When reading fiction, I like happy endings as much as the next guy.
I love it when the star-crossed lovers get together, the nefarious murderer is apprehended, and the plucky kids find a way to save their family home. I find tears in my eyes every time at the charming conclusion of the awesome sci-fi classic movie Galaxy Quest.
But sometimes, happy endings aren’t exactly the right conclusion. When a story toboggans into a happy ending without any context or a silly deus ex machina gets dropped so hard on my head that I see stars, well, then I’m irritated. I get irked by characters who are kept apart for 200 pages by The Big Misunderstanding. Seems forced and cheap. The characters get a happy ending and I end up pissy.
How important are those HEAs (Happily Ever After) or HFNs (Happy For Now) endings in queer romance?
When my first novel, King Perry, was released in 2012, I admit to some trepidation. Despite the fact that the two main characters don’t end up together permanently, I thought my ending was wildly happy—joyful even. (There’s a very, very good reason why a relationship doesn’t happen for them, despite the life-changing love they share throughout the book.) I had already heard rumblings that a romance book without an official HEA or HFN would be shunned. In fact, my publisher insisted on categorizing my book in their “bittersweet” category. After some hesitation about this label slapped on, I agreed, because their logic and experience in the industry suggested I should trust them.
Did the Bittersweet label hurt? I think so. But it also helped prevent disappointment for readers expecting a HEA. How much a non-traditional mattered ending was confirmed in Goodreads reviews. Over time, I saw some of the same themed comments:
“You should read King Perry, even though it doesn’t have a HEA or HFN.”
“While this book is deeply romantic, it’s not a romance.”
“Although there’s not a romance book ending, this is not bittersweet at all. I don’t know how to describe it.”
These comments surprised me a bit. Don’t get me wrong. I was absolutely delighted the book was so well received. Readers wrote absolutely glorious reviews that have brought me to tears. I felt blessed beyond words by these generous reviews. I still reread them when I am sad.
But I was also surprised to be called out as not writing a true romance.
In fact, after a blog post where I pondered whether romance might include non-HEAs, a well-established MM author of some renown commented and disagreed with me. This person said:
“I also think that happy endings are not a “weakness” of the romance genre anymore than solutions to the crime are a “weakness” of mystery fiction. They are simply the restrictions of the art form. Much like the syllables in haiku. No one HAS to write haiku in order to write poetry, but if you’re going to write haiku, then you are stuck with the conventions of the art form.”
I don’t think happy endings are a weakness either. But I do not believe that these ‘restrictions in the art form,’ are required. After all, haikus by definition do not have to follow the traditional 5/7/5 syllabic pattern. We’re just more used to those. Couldn’t there be room in the queer romance art form for more than just two types of endings?
I am a gay man writing stories about gay men. I’m trying to share with the world that there’s different ways of being in love. The men in my book are deeply in love with each other for a full weekend. Their love is real. It’s not a cheap trick weekend, it’s not bathhouse sex. It’s love. It means something. Both men are changed by this love.
And I have been repeatedly told that there is not room in queer romance for these stories.
The bestselling classic, Bridges Of Madison County is one of the most famous heterosexual romances ever. No happy ending. But that does not negate the beautiful love story within.
Don’t get me wrong—readers have responded generously and with wild affection. I do not wish to complain about my treatment as an author one bit. I often feel reviewers have been more generous than I (and the book) deserve. But sometimes I feel like an outsider in queer romance.
It’s frustrating to be told by others in this broad queer community “you don’t belong.” Isn’t that our battle cry with the greater straight community? We’re here, we’re queer, we’re writing romance books? We want inclusion. We want recognition that heterosexual stories are not the only kind of love story.
I’ve been told repeatedly (reviews, emails, and once in-person) that my books “aren’t romances.” When I try to explain that sometimes love between gay men does exist this way, this deeply if not permanently, I’ve been corrected with “No it doesn’t.”
I’ve been corrected by someone who is not male. Someone who is not gay. Someone who is considered an expert in the MM romance field.
It can be frustrating.
I’m a queer man trying to share another way of being in love. And it’s the romance community marginalizing me, invalidating me, insisting I slap a label on my books so people can determine whether or not to stay away.
During Queer Romance Month, I invite all of us to think of who we’re excluding. I think the queer community is damn good at welcoming people of different orientations who do not fit the easy, clean labels of gay or lesbian. There’s a lot more gender fluidity out there and dammit, we do our best to welcome it, even when we don’t understand it. I’m proud of that aspect of our community.
But let’s not forget there are other ways of looking at love. Other types of romance, different from what we expect to find. If that’s not your thing, you don’t have to read it. But that doesn’t mean you have to exclude it from the family, either. I’d like to join you at the table.
And honestly, I love happy endings.
I can’t wait until I get to reveal the big, fat, happy ending during my series, The Lost and Founds. I try to infuse each book with my love, my love for people, beautiful locations, and that amazing sensuality and sexuality possible between two men. I’ve got a story in me and I hope you’ll let me tell it.
My name is Edmond Manning.
I write queer romance.
I’d like to do a giveaway of ANY TWO of my books to readers who leave comments on this post. Winners will be chosen at random.
About Edmond Manning
Edmond Manning is the author of romance series, The Lost and Founds. The first three books in this series include King Perry, King Mai (a Lambda Literary finalist 2014), and the Butterfly King. His release this last summer, Filthy Acquisitions has a big, fat, happy ending.
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About the Butterfly King
Terrance Altham doesn’t know why he’s been arrested. He’s committed no crime and the cops aren’t talking. Sadly, the man sharing his holding cell talks too much. Known only as Ghost, he is a young grifter, apparently familiar enough with this police station to convince Terrance a break out is possible, and pushy enough to leave Terrance no choice but to follow Ghost into the underbelly of New York City. Terrified by the unjust imprisonment and the possibility of a life behind bars, Terrance searches for proof of his innocence while Ghost seeks the elusive Butterfly King. But neither man seems in control of the weekend’s direction and the consequences of mistakes are life-changing. As Ghost’s manipulations come to an explosive head, each man must decide amid danger and street violence what kind of man will triumph, lost or found? Narrator Vin Vanbly (a.k.a Ghost) returns in the most revealing King Weekend yet, where he faces the dark side of his dangerous manipulations, and learns missteps can be deadly. Vin must confront sinister dealings from his past—and a future promising disaster—as he waltzes Terrance across Manhattan in spring, searching for the elusive and charismatic, Butterfly King.