In the last few years, my reading time has gone down. I watch movies, spend time with the family and cross stitch or crochet. Part of this has to do with the complaints of family since I was 10 or so. I was always reading and not spending time with them or being interested in what they had to say. As a teenager, if I was in trouble, I was grounded from books. Or worse, books I hadn’t already read. Because I remember stories so much and there are so many new ones to read, I didn’t like spending time re-reading. There were even times, as an adult, that my mother in law hid my books when I came to her house so I’d be forced to converse. So that’s one part of my reasoning for not reading so much now.
The other part is because as a writer, I am more critical and I do need to balance reading and writing time or I’ll forever be reading the stories of others and not finishing my own. So that part is a careful choice.
But there are nights like tonight where I absolutely had to have a book with me. Spending hours in a hospital without a book or cross-stitch is nothing short of HELL. I was stupid. I didn’t feel good and wanted to go to bed and wasn’t paying enough attention as I transferred to my wheelchair. I fell and sprained my ankle bad enough to need to make sure it wasn’t broken. Hence, the hospital. Now I’m on enough drugs that my typing sucks and that’s only counting the mistakes I find. Please be kind and forgive the ones I miss.
So, book. I had one with me. The cover is gorgeous. The writing is beautiful and evocative. The story was clear and aching and made sense in too many horrible ways. Only because it was skillfully and beautifully written will I mention the author and title: Windwalker by Natasha Mostert.
Of the many books I have ever read, it is now the second one I hate. There have been stories I don’t care for, about three I’ve never finished (Usually I force my way through them so the story doesn’t stay an unanswered question in my mind.) and authors I love as people but know I can’t read their books without feeling tortured.
But Windwalker is now in a different category with only one other book, Three Wishes by Barbara Delinsky. The stories are heartfelt and emotional. The characters finely and deeply drawn, but, at the end, a main protagonist dies. In Windwalker, the hero. In Three Wishes, the heroine.
I know there are so many people who don’t understand why a romance needs a Happily Ever After (HEA) And there are many authors who find that ending binding and constricting. They want to grow as writers and try new things. They want to branch out and stretch their wings and write new stories.
Good for them. I wish them the best of luck. However, as a reader, I feel betrayed. (And no, that’s not any kind of plug for my book) Betrayed when I expect one thing, in this case safety, and get a hammer upside the head instead.
I trust romances. I’ve been reading them since I was 13. The HEA is hugely important to me. If I need a dose of the reality of things ending badly, I’ll pick up a different book or go to the movies. In one week, I read Three Wishes and watched Armageddon. I cried for days between the both of them. I was stressed and working around the clock to fail in a class I am so not suited for: Anatomy and Physiology. And there I was, trying to take a break and I read a romance and the heroine dies. Then I watch Bruce Willis’ character die in a totally heroic way.
That was 8 years ago and I still feel betrayed over it. See, in movies, I can handle it. They’re two hours long. The Notebook. Braveheart. But in books, where I spend hours to days with them, I read what I need. If I’m feeling secure and want to branch out, I’ll read another genre. But there are times when I need to feel a bit safe and read something that will work out in the end. Be positive. I like knowing that if a few right decisions are made, or with a little luck, then good things will happen. Once the ending is assured, then it’s all about the journey and all the angst and pain you stuff in between the beginning and end is okay. I can suffer for the middle.
Or, even if I go into the book knowing that things are up in the air and it may go outside my comfort zone, I’m prepared and can brace myself. With fantasy, my husband got me to read RA Salvatore. When the funny talking sweed druid dwarf, Pikel, lost his arm and said, “ooh”, I cried. But it was a fantasy and I knew anything could happen. It was unexpected, but I wasn’t completely unprepared for it.
With life, I SOOOO know that anything can happen. I’m in a frigging wheel chair. My daughter has a brain tumor that is cancerous. (some aren’t) I am fully, completely, totally aware that life doesn’t always, or even all that often, have a happy ending. There is loss and tragedy and depression and angst. I am aware of this. More than most, I think I can safely say.
I will never read Lurlene McDaniels. My daughter loves her. I’m sure she writes wonderfully. But I know her characters die, from cancers, tumors, car accidents…the list goes on. She writes about tragedy and after reading one of her books I would likely go to bed and cry myself to sleep for several months. I couldn’t handle it.
Some people don’t understand the love of a story that is guaranteed a happy ending. I don’t understand the love of a tragedy that is guaranteed a horrible one. I do understand the love of a mystery that is always solved, the crime that always reaches justice, the fantasy where the hordes of orcs are repelled or the world is saved. I love Rocky, where the ultimate underdog always wins the impossible fight. So, I love a romance where love can conquor, unite, heal anything. Why is that so difficult to understand?
So when I pick up a story that is marketed as a romance, I have expectations. I believe the hero and heroine will go on to create a relationship. That there is a tomorrow for them. Tomorrow they may struggle more or fail in the end somewhere down the road, but the part that concerns me is that they will have struggled to reach a point together where love is the ultimate gift and the future is full of possibility.
There are a few trends in romance that I find disturbing. I’ve always loved what it is and don’t embrace every single change. I do love how it’s growing and allowing new twists. But there are a few things I feel are inviolate. The HEA is a primary one. If I want a tragedy, I’ll watch a movie or read a mainstream novel, or hell, go visit some of the sick kids I know before they are gone forever.
When I read a romance, I want to be left with a positive feeling where the future is full of possibilities. Tonight I threw my second book ever. And it wasn’t because it was badly written. I have nothing against the author. But I do want to speak out against the bait and switch. I don’t want to be betrayed.