Make Room for Happily Never After by Edmond Manning

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.

Win Things!

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.


About the Butterfly King

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.

Grab a copy on Amazon US
Or on Amazon UK

139 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I have just had a thought, thanks to your “Bridges of Madison County” reference. Maybe romances are different from love stories. In Romances, you need your HEA or your HFN. It is the payoff, for want of a better term, of all the words that have come before. A love story doesn’t need a HEA or a HFN, it doesn’t even need romance, really; all it needs is the story of the love, no matter how long or between whom. I think that maybe, in my mind, “Bridges” is a love story with romantic elements and not a romance, and most probably “King Perry” would fit that same qualification (I have not read it, but it’s on my list.)

    I don’t know if anyone other than me makes this distinction, but by reading your post, Edmond, I have realised that I do. In my romances, I want the characters in question to end up together, in some type of happy relationship, but my love stories don’t have that requirement. And maybe I’m full of you know what. *LOL*

    But, for what it’s worth, I love a good romance and a good love story. :)

  • I utterly love you for this Edmond.
    There are many forms of romance, of love between people, of relationships, and they don’t get much of an airing in romance novels because they don’t fit the mould. Their stories can be romantic, can detail and explore the love between them, can show the progression and deepening of those feelings, yet these poor couples don’t count because they don’t have the heteronormative HEA or HFN.
    I think that the ‘restrictions in the art form’ are also it’s biggest weakness, because it does’t leave room for the love to wander to where it naturally goes.
    I always thought that the biggest benefit of being queer was not having to fit into pre-existing strictures and structures. So here’s hoping that there’s more queer romance in the future.

  • Romances that don’t have a HEA or a HFN or even have a sad ending are some of the most romantic of all. One of the most romantic stories I ever read was a fictional book based on thetrue historical events surrounding the deaths of Prince Rudolph of Austria and the love of his life Maria Vetsara (sp). It ended in a suicide pact, which took place at Mayerling also the name of the book. The fact that it had a tragic ending did not stop it being a romance. What about the film ‘Brief Encounter’ (the original b+w) the epitome of romance, but the protagonists leave each other to go back to their ordinary lives after a very short affair.

    I have read many m/m romances, where you knew from the beginning, the ending was not going to be an HEA, as it was all in flashbacks after separation or at deathbeds etc. A week of intense love can become the most romantic time of your life but does the fact it ended for whatever reason negate the romance of the week? I don’t think so. For what it’s worth Edmond you have some huge fans on Prism Book Alliance, who I review for in my other life. Your books are always referred to romances along with wonderful and extraordinary. Thank you for this post.

  • I read this and thought “…*gasp*…What if Edmond had been forced to change the ending of King Perry?” I can’t even think it. I’m so glad you challenged that norm and showed us a different view of love. And I can’t WAIT to see Vin at the end of this series. I may not be able to handle all the HAPPY! :)

  • Edmond Manning, you write some of the damn finest queer romance out there.

    That somebody – anybody – thinks you don’t fit this category brings tears to my eyes. I have them typing this. I have rec’d your books to countless people. I will follow Vin all the way to the end, and read anything and everything else you pen.

    I’ll keep shouting it out to anybody who might question it. I am thankful that you give us these other ways to enjoy love. They are no less valid or less emotional in their telling. I’m a better and changed person from reading your stories. <3

    • 100% this. All. Day. LONG.

      Edmond, thank you for sharing this will all of us. Like Catherine, I’ll be there until the very end with Vin, and anyone else you decide to put out there for our enjoyment, tears, hugs and love.

  • Clearly I didn’t read enough reviews of King Perry because I just remember reading that it is “extraordinary” but “not what you expect” and other such coy terminology… asfdjkhl! If they’d just said “it doesn’t have an HFN or HEA but is amazing all the same” I’d’ve had it on my wishlist yonks ago!

  • Hi Edmond – I confess that I have not read any of your books but I absolutely loved what you wrote and will be damn sure to add your Lost and Found series to my wish list. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading your stories.

  • I guess the qualifications of HEA and HFN for queer romance books has been brought over from het romance to differentiate it from gay fiction, letting readers know that the romance is the focus of the story. Is there room for stories of romance that don’t end with a HEA/HFN. Absolutely! Like Evaine said, I also tend to class those as love stories rather than romance as far as genre labels go. I have read and loved both. Both are eminently valid. But maybe it is time for those to be merged under the one umbrella of Romance, allowing the book’s blurb to indicate where on the romance diversity scale that particular story lies. Maybe it is time that readers’ boundaries are pushed just a little, to celebrate queer romance in all its forms.

  • I completely agree that stories about people who fall in love are romances, whether they have an HEA/HFN or not. I also think that the industry has taken the term romance and defined it so solidly that it is impossible, when talking about books or movies, to use the term “romance” and not expect the story to end happily. It’s strange because critics–professionals or amateurs–don’t hesitate to use the word “romantic” when describing any movie with a love story, but not the word “romance” unless it specifically has a happy ending. That association has pervaded our thinking but, interestingly, only when talking about media.

    All of this long-windedness to say that this label, like any other, bring with it a whole host of problems and benefits both. Either way, King Perry sounds like a fantastic book. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  • OK, sorry, reaalllly long comment here :/

    So, something struck me as I read this. Does anyone else think it sounds like we (some of us) are doing to romance, to literature, to art, the very thing we’ve been saying we shouldn’t do to sexuality & sexual orientation? Trying to force things to fit into rigid, restrictive little boxes?

    Why shouldn’t romance be what sexuality is, what people are, what life is: A spectrum?

    I believe the reason people want to sort things into easily labeled boxes is to make life feel predictable – read as “safe”. But just as when we do that to people we erase real identities, when we do that to romance, to any art form, we also do so at the cost of erasing real expressions of art & denying them validity.

    I agree with absolutely everything in this piece. I too, am a fan of HEA & HFN endings. But my preference for those kinds of endings doesn’t mean I think there can’t be romances that have different kinds of endings.

    I do understand labels are useful; I rely on them myself. So maybe all that’s needed is some way to identify romances by the way they end? Then people who only want to read love stories with HEA or HFN endings can do that, but romance writers who want to tell different kinds of stories & readers who want to read those stories, can do that as well. Why can’t we all have what we want?

    I also want to say: There is more than one definition of romance. There is Romance-the-literary genre & Romance-the-literary- community. Then there is simply the dictionary definition. Which Merriam-Webster gives as: “a love story, especially in the form of a novel” if you’re talking books, or “a love affair” if you’re talking, you know, life.

    So, when we say something is or isn’t a romance, we can be both right & wrong at the same time. We’re sort of talking apples & oranges here, but calling them all apples.

    I always use the dictionary definition of romance. Frankly, I don’t accept the authority of anyone to define a literary genre or community. In my mind, what constitutes romance in novels is the same thing that constitutes romance in life. When I say I read romance, I mean I read love stories.

    I disagree with most of the argument made by the M/M author who declared that “King Perry” is not a romance. Of course happy endings are not a weakness. But neither are they requirement. They are expectation & tradition, but we are hardly required to do things just because it’s expected of us or because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

    I think the haiku example is a false analogy. Merriam-Webster’s definition of haiku is: “An unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively”. The restrictions, though flexible, are right there in the definition.
    Unlike “romance”, which is just, you know “a love story”, not “a love story with a happy ending” or “a love story where the main characters end up together in the end.”

    I also flatly disagree with this: “if you’re going to write haiku, then you are stuck with the conventions of the art form.” Um, actually, nope, you are not. Nobody is stuck with nothin’. Conventions are made to be broken. Who says you can’t write non-traditional Haiku, or even reinvent the form? Who says you can’t write an unsolved murder mystery? Who says you can’t bust romance out of the box? Some readers or critics may not like it or agree, but that doesn’t make them right & you wrong. Even if their way came first. Even if they are the majority and you are the minority.

    Regarding King Perry, it’s part of a series, so HEA must be deferred in any case. But I also agree King Perry *does* have a happy, joyous ending – just not one that depends on the main characters riding off into the sunset together 😉

    I adored King Perry & King Mai & can’t wait to read The Butterfly King! I’m also so looking forward to that big fat happy ending of The Lost and Found series, but content to wait for it to happen at just the exact right time in the story :-)

  • Thank you for sharing. I can see why you feel that you are an outsider; I wish people didn’t make others feel that way. I don’t really understand why people feel the need to criticize in that manner. An author should be able to write in the manner that they feel their characters should be. I think that people need to broaden their horizons in general. There are so many possibilities in this world, but people get stuck on labels and what they “know”. While it may not be a huge comfort to you, I do think there are plenty of writers who feel like you do and are raising these issues.

    I do know that I’ve heard plenty of great things about your books. But you are right, lots of people are looking for that happy ending in the books and movies. Bridges of Madison County was a beautiful story, but sad. I had very mixed feelings about the whole thing. But the truth is that it was very realistic too. I think maybe that why so many readers want a happy ending, to remove themselves from reality. I think that you can do that with any book as long as it is well-written with characters that you feel for and empathize with. While I haven’t read any of your books yet, I have them on my list to read soon. I hope that someday you won’t feel so marginalized.

  • Edmond, thanks for a great post. I like happy endings too, but I can also be satisfied by one that’s not. I get that readers want an escape with their romances, so they want the HEA or HFN endings. But some of the most amazing romances/love stories I’ve read have endings that are not happy.

    I completely agree with what Allan said in his comment as well: “I think that the ‘restrictions in the art form’ are also it’s biggest weakness, because it does’t leave room for the love to wander to where it naturally goes.”

  • Just answering a post with “Yes. That.” is not helpful in keeping the discussion alive, is it? Fine, I’ll try to be more specific. 😉

    I’m constantly battling this urge to (very gently) slap the no HEA=no Romance definition with a literary history book.
    Érec et Énide? Romance
    Tristan? Romance
    Wuthering Heights? Gothic Romance
    Everyone dies, and it’s romantic as flip.

    Yeah, I know, we’re talking about the Modern Romance Subgenre. But, man, making the definition narrower and narrower, and then declaring only that narrow definition valid reminds me of the old joke of how a mathematician catches a lion (He steps into a cage and defines that space as ‘outside’).

    Not even the modern definition specifies a HEA. An (and I’m quoting the RWA) “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” leaves the door wide open. I’m not trying to dis anyone wanting to read a HEA. Hell, I sometimes want to read a HEA. Sometimes I even want to write one. But not always. And that doesn’t invalidate anything.

  • I’m not sure you need my response. I glanced over the replies above and what I want to say has been said by at least a few of the others. Still, I’ll add my two cents but will try to keep it short.

    I think the problem is that the word ‘romance’ has somehow become synonymous with ‘fairy tale’ over time. And, as we all know, a fairy tale has to end on ‘and they lived happily ever after’. The prince and the princess (or prince and prince, or princess and princess) have to ride off into the sunset together and the reader has to be convinced they’re going to be gloriously happy for now and eternity.

    It is a very limited view of what a love story actually is, but it seems to have taken root. So maybe it is time to differentiate between love stories and romances. Because under the new definition the word love story includes so much more than the word romance ever can. A love story can be platonic. A love story can develop between two characters who never meet. Love can grow between two men even if neither or only one of them is gay, or between a gay man and a straight woman and…. Surely I don’t need to go on.

    People are shockingly fond of boxes and labels. And if your product doesn’t conform to the label it won’t fit in the box. I for one am all for thinking outside the box. In this, as in everything else associate with Queer Romance Month (and suddenly I have my doubts about the use of the word ‘romance’ in that title) love is love regardless of the label we and/or others may wish to place on it.

    Edmond, I hope you’ll never stop writing your love stories. There’s more love in your King books than can be found in most, narrowly defined, romances.

  • Edmond,

    The fact that you even have to address this disappoints me. It seems to be a quirk of human nature that we approach new artistic creations, be it literature, music or any creative pursuit with a pre-conceived notion of what to expect. And when those expectation are not met we cry foul !
    I have met so many people over the years who act exactly like this, an artist releases a new album and the reaction is “it’s not as good as his first two albums” or an author writes a new book and is criticized for writing in a different genre or from a different POV. I will never understand why people limit themselves to “that which is known” instead of embracing the uniqueness of “that which is new”. Surely that is the whole reason for art, to create something new, something unique.
    i have read two of you creations now, and it is their very uniqueness which captured my imagination, and has made me a fan for life.

    Damn the begrudgers, Edmond, I for one look forward to the next mindfuck from a truly exceptional writer.


  • I think the series is so genre-breaking (in a wonderful way!) that people find it hard to categorize, which is a good thing. I never, ever would have read romances if it weren’t for m/m, and a huge part of that is because het romances are so predictable. I’m always thrilled to see the unexpected way Vin falls in love with each man as a unique individual, and the elements inside him that even he doesn’t know–if that’s not romance, what is?

  • Edmond, I have read your thoughts on this subject before, and I never fail to agree with you. I’m going to be lazy and grab a few of my thoughts in response to Brandon Witt’s wonderful post that spoke in a similar vein.

    “I don’t want perfect people acting perfectly. We have a range of experiences and personalities and mindsets, and I want fictional characters to be just as varied. In life, things don’t go the way we want or plan it to go, so I’m perfectly happy to see that reflected in the stories I read. If that means there’s ambiguity or no hea, so be it. Even though I love a good hea and sigh happily when everything works out, I just don’t NEED it to happen if that’s not how the author sees it. I’ve shared this thought before elsewhere, but I’ll reiterate it here. I think there’s a very vocal set of readers who are keeping romantic stories trapped by a set of standards that I have happily seen broken the most by queer fiction/romance writers. I just finished a book that was beautifully romantic, but that romance was surrounded by horrific tragedy and did not end in your standard hea way. It is no less a romance for that.

