Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the HEA

KZ Snow's special take on the Happily-ever-after Ending.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the HEA

The sacrosanct happily-ever-after: some readers and publishers insist on it; others are more flexible. A recent trend in romance fiction seems to be toward the happy-for-now or HFN ending, which better reflects reality and is therefore more believable. In both cases, though, it’s considered bad form for an author to mess publicly with a couple once they’ve been joined. If spunky Liza and alpha-dude Lucas decide to buy one-way tickets to Splitsville, they’d better be discreet and do it off-stage.
This became a big issue for me when I was recently backed into a corner by three very stubborn characters who decided they didn’t want to conform to any model.
In my Ellora’s Cave novel Plagued,
vampire hero Adin Swift hooks up with a mortal woman named Celia Quill. They come to love and stand by one another. Because they face a threat of great paranormal magnitude, Adin must call on an old friend for help.
Enter Jackson Spey, a man of many skills.
From the moment this Harley-riding wizard reappeared in Adin’s life, I knew I’d opened a big ol’ can of worms. Adin and Jackson had a ten-year history. They’d always found each other profoundly simpatico in nearly every respect. Then Adin drank his friend’s blood, and . . . Well, you know how it is -- a vampire feed is one erotic experience. Oh, boy.
It quickly became obvious to me that these men were so bloated with repressed desire for each other, something was bound to pop. (Sorry for the metaphor.) But what was to become of Celia, who’d gotten her HFN at the end of Plagued? Hell, Adin wasn’t a faithless cad. He truly loved her. And Jackson was an honorable man who had genuine respect for this woman, both as an individual and as Adin’s partner.
Helluva quandary. I knew Adin and Jackson deserved a chance to explore their mutual passion—it was inevitable, really—but I also knew Celia could not become a scorned and bitter female consigned to the doldrums of romance. The men wouldn’t stand for it, she wouldn’t stand for it, and I wouldn’t stand for it. Furthermore, I refused to kill her off or turn her into a lesbian, either of which would’ve been one of the lamest deus-ex-machina turns imaginable.
Deliverance ultimately came from an unlikely place—MySpace. (My hand to god/dess, this is a true story.)
A former college roommate, somebody I hadn’t seen or heard from in decades, found me there. We began exchanging emails to catch up on each other’s life. Laura rather tentatively confessed she had an “unconventional” marriage. I assumed she and her husband were into some kind of swingers or Dom/sub thing. That wasn’t it. Following their marriage, it became apparent all was not right in the bedroom. Laura and her husband at first assumed he was bisexual. That call, as it turned out, was a little off. Not long thereafter, the husband realized he’d fudged on the truth, however unintentionally, and was actually gay. But he and Laura stayed married. Both soon became happily involved with other men . . . and remained contentedly wed.
This living example of selflessness, devotion, and adaptability has been around for thirty-plus years. I was impressed.
There’s no doubt in my mind that many, many couples have similarly, and silently, chosen to tolerate each other’s sexual preferences/orientations/practices. Moreover, Laura’s story prompted me to reflect on my own experiences. I’ve had two flings with gay men, and I learned from both that fond friendships can spring, sans bile and blame-throwing, from the ashes of doomed romantic pairings.
I sincerely hope more M/M romances explore such situations, which often entail a very special kind of heartbreak coupled with a very special kind of HEA. Although it’s common for the male protagonists to struggle with their own issues, we rarely get a glimpse of a woman who must either accommodate or play past her partner’s choice to be with a man. It would be gratifying to see more characters clear this hurdle with grace.
So back to Celia Quill. I realized she was open-minded enough to understand Adin’s dilemma, and strong and caring enough to help smooth the way toward its resolution. The first step takes place in the novella Obsessed (available from Changeling Press). A recent review of Obsessed at Literary Nymphs further affirmed I'd made the right decision. Wrote the reviewer:
Obsessed surprised me. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but by the end, I realized how deep a story it is. Adin is an admirable man -- very loving toward [his girlfriend], but unable to shake the growing love for his best friend. Jackson possesses more than just physical strength, especially at the end, but it’s Celia who shines, even if she doesn’t take center stage. As someone who understands Adin’s plight, I couldn’t help but adore Celia for her loving and trusting acceptance of who he is and what he feels.
Whether or not Celia continues living with Adin is entirely her decision; he will not summarily dump her, and Jackson will not press the issue. If she decides to stay, it won’t be because she’s been pulled into a domestic threesome. She’s no buttinski (uh, that wasn’t a pun). If she decides to leave, it won’t be because of Adin’s and Jackson’s ongoing trysts. She’s resigned to them.
As the men’s relationship continues to evolve (and it’s currently doing so, in a WIP titled InDescent), so will Celia’s attitudes. From the start, the three of them have communicated with frankness and sensitivity. I do have a feeling, though, there’s great fulfillment in store for her.
My exploration of naughty boys -- with or without girls, but usually without -- will continue in a futuristic urban fantasy series (Utopia-X) I have planned for Loose Id. The first book, Looking for Some Touch, is now in edits. And September 19 will see the release of the erotic romance Prince of Glacier Glas from Ellora's Cave; different men, different world . . . and a plump, juicy HEA any woman would envy!
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Savanna Kougar said...

