Friday, January 28, 2011

That Debate - My Contribution

Thank you all for your responses to the being unfaithful question both here and over on the M&B site. I really appreciated the fact that you all posted and discussed the topic – and I think that in the end most of the responses were what I expected.

I didn’t give my own opinions because I didn’t want to sway the issue one way or another – but you’ve all been so open, I should do the same.
I have to say that when I read the article my immediate response was two pronged

My first response – as a reader - was just like so many of you - Oh no, no! That’s not what I want in my romances.

And my second response – as a writer was IAITE - It’s all in the execution.

So I’m going to nail my colours to the mast and say I have a real problem with a ‘blanket’ question like Infidelity: the world’s best emotional conflict or the last taboo of romance?

Because the only possible answer is - it all depends on the circumstances for the characters whoever they are, whatever happens to them, how they react and why – and how well the author creates that situation and those responses in the book so as to get those feelings across to the reader.

But - deep down, I’m going to admit that my problem is right there in the title of the discussion article . Because it’s headed Cheating: The Last Taboo and cheating is a nasty, sneaky, immoral, mean word for a nasty mean sneaking lying immoral act. And those are not words I want used to describe my hero or my heroine.

Now we have plenty of romances that work on the theme of belief in infidelity and the characters feel the pain of those suspicions badly enough. In the end it generally turns out that the unfaithfulness didn’t happen – so that the hero and heroine can work through the problems that separated them – and the problems that led one of them to believe that the other was capable of being unfaithful without actually having to endure the heart-breaking agony – and I cannot possibly even consider that cheating would result in anything less – of knowing that the person they loved/who had vowed to be faithful had broken those vows and deceived them and cheated on them. Even if it's not the hero or the heroine they were unfaithful to - it  damages the integrity of  the character, shows that they are prepared to hurt other women/other men - so does this make it OK because the other person was not 'the one' - the soul mate?
I have often said and I’m going to come out and say it loud and clear here - that for me the hero of my books has to have a sense of honour. Lidia reminded me of this only this last week when on another topic she quoted my words at me:

For me, the point about an Alpha male is that he is rich, powerful, etc. because he got there as a result of his intelligence, his integrity, his ability to manage people, his innate sense of morality and his sense of caring about the important things that matter. When that sense of honour comes up against some things he truly believes to be wrong then the strength that made him what he is can also make him a hard and implacable enemy. But the true Alpha is the ultimate nurturer — a man of honour. A man with no honour, no integrity and no intelligence could never be a hero to me.

And it’s that honour that makes me recoil from the idea of cheating. My heroes may be flawed – deeply flawed - some readers find them too strong – too forceful, too ruthless, too determined, too domineering – but this is because they believe they are in the right. I work hard on my books to make sure that, for me at least, my heroes do not step over that line between dicing with danger and the actual fact going too far into the wrong. Of being unforgivable. That’s what makes them heroes for me. Some readers might not be convinced by the arguments I put forward, the situations I put them in the explain/motivate/justify them - but I can’t write them unless I do that to convince me. And I’ll admit I’d have a real real problem to justify someone cheating on their wife/partner/lover

But let’s not just talk about heroes - and here I have to acknowledge a personal point. In The Sicilian’s Red-Hot Revenge the heroine is married. Just barely – technically, pinch it till it squeaks ‘married’. She had actually put divorce proceedings in place to end her desperately unhappy and abusive marriage. The divorce process was almost complete - her freedom was in sight and then a series of terrible strokes damaged her husband’s brain, wiping the memory of their separation, the divorce proceedings from his mind. He never signed the divorce papers was so ill that she went back to help care for him. And on her one desperate day of freedom from nursing – on the day when her divorce should have come through – she met Vito the hero and fell into his arms and into his bed.

Some people couldn’t get past that. One reviewer wrote that Emily broke her marriage vows and said there was never any justification for doing so. But in Emily’s mind – and in mine – the marriage was over and had been for ages. The formalities had been delayed, prevented from completion by the man’s illness.

So – as a writer I have to answer it all depends on why. On how the author creates the story. It’s all in the execution.

And I’m well aware of the fact that this is not a hero or a heroine just straight cheating on someone – or cheating on each other. That last one worries me. A romance is a story that asserts the value and the power of love. It’s about learning about people and coming to love them as they are – and I have friends, family, who have endured that sort of desperate damage and survived it and gone on to build a long – apparently successful marriage. But as someone in the discussion on the M&B site quoted the Emma Thompson character in Love Actually - the question is always there: "Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse?" And whenever I seen that scene my heart always bleeds for Karen(Emma’s character) knowing she gets her husband back but she doesn’t ‘t get the man she believed in, the man she thought he was. The trust between them is damaged, the wedding vows are broken. And I do feel that in this age of wedding vows where ‘till death do us part’ can mean 70+ years or, in the case of some celebrities not even a year a romance about - what can I call it – ‘real love’ -– true love – where soul mates come together – needs to offer the hero and heroine – and so the reader – the belief/hope of a once in a lifetime love that does mean Happy Ever After.

The fall out from infidelity is so savage, so destructive that it will take an exceptional author to deal with it in a short, 50,000 or thereabouts word romance. And as I mentioned when talking about Kept for Her Baby, if I create a deeply emotionally painful plot I won’t do it unless I feel I can tackle it properly and give it the gravity and attention it deserves. It’s not something that can be sorted out and healed in a ‘but I love you’ ending.

Just to mention a couple of books that have been discussed on the M&B site where the characters involved are not single/free - Bridges of Madison County. For me this was never a ‘HEA relationship.’ It as a moment out of time, a bubble of heated passion that needed to be tested against reality to see if it was for the rest of their lives.

And Jane Eyre? Mr Rochester . . . . I first read this when I was about 13 and adored Mr Rochester, cheered for him wanted him to be able to be happy with Jane . . . Then I grew up. And I looked at the way that man treated Jane – the woman he claimed to love – he lies to her, deceives her, manipulates her almost into a bigamous marriage. A marriage that in those days would have ruined her in a way she and her reputation would never recover from. And in 1847, with the double standard there was, Jane would have been held to be the worse sinner – because she was a woman and women were meant to be pure. That's the man Charlotte Bronte created, the man that Jane stands up to and declares that  she won't be treated this way.

Yes, Edward Rochester has been badly deceived himself. He’s been treated badly, lied to, trapped in a terrible situation - but there’s that saying - Two wrongs don’t make a right. And the way he was deceiving Jane is just playing on her innocence, lying to her in a way that is every bit as bad – worse - than the way he was treated. This is one of the reasons why the wife (Or it could be a husband) in a coma plot where the other character then falls in love with someone else isn’t one I’m happy with. I understand – but they still lie to the person they say they love and will love for the rest of their lives. 

I’ve gone on long enough - it’s a fascinating topic. I’ve spent a long time thinking about it I’ve enjoyed reading and appreciated all the contributions to the debate that have been posted – but it the end I come back to where I started. It’s a double-edged sword. As a person, as a writer, I might understand exactly why someone could feel trapped and would be unfaithful - but cheating is not behaviour I can square with my belief in a hero as a man of honour. Yes, the results of such behaviour can show the strength and resilience of what I am trying to write about in a romance – the power of love to overcome all odds and still remain strong. But the whole subject goes so deep and slashes so fiercely at the heart of the people involved – even if they are only characters in a book - that it would need one hell of a lot of work to create a romance novel that explored it deeply honestly and strongly enough. It’s not a theme to be easily used – or dealt with except in the most powerful of circumstances and then – as the editors have always said It’s all in the execution.

But for my money that execution had better be honest and strong and exceptionally skillful.


Kristina said...

Hi, Kate! Thanks for sharing your opinion. I haven't joined in the conversation, either, but I feel rather like you: it depends on the circumstances and the characters. It's all in the execution.

I watched a movie as a kid (totally should have been banned from in innocent eyes...ha!) starring Kirstie Alley and Lee Horsley called Infidelity. Loved that movie then and now when it comes on late night TV I still cry when they break up and sigh when things get put back together.

Nicolette said...

Nicely put, Kate.

Michelle Reid said...

Meant to say - Great thought provoking post Kate. Well said.

Julie said...

Hi, Kate!

I didn't comment on the debate, but agree with you wholeheartedly -it's all in the execution. For me, it all depends on the character, the circumstances and the story.

One of my all time favourite single title romances is Going the Distance by Christina Jones. The hero is married when he first meets the heroine, but the way the story is written is so compelling and the characters so three dimensional that I totally believed in their story and cheered the hero and heroine to their happy ending!


Nas Dean said...

Another in full agreement with you!

lidia said...


As usual, you left me with plenty to think about.

I agree that the theme can work depending on the execution. I do think that the word count in a category romance just isn't enough in order to fully write this type of story.

I am curious to know if the folks over at M&B received the type of responses they expected or if they were surprised by the comments that were posted.

sheandeen said...

As one of the vocal members of the debate at M&B site--I love what you have posted. I'm not in favor of seeing an infidelity theme in category romance. This is such an emotionally loaded theme and 50K words are so few to do it justice.

Some M&B authors have the writing chops to pull off the theme, but I still don't see that happening in the limited word count. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

boogenhagen said...

Thanks for your insight Ms. Walker. As a very long time HP reader, I can name a couple of books where the infidelity was the focus of the book and it worked, limited word count or not. I was heartbroken by the betrayal but really believed in the Happy Ever After. Michelle Reid's Ultimate Betrayal, Lynn Graham's Unfaithful Wife and Daphne Clair's Marriage Under Fire. A non HP is Laurie Bright's Perfect Marriage but really good resolution of the issue.

In each book the infidelity was actually not the real issue, it was a symptom of deeper problems in the relationship. A lack of communication, a loss of interest in each other with too much routine or, as in the LG book, they never really had a relationship to begin with. When the deeper issue is resolved the infidelity is able to be overcome because the relationship is so much better and stronger than before and both partners feel loved and secure.

These books are actually some of the most romantic I've read, because you see the work it took to get to the HEA and it is so satisfying to see two people who really struggle to keep the love succeed against dreadful odds.

ros said...

Boogenhagen, it's funny you should mention Lynne Graham's The Unfaithful Wife because I just read that book last night. It actually falls under the category of infidelity-that-didn't-actually-happen. Although, I guess that depends what you think of as infidelity. At the beginning of the book, the heroine is telling another man that she loves him and is going to divorce her husband to be with him. She never has sex with the other guy and her marriage is one of those 'technical but not real' marriages that's never been consummated. So it's complicated. I thought that Graham did a good job of showing why her heroine had been pushed to behave in the way she did and I didn't feel there was an issue of infidelity that would spoil the HEA. I did feel that the hero was a total bully to the point of abuse, however, but that's a different issue,

ros said...

Oh, I'm an idiot. Of course the hero in The Unfaithful Wife is unfaithful. Which begs the question of why the book was given that particular title...

Kaelee said...

I read The Sicilian’s Red-Hot Revenge and didn't connect cheating with the heroine. I guess you were adept enough with the storyline for me. I did remember it when you asked about cheating circumstances though ~ forgot it was your book. I read so much that I don't always remember everything.

I guess the answer is no cheating unless you are a brilliant author and can write your way around and through the cheating.

I personally know someone who cheated on his wife, She did take him back but I have a lot less respect for him than I did before. He often has to work long hours in his demanding job and I think that must put an extra strain on her as she must wonder if it is just work.


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