Day 4 Christine Merrill – Healing, Love And A Future

Happy Endings For The Win

I am not a big fan of unhappy endings.

That was why, when someone insisted that I simply must read Atonement, I gave her an unequivocal “No.”

From there the conversation degenerated into how sorry she was that I was not willing to expand my horizons,Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00003] that I was willing to reject a well written book, and actual literature, in favor of romance novels.

I tried to explain that I was perfectly capable of appreciating it. As a writer and an English major, I respect a well crafted plot, and a well honed sentence. I can talk symbols and themes with the best of ‘em. But after reading the synopsis, I was not going to touch that story with a stick.

The argument continued. I was short-changing myself. I was settling for less. I wasn’t just missing a chance to elevate my mind. I was flatly refusing to do so.

I countered with what I hoped would be a game ender. I struggle with depression. One of the ways to survive it is to not go out of the way to make yourself more depressed. Since my job as a writer requires me to get way too attached to fictional people, I choose my imaginary friends with care. I do not have room in my psyche for miserable people who come to a bad end. In fact, my therapist specifically told me not to see the movie version of Atonement.

I offered to bring a note to that effect.   For medical reasons, please excuse Christine Merrill from unhappy endings.

My opponent was not impressed. She pitied me. If only I tried the book, I would see how wrong I was. Since I flatly refused to do so, I could almost hear myself being filed in the ‘willfully ignorant’ category of her world view.

Lots of people agree with her. Every couple of months, someone writes an essay on Huffpo or Salon about why we should not read (romance, YA, JK Rowling, or the genre fiction of your choice), but should devote ourselves to ‘important books.’ More often than not, these are the books that sneer at happy endings as unrealistic and beneath the dignity of literature. There is even a commercial getting a lot of air lately, reminding me that ‘sad stories are the only ones worth telling.’

Gee, thanks for invalidating my entire career, random commercial. Somebody get me a Prozac.

I’ll admit, there tends to be a grand scope in tragedy that makes it seem really important. But one has only to watch the evening news to be inundated with the misery of life and death situations that don’t end well. Those real life events are a hundred times more dramatic than anything in fiction. There are sad stories aplenty, all around me.truth about lady felkirk

But they are by no means the most important stories.

Romances are (generally) about two people and the love they share. There is nothing smaller than that. But if you are one of the people, there is nothing more important. To invalidate stories of love and happiness is to say that the lives of individuals don’t matter.

I’m sorry, I just don’t want to hear that. The more I’ve had to confront real tragedy, the less likely I am to seek it out fictional tragedy in my spare time. What I want, more than anything, is to be told that there is still some hope for tomorrow. I want to be able to invest in a small but important story about people finding each other, clinging to each other, and carving out their own place in the world. Hope, above all, is the central theme of romances. No matter what has come before or how it has damaged the characters, no matter how high the odds, at the end of the book there will be healing, love and a future.

When we remember the myth of Pandora’s Box, we tend to focus on the release of evil on an unsuspecting world. But we gloss over the fact that the last thing in the box after all Hell broke loose, was the spirit of Hope. In my opinion, the Greeks saved the most important thing for last.


I adore the His Fair Assassin Trilogy by Robin LaFevers and am eagerly awaiting the next book, Mortal Heart.

Also, anything by Corrina Lawson. She writes superhero romance, and is starting a new steampunk series with The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. (Read Corrina’s RARM post here.)

Questions For The Author:

Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did. 

I was a team manager for Destination Imagination for over 10 years. DI is a problem solving competition for school age kids, and the job of the manager is to let them solve problems on their own without any adult interference or help.

I swear, years later, I still have a dent in my tongue from all the time spent biting it trying to keep quiet.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. (How did you decide to get started? Did you always know or was there a specific moment when you knew?)

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but it took years for me to believe that it was a realistic goal. Everyone wants to write a book. But no one actually does it. I tried a whole bunch of jobs first, trying to be sensible (if working in professional theater costuming can be called sensible). Getting a library degree was definitely a sensible choice.But nothing really worked for me until I decided to follow my dream and write.

 Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?)