    That’s why I feel like queer romance is so important because no matter how many wonderful het romances there are, that world feels so established in what is and isn’t a romance. While I can find great stories, they don’t, as often, show the range of experience I want to read about. The history of queer fiction and romance may be just as long (though quieter), but it’s been composed of people who are writing from/about the outside and have said, ‘to hell with what stories you think I should (or should not) be writing.’”

    Yes, people can disagree, but I don’t feel like lack of an HEA or HFN keeps it from being a romance. I have read a het series where the romance from one book (a set of parents) ends in a later book with the parents lost at sea with their children mourning their loss. Does that mean it wasn’t really a HEA in that first book since they die in a later book in the series? Because I’ve read some gorgeous romances where one or both of the MC’s dies, and no one is going to convince me it wasn’t a romance because of that. I mean, realistically, if you carry the HEA stories to their natural conclusion, they’ll both be dead at some point (unless you’re talking fantasy characters who live forever).

    I ABSOLUTELY stand behind a reader’s right to read the stories they want. If they only want to read HEA, more power to them. There is a way to find that out, either by knowing a writer’s style or reading reviews or comments elsewhere. But I wish those same people were willing to let HNA (the phrase ‘happily never after’ is great!) be a valid romance. I don’t care if it’s not their thing, but the bashing of those stories gets to me. I don’t need anyone to validate my reading choices, but when it pressures authors to conform or change the story from its true form, I can’t abide that.

  • The Bridges of Madison County isn’t a romance! Bleah! *shudders*

    A genre romance novel *must* have a HEA or HFN ending. If it does not, it may be romantic, a story with romantic elements or a “romance” in ye olden day traditions or a “love story” and it doesn’t mean that it’s not a valid story. It doesn’t mean that the story doesn’t have value or importance. It just means it’s not a genre romance.

    HEA/HFN and a central love story are the only two essential requirements of the genre but without them, the story is something else. Not something bad, but not genre romance.

    I’m kind of annoyed at the suggestion that if I like HEA/HFN endings in my romance I’m discriminating against queer people. Because I really don’t think I am. I want to read romance. And, if a story doesn’t have a HEA/HFN, then I want to know about it beforehand – so I can choose whether to read it at all and so I won’t build up unmet expectations. That’s what genre tags are for.

    There is absolutely room in literature/fiction for queer love stories of all stripes. But genre romance has to have a HEA or it’s not genre romance. It’s like a crime novel with no actual crime in the story.

    I don’t want anyone to change their stories or write what doesn’t feel true for them. I just want to be able to rely on genre tags.

  • I agree with Kaetrin. The Romance convention of the HEA is a touchy subject for those of us who battle the litfic crowd in order to be taken seriously as romance readers or writers. We’ve been told FOREVER that HEAs aren’t realistic. That not all love ends that way. That real life isn’t like that. And, to expand into the gendered implications of that argument, that we’re just silly little girls with silly little porny fantasies of marrying princes for insisting on happy endings. That is OUR experience as women and as romance readers. If queer romance isn’t a subgenre, then it has the ability to change publishing and reader expectations for all genre romance, which for people like me is frankly terrifying. Because when a woman has breast cancer or she’s awake at 2am with a colicky baby or her husband has lost his job, she needs to know she’s not getting yet another disappointment from her book. This is how romance functions for a lot of women.

    I think what you’re brushing up against in the resistance to non happy endings is not a desire to exclude the queer experience, but a very raw hurt for romance readers (mainly women) who have been told that the genre they love isn’t “good enough” because it demands a certain optimism. Romance is chock full of stories that by all rights SHOULD end badly by reasons of history, politics, race, class and culture, which for women adds up to sexism. The HEA is the super power of romance that makes it okay for readers to explore those tough topics anyway. Love stories can be found in every genre. It’s the HEA that makes it genre romance. Otherwise, it’s romantic. I might want to still be interested, but I NEED to know what I’m getting.

      • I’m not sure but I think this might be an audience intersectionality issue.

        I think reader preference is hugely important in any genre – and I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” or “bad” or “unsupportive” in wanting and liking particular things in the texts we consume. And, as Kaetrin says, genre conventions are a broadstrokes way of ensuring reader expectations are met: if I’m reading sci-fi or fantasy, I’m expecting (and consequently looking for) an alternative world, if I’m reading romance I’m looking for a story about a relationship that may or may not have other elements (alternative worlds, dragons, vampires, people with guns) but that definitely ends in a positive and emotionally satisfying way.

        But I think there’s a danger that “positive and emotionally satisfying” (or whatever the RWA definition is, something very similar – optimistic and emotionally satisfying, I think) has come to mean by default: the heteronormative ideal. And this isn’t on its own terms a problem but the job of a romance novel is essentially to make a plausible case to you, the reader, for continuance: that when you close the book, the people within its pages are going to progress into an imaginary future as part of lasting and fulfilling relationship. But a lot of the markers for what that means are socially constructed: marriage, family, mortgage etc. I think it’s possible, interesting and valuable to broaden our assumptions about HFN/HEA without diminishing the H part.

        Or, for that matter, compromising what romance novels do for readers (of any gender) and the importance of romance novels in the lives of women specifically.

        So I think what might be the core of this tension is the fact that for some (although by no means all) queer people HFN/HEA may look and feel quite different to how it might look and feel for some (although by no means all) non-queer people. And there’s already a degree of tension in m/m in particular around subject versus audience – so while I think it is entirely reasonable that any part of any genre should reflect the expectations of that genre, when it comes to queer stories I think it can occasionally feel like queer romance derives its perceived value primarily from how closely it replicates non-queer romance. (Like anal sex functioning in a lot of m/m as the ‘equivalent’ of PIV sex when, uh, obviously it isn’t). And while I don’t think anybody is arguing that queer romance can’t and shouldn’t end the same way as het romances, with socially-sanctioned togetherness and a lasting exclusive commitment, I think it need not necessarily be harmful to the romance genre as a whole to consider more deeply what HFN/HEA means in queer romance stories.

        • i agree with you completely, except in one tiny regard: i think people are most certainly insisting that gay romances should end exactly like straight ones. in the equivalent of weddings and an abundance of children, dogs, and kindly neighbors.

          just as some people insist that romances should end in a happily ever after.

          romances can. not should.

          they can feature two bog-standard muscly-twinky white people getting married in hawaii by a wiccan with a prayer stick and somebody’s labrador sniffing the wedding singer’s crotch in preparation for his spinoff novel.

          they can.

          but don’t tell me they should.

          • Well there’s a difference between what a broad conception of romance *is* and what are the expectations/conventions of the romance *genre*.

            I think the distinction, for me, is more subtle and centred on what are the expectations of the HFN/HEA when applied to queer romances, rather than does a romance have to have a happy ending to be a romance, if that makes sense.

            To me “does a novel have to have a happy ending to be a genre romance”? is a non-question. The answer is yes.

          • The only thing I insist upon is together at the end – in a relationship and intending to stay that way. I’m happy to read about all the kinds of happy ever afters that fit within that. Straight romances don’t always end in marriage and kids either.

            What it looks like might be different in queer romance. (I’m unconvinced because I read a lot of m/f romance which doesn’t end in the picket fence and the dog etc. but I acknowledge as a non queer person I’m not an expert). But the only thing that is mandatory for me *in a romance novel* is the together in a relationship at the end. And I will insist on that. Absolutely.

  • “How important are those HEAs (Happily Ever After) or HFNs (Happy For Now) endings in queer romance?”

    They are very important if they want to be labeled as genre romance.

    But I was also surprised to be called out as not writing a true romance.

    The problem I see here is that you’re equating “romance”: the genre and literary form with “romance”: the relationship the two main characters are experiencing. If it doesn’t have a HEA/HFN it can’t be a genre romance, but what the characters are experiencing is a romance. The well-established m/m author was spot on in their comment even if they’re just of “some” renown.

    “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.”

    Except that it’s not a romance; it’s a love story.

    “I do not wish to complain about my treatment as an author one bit.”

    You could have fooled me.

    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.

    It’s frustrating to read this post with its implications that if we criticize the art form, we’re somewhat discriminating against queer people. You seriously need to stop equating the art form with the people within the stories. What people are saying is that books without HEA can’t be genre romance, not that the stories told in those books aren’t romances.

    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.

    No need to be gay or male to be an expert in the genre, just like being male and gay doesn’t guarantee expertise.

    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.

    Well, that’s just plain manipulative. Don’t use social justice language to talk about something you have clearly (and maybe even deliberately) misunderstood. The people reflected in your books deserve epic, amazing love stories and romances regardless of how those stories end, but genre romance must have a HEA/HFN, that’s why it’s genre. “Love Story” or “Fiction with Strong Romantic Elements” are great categories with lots of crossover appeal that don’t have genre constrictions and that would probably fit your books better.

  • An interesting discussion. I’m a genre romance addict. If I don’t get my happy ever after I am a very unhappy camper. But if I read “Chicklit” for instance, I understand that it’s more about the journey of the main protagonist which may include romance but may not necessarily involve a HEA with a love interest. I haven’t read your King series but it strikes me that it might fit more into that kind of novel. Is there such a thing as GBLiT?

  • I am just now getting around to reading this article but I will say I liked it a lot and I think it raises some important questions.

    Personally I think a happy or optimistic ending is important when writing romance, even necessary for a genre romance. However I think what constitutes a happy ending is worth thinking about and discussing especially as it applies to queer romance.

    I absolutely 100% agree with AJH here, the markers often used in genre romance to signify that this is a HEA/HFN ending can be very heteronormative. Things like monogamy, shared ownership of property, marriage, children traditionally mark an ending as being HEA or even simply as being ‘happy.’ And while these are things that can exist in queer relationships many, many queer relationships exist just find and indeed happily without them, as do heterosexual ones quite frankly. I think is something we have to be careful of. It is fine to only read HEA or even only read HEA when it is defined as including monogamy, shared ownership of property, marriage, children etc … It is a very different thing to say this is the only way a couple can have a happy ending together.

    I personally think happy endings are incredibly important, especially in queer romance but I just want to be careful about my assumptions when I define what a happy ending means.

    • I agree — the way the genre sometimes portrays the HEA can be heteronormative, something that is problematic and potentially harmful. This is an important conversation, but one that is not taking place on this post. This is about an author whose books end with the main couple* apart, feeling upset when people tell him that the books aren’t genre romances because genre romance HEA = couple ends up together at the end, which happens to be the one rule his books don’t follow.

      *I use couple as a shorthand to mean “all the people involved in the romantic relationship” because of course it can be more than two people.

      • I do think this is an important conversation, obviously so :) and I think I read this article differently than you do. I also see a conversation about what constitutes a HEA/HFN ending or just a happy ending happening in the comments whether or not that was the conversation Edmund Manning specifically wrote the article to have, which I think is perfectly fine.

  • I think the entire genre needs to have a conversation about what an HEA/HFN means in contemporary stories, be they het or queer. I don’t think this means the genre definition needs to change however.

    I think Edmond knows I’m a huge fan of his Lost and Founds series, and King Perry in particular, but I would not classify those books as genre romance. While I love these books, they are constructed much more in the spirit of a monomyth than a romance. The hero’s journey is the central story arc, not the relationship of the protagonists. They are wonderfully loving, romantic stories, but they are not genre romances as the expectation has been set to readers.

    I think it is absolutely important to note that queer romances, particularly those dealing with cisgender gay males, have had a bit of a struggle with labeling for a long time. There are those who insist they are an offshoot of the romance genre, pitted against those who insist that they are all derived from slash. There are those who insist that all books with gay characters who engage in sex should be labeled as “M/M romance” and there is this pervasive fear that those of us who read queer books that aren’t romance won’t be able to find them if they aren’t shelved alongside romance. It’s a marketing mess, it’s a genre definition mess, and in my opinion, it comes from people being hung up on sex rather than story. (remember when all gay romances were shelved as erotica, even if they didn’t have sex in them?)

    HEA and HFN need redefining across the board to reflect contemporary relationships. And, obviously, the question of genre marketing is one that needs to be addressed as well. This is a complex conversation that involves an industry with a long history of tropes that are defined by heterosexual social coding–and need to be redefined to be inclusive without giving up the genre definition.

    • I agree. I do think a big part of the problem is lack of agreed upon definition.

      The other problem I see is that terms (not just here) are used regardless, instead of marking the small nuances that discussions like this one rely upon to be communicative and connecting rather than divisive. Romance and genre romance, and sometimes category romance are used interchangeably. As are HEA, happy ending and positive/optimistic ending. Every one of these terms carries a history and connotations that can utterly derail and blindside.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, we should use labels and categoric exclusions carefully. A bit like turning in a porcelain shop with a ladder on our shoulders. If we forget the end sticking out, things get broken.

  • I believe that what happy ending means is a different discussion than whether happy or hopeful or optimistic ending is a must in a genre romance. I completely agree that it can mean many heteronormative things. However for me ( and I am straight woman) happy ending always meant one thing – couple being alive and staying together. I would never ever have a nerve to be so obnoxious as to define what the happy ending means for queer people but who would seriously argue that happy or hopeful ending does not mean couple ( or three , or more people ) staying together? Being in any kind of relationship but *together*. If they are not, for me as Kaetrin said above it could be a deeply romantic story but it is not a genre Romance. I do not care about babies, marriages , etc – of course I only define what happy ending means for me, other readers may have different thoughts, but I cannot imagine as I said before that anybody could seriously argue that people not staying together can mean anything remotely resembling happy ending.

