What a great time to talk about genre-switching! As I write this, I'm revising my first ever YA rom/com.
Writing romantic comedy is hard work and I have to tip my hat to authors like Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Kristan Higgins, who make it look so effortless.
I decided to try writing a YA romantic comedy set around Christmas for a few reasons. Christmas romance is a HUGE for Hallmark and Lifetime, but how often do you see a Young Adult version of those movies? I decided to write one. As for the humor, I don't think I'm a funny person and I like to learn new things all the time, so I decided to see if humor can be learned.
I think the answer is yes!
I had a meeting with new agent Jen a few days ago and she said THE CHRISTMAS STRIKE is "totally freaking adorable" -- Direct quote!
*excuse me while I bask*
This does not mean that writing comedy didn't induce several panic attacks, about 3 complete restarts, or come easy for me. I had this idea for years before I acted on it because I honestly didn't think I could do it.
So why try at all? Why stray from the tough issues novels that got me published in the first place? In a word, novel.
No, not the noun. The adjective. Writing in new genres is a novel experience, a chance to expand our talents and skills, and hopefully, our audience. The first time I tackled something outside of YA was an adult romance called A MATCH MADE AT CHRISTMAS. It was a multi-author series and as such, it was a great way to break into a new genre because it was the literary equivalent of training wheels. All of the authors met throughout the project to identify goals, motivation, and conflict, and develop character back stories. It was a fun experience and one I wouldn't hesitate to try again.
But when the idea for THE CHRISTMAS STRIKE er, struck, I kept telling myself I'm not funny and it would be a bad idea to try. But then the pandemic hit and I was bored so I figured, why not? I'd write it and let a few people read it, see if it holds interest. Those few people encouraged me to keep going, that it was funny, and at the parts that weren't, made suggestions to make it so. Then, they encouraged me to submit it.
I did and boy, am I glad.
I love to learn new skills and while one project doesn't necessarily equal mastery, I feel like I can tackle more humor in my novels, or tackle more comedies. I hope you'll get to see THE CHRISTMAS STRIKE on shelves someday soon. Meanwhile, here's a little blurb followed by a sneak preview. This scene takes place just before judges arrive for the Best Holiday Decor contest.
Noelle Garland doesn't merely dislike Christmas. No, she hates it with all the bright and burning fury of the sun. Bad enough that she and her siblings got Christmas names, but did she have to get the Christmas birthday, too? Her parents always combine Christmas and her birthday but this year, she's turning 18 and so, she begs her parents for this one year, just one year when her birthday gets to be bigger and brighter than Christmas. To her total shock, they agree. But then, her stupid brother decides to bring home Quinn, his college roommate, for the holiday break. Not only do her parents renege on their promise, they expect her to join in all of their town's holiday frivolity like they didn't just shatter her dreams like a spun glass ornament. That's when Noelle hatches a plan to put Operation Birthday back on the table. No presents. No shopping. No caroling. No reindeer games, not even a greeting card. This year, Noelle Garland is going on strike against Christmas.
SERGEANT MOM STARTED BANGING ON doors about eight AM Saturday morning. Holly and Pax were screeching like lunatics while Mom found them clothes to wear. I stumbled out of my room, pretty sure I’d slept for maybe five minutes, and in no mood to go another round with my insane mother over the Spirit Awards.
“The judges will be here in half an hour,” she said, sprinting past me. “Pick up your room and get dressed.”
“You said noon,” I replied.
“They changed their minds,” she said, using the Go ahead/Keep talking tone that dared me to do just that.
But, I was tired so I zipped my lips. Instead, I made my bed, scooped up the clothes I had on the floor and stuffed them into the hamper inside my closet. Across the hall, Mom was trying her best to bribe, cajole, and threaten Holly into her cutest Christmas sweater with the candy cane striped leggings.
The vacuum cleaner started up and Mom practically ran over Pax’s feet as he dragged himself into the bathroom and then Holly couldn’t find her jingle bell hair ties. Dad wanted to know if he should dress up or down and finally, Mom noticed Nick’s door hadn’t opened yet. She pounded on it, gave them a 5-minute warning, and was off again, making the beds in Pax’s and Holly’s rooms.
