Christmas Holiday Romance

How  To Write A Christmas Romance

    I stare at my laptop screen, disbelieving the words my editor Jeannine is uttering. A Christmas romance? Is she kidding me? I am Kelsey McCarty. Queen of the Disgruntled Female Detective genre.

  My fat tabby, Kramer jumps aboard the laptop and begins to dance upon the keys. 

   “A Christmas romance? Need I remind you, I write dark suspense novels with a protagonist who is combative, anti-social and drinks too much. Moira Flynn’s character would not quite fit in to a romance novel. Even if a half dozen dead bodies show up in it.”

   Janine edges closer to her side of the screen. I envision the desk in her New York office as cluttered with manuscripts and other paraphernalia.  There may be a single photo of her husband and son. I don’t know for sure because I’ve never been there.

   “As your editor, Kelsey, I’ll be honest.  Readers are tired of the Moira Flynn books.  Since this pandemic, audiences are searching for lighter fare. Stories that are uplifting and cheerful. You know, fun and escapist.”

   “I don’t need help with my career, Janine. I’ve been a New York Times bestselling author for ten years. I have a loyal audience and they do not expect me to morph into Danielle Steele.”

   “Just think about it, Kelsey. I’m talking about a slim novel, not Gone With the Wind.”

    I slam my laptop shut and then make a gesture toward Janine that she does not see. 

   Later, I take my tea and go outside on the back porch with Kramer as he basks in the sun on my lap. I haven’t left my house in eleven years. The porch is still considered part of my safe zone.

   There is a name for my condition. Agoraphobia. I don’t consider it a liability. I don’t need to be in the world to survive. I was ordering clothes on Amazon and having groceries delivered long before the world caught up with the concept last March.

   I am quite familiar with the insipid romance Janine is peddling. My niece gobbles up such drivel on the Heartmark Channel. I’ve been forced to watch when she’s come over.

  There is more or less one format for every movie on the Heartmark Channel:

1.    Big City person ends up in quaint small town for the holidays. Big City person is most likely a jaded woman who is either an ad executive, a landscape architect, or a corporate lawyer. Every so often, the jaded Big City person is a male.

2.    The reason the Big City person ends up stuck in small town varies. Car broke down. Train broke down. She/He inherited a house or broken down hotel from a distant relative and decides to sell the property.

3.    Jaded Big City person meets down to earth small town person who is either a rancher, Christmas tree farmer or beleaguered restaurant owner whose place is about to go under.

4.    There is always a cute dog, an adorable, precocious child and a cranky older person in every Heartmark movie.

   I look over my notes and then I decide. I will do this, as much as it pains me. 

Maybe I will tank this on purpose and Janine will concur that the idea of me writing a romance is ludicrous.

   The next morning, I get out my laptop and begin. I come up with a simple title. Christmas In Apple Falls.

    Ellie walked down Main Street in Apple Falls singing and whistling. Ellie Reed was constantly singing and whistling. Ellie was completely happy most of the time.

   Ellie’s boots crunched in the soft snow that had fallen the previous night. The Christmas tree stood in the town square ready for the official tree lighting that would take place later that night. 

  Children were running to school with flushed cheeks as they attempted to pelt one another with snowballs. Ellie loved her town and loved Christmas.

  She opened the door to the bakery she owned with her sister, Confections and Connections and removed her snowy boots and coat.

  Her sister, Mellie was behind the counter placing scones and muffins in the display case. Mellie was her twin but did not share Ellie’s sunny nature. In fact right now, she looked quite glum.

  “Where have you been? I was in here baking muffins at four in the morning while your head was still on your pillow.”

   “Sorry. What’s wrong with you? You’re in more of a grumpy mood than usual.”

    Mellie  finished with the last tray of cranberry scones and stood up to face her sister.

    “Business is bad, Ellie. I did the books last night. I don’t know how long we can stay open. The reason is right across the street.”

    Ellie looked out the window toward Sterling Bake Shop. Sterling’s was a mid-sized chain that had opened two months ago. The younger people in town from the nearby college preferred Sterling baked goods supposedly because they offered vegan and gluten-free products.

  Ellie had yet to meet the owner, Jason Sterling. She supposed he stayed in the city and let others run things. She had heard he was quite handsome. Not that she would admit this to Mellie.

  Ellie grabbed a tray of muffins and two coffees. “It’ll work out, Sis. I’m taking this over to Dad at the retirement home. I’ll be right back. I swear.”

  Mellie glowered at her sister. “Don’t take too long. You do need to work sometime today, you know.”

   Ellie walked across Main Street with her coffee and blueberry muffins when a man obviously not looking where he was going ran smack into her. He was trailed by a little girl of about five with a dog on a leash.

  Ellie stood there unable to move, coffee dripping all over her beautiful red wool coat.

