Guest Post – Tracefinder: Contact by Kaje Harper, When is Happy-For-Now Enough?

Ah, romance. At the end of the classic story, two lovers ride off into the sunset— or drive away from the chapel in their limo— for a lifetime of joy, together forever. Like many readers, I love stories like that. I adore believing that two people have found their soulmate, someone they will love in good times and in bad, for as long as they live (or longer, if they’re vampires.) 

But I also like Happy-For-Now endings— the hard-won moment of peace that still has to keep working to achieve a future. After all, no realistic ending is so solid that it can’t be shaken by fate. In real life, the best we ever get is Happy-For-Now. Then again, sometimes that’s why we read— to find a sweetness in fiction that life doesn’t give us, including Happy-Ever-Afters. 

So are you an HEA-only reader? Do you want to close each book with a completely satisfied sigh and not worry about whether life will push two beloved characters apart? Is romance reading an escape from the uncertainties of the real world? 

Or are you okay with HFN? As long as the two men get a temporary break from fighting for every inch of happiness, do you like watching a story unfold in increments through a series? Can you take each subsequent book and really enjoy it, content with the renewed promise of slowly building HFN endings?

And what about a stand-alone HFN, where that bright future will happen only in your own imagination? Can you close that book with pleasure? What about true cliff-hangers? Do you gleefully wait with bated breath for what comes next, as our guys are now separated or in peril? Or do you have to restrain yourself from flinging your Kindle across the room, and vowing not to buy any more of those until the series is finished? 

Every reader is different. And every writer also decides where we’re comfortable leaving our guys at the end of a book. Some of us are too attached, or too slow at writing, to leave the main characters hanging. Others are capable of writing tense cliff-hangers or even serial stories, with each installment ending in a moment of stress. Our writing choices may depend on how fast we write, how many series we’re working on, our own tolerance for anxiety, and whether we plan a multi-book arc ahead or just let it happen. 

It’s no secret that if you write M/M, the solid Happy-Ever-After ending is the least controversial. Those books tend to sell well, and get fewer complaints. They leave most readers content.

But sometimes, getting there in one book requires tying a bow on loose ends that, realistically, should still dangle. Sometimes, for an author, trying for a simple HEA brings with it the temptation to fall back on drama— OMG, you almost died— to skip development, or reconcile feuding families quickly. And in a series, finishing the first book with what looks like a solid HEA can make readers feel betrayed, if the main characters develop relationship problems in the next volume. So it’s not a simple choice. 

I write a lot of Happy-For-Now endings. Mostly, that’s a side effect of my drive for realism. My goal is to create guys you could meet in the bar down the street, or in the house next door. Even my werewolves and sorcerers are meant to seem like real people under the supernatural trappings. So an HEA—  the total, unshakable romance wrap-up— is hard for my guys to achieve, especially in a single book.

I have done it. At the end of books like Into Deep Waters or Like the Taste of Summer, or a series like Life Lessons, my two men stand united, bruised by life but not shaken out of their love or faith in each other and their relationship. Never again to be shaken.

Getting there is sometimes a tentative journey, though. I do try, with every book, to leave the reader with a warm, contented sigh at the end. Because that’s what works for me. I write multiple stand-alones and series, and I don’t want to walk away from my own guys until I feel they’re temporarily safe in each other’s arms, whatever may still be coming down the pike at them.

Many readers seem content with the HFNs in my stories; a few aren’t. At the end of the first Life Lessons book, despite the moment of sweet warmth, some readers felt that Mac and Tony weren’t solid enough to leave off at that point. (Hopefully by the end of four novels and three short stories, everyone was satisfied.)

I approached my new book, Tracefinder: Contact, the same way. I have other writing to finish before I can tackle the second in the Tracefinder series. And I love Nick and Brian (as I do all the guys who’ve lived in my head). I needed to end their first book with the guys together enough that life was better for them— warmer, more secure— than when the story began. I feel like I did that.

Some readers will disagree, as they always do. Nick and Brian are complex characters, perhaps the most atypical heroes I’ve written. Brian has mental health issues and it’s not clear how deep they run, even at the end of the book. Hell, it’s not yet clear to Brian how deep they run. When Nick holds him, is that safety? Does Nick really see him as strong and capable, as an equal?

Nick has a temper, and a law-enforcement job that says he should sacrifice bystanders to get the bad guys. But Brian was alone, and vulnerable, and their attraction was definitely two-sided. So now, when Brian touches him, is that sweet comfort fair to both of them? Can it last? Will his cop duties let him be free to fall in love?

There are a lot of questions left at the end of the book. This is a series, and I plan at least two more novels, to watch how Nick and Brian deal with their challenges as they move forward, together. Since this is mystery/romance (and I’m not sadistic) the “together” is definitely part of the long story arc.

At the end of this first installment, you see these guys in a quiet moment, not in immediate peril, and looking forward to more. But their future holds a lot of uncertainty. To me, that’s Happy-Enough-For-Now. What about you?

