by Kassandra Lamb ~ Not quite a year ago, I wrote this post as a guest post for someone else’s blog. But since the fall/winter holiday season is upon us once more, it seemed like a good time to re-run this post, about writing holiday books (with a few updates at the end).
I’ve always loved reading holiday stories, especially Christmas ones. They put me in the mood for that holiday. And I’ve discovered in recent years that I love writing holiday books as well. They’re a lot of fun.
There are, however, a few unique challenges to penning a story set at Halloween or Christmas or any other holiday.
But first, the fun!
Descriptions of Settings
Descriptions become a lot more fun to write when you can dress them up with sparkly Christmas lights or spooky Halloween decor or red hearts for Valentine’s Day.his are my photos of the IRL decorations in St. Augustine
The first holiday novella I wrote was for my Kate Huntington mysteries. It’s set in St. Augustine, Florida, where Kate’s parents live.
In real life, St. Augustine goes way overboard when it comes to Christmas. The town, its businesses and residents put up millions of tiny white lights to create a wonderland. Every palm tree and light post is swathed in garlands, lights and ribbons. And even during the day, the decorations are spectacular, like the gazebo in the town plaza.
The descriptions of those decorations help readers be right there with Kate and her family as they prepare for the holidays, and solve a mystery while they’re at it.
And as the plot is unfolding in The Legend of Sleepy Mayfair (in my second cozy series), the town’s riding stable is gradually transformed into a haunted house, with witches and giant spiders hanging from the rafters and a room full of creepy dolls.
A Little Lighter
The holidays themselves tend to lighten things up. And in my holiday books, which are all novellas, the stories are shorter, so I have to keep things a bit simpler.
Little or no subplots, for example. But that’s okay, because the holiday itself becomes a subplot—the preparations for it, the anticipation, how the characters feel about that particular holiday.
Lightness and fun aren’t all that intriguing after a while, though. Even in holiday stories, there needs to be tension, conflict, and dark moments to make for an interesting read. And especially in mysteries, there needs to be something, well, mysterious.
How to create those darker elements without making the story depressing? One way I found was to make the mystery about something other than murder. In An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine, it’s a missing person, a friend of Kate’s parents.
In my Christmas novella for my second series, about a young woman who trains service dogs for veterans, I made the murder an old one. The protagonist’s quirky neighbors in Mayfair, Florida decide to build an ice-skating rink (told you they were quirky) to attract winter tourists. And during the excavation, a thirty-year-old skeleton is uncovered.
The themes in holiday stories, obviously, should be related to that holiday. That is both fun and challenging. For my novella, My Funny Mayfair Valentine, the mystery revolves around a budding romance (or two or three).
The themes of my Christmas stories are related to family. In A Mayfair Christmas Carol, as Marcia and her police detective boyfriend try to solve the old murder, the back story of the town’s founding family is revealed and we learn, along with Marcia, why the muumuu-wearing octogenarian matriarch is a Scrooge.
Bringing It Home
The endings should also be related to the holiday in some way. In The Legend of Sleepy Mayfair, I re-enacted—sort of—the ride of the Headless Horseman.
And in A Mayfair Christmas Carol, Marcia and her boyfriend literally bring someone home to their family on Christmas Eve.
Timing of the Book’s Release
Another challenge is getting the book finished around the right time of year. Sometimes we hit the mark, and sometimes…not. One of our authors didn’t get her Christmas book, The Twelve Thieves of Christmas done quite on time. Rather than put it out in mid-winter, she waited until the following fall.
And Kirsten Weiss has a new book coming out next week that’s a Valentine’s Day story. But why make fans of her Wits’ End series wait? (see below)
I have one more holiday novella planned for the dog trainer series, titled Auld Lang Mayfair. I’m hustling to get it done in time, so that it can come out at least somewhere close to New Year’s Day.
And I’ve started a new series, of police procedurals, so I can keep on writing holiday books for a while now! Once I finish Auld Lang Mayfair, I have a Christmas novella planned for the C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. But I won’t have it done for this year. I’ll probably make it a newsletter subscribers’ exclusive until next fall, and release it to everyone else then.
Readers, do you like reading holiday books? Writers, how do you feel about writing holiday books?
And here’s Kirsten’s New Release…
Night of the Cupid, A Wits’ End Doyle Cozy Mystery, #7 (RELEASES 10/31/22)
Roses, chocolate, and a completed to-do list. Is that too much to ask for Valentine’s Day? When you own the Sierra’s best UFO-themed B&B, it might be. Because murder is about to collide with all of Susan’s carefully laid plans…
The Valentine’s special at her B&B has attracted all the wrong guests—a group of Bigfoot seekers and the ex-con who shared the worst night of Susan’s life in a small-town jail. At least she’s got her boyfriend Arsen for moral support.
Or does she? Because as the big day approaches, Arsen’s acting even more unpredictable than usual.
And when she discovers the body of a woman with a bevy of boyfriends, she learns that when love goes wrong, nothing goes right. But will Susan’s determination to set things straight land her on the wrong end of one of Cupid’s arrows?
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. Plus she has started a new police procedural series, also set in Florida—The C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. And she writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
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