Happily Ever After?

When I was considerably younger, I wanted to be a writer. At school, I would scribble down plot synopses and even complete stories. But once I was out in the world and having to make a living, that more or less came to a halt. Even if I had time, I no longer had the mental energy to devise complex plots or to bring my tentative beginnings to a conclusion. For years now, I have been promising myself that when I retired, I would go back to my writing. Finally, the chance has presented itself.

One of the other resolutions I made, for when I no longer had to work for a living, was to clear out the piles of junk that have been accumulating in all my cupboards, drawers and bookshelves. Lo and behold – the two resolutions have come together in an amazing way. In fact, I can only take it as a Sign. In one of my cupboards was an old notebook, dating back – if I am not mistaken – to my high school days, and containing the synopses to several novels I was planning to write. I have also found a number of exercise books in which I had actually begun (and in some cases, completed) novels. These early literary efforts were mostly of a romantic nature since, in my youth, I was much addicted to the works of Georgette Heyer and Victoria Holt. I also read two romances by Barbara Cartland – two being quite sufficient to convince me that despite her popular success, she couldn’t hold a candle to Georgette Heyer and that, from a literary point of view, her books were completely worthless. Garbage, in fact – to put it brutally. I was (and am)  certain, that anything I could write would be much better than anything concocted by Ms. Cartland and her imitators. And yet – how can one account for the success of what can only be described as trash?

Right, to get back to business. Do I still want to write romantic novels? Well, yes and no. Among the synopses and half-finished drafts, I found a novella I had actually finished. At least – it had started life as a full-length Gothic romance, of the genre known as “a bodice-ripper”, which, at some stage (probably because I grew impatient of ever finishing it), I turned into a novella. I can’t be sure when I wrote it but probably sometime in my late teens. It was actually not a bad story although I can now see that the style of writing displays practically every defect which I condemn in other writers. But – and this is the important “but” – I am older and wiser now, and all those defects can be corrected. My problem is this: as originally conceived, the story has an unhappy ending. Romantic novels are supposed to have a Happy End, aren’t they? I mean, isn’t that why they are so popular? Cinderella stories where the downtrodden, poverty-stricken governess marries the wealthy, aristocratic hero and lives happily ever after? Or where the luckless secretary, after many trials and tribulations, ends up respectably married to the boss? I mean to say, even in this day and age, the ultimate goal of the Romantic Heroine is Marriage. So it was when Charlotte Bronte created Jane Eyre, eponymous heroine of one of the earliest –  and certainly one of the greatest – of all  Gothic romances. So it was when Helen Fielding created Bridget Jones,  a century and a half later. We’ve come a long way, Baby – or have we?

This, then, is my dilemma. The tale, as I originally envisaged it, cannot end other than tragically – just as there was never any real possibility of a Happy End for Romeo and Juliet. To give it one would be to be false to the essence of the story. And yet, I want my book to be read. Shall I then ignore my writer’s instincts and force the story into the accepted mould, or should I remain true to myself and court unpopularity by leaving the reader’s hopes unfulfilled?

What do you think, Gentle Reader?

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About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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25 Responses to Happily Ever After?

  1. I would say that you should stay true to yourself. There is a reason why your story has an unhappy ending, it is the sum and conclusion of your plot. Another ending would destroy your concept in my opinion. I so agree with you about Barbara Cartland by the way. 😀

  2. Romance novels can have a bad ending, this would probably be referred to as ‘dark romance’ or as your tag suggests ‘gothic romance’. Why not give it to a few friends to read to see what they think?

  3. Diddy says:

    Why not ask ALL your readers what they think? That is, identify the point at which the two possible endings absolutely MUST diverge and then proceed to write the two endings. Then, put them BOTH in the book, mark them “The way Charlotte Bronte would have written it” and “The way Emily Bronte would have written it” and invite your readers to read – either choose one according to their taste or to read both and then decide.

    • Actually, in an eBook, that could work quite well. I have an eBook I downloaded from the Amazon Kindle store, called “The Most Boring Book Ever Written” by Daniel Pitts and Rudolf Kerkhoven (who could resist a title like that?) and it has multiple alternatives. At any point, you have a choice so the story can turn out in many different ways.
      I believe Charles Dickens wrestled with the same problem. The “happy ending” to “Great Expectations” was written (according to the editor’s notes in my old school copy) at the suggestion of Bulwer Lytton and was not the way Dickens originally intended the book to end.

  4. Katie Isabella says:

    I had my first smile of the day as I read this. It’s the first blog of the day too, so that was an accomplishment on your part as the blogger as it is early in the morning and I am still drinking the first cup of coffee.

