The Fun of The Holiday Romance

image courtesy of Jill Wellington via pixabay.com

I’m not actually focusing specifically on my own work today, but I’m talking about how much I Iove a good holiday romance, especially one set around the winter holidays.

I love to see the novellas or anthologies appear on the holiday tables in bookstores and gift shops. Or in displays in the library. I gobble them up, even in the years where I’ve sworn off romance (either reading it or living it). I don’t watch a lot of holiday romance movies — I often get too far ahead of the plot and get impatient waiting for the characters to catch up. A good one will get me (I love WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING).

Yes, it’s often an unsustainable ideal. But I don’t care. I love snowy holiday romances, where people discover that love and hope still exists, and that there’s still good in the world. I don’t care that they’re unrealistic. I want the fantasy.

I do have criteria. The protagonists need to be smart and have a sense of humor — or at least grow into their senses of humor. They need to have kindness at their core, even if they cover it up at first. One partner too alpha and overbearing? Turns me off completely. If the only measure of a woman’s worth is child-bearing — goodbye, you’re not the story for me. Romance demands an HEA, and I want that even more during the holidays. But if one character demeans the other, or the ONLY goal is to land a partner in order to have kids, it’s a turnoff.

I also don’t want a lot of religion in the books. I realize that Christmas is a religious holiday, and a great time for religious inspiration in stories. For people who love them, good for them. I’m not trashing those storylines; I’m saying they’re not for me.  But there are more holidays in the winter season that Christmas. I enjoy Christmas-based romance, but I’m always happy to find books with other winter holidays, too, especially the Solstice.

I love a sense of magic, of possibility. That the season can inspire a moment of inspiration that is the catalyst for the protagonists to take actions that will lead to a happier life.

Holiday romances don’t have to be around the winter holidays: Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any of the others. But that’s when I like to curl up in my chair by the lighted tree, bundled in my plushy throw, with a glass of wine, a good book, and a cat or three on my lap. Yes, the beasts can make reading difficult, but they’re worth it.

One of the plans for the Twinkle Tavern Mysteries (which have stronger romantic elements than a lot of my other work) is to use holidays that aren’t always used. Which is why “Plot Bunnies” focuses on Easter, and “Labor Intensive” focuses on Labor Day.  (Yes, I did some shameless self-promotion there).

I often write a short holiday piece in the newsletter (Devon’s Random Newsletter, which covers all the noms de plume). They are early-draft pieces, usually second or third draft, not yet ready for further publication. But there are a couple that I want to expand, especially one I wrote a few years ago that took place in a snowed-in diner. That will, eventually, be a book.

When it comes to writing, I write best about the winter holidays in the midst of them. Since submissions need to be made a good eight months ahead of a holiday, that means I submit a holiday piece usually two or three years after I’ve actually written it, so I have time to work on it. I sometimes thoroughly enjoy EDITING a winter holiday piece in the middle of a hot summer, but I prefer to WRITE it when I’m in the midst of the decorating and baking and card writing.

I’m first-drafting a new winter holiday romance this year. A genuine romance, not just a novel “with romantic elements” — although that could change, and it could switch back. I’m creating one of my fantasies of a perfect stretch from Solstice through the New Year — but not without sadness and conflicts.

One of my favorite parts of writing these stories is that I can build and decorate houses and create meals and party menus. I don’t necessarily use all of it in the final draft, but I love creating them.

Do you love holiday romances? What draws you to them? What’s your favorite?

One of my favorites is Rosamunde Pilcher’s WINTER SOLSTICE. My mother has all her books, and is the one who encouraged me to read it. I love the way the relationships grow in the book.

The journey is what I enjoy with these holiday romances. I like the security of knowing there will be a happy ending. I like to take the journey with them, and see how the characters make choices so they can CHOOSE to be together and create an optimistic future.

Next week, I’ll be talking about one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written, “Just Jump in and Fly.” Which is set on Christmas.

Have a joyful season!

The Idealized Town Full of Eccentrics

image courtesy of pixabay.com

We’re still in Twinkle, Vermont this week, talking about the Twinkle Tavern Mysteries.

These stories adhere more closely to the typical cozy formula than the Nautical Namaste Mysteries. They will still intentionally break the rules here and there, but, overall, they are closer to the formula.

I started “Plot Bunnies” when I still lived in New York, so it’s been around for awhile. It’s a pretty straight shot up through Albany, a little higher, and then a bit east to get to Vermont, and I enjoyed time spent in the small towns.

I liked the trope of a small town full of eccentrics, and that’s what I decided to create — and keep.

When I started reading and enjoying and analyzing cozy mysteries back in the mid-90’s, one of the things I loved was that a misfit comes in and solves the mystery. Her intelligence and resourcefulness are appreciated, and she is accepted in this community for who she is, and can continue her growth from there.

What’s saddened and upset me in too many cozies over the last few years (in addition to the heroines getting dumber, more passive, and celibate) is that the misfit solves the mystery and then CONFORMS to the community, because she wants acceptance. Even though she’s smarter and saves the day, she has to compromise her integrity in order to become part of the community. As the books go on, she gets duller, blander, and more passive.

Yuck.

I’ve put down several dozen mysteries for just that reason, and crossed those authors off my list. I want to read (and write) books that celebrate individuality, not encourage conformity.

Gloria Dunkirk, my protagonist, has never fit in anywhere. Her son, Max, is also a non-conformist, at an age where it hurts to be just that. But she hopes that her example and her belief in him makes the journey just a bit easier. It helps that her mother-in-law, Violet, is also a non-conformist, and always has been. Violet was born and raised in the town, and her family has a strong history there, so she is one of the people who sets the tone there.

