Sunday, December 9, 2012
Using the Holidays as a Plot Device - from Perky to Perfect
Ironically enough, before last night, I would have answered this question differently.
See, I've never been much for "holiday stories." I read a Christmas romance a while back, that a friend gave me, and just *hated* it. Worse, I was trapped on an airplane with nothing else to read - ah, those dark, deprived days before e-readers let us carry huge numbers of books around! - so I read the whole thing. It was about a woman who loves Christmas - she may even have been and elf and I'm pretty sure her name was Holly - who meets this widower with two kids. He's all depressed and the kids are bummed because he's Scroogey. You can guess what happens - she brings Christmas joy into their lives and the two fall in love, sealing it with a Christmas kiss.
Now, to be fair - my friend gave it to me because she loved it. And I know there are plenty of readers out there who are perfectly happy ending with a chaste kiss. That's my own particular parade, that a single, sweet kiss doesn't seal the deal for me. But the rest? Yeah, I totally see that as marketing cash in. As much as I'm a personal fan of the baking and decorating and gift-giving, I know full well that for people who don't enjoy the holidays, dragging them kicking and screaming into it doesn't help anyone.
I've also never written a holiday story. Much as I enjoy the holidays, and as much as I can usually spin a story on most any topic, I just have never seen my way into that kind of story. Every time I try, I think about Holly in all her sprightly perkitude and throw up a little in my mouth.
Not the image we want.
But then, last night, I read Anne Calhoun's story in the Red Hot Holidays anthology from Carina. I confess I read the anthology mainly as research - since I don't read holiday stuff for fun, ever since the Holly Incident - because I'm contemplating something for next year's anthology. Her story, Breath on Embers, had me in tears by the end.
In that story, she took the enormity of holiday pain and used it. The heroine is a woman who lost her husband just before Christmas and her grief is killing her. She avoids everything that smacks of Christmas and seeks out sex to distract herself from the pain. It's hot and erotic sex, yes, but the hero reaches a point where he won't let her use him anymore. He reaches her emotionally through the intimacy of the sex they share. It's powerful and moving and everything a really good erotic story can be.
And it wouldn't have been the same without accessing that very real suffering so many feel during the holidays.
It may have helped that the hero is a brawny fireman and not a perky elf.
Now I'm off to write my story for next year. Though how I'll match what Anne accomplished, I have no idea.