Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Sandra Gulland - Why I Love Unhappy Endings
Why I love unhappy endings
by Sandra Gulland (www.sandragulland.com)
I like a good cry — when it's for a good reason, and forming an attachment to a fictional character that's so strong that it reduces me to sobbing tears is indeed a good reason to weep. It's also quite rare; weeping indicates that I've made an emotional bond with a character that I will never, ever forget.
My favorite historical novel is A Walk with Love and Death by Hans Koning. It's a slim novel that shimmers with elegant beauty, an enchanting love story that ends with the ultimate sacrifice: as the enemy approaches, the hero kills his beloved and then himself — to spare her.
I like literary historical fiction, and literary fiction, as a general rule, tends to end unhappily. Why is that? I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with what one looks for in a novel: comfort . . . or reality. One is not superior to the other, just different.
I'm not adverse to a happy ending. I find Austen's worlds, where everything works out as it should, deeply satisfying. But when it comes to my own work, I seem to like to make my readers weep. Cruel, I know — but at least I'm weeping with them as I write.
Writing the ending of my Josephine B. Trilogy reduced me to a puddle of tears: I could hardly see the computer screen as I wrote. My editor's husband was alarmed to find her sobbing at the kitchen table after reading the draft of The Last Great Dance on Earth. "Josephine!" was all she could say, in anguish. Later, at a meeting with my editor and agent, we joked about packaging this last novel with a package of tissue. At readings, I sometimes warn people not to finish that novel in public, and invariably stories emerge: of a young woman who wept so hard on an airplane flight the man sitting next to her asked if she was okay; of woman who alarmed her young children with the violence of her grief.
I'm trying to get over it, frankly, this apparent attraction to misery. My last novel, Mistress of the Sun, does not, in romantic terms, end happily — but the ending is a lot happier than what I had first intended, a brutal, gut-wrenching scene in which the heroine shoots her beloved horse Diablo. (To spare him, interestingly enough: is this not a theme?) An editor I work with argued against this: "I'm only trying to save Diablo's life!" he exclaimed at one point, with considerable emotion. I had written two endings, and ultimately, I had to choose. Days before I sent the final draft to my publisher I opted in favor of life . . . and I'm really glad I did. The ending is sad, still — quite, for me! — but at the same time, there is something glorious about it now, I think. (I won't say more: no spoilers allowed!) But, of course: sad-sweet tears, as well.
Right now I'm working on my next novel. The forty-page "rough" plot has gone through eleven drafts. It was only with this last round that I realized how dismally the story ended. The poor heroine never got what she wanted! And so, I've worked in a little softener, a sweet-hearted man to temper a harsh reality. There will be smiles in that last scene, I think ... as well as tears. At least I hope so.
Other stops on Sandra Gulland's April blog tour are:
April 7 -- Historical Tapestry: http://historicaltapestry.blogspot.com/ Guest blog: "Why I love unhappy endings."
April 10th -- Reading Group Guides: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/content/index.asp Guest blog: "How a bookclub changed me as a writer."
April 15 -- Reading the Past: http://readingthepast.blogspot.com/ Guest blog: "What to leave in . . . and what to leave out: crafting a story from history."
April 16 -- Marta's Meanderings: http://martasmeanderings.blogspot.com
April 17 -- Travels of the Bookworm: Hosting a giveaway right now! http://travelsofthebookworm.blogspot.com/
April 20 -- Historical Novels: http://historicalnovels.info
April 23 and 24: Peeking Between the Pages:http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com
April 24 -- Epicrat: http://epicrat.blogspot.com
April 29 -- Planet Books: http://planetbooks.wordpress.com/
April 29 -- Booking Mama: http://bookingmama.blogspot.com/
May 1 -- The Tome Traveler: http://thetometraveler.blogspot.com/
May 1 -- Racous Royals: http://blog.racousroyals.com
May 4 -- Shhh! I'm Reading: http://shhhimreading.blogspot.com/
May 5 -- My Friend Amy: http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/
May 7 -- Enchanted by Josephine: http://enchantedbyjosephine.blogspot.com
May 8 -- Skrisha's Books: http://www.skrishnasbooks.com
May 14 -- Linus' Blanket: review and give-away http://linussblanket.com
May 15 -- Kris Waldherr http://kriswaldherr.com/blog
Yet to be scheduled -- Scandalous Woman: http://scandalouswoman.blogspot.com/