How solid does Happy-For-Now have to be, to please you? Do you need to be able to envision this temporary peace lasting for a day? A week? A year? Is it all right to see possible relationship setbacks ahead, as long as the guys make it through eventually? Or do you need to be sure the men are so solid together that nothing will shake them apart, and every future plot challenge will now be met as a couple?

I read a lot of books, and write reviews, and look at other people’s reviews of the same stories. I find it fascinating how small details, and main-character personality traits, can reassure one reviewer that a book’s ending is solid, while another feels too uncertain for comfort. What looks like character strength to one reader may feel like cool distance to another. The reading rainbow— that array of preferences which means every book will get both five-star reviews and one-stars— is nowhere more evident than in the discussion of what it takes to make an acceptable romantic “Happy-Enough” ending.

I look forward to seeing how Tracefinder: Contact works out for readers, as I develop book two for Nick and Brian.


2015NewAbout the Book

What could an undercover cop and a drug lord’s pet psychic have in common?

Brian Kerr has spent years hiding behind a facade of mental slowness. His brother and sister got all three of them off the streets and into a cushy life, under the protection of a dangerous criminal. But to keep that safety, Brian has to use his Finding talent to track down the boss’s enemies. Although he pretends not to know what he’s really doing, each Find takes its toll, and he’s trapped in a life he hates, losing touch with his true self.

Nick Rugo’s job is to protect and serve the people of Minneapolis as an undercover cop. He isn’t closeted, but he isn’t out at work, and there’s a wild, angry side to him that he’s managed to keep hidden until now. When he’s assigned to bring Brian’s boss to justice, he intends to use anything and anyone it takes to do that.

Nick initially sees Brian as a pawn to be played in his case, but he keeps getting glimpses of a different man behind the slow, simpleminded mask. As the two men get to know each other, it becomes clear they share secrets, some of which might get them both killed.

Purchase Links
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2015NewAbout the author

Kaje Harper grew up in Montreal, and spent her teen years writing, filling binders with stories. But as life got busy, the stories began to just live in her head. The characters grew, met, endured, and loved, in any quiet moment, but the stories rarely made it to paper. Her time was taken up by work in psychology, teaching, and a biomedical career, and the fun of raising children.

Eventually the kids became more independent and her husband gave her a computer she didn’t have to share. She started putting words down in print again, just for fun. Hours of fun. Lots of hours of fun. The stories began piling up, and her husband suggested if she was going to spend that much time on the keyboard she ought to try to publish one. MLR Press accepted her first submission, the M/M mystery Life Lessons, which came out in May 2011. Kaje now has many novels and short stories published, including Amazon bestseller The Rebuilding Year, and a selection of free short stories and novels in a variety of gay romance genres, available on Smashwords and elsewhere. She currently lives in Minnesota with a creative teenager, a crazy omnivorous little white dog, and a remarkably patient spouse.




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  1. Thanks for the interesting post! How solid I prefer a HFN to be depends on if I know there will be more books to follow. If the book is the first in a series, then the HFN can be more tenuous. If it is a standalone, I prefer it to be not as momentary. But, the most important thing is that it fits the story. As for cliffhangers, if I know a book will end on a true cliffhanger, I often wait for the next one to be available so I can read them together.

    Looking forward to reading Tracefinder!

  2. I’m happy with whatever ending the author writes providing it makes sense to the story. If it all comes together, and if the ending is meant to be a HFN, or not even, I’m happy with it if it’s fits with the characters and the story. <3

  3. I like what could be HEAs but love it when the next book is a happy surprise, not needed but wanted with the same characters continuing and deepening their relationship. I also like a series that features secondary characters as the main in the next book. Stand Alones are also great since my brain makes me start reading any series all over again when the next book comes out. But most of all, I HATE cliffhangers. There are a lot of authors who never get around to finishing a series and that’s so wrong I can’t stomach it. I just don’t buy any more books by that author. Cliffhangers seem like an underhanded way to make a reader buy the next book.

  4. I can take a HFN if it really is a point in the relationship that requires more progress/development to get to the HEA. What I absolutely hate is seemingly HEAs, just to have some drama blow up in the characters’ faces in the next book for the sake of, well, having the drama drive the plot. And if it happens over and over again in the course of the series I drop the whole thing at the point I feel the characters are happy.
    Tracefinder looks like the first option and I can’t wait to read it 🙂

  5. HFNs are fine with me. As long as there is the possibility of a HEA, that’s good enough. Cliff-hangers are tough, but great characters and story can make me put up with just about anything. Some of my favorite series have books with cliff-hangers.

    I do read romances for the fantasy of having happy endings, but don’t need it to be an iron-clad HEA. (If it’s the last book in a series, I’d certainly PREFER a HEA, but again… depends on the writing and characters and what actually works.)

    I come across people who demand certain things of their books, and that’s their prerogative. I’d really hate a world with books that ONLY were one way or another, though. A writer can’t please everyone, but they will likely find their own niche since there are all kinds of readers out there, and that’s how it should be!

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