Guest Author Andrew Q. Gordon – To Happy Ever After or Not


To Happy Ever After or not.

Pick up most romance books and you’ll find a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now ending.  I think for many, HEA is part of the definition of the romance genre. But is it the only definition.

I confess I knew so little about writing and publishing before my first book came out – I was truly clueless and I still don’t feel I know all that much. Word count, genres, troupes, marketing, you name it, I didn’t know squat about it. Back then I’d write the story and not worry about where it fit, would it fit a category. The main character dies for love – hey that’s a great story, right?  Not so much with many readers.

For good or ill, romance sells and romance requires a HEA or HFN ending.  If not, for many readers, it’s not romance.  Dreamspinner Press, a M/M romance publisher, has a ‘Bittersweet Dreams’ line for those stories without the HEA or HFN ending. But put your book there and it is a) not a straight up romance and b) not going to appeal to the same breathe of readers.

When Antya Sunday and I wrote (Un)Masked, we discussed whether one of the MCs  would die.[1]  The story could have gone either way, but for me–more so than Anyta–I didn’t want to kill off one of our characters. I was too invested in them.

And I think therein lays the answer to the question. If the author does their job right, the reader should feel invested in the characters and killing one off or not letting them find the HEA is something of a let down. That’s not to say that a bittersweet ending isn’t as good, but it certainly needs a different mindset from the reader. Which of course is why there is a ‘Bittersweet Dreams’ catefory.

This raises a different sort of dilemma: if you classify a story as romance or Bittersweet Dream, aren’t you giving away the ending? Put it in the romance bin and everyone has the right to expect there will be a HEA or HFN ending. Doesn’t knowing that the MCs are going to get that HEA spoil the tension and suspense?

In Purpose, I originally planned to not answer the question. The idea was to leave clues as to what I saw happening and then let the readers figure it out for themselves. There were enough clues to figure it out, but I also left enough doubt that you never knew for sure. I was advised to make the ending clear. So I did, but you’ll have to read the last paragraph to find out.



Purpose CoverForty years ago the Spirit of Vengeance—a Purpose—took William Morgan as its host, demanding he avenge the innocent by killing the guilty. Since then, Will has retreated behind Gar, a façade he uses to avoid dealing with what he’s become. Cold, impassive, and devoid of emotion, Gar goes about his life alone—until his tidy, orderly world is upended when he meets Ryan, a broken young man cast out by his family. Spurred to action for reasons he can’t understand, Gar saves Ryan from death and finds himself confronted by his humanity.

Spending time with Ryan helps Will claw out from under Gar’s shadow. He recognizes Ryan is the key to his reclaiming his humanity and facing his past. As Will struggles to control the Purpose, Ryan challenges him to rethink everything he knew about himself and the spirit that possesses him. In the process, he pushes Will to do something he hasn’t done in decades: care.

Pre-order link: Purpose from Dreamspinner Press



“Will?” There was tension in Ryan’s voice.


“I’d like us to go out with Jake if you still want.” His tone and body language didn’t match the words.

What brought this change about? “We don’t have to. I wasn’t trying to force anything.”

“I know you weren’t, but I’d like to go anyway.”

Will paused the movie. “What changed for you?”

“It’s like you said, you wouldn’t lie to me. Of all the people I’ve ever met, I know beyond any doubt, you’re the first one who won’t pretend. I trust you.”

Will felt a tingle in his nose, a precursor to a tear. The little time they’d been together meant so much to Ryan. How could affection be so missing in his life? “Thank you. I trust you too.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Ryan snorted. “I mean, what fool who looked like me would leave someone like you?”

“Whoa. Stop.” He pulled Ryan’s face up. “What fool would ever leave someone as beautiful as you? No….” He put two fingers over Ryan’s lips. “Hear me out. The moment I saw you on the Metro, I was drawn to you. You deserve so much better than me, but I’m going to try to make you happy anyway, for as long as you let me.”

Squeezing his eyes tight, Ryan turned back toward the television. “Really?”

“Absolutely.” He gently stroked Ryan’s head. “So no more talk about you being anything other than beautiful and hot. Deal?”

Twisting, Ryan all but jumped on top of him. Pressing his lips hard against Will’s, Ryan kissed him with a passion Will hadn’t felt in a long time. It was over quickly, and Ryan settled back onto Will’s chest. “Deal.”

Clicking the movie back on, Will asked, “So why the change of heart on seeing Jake?”

