Hope’s the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul
And sings the tune—without the words/And never stops at all…
Emily Dickinson’s description of hope ends with… “It has never, in extremity/asked a crumb of me.”
I’m sure Ms. Dickinson was a very nice lady, and her poetry is a thing of beauty and wonder, but I respectfully beg to differ with her conclusions about hope. If I haven’t already put these words in one of my heros’ mouths, in one of my books, my swain is going to refer to hope as “the last monster out of Pandora’s box.”
For me, as a romance author, hope is the thing that weighs a ton by about page 325. The Big Black Moment is upon us, and the characters are having to face exit strategies that have nothing to do with a happily ever after. The only thing harder for them than hoping is despairing, and if I’m doing my job as an author, it’s a mighty miserable, close call. In fact, I will often have them give up, only to find that is no solution either.
This is what I think of as the “money” part of the book. This is why readers get out their wallets, time after time, for well written romance. They want a shot of happy, but more than that, they want a shot of vindicated hope which makes the happy meaningful. And why shouldn’t they?
Hope asks the impossible of us: To sustain a belief that things will work out when there is no evidence in support of the outcome we desire. To proceed with our dreams on faith alone, to persist in the face of odds any rational person would find justification for giving up. Hope asks us not to be rational, reasonable, or prudent, it demands instead that we be brave, determined, resourceful, self-reliant, and in a sense, irrational--crazy. Hope demands that we be vulnerably human—risking soul-shattering disappointment, loss of pride, loss of security, sometimes even loss of identity.
When you let yourself hope, you’ve already crossed over into the realm of the heroic, and for the reader, to have even a fictional taste of this brand of heroism is delicious indeed. Hope is the thing with happily ever after written on it, but until you gather the courage, determination and faith in yourself to make it past your own page 325 (and most of our personal books have at least several of these), it will ask a very great deal of you.
And as authors, we’re on a first name basis with hope. We hoped, sometimes for decades, to be published. We hope readers like our books. We hope they like out next books. We hope the reviews will be positive or at least constructive. We hope the market won’t jog so far sideways so fast that what we write no longer has a readership. We hope and hope and hope, and maybe this is what draws us to writing romance, just as the readers are drawn to reading it.
Because we want a shot of meaningful happiness, too, and we want to be with our readers and our characters, already in the realm of the heroic, just because we hope.