   I stop a second and assess what I have so far. This is the obvious part of a romance known as Meeting Cute. The reader can assume the man is the mysterious Jason Sterling. I am trying to conjure a mental image of what he looks like. Maybe a cross between Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper with some Ryan Reynolds thrown in.

 My niece Maggie comes over later and I let her read what I have so far. She has never been allowed to read my Moira Flynn novels. They are way too grizzly and graphic for a twelve year old.

  “I really like this, Aunt Kelsey. I can totally see it as a movie!”

   I value Maggie’s opinion, but she is only twelve.

   “Aunt Kelsey, can I ask you something? My Fall concert is this weekend and I would really like you to come. Mrs. Miller gave me a solo even though I’m only in seventh grade. It’s at the bandshell in the park and it’s all socially distanced. Please come, Aunt Kelsey.”

   I love this child but there is no way to make her understand. She’d only been a baby when it all started. The fear, anxiety and heart palpitations in public places. The panic attacks. 

  “I can’t, Baby. Have your mom and dad record it. I’m sorry, Honey.”

       The man apologizes profusely and extends his hand. 

   “Jason Sterling. I own the bakery over on Elm. Again, I am so sorry. I’ll buy you a new coat or at least pay for dry cleaning.”

       So this dark haired stranger was the elusive Jason Sterling. The man who was taking business from Ellie and her sister. Now she was angrier about more than a ruined coat.

     Ellie Reed. I’m afraid my sister and I are your competition. We own Confections and Connections.”

     The little girl, who had been chasing the dog around ran up and stood beside her dad.

    “Hi, I’m Lucy. This our Golden Retriever, Oscar. I’m taking him for show and tell today.”

   “Nice to meet you, Lucy. Mr. Sterling I have to go. I have to drop off what’s left of my father’s breakfast at his care facility.”

    Ellie’s dad was sitting in the common room in front of the TV chomping at the bit because she was late.

   “Where have you been, Girl? And what in the world happened to your coat? There are big brown coffee stains all over it.”

   Sorry, Dad. There was kind of a disaster with your coffee. I still have your muffins, though.”

    Her father grabbed the muffins hungrily. He was having a good day. Those days were starting to become fewer and farther between.

   Ellie tried not to think too much about Jason Sterling after their encounter. She had a failing business and a failing father to contend with. Like it or not, Jason still managed to invade her thoughts.

  He had a child so she assumed there was a Mrs. Sterling. Then Mellie told her she’d heard through the grapevine that the ex lived in the city and that Jason had full custody of the little girl.

   About a week after their clash in the street, Jason Sterling walked into the bakery. This time he was wearing a suit and looked quite the businessman.

  Ellie was with a customer and pretended to ignore him. He approached as soon as the customer left.

  “Mr. Sterling, Nice to see you again. We’re very busy here if you don’t mind. My sister and I are trying to stay in business.”

   “That’s why I have a proposition. Why don’t we join forces for the Christmas Festival next week? I’m talking about combining our businesses just for the event. We’re new here and it would give us exposure in the community. You know, I’ve heard your lemon bars are the best in six counties. Maybe the town needs a reminder of that. We’d split the profits. It would be one business helping another.”

  Her first instinct was to say no. But he was right. She and Mellie needed to rustle up some business even if that meant consorting with the enemy.

  So it began. They sat down that very afternoon and began trading cookie recipes. Soft apple spice cookies for her and vegan chocolate chips for him. They ended going out for beer and wings at Charlie’s down the street. 

  At  the  end of the night he walked her home and he kissed her. That was all. She didn’t invite him in and he didn’t pressure her. Very sweet.

  I stop there. I’m assuming readers of this stuff don’t like their characters jumping into bed together after a first date involving beer and chicken wings. The anticipation needs to be stretched through many chapters. When they finally do the deed it will be in an ultra romantic setting like a B and B near the ocean or in a rustic cabin in Vermont.

 I send the pages to Janine and she is pleased. My “Producers” move of deliberately writing something bad does not succeed. A romance writer I am not, but I have to admit I am pleased with myself.

  The Christmas Festival went well for both Confections and Connections and Sterling Bakery. They sold out every cake, pie and cookie all three days. The lemon bars sold out in ten minutes. Ellie was feeling hopeful about her both her business and her romantic prospects.

  On the last night, a string quartet played Christmas songs in the town square. Jason took Ellie’s hand and they danced together under tiny white twinkling lights as snow fell. 

    Done. For now, at least. There’s a lot of revising to go.

  I pick up my phone to call Janine. Instead I call my niece Maggie. Naturally I get her voicemail. 

  I  start to leave a message about attending her concert. But I just can’t do it. Writing romance may have just made me sentimental and a tad guilty about disappointing my niece yet again.

 I’m not ready. Not yet.

December 11, 2020 02:06

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