In Romance We Trust

Please welcome guest author Tamsen Parker to the Cafe.

Once upon a time, about three lifetimes ago, I trained to be a yoga teacher. Though I rarely get on a mat anymore, one of the things that has stuck with me is something my instructor said: “If you don’t like yoga, you just haven’t found the right yoga for you.”

That sentiment could be applied to many things, but I find it especially relevant in romance. I know a lot of people who have been skeptical, dismissive, or downright derisive about romance, but if you get the right book in their hands, they become the most zealous converts. Which is because romance really does have something to offer everyone; there is at least one romance out there that will reach deep into a person’s soul and not let go.

The romance genre ranges from the most chaste inspirational to the filthiest erotic romance. Our stories take place all over the world, in all walks of life. We’ve got mermaids, vampires, time travelers, and shifters galore. We’ve got straight couples, gay couples, lesbian couples and forget about the couples, we’ve got ménage.  And we’re pushing boundaries further and further all the time.

One of the strengths of the romance genre is that there really is a romance for everyone. And the ability of romance to be such a diverse yet still cohesive genre is in part due to a promise that we as romance authors have made to readers: No matter the ups and downs, no matter the outlandishness of the fantasy elements, no matter the kinks involved, you will get a happy ending.

Last week, Jeffe Kennedy wrote a post about cherishing reader trust. In it, she talked about feeling betrayed after reading a book by a debut, self-published author which ended not with a Happily Ever After or a Happy For Now, but with a cliffhanger.

That was my book.

The choice to end Personal Geography on a cliffhanger wasn’t a rebellious, self-righteous, looking-to-cash-in-on-romance-dollars-but-screw-the-contract decision. Nor was it out of ignorance. I have critique partners, beta readers and editors, and I read in the genre I write. I made the decision to split the books where I did for several reasons, including but not limited to book length and my heroine’s emotional arc.

As a romance author, I believe very strongly in the contract that I’ve made with my readers. Pretty much anywhere there’s a description of Personal Geography, it states that it cannot be read as a standalone. My next book, coming out in June, is a prequel. There is no HEA or HFN for this couple—just a bunch of kink, sex and psychological warfare—so I’m calling a spade a spade. And in this case the spade is erotica.

After a few dalliances with reading romance in high school and college, I started a serious affair with the genre after I had my little girl, who is turning four this spring. When I arrived on the romance scene, the promise of a happy ending was still in full effect, but the contract had been amended.  It’s not unusual to see authors everywhere on the spectrum from best-sellers with a major publisher to the tiniest indie write series which contain a cliffhanger or otherwise non-HEA or –HFN ending to a single book.

This contract states that yes, the author has an ironclad obligation to provide their readers with a happy ending, but that the author’s responsibility lies in providing an HEA or HFN at the end of their characters’ story, which may or may not be contained within a single book.

I love romance as a genre. I love Romancelandia as a community. I love the fact that myriad versions of What-Love-Looks-Like can flourish here and that we can explore difficult issues because, we know that as romance readers, we’ve signed a contract with our authors that perhaps not everything will be okay (actually, several of my favorite books leave characters with some of the same issues they started out with, because love is wonderful but does not in fact heal all) but that our main characters are promised happiness with each other.

Not everyone will agree with this interpretation of this contract and I respect those opinions. But I hope that at the end of the day it’s clear that I (and other authors who choose to extend their characters’ stories over multiple books) very much value readers and the trust they’ve put in me to deliver satisfaction in the form of an HEA or HFN. Cross my heart and may my Romance Author card be revoked, you might have to wait a little longer, but I will deliver.

Thank you for having me, and a special thank you to Jeffe for inviting me to do a guest post here at Contemporary Romance Café.

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Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, erotic romance writer by naptime. She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee. You can find her on twitter, facebook, goodreads or pinterest, and at her website.

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Personal Geography CoverPowerhouse consultant India Burke is notorious for her razor-sharp mind, her incisive tongue, and for always being in control. But during her “lost weekends”—out-of-town, one-and-done, anonymous rendezvous solely for the purpose of kinky sex—she craves a submissive role.

Cris Ardmore, India’s latest tryst, is a Dominant who calls an isolated Hawaiian paradise home. India’s expecting forty-eight hours of contractually defined sex, but instead of serving as just another BDSM Band-Aid, Cris wants to know the real India Burke. Despite her aversion to anything approaching intimacy, India is hooked by their incredible sexual chemistry.

With tension ratcheting up in her professional life, India needs the release Cris offers more than ever, but her repeated visits come with their own risks. No matter how strong their attraction, India is determined to maintain her boundaries in order to keep her life whole after her first love blew it apart. She must choose between taking a chance and handing Cris the road map to her heart or locking down her borders before he does any more damage.

**Please note: Personal Geography is Book 1 of The Compass Series and is not a stand-alone. Intimate Geography, the conclusion to Cris and India’s story, released in March 2015.**


In Romance We Trust — 15 Comments

    • Thank you for inviting me. Always glad to have conversations about things that matter to romance readers– both as an author and a reader, myself : )

  1. Welcome to the Cafe, Tamsen! I applaud your request to come to the cafe and share your vision for Personal Geography, and your take on the writer’s contract with readers. As I mentioned in Jeffe’s post, I’m not a person who needs a neat, happy ending. But as an author, I recognize how central it is to romance. So I’ve often wondered how authors can drag a single love story over two or more books without enraging Romancelandia. I am particularly interested in this because I have a partially-written historical romance novel that I’d love to split.