    I read those same authors at the same time of life that you did. Even then I knew they were not good but still, fascinating to my young mind.

    I too have unfinished works lying about out of sentimentality really as they are not worth enlarging. Except some verse. Not the usual type one thinks of and some of the works may be worthy as I used to read it to a few select friends who genuinely seemed to enjoy it.

    As for your endings, if you insist on an unpopular ending then you must do so. But your reward will be smaller although you will take comfort in having been true to your self.

    • My brother, who is, as you know, a published author, believes one can get away with an unhappy ending if the book is a “literary novel” (whatever that may be). However, no-one seems to agree on the definition of a “literary novel”.
      As for your own unfinished works – if you enjoy writing, why not finish them? For yourself, even for no-one else. Self-publishing in eBook format cuts out the need for you to interest an agent or a publisher, and you really have nothing to lose.

  5. David Allon says:

    Why dont you provide two endings? Let the reader choose which one to read, or perhaps read both…

  6. Abba says:

    My advice would be — ‘be true unto thyself!

    Abba

  7. Silke says:

    Shimona
    I confess I am much more interested in your potential to become a published and promoted there Mills&Boone “bodice ripper” authoress.

    I have always been interested in public successes and even though an early Barbara Cartland experience left me – well you know how – at my current mature age I felt up to giving sculpted chins and broad chests another try and did 3 or 4 of their books. While selecting them I found that all the desirable men (women are always virgin or quasi-virgins i.e. either widows or converted after a bad experience of getting fooled for which they paid dearly) – back to the men: They are disproportionately often Arab Sheikhs and if they are tycoons they are Italian or of Italian origin – surely Israel must have tycoons which skulpted chins and gorgeous muscle tones galore that could serve a role models beguiling the hearts and minds of those who read the stuff during commutes or even at home.

    The constant stream of romantics I get fed around Muslim countries needs to be countered – will you be the one who starts a new fashionable man for the bodice ripper genre?

    Why should a man in a Djellabah be more enticing than one in traditional Jewish clothes? On photos they make them look always ridiculous but that can’t be the truth and nothing but the truth.

    BTW if you know a male in a state of mind similar to yours – on radio they once claimed that a German publication called “Der Landser” (the grunt – WW2+WW1-stories) beats all the female romantics in sales figures. I am into my second read of it – I understand why – even though on the cover they sell by past German “glory” within it is more tilted towards praise of buddy-dom, one for all and all for one -ism.

    And if you don’t want to do Mills&Boone yourself – find somebody to go for it – pleeeeease!

    • I don’t know about Mills and Boone – I was thinking more on the lines of self-publishing my work as eBooks (sorry, I know you don’t like eBooks).

      I absolutely agree about the Arab Sheikhs – E.M. Hull has a lot to answer for (and her Sheikh, in the end, turned out not to be an Arab at all, but an English aristocrat)! Obviously she had never met a real Bedouin chief. No Western woman who had, could possibly fantasize about being abducted by one.

      Israel has tycoons aplenty – unfortunately, they are usually middle-aged and balding with pot-bellies :-(. I can’t think of any who look like Ari Ben-Canaan (“Exodus”).
      I do, in fact, have plans for a novel (or rather, a series of novels) set in Israel between the 1948 War of Liberation and the Yom Kippur War (a kind of family saga), but for romantic novels, I prefer to set them in the more distant past.

      I looked up “Der Landser” on Google and frankly, I find it rather disturbing that this sort of story should be so popular in Germany.

      “I felt up to giving sculpted chins and broad chests another try …” I’m always ready to give them another try 😉

      • Silke says:

        It is not just E. Hull – there is Rodolfo Valentino – the movie with its intimations of rape (while in the book it is straightforward rape) – that was the kind of stuff that turned our ancestors on and they keep telling us that they were so much better behaved girls compared to us (forget about the ones who follow us it is the abyss pure and simple 😉

        As to “The Landser” when I heard that it was so popular I ordered a copy of their Dime Novel version immediately and found that the text was not as bad as I had expected. It is a highly romanticised version of war with as little or as much connection to reality as bodice rippers have. But of course that the romantics pivot around killing other humans is highly disturbing. Most disturbing is that the publisher uses the money he makes with the stuff to establish and/or support far right parties. Fortunately he’s always met with very limited success. Right now he seems to have the most success in former East-Germany. One can only hope that it will peter out like all the other spikes of success they had in former West-Germany. The reason for their lack of durable success seems to be that they seem to attract only personnel with very muddled thinking and modes of operation (and of course the protests in the general population that always pop up when they try to get pesky.). Come to think of it, maybe we owe that to the fact that they read that abominable little publication.