    I will actually read a well written story where couple is not together at the end as well ( and again not everybody will of course ) but don’t present it to me as belonging to genre Romance because it is not.

  • True discussion is practically an art form, where all parties want to share perspectives and learn, not just have our own ideas confirmed. My success rate with that is iffy, I’m sure. Not to end the discussion, I just want to say I really appreciate the people who’ve shared. With help from everyone, I’ve re-shaped the form my thoughts have taken and my approach to this type of discussion in the future will be different, improved is what I’m hoping for. We’re all different, so we’re all going to think differently, but that makes the world more interesting, and I embrace that in life as much as I do in my reading choices. We’re all readers, so I hope we’ll all find the books that make us happy, whatever form that is. :)

  • Obviously unpopular opinion incoming!

    Well, I have to say I agree with Manning to an extent.

    I don’t think readers of the romance genre are attempting to marginalize the LGBT community by expecting a solid HEA or strong HFN so much as they are operating under the notion that they will receive the ending that has been traditionally prescribed by the powers that be (whether those powers are romance publishers or the RWA or the romance canon). If you’ve been getting a certain thing, and you’ve been led to believe the rules of the game demand that thing be a specific way, you’re going to be like “but, why?” if the rules suddenly change without warning. So, I get that. Absolutely. However, I don’t see why the HOPE that one day the definition of a “romance” and “HEA/HFN” be expanded is out of the question or ludicrous.

    I did not participate in Queer Romance Month, and I have no vested interest in any of the messages being displayed on the website, but I did have the remote understanding that its purpose was to highlight romance between LGBT character as a genre in itself and not just a subcategory of the overall romance genre. So, if that’s the case, then is it not too much to ask that we consider how the rules/definitions be expanded so that we’re taking into consideration what people from ALL walks of life might find “emotionally satisfying”?

    Don’t misunderstand, I’m not throwing up hands and trying to wage war on the previous commenters, but I’m posing a question.

    Most gay lit, like most gay movies, is extremely fucking depressing. Like BAD. And there’s a reason for that. The reason being that gay men, and all people who identify as LGBT, have historically had a shitty time finding romance, keeping romance, and being out about their romantic relationships. It’s a struggle, and a lot of gay lit is about that struggle, and a lot of it highlights how it usually ends poorly because that’s the reality and people need to understand what society has done to the LGBT community by expecting it to disappear just because it’s different.

    So, when I read a novel where a gay man gets his shit together, finds someone he loves and who loves him back, EVEN if they can’t settle down in a house, or an apartment, or …IDK where Manning’s book takes place, I’m still satisfied emotionally because at least they found someone who loves and wants them, and maybe they fought for it, but circumstances may prevent them from taking the steps that the traditional romance reader may consider a “HEA”.

    A lot of people are saying we should examine what HEA means, and I agree with that. That is the crux of the problem. Manning says people declared his book wasn’t a romance because the characters couldn’t be together, but I’ve also seen books that had a romantic arc, and a struggle, and the characters agreeing to try to make it work at the end, and was still said not to be a romance because it didn’t have the right kind of traditional HEA. If we’re talking about broadening the scope of what romance is and looking at queer/gay romance as its own entity, I think we should also consider that the traditional HEA is pretty limited considering those rules were created with a certain type of pairing in mind.

    Romance as a genre has changed and grown over time, so I don’t think it’s unfair to say it could grow a little more.

    • I don’t understand. Genre romance has two elements: 1. A central love story. 2. A happy ending with an intact relationship. Without these elements, it is not a genre romance. If you don’t want to include these elements, why do you want to call it a romance novel?

      Lots of us who enjoy romance also enjoy romantic fiction. I recently enjoyed a lesbian fiction novel with neither a HFN or HEA but an optimistic ending. It had a central love story, but there wasn’t a new relationship at the end. The story’s focus was on the main character working through her demons after meeting a woman who challenges her. Great stuff, right? But I would recommend it to a different set of readers than I would if it were a romance. While, yes, its lack of HFN/HEA eliminates some romance readers, it also opens up those readers I know who find HEA/HFN “too neat” or don’t like reading books where they “know how it ends.”

      Labels are about grouping books together that share similarities at least in part so that readers can find what they’d like to read. I just don’t know why you’d want to put a non-HEA/HFN book in a genre romance jacket when romantic fiction is a perfectly respectable genre of its own (often with much better covers as well.)

      • “I just don’t know why you’d want to put a non-HEA/HFN book in a genre romance jacket when romantic fiction is a perfectly respectable genre of its own (often with much better covers as well.)”

        If the “you” is intended specifically for me, I didn’t say that at all. If the “you” is in the general sense, I agree with you. There’s no point in trying to market a book as something it’s not.

        My point is not that romance books should have non-HEA/HFN. My point is that what I consider HEA or HFN is usually really different from what many romance readers consider HEA or HFN, and I’m usually told “no, that’s wrong. that book didn’t do it right”, and I’m left scratching my head because it was satisfying to me as a reader, and I feel kind of shitty about it because it spoke to my experience as a man in the LGBT community (i’m thinking about a particular book here). It’s not that HEA/HFN should disappear, I just think the checkbox of things that denote “happy” could be a little longer.

        I haven’t read Manning’s book, but I do think it’s possible for an ending to be considered happy if the two protags have to part ways, but part ways with the mutual understanding that they care deeply for each other.

        • I haven’t read Manning’s book, but I do think it’s possible for an ending to be considered happy if the two protags have to part ways, but part ways with the mutual understanding that they care deeply for each other.

          I don’t. Or, at least, I don’t regard it as genre romance.

          • Agree. There is a “technical” difference between a happy ending and a happy ever after ending. This is why I referenced chick lit earlier. I know some people don’t like the term but it’s a genre closely linked with romance but doesn’t always have the Happy Ever After. Sometimes it does but the point of the story is generally about the main characters life journey rather than focussed just on the romance. It can be about the individuals journey to a happy ending but is not reliant on a romance though romance can play a part in bringing the growth and experience to facilitate the happy ending. A lot of genre romance readers will read chick lit too but they will make a distinction between the two.

            • @Fiona Marsden yeah – I don’t read a lot of chick lit and usually check spoilers before I dive in.

              I don’t think HEA necessarily means an exchange of I love you though – one of the biggest Historical Romances of the late 1990s was Devil’s Bride and Devil didn’t say the magic words until many books later – he and Honoria totally had a HEA.

              And sometimes, the relationship is too new and I love you seems immature and unreal, sometimes there are other reasons, but the couple are together and in a relationship and heading toward a HEA – which is what I consider a HFN. Either is fine by me. It depends on the book and the characters. I don’t think it depends on their sexual identity or their gender.

          • @Fiona A lot of gay lit I read growing up was focused way more on the coming of age/development of the characters and didn’t ever really have a HEA, but I always remember being super bummed out by it after I finished reading because they were often depressing. Gay lit and gay movies I saw always seemed to focus on all the ways things could go wrong, and it actually made me want to stop reading them because I found it frustrating that anything with gay characters had to be completely miserable for it to be seen as realistic.

            So I definitely get and appreciate optimism and happy endings in books with gay characters, but I also think my outlook on what a HEA/HFN is in gay romance has been defined by the fact that compared to 1) suicide 2) death by gay bashing 3) staying in the closet indefinitely instead of being with the one you love or 4) being shunned by the one you love, two men being like “I want to be with you, but there’s going to be some struggles to make this work” or even “I want to be with you but I have to figure out my shit first” is still satisfying to me even though it’s not exactly what other readers may want.

            • @Santino oh, okay, that’s helpful. Thx.

              FWIW, I think the former of those stories would be a HFN and the latter would probably qualify as a “hopeful” ending which is the next best thing to a HFN. I do read those occasionally but I find it helps if I know what I’m in for beforehand and of the two I have a preference for the HFN. And, frankly, I’d rather have a believable HFN than a totally unrealistic HEA.

          • @Kaetrin Saying “I love you” is one thing but the reader feeling the love is another. You can’t tell me the reader isn’t left with the “oh he loves her and she loves him and it’s gonna work out” vibe in Devil’s Bride whatever the words. Together and alive would not be satisfying unless the reader knows that “together” mean more than cohabiting or intending to do so. *sigh* Now I’m visualising an end scene where the Protag One asks Protag Two…”Are we together together or just together?” and s/he sweeps him/her into his/her embrace saying “Of course we are together together…I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of you, that I… greatly esteem you… I like you.”

            and @Santo. I can appreciate that even the bare glimmer of hope at the end of a book is a big step in a genre that did focus more on the angst and down side of being gay. I suspect there will always be a measure of that, just as there are mainstream novels that are so depressing about the reality of living in the world they make you want to kill yourself. And I think as Kaetrin says, those two examples you gave would squeeze into the genre romance by the hope that these two people the reader has engaged with, have a chance of a future “together.” But that is not the same as what we are talking about here which involved the placing of a story or series of stories where the protagonist ends the book or books happier and more fulfilled but without a together person in their life. If I were putting the author of that kind of book on one of my twitter lists it would likely be under Novelist rather than romance author which is where I class genre romance authors I follow. This is kind of funny in a way…a novelist (belonging in the “literature”) world fighting tooth and nail to be included in despised genre romance.

        • “I can appreciate that even the bare glimmer of hope at the end of a book is a big step in a genre that did focus more on the angst and down side of being gay. I suspect there will always be a measure of that, just as there are mainstream novels that are so depressing about the reality of living in the world they make you want to kill yourself. And I think as Kaetrin says, those two examples you gave would squeeze into the genre romance by the hope that these two people the reader has engaged with, have a chance of a future “together.” ”

          Heh. Yep. That is pretty much the perspective I am coming from, and why I guess… I am more “lenient” as a M/M romance reader because until recently a lot of books/movies centered around gay relationships or the gay experience (the movies, IMO, are still super depressing) was a big drag to read, and because until very recently in the US, a traditional HEA in real life seemed unlikely or harder to come by because of the various barriers that were/are in place for gay people depending on where you live and the expectations of your culture and family.

          So what I see as HEA seems to be HFN to most romance readers, and what I’m okay with as far as HFN seems to be more hopeful/at least promising for some romance readers, but I have also observed that many readers don’t care much for an alleged romance book ending with only a hope of things working out in the future instead of a guarantee, and I think that’s where the whole perspective/expectation thing as far as who the reader is and their background comes into play.

          I feel like we understand each other at this point, but I think the conversation is muddled because I’m trying to make a point that the initial poster wasn’t necessarily trying to make, or at least not entirely. I agreed with Manning in the sense that because of the perspective we just discussed, some gay men may view HEA/HFN differently and sometimes that may not jive with a romance readers expectations if they are super traditional, but I also can’t speak for him or what he ACTUALLY meant so I’m making some assumptions there based on my own experiences. However, one of the most traditional M/M romances and most popular in the genre is written by a gay man, so it’s not like what I am saying regarding perspective should be perceived me trying to preach some gospel of what romance should be because I am the gay expert and no one should dare disagree. Debate and conversation is great if it helps each side understand each other better.

    • I went to bed last night a bit befuddled by what was being said here, but woke up to read this, totally agree.
      For me romance should have an emotionally fulfilling end, and I’m not sure who, if anyone, should get to decide that for me.
      Should queer romance be a separate genre – of that’s what makes writers/ readers happy then yes.
      But for people to decide that there is only one way of writing/ being/ living that seems extremely limiting. And to suggest that perhaps this is more about follow the money than expression ? Poor

      • Who is saying that there is only one way of writing/being/living? I don’t see anyone making judgements on the way people live or express themselves. Am I missing something?

        HEA/HFN isn’t prescriptive. It’s mandatory for genre romance but it doesn’t have to look the same in every novel.

  • @AJH I agree that there can be problematic heteronormativity in some romances – both queer and straight. I don’t think Mr. Manning was talking about heteronormativity in his post. Or, if he was, it wasn’t in any way clear to me. Like Brie, I took it as “I want to write a love story where the characters don’t end up together and want to call it (genre) romance.” No. It’s got nothing to do with queer. I’ve been in sometimes heated Twitter and blog discussions with romance readers regarding m/f romance and had the virtually the same arguments.

    There is plenty of room in literature and fiction for love stories or romantic stories which end with the couple not being together. But if you’re writing genre romance, the parties (however many there are) must end up together and intend to stay that way. (which I note you’ve already said and for which I thank you :))

    @no-one in particular:

    Yes, there are some romance readers who think HEA means “marriage and kids”. IMO there is as much pushback against this in the m/f romance community as there is in queer romance. I see it all the time. At base, HEA/HFN just means that the parties in the relationship are together at the end of the story and intend to stay that way.

    What that looks like, how their HEA works *for them* is the subject of the story. There doesn’t have to be marriage. There doesn’t have to be kids. There doesn’t have to be monogamy. Good grief – it doesn’t even mean that the parties have to all be physically together at the end of the book, just emotionally together – I’ve read very satisfying romance books where the last words are “I’m coming home.” Or “I’ll see you in six months at the end of my deployment.” It’s about the state of the relationship at the end. Would they regard themselves as in a relationship? Do they intend to remain in said relationship? That’s it; you’ve got yourself a HEA. Frankly, it’s not a very high bar. There’s room in the genre for all sorts of HEA’s – from hopeful, happy-for-nows, all the way through to marriage and kids and every permutation and combination in between and beyond.