    • Thanks for having me! I think the most important thing when you’re going to tell a story over more than one book is first, make sure the story actually *needs* more than one book! That might sound obvious, but I think we’ve all read books or series and sat there thinking “Why isn’t this over yet?” I had originally planned Cris and India’s story as a trilogy but when I was chatting with the lovely Cara McKenna about it, she suggested maybe there wasn’t enough conflict to sustain three books. She was right.

      Second, I think having a note that the book can’t be read as a stand alone or something similar to indicate that the story stretches over more than one book can be helpful. A lot of romance readers prefer to wait for all the books in a series to be out before digging in because they’ve been burned by series that petered out. So I’d put them out as close together as possible and be prepared for readers to hold out until the final book has been released.

      Third, make the pay off worth it! If you’re going to ask readers for more than one book’s worth of time, effort and money, you’ve got to offer a really satisfying ending. I went for a big old HEA.

      And honestly, no matter what measures you take, you’re still going to enrage some people. That, I have no fix for.

  2. I read Personal Geography, and whooo boy was I ticked that it ended on a cliff-hanger. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great book and I was surprised to find out it was self-published. So often in self-pub there is a feeling that the book needed an editor or a better editor. Personal Geography was tight. Really tight and that was part of the reason I was frustrated by the cliff-hanger. When I downloaded it, Intimate Geography was not available. Thankfully by the time PG made it to the top of by TBR, IG had released. I’m not a patient person and I don’t handle suspense well. It’s me, I admit it. I read to relax, but if the book is good, I do become involved with the characters. Personal Geography was THAT good. India was flawed and I was enthralled by her emotional development. I had to slowly and carefully put the kindle down when I hit the end of PG. I’m sorry, maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I don’t want to wait. *in my best imitation of Violet from Willy Wonka* I WANT MY HAPPILY EVER AFTER NOW. I would have read PG & IG as one book. I can honestly say the cliffhanger gives me pause recommending them. I look forward to reading more from you, but I really hope you won’t make a habit of the cliffhanger ending.

    • Hi Lee, Sorry about the delayed response, real life interrupted. Thank you for the kind words and I will pass the praise onto my editors, they’ll be pleased to hear it.

      I, too, understand the frustration of a cliffhanger. I read predominantly romance now, but have in the past devoured sci-fi, fantasy and YA. And I’ve sometimes chosen not to read a series until all the books were out so I totally understand why other people would choose to do the same.

      I can understand your hesitation about recommending my books although you enjoyed them, especially to romance readers who loathe cliffhangers. I feel obligated to rec some of my favorite books with caveats (if you don’t mind really dark, various trigger warnings, etc) and I personally don’t consider reviews that have cliffhanger warnings to be spoilery. I do take it as a huge compliment that you found India so compelling. She was a risky heroine to write.

      As for more cliffhanger endings, you’ll be happy to know that the next several things I have on the horizon should all be stand-alones. And it’s possible that if I write another story that spans more than one book that there will be an HFN in between. But I can’t promise that I’ll never write another cliffhanger. It’s a tool, and one that I may use in the future if it makes sense for the story.

      Thank you for reading and for your comment!

  3. As someone who just finished both stories…. I’m extremely happy that I had both loaded and ready to go because you might’ve heard a scream if I’d had to wait. I HATE cliffhangers but I did understand why we ended where we did even as I railed against it.

    My thing is… I can handle cliffhangers if and only if I have a definitive date for when the resolution book or story will release. I hate getting to the end and not knowing when or if it’ll be finished.

    • Hi Stephanie, Sorry for the delayed response, I had an unexpected family obligation come up.

      I got a not insignificant number of messages before IG was out that boiled down to “How could you do this to me? I hate you! … When is the next book out, because I’m dying to read it.” I did try to put out the books as close together as I could given the time required for editing, formatting, sending out ARCs, etc. I don’t know that I would have felt comfortable putting out the first book had I not already written the second, tbh.

      I totally understand about wanting an end date. Mr. Parker and I both read Game of Thrones and are tapping our toes, waiting for news on when the next book will be out. And by tapping our toes, I mean shaking our fists at the sky and screaming “George RR Martin!”, Khan-style ; )

      Thanks for reading!

  4. I hope y’all will forgive a slight digression, Jeffe and Tamsen–I just wanted to say the fact that you both spoke so thoughtfully, reasonably, and ended up engaging in a respectful dialog about this that allowed for multiple viewpoints to be honored as equally valid? That, to me, epitomizes the best part of the romance community (emphasis on *community*). Something we could all use a little more of right now.

    *hugs you both* You are awesome.

    • Thank you, Del! I really never intended for Tamsen to see my thoughts when I originally posted – I tried to represent the book generally – but when she did and contacted me, well… how could we not continue the conversation publicly? I agree that it’s so important for the romance community to be able to have thoughtful and respectful critical dialogue. I’m so glad we could do this! Thank you for saying so. :-)

    • Delphine, I’m glad you addressed the thoughtful and respectful nature of this discussion. I’m impressed with how both authors handled the discussion and proud that we could host it here at the Cafe.

    • Sorry for the late response, it’s been a little rough on the homefront for the past 24 hours.

      But! I did want to say that I didn’t think this was really a digression at all. It’s not always *easy* to have conversations about topics which people have strong feelings about, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth having. And I think a written forum can be really useful for contentious subjects because it does give everyone time to sort through their thoughts and feelings before giving a response. So thank you again to Jeffe for inviting me and to the CRC for providing such a space.

      And as I said, I think part of the strength of romance as a genre is its diversity and I don’t just mean that in writing, but in the opinions and experiences of community members. Yay for thoughtful and respectful dialogue! *hugs Romancelandia*

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