I would like to begin this post with a bit of musical inspiration from a favourite movie.
Mary Poppins is a wonderful movie. I have seen this movie many, many times. I think we watched it 9 times in one weekend when snowed in years ago because one of my little sisters (Bennet birth order Kitty) had borrowed it from the library and really liked it.
Mary Poppins is a fun story with a happy ending. However, that happy ending and the laughter and frivolity experienced along the journey to the happy ending do not circumvent serious matters. Oh, no! They just add the spoonful of sugar needed to deliver the tale of a father who has lost himself in a world of finance and career climbing.
You see, lessons can be taught in one of two ways — in a boring and dull as dirt fashion or in an engaging and entertaining fashion. I will allow that this is a spectrum and not just two absolutes. Some lessons will fall somewhere in between the two extremes. However, I will propose that the further along the spectrum towards entertaining you go, the more the elements of a lesson are going to be retained.
For instance, while subbing for an elementary teacher one day, I got to go over long and short vowel sounds. The children were to mark the long sounds with a straight line over the letter and the short sounds with a happy face line over the letter. They were not enthused to do the exercise even though we were doing it together.
I looked around the room to find something which might help me add a dose of fun to the lesson and found a jump rope. Then, with a series of very willing volunteers to hold the two ends, we made a game of stretching the jump rope straight when we heard a long vowel sound and letting it droop when we heard a short vowel sound. All of a sudden, that lesson became engaging and memorable to those children.
The jump rope was just the spoonful of sugar that was needed.
Now, let’s move this concept of a spoonful of sugar forward a bit to my purpose for this post.
I write romance. I read romance. I love romance.
I know, with absolute certainty, when I read a romance that it is going to end with a happily ever after. I count on that happy ending. I even look to see that it is there before I begin reading — just in case someone has labeled something as a romance when it is not actually a romance. 🙂
Even though I have heard it said that perhaps we authors should be writing things that are more serious than stories with happy endings, that happy ending in a romance does not mean that what I write or what I read is trivial or a lesser form of literature. There can be many difficult and serious topics covered between the covers of a romance novel — the death of loved ones, betrayal, salvation from destructive behaviours, inability to have a family, and much more. That happy ending is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine (truths about a serious topic) go down. Personally, it absolutely toasts my biscuits 😉 when someone disparages the romance genre, either directly or indirectly, and yes, I take it personally because I read, write, and love romance.
And don’t even bother saying “but happy endings are not realistic” because neither are dragons and, frankly, happy endings happen a whole lot more often in real life than dragons slayings do. But, I digress. 😉 Therefore, before I step up on my soapbox completely, let’s take one more step forward with this concept that a happy ending does not mean the substance of the book does not contain anything serious or of real value.
I have a book that will be publishing soon. This book, Persuading Miss Mary, which I just finished posting on my blog on Thursdays, has a happy ending. However, it is not a bit of fluff. The hero of this particular tale, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother, begins the story with a mistress — a courtesan, whom he keeps in good fashion at a brothel. My heroine, Mary Bennet, despises such a lack of respect for women. She even accuses the hero of using women.
So, how does one reconcile the beliefs of the one character with the actions of the other character without having the heroine cast off all her beliefs just so she can marry the hot rich guy? (Mary’s not the sort to be swayed away from her convictions by a charming, hot, rich guy, even if he is a viscount. She holds all men, regardless of rank and fortune, to the same standards.)
I’ll be honest. I wrestled with this question for some time when I began this story until I received some emails from a reader, who was put out with the idea of rakes being redeemed, and I happened to be the lucky writer who got to bear the brunt of this person’s displeasure for all writers who write redeemed rake stories. It was not pleasant, but it was the thing that brought clarity.
You see, this reader seemed unable to accept that a rake should be allowed to change and be granted a happily ever after. After all, society at that time shunned loose women but were much more forgiving of loose men. It was patently unfair that a gentleman should receive a happy future when a lady did not. How could I condone such things?
“But I don’t,” I said. “I think they are wrong.”
And then, it struck me as I dried my eyes and blew my nose, that in this way, this reader was like my heroine, Mary, who seemed unwilling to forgive the hero, Lord Westonbury (aka Wes), for his sins, and I knew in that moment what realization Mary had to make.
Here is the epiphany I had after reading these unpleasant emails:
If Mary did not learn to show grace, mercy, and forgiveness, she would be doing the very same thing that society did and which she despised. She would be holding Wes forever at fault for his mistakes and shunning him just as society shunned a fallen woman. This did not mean that Wes’s past was somehow suddenly irrelevant and that his folly was free of consequences. No, it meant that despite the faults and ramifications, Mary needed to treat him how she wished society would treat a woman who had erred. (That’s no easy thing, y’all.)