        As to real German soldiers I read this morning that they are less than enthusiastic to volunteer for missions abroad – as our defense minister de Maizière intimated, they prefer to stay close to Hotel Mama instead of suffering the inconveniences of life somewhere strange.

        As to your series of novels – it seems I will have to come up with some installation that allows me to e-read in bed. If inspiration fails me, I’ll save up for a tablet. The one thing I won’t do is miss out on your prospected novels.

        Here’s Mills&Boon – http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/ – the pictures say it all – I read that they are very successful in India also – most of what I see on German bookstands bears author names that seem to be theirs. They must have good know-how if the cost of translation is acceptable. I’ve tried one of their historical ones – in short there I prefer quality, a bit more than Wikipedia-history. The contemporary ones are quite amusing especially how they manage to combine her being totally modern but somehow virginal – which in the German of my youth would be “unberührt” = untouched.

        BTW do you know her? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Mensch
        I read one of her books – if there are differences to the normal bodice ripper fare I couldn’t really detect them unless the thrown in Grisham-like parts should clinch it.

        As to real tycoons being pot-bellied – now you have to overcome that to work on it real hard. If you haven’t enough imagination to blend Prinz Eisenherz’s (Iron Heart) looks over Rupert Murdoch’s I see dark times ahead for your literary success 😉

      • I have heard of Louise Mensch but I’ve never read her books.
        I don’t intend to write about any tycoons so the question of their pot-bellies doesn’t arise 😉
        As for the movie version of “The Sheik” with the legendary Valentino – obviously they couldn’t do more than hint at rape in the movie, because of the censors. In the book, as you say, it is an actual rape. E.M. Hull wouldn’t have got away with that, but for the fact that the “Arab” turns out to be an English aristocrat whom the heroine could “legitimately” fall in love with and eventually marry. You perceive the latent racism? Anyway, since becoming more socially aware, this has been one of my pet peeves about this kind of “literature”. It encourages the idea that women secretly desire to be raped. That’s why it could actually be argued that this kind of book is, in fact, dangerous. But it seems that women these days are quite open about reading plain, straightforward pornography. How else can one explain the success of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series?

      • Silke says:

        I once started reading the book and watching the film simultaneously – when that thing of him being really of “acceptable” origin popped up I stopped because it made me feel so very much ashamed but then I remembered that “we” are talked about by “them” in very much the same down-putting way. Time to go back and do the second half of it …

        I had been long aware of the Valentino films but that there was a book I learned in one of Agatha Christie’s novels where a pesky daughter tells her father that the young ones are different now since the Sheikh has been published. And sure enough there it was on Gutenberg – an incredibly lousy piece of a book – before I knew he’d turn out to be European I disliked her for ruining her horse.

        All I know about Fifty Shades of Grey is an extended conversation some people had in a podcast and from that I remember that at some point the heroine says something as revealing as “all I’ve got from it is a sore bum”. But even that couldn’t make me curious about the thing.

        As per now I’d summarize the development kind of as: Before the sexual revolution it would never have been OK to admit that I did “it”, afterwards social forces demanded that I’d never admit to not having had sex for any length of time like an hour or so.

        And then, somewhere around the time I discarded my TV, they started promoting how wonderful SM and wearing rubber suits is and to me it seemed that everybody assuring the public that it is OK to beat eachother up, that pain enhances the experience, belonged to people scared out of their mind to let the exchange of a look happen or the first touch of skin on skin like a fingertip on the back of the hand. Lots of gymnastics instead of intimacy.

        Sometime around 1970 I had read Story of O because everybody said one had to have read it – I found it boring, disgusting and extremely sad at the same time i.e. it made me feel sorry for the characters for all they had to go through and get nothing from it but a kick here or there.

        Still the run of the mill Mill&Boon is not the only doing-well-on-the-market item that glorifies Arabs – whenever I look at handicraft magazines to which I am addicted I notice that each issue of each one has at least one thing fit for the Valentino-movie

        Therefore, since you prove to be obstinate ;-), I’ll keep on trying to find somebody who can come up with must-have-Israeli males – after all once upon a time I was amongst those who swooned whenever Moshe Dayan showed up anywhere – when I see pictures of him now I don’t quite understand it, but for a time he was easily up there with Rhett Butler who incidentally could be labelled a tycoon. And that and other kicks from the romantic department have created a pro-Israel bias, which I think does no harm to my ability to clear thinking but should become popular again.

        Women like Israeli supermodels are IMHO not the right agent to make women become partial. For that it takes Rhett Butler.

