It’s Dicken’s fault–he started the trend. Now, maybe there were Christmas stories around before A Christmas Carol (favorite film version being the one with Alistair Sim), but Dicken’s became the one trotted out every year with the trees and holly and mistletoe. And why fight success. But I actually never set out to write a Christmas story.
Under the Kissing Bough started life as a short story. It was supposed to be about 100 pages, and I actually didn’t start out with a time of year, but I did want to see if I could do a novella. I’d been writing a lot of novels and hadn’t done any shorter fiction in a long time, and I actually really, really like the shorter format. It’s a challenge to work in, but can be rewarding. I forgot one thing–you cannot do a short story with lots of characters. Not and do all the characters any kind of justice.
You see, I love to give every character a ‘star turn.’ I think of them all as actors, and every actor–even ones with bit parts–loves to have that great screen moment with wonderful dialogue that moves the story (and the audience). All this mean that with large families (heroine has two sisters, and her parents; hero has father, two brothers, and a former love interest who is now married), I knew that by page seventy, no way was this story ever going to fit into 100 pages. So I put it aside.
And then my then editor at Kensington asked if I’d like to do a holiday book–a Christmas story. “Sure” is always the immediate answer I provide in such situations. And then I had to figure out what I could do for Christmas. Because I can’t just stick on some holy and call it holiday. To me, if an element is not important in the story–and to the characters–it’s got no business being stuck in.
This mean research–as in I needed to dig into English Christmas customs (not difficult since I had a grandmother from Yorkshire and a lot of handed-down family traditions). And I dug out my short story to take another look.
The December setting suited my characters very well–I’d already set up a ‘marriage of convenience’ story (always a wonderful plot to use for historical fiction). Now I could weave in the holiday customs, make them part of the plot and the story (because, in England, you really, really need a very good reason to get married in the cold of winter). There were a few things I couldn’t quite fit into the story due to the limitations of page counts (from the days when that mattered so very much in print)–as in it would have been fun to do more with Twelfth Night celebrations. But I did get other things in there that I loved adding.
And I ended up with a Christmas story.
I’m toying this year with rereading it. I don’t often reread my own work. When you’ve spent a long time writing and revising, another read seems more of a burden than a treat. But it would be fun to do another holiday story. Mmmm…maybe Guy Fawkes day.