I am so thrilled to welcome Marisa de los Santos to Planet Books!! Marisa is the author of Love Walked In and Belong To Me. She has written a wonderful guest post that I really relate to and I hope you will enjoy reading as well. Without any further ado, Marisa de los Santos!
Lately, I’ve been thinking about happy endings.
Not so long ago, I was on a panel at a book festival, and in response to an audience member’s question, one of my fellow panelists said something like, “I don’t write ‘feel good’ books. It’s not my job to make people happy; it’s my job to put my characters in challenging situations and then see how they respond.” This struck me as a completely fair and lucid remark, but what followed was a discussion about serious books versus fluffy books, literature vs. “beach reads,” and while I noticed that most of the audience was silent, those that spoke up seemed to share the assumption that happy books are, by definition, fun but trivial: shallow, intellectually empty, even soulless. “’Feel good’ books don’t make you smarter,” one woman said, “They just make you happy.”
I’ve written two books. Neither Love Walked In nor Belong to Me ends with all of the characters, or really any of them, getting exactly what they want, but both have what I think of as “upswing” endings; in both books, hope gets the last word. Judging from the emails I get from readers, a lot of them (the ones who like my books, anyway) find that, after reading my books, they feel, well, . . . good.
And what I’ve decided is that this is OK with me. I like to be taken seriously; it’s painful to think of people dismissing my books as “fluff” because of their happy endings, but if readers walk away from my books feeling more joyful than when they opened them, so be it. More than “so be it”. Very few writers can be everything to all readers; everyone, if they’re lucky, has a place to fill; if my role is writing books that make people happy, I am humbled and honored.
But the truth is that I don’t really have a choice. I could write at length about happiness, how I don’t think it’s dumb or trivial or less complicated than sadness or anger or unrelenting grimness, how a character’s journey toward her or his happy ending can be just as difficult and interesting as any other kind of journey. I could list works of literature generally acknowledged as “great” that end happily. But this might imply that I write happy books on purpose, and that just isn’t the case.
Like my fellow panelist, I don’t think it’s my job to make people happy. It’s a good thing, too, because if faced with such an enormous responsibility as that, I would probably freeze up and write nothing at all. I think it’s my job to create characters that feel multi-dimensional and alive to me, to set them in motion, and then to try to be true to them, to get their actions and reactions right, to find language that serves them and their stories. I can’t think about anything else, like making readers happy, like being taken seriously by critics, like pleasing my editor, like selling lots of books, like fulfilling a higher moral purpose, because then I might get distracted and fail at my one job: being true to the demands of my story.
If both of my books end on an upswing, and if this third one does, too, as it might (I have no idea what will happen in the end, but if it ends on a hopeful note, I will not be shocked), it’s not because I write with that goal in mind. My guess is that it has to do with the thing that all three books have in common: me.
I write out of who I am, what I know, what I intuit, and what I’ve observed and experienced. While I have an imagination, I am singular and limited, and, while I’ve sorrowed and lost and encountered meanness, while I know that monsters exist, my life so far has led me to two beliefs out of which, inevitably, I live and write: most people are fundamentally decent, and love is what saves us. I hope this doesn’t change, but if it does, I’m sure my books will change, too.
For now, though, I’m happy with happiness.
To learn more about Marisa check out her website HERE.