Day 16 Patricia McLinn – So What’s So Wrong With Happiness

To Happy Beginnings

Patricia McLinn was one of my first writer friends and a lovely mentor. She was also the first romance writer I ever heard defend romance in a way that truly resonated with me. Until then, I kinda wanted to write a romance novel. I definitely loved reading romance novels. But, you know, I didn’t really want anyone I knew to know either of those things. (I was a Georgetown grad. An intellectual. I read literary books. Etc.) So then Patricia McLinn got up at a workshop and defended the genre. She was a Washington Post editor at the time, so in my intellectual mind, she had automatic credibility. If you’ve been following R-A-R M, you’ve seen a few similar messages to what she shared that day: “I received a letter from a woman who told me that she reads romances every single day, and she honestly believes they have saved her life. She works too hard, is unhappy in her marriage but can’t get out, and romance novels give her the kind of joy that keeps her going.” That was the day a little lightbulb went off in my head, so in a way you can thank Pat for R-A-R M. ;o) These books are entertainment. But for more people than we know, they are lifelines. That’s what Pat McLinn taught me a few years ago. And it’s a lesson I have never forgotten. That’s why I advocate for romance novels.  — Bobbi Dumas

Almost a BrideRomance readers and writers are accustomed to the cliché of critics deriding romance novels for having Happily Ever After endings. That strikes me as strange on many levels.

For starters, I’ve never understood the belief that unhappiness is real and happiness isn’t.

A high school English teacher assigned us to each write a poem about the life story of someone we knew — our class’s version of the Spoon River Anthology. I wrote the story of someone who’d had a good life. The teacher was outraged because “It wasn’t realistic” and threatened a poor grade. I said it was based on my mother’s life, and was factual. Teacher-parent-principal conference ensued. Mom confirmed my statement. Teacher still maintained it was not realistic. Mom getting irate. Mom triumphed … I wanted to write another verse about that. Mom vetoed that literary endeavor.

But even putting aside the question of whether happy endings are realistic, romance novels aren’t about endings at all – they’re about beginnings.

A Stranger in the FamilyWhen I start reading or writing a romance, I’m encountering characters who are not able to have a committed relationship. Not with each other (or it would be a very short story) and not with anyone else (or, presumably, they would be in that committed relationship with someone else, and this story wouldn’t exist at all.) The reasons they’re not able to have a committed relationship are as varied and individual as the characters. So, that’s when things get interesting.

Just as in life, change has to come from within. It’s the characters’ actions and reactions over the course of the story that change them into people who, by the end, are capable of loving someone in a way that could make a committed relationship work.

In the second-to-last scene of my RITA finalist book Hoops, English professor Carolyn Trent believes that the man she’s come to love, basketball coach C.J. Draper, is following his ambitions on a career path that will separate them. Not such a happily ever after ending, eh? So, has she collapsed into a puddle of despair? Nope. Instead, she’s recognizing that in the journey she’s taken over the course of the book she has changed herself into a different person:

She’d built walls around herself made up of all the things a professor should be so that she’d be loved and accepted—but the love and acceptance had been there all the time.
It had taken a basketball team to knock enough holes in the walls to let some air in. And it had taken one special basketball coach to knock the walls down.

If only she’d been able to help C.J. find the same freedom.

At this moment she thinks she and C.J. are done. Yet she also recognizes that she’s learned life lessons that will help her live a better life.

Even if something unthinkably horrible happened (planes, trains, automobiles, disease, hurricanes, tornados, floods, fires, mountain-climbing falls, or any of the other ways I’ve disposed of and/or threatened characters, minor and major) and Carolyn and C.J. – or the hero and heroine of the book you just finished reading – did not get their chance to be together, I know that the survivor would be better equipped to find love as they moved forward.

By the end of a romance, the struggles, the joys, the self-discoveries in the story bring the characters to the beginning of a better life than they had before. It’s brought them not to an end, but to their beginning…

Their Happy Beginning.


Questions for Patricia:

What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?

Me, of course

If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)

No Straight Lines, starring Rosalind Russell in her prime.

What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?

This is hard. There are so many. Because I’m looking at it right now, I’ll select a solid cherry bookcase that my dad made for me to my specifications and with my mom’s design consultation. It’s beautiful, my dad made it for me, and it holds books. That’s hard to beat.

