Posted On November 26, 2014 by Print This Post

Writing Down the Holidays with Suzanne Johnson

Holiday romances abound this time of year, and author Suzanne Johnson shares tips on how to shake up the traditional holiday read.  

Welcome to RU, Suzanne!  

As authors, we’re always trying to meet—and exceed—reader expectations, so every year when Thanksgiving is on the horizon, to be followed by Christmas (or Rosh Hashana or Kwanzaa) and New Year’s, we turn to the holiday romance.

A holiday romance is a warm, fuzzy story that ends under the mistletoe, right? The misunderstanding that’s cleared up just in time to trim the tree and turn on the multicolored lights. The wanderer who finally learns that home is more than just a geographic location. The long-separated hero and heroine who finally find their way home to each other.

What if you write paranormal romance? Sci-fi romance set in space or an alien culture? Romance built around demons, time-traveling shapeshifters or flying gargoyles? There are still ways to work in the holidays: 

1) Make It Merry. If your characters aren’t human and our holidays mean nothing in their culture, create a holiday just for their world and make it similar Susannah-Sandlinenough to your readers’ holidays to bring on the warm and fuzzies. Even the High Kingdom of Zorkdom would make a celebration of a new year, right? If they’re celebrating their own holiday in the middle of a foreign culture, all the better.

2) Location, Location, Location. Maybe your characters are out of their element—on a spaceship, perhaps, or hiding in a postapocalyptic, spider-filled basement with zombies pounding on the doors. If so, jerk on every heartstring by creating a poignant holiday moment. Hang a ball of twine on the underside of the basement stairs for mistletoe, or make a Christmas tree out of test tubes filled with colored water. Nothing says “memorable holiday” like a tinsel-covered spiderweb.

3) Exploit the Emotion. Holidays are the time of year when most people’s emotions are riding pretty close to the surface, so it makes sense that our characters’ emotional temperatures would be high as well. Authors are experts at torturing characters, so use the holiday to create some unhappy memories. Burn down your characters’ houses. Take away their jobs. Kill off someone they cherish. Force them to confront the ghosts of holidays past. After all, we’re their creators; we can help them grow, learn, and take unexpected directions in their lives.

4) Make the Lovelorn Lonely. Don’t go the warm and fuzzy route on Thanksgiving or Christmas—make your character spend his or her holiday alone. The people and traditions and things we miss often strike a deeper chord than the crowds and the overabundance.

5) Hide the Holiday. A story written around the winter holiday period doesn’t have to be about the holiday. Let the holiday drama play out in the background while your story plays in the foreground. Let your characters ignore it, then wallop them upside the head at a crucial moment to let the meaning of the holiday peek through. Your vampires aren’t into the holiday spirit? Then let the humans around them fuss over the holidays while they continue their sexy, brooding ways—then surprise their favorite human with a gift. Nothing says “holiday” like a piece of jewelry from one of the undead, right?

What’s the most unusual treatment of a holiday you’ve tried?


Christmas in Dogtown Redesign FINAL 1500 PIXChristmas in Dogtown   A woman who spent years escaping her rural past learns that Dogtown, Louisiana, hides more family secrets than just the recipe for boudin blanc. Resa Madere’s on the verge of losing it all. The boyfriend’s gone. The job’s history. Her beloved house is on the brink of foreclosure. She’ll do anything to save it–even spend a long Christmas holiday working in St. James Parish, Louisiana, helping her uncle run the family meat business. But the community of Dogtown, which has been home for seven generations of the Madere and Caillou families, has deep roots and deeper secrets. For Resa, going home is one thing. Getting out might not be so easy.


Bio: Suzanne Johnson is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series for Tor Books and, as Susannah Sandlin, writes the award-winning Penton Legacy paranormal romance and Collectors romantic suspense series for Montlake Romance. Her newest romantic suspense, Deadly, Calm, and Cold, will be released on December 2nd.

To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website.

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23 Responses to “Writing Down the Holidays with Suzanne Johnson”

  1. I nearly spewed my drink after reading, “Nothing says ‘holiday’ like a piece of jewelry from one of the undead, right?” *ROFL* Well, it’s never happened to me (that I know)…but for the right piece of jewelry…who knows? :p

    Posted by LuAnn Braley | November 26, 2014, 9:30 am
  2. Well written, Suzanne. I think a character being alone on the holiday is a good idea. Having spent a few holidays alone, I certainly could relate.

    Posted by Karen R. Sanderson | November 26, 2014, 12:21 pm
  3. I like the way you think, Suzanne – I always like stories that are a little on the weird side, and it sounds like you’ve got a handle on that!

    I’m a sucker for holiday stories, although I have to admit I sometimes don’t get to the books until summer. The holiday season is a great time to read holiday books, but finding the time to do it is a little tough.

    Thanks so much for these fun suggestions! I’ve been slowly revising a Christmas story. After reading this post, I think I need to take it a little further onto the far side! 😉

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 26, 2014, 12:46 pm
    • Sometimes summer is a fun time to read a holiday story! I have to admit, I tend to use holidays a lot in my books even when the subject has nothing to do with the holiday. it makes an interesting backdrop with a lot of “subtext”!

      Posted by Suzanne Johnson | November 27, 2014, 8:42 pm
  4. Afternoon Suzanne!

    I’m not sure about tinsel wrapped spider webs, but jewelry from the undead? lol….that I can picture.

    I haven’t written much with holidays, I have one that starts with the aftermath of a Valentine’s gone wrong..but I do love reading holiday romances. Honestly, I never thought how they might do them in a paranormal! =)

    Thanks for a great (and fun) post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 26, 2014, 2:37 pm
    • Thanks, Carrie! I thought of this topic as I was writing a scene set during Christmas, when my character was having a holiday dinner with an undead pirate, a merman, a loup-garou (werewolf)…and a human. She reflects that Santa might not be filling their stockings in any way she wants to see 🙂

      Posted by Suzanne Johnson | November 27, 2014, 8:44 pm
  5. Hi Suzanne,

    Thanks for the great examples. Holidays create stress, conflict, and expectation, and each character deals with these issues differently. What a boon for writers.

    I love the cover of Christmas in Dogtown. Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 26, 2014, 3:44 pm
  6. It’s always fun to see how different characters deal with the holidays.

    Posted by Sandyg265 | November 28, 2014, 2:04 pm
  7. Helpful post

    Posted by bn100 | November 28, 2014, 2:12 pm
  8. a piece of jewellery from undead… oh yes that can be lovely after all i’m sure they can find one that fit the receiver taste in all they accumulated

    i love reading holidays storuies at this time of the year because yes emotions are too close to teh surface… a character lonely at christmas… we can all relate too making us want to make it special for him( or her)

    Posted by miki | November 28, 2014, 3:27 pm
  9. I’d sure like to receive that piece of jewelry from one of the undead! I enjoy Christmas stories any time of the year and often end up reading non-Christmas stories during the holidays.

    Posted by Janie McGaugh | November 28, 2014, 6:40 pm
  10. I’mm pretty sure I have partied with the undead in my time. Felt like it anyway.

    Posted by Mary Preston | November 28, 2014, 8:35 pm
  11. Good evening Suzanne

    That was right interesting as an alternative to the normal Christmas

    Posted by Ginger Robertson | November 28, 2014, 8:49 pm


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