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Extraordinary Stories That Touch The Heart And Challenge The Mind


My late friend, Eileen Stanton, wouldn’t read a novel unless she knew it had a happy ending. She was not at all ambiguous about exactly what a happy ending is, either.

“I don’t want any of the main characters to die, and I want everybody to be happy because they’ve solved all their problems in the story,” she said. “And I don’t want the author to leave me guessing about what happens next when the story ends,” she added. “I want to KNOW what happens next and that it’s all good.”

Obviously she’s not alone in her preference. We wouldn’t have so many books and movies with Sleepless in Seattle happily ever after endings or the good guys defeat the bad guys endings if that wasn’t the case. Happy endings sell books.

A psychologist would probably say we have so many ambiguities and unsolved problems in our real lives that when we seek entertainment or escape, we want to see movies or read novels about situations where all the ambiguities and problems are fixed and tied up with a big red bow.

While I’m not fond of existential endings that leave me scratching my head and wondering what all that means that I just read, I don’t insist on a traditional happy ending. What I want to read and write are novels, whether mystery novels, literary fiction, historical fiction, or YA fantasy with SATISFYING endings.

Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove doesn’t end happily. One of the main characters is dead, and the other is an old man who has lost his ranch and the love of his life. But he’s gained something, too, something better, I would say.

Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy doesn’t have a happy ending since “the prince” has died a tragic death, and so many people had been hurt so deeply, but the main character’s redemption made the ending satisfying.

One of my favorite literary novels, is Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. At the end, we still don’t know whether or not Grace is a murderer. We only know she didn’t end up with the man she loved, yet we see in the quilt pattern she is making at the end that she has no regrets about any forbidden fruit she has tasted because it gave her life.

That’s not to say that I don’t also love a happy ending, especially the kind of happy ending Anne Tyler is so good at. And of course I loved Sleepless in Seattle. How could you not love that?

My own novels include historical fiction, contemporary fiction, mystery novels and YA fantasy, and the endings are as varied as the genres. I want to know how you feel about endings. Do you need a happy ending? A satisfying ending? An existential question ending? Leave a comment on this page and no matter what your opinion, you’re automatically entered in a contest to win a free copy of my latest novel, Sins of the Empress. (It has what I call a great ending.) Read More 
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