    It’s what works for the romantic relationship in the story and it is the author’s job to show the reader that the HEA works *for those characters*. Some readers want to only read marriage and kids HEAs but I really think that’s a lot less common these days.

    I want to read all sorts of romance. I want to read queer romance. I want to read stories about a central love relationship where the parties end up together at the end. That’s it. That’ s my rules. Within that, just about anything goes – it’s a broad and deep pool to play in.

    If the parties are single at the end? Does not equal HEA in any definition. And therefore, it’s not genre romance.

  • I also wanted to add that I’m getting a bit confused about what queer romance wants to be. I had thought that QRM was a celebration of queer romance and the first two posts here ( were about love is love and it doesn’t matter what the gender identity or the sexual orientation of the parties was, it’s still romance. That, to me, says that queer romance wants to be a tag, not a category. That, to me, says that the goal is that when someone searches for contemporary romance (say) at Amazon (say), that queer romances show up in the search criteria just the same as straight romance. Which IMO would be awesome. More and more, I’m coming to that view – that queer is a tag, not a category when it comes to genre romance.

    But I’m seeing in some of the comments above that there is also a push for queer romance to be its own category – something separate from genre romance and having its own rules.

    Those two things just don’t fit comfortably together, IMO.

    While I realise that QRM does not speak for the queer romance community in a monolithic way, I didn’t think that was what QRM was about. Was I wrong?

    • I think it’s tricky because it’s a little from column A, a little from column B in that while I – at least – very firmly believe that love is love regardless of the form it takes, I think that’s almost exactly what’s tripping us up here because actually the conventions of mainstream romance place a lot of emphasis on forms. My position above is that the tricky thing about a HEA is that its often assumed to only “count” if it takes a particular, quite narrowly defined form, and that’s something that not only doesn’t necessarily accommodate queer romance but also doesn’t necessarily accommodate all heterosexual romances either.

      I’m perfectly okay with the idea that a happy ending is a necessary component of genre romance but I think it’s important to broaden our definitions of what a happy ending can be – for example, you could argue that an ending could be happy even if it involves a couple separating but valuing their time together. This doesn’t actually contravene the standard RWA definition which requires only that a genre romance centralise a love story and that its ending be optimistic.

      As for “the point” of QRM, insomuch as it as one, I think it’s very much about finding a place for queer stories as an integrated part of romance, but that might involve challenging some heteronormative assumptions about what love, relationships and, indeed, happiness look like.

      • If *I* read a book that self-identified as genre romance with an ending that had the central “couple separating but valuing their time together” I would throw that book at the wall, rant on Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads and any other outlet I could find that this book was NOT a romance novel. I’d never trust that author again. The reason I can follow romance authors to some very dark thematic places is because the genre promises me that it will all be OK in the end. If an author doesn’t give me that? My trust has been betrayed. And that doesn’t mean that I won’t/don’t read books with unhappy or incomplete or ambiguous endings. I do. But that’s not what I turn to romance for.

        I think you are stripping all context from the RWA definition of genre romance. I don’t believe that “optimistic” is intended to mean optimistic about the fate of one or more of the characters. I’ve always read it to mean that the reader is meant to leave the book feeling optimistic about the fate of the central love story. If that’s not part of the definition, than I give up.

        • That’s entirely reasonable. I was just saying I could personally envision and a book ending that way, and I wouldn’t necessarily feel myself deceived or dissatisfied. But it would depend on the book.

          I agree there’s a definition between broad-definition romance and genre romance.

          As per my comment above, I’m not saying that the romance genre could/should embrace embrace downbeat, negative or incomplete endings. I’m saying that “what does the HEA mean for queer romance” is not the same as “abolish the HEA.”

          • I think where the confusion *migh*t lie (lay?) is that Mr. Manning clearly said that his book didn’t have a HEA but he wanted to call it genre romance. As long as we don’t abolish the HEA/HFN I’m good. :)

      • HERETIC!!! 😀 If the romantic pairing (or however many people are involved in it) isn’t intact at the end of the story, then it doesn’t meet genre requirements IMO. We’ve had this discussion before of course 😉

        More seriously; I think I’ve said above that HEA is already a pretty broad thing. Yes there are *some* who have a very narrow view of it, but there are also some people who think climate change is a myth and Vladimir Putin is a good guy – it doesn’t mean it’s a reflection of reality.

        People are saying that we need to talk about HEA definitions and maybe it needs to change. I’m saying it’s already as broad as it can possibly be. Don’t be narrowly confined. Show me different HEAs – I will lap them up with a spoon and so will many many other romance readers. As Sirius said – together and alive is the only caveat here. I don’t read any of the commenters here in defence of HEA saying anything other than that.

        I don’t think that being “together and alive” is a heteronormative assumption. With respect, I don’t think the original post was about heteronormativity at all.

        • To clarify, technically dead is okay in some romance subgenres as long as the character is a vampire, ghost or some other kind of immortal or otherworldly creature. Including zombie (but that’s a hard sell because rotting breath and decomposing appendages).

        • Yes, but I’m not the original poster, so I can’t defend his position for him. I’m only presenting mine, which is that while for you the definition of HEA is very broad, I nevertheless think the idea of HEA itself contains a lot of unquestioned assumptions about what togetherness and happiness look like that *can be* (but are not always) potentially somewhat heteronormative sometimes, especially the social and cultural markers we expect around what implies a lasting, real and ‘happy’ relationship.

          This is not to say the HEA is automatically or inherently or always heterornomative. I know about as many queer people who are married and exclusive as I know straight people who are unmarried and polyamorous.

          But I think, as EE Ottoman says above, there’s value in looking at what a HEA means for queer relationships.

          And this is not the same as saying “abolish the HEA” or “the HEA is stupid” or “the romance genre is stupid.”

          • *can be* (but are not always) potentially somewhat sometimes, especially the social and cultural markers we expect

            Is there a word missing AJH?

            I don’t think I’ve ever said there is no value in looking at what a HEA might mean for queer relationships. In fact, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. I was responding to the original post which wasn’t about heteronormativity. Mr. Manning didn’t talk about heteronormativity. He said his protags weren’t together at the end of the story and was unhappy that his book therefore wasn’t classified a romance. And then, the cherry on top was the suggestion that this was evidence of discrimination.

            I’m not sure where the “romance genre is stupid” is coming from. I don’t think that and I know you don’t.

      • For me, the happy ending is optimistic in the sense that I can close the book without any anxiety about the main characters being able to make the relationship work in the long term. That’s it. And for me, the challenge for a romance book or author is to write a story that leads to that ending. So yes, love stories outside of this convention can and do exist, but if I pick those up expecting a romance because the publisher or author told me it’s a romance, I will be VERY cranky.

        I’ve read romance books with traditional HEAs where I felt the ending failed because the author failed to make a strong case for the characters being able to sustain the relationship in the future. And there are many romance books that challenge the traditional notion of marriage and kids.

        And I’ve always felt that for authors who want to push the boundaries of romance, the question of what makes a traditional HEA is the easiest thing to play with and experiment with. Because as long as they give readers a convincing argument for the characters having a way forward to spending their lives together, the rest of it is pretty malleable — marriage, kids, multiple partners, sexual orientation, mortality (yay, vampires) and so on. What is not negotiable for me is that the characters end up together at the end. There is no way forward to a life together when they end up apart.

    • Ahh, well if you mean my post, I did say I have nothing to do with QRM and have only read a couple of posts, so my understanding is possibly way different than the actual intention. My assumptions might be based on my own desires and not necessarily the desires of the people who created this event .

      Even so, speaking solely for myself, it would make me happy to have gay romance be more than just a subset of a genre that was originally designed with only a specific group of people in mind. I agree with most of your previous reply about how HEA/HFN are broad enough terms to be inclusive to all, but unfortunately that does not seem to always be the reality in M/M Romance. Many people appear to want “I love you”, a marriage or something quite close, and a solid reassurance that the characters will be together until the end of days. That’s fine, but I think it’s limiting, and I wish that point of view could be expanded to include all kinds of relationships and journeys.

      • There is nothing stopping you from writing whatever endings you want to write. There is nothing limiting you in your writing. There is absolutely a market for all kinds of relationships and journeys but the romance genre is the market for happy endings (ie together and alive).

        • I was primarily replying from my point of view as a reader, not from the point of view of like… a bitter writer who got some unhappy reviews. I have never written an un-HEA and have no plans to do so in the future, although my writing tends to steer more towards HFN. I’m not trying to embed some kind of bitter angry subtext here, seriously. I hope that’s not the way it came off.

          The inspiration for me deciding to reply at all (because I typically stay out of debates since I’m not saying anything spectacular or mind-blowing here), was a book I recently read and really loved. There was character development, growth, a romance that spanned the length of the novel and developed from casual sex to an actual relationship. But it was a little unorthodox, so many people were saying “not a romance!” “not a romance!”. It had all the right components, but still apparently wasn’t quite what the majority of reviewers seemed to have expected for a HEA/HFN even though the couple WAS together and alive at the end.

          • @Kaetrin

            Either this website is preventing me from replying to you directly, or I am a failure at the Internet.

            I don’t wanna say the name of the book on here for fear of starting a debate about the book (which could possibly be annoying to the author, and possibly lead to me turning into Big Emo Sonny if no one likes it because I have too many feelings), but I am curious what you would think/what you did think if you’ve already read it… :(

          • Emailed! I couldn’t DM you because we don’t follow each other, and then StayFocusd banned me from social media for the rest of the night.

        • Queer Romance Month is an umbrella term for people coming together under a central theme of Love is Love to centralise and celebrate queer romance and discuss its place in the genre. What it isn’t is a group of people who all agree with me, or even each other. Queer has many voices. That is part of what we celebrate.

  • I hesitated to comment on this post because I don’t feel I completely get what it — and Queer Romance Month’s — aims are. But I wanted to address some points that I think misrepresent what genre romance is (or is not).

    The romance genre is not an art form. Literature is an art form. The romance genre is just a genre or, as Kaetrin said, a tag for readers (I can’t stress this enough: the tag is for readers). To use an analogy: Picasso and Renoir are both artists. Their art form is painting. But you just can’t sell a Renoir to an person who is looking for Cubist art — everyone will end up disappointed. It’s similar with the romance genre. Without the guarantee that the protagonists end up together, I’m back to reading the ending of a book first before I start the story, or trawling Goodreads and Amazon for spoilers before I even consider buying a book.

    This is not to say there’s no room for love stories where the protagonists don’t end up together. But they don’t belong in the romance genre. And here’s where I’m not sure what is intended by this post. Is it that the romance genre should include non-HEA books? Because Elisabeth pretty much articulated why this is problematic for readers of the genre. And to be honest, whenever I hear an author talking about how the genre should be broadened to include non-HEA stories, it starts to feel like a grab for the (very large) romance genre readership without really understanding what makes the genre so popular with readers.

    I do acknowledge that there’s a significant body of readers open to love stories with unknown possibilities for the ending — some who ALSO read romance genre books, and some who don’t. And I think there’s a case for applying a brand or genre or label to these books so that readers can find them more easily (books that I would think about as books with ‘romantic elements’). These exist outside of the romance genre, but they feature love stories.

    (A note on semantics: I use ‘love story’ rather than generic ‘romance’ to avoid confusion with genre romance. I’m well aware that many readers who don’t read within the romance genre, and some who do, use the generic term with its dictionary meaning to refer to love stories. Arguing for the application of the dictionary meaning of romance doesn’t really address the concept of a genre called ‘romance’ — again, this is a specific tag, not a generic word.)

    So yes, genres can and do overlap. And there’s no reason why there can’t be a queer romance genre that exists outside the romance genre, with its own conventions independent of the romance genre, but which intersects with the romance genre because both feature love stories. Readers can then flit in and out of the genres as they will.

    I guess what I’m asking is: Why does a queer romance genre need to exist within the romance genre? If it’s different enough that the HEA cannot adequately encompass everything that is queer romance, wouldn’t it make more sense to define it as a genre that stands on its own?

    And I don’t see this as exclusion. At the point where the two genres intersect, there’s nothing stopping the romance genre from encompassing the queer romance books that have HEAs, and queer romance from encompassing romance genre books featuring queer protagonists.

      • I think if it exists as a genre on its own then it wouldn’t bother me. For example, I don’t think YA romance sits within romance, so I don’t really expect YA romance to have a HEA/HFN.

        That said, using ‘romance’ in the genre label will confuse (and probably frustrate) romance readers expecting the happy ending.

        • Yes. I don’t expect YA to be romance (or anything by John Green! LOL). But if it’s marketed as YA Romance I do expect a HFN (although if it involved marriage I’d probably get stabby because they’re too young!!). Just like in Fantasy I expect the quest to be solved (Lord of the Rings) and in mysteries I expect the mystery to be solved and so on.

          • I tend to think YA romance is a subgenre of YA, and not romance, and that’s why it doesn’t need the HEA/HFN. There’s a tradition of YA romance books that don’t fulfil romance genre expectations. I’m thinking of the Sweet Dreams series (book 1 ended in death!), and the Dolly fiction series. I’m not sure if the newer YA/teen romance imprints have moved closer to romance or if they still leave open the possibility of on HFN.

