And they lived…happily (?) ever after

Hey, all–if you’re a lesfic author (whether new or not-so-new), Fran Walker’s guest blog this past Thursday provides some great tips about contracts. Check it out.

All rightie–newsie stuff. I’ll be on Lara Zielinsky‘s blog talk radio show tomorrow (that’s Saturday the 13th, 2010), “Readings in Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Fiction.” There is audience participation–you can call in or participate in the chatroom. The time tomorrow will be 1 PM Pacific, 2 PM Mountain, 3 PM Central, or 4 PM Eastern, depending on where in the States you are. Here’s the URL:

My awesome co-editor on Skulls and Crossbones will also stop in for some chat-time, so we do hope you can tune in. And for those who caught JD Glass on the show this past Thursday–WOOOO! JD rocks the house!

So there you go.

All right–I’m hoping to get reader input again, because I dig that. I was thinking today about “HEA”–that is, “Happily Ever After.” Generally, that’s part of the formula for romance, whether GLBTQ or heterosexual. You’ve got to have that HEA in there, or it’s not a romance.

Or is it? I’m curious, readers.

Do you read romance because you know that it’ll probably end in a good way, with the characters deciding to give the relationship a shot, declaring their love for each other, and riding off into the sunset? If a book billed as “romance” doesn’t end with that HEA, do you as a reader feel somehow cheated? I ask, because in real life, romance is nice, but relationships are hard. The start-up is the goofy, fun, “can’t-stop-thinking-about-her” stuff and GOD(DESS) that’s great. No arguments here. But when that romance book ends, do you find yourself thinking “okay, they had some nice sparks, but no way in hell are those two going to last.” And if you do find yourself thinking that, are you disappointed in the book? Or are you just glad it ended where it did, because you just know if there’s a part 2, those two characters just aren’t going to work out.

I was having this discussion with fellow author C. P. (Cathy) Rowlands. She made a comment after reading the third book in my New Mexico series (The Ties that Bind) with regard to the relationship between K.C. and Sage. They originally hooked up in Land of Entrapment, but here it is a couple of years later. Cathy commented–and thank you so much, Cathy–that she was pleased to see how the relationship between K.C. and Sage was evolving and I commented back that yes, that wonderful buzz you get at the start of a relationship is way fun–that’s the stuff of life. But what interests me is the aftermath. Are these characters compatible? Can they live and grow as characters in a relationship? Does what I write evoke, in some ways, life?

As a writer, I think it’s much harder to keep characters together than it is to GET them together, and I’ll be honest with you here, readers, Ties gave me some fits when I was writing it because I wanted to capture a relationship between two strong women who care about each other deeply but who also are at odds with each other in some respects–how to negotiate that effectively and believably? It took time, and frustration, for me as a writer to grow into the relationship that’s evolving (good word, Cathy) between K.C. and Sage.

So as readers, are you as into the aftermath of the hook-up as you are with regard to the hook-up itself? And how important IS that HEA to you? And do you look for it in other genres–not just romance?

Many thanks for hanging out with me, readers, and I love hearing your thoughts and your comments.

Happy weekend, and don’t forget! It’s Daylight Savings Time! Set your clocks ahead either Saturday night or Sunday morning! Perhaps spring is finally upon us!



  1. If I’m honest, I must admit that I do prefer it when lesbian romances end with each participant honoring their connection to each other, but I don’t think I require a happily-ever-after ending. It is important to me that they get together at some point, that they acknowledge their importance, if not their primacy, in each other’s lives, and that their connection is integral to the story.

    I appreciate complex relationships. I prefer stories that feature problems not easily overcome, and by that I don’t mean a constant stream of cartoonish villains popping out of the woodwork. I don’t like caricatures, don’t like perfect women, and am not comfortable with neat packages. But that’s just me.


  2. I don’t necessarily require “happily,” but I do require a positive ending, as in, well that was a learning experience, or fun while it lasted, or got me from where I was to where I am now, and therefore worthwhile.

    On occasion, it has been fashionable in literary circles for anything pretending to literature to have an unhappy ending. Or a tragic ending. Or a “challenging” ending. Oh, for instance, like the ending of Xena, Warrior Princess. (Oh gosh, let’s not go there…)

    Anyway, I’ve never found despair either attractive or helpful, and if a book leaves me with the feeling “oh, dismal, dismal, dismal, I may as well kill myself as go on trudging through this vale of tears…” I will have rude words to say about it to anyone who asks.