It’s not always an easy journey for them, especially since people grow, change, move, die, and there’s always someone around looking to change things in order to make personal profit. 

Greed, be it monetary or sexual, is the foundation of most murders, so I guess one of the things I’m dissecting in this series is greed.

At the same time, I want it to be a bit more light-hearted than some of the other pieces I write (especially those under the Devon Ellington name), have more of a wry comic tone, and more of a sense of fun.

I drew a map of the town when I first wrote the story, and I’ve added to it as I kept working. It has the central green common in the middle of town, with the small businesses and services all built around it, and the streets in the village radiating from there. Twinkle Tavern and the Inn attached to it are perfectly situated to please tourists and still be a local hangout.

The characters are all different in their unique ways, and have found their way to Twinkle or stayed there after growing up there for a variety of reasons. Monica Dufresne, Gloria’s friend in town, is an aging ex-stripper married to a successful businessman. She’s not worried about fitting in; she’d rather be herself. Her insights provide vital clues to the murderer. Even Dean Eastlake, the sexy, hometown detective on whom Gloria has a crush, has his own eccentricities. So do his friends, and so does Chloe Rendell, the kickass female private eye in town following up on a theory about the murdered man who everyone thought was sweet and harmless.

One of the reasons the second story, “Labor Intensive” is still in revisions is because it took such a dark tone that it didn’t fit as a partner for “Plot Bunnies.”

“Plot Bunnies” is set around Easter; “Labor Intensive” is set over Labor Day weekend. Although I want to focus on minor holidays earlier in the series, I’m considering the third story set around Thanksgiving, which is certainly anything BUT minor in my life.

I have to let the characters tell me tales, and then say “what if?” and then write my way into it for a bit until I figure out the plot. Then I sit down and outline. Then, I go back and write.

For me, that process melds the best of planning with blank-paging. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, an outline is a road map, not a prison. I’m allowed to take an unexpected exit and explore if I choose.

If you’d like to read “Plot Bunnies” it’s available here on Smashwords, Kobo, and Nook for 99 cents. It is a short piece, not a novel or novella.

There will not be a post here next Friday; it’s part of the holiday weekend. But I’ll be back in December, talking about Winter Holiday pieces.

Welcome to Twinkle, Vermont!

For the last few weeks, I’ve talked about the process of writing SAVASANA AT SEA, the firs Nautical Namaste Mystery. I’ve talked about choices, decisions involved in character, setting, location, plot, ensemble, where I chose to break rules.

This week, I switch to a few weeks of talking about some of the shorter pieces I write under the Delectable Digital Delights banner.

The first of these is “Plot Bunnies.” It’s a comic, romantic, short mystery set in the fictional Twinkle, Vermont. It’s the start of the Twinkle Tavern Mysteries.

Here’s the blurb:

Someone killed the Easter Bunny – so who’s dancing around the Village Green in his suit? 

Welcome to Twinkle, Vermont.  When her husband is killed in a car crash after a rendezvous with his mistress, Gloria Dunkirk and her teenaged son move in with her mother-in-law. Gloria goes to work at the historical Twinkle Tavern & Green Gate Inn. When her son and his friend discover the body of the man who dresses up for holiday events, they wonder who’s impersonating him at the town’s Easter Egg event at that very moment? The upside is that Gloria gets to spend time with the sexy Dean Eastlake, Twinkle’s favorite detective. The downside is stopping the killer before he strikes again – in minutes.

It was originally written for a contest, several years ago, using a twist on a typical holiday. I wanted to do something wacky with an Easter Bunny. The story was deemed too “cute”  with too much romance for the contest, but I liked the story and characters. I hadn’t read Donna Andrews’s mysteries at the time, but re-reading this now, the tone reminds me of her work.  I don’t classify it as a romance, but as having romantic elements. There’s hope for Gloria and the man she’s attracted to by the end of the story, but no promises.

As much as I loved the stories and the characters, trying to expand it into a book hurt the pace and the sense of fun in the piece. So I chose to keep it as a short. It’s gotten a positive response, and I’m working on more shorts to explore different relationships between Gloria and other characters, and the town. The plan is to set them around different holidays, starting with holidays used less often in fiction, and then moving toward more commonly-used ones as plot ideas present themselves. There’s no set timetable for these pieces.

One of the elements I want to explore in the stories is Gloria’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Violet. Gloria is a widow. Her husband died returning from an illicit rendezvous; the mistress produced a forged will, leaving her everything. Gloria and Violet don’t intend on letting her get away with it. In this story, it’s hinted that Violet gets along better with Gloria than she did with her own son. I plan to explore that in future stories, although they won’t always have an easy time of it.

Violet, Dean Eastlake’s mother, and the mother of another character, Parker Sullivan, were all friends growing up. They were smart, independent, hell-raising women in a small New England town. They’re not going to roll over and submit to anyone. Their friendship will be explored, both in contemporary times, and earlier in their friendship, in future stories. Dean’s mother died when he was a teenager, so in contemporary times, only Violet and Rose are left.

The mother-in-law relationship isn’t easy, and it will be fun to explore how Gloria and Violet work together, and, sometimes, how they disagree. Instead of clichés, I want to explore how they build their relationship, especially since so much is at stake with Gloria’s son/Violet’s grandson, Max.

If you’d like to learn more about “Plot Bunnies” you can visit the Delectable Digital Delights page on my website or direct purchase on Smashwords, Kobo, and Nook.