“I… I don’t have any friends. Us having some would be nice.”

The impact of the statement took Will’s voice. Amidst the sadness in the words was the hope Ryan felt for his future. He not only wanted friends, he expected they would have them together. He swallowed hard, wondering what possessed him to give up his emotionally detached life for this swirling mass of conflicting emotions. Then Ryan gave him a gentle kiss on the chest, and Will’s arms squeezed reflexively.

Detached was easier, but it was empty. For the first time since David, he felt alive again. A little pain was worth it, if this was how it felt when it was good. 



Enter for a chance to win a $25.00 Dreamspinner Press credit. To be entered, you can leave a comment here, on any of the other post release blog stops or on the Purpose page on my site. For those who don’t know what to write – you can answer this question. Which do you enjoy more, HEA/HFN or Bittersweet stories?

Please leave an email so you can be notified if you win. All comments from all guest blog posts between the June 21, 2013 release date and July 1, 2013[2] will also be entered to win. The winner will be chosen using on July 2. One entry per blog, but you can enter on each participating blog for more chances to win. For a complete list of eligible blogs, please see the Purpose book page on my blog:

Purpose: By Andrew Q. Gordon


About the Author:

Andrew Q. Gordon wrote his first story back when yellow legal pads, ball point pens were common and a Smith Corona correctable typewriter was considered high tech. Adapting with technology, he now takes his MacBook somewhere quiet when he wants to write.

He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his partner of eighteen years, their young daughter and dog.  In addition to dodging some very self-important D.C. ‘insiders’, Andrew uses his commute to catch up on his reading. When not working or writing, he enjoys soccer, high fantasy, baseball and seeing how much coffee he can drink in a day and not get the shakes.

Follow Andrew on his website:,

On Facebook:,

On Twitter:  @andrewqgordon,

Or just email him:


[1] I’m not creating a spoiler by stating no, because the book was not listed by Dreamspinners as a Bittersweet Dream.

[2] All dates and times are East Coast, U.S.A. (EST).

*** This contest is now closed ***

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  1. Thank you so much for stopping by on your blog tour, Andrew! Great post! I think that’s a question asked often in the romance community, whether there should be a HEA or HFN, I admit I don’t read many Bittersweet tales–I’m just kind of sappy that way, but I’m not apposed to them in romance.

    I think if it’s executed properly, the audience will still enjoy it. Personally, I’m glad DSP have their Bittersweet stories labeled as such, because like with any story, people should know what they’re getting, just like the Timeless Dreams stories.
    I’m curious to hear what folks think.

    This sounds like a great read! Looking forward to it!

    • Charlie – I said it on the DsP board, but this was truly a great experience. You made it easy and professional and it looks wonderful. Thanks for having me on my release day.


  2. I always think of the characters I read of, that I love and connect to, as mine 😀 ( they were written just for me)
    I kind of like HFN with a hint of happiness because I think life is all up and down. I like to think of characters as living on after the story has ended.

    I hate bittersweet. I want my characters angst free.

    • I hear you with the – I don’t like Bittersweet, but I go back and forth. One the one hand, I love a happy ending, but I also like stories where the MC are willing to sacrifice everything for love and their loved one. SO I go back and forth. Thanks for coming by Inosha :)


  3. I love these types of books. This one looks wonderful. I like a book (or series) because I like the characters. Something else that also very much appeals to me is the sort of ending that lets each reader have their own dreams about the characters fulfilled. I prefer to think if they don’t have a HEA, at least in the course of after their HFN it’ll be possible.


    • Thanks Elizabeth – I wanted to do that with Purpose – leave it ambiguous, but I was advised to give the story an ending. So I did. We’ll see if folks like it. :)

      Thanks for coming by Elizabeth and I’ll see you in a couple weeks. :-)


  4. I usually need a good HFN/HEA, especially if the events leading up to the ending have been extremely angst-ridden or upsetting! Of course, sometimes a non-traditional ending can work: even though Edmond Manning’s KING PERRY is considered a DSP Bittersweet Dream, the conclusion seemed fitting and didn’t upset me. Other times, my idea of what an HEA would be gets tested: for much of Erica Pike’s A LIFE WITHOUT YOU, I was convinced that the *real* HEA would involve Adam jilting Jesse for someone else, since Jesse was behaving so abominably towards him!


