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08 December 2010

Literary Happy Holidays


In the midst of finishing a draft, starting on revisions, and holiday decorating and shopping (so much left to do!) I found time to curl up with Lauren's The Mischief of the Mistletoe. It was an absolute delight. I tried to use it as writing motivation by telling myself I could read a section if I wrote so many words, but I ended up reading way more than I was supposed to. One of the many things I loved about it was sharing the holidays with favorite characters at a Christmas house party hosted by the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale.

I've always liked stories set during the holidays. There's something fun and fascinating about seeing how celebrations are both familiar and different with different characters, in different historical eras. A familiar frame, filled in in myriad ways. I confess, though I love most Dickens, A Christmas Carol has never been a favorite of mine. But growing up, I was fascinated by the glimpses into holidays in another era with the Christmas scenes in Little Women and also the Hanukah scene in the All of a Kind Family books. Emma has key scenes that take place at Christmas celebrations and Pride and Prejudice has the Gardiners' Christmas visit. Brideshead Revisited has Charles's Boxing Day arrival at Brideshead (vividly captured in the miniseries) moving into New Year's. Barbara Hambly's Darwath fantasy trilogy takes place in a parallel universe, but there's a major scene that takes place at a midwinter festival. Like The Mischief of the Misteltoe, Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Sanctuary also offers a delightful (if dangerous) Christmas house party.

Writing this post, I realized a lot of my favorite holiday stories are television episodes. I write this I'm watching a Christmas-season episode of House as I write this post (not surprisingly, it steers well clear of sentimentality). The X-Files episode "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is probably my favorite holiday story ever. One of my holiday traditions is to watch it as I wrap packages. And of course Mulder and Scully had their first kiss on New Year's Eve (I usually watch "Millennium" while I'm dressing for New Year's Eve).

My mom and I wrote two Christmas novellas when we were writing traditional Regencies as Anthea Malcolm. They were a lot of fun to do. It's a bit of a challenge to write a Regency-set Christmas story, as so much of what we now associate with the holiday (such as Christmas trees) became popular in England in the time of Victoria and her German husband Albert. But one still has Yule logs and wassail bowls, mistletoe, pine boughs, and spiced wine.

I hadn't dealt with the winter holiday season in any of my novels until my forthcoming Vienna Waltz. Vienna Waltz takes place at the Congress of Vienna in late November 1814. A year ago, I was revising my first draft. I knew I needed a epilogue to wrap up some plot lines, but I hadn't written it yet. At a holiday show that included some early 19th century Christmas music, it occurred to me that I could set the epilogue during the holiday season.

Which tied in nicely with my research. Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince Talleyrand's niece-by-marriage (his nephew's wife) and his hostess at the Congress (and very likely later his mistress but that's another post) gave a party at the French Embassy at the Kaunitz Palace on Christmas Eve 1814. Dorothée is a major character in Vienna Waltz, and her Christmas Eve party became the setting for my epilogue. I was even able to include a Christmas tree. Dorothée had one by the staircase in the Kaunitz Palace and set quite a fashion at the Congress. It was called "Christmas Berlin style." Which made me realize in future books I could have my hero and heroine take the tradition back to Britain, long before Victoria and Albert made decorated trees part of a traditional English Christmas. As I writer I find it a challenge not to make a holiday scenes too sentimental. But in this case I think--I hope--the setting ended up being an interesting contrast to some of more disturbing revelations the characters are still dealing with in the epilogue.


What are some of your favorite holiday-set stories? Writers, have you written stories set during the holidays? What are some of the particular challenges?

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11 Comments:

Blogger Doreen DeSalvo said...

What a lovely photo, Tracy!

I'm a sucker for Christmas stories, which is ironic since I'm not a Christian. There's something about those holiday stories full of families, tradition, and cozy evenings around the fire that make me all sentimental.

I particularly miss the old anthologies of traditional Regency stories. Mary Balogh's "A Christmas Bride" is a particular favorite. I hope that one is reprinted soon.

2:13 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Tracy - I too love holiday-set TV episodes. I enjoy seeing some of the Grinchier cast members become reluctantly generous.

I just wrote a Christmas-set novella for next summer's Improper Gentlemen anthology. Pulling off a full-fledged Victorian Christmas wedding for my gunfighter hero was very tricky, even with his mother's ghost sitting on my shoulder to cheer me on. I actually brainstormed with my fellow Hoydens. :-)

9:43 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

What a serendipitous post! I was just thinking this morning about the Dickens canon of Christmas stories, Tracy! The name Dot Peerybingle popped into my head as I was driving. Too many years ago to count, I played the role in a dramatization of Dickens's "A Cricket on the Hearth," which is as bright and cheery as "A Christmas Carol" is shadowy. And I've played Mrs. Cratchit in ACC numerous times as well, in the adaptation that was first done by the Childrens Theatre of Minneapolis, where the characters, except for Scrooge are also narrators.

I've never written a Christmas scene into any of my novels (that I can remember, anyway). And I've got Lauren's "...Mistletoe" on my nightstand, but deadlines have prevented me from being able to finish it ... so so spoilers!!! I have, however, laughed out loud as I've read it. It's as delicious as a gingerbread man and homemade eggnog, and not nearly as caloric.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Diane, your novella sounds wonderful! I can see how the wedding would be tricky to pull off, but tricky premises like that make for great stories!

10:13 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I've never read "Cricked on the Hearth", Leslie (or seen it dramatized). Obviously something I should rectify. "Mistletoe" is a great holiday treat and, as you say, wonderfully non-caloric!

10:15 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Sorry, Doreen, somehow I missed your comment this morning. I'm completely nonreligious, but I love the season, and I think, like you, I love the sense of family in a lot of holiday stories. I like stories that involve large groups of characters with complicated relationships, and holiday stories usually have that. There's a wonderful warmth but there can also be the potential for interesting conflicts with family and friends gathered together.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

p.s.

The photo was taken at Rules, one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in London. I had a lovely meal there and did some research!

3:47 PM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

Tracy, how lovely! I'm so glad you liked "Mistletoe". And now I have to hunt down those Anthea Malcolm Christmas stories....

5:11 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Mistletoe is next on my TBR stack. I hope to get to it before Christmas !! And like Lauren, now I have to go in search of the Anthea Malcolm Christmas stories.

I love Regency Christmas anthologies. I have several that I read every year at this time to help get me into the Christmas spirit!

Tracy, you always have such lovely photos!

6:32 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

It was a wonderful holiday treat, Lauren! And aside from being a great holiday story, a great story on its own terms as well. Turnip turned out to be such a lovely hero!

11:50 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Louisa, I too find Regency Christmas anthologies a great way to get into the holiday spirit! Thanks about the photos--as my friends can attest, I take *lots* so that way I tend to end up with some good ones :-).

11:51 PM  

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