  3. Well HEA is such a huge thing to ask of any relationship so no, I don’t actually require that from a romance, but I do expect a happy end. Romances are not real life, it’s entertainment, and a way to escape to a dreamlike world for just a little while. Part of the fun of a good romance are the more or less standard pattern of the storyline – girl meet girl, girls fall in love, obstacles of some sort are introduced and overcome ….

    A good romance writer are able to put the standard storyline in an interesting setting and introduce surprises or small deviations from the standard, that will give the reader reason to wonder if this would actually be one of those few romances without a happy end.

    So romance writer – do try to keep your readers guessing, but don’t disappoint – give us the happy end every time.


  4. Hmmm. So what defines an “HEA” for you all? The characters hook up (get their freak on) within the story and then…what? They say to each other: “Hey, that was fun. But I’m not really sure I’m ready for a relationship. Let’s just hang out a little.” Or “I love you madly and let’s move to Massachusetts and get married right now.” Or “I like you, it’s clear that you like me, so let’s see where this goes. No promises.”

    And do they need to get their freak on? How important is a sexual component in a romance? Do you need to see full-blown sex? Or can it be fade to black? Or maybe no sex, just a possibility that it might happen, just not in this book?

    What elements make a romance believable to you, the reader?

    Thanks, all!


  5. Hey Andi,

    Okay, most people are familiar with my views on too much importance of graphic sex scenes in most lesbian books, romance or not. I don’t have use for graphic sex in books or films, lesbian or otherwise. Why? If I wanted blow by blow sex, I would buy a sex manual. LOL.

    But if we’re talking romance, I’m a big proponent of romance with fade to black or off page sexual encounters. I love scenes where the sexual intent builds and you know where the two are heading, but do we really need every little sexual act? And in more than one scene in the book?

    It’s just me, but I prefer not. Now mind you, I’ve never written a strictly romance book, however, I am currently working on a project for a good, old-fashioned Gothic Suspense Romance ala the old 60s and 70s Gothics with damsels in distress and menacing castle in the background. These Gothics had very little romance, only hints. Quick plots and short on the page count. That’s my kind of romance book. LOL. You know what they say, if they’re not publishing the kind of book you want to read, write it yourself. LOL.


  6. I think, in this case, I’m the polar opposite of Patty; if I’m reading a romance novel, I want sex–and if it’s fade to black, there’s a better than average chance I’ll put the book down disappointed. If it’s a stand-alone, there isn’t much latitude–in 200 pages, there’s little room for developing depth of character, with the romance here acting as its own character. I think in this case, you’re pretty much stuck with traditional HEA.

    In a series, I think you have much more elbow room. In works by some of my favorite mystery writers, the stormy waters of long-term relationships have been navigated over the course of a series–Robert Parker and Marcia Muller come to mind–by allowing the character’s conflicts to keep the relationship fresh. Of course, these aren’t romances, they’re mysteries with romantic components, and they’re not explicit, but I love them anyway. Who knew it was so confusing? Apparently, the type of book defines and alters my expectations. So there you go.


  7. Sex is funny, I suppose. Sometimes “ha ha” funny, sometimes just “weird.” I actually don’t care one way or the other if sex appears in a romance. A sex scene is, to me, one of the hardest things to write well and write convincingly, so as a writer, if I’m going to include a sex scene, it’s usually after some thought and consultation with the characters (HAR!). And it needs to mesh with the rest of the story in terms of pacing.

    As a reader, I’m more interested in whether the characters can convince me that they could work as a couple. Real life is messy, after all. With regard to Marcia Muller–I was so disappointed in that relationship, though! It was like her character’s brain fell out and her abilities as a strong woman just disappeared and it seemed she constantly deferred to her male partner when before he was around, she was a bad-ass.

    That’s a discussion for another time, I suppose–the dynamic between female characters who identify as heterosexual and hook up with men and lesbian characters who hook up with other women. Hmmm.

