In this 5x5 we're talking to five authors: Mark Herschberg, Anya Josephs, Crystal Maldonado, Luke Cunningham, and Addison Armstrong who are making their debut this year.
The Christmas season can be a great time for many but unfortunately isolating for others. This year we are all feeling the isolation. Not going on the trips we had planned, not seeing the family and friends we thought we would. We all need some coziness and warm feelings because, let’s face it, 2020 has not been the greatest year.
So instead of being a grinch this Christmas, let’s get into some romance, warmth and holiday spirit with 5 holiday romance & family writers. First up we have Sara Arden author of A Glorious Christmas.
Madelyn Morrison is going home for Christmas to get an interview with America’s newest sweetheart. Madelyn grew up with the hero, so she knows she’ll get the interview, but she has bigger problems. The biggest stands six foot two inches and his name is Johnny Hart. He left her standing at the altar.
For barista and café owner Sari Tomas, Christmas means parols, family, and no-holds-barred karaoke contests. This year, though, a new neighbor is throwing a wrench in all her best-laid plans. The baker next door—“some fancy boy from Manila”—might have cute buns, but when he tries to poach her customers with cheap coffee and cheaper tactics, the competition is officially on.
And Baker Boy better be ready, because Sari never loses.
After, Ms. Guzman, we have Mary Alice Monroe. Monroe was named by the South Carolina Academy of Authors as a 2018 inductee of the Literary Hall of Fame. She’s also the recipient of the International Green Fiction Award and has sold over seven million books around the world.
Her novel A Lowcountry Christmas, is the fifth book in her Lowcountry Summer series. Instead of focusing on romance, this Christmas novel explored the love of family and the bonds we share between siblings and parents.
As far as ten-year-old Miller McClellan is concerned, it’s the worst Christmas ever. His father’s shrimp boat is docked, his mother is working two jobs, and with finances strained, Miller is told they can’t afford the dog he desperately wants. “Your brother’s return from war is our family’s gift,” his parents tell him. But when Taylor returns with PTSD, the stress and strain darken the family.
Lana Montgomery is everything the quirky small town of Moose Springs, Alaska can’t stand: a rich socialite with dreams of changing things for the better. But Lana’s determined to prove that she belongs…even if it means trading her stilettos for snow boots and tracking one of the town’s hairiest Christmas mysteries: the Santa Moose.
And really…how hard could it be?
Last but definitely not least, we have Teri Wilson. Wilson is a USA best-selling author. Three of Teri’s books have been adapted into Hallmark Channel Original Movies by Crown Media, including UNLEASHING MR. DARCY (plus its sequel MARRYING MR. DARCY), THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is also a recipient of the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novel THE BACHELOR’S BABY SURPRISE.
Her newest solo holiday romance release is Christmas Charms that came out this past October.
Ashley’s supposed to be having the Christmas of her dreams. After four years of working at an upscale jewelry store in Manhattan, she’s finally going to get a little velvet box of her own―from her boyfriend Jeremy, who’s taking her on a romantic trip to Paris. What could go wrong?
She has a more recent project that came out this December where she and 10 other award winning, best selling authors collaborated on a novel called Christmas Actually. Where each auther has written a short holiday romance story.
Now, that we’ve meet our authors, let’s get to the questions!
How did you fall into writing in the previously niche Holiday Romance genre?
Sara Arden: I’ve always loved holiday romances and at the time, I was writing my Glory series for HQN, and I asked my editor about doing a holiday story in the world. Small town romance plus that special holiday sugar that just makes everything sweeter? It was a win for me!
Carla de Guzman: I suppose I fell into it the same way I fell into writing romance—accidentally, and because simply wanted to. Christmas is a huge holiday in my country, and it’s always been a big part of my life. So I couldn’t imagine not writing at least one story set in that time.
Mary Alice Monroe: Although I do not write novels in the Holiday Romance genre, I love reading them! “A Lowcountry Christmas” is a poignant family story with a powerful love story between family members—and a dog, too. Some of my favorite novels are romances and I’ve forged lifelong friendships when I was a member of RWA.
Sarah Morgenthaler: I was writing a holiday novella for two of my Moose Springs characters who didn’t get a lot of page time. They both seemed like lonely people, so I wanted to give them a Christmas gift of finding happiness and companionship around the holidays. When I pitched the idea of the novella to my publisher, they wanted a full-length book, which was even more fun to write!
Teri Wilson: I’ve written a lot of holiday romances! I love this time of year and wrote my first Christmas romance soon after I first became published. My very first holiday romance, Sleigh Bell Sweethearts, was made into a Christmas movie called Northern Lights of Christmas for the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel, so I’ve been lucky to write more and more holiday books every year.
2. The world is filled with romance stories, how do you try and make your novels unique for readers?
Sara Arden: I think stories are very much like people. Sure, there are millions of them, but none of them are exactly alike. Just like the authors who tell these stories. Really, it’s about finding that part of yourself in the story and letting the characters remind you that the dark night doesn’t last forever, the dragon can be slain, and whoever you are, you deserve to be loved.
Carla de Guzman: I think there’s a reader for every romance, so I don’t really focus on what makes my books unique, but really just write the stories I feel like interest me the most. What if I wrote a holiday romance set in Lipa? What if I wrote about a one night stand, but he comes in to her office for a job interview the next day? What if I wrote an art heist?
Mary Alice Monroe: I write a story based on the animals I am researching. After I determine the setting, themes, plot, I create the characters. I strive to inspire through the power of story. This creates a unique setting and storyline, but I’ve found my readers feel inspired as well. This to me is my greatest joy.
Sarah Morgenthaler: I always write about places that I love, and I focus a lot on the geology and the wildlife of an area. I try to let the location become a character in itself. The love I have for the setting hopefully comes through and helps the story to be a sort of “armchair vacation” for the reader.