    • Trix,

      Thanks for the comments – I think you raise a great point – sometimes a HEA doesn’t involve the MC getting the guy – might be getting away from the bad guy and living HEA. Hmm, might need to think about that for a future book. :-)

      Thanks again – AQG

  5. I can accept a HFN, especially if the ending hints that things could work out. This is especially so if the stories are gritty and harsh. That said, I’m a total sucker for HEAs. I love them. I go all soft and mushy and exhale a sigh of complete happiness when a couple I love end up together, and happy, and rainbows and unicorns sparkle around them. I don’t write those kinds of stories for some reason, but I do love them. And sad endings? I mean the ones where someone dies… if I know that’s what’s going to happen, I don’t read them. And if one blindsides me, I delete the book. Or burn it. I burned my first copy of Game of Thrones because the guy I thought was going to be the hero, and with whom I was falling in love, was given a cruel and horrible death… and yes, I know the world is full of good men who die cruel and horrible deaths, but I don’t want my love to be squandered like that, not when I’m paying for the privilege, and I tried to track down G.R.R. Martin to rewrite the book for me, but I couldn’t get hold of him, so I burned the book. Took me several years to get over it. I finally did buy it again and skipped that part and enjoyed it much better, though I never did finish the series because he kept killing people. I don’t care if people die on TV (i don’t get as close to them for some reason), so I’m watching the series to see who else he kills off. And I guess I’ve said enough. :-/ I will be reading Purpose, though. It sounds like both of the main characters survive. :)

    palaistea at gmail (dot) com

    • Tali,

      Um maybe you better pass – I can’t promise you they both survive. Sorry – it’s a dangerous gig being the boy friend of the spirit of vengeance – so I can’t say everyone survives. I promise to let you know for sure either way, but I don’t promise they both live.

      I do however get the notion that not liking to form a bond with a character only for him/her to die, but some stories require it. And saying – warning – don’t fall in love with the Tali character, she’s going to be killed off – just doesn’t work. But I understand the sentiment.

      Thanks for commenting and good luck.


      • Dang! The Tali character always dies. I’m reading Purpose anyway, so thanks for the warning not to fall in love. :)

  6. I like a book with an ambiguous ending (or where the hero dies for love, for that matter), but get why you were advised to clear it up.

    To answer your question, I like both HEA/HFN and the Bittersweet variety — especially if I don’t know what it is before I start. That’s a lot less likely with an e-book than a paperback (no chance of it being shelved wrong or me “missing” the blurb:)), but the ending doesn’t rule for me (as long as it’s good & fits the story/characters).

    Purpose sounds good, I’ll have to plug my ears & sing la-la-la so the ending isn’t spoiled before I can read it. :)

    Break a leg!

    • Charley,

      I’m not sure what I did wrong, but I don’t see my answer to you your post.

      I agree with that the type of ending shouldn’t rule whether the reader buys a book. If done well it shouldn’t matter either way. But that’s me. Some people read because they ‘want’ the HEA – and I don’t blame them, ti’s what they like and it’s their time and money so yeah – have it your way. I’m not going to spoil the ending – so hopefully no one else will either. :)


  7. When I read romance stories it is partly to escape reality so I always want a HEA. I don’t mind HFN especially if the ending leaves you with the feeling that a HEA will follow. I can deal with all kinds of angst (even death), if I know that when I reach the last page, at least one of the characters that I’ve grown to love will end up happy.

    • Lynette –

      I can understand that – I’ve said it some where before – a lot of times folks read to escape – much like a movie, we read to be entertained. Being made incredibly sad isn’t most folks idea of entertainment. I can think of times where someone dies but the death leaves the world, others in the story, etc with a future of hope and promise – something like the Armageddon where Bruce Willis gives up his life to save everyone else – sad as hell, but noble as hell also. So while your sad, you’re filled with a feeling of a sense that people can do wonderful things.

      But again that isn’t always what people want when they seek out ‘entertainment.’

      Thanks for coming by and commenting.


  8. Very nice post. Honestly, I’m glad that DSP has a bittersweet option. I think some stories would feel forced if a HEA was tacked on. I’ve never read all that many romances, but friends who have were rather horrified a category that didn’t guarantee a happy ending existed. Me, I like the idea of exploring a less than happy ending, because that’s reality. Sometimes it doesn’t end well. I really liked the blurb for Purpose.

