"Revel" derives from a Middle English word that means "celebrate," and it always sounds happy to me. That's why I chose the name Christmas Revels years ago for a print collection of five of my holiday novellas. All of those stories have been released in different e-versions in recent years, but now, for the first time, I'm collecting those original five back into an e-book version of Christmas Revels.
The title had been in my mind for years, ever since we visited my sister and her husband in Boston one holiday season, and she took us to the Christmas Revels, a delightful sort of medieval variety show inspired by historic mummer plays. The performance was held in a theater on the Harvard campus, I think, and was loosely structured around the old tale of Gawain and the Green Knight. Lots of music, dancing, and hammy comic acting.
A particularly nice touch was ending the first act with the performers singing and dancing out of the theater to Lord of the Dance. (This is the Shaker type song, not the flying feet of Irish dancer Michael Flatley.) The Revels performance was one of the most enjoyable theater productions I'd ever seen, and it stuck with me, as did the name, which is so jolly and playful.( The Revels production group now stages shows in several different cities.)
At the time of the show, I wasn't even writing, (this was a LONG time ago!), but after I became a writer and had done my share of holiday novellas, I started thinking that I'd really like it to collect several of my stories into one volume called Christmas Revels. My Berkley editor agreed, and a book was born. There are four historical stories (three Regency, one Victorian), and I wrote my only contemporary novella specifically for the collection.
I wanted to tie the new story into my Berkley contemporary romances, and what better theme for the new story than to have my characters decide to put on a revels type show? I had two suitable characters available in The Spiral Path. (Now retitled Phoenix Falling.) American cinematographer Greg Marino and English actress Jenny Lyme had once worked together on a disastrous Hollywood movie, and even had a bit of a fling at the time. But geography and their careers separated them for years, leaving only fond memories.
Their story, "A Holiday Fling," begins when Jenny decides to put on a Christmas Revels type show to raise money to save her community arts center, which is in a very old tithe barn, from developers. (That's a tithe barn on the left.)
And how better to film it than her old pal, Greg, who recently won an Oscar for his film work? And so the fun begins.
The story gave me a great excuse to research the subject of mummers plays. They bear some resemblance to medieval mystery plays, which illustrated Bible stories, but they seem to date from the 18th century and were more of a form of revenue enhancement. In other words, the working folk who performed their shows in the houses of the affluent could earn some money and have a good time.
I found that mummers plays usually include a hero, a fight, a death, and a miraculous resurrection. (The Christian analogies are obvious.) So my characters work together to put on a play, much fun is had by all, and the hero and heroine fall in love and figure out how to make it work. I even included my sweet cat Grady under the name Plato.
I love writing Christmas stories–I'm working on one now, in fact. They can be ragingly sentimental and over the top, which is right down my alley. <G>
I wrote "Sunshine for Christmas" in order to give a happy ending to a character from my full length novel, The Rake. I have no idea where "The Christmas Cuckoo" came from, but the story of a level headed young woman who goes to a coaching inn to collect a friend of her brother's and comes home with the wrong Jack Howard is one of the most playful things I've ever written.
The image on the right is the cover Kim Killion did for last year's release of "The Christmas Cuckoo" as a single story. Love that cover! She did the Christmas Revels cover also, in all its celebratory playfulness. Here's an excerpt from that story. Jack has just woken up, badly hungover, in the house of Meg Lambert, who thought he was her brother's friend. He thinks back to the night before:
Then the coaching inn, where the delightful Miss Lambert had approached and greeted him. She had wanted a Jack Howard, and in his befuddled state he had been more than willing to oblige.
He winced as he remembered what had happened in the stable. Even three sheets to the wind, he should have known that a female so refined and well-spoken could only be a lady. Instead he had believed her a light-skirt and had lunged at her like a sailor just home from a year at sea. Though in fact she had not seemed to mind, at least not at first. . . .
Recalling that kiss in detail briefly mitigated Jack’s misery. Then the faint sound of voices downstairs brought him back to the present.
Now that he was sober, Jack could hazard a guess about what had happened. Though the two men had never met, there was another officer named Jack Howard, a captain of the 45th Regiment.
Probably there were half a dozen Jack Howards in the army; the name was common enough. And one of them was the friend of Miss Lambert’s brother, but it wasn’t the Jack Howard presently lying naked in bed in this pleasant farmhouse. That thought led him to offer a swift prayer that he had been conscious enough to undress himself, for the alternative did not bear thinking about.
Jack groaned as he considered the dreadful bind he had gotten himself into. How the devil was he going to tell Miss Lambert that he was an unintentional impostor? Last night she had been remarkably tolerant of his disgraceful condition, but the news that she had been misled would make those lovely hazel eyes flash with fury.
Immersed in his dilemma, Jack failed to hear the soft knock at the door, so Miss Lambert’s entry into the bedroom caught him by surprise. He cast one horrified look at her, then behaved like any proper military hero would under such conditions. He dived under the covers and pulled a pillow over his head.
"The Christmas Tart" is another story of unknown origin as a young French émigré seamstress finds herself in dire straits just before Christmas, and makes a hard choice that leads to happiness.
"The Black Beast of Belleterre" is my Victorian tale, and it's pure Beauty and the Beast. James, Lord Falconer, has hidden his ugliness away from the world for most of his life. Marriage is out of the question, until he realizes that the only way he can save a lovely young neighbor girl from a loathsome marriage is to marry her himself. She agrees, and soon has safety and security. But gradually she realizes she wants more, if her husband will allow it….
Happy endings all around! Novellas are a lovely escape at the busiest time of the year, so if you're in the mood for Christmas joy and escapism, Christmas Revels is available at the principal ebook sites such as Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and Google Play. (Barnes & Noble hasn't gone live yet, but they will soon.)
Ho, ho, ho, and happy holiday reading!