The Scarlet Pimpernel. I did not read ‘real’ romance until I was in college, since I didn’t think my family would approve of them. But there was no objection to old fashioned swashbucklers, and the Pimpernel was my favorite. There is a scene where he waits until his wife leaves and then gets down and kisses the ground she walked on, rather than admit his feelings to her face. It took me years to start writing, and even longer to sell a book. But the day I read that was the day I became a romance novelist.

Christine is generously offering 3 copies of “The Truth About Lady Felkirk” to give away to US readers (entry form at the bottom of the page), and one copy for international readers (who can enter here).

bio_photoAward winning author, Christine Merrill, has written over fifteen historical novels and an assortment of stories and novellas for Harlequin Mills and Boon, and has self published two contemporaries.  She is also the only author of Regency set historicals ever to fail a college English class covering Jane Austen.  If pressed, she will insist that the F had more to do with her feelings on Tristram Shandy than Northanger Abbey.  Eventually, she discovered Pride and Prejudice and learned the error of her ways.

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  • Kathy Nye

    Romance is all about hope.
    I am also looking forward to Mortal Heart.

  • Lynne Oberdieck Ernst

    LOL DI what a wonderful program.

  • Kim

    I agree….there is enough misery in this world and I love being able to escape into a romance/mystery/fantasy novel! I am all about the HEA ;))

  • Judy C.

    Christine, I totally agree with everything you wrote! I want to read a book to escape and I want it to have a wonderful and happy ending. The world has enough sadness.

  • Michele H.

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Books that don’t have a happy ending (or at least a glimmer of one on the horizon) leave me unsettled and edgy. Since the point of pleasure reading (for me) is to help me de-stress and escape for a little while, I don’t have the time nor inclination to want to recover from the lack of HEA. Same goes for movies and TV that I invest my time into. The authors you mention (Robin and Corrina), as well as your books, definitely fit into my definition of time well spent, despite the very different settings and worlds you build!

    I have been one of the head coaches of my high school’s robotics team for the last 11 years. I totally relate to the permanent indentations on the tongue as a feature of coaching/managing….

  • Anna

    Destination Imagination sounds amazing! I almost wish I’d discovered that before I jumped into my current field.

    And I absolutely agree about confronting real tragedy. I always say that real life is depressing enough, I want to read something that’s positive and gives me hope! Although, to be fair, I’ve also read some so-called “literature” that fell under that category.

  • Sharlene Wegner

    I have a teen-aged daughter & a lot of what she reads (and movies & TV she watches) is science fiction and/or involves angst or death. I recently took a young adult book out of the library, that was also a romance. She read it and said she could tell it was one of “your books” because it had a happy ending. And I told her that is the only kind of book I read! I have no desire to read a book or watch a movie that has a sad or upsetting ending.

  • angryreader

    I see no problem with reading happy endings. I read what is called “real” fiction too, and each has their place in my heart. Sometimes the only way I can release emotion is with a good romantic cry. Why would anyone want to deny themselves something that helps us express our feelings? I will not let oters choose my books for me based on their own preferences! More power to you Ms. Merrill!

  • Chris Merrill

    I read science fiction, too. And watch movies. My adult sons and I were just discussing a Korean movie called Snowpiercer. It has Chris Evans (Captain America! Yay!). And it is a good movie. But, unless you want to see a movie where the discussion point after is “too many dead babies, or not enough dead babies” YOU DO NOT WANT TO SEE THIS MOVIE.

    According to #2 son, they had to soften the ending for the American audience. According to me, they had to soften the ending because the original one (more dead babies) would have been stupid and illogical. Using human suffering to create a false sense of drama is not actually good plotting.

    For example, sorry, Matrix fans, but the aliens could have been using cows instead of us. They would have been docile, easy to control, etc, and wouldn’t have needed an involved fantasy world.

    Unless it was just an illusion about eating grass. And now, I totally want to see cow Neo

    • CorrinaLawson

      I keep hearing how brilliant Snowpiercer is. Oops. Maybe I want to avoid it.

      • Chris Merrill

        It is worth seeing. I enjoyed it. But very dark. I was out with the boys, and we were discussing it last night, until the whole table got depressed. Then we went back to talking about Guardians of the Galaxy. 🙂

        • CorrinaLawson

          I’ll wait until I’m in the mood. Right now, Orange is the New Black is as dark as I can take. Well, there’s this season of Longmire but that’s my longstanding fascination with fictional cops.

    • lcgiroux

      Chris, now I can’t get the image of a cow Neo out of my head. I’m thinking Snowpiercer is a “wait till it can be downloaded and watched in the safety of your own home” kind of film. I need to go back and re-read the Scarlet Pimpernel now.

  • Nicole Fortuna

    I used to read a lot of literature with all the dark depressing endings. I will never again read them. Once I read a romance I never turned back and if a book does not have a happy ending I don’t have interest in reading it.

  • Laurie Skinner Gray

    I agree with you. I like reading books with happy endings a lot more than sad or depressing ones. Life is too short to be made miserable by a work of fiction.

  • Martha B

    I LOVED reading that you don’t read sad, depressing stories (no matter how well written). That is true for me, too. I tried explaining this to my sister when she recommended I read The Book Thief (she raved about it and so did her daughter). I eventually relented and read it. That was a mistake; in future, I will NOT ignore my instincts about the books I read. Life is sad enough. The Holocaust was tragic and I don’t minimize the importance of knowing about it. However, I want to read things that give me hope, make me smile and books I KNOW will turn out well. Thanks so much for this post!

  • rebecca moe

    OH MY GOSH, THANK YOU. I *hated* Atonement. The book club I’d recently joined picked that as the first book to read while I was a part of it, and I couldn’t stand it–or the movie (I saw it with the friend I’d joined the book club with, in the hopes that the movie would be nothing like the book–you know, the way it usually is. Sadly, it was not different enough.)

    Needless to say, I didn’t last in that book club. My reading diet requires HEAs. Real life is depressing enough! (And yay! A fellow Scarlet Pimpernel fan. I adore that scene! It gets me every time.)

    Would your doctor write me one of those notes? 😉

    • Chris Merrill

      I think I should have an excuse pad made up for this. We could have a ‘no sad endings’ and a please excuse ______ for being late. She was reading.

      • rebecca moe

        That would be awesome! 🙂

      • Judy C.

        I want a note also

  • Deb Hinshaw

    HEA are a must for me. I want to read about a hero and heroine who have a happy ending, even if they have trials to go through to get there. Thank you for your post today, Christine.

  • mariannewestrich

    Must have HEA! We need t-shirts that announce that to the world!

  • Mary Dieterich

    Life’s too short to read sad books! There’s plenty of that in real life. Thanks for writing those HEA books we all need. I love The Scarlet Pimpernel too.

  • Tonda Galloway Hargett

    Romance novels have a way of helping us to heal. I will never apologize for that. And like you, I steer clear of unhappy endings. I just don’t need them.

  • Debbie Oxier

    Thank you. Would love win a copy of your book.

  • Sue G.

    I agree! I have to have my happy ending or else I don’t want to read the book! Nothing gets me angrier than reading a book and one of the main characters dies! Nope, sorry, not for me.

  • CorrinaLawson

    It’s not just adults who get told that happy endings aren’t serious enough. When my youngest son was in elementary school, he rebelled against the reading list. “Ma, I’m not reading one more book where the pet dies!” (I then decided maybe it was good he was unaware of the existence of Old Yeller.)
    And don’t get me started on Bridge to Terabithia.

  • ki pha

    Oh wow! I applaud you for sticking up to what you feel is best for you. I don’t understand why people would push others to go a certain way if they were given reasons as to why one chooses to not do something, and in this case not to read a certain book. They should respect that even more if one has dealt with depression and understand that those individuals can’t be struck with even more depressing stuff like non-happy endings in either books or films.

    And from time to time I will pick up a tear jerking un-happy ending book and will enjoy it but I would rather prefer a happy ending any day. But it is true that we see tragedy everyday of our lives from the news and sometimes we just need a break and that’s where Romances come in.

    But one thing that struck me was, do they not want a happily ever aftter for themselves?

  • Andrea Geurin

    I feel the same way. I love the happily ever afters! Sad depressing books are too difficult to read and leave me in a gloomy place. Give me a hero any day!

  • Brenda E

    Loved your message. If I want to see reality, I can get that from the news, the newspapers, or from the latest family crisis du jour. Give me a happy ending every time.

  • Chris Merrill

    To all the Destination Imagination comments:

    It was a long weird road, being involved in that. There was one kid so destructive that he broke things like marbles and magnets. There was a time when I found out what happens when you mix dry ice and boiling water (geyser in the middle of my living room rug) There was the year that someone accidentally/on purpose painted my dog.

    Creative expression is an extremely volatile commodity.

    I envy Michele and her robotics team. I wish we’d had one of those, but it was just starting to pick up and get my kids were finishing up high school

  • Beverly Long

    Chris, you are every bit as entertaining in print as you are in person. I want a note, too.

  • “I choose my imaginary friends with care. I do not have room in my psyche for miserable people who come to a bad end.” FANTASTIC! I agree with all my heart! Thanks so much for your words, Christine.

    • Chris Merrill

      Wow. Thank you so much. Or molte grazie.

  • Courtney Cogswell

    I’ve got to agree with the other comments below… I read for enjoyment and escape so a happy ending is pretty necessary to me. I have plenty of reality in day to day life and romance is a great escape after a long icky day at work. Why people still think that “real” books and literature can’t have happy endings is beyond my comprehension. I am looking forward to checking out your books and happy endings!

  • Joan Varner

    I totally agree with you about requiring an HEA when I read. Reality offers many opportunites to be sad, disillusioned and fearful. I prefer to my reading to bring me love, romance and hope. Thank you.

  • alisha woods

    Never read Scarlet Pimpernal have heard of it but never read it

    • Chris Merrill

      It is kind of stiff and old fashioned. Unrealistic, and antisemitic. There is a lot to ignore. It was written almost a hundred years ago. But it is still my favorite.

      For a quick fix, find the TV movie of it with Anthony Andrew and JAyne Seymour.

  • Patty Vasquez

    I know that I read romance because I need 3 things to go into the classroom and teach for 9 months of every year: hope, faith, and love. Romance novels fill me up and keep me going on the really, really hard days.

  • Eileen Aberman-Wells

    I agree with you. I need the happy ever after because I know in real life, there isn’t always a HEA. Life is too short to not read what you want!!

  • Sheila M

    I’m an optimist and that is why I read romances. I prefer to spend my life enjoying the beauty of life rather than dwelling on the negatives.

  • Michelle Fidler

    I have The Scarlet Pimpernel but haven’t read it. We watched the movie in history class when I was in high school. I probably wouldn’t be interested in reading Atonement, but might watch the movie someday. I’ve heard that Jodi Picoult writes depressing books. I wouldn’t want to read things like that. People have to read the books that they like, not what others tell them to read. In high school I remember my English teacher had a girl who liked to read romances try a regular fiction book. I think it was by Anne Tyler. She said it was okay. I mostly read cozy mysteries. For romance I like historicals. I have some of your books. I think it’s funny that you failed Jane Austen. Sometimes I read modern Austen-inspired books.

    • Chris Merrill

      I love Jane Austen now, and will eat up anything even remotely related to her. But my 18th c English novel class was the most boring thing ever. The Professor had a real thing for the book Clarissa, which is 8 volumes of some poor virgin who gets kidnapped, menaced, raped, and I think, eventually dies out of spite, thus ruining the guy who was obsessed with her by guilting him to death.

      Or something. I didn’t really read it.

      We read Northanger Abbey, too. But the prof didn’t spend much time on that. If there had been more Austen and less angst, I might have passed.

  • Quinn Fforde

    I totally agree. It is ludicrous to claim that there is no art to happy literature. Shakespeare was a funny guy! I also don’t understand the current angst trend in romance. I don’t want to read about characters drug through one agonizing situation after another to maybe get an HEA. My books don’t have to be all hearts and flowers, but manufacturing horrible circumstances isn’t necessary either. I need a break!

  • Janie McGaugh

    I hate unhappy endings, too, whether in books or movies, and I get angry when I’ve wasted my time on a romantic book/movie that ends tragically. BTW, I love Scarlet Pimpernel, too, though the movie (Leslie Howard) was what I fell in love with. I didn’t get my hands on the book until many years later.

  • Glenda

    Add me to the Atonement hate list. It was one of thone did we even read the same book things for me and a friend who counts it among her favorite books ever

  • Marcy Shuler

    I worked for many years on a locked Psych unit, so I know bad things happen. That’s one of the reasons I only read romance. I loved this post, Christine!

  • Stephanie M.

    Thank you for your article. I wish someone would have told me not to see Atonement. I knew I didn’t read the book for a reason. While I will read other genres, I must have that HEA and will follow up a non-romance with a romance every time. Even if it’s not the HEA I wanted for the characters, I’m still happy they are happy (at least most of the time).

  • Jen C

    Oh, I feel this so much! I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in German and spent my 20s and early 30s learning about German culture, literature, and film. And you know what? Twentieth century German culture, literature, and film is D.E.P.R.E.S.S.I.N.G. Then I read my first romance. And I’m hooked. I’m burnt out on tragedy, trauma, and human cruelty. Not to say some romances don’t have tragedy, trauma, or cruelty. But they do have hope and healing. And I need that.

  • M Kuxhaus

    I have depression, too, and I NEED the happy endings. I don’t want to invest days reading a book if the end doesn’t justify the time. 🙂

  • Gretchen Miller

    I like all types of books my self. Depends on what its about,etc

  • Linnea Bassin

    I agree in loving a happy ending. I was a high school English teacher so poorly written books drive me crazy. I need a well written book with a great happy ending. If I want unhappy ending I will watch the news. No Thank you!!!!

  • Meredith Richardson

    Thanks for sharing your story with us 😉 I love stories that allow us to dream… if they have a little *cough* a lot of romance in them so be it lol.

  • Karin Anderson

    I was in Odyssey of the Mind, a similar program to DI throughout grade school. Those were some of my favorite memories from that time of my life!


    Loved the comment “I am not a fan of unhappy endings. ” boy that really spoke to me. You hooked me right away on this post. Have to add this author to my must read.

  • Ann Mettert

    I think a lot of “literature” has unhappy ending just for the sake of having them. If there’s a real a compelling reason for no HEA, I can go with that. But most of them don’t have that at all.

  • Anne

    My family sweetly makes fun of me because I only do books, movies and even songs with HEAs. I’m sorry, I don’t like bad endings and I don’t have to spend my time dealing with them. I am completely in your corner and choose to be ‘willfully ignorant’. Thank you for sharing and joining RARM this year!

  • Erlinda Mejia

    The characters of books / series I re-read every year are like old friends and I particularly love trilogies / series sets because you get the “where are they now” information that enhances the HEA. I actually had a woman customer at Barnes n Noble direct me to the classic literature section saying I shouldn’t waste my time reading trash (sorry, but Nora Roberts is NOT trash) . So I very politely directed her to the section that carried Miss Manners’ books on edicate. I’m not sure who was more outraged, her for my unwillingness to follow her advice or me, because she obviously had never read a romance not written by Jane Austen. Romance is life affirming!!

  • gladysmp

    I like happy endings. There is so many unhappy events mentioned in the news, that is is great to read happy things.

  • Adaffern

    I’m with you on the HEA; when it comes to fiction- I won’t read it or watch it without one.

  • Jane Squires

    Enjoyed interview – have not read any of this author.
    jrs362 at Hotmail dot com

  • Gretchen

    I totally agree with you! I had a roommate in college that detested movies with happy endings. I couldn’t figure out why she liked the depressing ones! I think my life is full enough of disappointments. I like to be reminded that love will win in the end!

  • Meredith Richeson Hillenbrand

    I soooo pity your friend who wanted you to read Atonement! Some people really are “clueless” and there is probably a lot more about life that she doesn’t get. It is really sad. I like a happy or, at least a good, ending too. Tragedies that leave you hanging serve no purpose. Romance gives you hope and something to believe in. Thanks for sharing something so personal and for writing for us fans.

  • Judy Goodnight

    Life is too short to read depressing books – literature or not. P.S. The Scarlet Pimpernel – one of my all-time favorite heroes!