    Anyway–sex. Don’t mind it. It’s part of real life, but it’s difficult to do it right, if you will, in a book. HA! And honestly, if it’s a romance, then I do expect that the characters are going to hook up physically. Whether they do so in the pages of the book is up to the writer and how well he or she can capture that moment because sometimes, a sex scene is just plain jarring. Like in a novel where the characters are involved in super-secret spy stuff and they’re hiding out from the villains in danger of capture and scariness and HEY one of the characters is all turned on and next thing you know, there’s a rumble in the jungle goin’ on. Sorry, but the last thing on my mind if I’m on the run like that is gettin’ a little somethin’ somethin’. Terror does not an aphrodisiac make for me. But to each her own, I suppose. 🙂

    Thanks, all! So. Sex? Romance? LUUUUV? What makes a good sex scene? And what makes a good HEA?

    I’m curious!


  8. Ahh – so many questions and I suppose an equal number of different answers.

    As I said I don’t need a HEA – only a happy end. By a happy end I’m thinking of at least an understanding between the the leading ladies, that they both want to pursue a relationship of some kind.

    Sex or no-sex is not important . What I want from a good romance is to feel the intensity of the attraction, the characters anxiety when wondering if feelings are returned and any other feelings what are relevant to the storyline. The feelings has to ring true, and be build up slowly through the storyline, no rushing with it, let the ladies get to know each other before they fall in love, lust or whatever…

    If you want to mix in sex scenes please do so when it fits with the storyline and please remember that sometime less detail give the scene a higher “spice value” than conveying exactly the how, where and when of every touch or repeated act.

    And please if you write erotica don’t present it as a romance – let the reader know the focus of the story. I for one find that too much sex can be just as boring as too lengthy descriptions of a beautiful sunset etc..

    I know that there is properly a grey zone somewhere between erotica and romance. In my opinion the two can be well mixed when equal effort are put into both the romance and the erotic sex scenes.

    Great discussion by the way!


  9. Yeah, what is the difference between erotica and romance anyway? I’m reading Best Lesbian Romance of 2009 and 99 percent of the stories are erotica and 99 percent of the writers have 99 percent of their credits as erotica. So how is that romance? Some of the stories are even anonymous hookups.

    To your question about the ending, I want closure, whether happy or not. Sorry I can’t be more specific. It’s like porn, I know it when I see it! 🙂

    As to sex scenes, I’m with Patty, I don’t need a users’ manual. (And why always two fingers? I’m beginning to think it’s some secret code, like the toaster oven.)


  10. In writing the first book of a new historical action/adventure series – Miss Smith & the Devil’s Library, to be published this year if the gods are kind and the creek don’t rise – I always intended the focus to be on the action and adventure rather than the romance between the lesbian protagonists. In fact, there is no HEA, and there’s no sex, either.

    I know. *gasp* Naughty author that I am, I’m letting the relationship develop slowly over the course of the series.

    To my surprise, some readers who previewed the book were dismayed not to have lashings of sex, and oodles of romance with heaving bosoms, whipped cream and a cherry on top.

    Even though I stated the book was emphasizing action and adventure, it seems there is a large group of readers who expect the girls to hook up in the first few chapters of a lesbian novel and are confused when it doesn’t happen.

    I’m sticking to my format anyway.


    • Nene,

      I will seek out books without sex scenes, as much as those readers who want and seek out only the erotica or sex-laden romance books.

      So, keep writing what feels right for your books. Your fans will thank you for sticking to who you are and what you write.


  11. Wow. See there? People wanted more sex! Which begs the question–why not get yourself a book of erotica or pick up a lesfic romance written by an author known for including sex scenes?

    Speaking of–one of my author colleagues is a member of a book club and they read my first novel as a selection. My first novel is mystery/thriller and it does have a romantic subplot, but it’s not the end-all/be-all of the book. Anyway, my colleague told me later that the one person who didn’t like the book said she “didn’t get it.” When pressed on the matter, this particular reader said that she mostly reads erotica, and that’s something my first novel is not. Hmmm. Interesting.

