There have been novella anthologies on many themes and for many holidays, but Christmas novella anthologies blow all the rest out of the water.
A novella is usually defined as between 20K and 40K words, so it's more than a short story–it's long enough to have character development, a proper romance, and a plot. Christmas, with warm fuzzies and over the top sentimentality, is perfect for novellas. <G>
Those of us who started out as Regency writers at NAL tend to have written more than our share of Christmas novellas–I certainly have! I've collected mine into two different collections: CHRISTMAS REVELS, with five novellas, and CHRISTMAS CANDLES, which has two novellas.
But today's riff is because I've produced two of the stories from Christmas Revels as standalone e-books: The Christmas Cuckoo has been available as an e-book for several years, and I quite recently produced an audiobook version which is available for a very modest sum.
I decided to also do an audiobook version of The Black Beast of Belleterre, and because I needed to do a cover for that, I decided what the heck, let's release it as an ebook just in time for the holiday! (The audio version won't be available for a couple of months–my wonderful narrator, Siobhan Waring, needs to fit it into her schedule.)
The reasons I chose these two for standalone and audio releases is because I believe they're my two most popular holiday novellas, and they are TOTALLY different! I've written about The Cuckoo before. It's a light hearted mistaken identity story, in which the heroine goes down to the local coaching in to collect her brother's friend Jack Howard, and she comes home with the wrong Jack Howard. <G>
I love my Jack Howard–he's like a big shaggy golden retriever who follows the heroine, Meg, home and when he sobers up, he doesn't want to leave. Meg, warm hearted and practical, is his perfect mate.
In contrast, The Black Beast of Belleterre has a Victorian setting (trains!), a Gothic vibe, and as a classic Beauty and the Beast story, it's much more emotional. The hero, James Markland is "ugly, very ugly," and had a rather tragic childhood. He's also Lord Falconer, a wealthy and conscientious baron. (A reader pointed out to me that I used the same name for the hero of my Guardian novel, Stolen Magic. Oops! If I really like a name, it tends to reappear at some later date. <G>)
When traveling abroad, Falconer sees monks wearing cowled mantles that obscure faces and he adopts that for his own constant garb. He is a mystery to almost everyone.
The heroine, Ariel, is a sweet introverted artist who is cursed with stunning beauty–so much so that her horrid, dissipated father is about to sell her to a disgusting old lecher. Falconer has seen and admired her and can't bear to see her suffer such a fate. So he makes her father a better offer and explains to Ariel that it will be only a marriage of convenience.
Falconer was about to descend to his horse when he caught a flash of blue on the opposite side of the hill. Thinking it might be a kingfisher, he raised his field glasses again and scanned the lower slope until he found the color he was seeking.
He caught his breath when he saw that it was not a kingfisher but a girl. She sat cross-legged beneath a flowering apple tree and sketched with charcoal on a tablet laid across her lap. As he watched, she made a face and ripped away her current drawing. Then she crumpled the paper and dropped it on a pile of similarly rejected work.
His first impression was that she was a child, for she was small and her silver-gilt tresses spilled loosely over her shoulders rather than being pinned up. But when he adjusted the focus of the field glasses, the increased clarity showed that her figure and face were those of a woman, albeit a young one. She was eighteen, perhaps twenty at the outside, and graceful even when seated on the ground.
In spite of the simplicity of her blue dress, she must be Hawthorne's daughter, for she was no farm girl. But she did not resemble her florid father. Instead, she had a quality of bright, sweetness that riveted Falconer's attention. His view was from the side and her pure profile reminded him of the image of a goddess on a Greek coin. If his old tutor, Mr. Grice, could have seen this girl under the apple tree, even that old curmudgeon might have wondered if all humans were inherently sinful.
She was so lovely that Falconer's heart hurt. He did not know if his pain was derived from sadness that he would never know her, or joy that such beauty could exist in the world. Both emotions, perhaps.
Unconsciously he raised one hand and pulled the dark hood over his head, so that if by chance she looked his way, she would be unable to see him. He would rather die than cause that sweet face to show fear or disgust.
It takes Ariel some time for her to break down his reserve! But of course she does, and in a way that makes this one of my sweetest holiday stories. If you haven't read it, you might want to give it a try.
The Black Beast cover has a story all its own. A long time ago, I bought the image of a young woman gazing on a hooded man and had Kim Killion use it for a cover of my one medieval, Uncommon Vows. There weren't a lot of images available at that time, and this one sort of worked, but I was never entirely satisfied, and I ended up finding a image that suited Uncommon Vows better.
BUT when I decided to give the Black Beast a cover of its own, I thought of my hooded man and asked Kim what she could do with it. It took a fair amount of tweaking, but as you see, she produced a winner! Take a look at the differences.
(This contrasts with the much simpler story of the cover for The Christmas Cuckoo. I went to a stock photo site, typed in Christmas Cuckoo, got about five images, immediately pounced on this one, sent it to Kim, and about half an hour later I had a wonderful finished cover. <g>)
So those are some tales about my Christmas tales. Are you a lover of Christmas novellas? If so, this is the season for indulging in them!
Happy Reading and Happy Holidays–