    • I agree Jana, i think both have their place and I like different things at different times. And it is nice that DsP will alert folks to those that don’t for those times that is what you want. :)

      Thanks for stopping by – I still say Charlie did a great job with her site. It’s so cheery I like coming to answer comments :)


  9. (Hi Andrew! I’m posting on Lily’s behalf as she hasn’t been able to get her comment through)


    The romantic idealist in me enjoys a HEA – after all the is enough UN-HEA in real life and so it’s nice to escape sometimes to a world where love IS enough and triumphs over all obstacles put in its way.

    That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a gritty drama, whodunit, or bittersweet ending etc. as well – I do. My tastes are varied! – but I most definitely do have a soft spot for love!

    Congratulation, Andrew, on another fine piece of writing – I am enjoying Purpose very much!

    ~ Lily Velden

    • Lily,

      Thanks for being – well you- and being tenacious enough to enlist Charlie to post your answer :)

      My one issue with branding stories – and I know why it HAS to happen – is that it can kill the suspense the writer works so hard to create. It would suck if you knew the answer to every bit of tension and drama in the story. But that’s just me – as I said in a prior comment – for some that IS what they want – they want to know everything will work out and how it works out is the rub. I hear that and understand it.

      Thanks for everything you done to help me along the way. :)


  10. I love the post, but alas I am one of those readers that wants that emotional connection with the MC’s. Yes life isn’t perfect, but when people work hard enough, sacrifices, grows up or evolves one would sincerely hope that a HEA is eventually in the cards. But to me it depends on the story itself as well. I would still love to read this one, as I sense that it would be well worth the read regardless of a HEA..perhaps a HFN even.
    Thank you for sharing about your writing, and I look forward to reading your book.
    Wishing you all the best, and continued success!
    Thank you for the giveaway!

    • Darcy,

      The hard part of writing sometimes is getting the book in the hands of those who’ll like it, but not giving away too much. For instance, if I said this has a HEA it would be harder to create questions during the book about what happens – i.e. does he die or doesn’t he. If I said it has a bittersweet ending and I suggest a MC might not live, you’d know he won’t – or he won’t survive in a way he can continue the Romance.

      That’s a problem. Because if you like HEA – you won’t like it if I hide what happens and it’s a Bittersweet. So it’s tough. And I will say this, I don’t like it when the author cheats and give us a HEA just because. I once read a book where the MC’s bf/love interest dies at the end. In the epilogue some guy the MC met but never even dated is mentioned as his husband/partner of many years and that was our supposed HEA. I had no investment in the new bf so it was like – ‘Oh come on, really? That’s not HEA.’ lol. Anyway, I promise not to do that at least. 😛


  11. Hmm, your post made me *think* a bit about what I really do want & expect from a romance. My first impulse was to say that I want escapist reading with a HEA, or at least HFN, ending. I tend to get really emotionally invested in the main characters of a story I enjoy a lot, so having one die or suffer a lot is painfully shocking. I *detest* when a character I’ve invested time & emotion in is killed off just for shock value or to prove the story is ‘gritty’ or ‘realistic’.

    However, if the story has a strong plot & romance is one of the major themes, I’ve been known to get through & even appreciate a main character’s death if it’s ‘for a reason’ or seems uplifting & rooted in the character’s values somehow. I’m also willing to accept if characters decide to break up (permanently or temporarily) for a ‘good reason’–e.g., their relationship is unhealthy, they realize they have incompatible goals, they have things they need to do alone, or they just grow up & can’t connect any more. See, I think the belief that “love conquers all” results in a lot of dysfunction & unhappiness in real life, so I’m sensitive to it in fiction as well. There are times when deciding to get your head & life together on your own, or concentrate on your career, or whatever *is* the HFN, rather than throwing everything over to stay in a romantic relationship.

    So, I guess I could appreciate a ‘bittersweet ending’ book too. In fact I have, under very special circumstances. I have to be very familiar with the author’s writing, & trust that s/he will have a very good reason for a main character’s death or protagonists’ break-up & treat them with respect. Even with so many hedges, I’ve still been emotionally blindsided & hurt by a couple of bittersweet stories I’ve read. Its a genre I’m very, very cautious with, because I *like* the closeness & fondness & identification I have with favorite characters; guarding myself while I’m reading cuts down on my enjoyment.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, & good wishes for the success of your new book!
    I’d like to enter the drawing too: I’m at wanted.a.pony (at) gmail dot com.