  • Genre labels exist so readers can find the kind of book they want to read. If you pick up a mystery, you expect to find out whodunit. For romance, the happy ending is the equivalent expectation. Are some people going to quibble over what constitutes “happy ending”? Sure. Some people want marriage/babies/etc. But the genre only calls for a romantic relationship in which the characters end up together. If they don’t, it may be a beautiful love story, but it’s not properly labeled “romance.” :)

  • The romance genre has already stretched to include Happy For Now. That doesn’t require marriage, kids, white picket fence. All it requires is reader expectation that the couple are in love and together…for the moment…when you get to the end of the book. If you can’t supply that bare minimum, it’s not a genre romance. I’m a Heteronormative (nice word by the way, it reminds me of Neurotypical) reader and if I read a M/F romance I expect a HEA/HFN, if I read a M/M romance I expect the same. I’m even demanding enough to want that for a F/MMMMMM, MMM/F/M or any combination of the above. I don’t think it really has anything to do with whether your story is GBLT but your expectations in wanting to be considered a part of the largest, most lucrative sector of the reading marketplace.

  • I don’t think, for many readers, “together and alive” is the definition of HEA. The continued existence of the “babylogue” in 2014–and its prevalence in queer romance–shows that for many, HEA = monogamy and children. I read more babylogues in m/m than het, so if we’re talking about HEA definitions and heteronormativity, we need to talk about the message these tropes send when repurposed for queer relationships.

    • Some of the biggest romance conversations I’ve participated in have been re m/f romance about what consistutes a HEA. Really, it’s the hot button which will always get a reaction. Yes, there are definitely some who want the white picket fence and the 2.5 kids and the white wedding and the dog. But, increasingly, there are more and more of us who are just as happy to read different kinds of HEAs.

      If there are more babylogues in m/m than m/f well I don’t know what that means. I’m not asking for them as a reader. Maybe it’s a reflection of that that author wants to write? And there’s nothing wrong with that if that works for the romantic relationship and the author. Maybe it’s a discussion the queer community needs to have about itself (?) but I don’t see it as being demanded by the straight readers (and I don’t see you suggesting that’s the case).

      Speaking for myself: Authors, please feel free to show us romance readers different HEAs – as long as they’re together and alive, I’m in.

    • Together and in love actually. We aren’t talking Nicholas Sparkes here. Though maybe we should because his books are often mistaken for romance even though they almost invariably end badly. I believe that romance books follow current trends in society. Thus we have many books dealing with servicemen and PTSD because we are at war and thanks to 50SOG we find kink in even the mildest mainstream romance. So in an era when queer society is obsessed with Marriage equality and the right to equivalence in “normative” family relationships, of course you are going to see that reflected in the romances of the current day. That doesn’t mean that the evil tropes of the romance genre are imposing their standards on queer romance. All it means is that the writers of the day are looking around at the issues that are close to the heart of the queer community and relating them in their stories. In the same way that queer YA and NA romances will deal with the issues of coming out, gay bashing etc.

    • Sure, babylogues are still there. Same as Kaetrin I have no idea what this means, but I am not asking for them either. To clarify, I do not hate them and if I am otherwise sold on the story, I will tolerate them, but they are not my favorite ending.

      But while I do not have any statistics, I sure have read just as many stories where couple is in love at the end of the story and goes on various adventures. Obvious examples would be historical and historical fantasies – KJ Charles, Tamara Allen, etc . Those are authors I love and I do not remember seeing a single babylogue in their books just yet. But I understand that historicals may not be a very good example since the characters just cannot have babies openly.

      There was a story about alien intelligent armor system who gets to share a body with one guy and they at the end are together with the love of this guy’s life (who was a former gangster accidentally).

      How about a story of the two magicians who after participating in the reality show go on the tour and are together?

      What about a story I read just few days ago where one god/former god/essence of the god absolves another god/whatever and gets his happy (probably for now) with a lovely computer geek (till next battles anyway but only because it was book one).

      I can go on and on. I love these stories, I want more of the stories like these, but they already exist. And agree with Kaetrin’s last sentence again – the more different kind of happy /HFN endings the happier I am as a reader.

  • This entire post simply misses the point of genre fiction and book classifications. And I feel as if I’m reading a spin from someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about in the first place. Various genres, from what I’ve always heard from industry professionals, were set up to classify books in brick and mortar bookshops so readers would know what they are getting. Inevitably, some books cross the lines and there’s some confusion. However, books like Bridges of Madison County are romantic dramas, or romantic contemporary, they are NOT romance novels for the romance genre. Nicholas Sparks does not consider himself a romance novelist either. He’s stated this openly himself more than once.

    You can write whatever you want and call it whatever you want, but that doesn’t solve the issue of the lack of information you have about publishing and book genres in the traditional sense. And the fact is, as defined by RWA, romances have HEA or HFN, and that’s just the way it is. There’s no law against classifying a book as romantic contemporary, or whatever. But romance readers expect their books to have an HEA and that’s more about product information than it is about artistic license. Romance readers are not expected to know this. They assume it when they buy romances. Authors and publishing professionals are, however, expected to know these things. If you called to rent a car for the weekend and you were handed keys to a sub-compact when you thought you were getting a luxury you wouldn’t be pleased with the result and you would complain. People expect certain things from sub-compacts and certain things from luxury cars. The same goes for anything that’s classified. And please don’t tell me about art. That’s just a spin. No one is stopping anyone from writing romantic stories without HEA or HFN, no one is forcing anyone to write something that leaves them frustrated. They’re only asking for the books to be classified for purchase and for authors to understand more about the industry in which they are working.

    • Your explaining that I’m wrong and don’t understand what I’m talking about is simply your opinion presented as if it’s an unassailable fact. It’s not. It’s spin. Over the years, we’ve all heard similar pronouncements applied to the definition of marriage. It’s “always been defined as between as between a man and a woman and that’s what everyone expects. You can call your gay relationship a partnership if you like. But people have expectations about the word marriage. You can’t change that.” As we’ve seen, that’s simply not true. It’s just a self-righteous justification for long-standing exclusion. The narrow definition in the industry should expand. I write queer romance.

      • How dare you. How dare you continue to equate an accurate definition of romance genre fiction with marriage equality and homophobia. How dare you continue to insinuate that those who want a HEA are bigots. They are in no way the same. I’m all for marriage equality and I’m all for the HEA. You can call what you write anything you like buddy. I won’t be reading it anyway.

        • it makes no nevermind whether you feel like a bigot, or he calls you one.

          exclusion is exclusion.

          there is often a very good reason for exclusion, but in this case it makes no difference whether we nudge the definition to include a broader range of conclusions.

          the definition of anything defined by human beings and not by mathematics changes over time, as human beings change.

          there is more than one way to achieve a happily ever after.

          that some prefer a different means than you is not germane to your concerns except if you are concerned only with excluding a thing that doesn’t apply to you.

          sound familiar?

          some people find their HEAs in triads. some people find theirs in asexual friendships.

          who gives a shit?

          what’s needed is more specific tags, not blanket exclusions of new ideas that clearly have as much meaning to some as the old ones do to others.

          nobody is coming for anyone’s HEA.

          the call is to ‘make room,’ not ‘obliterate and replace.’

          as an aside, i find your tone to be completely unhelpful and overbearing. your point has been made all over this thread several times. no need to get all shouty like someone’s pissed in your grits.

          you disagree.

          we get it.

          • If the call is to make room in the definition of HEA and not “obliterate and replace” could you please explain how Mr. Manning’s books fit in the broadest definition of HEA – “alive and together”? They are not together no matter how you look at it, no indication of that happening. You said some people find their HEA in triads and some in asexual friendships. Could you please point a single post in this thread who argued against Mr. Manning’s claim that his books belong to genre romance that HEA ending that you described is somehow not good enough? Who gives a shit indeed as you pointed out as to how people are together as long as they are you know , together?

            If you wrote a mystery which has a lot of gore in it, as somebody already stated – it is excluded from the genre of cozy mystery. That’s discrimination?

            Chick lit does not belong to genre romance. If queer romance would end with people not staying together I may still read it from very few authors but warn me about it in advance so I can decide having all facts – otherwise I am highly unlikely to buy anything from you ( generic you) ever again.

          • Romance genre readers are trying to articulate what it is that makes a book part of the romance genre. That you and Manning refuse to listen by insisting that we don’t know how to define terms tells me you’re not really interested in finding common ground.

            Yes, romance is defined by the dictionary in a broad way. That is the function of dictionaries.

            Yes, not all books will be included in the romance genre. That is the function of genre.

            So when people are trying to articulate what makes a romance genre book a romance genre book, and the counterargument is that the dictionary definition or lived experience of individuals is not the same as the genre definition, that’s a deflection of the conversation. Tell me instead why broadening the genre serves readers. Tell me why these books can’t find homes in any other genres and why that’s bad for authors and readers. And then we might get somewhere.

            Don’t tell us that you disagree with the function of genre. It’s a valid point, don’t get me wrong, but that is not the discussion Manning started. His argument is for the broadening of genre. The assumption is that genre exists and is important.

            Don’t tell us that genre is useless. If you feel that, then there’s an entire literary world open for you. You are not excluded by ignoring genre tags. We’re saying that genre is important to us as readers of the genre. That it has very specific functions for some readers. Tell us how those functions are met by broadening the genre and we might get somewhere.

            Of course romance readers know that marriage is not for everyone, that not everyone wants children, that people don’t get happy endings in real life. Tell us why we need that in the genre, not why we don’t understand what real life is like. Because we do, actually.

          • I think the issue here is the false comparison: feeling that a particular convention is definitional of a genre is not the same as feeling that heterosexuality is definitional of marriage.

            If people were arguing that romance necessarily required a heterosexual pairing that would be excluding queer people.

            Arguing that the romance genre requires that its protagonists wind up together is simply stating a fact about the genre. It’s not requirement that excludes queer people any more than, to take an example from the original post, the requirement that a mystery end with the crime being solved.

            The simple fact is that the tropes of genre romance do not, and arguably should not, encompass the entire spectrum of human writing about love.

            Like all genres it is a specific marketing category designed to tell people who are looking for a particular type of story where to find that type of story. It is simply not making any wider claims about the nature of love or happiness.

            Terminator has a strong central love story. The film actually ends on the line “in the few hours we had together, we loved a lifetime’s worth.” This is very romantic, but nobody suggests it constitutes genre romance. And, indeed, if I was looking for a genre romance, and somebody made me watch Terminator, I’d be somewhat miffed.

          • And where ANYWHERE have I said that I didn’t think any of your examples wouldn’t be a valid HEA? I have said repeatedly, that THEY ARE. I’m all for different kinds of HEAs with however many people make the parties happy. What I do not accept is a HEA is when the parties *aren’t together* (as fitting within romance genre boundaries). That’s it. If they’re not together at the end of the story and intending to stay that way, it’s not a HEA. ANYTHING else can work just fine.

            Manning is specifically saying that his couple (I believe it was 2 people in the book, but AGAIN, I have no issue with multiple partner stories) WAS NOT TOGETHER and he wanted that to be a HEA. It is not.

            And it’s got absolutely nothing to do with homophobia or marriage equality.

          • @ Kaetrin: But seriously, I’m confused. Where does it say “together and alive” on the RWA definition? Or does it say that elsewhere on the RWA site, or some other site? Really, not trying to be contentious, it’s a real question.

            On RWA website all I see is this:

            “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

            “A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.”

            “An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”

            The oft cited “together & alive” does not appear here at all – ?? Nor do HEA or HFN, but I am guessing those are just shorthand for two ways of being “together & alive” – ?

            So, is “together and alive” an actual, official definition that appears in writing elsewhere on RWA, or some other website? Or is it something that is felt to be “just understood”? Essentially an interpretation of what the definition means, that “emotionally satisfying and optimistic” has to mean “together and alive.” ? And if it’s an interpretation or understanding, doesn’t that mean different individuals are free to interpret or understand differently, and still be within the definition? Because that’s how I have looked at it, and I’m thinking other people may be looking at it this way as well.

            I truly think that confusion and/or disagreement on what constitutes the actual definition might be part of all of this.

          • looking over my comment, i see how it can be interpreted to mean that i am calling kaetrin—or anyone else on this thread—a bigot.

            it was not at all my intention, and i most sincerely apologize.


      • And this is why this entire book marketing exercise dressed up as social justice makes me retch.

        You haven’t bothered to engage with the many people explaining, patiently and kindly, what the Romance label is used for, and why they use it. No, you blunder in with a two year old recycled post, throwing your male privilege around and demand that an enormous and popular genre, which accepts and promotes HEAs for everyone, queer or straight, and *demands* that you be an exception because you say so.

        The “If you don’t buy my books you’re homophobic” argument is peurile, and your display of petulant disingenuous may fool your fans, but it doesn’t fool the rest of us. I love me some gay writers, and I’ll buy their books – but you’re not ever going to bully me into buying yours by screaming “You hate gay people if you don’t accept everything I say”.

        What an insulting, feeble response to dozens of thoughtful comments.

      • YOu do your cause little good with equating your desire to have your non HEA/HFN book considered part of the romance genre with the gay marriage cause. It seems to me that having a sense of entitlement because queer people have been excluded from marriage so therefore you get a free pass to join any club you like because exclusion equates to bigotry is only going to alienate people. I’ve worked in disability for years and have a son with an intellectual disability so while I don’t have direct experience of queer exclusion, I do understand the concept. Asking you to obey the very minimal rules of the club you want to join is not exclusion. It’s not like you couldn’t write a HEA/HFN romance if you want to. Unlike many people with a disability who cannot use the front entrance to the club because they can’t traverse the stairs in a wheelchair.