Just as I struggled to come to the above realization and it happened in a painful fashion, Mary will also struggle with coming to understand this truth, and yes, that struggle will bring her pain. Let me share an excerpt from Persuading Miss Mary where she is also receiving some help in making her realization. (Thankfully, her helpers are much more loving than mine was 😉 Mary lucked out and got a spoonful of sugar to help her.)
“I am not fighting a battle.” Mary turned back toward the window. It was not terribly bright inside the carriage as little light was filtering in from the lamps outside, but it was still uncomfortable to be looked at so intently as Colonel Fitzwilliam was looking at her. It felt as if he could read her inner thoughts.
“Yes, you are.”
“I do not understand,” Lydia said softly.
“What does Miss Mary believe about men having mistresses?” the colonel replied.
“They should not have them,” Mary answered.
“But why? And do not quote me what a parson would say. I want to know why Miss Mary says a gentleman should not have a mistress.”
“I would rather not discuss this.” Her insides were twisted in enough knots without having to rehearse her views on such topics – views which she knew were not popular with everyone in society.
“I would say…”
Apparently, not wishing to discuss it was not going to stop Lydia from doing so.
“She finds it disrespectful.”
Mary peeked at her sister and saw Colonel Fitzwilliam nodding.
“She is not wrong. A gentleman who takes a mistress does break his vows to his wife.” He held up a finger. “But Wes is not yet married.”
“Is it so wrong to want a husband who has loved only me in the way he loves a wife?” Mary asked.
“Oh, you did say that!” Lydia cried. “I remember it very well.”
“No, it is not wrong,” the colonel answered. “But is it wrong to turn away a potential mate because of an error in his past?”
“No,” Lydia answered before Mary could form a word, “if he has never changed his ways, it would be best to send him on his way.”
“Precisely. And that is the battle Miss Mary is fighting. Wes has loved others as one would love a wife. Miss Mary needs to know if it was just an error of the past or one which speaks to a lifelong deficit.” He shook his head. “It is not an easy thing to give up one’s hopes and claim a new reality. It takes time and struggle to find the way to making peace with it.”
He touched his eye, and Mary understood that he knew very well the struggle which was raging in her mind. Lord Westonbury was so very far from the sort of gentleman Mary had ever dreamt of marrying. She had always imagined herself married to a gentleman with a small estate, who never ventured very far into society and was content to be at home with his family. She smiled to herself. She had always thought she would marry someone a good bit like her father, and Lord Westonbury was not at all like her father.
So, does Mary learn to show mercy, grace, and pardon? Can she forgive Wes for his past and accept that he is not that man any longer?
Well, I hate to spoil it for you :), but this is a romance, and that means there is a happily ever after or a happily for now guaranteed.
Therefore, somehow, someway, Mary will have to reconcile her convictions with the life of the man who loves her. How does that happen? I’m not saying. You’ll have to read the book to find that out. 🙂 I’ll only tell you that there is a happy ending, and then caution you that while you are reading and enjoying the bits of fun along the way to that happy ending, try not to miss the serious issues that both Wes and Mary have to face and overcome on their journey to each other, for one should always remember that stories are about more than their endings. They are about both attempting to overcome challenges and how that struggle impacts the life of the main character, as well as all the characters who surround him or her. It is in this struggle where you will find the serious business of writing regardless of whether the ending is happy or not.
Here’s a little writing business news:
Lord (and Lady) Westonbury’s story, Persuading Miss Mary, will be on preorder by the end of the week. Be watching for that. Books 1-3 of the Marrying Elizabeth series are now available in an omnibus.
I rather like redemption stories, and Lord Westonbury is not the only rakish character to whom I have provided a reason to improve and claim a happy future. Charles Edwards, Henry Crawford’s friend, is another. Charles: To Discover His Purpose is book two in my Other Pens, Mansfield Park series and is currently FREE from today until 11:59 PM PST, November 21, 2019.
And one last item — well, it’s two but they are related so I am counting it as one. 🙂 Willow Hall leaves Kindle Unlimited today and will be returning to all my other vendors over the next week or so, and the Choice Series is now, for the first time ever, available to read with your Kindle Unlimited subscription. [Mary Bennet ends up with a lord in that series, too. He’s also a bit of a rascal — and totally book boyfriend material.]