    Elaine brings up a good point–what is the difference between romance and erotica in terms of lesfic? I think romance can include erotic elements, just as erotica can include romantic elements (that explains it! HAR!). I suppose some people find a one-night hook-up romantic. I guess I’d consider that more erotic because it’s concerned with the physicality of the encounter (since you don’t know much about someone if you hook up with him or her a couple hours after you meet him or her). But then again, somebody out there might find a fast hook-up like that romantic. Hmmm. Y’all? What’s the difference between erotica and romance?



  12. For me, lesfic erotica is all about the sex – there may be a plot, but graphic sex is the main emphasis. Too much plot in an erotic novel may lead to “fast-forward syndrome” – where readers, much like watchers of porn, skip the boring bits to get to the *ahem* meaty parts. Okay, that sounds much dirtier than I imagined when I said it in my head. Sorry.

    Anyway, romance should be about emotions – acts of the heart rather than just acts of the flesh. In romance, the emphasis is on the protagonists’ emotions, eventually culminating in the ultimate expression of intimacy.



    • Well stated Nene – I agree especially on the description of the romance as I’m not too keen on pure erotica … I’m sorry to say so, but it gets boring!



  13. I’ve been expecting this topic to go the way of most internet conversations, but seeing as it hasn’t, I’ve been thinking a bit more on the subject, that being romance, sex, and erotica. It’s been interesting, actually; it’s helped me clarify some of my own thoughts on the subject. Thanks, Andi!!

    I said in one of my earlier comments that in a romance novel, I expect, indeed want, my main characters to have sex. That is, I want them to come together in a physical expression of their connection to each other, and I want it to be explicit; I want to feel the passion. That’s true; that is my preference. In thinking about why I feel so strongly about it, however, it occurs to me that it’s because I want them to be adult, fully-formed women. I want them to be complex, and interesting, and intense. What I don’t want, and rarely read, are books about perfect women, who come together, have a few unbelievable and easily-dealt with obstacles tossed in their path, and then come together in the usual idyllic embrace, as the lights dim. These women don’t seem real to me, they don’t hold my interest. I’d rather have a book where they don’t end up together, but do their best trying, than a bloody long series where it seems they’re nothing more than caricatures. Sex is an expression of intensity to me, whether or not it’s perfect or even successful.

    On the other hand, I rarely read erotica, and never an anthology by one author–I find it boring and repetitive, unable to engage me. I don’t read short stories as a rule, either. I want complications, tension and creativity, and I want to be immersed in the tale. So I guess sex is almost a euphemism to me for real; I want flesh and blood, not thinly drawn characters.

    Very interesting topic. Thanks all, Finn


  14. Hi, Finn–and hi, y’all! Thanks for continuing the discussion!

    Finn brings up some things I’ve been thinking about, too. Like Finn, I want characters to be fully-formed (whether men or women), and sex/sexual thoughts and desires are a part of what makes us human. I personally don’t read much by way of erotica but I do see its appeal. I like an erotic short story and even an anthology now and again, but I’m still of the opinion that erotica (and sex scenes therein) are some of the most difficult to write convincingly, and if not done so, they become boring to read (as UK said) or, in some cases, out-loud laughable. Yikes!

    With regard to romance–I admit, I do expect physical consummation of some sort in a romance because, like Finn so eloquently stated already, it’s a physical expression of intensity. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I do think that a sex scene can also serve as a vehicle for even deeper characterization and connection between characters. I’m thinking here of Helen Shacklady’s trilogy following Liz and Kate, two imperfect women whose relationship is a series of ups and downs, of dysfunction and function, of great passion both in and out of bed. (Here’s the link to Onlywomen Press–scroll down for Helen’s books:

    I loved this trilogy because of the characters and how they tried (and sometimes failed) to negotiate their relationship with each other and with others. Like real life, this trilogy was full of messiness, moments of wonderful endearment and then frustration, and the myriad of emotions the characters go through. Great stuff. And indeed, THAT’S what I’m looking for in a romance. With regard to erotica, I like the physicality of it, because that’s often connected somehow to an individual’s feelings about herself and how she expresses herself sexually is often a reflection of that. So when I read (and very, very occasionally write) erotica, I’m looking for a kernel of who a woman is when she chooses to engage in intense physical activity with another woman, and what that might tell me about who she is and how she conducts herself both in and out of bed. Interesting stuff!

    Anyway, thanks, all, for chatting! Much appreciated!



Comments are closed.