      • Oh, you’re so right about the effect of the Sexual Revolution on literature (and on everything else). Even the language has changed. One doesn’t make love, one simply has sex. And one longer falls in love, one “has a relationship”.
        Which brings me to “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I haven’t read it, nor do I intend to. What I read online (one can access a lengthy sample in the Amazon Kindle shop) was more than sufficient to prove to me that this was absolute GARBAGE and this opinion was reinforced by a very funny blog I read, where someone analysed the book. I wish I could find the link now.
        I digress, however. I am not obstinate about Israeli males (I just know them too well) – and when I get around to writing that saga I mentioned, I promise you that the hero will rival Ari Ben Canaan for “swoon rating” ;-). As for Moshe Dayan – well, a lot of women felt the same way. Don’t let the fact that he was a serial adulterer bother you…Apropos Israeli politicians and leaders and their sex appeal, for your information, during the first Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm), when Scud missiles were falling on Israel and we had to keep rushing to our “sealed rooms” every time the air raid warnings went off, Israel TV did a survey about who was the man most Israeli women would like to be alone in a sealed room with. Bibi Netanyahu emerged as one of the highest placed.
        Finally – by “Israeli supermodels”, I assume you are referring to Bar Rafaeli? I can’t stand the woman! She weaselled her way out of army service by contracting a marriage of convenience to a man much older than herself whom she promptly ditched once her goal was achieved and not so long ago, she made some remark in an interview about how the State of Israel wasn’t really necessary or important or something to that effect.
        NOW – I simply must go and devote some time to deciding for whom to vote in the elections tomorrow. I shall probably decide just before stepping into the polling booth. Just as I shall probably decide about whether to give my novel a Happy End just before reaching the final chapter. 🙂

      • Silke says:

        Don’t let the fact that he was a serial adulterer bother you…

        as little as the fact that Clark Gable is said to have suffered from severe halitosis (which since I read it explains to me the extreme bending back of Vivien Leigh’s head in that kissing scene where she had washed her mouth with Eau de Cologne)

        I think my faculties of keeping the real and the fictional apart are still functioning well and always have.

        As to voting – no matter whom you vote for according to German pundits you can’t do it right because to paraphrase Obama you don’t know what’s good for you. (sarc intended)

        As to Netanyahu he doesn’t appeal to me at all which doesn’t prevent me from finding myself as blog commenter again and again advocating for him because the others are so as I perceive it blind when he did something really well. (Merkel doesn’t appeal to me either, still I find myself approving of her quite often.) But this kind of split mind or affection seems not to be easy for a lot of people.

        Talking about that war and the Skuds to further inspire you – there was a writer by the name of Shulamit Lapid and she wrote (besides others) detective stories about a local news journalist in Beer Sheba who is single has big feet and big earrings and amiable affairs every now and then – no unwanted details described – and in the first one gas masks are very nonchalantly mentioned. That was the kind of pro Israel PR of the must-have-more kind I wish would flood the market and become the it-thing.

        With that in mind I hope you are aware that I wish yours as a minimum world bestsellerdom which of course I’d wish anyhow but under the circumstances do it doubly so (confession: Paul Newman doesn’t turn me on)

  8. CATachresis says:

    You could always leave the ending ambiguous or open, then you could maybe write a sequel!

    • Silke says:

      Please no! I still haven’t recovered from the (understood by me) open ends of GWTW and A Streetcar named Desire – the first one plagues me since 1953 and the second one in all likelihood during a re-run around 1958.

      Reading the book resp the play later on hasn’t helped a bit. I want closure one way or another.

      Oh and here is another “advice” for Shimona – George Eliot lost me as a reader forever when during The Mill of the Floss she had established a first class conundrum aka Catch 22 and then she chickened out of it by letting the guy drown. I felt and still feel so cheated even though I hardly remember anything from the book.

      By which I want to say whatever you decide don’t do it halfway i.e. building up lots of tension awakening expectations of a grand finale and then pull the plug.

  9. Silke says:

    OT for Shimona

    if you are able to manage German – this is a wonderful book about a singer by a writer who knows how to write – I found it in the library and it is so good, she is so humane so kind to him in her description of the life that I bought it because I had to have it next to me (can’t remember when last a German author managed to grip me)

    http://www.amazon.com/Die-Nachtigall-Zaren-Kastraten-ebook/dp/B009GGPJ6E/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1358796077&sr=8-8&keywords=wunnicke

  10. Dakota Johnson says:

    Many thanks for composing Happily Ever After? | THE VIEW FROM THE PALACE,
    actually enjoy it.

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