Bestselling author Kate Belle on the expectation of a HEA
I have an affliction as a ‘romance’ writer. I’m not good at happy endings. Actually, it’s more of a curse than an affliction, because romance readers expect their Happy Ever After (HEA) fix, it’s why they read the genre. For God’s sake, in romance HEA’s are mandatory! It’s part of the genre’s promise.
Believe me, I’ve tried, God knows I’ve tried, but to no avail. My story’s endings are always tinged with bitter-sweet. My questionable romantic history probably has a lot to answer for here. My bent out of shape, battered heart looks more like a returned WWII soldier than a thing of worthy of loving. I’m not doing a poor-me act here, I know I’m not alone in the ‘I stuffed it up’ stakes. But for some reason, perhaps the way my psyche is built, instead of hungering for inspiring stories where true love ultimately finds a way like everyone else, I hunger for truth. I want to know how to survive a broken heart, humiliating mistakes and choosing the wrong guy. I want to understand how to come out of those experiences wiser and stronger.
Which isn’t, on the whole, what a romance writer is supposed to do. Most romance authors offer their characters bright, sunny futures as couples. I offer mine tough choices and the opportunity to seek a deeper truth about themselves in love. Which leads me to wonder, can I call truly myself a romance writer? Am I failing reader’s expectations by classifying my books as ‘romance’? Am I just upsetting people by not delivering on the widely accepted promise of a HEA?
The truth is I can only write the stories that grow within me. Everything I write comes from a deep and honest place. I draw it up from the murky subconscious and half the time I don’t know what’s coming until I start typing. If I try for a neatly-tied-up-in-a-bow HEA ending, all sweet and romantic and perfect, I feel I’m betraying the origins of my story in some way. If I force it I fear I’ll be outed as a fake. So best I be honest, ‘woman-up’ and admit it.
I’m crap at romantic Happy Ever After.
The uncomfortable ramification of this revelation is realising I’m a black sheep in Australia’s golden stables of pedigree romance writers (we have so many of them, just look at Booktopia’s Romance posts for July). What right do I have, with my subversive stories, to even lay claim to being a romance writer? Am I traitor to the cause? The ultimate wanna-be?
My answer arrived recently in a timely email from a reader who’d received The Yearning as a birthday gift. This is what some of she said:
I have to say, the book resonated with me in a way that no other book has. … I like that it didn’t deliver the cliche ending, it kept things real but also left you hanging somewhat – yearning almost – giving the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about some of the story. … I cannot stop raving about the impact that this book had on me. (Reprinted with permission)
Thankfully books find their natural habitat once they are released into the wild. People read them and either allow their expectations to be shifted, or push the book aside because it doesn’t give them what they were looking for. As it turns out, Happy Ever After doesn’t always have to be about neat bows. It can be about wisdom, strength and the confidence to step into a new future with a clearer vision of what we want. While my stories may not fit romance in the purest sense, they are about love. The journey’s my characters take are inspired by what I’ve learned from the School of Romantic Failures and my endings, while not always neat, contain the most important ingredient in a HEA – hope.
Kate is a multi-published author who writes dark, sensual contemporary women’s fiction. She lives, writes and loves in Melbourne, juggling her strange, secret affairs with her male characters with her much loved partner and daughter and a menagerie of neurotic pets.
Kate holds a tertiary qualification in chemistry, half a diploma in naturopathy and a diploma in psychological astrology. Kate believes in living a passionate life and has ridden a camel through the Australian desert, fraternised with hippies in Nimbin, had a near birth experience and lived on nothing but porridge and a carrot for 3 days.