        Asking that you do not attempt to call your non HEA/HFN genre romance is not exclusion. It is not bigotry. And seriously, if you asked nine out of ten gay couples if they would have been just as happy not being together they would probably say they prefer the HEA. Queer people have been fighting to legitimise their HEA for years in the campaign for equality. Why would they bother if the queer experience of romance and love did not equate to the norm of a HEA? Your stance that somehow queer romance is different from the hetero norm goes against what the queer community have been stating loud and clear for years. That IF THEY CHOOSE a happy ever after with marriage, a picket fence and 2 1/2 kids they are just as entitled to it as any other couple.

        Are you also claiming that a hetero person who has meaningful love affairs but chooses to move on in their personal journey and leave the other partner behind as occurs in your specifically queer books is somehow impinging on the prerogative of queer people? Because that is also bigotry. Everyone (barring the odd psychopath) has the capacity for love and will express it in an endless range of ways because that is the nature of the human condition. And that goes to the range of sexualities that is also part of the human condition. Do not dare to say that your kind of love is somehow more different and more special than any other persons kind of love simply because your expression of that love is played out within the bounds of a group of people who have been excluded from publicly demonstrating that love.

        When it comes down to it, you want your books to be included in a specific genre they are not suited to. Expanding the genre to include love stories that do not have a happy ending is not the same as expanding the definition of marriage to include same sex couples unless you are prepared to admit that a gay marriage is NOT the same or equal to a hetero marriage but something quite different masquerading under the title “marriage.” But perhaps you do believe this because you have said queer romance should not be judged by the same standards as hetero romance.

  • I also wanted to make a point about why I found Mr. Manning’s claim about wanting his books to be called romances so surprising – I have read ( and reviewed) two out of three of his books ( although he may have published the books unrelated to this series I would not know that so I should say I have read two out of three books in this series ). It is not that his protagonists are apart at the end ( although they are of course). I did not think for a second that these books ever portrayed couple ( or people) in love working towards being together – in fact as I mentioned to somebody yesterday that if I were to classify these books I would put them in the fictionalized self – help section of the book store. Main character helps two different people to discover the best in them – that’s how I always thought of these books. I want to say to those who have not read them that there is absolutely no tragedy of any sorts and you won’t be surprised that two people don’t stay together – they are well written, they are truly different from a lot of what I read in m/m / gay fiction, but romances? Not even close IMO. I am not touching the third book but for a reason that has nothing to do with these books not being romances – I just really could not stand main character.

  • This debate is pushing all of my “authority” & “language” and “personal autonomy” buttons. I’m probably going to kick myself for weighing in again, but for once I feel like I should try not to be such a coward & say what I think.

    The idea that any person or group has the implicit authority to define words or concepts for other people or groups is something I cannot accept.

    Neither RWA or any other organization, “the romance community”, or the romance novel genre, own or have trademarked the word “romance”. I don’t accept that those organizations or groups, or individuals within them get to lock down the definition of *a word in the English language*! Not even as it is used within literature or the literary community. Not even as it is used within their specific genre or community. They get to define it as they choose, as individuals. They get to define it as a group, provided “membership” in that group is self-defined & on an “opt in” basis, not just a presumed default of writing a book & marketing or referring to it as a romance, or reading within the genre, or interacting with the genre community. But not for anyone else.

    Also, there have been a lot of blanket statements made about what romance *is* or *is not*. This may not be the intent, but this can come off sounding like people telling other people how they are allowed to feel or think. Defining a word is, after all, a thought process. Conveying to a person that they must or should think about or define something in a specific way can feel invalidating to the other person as a . . . person! I am not just talking about the queer community here. I’m speaking personally. I also have a different opinion as to the definition of romance, one I apparently share with Edmond Manning, among others. Having people disagree is fine. But having that disagreement take a form that feels like “your opinion, your thinking, your feelings, are just plain wrong” is distressing. I recognize no one has addressed me directly in this discussion as I have not weighed in since earlier on. But when people state their own opinions in unequivocal terms “this is what it is, period”, then if you are of a dissenting view, the effect is essentially the same. I mean, it’s just a word, not the end of the world. But in a way it’s not so different than having someone else try to define for you what concepts of God or Christian or love or masculine or feminine mean. It feels alienating – and just kinda not-good.

    I just don’t think we can nail down the meanings of words & concepts. Yes, it’s definitely complicated & frustrating & confusing that people are talking to each other & using the same words and terms, but intending all kinds of different meanings & shadings of meaning & connotations. But that is what we’re doing. And we do it all the time, not just on this topic. Language is like that.

    I don’t believe Edmond Manning is being disingenuous by continuing to define romance differently than “instructed”. I don’t believe he doesn’t know what he is talking about either. I don’t know, but suspect he is doing exactly what I am doing: He doesn’t agree with that definition, so he doesn’t accept it, or the authority of RWA or any person, group, or organization to make that call for him.

    Speaking for myself, I have defined “romance”, with regard to literature, as “love story” for most of my life. I’m not going to change or restrict my definition on the basis of “so & so says so”. I recognize genre romance as one of several valid definitions of the word, but do not feel it has replaced or subsumed or made archaic other definitions, even as specifically applies to literature. I accept that others have different opinions, so I am agreed to disagree. Henceforth, for the sake of clarity, I will try to use qualifiers when I talk to people about romance. I will say “genre romance” when that is what I mean, and “a romance, not genre romance” or something like that. Except when I forget to do that 😉

    Now, with regard to HEA & HFN: I disagree with a comment that was in here somewhere, that if you take the HEA/HFN requirement out of genre romance, you have something that’s no different from mainstream fiction. My feeling is, if you take out HEA/HFN out, you still have a genre that is *specifically concerned with love stories*. Mainstream fiction is not specifically concerned with love stories. So, if that is what you want, it’s a distinction worth making, even if you don’t care about HEA or HFN

    To a degree I feel I am arguing the opposite of my own position. Because I absolutely want to read, primarily, HEA/HFN stories. And I want to be able to find them easily. But I want to be able to find all love stories equally easily, as a genre, HEA/HFN or not. My wish would be a genre that is specifically love stories. Then, *within that*, a category that is love stories with only HEA or HFN endings & categories with other kinds of endings. To me, that genre should be called Romance, but I guess you could call it something else, “Love Stories” for example, as a broad umbrella genre that would include Romance within it. Still, I don’t see that ever happening. I think if people go to Amazon looking for a love story, they search for “romance”, whether they care about HEA/HFN or not. Maybe I just don’t know, but I would fear most readers are not going to have the level of insider knowledge to know the difference & won’t find love stories or romantic fiction that are categorized as anything but romance.

    I don’t think it’s only a problem of writers & their income if their work can’t be found by readers. It’s a problem for readers too. If King Perry wasn’t categorized as m/m romance I fear I never would have found it. Which is unthinkable, IMO. It’s definitely non-traditional, both in the ending & lots of other elements. But I still consider it a love story and thus, by my definition it is “a romance” if not a “genre romance”. I just wish there should be room in the genre for nontraditional love stories.

    • When genre romance is far and away the best selling literary genre, I don’t really understand how you can seriously argue that knowing about the genre and its happy endings constitutes some sort of arcane “insider knowledge.”

    • As has been mentioned by someone else in this discussion, genre label’s are a form of tagging so you know what you are getting. I would guarantee if people who love cosy mysteries were told they have to allow the villain to get away and gee maybe it is okay if we go all noir and have explicit violence and lots of gore, there would be a negative reaction. And you know, I wrote a story about a woman who has depression and goes to a mall and shops. It has a dystopian feel about it and so I think it should be shelved in sci-fi. Even better, we can pretend she’s actually 17 and not 43 so it can be shelved with Hunger Games.

      Artistic freedom is one thing but do we really want anarchy in the book stores?

      If women can manage to figure out the difference between genre romance and women’s fiction surely somehow it’s possible to find a marketplace for GBLT fiction that isn’t genre romance with a HEA/HFN ending. Women who write without a HEA/HFN have to be content with a women’s fiction tag. Is there something different or special about GBLT fiction that even if it doesn’t meet the basic criteria of a HEA/HFN it should still be let into the “club”?

    • I think if people go to Amazon looking for a love story, they search for “romance”, whether they care about HEA/HFN or not. Maybe I just don’t know, but I would fear most readers are not going to have the level of insider knowledge to know the difference & won’t find love stories or romantic fiction that are categorized as anything but romance.

      In my experience (and to my frustration as a reader), bookshops and libraries categorise very broadly. Amazon, for example, lists King Perry under contemporary romance and gay romance. So I’m not convinced that discoverability through bookshop search engines is the problem.

      I also have a different opinion as to the definition of romance

      No one is forcing their definition of the word on anyone else. But genre is a marketing label, and Edmond Manning is an author. The way the genre label is used by authors and publishers to market their books to readers is a very specific use of a word, with a very specific promise to genre readers — invariably tied to convincing us to spend money on their books — and I believe that’s what many of us who are insisting on the happy ending are talking about.

    • “I don’t accept that those organizations or groups, or individuals within them get to lock down the definition of *a word in the English language”

      They don’t, they aren’t even trying.

      Look, what you’re saying is like a petfood manufacturer saying “Food is Food! So we won’t label things for cats or dogs, it’s all just ‘food’! Why should we artificially distinguish?”

      Well, because (1) people want to know what’s in the tin and (2) if you feed dog food to cats who are obligate carnivores long term, they die. It’s going to cause inconvenience at the least, and injury at worst.

      And lest you mock me for exaggerating, let me elucidate. A lot of the time, I simply cannot cope with unhappy endings in books or films. I mean that if I encounter one without warning, it can often send me into an emotional tailspin for days. Can I cope with them ever? Sometimes – if I know what I’m getting into, and have time to prepare. I still haven’t been able to stomach watching Brokeback Mountain because I know how it ends. That goes for A Single Man too. I even have trouble watching films about historical characters who die horribly.

      So I like Romcoms. I know that at the end, no one will die. I don’t want a steady diet of them, but when I know I can’t cope with misery, they’re reliable. Same with romance books(and note, I rarely read het romance.) I avoid books where one partner or both dies. Cowardly, maybe, but that’s the deal. Because my mental stability is more important than reading ALL THE THINGS, or some publisher pushing the boundaries of what a genre means.

      I begrudge no one the right to write what they want, and call it romantic. Call it gay fiction, and I will know to ‘kill a fairy’ (ie read the ending) before diving in. If you’re going to call it’ m/m, which is subgenre of the Romance genre, then I will expect cat food, not dog food. I will expect, as a customer, for the tin label to be accurate.

      If you don’t like the label, invent another one. It took us long enough to move from ‘original slash’ to ‘m/m’. Surely we as writers have the wit and courage to invent another one that discerning readers can seek out (because lots of readers *love* unhappy endings, or Nicholas Sparks would not be rich and famous.)

      (And while I’m ranting, let me also side eye romances of any ilk which kills off one character – usually an existing partner – to give the main characters their HEA. A HEA which is built on cheaply constructed misery isn’t a HEA. It has to be earned, it has to feel real and honest, and it can’t treat other characters like unwanted scraps.)

      • “Look, what you’re saying is like a petfood manufacturer saying “Food is Food! So we won’t label things for cats or dogs, it’s all just ‘food’! Why should we artificially distinguish?”

        I would be the last person to mock you (or anyone) for exaggerating (or for anything). I like analogies. I get what you are saying there. But, no, I don’t really think of it like that, so obviously I haven’t explained myself very well. I tried to clarify a bit more below, in my response to Kaetrin.

        But the thing is, I do, absolutely, want to distinguish & clearly label books & to be able to easily find & choose HEA & HFN stories & avoid the ones that aren’t, unless I choose otherwise. I don’t ever want to be surprised by an unhappy ending either. I regularly check the ends of books to make sure everyone is alive & well. Including in genre romance. In fact, I want happy endings 99% of the time when I read *any* fiction, not just romance. Seriously, I have DNF’d only 3 books in my life, as I recall, two of those for the unexpected lack of a happy ending. But only one of those was a romance. The other was Stephen King’s Cujo! Which just emotionally destroyed me, in a very bad, angry way. So, yes, I’ve had some severely upsetting emotional reactions also to being surprised by unhappy endings as well, though perhaps not to the degree you describe. But I very much understand where you are coming from there.

        It’s not that I don’t want to distinguish between love stories with guaranteed happy endings & those that don’t. It’s that I see Romance as an umbrella term synonymous with “love story”, within which you have *subcategories* that distinguish between those things, and some way of identifying that on books.

        Anyway, I tried to break that down in the form of analogy below, in my response to Kaetrin. None of it matters anyway, just me spouting off about how I wish things were & things that bug me & how that dovetails with some of the things Mr. Manning said 😉

    • @Pam Except we do that all the time. When I call something a chair, you know what I mean. It’s how we understand each other. It’s a common language.

      Romance (when I talk about romance I always mean genre romance by the way) might be… apples. And the HFN/HEA is analogous to all the various varieties of apples. Granny Smiths might be the “traditional” apple but golden delicious, pink lady’s and jonathons are nevertheless all still apples. They have the essential qualities of apples. They even make new apples with genetic splicing and [insert fruit biology stuff here] and they are *also* still apples. There is room for more types of apples.

