September 26, 2011

Happy Endings

I recently read a novel that featured a heroine ("lead character" might be more fitting, since she wasn't a nice person) who had some serious mental health issues, and as I read I kept wondering how the story would end, because I saw no happy ending here.

To my surprise, the story did have a happy ending, kind of like putting a Band-Aid on a child's boo-boo and have them go from crying to smiling.  While I understood the author wanting to end on an upbeat, positive note, the ending struck me as just too sunshiny to be believable.

When I submitted the synopsis for my novel If These Walls Could Talk (originally published in trade in 2007, in mass market earlier this year), it had a dreary ending that in hindsight, I'm surprised the editor approved. As I wrote the story and got to know the characters better, I decided I wanted to give them hope, and I changed the ending to give one couple a second chance and to give the impression that another couple would do all right as separate entities. I informed the editor of why I made the change, and she had no objections. I shudder to think of how the book would have been received had I kept the original ending.

Women's fiction, unlike romance, allows for endings other than the happily-in-love fade-outs.  Regardless, women's fiction often ends on a happy note, because writers like ending optimistically, and readers enjoy stories that end that way.

The novels of the late bestselling novelist Jacqueline Susann tended to end unhappily, with characters settling for what they had, usually empty marriages in which they looked elsewhere for fulfillment, in their hopes for their children, wealth and status, etc. I always felt that the point she was trying to make was the old standby, "Money doesn't buy happiness."

While looking for some new books for my eReader this weekend I came across one by an author who usually writes romances, a rather somber-sounding story about a woman driving alone who crashes and is unable to call for help, and as she hopes for rescue, she reflects on her life and makes plans for her future...a future that, according to the reviews, doesn't come to pass because she is ultimately not rescued. Some readers who wrote reviews expressed huge disappointment in the way the book ended. Now, this was an independently published novel, and indie authors tell the stories they want to tell, so just because someone wrote a few romantic stories doesn't mean all their books will be the same. Still, I think we as readers expect the endings of stories, to be hopeful, even if the story contains some sad elements within.

How do you like your endings?  Happy, within reason? Happy, even to the point where it doesn't seem realistic?  How do you feel about sad endings?
September 18, 2011

Roll Film

As many of you know, I'm fond of old movies. Part of the reason for this is because I've already seen a good number of them and don't feel as if I have to give them my full attention. I know when parts are coming that I don't care to see...usually related to how African-Americans are depicted.

Filmmakers have done black Americans a great disservice by featuring the caricatures of the slow-witted, cowardly (if men), no-sacrifice-is-too-great black servants. Actors like Willie Best (often billed as "Sleep 'n' Eat") and Butterfly McQueen specialized in these types of roles. I never fail to cringe (and often change the channel) when actress Juanita Moore tells Lana Turner in the 1959 version of Imitation of Life, "Just let me do for you." (In other words, she'll work for no pay.) On the other hand, I cheer at scenes like the one in Christmas in Connecticut (1945) where restaurant owner S.Z. Sakall asks one of his black waiters about the meaning of the word "catastrophe" and the waiter tells him in an intelligent manner...or that Clark Gable/Jean Harlow movie I saw from the 1930s in which Gable pleads with a black minister to marry him and Harlow (the minister, at first reluctant, eventually agrees)...or how in Cass Timberlane (1947), Spencer Tracy calls his maid, a woman clearly older than he is, not by her first name, but "Mrs. [Surname]."

I've always admired Hattie McDaniel for playing her roles with such honesty and feistiness; only once did I see her insisting on taking care of a family for free (yuck). Clarence Muse also always appeared dignified, and then there was foxy Theresa Harris, who played Barbara Stanwyck's best friend in Baby Face (1932), even though she was also her maid.

The other day I saw a movie I hadn't seen in many years...1970s star-studded Airport. It's been 41 years now since this film was released, but one thing that stood out to me was how well black Americans were represented.  Sure, they showed black skycaps, but the role of head of security at the large Midwestern facility, with many men working under him, was played a black man, the same actor who would portray Alderman Fred C. Davis on Good Times a few years later.  Among the passengers on the Rome-bound flight were actors playing an Army officer and a doctor, respectively.  The army man was shown offering assistance, and the doctor was shown wearing his stethescope and and attending to the injured.

This might not seem like a big deal to modern audiences, but for me, familiar with the stereotypical "Yassir" dialogue of older movies, it represented a real turning point, possibly the first movie with so many positive African-American images.

See you at the movies.
September 16, 2011

Gone Blogging

I did an interview on the blog of my friend, author Donna Hill, so check me out!  Comments always welcome (hint, hint!)
September 10, 2011

Hear ye, Hear ye!

My 3-book Bundle is being featured today at  Three full-length novels; 1 low price!

As always, I wish you good reading!
September 7, 2011

A Quote From Author Bob Mayer

"Readers don’t care if a book is published by Random House or a goat.  They just care if the book is good."

I think that's a damn good observation, but I'd love to hear what readers think...