    • When you said you’ve been blindsided before that is probably why Dreamspinner has the Bittersweet category so that people won’t be. As I’ve heard it discussed – most in the business – publishers more so than authors – believe Bittersweet is romance sub-genre much like fantasy, mystery or historical. So just as some won’t like a romance with fantasy twist, others might not like a bittersweet one.

      Thanks for the wonderful feedback – I think it really added to the post. And I’ve added you to the contest – good luck.


      • When you said you’ve been blindsided before that is probably why Dreamspinner has the Bittersweet category….

        Oh, sorry, I didn’t express myself clearly. I meant that, even after I realized a story involved a main character death & it was by an author I know & trust a lot, I’ve still been shocked & hurt in the feels by the character’s death & aftermath. That’s why I’m 100% in favor of knowing if a story’s bittersweet before I start reading. Yeah, maybe I’m a wimp & identify a bit too much, go figure…. :-\

        However, I certainly understand the POV that putting a work in the bittersweet category reveals a huge part of the plot for a romance. I wish there was a way to reveal that info only if a reader wants/needs to know it, similar to a warning line in a story’s header–say, a ‘Highlight to read non-HEA warning’ line which you could fill in with ‘none’ or an appropriate note. Of course then you’d have to have a line like that on all the works or the very presence of the line would be a tell.

        Well, when the writing & publishing world gets around to asking my opinion, I’ll be sure to suggest it! :-þ

        Thanks for entering me in your contest & for your kind words.

  12. Great post, Andrew!

    I’m definitely old school in that I NEED a HEA or HFN when I pick up a romance novel. That’s the reason I read romance – because I know I will get my happy ending. Don’t get me wrong, I love tension, conflict, surprise endings, twists, angst, and more, but I need to know that it will all work out in the end.

    I must be fragile. I just put down a Josh Lanyon book because I could feel heartbreak coming and I know myself. It’s going to take me a few days to psyche myself up to push through it.

    You see, I hate to cry sad tears. Even though I’ve shed plenty of those horrid things while reading romance, I feel I can handle it and that it’s worth the pain if there are rainbows and unicorns in the finale (ok, even a kiss or smile will do, really).

    And while I completely admire authors and stories that go a different direction in the end, I’d like to know so I can prepare myself accordingly. Sigh. 😉

    • I don’t think your fragile for liking what you like. There is enough bad things in our daily news that escaping to a place were it’s unicorns and rainbows isn’t hard to understand. I wish I could answer you and tell you what happens, but if you want to know before you buy – email me and I’ll tell you if you should or shouldn’t – I won’t reveal the ending, but I’ll let you know enough.


  13. I read romance and love the HEA, but I read fiction because I know life is messy and things don’t always work out like a romance. I love them both equally because each has a power in their own way. I know what I’m getting when I buy from DSP because it is romance, unless I buy from the Bittersweet category, but I do agree with you, Andy, about alters the suspense (in one way). However, you can be sure that your readers are still being tormented waiting for them to get to the HEA point! I know plenty of romance readers who’ve said even though they were reading a romance, the writing was so good that they wondered if they’d get that HEA. So, there is that.

    Thanks for the discussion and the giveaway!

    caroaz [at] ymail [dot] com

    • The hard part is to find a way to keep the suspense. i.e., we know there is a HEA or a HFN, but does that mean with him or with him or maybe neither and he’s hopeful about something else so it’s HFN. Maybe I ought to write suspense instead? 😛

      Thanks for coming around to all the stops. I appreciate. I’m curious now if you end up liking the book.


      • Me, too! As I’ve enjoyed what you’ve written at all the stops, I expect to. After I get a chance to read it, I promise to let you know. And if it’s absolute dreck (I’m SURE it’s not), I will even find the nicest way to tell you that. 😀

  14. Oh, I’ve got this on my TBR pile! I have so many books I want to read. If only I didn’t have to sleep and work. Those things are seriously cutting into my reading time :(

    • Sadonna,

      Yes, sleep, work, writing, all that jazz does cut into my reading as well – toss in a 21 month old and some days it’s maddeningly frustrating. Thankfully I ride the Metro to work so I get at least 30-45 minutes a day – which isn’t much, but none of the other things like sleep or work can intrude. 😛

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  15. Thanks to Charlie for hosting me and this part of the tour. I appreciate her letting me borrow the space for a time. And I’d really like to thank everyone who read and commented, I really appreciate the support. A winner was selected and has been notified. I’ll send along the winner’s info once they’ve confirmed.


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