Quinn appeared in the upstairs hall in a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, all rumpled and confused, a toiletry bag clutched in his arms. He disappeared into the bathroom as soon as Pax left it and emerged minutes later looking pressed and polished, like some prep school student minutes before a debate. He was even wearing a shirt and tie under his V-neck sweater!
Who does that?
Better question, who can pack all of that into a toiletry bag? Some serious viral video potential there.
“Quinn, did you finish your tree?”
“Excellent!” Mom beamed at her new favorite kid.
She was still beaming as she whipped the vacuum over the upstairs carpet. Then she caught sight of me. Her sunny smile evaporated and the wrinkle between her eyebrows made its appearance.
“Noelle.” With her foot, she hit the power button and silence once again filled the space between us.
“Elle,” I corrected automatically.
The frown deepened and she shut her eyes for a few seconds, her foot still resting on the vacuum.
“I suppose your little strike extends to your Christmas tree,” she said.
“Yes,” I began, and saw her shoulders drop in defeat. “But I trimmed it anyway.”
Her head shot up and her eyes met mine. “You did? Really?” Her voice rose and she pressed a hand to her chest. “Oh, Noelle—Elle, I mean. I’m so happy.”
“Maybe you should see it first,” Quinn said.
My stomach plummeted to my feet as Quinn’s words shot through me. I thought we were becoming friends, that maybe we’d bonded somehow last night, that he understood my objections to the Spirit Awards and my mother’s total obsession with it. I thought he was different. I wish I could take it back, undo the time I spent helping him, talking to him. I wish he never came here.
Like Quinn had flipped a switch, Sergeant Mom was back and on the attack. She looked from me to Quinn and back again and dragged the vacuum to the door of my room. She opened the door and stared at my work for a few seconds.
Then a few more.
Slowly, she turned to face me and her expression just about freeze-dried me where I stood.
“Elle,” she said, sarcasm dripping into icicles from the word. “You really have no idea how important this is to me, do you.”
It wasn’t a question at all. But I answered it anyway. “I do, actually. About as important as my birthday is to me.” I turned and ran down the stairs, not even bothering to glance in Quinn’s direction.
In the closet near the front door, I’d stashed a couple of props I’d made last night after finishing the tree-trimming. I grabbed my jacket and those props and headed outside. I tugged on a hat and a pair of gloves, then lifted one of the picket signs I’d fashioned out of poster board and one of my brother’s hockey sticks. In bright red and green Sharpie, I’d drawn a large price tag. Inside the tag, I’d written:
You can’t buy Christmas Spirit!
On the other side of the sign, I wrote:
I walked in front of my house with my sign, rotating it so both sides could be read from the street. I hadn’t been out there long when a car pulled to the curb in front of our house.
ONE BY ONE, THE JUDGES assigned to this portion of the Spirit Awards competition climbed out of the black SUV, carrying clipboards and aiming their camera phones.
“Good morning!” The first chirped. She was a tiny fireplug-shaped lady with a dog in a bag hanging from her arm and breath that reeked of Starbuck’s gingerbread latte. “We’re here to judge your holiday decor. Oh, and this is Snowball.”
I extended a hand to pet Snowball but he showed me a row of tiny teeth so I backed way off.
She wore an ugly Christmas sweater with leggings and a long coat. A name tag stuck to her sweater identified her as Carol Murray.
The second judge was taller than Carol Murray. She carried nothing but a clipboard. “Hi. I’m Liz Trepcoe, from town hall.”
We shook hands. “Elle Garland.”
Liz wore regular clothes; just jeans, a pair of sneakers, and a jacket with a scarf. Her only nod to the season was a large brooch in the shape of a wreath pinned to her scarf. “The Garland family at last!” She lifted her hands in a wide gesture. “We’ve all been so excited to see what your family would do for this portion of the competition. With a name like Garland, we were sure it would be amazing.”
Amazing? Try bat-crap crazy. Oh, wait. How could I forget the theme? Let’s go with nutty as a fruitcake, shall we?
The last judge was Diane DeMaris. I knew this because her picture was all over town, on signs, benches, and buses. She was the top realtor in our area. She wore a long white coat with a green scarf wrapped around her neck. Her hair was coiled in a knot at her neck and from her ears, tiny red and green bells hung.
Mom was going to lose what was left of her mind when she spotted those earrings.
“Elle. Very nice to meet you. I’m Diane. Is that a picket sign?”
Before I could reply to Diane’s question, the alarm on Mom’s mini-van suddenly blared.
“Please come inside, while I find the keys to turn that off.”
I swear, that horn kept time to Carol of the Bells.
The four of us huddled in the front foyer. While I dug through all the keys kept in a bowl near the door, looking for the right one, feet thundered down the stairs, a wild herd if you went by Holly’s shrieks. In seconds, Holly and Pax skidded to a stop, dressed in matching Christmas outfits that did not, I repeat, did not include candy cane striped leggings. Holly’s own little strike nearly brought a tear of pride to my eye.
“Hello! My name is Holly.” Her voice was sweet and pitched high and she smiled wide to show her missing teeth.
“And I’m Pax. That means peace.”
I rolled my eyes so hard, I practically saw what was behind me. No Academy Awards in my siblings’ future. I aimed a key out the front door, pressed a button, and silence filled the space.
“So, Elle. You were telling us about your picket sign?”
“I’m striking against Christmas—“
The car began beeping, honking, and flashing again, so Diane, Liz, and Carol made little marks on their clipboards.
I hit the button a second time. Before Diane could ask the question a third time, my parents floated down the stairs, hand in hand, as if they’d been relaxing peacefully with a Dickens novel in front of a roaring fire. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if Dad had slipped a pipe between his teeth. He wore a red V-neck sweater with black pants. Mom wore a crushed velvet dress—an actual dress on a Saturday morning. She topped it with a necklace that looked like a string of tree lights. I slapped a hand over my mouth to keep from giggling.
Everyone shook hands and Carol said, “Oh, that necklace is so cute.”
“Oh, thank you so much,” Mom preened and twirled, pausing to glare at me in warp speed before pinning her holiday smile back into place as she finished her rotation.
Dad held up a finger. “Just one second. You need the full effect.” He reached behind Mom’s neck, fiddled around, and ta da! Mom’s necklace lit up in reds, greens, and blues.
Carol clapped politely.
Mom squealed. “Oh, I adore your earrings!” She said to Diane, who gave her head a toss to make the bells jingle. “And who’s this little sweetie?” Mom spotted the dog in the bag and tried to pet him but got a tiny little growl instead.
I choked on my giggles and slipped into the living room just as Nick and Quinn came down the stairs. I swear, if they were holding hands, I was going to break a few ribs. Luckily, they were not wearing matching outfits.
“Good morning. I’m Nicholas Garland. This is my friend from college, Quinn Grant.”
“Oh!” Liz said on a happy gasp. “I just noticed your children have Christmas names. Holly, Pax, Nicholas.”
“And Noelle,” Mom added.
Liz searched the foyer for me, found me in the living room and walked over. “But you prefer to be called Elle.”
“What a shame that you don’t like your Christmas name.” More notes on her clipboard.
I could practically feel the heat from the thermonuclear reaction taking place inside Mom from across the room. You got a demerit! How could you do this to us!
“May I take your coats?” Mom inquired as politely as she could while clenching her jaw.
“Would anyone like coffee? Cocoa?” Dad added.
After a chorus of no, the three judges turned to our main Christmas tree, positioned in the front window of the living room. The three was twelve feet tall because the ceiling in this room was vaulted. Liz snapped a few photos while Carol and Diane walked around the tree, inspecting it from all angles.
“Tell us about your design inspiration,” Diane invited.
It was like she’d pressed Mom’s power button. “Well, this year, we decided to go with an old-fashioned Christmas theme. Each ornament is vintage, having been part of the family for generations.”
Yeah. Just not our family.
“The garlands arranged vertically down the tree were crafted from the bridal veils of my husband’s mother and grandmother and twisted with velvet ribbon.”
Wow. How long had it taken her to write this script? Mom bought that tulle from the local craft store.
“The lights are vintage bubble lights,” Dad took over the narrative while plugging in the tree. “The angel on top is about a hundred years old, made of etched glass. She’s been cracked and repaired many times over the years but I think those scars only add to her charm.”
He grinned at Mom, a signal that it was her turn again. “The tree skirt is also an heirloom, sewn from the satin of my husband’s grandmother’s wedding gown.”
I rolled my eyes. Great-grandma had eloped and never wore a wedding gown.
There had to be a rule about this somewhere.