Teri Wilson: I try to come up with unique hooks that I haven’t seen before or I take a popular romance trope and try to give it a twist. Christmas Charms, my holiday romcom that came out this year from Hallmark Publishing, is about a magic Christmas charm bracelet. As soon as the main character puts the bracelet on her wrist, the charms start coming true, one by one. I love holiday stories that contain a dash of Christmas magic, and I’ve always wanted to write one. I also love charm bracelets, and when the idea came to me, I couldn’t wait to write it!
3. What is it about the holiday season that makes you inspired to write?
Sarah Arden: Whatever you celebrate this time of year, I think the holiday season makes us look at our human connections and it’s easier to open our hearts to all kinds of love. We reinforce familial, platonic, and romantic bonds, as well as our bonds with other humans by acts of generosity, kindness, and charity. With all of that love in the air, it makes it easy to see how people could fall in love. It’s a kind of magic for me.
Carla de Guzman: Like I said, we celebrate the holidays here in a big way—we’ve been playing Christmas music since September, there’s food of all kinds (quezo de bola and fiesta ham are my favorite things, I will accept no criticism), and there are these little rituals that I’ve always found comfort in—Simbang Gabi, Secret Santa exchanges, wrapping gifts, driving to Lipa. It’s all special, and I like the idea of preserving these memories in books, even if that was accidental, because of the pandemic.
Mary Alice Monroe: I love Christmas! While we enjoy watching happy stories, I seek out the quiet pressures or insecurities hidden beneath the veil of smiles. I believe mother’s feel that the success of a family’s joy on a holiday is on them. We mothers are the ones who usually bake the cookies, decorate the house, and often pick out the presents, too. It’s our job to create a great Christmas. And this can be exhausting, and even cause depression.
In “A Lowcountry Christmas,” the problem at the holiday was a wounded warrior son coming home with PTSD. Mama put on a brave face. I wanted to show how PTSD doesn’t only happen to the soldier—it happens to the whole family. I was inspired to write the novel after I worked with the Wounded Warriors Project at the Dolphin Research Center. I was moved by their courage and especially by the relationships some of the men had with their service dogs. I did more research on the dogs, and the story solidified. Like the film, It’s a Wonderful Life, I created a sentimental story set in a small town that dealt with heavy issues. My angel was the dog! The uplifting ending makes the story all the more moving for the reader –and wonderful!
Sarah Morgenthaler: What I love about the holidays is all the emotions floating around…hope, joy, excitement, and even loneliness. I think carrying over those conflicting emotions to your characters can make a holiday novel particularly relatable to a reader.
Teri Wilson: I love writing stories with a holiday theme because I think we can all relate to the ideal of a perfect Christmas. As children, so many of us experienced this time of year with a sense of wonder and optimism, and I think we still carry that dream of a perfect Christmas deep inside our hearts. I really enjoy tapping into that feeling in my writing.
4. What is your favorite thing about the holiday you celebrate? And does that enjoyment end up in your novels in some way?
Sara Arden: While my favorite thing over all is time with the people I love, specifically, I will say presents. I absolutely love giving gifts. I have such a hard time not giving them as soon as I buy them that I have to sometimes hide them from myself.
Carla de Guzman:I have a big family, in every side of the coin. I have 9 siblings, 35 cousins on my Dad’s side and even more on my Mom’s, not counting aunts, uncles and my cousins’ kids. So I’m used to Christmas being loud and chaotic, which is kind of what happened for Sweet on You. Gabriel comments a few times on the familiarity of the noise of Lipa, because that’s the kind of noise, chaos (or as my mom’s relatives would call it, karibok) that I grew up with.
Mary Alice Monroe: My favorite part of the holiday is the gathering of families. I write novels about a woman’s life—her relationship with her husband, parents, daughter, son, siblings. What better time to write a family story than at Christmas? I will continue to look at Christmas novels with an eye to how gathering with loved ones is what is the key to joy at Christmas.
Sarah Morgenthaler: I’m a cookie fan all year long, but I especially love the baking part of the holidays. Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses both made appearances in my holiday romance.
Teri Wilson: All of my novels contain bits and pieces from my real life and personality. My favorite thing about the holiday season is getting to spend time with friends and family, and that is always a part of my Christmas books. The romance is the main plot, but it never takes place in a vacuum. The characters’ family, friends and community are always a big part of the story too.
5. Can you tell us about a whirlwind romance you might have experienced?
Sara Arden: Whirlwind version of my whirlwind romance: I met a guy who was dating my frenemy when we all went out to lunch. Two months later, after they broke up, I ran into him in a bar. He came home with me. We decided NOT to have sex because we liked each other and didn’t want to ruin it. That lasted a whole two weeks. Three months after we first met, we were dating, three months after that, we were living together. Three months after that, we got married. That lasted a little bit longer than three months. ☺ It’s been twenty-one years.
Carla de Guzman: Someone once walked into a room, and I swear my entire world ground to a halt when I saw them. Like, ‘I can’t believe you’re real, because I feel like I dreamed you up.’
Mary Alice Monroe: I’ve been married to the same wonderful man for nearly 50 years and it’s been one long whirlwind!
Sarah Morgenthaler: Isn’t that the best part of falling in love? They all feel like whirlwinds! And my husband definitely swept me off my feet. :)
Teri Wilson: When my husband and I first started dating, we coincidentally gave each other the exact same Valentine’s Card. When it happened AGAIN the following year, it definitely felt like something special. Fate.
Thank you for doing us for our last 5×5 of the year. Many more to come in the new year! Have a happy holiday no matter what you celebrate and a happy new year!
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go belt “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” But with some Beyoncé flair, excuse me.
Featured image via Bookstr
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