and Dragon by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller for Thursday, May 20.  One more day of Mad Snippeting remains!  In the meantime, if you’re interested in what you’ve seen so far, please consider asking your favorite bookstore to order it in for you, or pre-order from IndieBound or from Amazon

Mouse and Dragon: Tweets for the Tweetless Day Three

This is third day of the Mouse and Dragon Tweetathon, sponsored by Baen Books. Street date is June 1. Mark your calendars!

Daav: My brother is enjoying himself far too much.

Kareen: Pilot, you are a mouse among raptors. Your best chance of survival is to be small, and to feast upon whatever crumbs fall your way.

Aelliana: Does this tree speak to you?

Daav: If I measured each of my loves against what I feel for you, it would seem that I had never loved anyone at all.

Aelliana: Certainly, any error should be rectified. I regret, however, that I am unable to continue my contract.

Daav: Every toasted cheese sandwich is unique unto itself. Like art, there are no mistakes.

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The above are snippets for Wednesday, May 19, 2010.  There are two more days of snippage this week, and one of them is tomorrow!  Please join us then. Snippets are delivered throughout the day via Twitter from BaenBooks and ClanKorval, then collected at the end of the day as a blog posting, for the convenience of those who do not tweet.

Mouse and Dragon: Tweets for the Tweetless Day Two

Day Two of Mouse and Dragon Snipathon! Watch the skies.

Aelliana: If you will cast blame, Balance, and doom, then I am your proper target, ma’am! Daav did only as he ought!

Daav: My sister sees a hundred-year scandal in a teacup misaligned in a formal setting. You must not take Kareen too seriously, Aelliana.

Aelliana: Daav. What else have the Healer’s done?

Daav: We are a broken set, van’chela. I could wish your brother still alive, that I might thank him fitly for his care of you.

Aelliana: If you will be Anne, then I will be Aelliana. I hope I have not disrupted your whole day.

Daav: You may not defame my lady or call her craven! She pressed on and did was was needful, with courage and generosity.

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The above are snippets for Tuesday, May 18, 2010.  Snippeting resumes tomorrow, via Twitter from BaenBooks and ClanKorval, at the Same Early Hour(tm).  Please join us then.