My Books

The Story Behind the Holiday Story

Holiday movie season is now in full swing, which means I feel a lot less inappropriate about promoting my holiday novella, though I haven’t actually started watching the holiday movies yet. My DVR is filling up, though, so there will have to be a binge at some point.

So, anyway, I have a holiday novella that’s on sale now. You can get more info and the sales links here.

Twice Upon a Christmas cover

Hallmark gets all the press for these now, and it’s become such a thing for them that they start showing non-stop Christmas movies before Thanksgiving and even show some during the summer, but even before they made themselves the Christmas movie channel, there were others doing it (and doing it better).

The first one I can recall that fit the mold of “romantic comedy set at Christmas” rather than the kinds of movies that are more directly about Christmas — the Santa Claus movies, various versions of A Christmas Carol, etc. — was on the Family Channel (which has gone through a lot of names and owners over the years and is now known as Freeform) during the 90s. It was called The Christmas List and starred Mimi Rogers as a department store perfume counter employee who, on a whim, made a list of silly things she wanted for Christmas, as though she was writing a letter to Santa. One of her co-workers snatched it away from her and put it in the mailbox for letters to Santa — and then all her wishes started coming true in strange ways. One of the wishes coming true made her path cross a widowed doctor with a kid. I really loved this movie. It had all the pretty Christmas setting stuff, and the plot did tie into the holiday, but it had a lot of thought-provoking stuff in it, like how we sometimes don’t do a lot to go after the things we want. That was what was interesting, how getting some of her wishes gave her the courage to start taking steps on her own. Unfortunately, I don’t think this movie has ever been released on DVD, but it sometimes shows up on TV during the holidays (but beware: there’s an inferior Hallmark movie with the same title), and at one point it was on YouTube (I don’t know if it still is).

Then Lifetime got into the game, and they did a bunch of these — fairly low-budget, mostly filmed in Canada (so you recognize all those actors from various science fiction shows). I think the Lifetime ones tend to be more urban, compared to Hallmark’s glorification of small towns. Now Lifetime seems to have backed off somewhat and ceded the territory to Hallmark. Freeform’s barely in the game (though my favorite movies all seem to have been on whatever incarnation of that channel).

When I decided to write my own holiday movie, I think it was before I got Hallmark on my cable system, so I was going more on the Lifetime/Family model, which is a little urban and maybe a bit edgier while still counting as “sweet.” I’m not sure Hallmark would have wanted this story, but it would have been a perfect fit for Lifetime or Family back in the day. I tried to stick with the formula of what I saw. The plot was loosely based on a familiar story or movie — in this case, the Sliding Doors story of seeing the different paths life could take based on a seemingly minor difference. I mixed it up by having the heroine aware of both lives and able to use what she learned in one life in the other, with her alternating days. There was a lesson to be learned. I chose music for the less secure potential life because I noticed that they frequently cast former teen actresses whose careers didn’t quite take off when they transitioned to adulthood in these things, and a lot of these actresses come from the Disney sitcom factory, where they’re required to also do some kind of singing. I figured the role would be appealing to an actress with singing talent. Plus, that was around the time the first Pitch Perfect movie was really big, so there was more awareness of a capella singing, and I thought that would resonate. There was even a chance of doing a spin-off single to be released for radio airplay if the lead actress had any background there. There’s a group around here that specializes in Christmas caroling in Victorian attire and is booked solid during this time of year. I’ve heard some of their stories about having to get to events in hoopskirts, and I thought that would give the seasonal tie while also providing some fun visuals. Meanwhile, I noticed that there was always a role for an “elder statesman” type actor, usually someone who was really big in a sitcom during the 80s and whose career has leveled off since then, so I wrote that kind of role (basically, you can imagine that Tilly in my story is played by Shelley Long).

Unfortunately, right around the time I finished writing my screenplay, Hallmark really took off with these movies and the other networks mostly gave up, producing only one or two new ones a year. I wasn’t sure mine was a good fit for Hallmark — they haven’t used music as much as the other networks have, it’s in an urban setting, and it’s implied that the hero and heroine do more than kiss before the end. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to try writing more of those, and there wouldn’t be much point of trying to go through the effort of finding a screenwriting agent and dealing with Hollywood for one TV movie script. And so, when I re-read it last year and found that I still really liked it, I decided to turn it into a novella. I’m always looking for something like that to read around the holiday season, and I figured others might like that, as well. Short pieces are good when you’re so busy. It’s something you can sit down and read in one sitting.

While I do enjoy these movies, I have to admit that most of the parodies I’ve seen are pretty accurate. There’s this early draft of a Hallmark movie script. And someone I know created a randomized holiday movie plot generator.

It was fun to write this. I haven’t seen how well it’s selling, so I don’t know if it would be worthwhile to write another one, but it might be something fun to do as a “break” while my house is still decorated for the holidays.

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