      What Mr. Manning did was turn up with an orange and get cross because people said “Dude, that’s not an apple, it’s an orange.”

      That’s not being authoritative or dictatorial. It’s what it is. The sun is the sun, the moon is the moon and calling them different things won’t change their essential characteristics. The *essential* characteristic of romance is the HEA/HFN. In this analogy, that is its “appleness” . Apples are also fruit and so are oranges so there are things which apples and oranges have in common (eg a central love relationship) but they are clearly different things.

      If I go to a fruit market and order apples and get oranges I’m going to be cross. A seller who mislabels her produce will have unhappy customers.

      • I appreciate the comment & all the analogies Kaetrin. And I do get what you are saying & your perspective. I just have a different one.

        I think “chair” is a more concrete term than “romance”. It’s more confusing when you have two different meanings of “romance” that *both* refer to books, that *both* have a meaning of love story, the first of which is broad, the second of which is quite specific and, in a sense, could be seen as a sub-category of the first!

        From my perspective, to use your chair analogy, it’s as if we began with “chair” meaning a piece of furniture you sit on. But one day a company markets a particular type of overstuffed, recliner chair & calls it “The Chair”. This product becomes so immensely popular that “chair” actually acquires a secondary meaning among people who make, sell, buy, review & are otherwise majorly concerned with chairs, one restricted to mean “overstuffed recliner”. Over time, this newer meaning replaces the original as the default meaning of “chair” among this “chair-centric” community. To these people, the essential character of “chair” is now “a thing you sit on that is overstuffed & reclines”. All other meanings of chair are rendered obsolete in the chair-centric community. When they say “chair” they mean this specific type of chair, no other. Anything else you sit on is now referred to among this group as ‘things you sit on”. But at the same time broader, older definition of “chair” continues to be used by people outside the group, people who sometimes buy chairs, including overstuffed recliners but spend less time thinking & talking about them.

        Now, imagine you, Kaetrin, are a person from the chair-centric community, while I, Pam, am a person for whom “chair” simply means “a thing you sit on”, and we are trying to have a conversation about chairs:

        Pam: “I really like this chair” *points at non-reclining wingback.
        Kaetrin: *shocked voice* “Ugh! That is *not* a chair!” *shudders*
        Pam: “. . . ?!”

        So, yeah, ridiculous & very imperfect analogy, obviously. But do you see where I’m coming from? You can draw your own analogy, if you wish, as to how that applies to Edmond Manning 😉

        To a great degree, I guess this might be about age. I’m 57. So, my concepts of what “romance” means, regarding books, began forming in the early 1970’s. I’ve read both what you call “romantic novels” & “genre romance” for decades, off & on. I’ve just looked at them all as different sub-categories under an umbrella concept of “romance” because that’s how they were organized in most places I found them, for years. I haven’t checked lately, but these things tended to be shelved together in many places. My public library used to have displays of featured books under signs like: “Bestsellers”, “Mystery”, “Romance”. On the “Romance” shelves you would find books by Daphne DuMaurier, Georgette Heyer, Victoria Holt, possibly Jane Austen. And you’d absolutely find “Gone With the Wind” & maybe even “Wuthering Heights.” Later those shelves would have also included “The Horse Whisperer” & “The Thornbirds” (once they were past the “bestseller” stage) right next to things by Jude Devereaux & Jayne Ann Krentz. All mixed together, alphabetical by author if you were lucky. You would find the same in used book stores & in some regular bookstores. So, to me that expectation of “Romance=HEA/HFN” never existed.

        Later when the phenomena of “romance novels” got really big, those were all grouped together in stores & I recognized there were differences between them & other books I considered to be romance; but put that down to a matter of stories being more formulaic. I guess I was vaguely was aware these stories tended to end happily, but never thought of that as something “essential” to their character. Certainly not as a “requirement”.

        In fact, to be honest, Kaetrin, I’m pretty sure *you* were the first person I ever “heard” use the term “genre romance”. Or say that HEA/HFN was a requirement in romance 😉 To which I was basically like, huh? Since when? Says who ? So that was, like, just within the last year! And actually, as I recall, the terms HEA & HFN were unfamiliar to me until maybe 3-5 years ago (?). I had zero interaction with reading communities, romance or otherwise, online or otherwise, or read book reviews online. I just bought (or borrowed) books from brick & mortar book stores & read them, based on word-of-mouth & the blurbs on the back.

        With regard to your fruit analogy, mine would go more like this: Where Fruit=Books: Oranges =Mystery, Grapes =Science Fiction, Apples=Romance (here meaning love story). Then within Apples: Gala apples=HEA romance, Jonathan apples=HFN romance, Granny Smith apples=Tragic romance, like so. And then you would further break them down by historical, contemporary etc. Then by queer or het. Or, perhaps the subgenres would come first, then queer/het, *then* HEA/HFN/Tragic .

        Whatever, it’s all imaginary; I know that is not how it *is*, but that’s what seems logical for me. It’s how I would set up the Romance hierarchy if I were inventing it now, from scratch. Obviously, I’m not going to change anything. I’m one voice in millions. This is no more than my opinion & a bit of wishful thinking.

        I could, maybe, be (grudgingly) more comfortable with “romance” as restricted to mean “love stories with HEA/HFN endings in which the lovers are together & alive at the end”, if it was within an umbrella category that meant just “all love stories”. But, am I wrong, I don’t get the sense it is? “Romance” isn’t a category within “Love Stories” or “Romantic Fiction”, right? They are all separate, parallel categories or genres? Whereas, my feeling is that it should be like an outline, laid out from with broad categories at the top, with each more specific genre & sub-genre & other categories descending from there with indents & bullet points. Starting from genre romance as currently defined feels too specific, leaving me feeling the top line of the hierarchy is just.

        Oh, and on the “authority” thing – eh, I’m just not an “authority” kinda girl. Hearing RWA cited & having words like “required” tossed around just raised my hackles. It’s just my personal idiosyncrasy. I mean, I’m the girl who used to ride my bike to school on weekends just to defiantly ride outside the lines of the bike lane;) If you tell me I can’t cross a line, then all I want to do is cross it. In literature I want to subvert all the tropes. And even though I love HEA/HFN, & avoid unhappy endings, it’s like the very fact they are *required* makes me want to have something that is, in every, single other respect a genre romance, but ends in tragedy or something. Just because, not allowed. And yeah, you could go over to “romantic fiction” or whatever its called & write that story. But then it wouldn’t *be* subversive, because it would be *allowed* there. I don’t just want to go where the rule doesn’t exist. I want to go where the rule exists & *break* it ;D Sorry, for a ridiculously goody-goody, law-abiding, (mostly) rule obeying person, I have a giant defiant streak, which these conversations have triggered. Just consider me weird & ignore me 😉

        Oh, and by the way, if anyone was confused, my opinions on all this are with regard to romance/romantic fiction/love stories across the board, not specific to queer romance.

        • I get where you’re coming from here, Pam. I’ve been saying for a long time that romance is the wrong word for genre romance. It’s a word with a lot of history and varied meanings. It would make far more sense to make the have “romance” be a broad term — encompassing even its old meaning of certain types of novels — and “love story” be a specific genre term that means “happy ending guaranteed.”

          But I don’t think that’s what the poster was arguing for here. Or if it was, it got mixed up with a lot of other things. And it’s not the sort of change that you can just… declare. That’s trying to get somewhere on someone else’s coattails, as well as offensive/upseting to the those who know and use the current definition.

          • Thanks :-) Yes, obviously complicated & lots of thoughts/feelings all around about lots of related stuff. And then *ahem* some of us going off on tangents 😉 I did love his book & was both joyous yet slightly wistful at the end, so I get the “bittersweet” tag. I get the disagreement & upset regarding the lack of compliance with what many readers find crucial to the genre. From the little I know he seems to be a nice man & believes his book belongs in the genre, though I know others disagree. Really, I always thought it was the epitome of a genre buster anyway, regardless of *any* genre it might be put into, sort of in a class by itself, imo. And belongs on a bestseller list, but then there are *many* other things in genre romance, both queer & m/f, that I feel that way about :-)

        • Whatever, it’s all imaginary; I know that is not how it *is*, but that’s what seems logical for me. It’s how I would set up the Romance hierarchy if I were inventing it now, from scratch.

          I understand (I think) what you’re arguing for, and to some extend I agree with willaful that romance has a long history of meaning different things in literature. But I honestly think romance genre publishing has done its best to signal when it’s talking to a specific readership. There are dedicated romance publishers and imprints, where genre readers know that ‘romance’ means genre romance. In general fiction, when I read a blurb that includes the word ‘romance’, I never assume there will be a happy ending — I read the ending first to check.

          And even though I love HEA/HFN, & avoid unhappy endings, it’s like the very fact they are *required* makes me want to have something that is, in every, single other respect a genre romance, but ends in tragedy or something.

          This is something that has, occasionally, occurred in the romance genre. (Even in Mills and Boon, which is about as within-genre as we can get.) It has never gone over well, and I feel disrespected as a reader when I come across such a book. I buy a book from a romance (genre) publisher with the expectation of a happy ending. Don’t trick me into buying something I’m trying to avoid.

          Back to Edmond Manning’s post and specifically how his book was marketed:

          Did the Bittersweet label hurt? I think so. But it also helped prevent disappointment for readers expecting a HEA.

          He doesn’t really explain why the label hurt. Because readers who wanted a happy ending (in the together and alive sense) didn’t buy it? Well, but that’s only fair, right? He didn’t write a book with a happy ending. Why is it surprising that fewer genre readers would pick it up?

          The thing is, I don’t want to read endings that are tragic, bittersweet or heartbreaking. I think of these words as code for me to avoid a book. Other readers see them as code to read a book. The challenge for authors is to find the readers that will enjoy or be open to their books.

          And actually, as I recall, the terms HEA & HFN were unfamiliar to me until maybe 3-5 years ago (?).

          For me it was around 10 years ago and it changed my reading world. When I found out that genre romance promised the happy ending I was so bloody relieved. Until then I had been in the habit of reading the ending of a book first before even thinking of picking it up. So no, I don’t think readers have a hard time finding love stories without a happy ending.

          Apples=Romance (here meaning love story). Then within Apples: Gala apples=HEA romance…

          To me it would be Purple Grapes = Love Stories, White Grapes = Romance (apparently evolutionary derived from purple grapes, which is a bonus to my analogy :D), and romance subgenres the varieties of white grapes. In reality, when I get to the supermarket, the grapes aren’t all in the same stall — they’re sorted by type. So even if I want just any grape, at some point I have to choose if I go with the purple or the white, or I get a combination of both.

          But if the supermarket displayed the grapes all mixed up in the one stall, I’d be like WTF??? And then imagine if I were specifically after seedless white grapes from Australia…

          • *laughing* Oranges, apples, grapes – We are becoming one big fruit salad here 😉 Or maybe we should just gather up all the grapes & make wine ;-D But, I do get the point. As I’ve tried to get across a few times, I really am for being able to know what you’re getting in a book. I just had differing ideas of how that could/should be accomplished.

            I don’t know if I’m exactly arguing for anything. Just a mixture of venting, wishful thinking. As for reading ends of books, I still do that, fairly often.

            As for what Mr. Manning said about bittersweet, I can only guess but I thought he meant some people didn’t buy because they thought it meant a sad ending & were afraid of it. Whereas I get the impression he thinks it’s a very happy ending. Which, I really agree with both. It doesn’t end with them together as a couple, but the end is more than happy, its giddily *joyous*, like Scrooge waking up on Christmas morning, like epiphany. For me the whole book was some kind of spiritual experience. The bittersweet is like a wistfulness for what might have been for the mcs as a couple, but the universe has other plans for them. Something like that. There’s nothing tragic. Aand I hope that doesn’t constitute a spoiler, but – oh well 😉

            • Oh, I was thinking of wine the entire time I was writing about the grape analogy! 😀

              The thing is, if I’m reading a book with a focus on a love story, any ending in which the characters do not end together is always going to feel tragic. (And at least anecdotally, most fellow romance readers seem to hold this view.) In fact, even when the love story is a minor subplot, a non-HEA leaves me feeling gutted. As a reader, I get SO invested in the love story that it supersedes almost anything else about the book. It’s extremely rare for me to find exceptions to this.

              Is the argument that those rare exceptions should be available in the genre, without qualification (eg ‘bittersweet), for me to find because, well, they’re exceptions? My feeling is still no, for several reasons. The first is that I will find those books anyway, through other people — those readers who move across genres and give recommendations that I trust. The ‘themed comments’ that Edmond Manning found surprising are not for authors — they’re for readers to other readers, to signal that here is a book that is so good it might be worth stepping out of the genre for. (It works the other way, too. Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project is often talked about with some sort of disclaimer about how it’s not your usual romance book, yet I’d argue that it’s closer to romance than any other genre.)

              Second, as Elisabeth and Ann have mentioned previously, the romance genre HEA has a very important function for many readers. It’s a major gap in Manning’s argument that this isn’t addressed at all.

