Have you been watching Hallmark movies nonstop as your wrap presents and address holiday cards — since you can’t be reading a romance (we’ve tried)? Us too! Which is why we were delighted to hear from contemporary author Mary Billiter — whose holiday novella “A Man For All Seasons,” is out next week — on her adorable husband’s thoughts on these delightful films. Take it away, Mary!
In romance novels, there must be a “happily ever after” ending. The HEA is big.
I don’t struggle with the HEA. In fact, if anything, I love the HEA so much that I tend to skimp on conflict and confrontation. I realized this recently when I was in the editing process for “A Man for All Seasons.”
“Add a sentence about conflict that makes us want to stick around. Otherwise, I’m all happy for them and everything, but to be blunt from a reader’s point of view, what’s the point of continuing to read? I have what I came for – emotional satisfaction.” So read one of the multitude of comments provided by my book editor, which is when I picked up the phone and called my husband, Ron. Ron works out of town during the week and is home on the weekends.
“It’s your fault,” I said to him.
The thing about Ron’s laugh is that it sounds more like a wheeze. And when he comes up for air, my cheeks always hurt from smiling or laughing along with him. “And how is this my fault?” he asked.
Suddenly I couldn’t find my voice. I didn’t know how to tell my husband that from our first meeting, I knew I had found my happily ever after. It wasn’t his sparkling blue eyes, his sexy bald head, or sideways smile – though they were fine attributes that definitely drew my attention. Nor was it the way he reached for my hand so that I wouldn’t slip on a snow-covered sidewalk. And it wasn’t in his kiss, though that was fine too.
The moment I knew I had found my happily ever after was when we sat on opposite ends of his living room couch. It was Christmas Day and I had driven 350 miles, from one small Wyoming town to another, to meet a newspaper editor I had only known through email exchanges. Still, I extended my legs and rested them on his lap with a familiarity I have never known. It was as if I had found my missing piece. There was no conflict, no confrontation and no need for a resolution. It was simply our HEA and it was perfect.
The following December, Ron proposed marriage to me in that same living room as snow fell outside his apartment window.
“So now all my stories are just happy,” I said to him when I finally found my voice and explained my dilemma. “But the HEA has to happen at the end, not the beginning or maintained throughout the story.”
My husband didn’t have an answer for me, but within the week he did.
“I’ve been watching the Hallmark channel,” he announced one evening on the phone.
I giggled. “Yeah, right.”
“No, I have. I’ve watched a new holiday movie each night and I understand how it works.”
I grabbed a pen and a pad of paper and did what any good reporter would do: I took notes.
“Okay, your editor’s right. There’s got to be some kind of conflict, but it could be as simple as a misunderstanding. You’d be amazed at how many misunderstandings can lead to a two-hour program,” he said.
“Huh.” I scribbled down: misunderstanding. “What else?”
“Well, they’ve both got to be willing to risk something to be together, like their careers. There’s usually a Type A man or woman who gives it all up to go to a California vineyard to start over. Or a New York artist, who gives it all up to live in Wyoming with a widower. There’s always a coddling big sister or mother prodding the romance along,” he said.
I wrote “risk” on my pad and continued to listen.
“Oh, and there’s always a love triangle — in every one. It’s always some Type A attorney or real estate developer in a camel-colored cashmere coat and he’s more interested in money. And she goes for the guy in the flannel shirt and jeans she meets at the airport.” Ron paused and I kept my pen posed on the page, sensing a pearl about to be revealed. “I think every woman wants a guy who’s in a flannel shirt and jeans.”
At that point I stopped writing and started laughing.
“It’s true. Now, the flannel-shirted guy is usually a widower. He can’t cheat on his dead wife, which is when the sister or mom tells the girl to, ‘Just be patient, he loves you.’ You know the payoff is coming if you just wait. And then they fall in love and have their happily ever after.”
This Christmas will be the fourth anniversary of our first date. When I asked Ron what he wanted from Santa he said, “A flannel shirt.”
Why not. We already have our HEA.
A version of this piece appeared in the Casper Star-Tribune on Saturday, December 6, 2014.
We know. So cute, right? We’re off to give our own flannel-clad guy a hug, then we’re going to pick up Mary’s “A Man for All Seasons” — out digitally next week. While you wait, why not visit our Everything Romance page?