The Fun of The Holiday Romance

image courtesy of Jill Wellington via

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 Question of Romance

image courtesy of cocoparisienne via

In the first chapter of SAVASANA AT SEA, Sophie’s fiancé Jack, dumps her. He has decided she is a detriment to his career. The parts of her personality that initially attracted him to her are things he’s decided he can’t live with.

Sophie is in her late twenties (Harmonia warns her she’s hitting her Saturn Return — we’ll discuss that in a future post). She’s a healthy, active woman. I wanted her to have a healthy, active love life.

Romantic triangles are often set up in cozy mysteries. Every author handles them differently, but most protagonists in cozies are monogamous. They might break up and then fall for someone else, but they are monogamous.

One of the reasons this series is marked “Not Quite Cozy” is that I wanted to break some of the romance rules that are often associated with the genre. I wanted the books to have romantic elements, while not promising romance. I also didn’t want readers to feel cheated if they expected or demanded romance rather than romantic elements in their mysteries.

I wanted to give Sophie more options than are traditionally available in this formula. Sebastian was always going to be her primary romantic relationship on the ship, since early outlines and development. His character appeared early in the planning, along with his backstory (which also gives him some additional options).

Sophie mentions, in one of her conversations, that she’s always been a serial monogamist. I wanted to give her a chance to go beyond that, should it serve any of the individual plots and her character. Too often, the male characters are allowed to play the field, while the female characters are supposed to wait patiently or get slut-shamed. I wanted it to be different here.

Sex is a major pastime on cruise ships. That is a reality. I’ve read too many stories set on ships where that facet is either ignored or the characters are branded as sluts and then punished for actively pursing sex. Again, this is something I wanted to avoid in this series.

Sophie has come out of a painful breakup. She is a single young woman tossed in with a large group of attractive people (yes, hiring calls on cruise ships are akin to casting calls — looks matter in many of the staff positions). There are going to be attractions and flirtations. Some will just be in fun. Some may lead to something else at a point in the series.

In SAVASANA AT SEA, Sophie is attracted to Sebastian early, while also annoyed by him. She responds to Andrew’s kindness, and there’s attraction between them. She and Duncan Cooke, the NYPD detective, have immediate sparks. She and Dhruv, the head of security, also have an attraction that moves between flirtation, friendship, and attraction. Dhruv entered the mix far later than many of the other characters, so it’s been interesting to develop his relationship to Sophie.

She flirts with Ewan Drummond, but it’s all in fun, at least at this stage of the game. Then, of course, there’s Dean. Dean is one of the entertainers on the ship. Extremely talented. Pansexual. The rest of the staff often joke about how sex with Dean is an initiation into cruise life. Sex is a tool of communication for Dean. He doesn’t use and then drop people. His view is that it’s another way of connection. He’s capable of being a genuine friend. There’s even a point, in SAVASANA, where he saves Sophie’s life.

There’s a part of Sophie that feels left out because she hasn’t had sex with Dean. Yet. Will she in future books? There’s always a possibility. I’ve mapped out a few different scenarios where it would serve her character and plots of future books.

The destruction of her engagement and the loss of her job in New York left her feeling undesirable. I want her to have options. I want her to be able to explore them in a positive way without being punished for so doing.

The tone of the books also calls for a delicate balance within the love scenes (and the sex scenes). I don’t give every detail, and not every detail in every encounter. I hope I strike the right balance between the romance, the desire, the exploration, the acts, and the rest of the tone of the book. Some of it is on the page. Some of it is off the page.

Sophie won’t always make the right choices. Even when she makes the right choice in the moment, relationships don’t always work out. Especially under the tensions of working on a ship: a lot of attractive people in a contained space, a high-stress environment, life-and-death situations, and lots of alcohol. There will be consequences for those choices, but not the oft-depicted punishments because she chose to have a healthy, active sex life. AND a healthy, active love life. She wants them to coincide, but it might not always happen that way.

Her best friends have their own romantic struggles. Roz McIntyre broke the rules and had a relationship with one of the ship’s officers. He left the Charisma to captain a yacht, and their relationship ended. The Diamond line could have chosen to fire them – although it’s more likely Roz would have paid the price and either been moved to another ship in the line or fired outright. Now, she’s got a crush on the ship’s purser. Someone else with whom she shouldn’t get involved. Again, I’ve mapped out several possibilities for Roz’s relationships, and I will choose which works the best in the overall arcs of the book and keeps Roz true to her integrity and character growth.

Harmonia has her share of romantic entanglements. As the ship’s tarot reader, she has more leeway between passengers, staff, and crew than many of the other employees. An ex-boyfriend of hers (from her life on land, pre-Charisma now works in one of the restaurants. She’s also involved with a fellow staff member. Then there’s Xerses, the ship’s illusionist, her friend, and often partner for shipboard events. They have a history together. Harmonia is the most likely to take risks and suffer consequences. Without giving too much away, I can let you know that she takes an enormous risk in the second book, DAVY JONES DHARMA.

As a reader, I enjoy watching relationships, especially romantic ones, grow and change between the characters over the course of a series. It’s more interesting to me if it’s not set in stone in the first book, or if it’s so obvious in the first book but unbelievable/annoying obstacles are thrown into the paths of the star-crossed lovers. People grow and change. So do their relationships.

Of course, they are not the only ones who experience love and romance. Supporting characters and passengers have their own love stories. Or sex stories. Nor are all the relationships heterosexual. The characters will fall in love as they fall in love, as works with their character growth and helps drive the mystery plots. But not everything can fit into every book. And not every relationship will be successful.

I’m enjoying the growth and change of the relationships as I write the books, and I hope you will, too.

Visit the Nautical Namaste website, learn about SAVASANA AT SEA, read an excerpt, and find the buy links.