If you had to pick one romantic scene or couple to recommend to a first-time reader of YOUR books, which would it be? (Any picks for romance novels in general?)

Either a scene early in Almost a Bride of Matty and Dave’s rapid-fire negotiations of terms for their marriage of convenience. Or a scene in Match Made in Wyoming when tough-guy hero Cal Ruskoff squares off with a rescue puppy called Sin. Guess who wins. 😉


Patricia is generously donating three copies of her e-book of A Stranger in the Family or Lost and Found Groom to a U.S. reader and one  e-book of A Stranger in the Family or Lost and Found Groom to an International reader (International readers enter here). U.S. readers, to enter, either leave a comment here or enter the weekly drawing on the contest page. Or both.  (Only one entry per commenter per post, though – multiple comments on one essay does not give you more chances.)  Comment entries must be posted by 11:59pm EST Aug 16 to be eligible, though winners will be announced the following week.


Patricia McLinnUSA Today bestselling author Patricia McLinn’s 30-plus novels are cited by reviewers for warmth, wit, and vivid characterization. They have won numerous regional and national awards. In addition to her romance and women’s fiction books, Patricia is the author of the “Caught Dead in Wyoming” mystery series, which adds touches of humor and romance to figuring out whodunit.

Patricia received BA and MSJ degrees from Northwestern University. Her journalism career included being a sports writer, assistant sports editor, and — for 20-plus years — an editor at the Washington Post. She has spoken about writing from Honolulu to Washington, D.C., including being a guest-speaker at the Smithsonian Institute.

She loves to hear from readers through her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Patricia is now living in Northern Kentucky, and writing full-time … except for when she’s playing on social media and laughing at the antics of her rescue collie, Kalli..

Buy Patricia’s Books on Amazon

  • Sue G.

    I like that your mom confronted your high school teacher. I have a hard time not sticking up for your rights when you know you are correct. I guess you’d say sometimes I could be politically incorrect. I like to speak my mind. 🙂

  • Kim Cornwell

    Love meeting new authors! Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  • rebecca moe

    Shame on that teacher! I wish *more* of my students would write happy endings! My eighth graders especially want to put as much pathos into their stories as possible–it’s draining.

    Excellent post…thanks!

  • Melanie Backus

    Love the post! Since I am a big basketball fan, I am going to definitely have to read about Carolyn and C.J. Thanks!

  • Jen C

    What a fantastic post! I love the “ending”. What a fresh perspective! 🙂

  • brhill2010

    The excerpt from the book was really good. The book hoops sounds interesting. Going to put it on my TBR list!! Thanks for standing up and being a romance writer!!!

  • Nicole Fortuna

    Great post! I don’t know why so many people believe that life is only unhappy. How is it unrealistic to be happy? The best thing about romance is that the ending is only the beginning and that the end of the book is always on a high note.

  • Tonda Galloway Hargett

    No one is allowed happy ever after / Now that’s unrealistic! And by the way, I’m from Northern Kentucky, too, Bracken Co. transplanted to Mason Co.! 🙂

  • Polly

    Adding this author to my TBR list. I tend to get stuck and not branch out. This month of commentaries is a great way to stretch a little.

  • Britney Adams

    Great post! Romance is certainly for happily ever after and happy beginning!

  • Melissa Cowling Terry

    I like happy endings. This was a great post.

  • Sandi in OH

    Obviously, the teacher didn’t have much happiness in her life if she thought yours was unrealistic. Every life has ups and downs. A person makes a choice of accepting either one as the way life is. I chose happiness and happy endings.

  • MaryC

    The teacher needs to focus more on the positive and less on the negative.

  • jcp

    Great blog!

  • Laurie W G

    Your mother is a fantastic role model! Yay to happy ever afters!

  • suepeace

    Great post!!! And I agree, what in the world is wrong with people being happy or having a happy ending (or beginning?)!! 🙂 Thanks!

  • Kareni

    I like the idea of a happy beginning! Thank you.

  • Meredith Richardson

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂 I can’t wait to check out your books!

  • Stephanie M.

    Thank you for your essay. I’m all about beginnings, too. Happy endings take time, but are usually worth the wait.

  • Beautiful words about beginning! Romances give us the strenght for re-beginning every day. Thank you so much!

