In her youth, Kassandra Lamb had two great passions—psychology and writing. Advised that writers need day jobs and being partial to eating, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist—which taught her much about resilience, perseverance, and the healing power of laughter—she spends most of her time in an alternate universe populated by her fictional characters. Learn more about Kassandra and her books at her website.
The Fun and Challenges of Writing Holiday Stories
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 also love writing them. 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.
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 stories, 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).
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.
I love writing holiday stories so much that I’m kind of sad right now—because I’m running out of holidays. I have one more novella planned for the dog trainer series, titled Auld Lang Mayfair. (In case you haven’t guessed, it’s set around New Year’s Day.)
And I’m starting a new series, of police procedurals, partly so I can write more holiday stories for that series!
A Mayfair Christmas Carol
A Marcia Banks and Buddy Cozy Mystery, Book 4)
When Mayfair, Florida’s newly minted Chamber of Commerce goes off the rails and decides to build an ice skating rink for a Christmas extravaganza, a decades-old skeleton is uncovered and its secrets threaten more than the town’s Christmas plans. Service dog trainer Marcia Banks is determined to help her police detective boyfriend solve the mystery—whether he wants her help or not. Can she and her Black Lab, Buddy, keep the ghost of Christmas past from destroying what is left of Mayfair’s founding family?
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