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. 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.
Forty 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 will also be entered to win. The winner will be chosen using Randomizer.org 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:
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: www.andrewqgordon.com,
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/andrewqugordon,
On Twitter: @andrewqgordon,
Or just email him: firstname.lastname@example.org