HI KZ, interesting. I have to admit it's not my cup of romantic tea. However, I think it's great you're exploring these issues, and bringing forth the stories of your characters in such a beautiful way.

K. Z. Snow said...

Good morning, Savanna!

In the course of my writing "career", which spans 15 to 20 books, this was the first and only time I've had to tackle such an issue. Chances are it won't crop up again.

I do agree, though, that it needs to be explored--at least occasionally. Tackling difficult situations can be a writer's nod to the real world and the heartfelt struggles that often take place there.

Jeanne said...

I'm curious regarding Adin and Jackson's journey back through time. I've never done an actual time travel story; only traveling back through dreams and visions.
Does Celia travel back with them?
What does Adin find when he arrives? What sort of impact does it have on the relationship

K. Z. Snow said...

There's our hostess! Hi, Jeanne, and thanks so much for having me.

Re. your question. Boy, time travel is tricky. I'm grateful I had an eagle-eyed editor who pointed out certain pitfalls to me!

Yes, Celia does go with Adin and Jackson. What Adin finds is precisely what he both hoped and feared he would find--his lifelong enemy (still alive and mortal at this point), working as a sexton in a medieval English village ravaged by the Black Plague. It's December 1348. It's a deeply wrenching experience for him, on a number of levels. (Can't really say more!)

The journey strengthens the bond between Adin and Celia, since it required an enormous leap of faith and great courage for her to accompany him. Her presence also both comforts and galvanizes him.

Yet another reason why he can't just walk away from her and into Jackson's arms. (Hell, I'd have kicked his ass from here to November if he'd been callous enough to do that!)

Jade Buchanan said...

Hey KZ! I just wanted to give you kudos for sticking with your muse when it could have been easier to give in and change the storyline. It can be hard for authors to put something out that might be controversial but that needs to be written. And I agree, the real world does contain many situations that explores the different kinds of love people have the capacity for. I can't wait to read this now!

Lena Austin said...

Anytime you want another perpective of a woman who loves a bi-man, just email me. I've run the emotional gamut, I think, before reconciliation.


K. Z. Snow said...

Thanks so much, Jade. I'll be perfectly frank about this. My editor at EC, which published Plagued, wanted nothing to do with Obsessed because of that seeming HEA violation. I didn't even bother arguing about it, since I knew it would be an exercise in futility.

The "easy way out" would obviously have been to draw the three characters into a happy-happy domestic threesome. But, in this situation, that would've been more a cop-out.

I really dislike the ploy of introducing menages just to give men an excuse to get cozy with one another while maintaining some specious hetero orientation. Jackson and Adin are, technically speaking, bi, but even that tenuous status is falling by the wayside the closer they get. So, the whole situation is difficult for them, too, not just for Celia.

K. Z. Snow said...

Lena, dahling! Honestly, I doubt many authors have had your breadth of experience. You have much to teach us.

Jade Buchanan said...

I know what you mean! I do write bi menages, but it's always because they fit the characters I'm writing in that instant. If it didn't fit a character, I wouldn't write the story that way.