              Third, the romance genre tag is really only important to genre readers. For the most part, we’re already shopping from a limited pool — via specific romance publishers or romance imprints. I don’t think we’re insisting that the romance genre definition of books be extended beyond this pool, but when people generally talk about ‘romance books’ (usually in a derogatory way), they’re not talking about, you know, Jane Austen or other lauded works of literature — they’re usually talking about Avon historicals or Mills and Boons. I think our defensiveness over the genre definition is in part a reaction to this. It irritates me when I see ‘best of romance’ lists dominated by non-genre books (if I had a dollar for every time Wuthering Bloody Heights appears in such a list!). It’s like our literary preferences are already disregarded, and then the best of the HEA romances aren’t even recognised. Something similar happened when Fifty Shades of Grey became a hit. Non-erotic rom/non-fanfic/non-Twilight readers and booksellers were making recommendation lists of ‘good’ erotica, like readers need to be corrected on what they should read, and they included books like The Story of O. Well, no, I don’t think it’s the same readership at all, and I would NOT recommend that book to FSoG readers.

              Which is a roundabout way of saying authors can market their books to romance readers, but if they don’t have an HEA, some (most?) readers will not surprisingly prefer to read something else. And because many romance readers also read beyond the genre, a non-HEA warning enables them to choose to buy and read the book without feeling like a promise is broken by the non-HEA. I really don’t see a problem with how this system works.

  • Well guilty here, per my usual, since I’ve argued before that the “sole unifying convention” of romance is the HEA. Looks like I’ll have to revise either my definition of “romance” or of the “Happily ever after.” Not sure which. Lovely, lovely piece.

  • No, no one can own the term “romance”, or define what it means to any other person, blahblahblah…

    However, when one is speaking of the romance genre, yep, that’s what genre is — it’s a form of artistic expression that is characterized by a particular form, subject matter and/or style (see Google). You know — there’s a formula. It’s why it’s formulaic. And HEA/HFN endings are part of the expectation for that genre.

    That said, sure, there are pleny of novels that include story lines that are infinitely more romantic than entire warehouses full of what passes for “romance novels” these days. I’m with you there. And it’s certainly possible to write a meltingly romantic story without a HEA/HFN (see Casablanca & Roman Holiday — movies, but still great examples of intensely romantic stories without happy endings).

  • There’s a couple of things being conflated here: ‘romance’ as a commercial description of a particular reading genre with a large, existing audience/market and personal reader-definitions of romance as an art form.

    So far as individual reader-definitions are concerned, the sky is the limit – however each individual reader defines what they consider to be ‘romance’ is fine and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on what happy/optimistic endings are and can be for both queer and non-queer people.

    BUT (and I say this as someone who wrote a book with no HEA or HFN – it was part 1 of 3 with an ultimate HEA, but still) I agree that when an author/publisher uses ‘romance’ as a genre descriptor there is an expectation that there will be a happy ending in that minimum ‘together and alive’ sense.

    Something that’s only really become clear to me quite recently is the number of gateways into queer romance: mainstream romance, fanfic, queer literary fiction etc. How you come to it has a huge impact on how you view it – for me, the gateway was mainstream romance. I returned to reading romance after a long gap about 8 or 9 years ago and started writing it a few years later. When I first joined the online romance community, I remember arguing that romances did not require a HEA/HFN. But – well, I changed my mind. I read more deeply into the genre. I relearned the language of romance, the genre conventions, the well-loved tropes, and I thought a lot about why people read romance, its function, etc. I came to realise and accept that there is a very clear, broad consensus in the romance community about this issue (and yes, ok, perhaps this is pretty rich coming from me because I STILL wrote that no-HEA/HFN book…)

    I suppose what I’m saying is that I recognise and have sympathy for those who may be feeling a bit bewildered by how non-negotiable this seems to be (I had that view myself once) but the fact is, from a mainstream romance perspective, it’s not some weird arbitrary rule. It’s deeply rooted in the romance genre and there’s a massive audience of committed, dedicated romance readers out there (of which I am proudly one) who spend their hard-earned cash in this market and genuinely have this expectation. That needs to be recognised by authors if they are going to try to sell a book to that audience. As others have said, it’s open to authors to write any story they want. This isn’t about saying other endings shouldn’t exist. It’s about tagging in the marketplace; enabling readers to make choices about how they spend their money by using tags that have an established meaning in an existing marketplace.

    Which brings us back to the very valid question someone raised earlier about whether queer romance is/should be viewed as part of mainstream romance or as a separate, though closely related, genre with a different set of expectations, and possibly a different (though overlapping) audience. For me it’s the former given that the overwhelming majority of queer romances I’ve read do deliver a HEA/HFN, for my money anyway – but maybe there’s distinct audience out there that wants to see queer romance develop in a different direction?

    • Wow, amazing comment, Joanna. I’d lean towards your second idea, that queer romance can/should adopt its own conventions, break rules, play with them, and hopefully drag readers along, and I say that as someone who shamelessly prefers happy endings–or at least avoids downer endings. I’ve had some readers react badly that one of my stories did not have the expected guy-gets-guy romance ending, more guy-makes-a-friend–I didn’t even realize I wasn’t fulfilling the HEA contract until I saw the reviews. I can’t regret my own storyline, but I do understand their perspective–conventions are powerful, with strong emotional resonances. We invest a lot when we read a book we care about, and it is unpleasant to say the least to have an author treat that investment casually, mock it, or punish us for it (which is emphatically not an experience elicited by Mannings’ books). In satire that is expected, but in romance that kind of experience would feel brutal.

    • I totally agree with your points, Joanna. And it’s because queer romance has happy/hopeful endings, where the main characters, after their trials/challenges/obstacles, are *together* (be it alive, or in the after life, or vampires…or whatever) that make these stories such a joy to read (and love, and buy and reread…)

      If I wanted the sad endings, the maybe-next-times, the too-bad-so-and-so-died, the well-at-least-I-learned-from-this-terrible-experience, the god-who-invited-the-murdering-homphobes-over-for-tea, the wish-I-told-him-I-loved-him-oh-well, the woops-walked-off-that-cliff-goodbye endings, I would read queer fiction, the way more accepted-at-all-the-nice-parties sibling of queer romance where the main rule is to be a) original fiction and b) somehow related to being queer, and otherwise can do what it wants. :-) Except be a Romance or some other kind of muddy Genre story, since then it gets kicked out of all the Nice Parties.

      You made ma laugh when you called out your own book–which YES-YES-YES did not have even an HFN. I’m still (kindly) shaking my fist at you. But am very happy for the continuing parts. :-)

  • I’m late to this really insightful and informative discussion, yet I wanted to join with just a quick question.

    I’m not an expert either on the romance genre, or on queer romance, just a curious reader. I look for a good love story with HFN/HEA ending and basically see queer romances as not much different in essense than het romances (love is love, right ). So, I wa wondering what can be considered to constitude HFN/HEA for queer romance that is so markedly different from HFN/HEA for her romance? In love and together seems to me to be valid for all romances regardless of the sexuality of the characters.

  • I’m going to try and keep this short but, after reading all the comments above I have two questions (real questions, I’m not trying to be smart or controversial).

    1. Romance is defined as: The romance novel or romantic novel is a literary genre. Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

    Where does it say ’emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending’ means happily ever after or that if the two characters in the story are both emotionally satisfied and optimistic about their future while not being together, it doesn’t count?

    2. If we were to agree the definition only applies to books in which the two main characters have their happily ever after, what are we to make of lists like the following:

    I haven’t read all of those books but even I can name quite a few that wouldn’t qualify as ‘romance’ under the narrower definition applied by a lot of people here.

    • I think those people talking about the narrower definition specify they are talking about genre romance not “romantic novels” which cover dead and desperate as well as other less happy endings. It is true that “romance” has not always meant what it means today, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should broaden the current definition to include what are normally considered romantic novels which do not promise a happy ending. We have a situation in the current day where there are close to 3million books on Amazon. Over 850,000 of those are classified as “romance”. Gay & Lesbian lists over 29,000 broken down into the following plus some minor categories.
      Gay Fiction (12,854)
      Romance (11,439)
      Lesbian Fiction (4,044)
      In this time poor world we live in, people don’t want to have to read the blurbs of 29k books to find one with the promise of a happy ending. That is why we have genres and tags. You blur the lines and people will resent it because you are wasting their time. Books are not like buying a carton of ice-cream and finding you got chocolate chip instead of chocolate pecan. People don’t get emotionally engaged with a carton of ice-cream. Well some people don’t. You promise people a happy ending through the application of a genre label and they will be very upset if they engage with these characters and then don’t get what they expect. Because books are something special and they take you places and involve your heart, speak to your soul and engage your mind. It doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy another ending, so long as they get to choose the type of book they want and they are paying for. Because in the end the reader are the customers and they should get what they paid for.

      • So basically what that means is that the definition of Romance gets narrowed down to ‘only books with a happy ending’ and happy ending gets narrowed down to ‘only applies when the two (or more) main characters actually end up together’. I’m very sorry, but I would direct any borrower walking into the library where I work and asking for books falling into that narrow category, straight to the Mills & Bones (Harlequin for Americans) shelves. If even Good Reads and Amazon can work with the tag ‘Romance’ on books like Wuthering Heights and Gone With the Wind, I really don’t see why the rules should be different just because the main characters happen to be queer.

        • Genre romance. Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind are NOT genre romance. No one is claiming they are. They are part of the greater world of classic literature. And they are romances within that classification. The initial complaint was that when people reviewed the blog poster’s books they said “This is fabulous but it’s not romance.” They were comparing it with genre romance as is understood by the many millions of people who choose to read genre romance BECAUSE OF THE HAPPY ENDING. The rules are not different just because they happen to be queer. Edmond can class his books with Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind. That would be great. Literally great. All I am saying is that classing his books as genre romance…a tag that has a specific meaning for the people who are paying the money for the books…is misleading.

          • Fair enough, but I keep on running into the fact that the rules don’t apply to all books. I’ll copy and past the following from Amazon.

            Example one: The Prince Who Loved Me by Karen Hawkins:
            #33 in Books > Romance > Regency
            #34 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Historical Romance > Regency

            Example two: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell:
            #6 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Classics > Romance
            #9 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Classics > Historical
            #15 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Classics > American

            So maybe we’re only allowed to call a book with a less than happy ending a romance if it happens to be a classic and therefore people know or may be expected to know how the story will end before even buying the book?

            And just for the record, I’m not trying to be clever or provoke anyone. Until I read Edmond’s post I had no idea this was even an issue. To say I’ve been surprised by the heated discussion his post provoked would be an understatement.

            • There is a place for non-classic novels with romantic elements. A lot of them go into “women’s fiction” and “gay” and “lesbian fiction”. The funny thing is there is no “men’s fiction” category that I can see. People know if they read “gender” fiction that a romantic happy ending is not necessarily included though there may be a happy ending of some sort. The emphasis is more often on the personal growth of the lead character/s and romance is only a part of that journey.
              Kindle Store
              Contemporary Women’s Fiction (21,480)
              Women’s Fiction (34,359)
              Women’s Romance Fiction (9,308)
              Contemporary Romance (9,991)

              Of these subheadings in a search for women’s fiction all but Contemporary romance come under “Literary and Fiction” and Contemp comes directly under romance.

              As you can see from what you posted, Amazon allows books to be tagged under an assortment of labels to help people find what they want. Because what it comes down to in the end is what the people who buy the books want for their money.
              Edmonds book is listed in three places in the kindle store.
              Romance (3)
              Gay Romance (1)
              Gay Fiction (1)
              Romance would have the highest visibility but is more likely to have people complaining that it is not a romance. I’m not sure what expectations are in Gay romance but some might be disappointed not to have a romantic conclusion. Gay fiction would be the neatest fit for a book that explores the growth of the main character including romance but without a romantic conclusion for the hero. And it is once again under the umbrella of literature and fiction in the Amazon store.

              In terms of visibility the author might benefit from being in pure genre romance because of the enormous market share but must be aware that his readers may not all be happy with paying for a book that doesn’t meet the implicit promise of genre romance. He can classify it as romance all he likes and no-one can really stop him. The problem comes if he complains that his readers are disappointed that it is NOT in fact a romance. Because they are right in terms of what they understood they were buying.


              • I’ll make what will probably be my last comment on the issue.
                I only now realize what I should probably have recognized much earlier; I come at books from a completely different angle than a lot of people posting here. I rarely look at tags and certainly don’t use them to base my book buying decisions on. I celebrate every time a book manages to surprise me rather than be upset by it.
                Right or wrong, in my head the word ‘romance’ will always be synonymous with ‘love story’, and whatever Edmond’s book are or aren’t, they certainly are stories about love.

        • Every public library I have been a member of has had romance paperback shelves and they have had more than Mills and Boon in those shelves. Romance genre is represented in most of the big publishing houses. I would suggest the narrow interpretation of the genre in your library means that your library needs a better understanding of the genre, not that the genre itself is narrow.

          I would also point out that Manning’s books are in fact tagged as romance by Amazon and can easily be found by non-genre readers who interpret romance in this way.

          Manning’s objection seems to be genre readers who specifically note that the the book is not genre romance for other genre readers as a caveat. And I object to his objection.

  • Come in here a bit late, and for what it’s worth, here’s my thought of it. I think the discussion is very interesting especially in what constitute/define “romance”. As a reader, I do differentiate romance and love story. I do have different expectations for both. When I think romance, I think of at least hopeful ending. Mr. Manning’s example of “Bridges in Madison County”, however, I will think of that as love story and not romance. Heck, like I think of Romeo and Juliet as love story and not romance. So yes, a romance that doesn’t have happy ending will probably make me upset.

    But I think what needs to be celebrated is love, isn’t it, and not just the romance? So if Mr. Manning books are not romance in some of the reader’s perspective because of the ending (I haven’t read it, so I cannot exactly give my opinion of it), at least it should be celebrated as a love story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: