Friday, April 29, 2011

And They All... Lived

These hips are perfect for birthing babies. Now go make me a grandma.
I've had weddings on my mind lately, as have several of you, I suspect. I watched The Wedding this morning, and loved every minute of it. It's always wonderful to see a loving couple celebrate this momentous milestone, and Catherine and Prince William seem genuinely happy together.

Beyond the narrative of a couple joining together in matrimony, of course, is the fairy tale aspect of their story. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (or Kate Middleton, as she was just twelve hours ago) was a beautiful commoner who caught the eye of a prince. They fell in love, he made her a princess, and they all lived (say it with me now)...

...happily ever after.

That's the ending we want for them. In fact, I have heard many media outlets in the last week or so refer to the wedding as the happy ending to their story.

It would be shortsighted in the extreme, however, to think today's event was a happy ending. Today was a happy day. A joyous one, a beautiful one, a day to stop and celebrate some of the better parts of human nature--our capacity to love and care for one another deeply and truly. But it was no ending. Today marked a beginning for the new royal couple. We wish them all the best in the world, but we need only think back over the last twenty years to recall that a fairy tale wedding is no guarantee of Happily Ever After.

We romance authors are in the business of Happily Ever After (so much so that it's capitalized and given its own spiffy abbreviation, HEA). HEA is not just a good idea, it's an industry standard. If a "romance" novel does not end in HEA, it cannot be categorized as genre Romance--it might be a love story, but not Romance.

At the reception, the best man and maid of honor
slipped away to make out in the coat closet.

HEA is the assurance of lifelong commitment. If the couple hasn't quite made it to the altar by the end of the novel, the reader at least knows the hero and heroine are headed there. Theirs will be a lasting love that stands the test of time. Together, our lovers will stand strong against the world, secure in the unshakable foundation of their relationship.

Maybe contemporary royal history has made us wary of this narrative. Maybe we're all too familiar with divorce. Maybe we (and by "we" I mean "I") got tired of the Disney princess getting her HEA at the ripe old age of sixteen. Whatever the case, even I can't sometimes help but feel a little worried about the characters I have just spent 350 pages coming to know and love and root for. Will they really be okay after I close the book?

Over the last decade or so, a wonderful trend has emerged in Romance publishing which addresses this worry. Authors frequently connect their novels so that the starring couple from one novel reappears in subsequent novels as secondary characters.

Loretta Chase's delightful series featuring the Carsington family is a prime example. In each novel, one of the Carsington brothers finds the love of his life. That couple might pop up again in another book to help the new hero and heroine along their own road to lasting happiness. In the meantime, we get to catch up with our old friends and make sure their relationship is still holding strong. Mary Balogh's quintet about the Huxtable siblings spans a number of years, so we get to see the couple from the first novel bring children into their family as time passes. Witnessing the love a couple has for each other expand to encompass their growing family adds to our sense of happiness and contentment for these characters.

As a reader, I enjoy visiting with the characters from previous novels again. If the writer has done her job well, I've become emotionally invested in these crazy kids, and it's reassuring to know their HEA continues. As a writer, I have spent a lot of time creating my own little Regency world. It's fun to give my heroines and heroes cameo roles in other novels, and to watch them continue to grow in love. It's great to touch base with these couples, and to know that they are there, living. That HEA is not the end of their story, but the beginning.


  1. Here's to a happy beginning, Kate and Wills!

  2. I hope they get their happily ever after; it was such a happy beginning!