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Yes, Mr. Angry Young Man. There is a Happily Ever After.

If you’re a romance writer, then you are probably aware of the drama going on regarding the question how much romance is necessary for a story to be classified a romance novel. I think of it as the Great Controversy.

If you’re a reader, hopefully you haven’t noticed.

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SInce I’ve always had more romance than plot in my manuscripts, the Great Controversy is something I hadn’t thought much about. Not because I didn’t care but because I know what happens when you try to quantify the subjective.

Fools run errands and those wild geese you’re chasing bite back.

It’s like trying to eat a spaghetti sandwich. It’s possible, but you’re left with a mess and you’ve lost half of your noodles.

So, this summer, I let the Great Controversy go. I left it to others who are more articulate than I to work out the answers. Then I forgot about it.

Until I went to the airport for my flight to San Antonio for the annual RWA Conference and met the Angry Young Man.

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Tall. Shaved head. Sharp tongue. His dark tattoos threatened to slash me, but it was his words that cut.

Romance novels?  Pathetic. Formulaic. Pornographic.

I stepped away quickly, not wanting to engage in an argument before boarding a plane.

Yet, despite his derision, his eyes held desperate questions.

Will I ever be loved?

Will I ever love another?

Are Happily Ever Afters real?

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My heart hammered and I felt nauseous. I hate conflict. And I had no words at the time, especially since we were on the same flight and might have to sit next to each other. But I was disappointed in myself. How could I aspire to be a romance writer when I couldn’t even defend my profession? I didn’t want to go to RWA anymore. Even if it meant missing the Golden Heart ceremony.

What difference did a Golden Heart final make if I couldn’t take away the pain in that man’s eyes?

Stuck with a non-refundable ticket and in desperate need of chocolate, I snuck away to the far end of the gate area. I searched my carry-on for my emergency dark chocolate with almonds candy bar. Instead, I found my RWA badge carefully tucked around my signed copy of Letters to Kelly by Suzanne Brockmann (which I take to every conference as my good luck charm).

The book dismissed me as a coward. My Golden Heart pins glittered, accusing me.

If my words couldn’t heal the Angry Young Man, then whose would?

Why was I so afraid?

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That’s when the truth slammed her fist into my stomach. The Great Controversy had stolen my confidence. All this worrying about my books not being romantic enough had made me doubt my stories, my writing, my career aspirations. I’d thought that by ignoring the Great Controversy, it wouldn’t touch me.

Like a true introvert, I’d just wanted to be left alone.

Instead, I’d left my heart’s gate unguarded and self-doubt had crept in.

My desire for chocolate died, and I watched people move in and out of gates, down hallways, dragging baggage and pillows and kids. But in many of their eyes I saw an emptiness. A sad kind of desperation.

Were they just weary travelers? Or were they in the same kind of pain as the Angry Young Man? Just less obvious?

I heard loud voices nearby and looked up. The Angry Young Man was arguing with the flight attendant manning the departure door. I couldn’t hear his words, but his dark voice made everyone turn. For a second, we all held a collective breath, all held together in the moment. A minute later, a security officer escorted the Angry Young Man away. When he passed me, I met his gaze.

Will I ever be loved?

Will I ever love another?

Are Happily Ever Afters real?

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I wanted to reach out and tell him that everything would be alright. That I had the answers to the questions in his eyes.

But he disappeared around the corner and everyone retreated back to their private space. Each person separate again, lost in their own thoughts. But something inside me had shifted, and I took out one of my Golden Hearts and pinned it to my sweater.

Although no one else would know what the pin meant, those mirror-image question marks holding the shape of a heart confirmed what I knew to be true.

I took strength from the heart’s beauty and found truth in its form.

Formulaic?  Romance novels bring order and comfort to the chaos and suffering of the human condition.

Pathetic?  Romance novels offer hope to the seeking, soothe the ill, and give solace to the grieving.

And the other word that’s not worth repeating?  Romance novels prove that true love given and true love received can change the world.

I’m still not sure if my stories meet the requirements of the Great Controversy, but I learned something that day in the airport. The power of a romance novel comes not just from its level of romance, but from its graceful ability to answer the questions of the Angry Young Man.

Will I ever be loved?  Yes. With great passion.

Will I ever love another?  Yes. With great truth.

Are Happily Ever Afters real?  Yes. With great beauty.

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Maybe, instead of asking the question of how much romance is in a romance novel, we should be asking if a novel fulfills its promise to the reader. A promise written with great passion, great truth, and great beauty. A promise of a happy ending.

I am proud to be a romance writer. I am proud that my stories offer a mix of adventure, suspense and love. I am proud that my manuscripts–like those written before and those yet to be–end with the same three simple words.

Three simple words which, almost invisible on their own, carry a force unlike any other.

Three simple words which, when strung together, hold the weight of a golden heart, the answers for an Angry Young Man, and the power to heal the world.

So yes, Mr. Angry Young Man. There is a Happily Ever After.

I, and my books, promise.

Now I’d love to know what is your absolute favorite romance of all time?

I will be offering two books for two lucky commenters: The first, in honor of my last K&T interview with Heather Ashby, will be an e-copy of Heather’s newest release Never Forget.

Second, in honor of my K&T interview coming up, I will be offering an e-copy of Night Sky, a new Young Adult novel by Suzanne Brockmann and her daughter Melanie Brockmann.

(You don’t want to miss it!  My fourteen-year old daughter and I will be interviewing Suzanne and her daughter Melanie for our first ever mother/daughter and mother/daughter interview. It’s going to be tons of fun!)

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray

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