  • Ketta Peters

    Your “Almost A Bride” is wonderful. Thanks for thought-provoking post.

  • M Kuxhaus

    I love that story about your mom; it’s awesome. And I love “the end” being just the beginning.

  • mariannewestrich

    I’ve just added you to my to-be-read list. Thanks so much for your constant defense of the romance genre. I’m one of those who works too hard and looks forward to the escape within the pages of a romance!

  • Flora Segura-Buchler

    Lovely blogpost today. Thanks to you both, Bobbi and Patricia.

  • Becky Rabalais

    Awesome post! Your words ring with truth.

  • MooMoo Cake

    Thanks for sharing and participating in this awesome event. So glad to hear that your mom triumphed. Your perception of endings as beginnings really resonates.

  • TrishJ

    You mom is the bomb!! This was a great post. We all strive for happy and I truly believe we get a chance to start over every day.

  • Ann Mettert

    Very good post.

  • Patty Vasquez

    I think the fact that romance novels aren’t about endings, they’re about beginnings, is why I like epilogues. We get just a peek into the life that the couple have together.

  • Larena Hubble

    I love the HEA’s but I also love reading the journey the characters take to get there. I think that is what makes books so enjoyable to read.

  • Marcy Shuler

    If the struggles don’t end in a HEA…I can’t enjoy the books. Romance books make me happy.

  • BookLady

    I love romance because it allows me to escape into a fantasy world of happy ever after. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ann

    The best part of the escape-ism is the happily ever after!

  • Marcia Berbeza

    I HATE depressing books. I’m a school librarian and I just don’t understand why award winning books are always “downers”. Now I do have a population of students who love them, so they are in my library, but I don’t have to like them or read them. There are some books that I love that handle difficult situations, but that’s because there is a sense of joy and love in other parts of them. But I just don’t get most best sellers. When I read one that leaves people in tears, I have to wonder WHY anyone would waste their time with them. OK, enough of my phobias! I love romance!!

  • I really love the quote shared above.

  • Pamby50

    I just finished reading A New World as part of a boxed set. I have put you on my list of authors to read. I enjoyed the story of Eleanore & Cahill.

  • QuenKne M

    My brother had a similar situation in high school – a teacher was upset that he didn’t write a sappy, over-emotional, dreadful journal entry …..Mom of course straightened her out. Thank God for Moms, they are our angels.
    I can’t wait to check out your books. 🙂

  • Glenda

    Happily Ever After can happen. With the right person as your partner even the bad events are easier to deal with. I’m one of those lucky people who has found her perfect man. Thanks for writing stories where other people find their happy begining. 🙂

  • Mary McCoy

    I love the idea of a Happy Beginning!

  • leah g

    I was one of those people that made fun of romance, mostly because the idea of commitment and HEA has a lot of emotional issues with me. I love that as I have started reading and enjoying romance novels (many of yours included) I realize that I am not the only person insecure about commitment, and that those people can still find a HEA.

  • Kim

    I love how you think of romances as a Happy Beginning!

  • Wendy Lindstrom

    Great blog, Pat! As in life, romance novels are a journey to self awareness and growth. Love your books, the intelligent characters and witty dialogue!

  • Patricia McLinn

    Thank you all for the AMAZING response! My mom is, absolutely, the bomb 🙂
    It’s great to hear from Leah, Pamby50, and Ketta! And I appreciate those
    saying they’ll try out my books now — hope you enjoy them. Hope they
    bring you some happiness. Hope you have a great time reaching the Happy
    Beginning! 😉

  • Patricia McLinn

    And a huge thank you to Bobbi for that lovely, lovely intro, and for the idea and all the hard work to create Read-A-Romance-Month! Wow!

  • Peni Anne

    Have you found with the advent of ebooks and they’re growing popularity that your sales have increased and/or your reader base has changed at all? I know I’m exploring more authors than ever before due to the free and/or less expensive books available any time any where.

  • Patricia McLinn

    Hi Peni, Great points! You are absolutely right — and it has amazed and delighted me how many reviewers on the sites have said and how many emails to me have said that they’ve just discovered my books for the first time. One of the reasons I really like to have a book available for free is that it feels comfortable to me to say, Here, try this for free, see if we’re a good reader-writer match. If not, no hard feelings . If we are, great! And I hope you’ll explore my other books.