Are you ready for an early holiday treat? Grace Burrowes is here to talk about the Christmas romance. Who can resist a little love under the mistletoe?
The (Mixed) Blessings of the Christmas Romance
Look around the bookstore shelves, and you’ll see a bumper crop of Christmas themed romances. Maybe the holidays are a particularly lonely time, and folks need the comfort of a good happily ever after, maybe winter weather keeps us indoors hibernating with our books.
Or maybe there are practical and craft reasons why the Christmas romance will be a perennial favorite.
Some of the advantages of a holiday romance are commercial. Christmas books are typically released in early October, and they stay on the shelves, often in end units, special displays, or up by the register, until early January. Then too, people are in the stores, in shopping mode, for those same three months. Better yet, Christmas comes around every year, and a holiday romance lurking in your backlist will get a browsing boost simply by virtue of the time of year.
And lest ye forget, each holiday season sees an avalanche of e-readers and gift cards given over the holidays, all in need of immediate use. Are you hanging sleigh bells on that Work in Progress yet?
From a craft perspective, Christmas romances have even more advantages. Specific Christmas tropes can provide a starting point for your plot: Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” gives us the life (or heart) in need of a make over, with both the love and the hardship of the season serving as catalysts for positive change. “The Gift of the Magi” is another take on the magic of true love as manifest in a holiday setting, and the biblical story of the Nativity is rife with images, allusions and characters that can all enhance a Christmas-set romance.
When my editor invited me to write my first Christmas romance, I started with those biblical references, because I was under a very tight deadline, and did not have the luxury of swilling wassail and pondering plotting alternatives while lingering under the mistletoe. I opened the first scene in book at a coaching inn, one full to the rafters as the result of a snowstorm, and there was, (all together now, on three…) No Room At The Inn. From page one, the readers knew they were in a Christmas tale, and a little of the heavy lifting of creating empathy and moving pacing forward was done as a result.
The story also included wise men coming from the east, an abandoned baby, liberal doses of Handel’s “Messiah,” and two people who suffered intense loneliness each year at the holidays. I didn’t have to think those plot elements up, they were, so to speak, Christmas presents resulting from the holiday nature of the story.
Larger Christmas themes lend themselves to romance stories, too The bleakness of winter, the left-out-in-the-cold feeling of a character cut off from community, orphaned feelings, and the traveler far from home, can all work very well for characters at the beginning of their personal growth arc.
Hope, maybe the predominant theme of the biblical Christmas story, is often all that inspires a character to move from the Big Black Moment toward the Happily Ever After.
Love, gratitude, generosity, and other warm fuzzy feelings, are where we want our characters to end up, and they are certainly present in an ideal holiday season.
Then too, Christmas traditions can help the story move along from a stagecraft perspective—social gatherings, caroling, decorating, cooking, feasting, wassailing, mistletoe, sled riding, gift giving, midnight stars—all give the characters business to transact on their way from page one to the HEA, and this business is different from the usual office meeting, ballroom waltz, or demon hunt that we rely on for a non-holiday story.
With all of those factors in the ho-ho-ho column, why wouldn’t every author have a holiday romance to her name?
One factor weighing against holiday romances is that by early January, your holiday romance will disappear from the shelves as if it never existed. Valentine’s Day comes barreling into view, followed by spring break, and your Mistletoe Moment is over.
Then too, competition among holiday romances is ferocious. Bestselling authors write holiday romances because it’s a way to meet new readers, editors acquire holiday romances because every fall catalog is expected to have some. Holiday romances come in every romance flavor—historicals of many stripes, contemporary, category, paranormal, you name it, and somebody has hangs Christmas lights on it every year.
And for all the material the holiday themes give us to work with, it’s hard—really, really hard—to find new ways to present the Christmas romance. Marley’s ghost is might easy to spot in all his guises. Yes, the tropes are rich and varied, but they can easily become shopworn and predictable rather than creative and romantic.
And yet, I’ve written three Christmas romances, and will probably write more. The theme of hope blossoming in the depths of winter’s cold and darkness, of love finding the most lost and despairing hearts, is so powerful, and so inspiring, that even if nobody needs to read those stories some day, I will still need to write them.
So… what’s your favorite Christmas story, and why? And yes, you can say “It’s A Wonderful Life,” because it’s pretty high on my list, too. To three commenters, I’ll send a signed copy of “Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish,” my first attempt at a Christmas romance.
I don’t think I can top Grace’s Question – what is your favorite Christmas romance?
On Friday, a farewell post from our fave editor, Theresa Stevens
I am the sixth out of seven children and was raised in the rural surrounds of central Pennsylvania. Early in life I spent a lot of time reading romance novels and riding a chubby buckskin gelding named—unimaginatively if eponymously—Buck. I also spent a lot of time practicing the piano. My first career was as a technical writer and editor, a busy profession that nonetheless left enough time to read many, many romance novels.
It also left time to grab a law degree through an evening program, produce Beloved Offspring (only one, but she is a lion), and eventually move to the lovely Maryland countryside.
While reading yet still more romance novels (there is a trend here) I opened my own law practice, acquired a master’s degree in Conflict Management (I had a teenage daughter by then) and started thinking about writing…. romance novels. This aim was realized when Beloved Offspring struck out into the Big World a few years ago. (“Mom, why doesn’t anybody tell you being a grown-up is hard?”)
I eventually got up the courage to start pitching manuscripts to agents and editors. The query letter that resulted in “the call” started out: “I am the buffoon in the bar at the RWA retreat who could not keep her heroines straight, could not look you in the eye, and could not stop blushing—and if that doesn’t narrow down the possibilities, your job is even harder than I thought.” (The dear lady bought the book anyway.)
- Reader Roundup – Holiday Romances with Amy Alessio
- What If and Why? by Tawny Weber
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, December 17-21, 2012
- Why You’ve Got to Learn to Write Fast with Christi Barth
- There’s No Business Like Show Business with Audra North