I have a problem with people assuming that just because you're bi, it means you should automatically want to have sex with both at the same time, or that means you're going to go out and cheat on your partner. Sure, some do but I know a ton of bisexuals who believe in monogamy, whether it's with a partner of the same sex or opposite sex.

And you're absolutely right, Lena is definitely someone we can all learn from! LOL!

jean hart stewart said...

I admire your courage in tackling such a difficult theme. It must have tied you in knots figuring out what to do with your characters, and doing it with sincerity. yay for you.

K. Z. Snow said...

"I have a problem with people assuming that just because you're bi, it means you should automatically want to have sex with both at the same time, or that means you're going to go out and cheat on your partner."

Exactly. Here's Adin's reaction following an early tussle with Jackson, who has more difficulty accepting their mutual attraction:

Must be tough, Adin thought, discovering that being bisexual was not always a casual exercise in neutrality and choice. The right person could yank you, hard, in one direction or the other. Whether you wanted it or not.

And about the "cheating" assumption, right again, Jade. It's all a matter of being truthful--to oneself and one's partner. Far as I'm concerned, genuine cheating involves sneakiness, deception, and blatant lack of regard. That just isn't the case with Adin.

K. Z. Snow said...

Thank you, Jean. Oy, yeah, it was a real conundrum for a while: go with the flow or buck the current. But you know how it is--often, characters determine their own courses. We just relate them!

Jade Buchanan said...

LOL, stop posting excerpts! I have a deadline here and now I just want to go read your book!

It sounds like you did a great job with the emotions here! Nice :)

K. Z. Snow said...

*g* Actually, that's a pretty tame little excerpt. The story is both emotionally and sexually intense.

I know what you mean about getting some work done, Jade. I'm popping in and out of here as I try to knock out a chapter for a WIP. But I consider this part of my "socializing and networking" time, and that's important to me, too.

K. Z. Snow said...

I'm curious about something. Are there female love interests in other m-m authors' stories? I don't mean the harmonious-menage types of stories, but ones in which a woman isn't part of the men's relationship.

Josh Lanyon said...

Very brave, KZ. Good for you!

You have to go with what makes sense for the characters and the story line -- an artificial and unbelievable HEA doesn't satisfy readers either.

I have to say, I heard plenty of screams of anguish at the end of The Hell You Say.

And frankly it was very painful to write -- but not one reader said it was unbelievable -- how could they? I had been setting up that scenario since book one.

Nor did it hurt my career or sales of the book -- or the series in general. Granted, that's because readers are trusting me to put it right for them this time around.

Ken said...

It reminds me of oen of my favorite quotes from the movie Clue: "Life after death is as improbable as sex after marriage."

It's an interesting turn of events for the characters, but it can go very far in showing the difference between love and sex. And there's a big difference, though one tends to follow the other.

K. Z. Snow said...

Thank you, Josh and Ken. I haven't checked back in a while 'cause I've been working and, in the evenings, getting hooked on watching the DNC.

I do think it's absolutely essential to remain true to the characters in the context of their shared storylines. (I don't know if that's called artistic integrity or living in Lala Land!) Publishers, editors and readers might not like it sometimes, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

And I know what you mean, Josh, about readers trusting you to "put it right". Hell, yeah, that's part of our responsibility, too. So I'm still not through working out the kinks (so to speak) in this triangle.

Glad you stopped by! And thanks again, Jeanne. *smooch*

Jeanne said...

My pleasure, KZ.
Terrific way to round out the month!

DJ Manly said...

Hi Jeanne! D.J. has arrived. Sorry I'm late and absent and the whole bit. :) I have a busy life and I need to be reminded every second to do the things that I should.

That said, I appreciate the invitation. I've been writing M/M romantica for awhile now... a few years at least. With a sociological background, I have been told that my books have lessons to teach and although, I don't write to "preach"...lol...some readers have told me that my writing has changed thier minds about a lot of things, namely about love between men. Men do and can fall in love, with each other, and first time readers of m/m fiction have told me that my work makes them believers. That's really nice.

Come visit my website at www.djmanly.com
And drop me a line, if you read me and like me.

My readers are the best anywhere.