I’m having a love-hate relationship with Christmas romance novellas lately.
Normally, I start reading them on Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, I usually have one at the ready, purchased in early November, just waiting for that first weekend when the lights start going up around the neighborhood and Bing Crosby starts crooning “White Christmas.”
But my relationship with novellas is waning.
On the love side, I like that they are only 40,000 words each, and I can read each one pretty quickly – no long-drawn-out plots where you have to remember all the characters for weeks on end.
And I love that they are usually sold in anthologies of three to five writers from a single publishing house, so it’s a great way to get introduced to a lot of new writers. Heard of a writer but not sure if you’d like her? Try a novella, if she has one – it’s not much commitment, but you can get a clear sense of her style right away.
I also love that the stories are seasonal, and they get me in the Christmas spirit when I want to be. (By the way, where are the Halloween and Thanksgiving novellas? I’d totally read those!)
Anyway, on the “hate” side, I have to say … and this is where my relationship is beginning to wane. … They’re all kind of sounding the same.
I’m tired of these four things: snow storms, faraway cabins, a car or plane stranded in a blizzard, and at least one cynic who has hated Christmas since he/she was a child (usually the hero, but sometimes the heroine).
And if the story isn’t about a snow storm and a faraway cabin, it’s about an office Christmas party where two workers get each other for Secret Santa or one has to dress up as Santa. (Usually it’s the hero, and of course he looks really hot in the Santa suit.)
Now, granted – I’m only reading contemporaries. Maybe the historicals have greater plot variety. (Although historicals would be interesting, since Christmas wasn’t really a popular holiday until around the Victorian era, right? What do the Regencies feature – winter solstice?)
Anyway, the other challenge I do recognize is that these romances have to feature the classic conflict, which is also a conflict for the romance between the H/H, and yet they have to resolve the problem and fall in love within only 40,000 words. That’s a really tall order, and would be difficult for the writer to pull off. For this reason, the couple almost always knows each other already, I noticed. They’re often best friends, or coworkers, or old boyfriend/girlfriend. And frankly, I can’t really see any other way for a writer to arrange it. Having two strangers fall in love within 40,000 words seems almost impossible, so it seems the only option is to make them coworkers or friends from the past.
Now out of all the Christmas novellas I’ve read (among the 30-plus that are starting to sound the same), there’s one, though, that really stands out.
First, here are the ones I’ve read, in no particular order (have you read any of these?). Some were terrific:
- Dashing Through the Mall (Sherryl Woods, Darlene Gardner, Holly Jacobs – Harlequin, 2006)
- The Christmas that Changed Everything (Mary Lynn Baxter, Marilyn Pappano, Christine Flynn – Silhouette, 2000)
- Santa Baby (Jennifer Crusie, Lori Foster, Carly Phillips – St. Martins, 2006 – bought this one because I’m a big Jenny Crusie fan)
- The Night Before Christmas (Lori Foster, Erin McCarthy, Jill Shalvis, Kathy Love, Katherine Garbera, Kylie Adams – Kensington, 2005)
- Sugar and Spice (Fern Michaels, Beveryly Barton, Joanne Fluke, Shirley Jump – Zebra, 2006 – bought this because I started reading Shirley Jump’s blog)
- A Holiday of Love (Judith McNaught, Jude Deveraux, Arnette Lamb and Jill Barnett – Pocket Books, 1994 – an oldie, but I found it at a second-hand store and wanted to read it because I’d become a recent fan of Judith McNaught and Jude Deveraux)
- Jingle Bell Rock (Lori Foster, Donna Kauffman, Susan Donovan, Janelle Denison, Alison Kent, Nancy Warren – Kensington, 2003)
- A NASCAR Holiday 2 (Pamela Britton, Gina Wilkins, Ken Casper, Abby Gaines – HQN, 2007 – bought this one because I’d just taken a class with Abby Gaines and wanted to see her newest release)
- Silver Bells (JoAnn Ross, Mary Burton, Judy Duarte – Zebra, 2008)
- Santa, Honey (Kate Angell, Sandra Hill, Joy Nash – Dorchester, 2009)
But the one that stands out among these 30-plus is this one: Susan Donovan’s story in Jingle Bell Rock. It was called “Turning Up the Heat” (with characters Valerie and furnace-repairman Earl). It was just so … different. It had a different kind of plot, a completely surprise ending, and was just all-around fun. It makes me want to go find everything of Susan Donovan’s now.
So tell me – do you like Christmas romance novellas? What’s your favorite? What plots keep you coming back for more? And what plots do you wish to see out there?