A Christmas Tree’s a Tree for A’ That

Christmas tree and womenThis is a slightly idealized version of the family Christmas tree

Joanna here, and again we're talking Christmas trees. Yesterday's post was about the many Wench trees of Christmas. Today's post is about my own trees of Christmas past.

Paper Christmas TreeWe always had full-sized trees when I was little. I've decorated a few Big Trees in my adult life. But most often it's been little trees.

Most often, in fact, it's been 'make do with what you can get'.

I remember the Christmas tree of cut-and-taped construction paper in London. That was that year they flew me in to take up work on December 24. (And sent all my luggage, including the presents, off to spend the holidays who knows where.)

I taped my paper tree to the wall. We made chains from red and blue Paper-Chain-2 and yellow construction paper. Made flat circles to be the Christmas tree balls.

We gave each other gifts we could buy at the drug store, since that was the only store open on Christmas Eve.Kriskindle mart

Julgransförsäljning_utanför_Lunds_domkyrkaIn Germany … Oh, they do Christmas trees with flair and vigor in Germany, that being more or less where the whole Christmas Tree  idea comes from.  I bought my trees from the Boy Scouts, who were very kind about putting them on top of the car. I bought hand-carved and painted decorations in the Christmas Market. I still have some of those. And I followed the local custom of buying the tree just a day or two before Christmas.

I like that idea of the tree being special for the day. I still put up and decorate my tree just ahead of the Solstice.

ChristmarktIn Paris we bought small trees. Chic urban trees. Trees you could balance precariously on the top of your wheelie shopping cart and roll home through the streets, up and down curbs and stairs. Apartment-sized trees. Trees from the town Marché, only a little larger than the huge bouquets of flowers everyone was carting around pour présenter and sold by the same deft and flattering young men.

Nigeria was to Christmas trees utterly unknown. I mean, conifers are a concept pretty much alien to the equatorial ecosystem. So we had a 'Christmas branch'. We'd swipe a fringy palm leaf from the nearest scrub brush area. This would arch in an un-Christmas-tree-like way but was pretty and satisfying unless you have the unshakabPalm branchle conviction that Christmas trees are supposed to stand up straight Nigerian angel 2. The way you do it is you put long strings on the baubles and let them hang down at artistically satisfying lengths.

In the beach market I bought lovely carved angels about two inches high made from the wood of the local thorn trees. 

Saudi Arabia was a bit of a challenge, since the sale of Christmas trees was officially forbidden. The garden shops, however, just happened to do a roaring business in potted evergreen landscape shrubs at that time of the year. The proprietor would show us to the selection way out behind the potting sheds. We'd drive around back to discreetly load up our landscape spruce in the jeep and toss a tarp over it on the way home.     

Here in the US, I've sometimes bought living trees. I'd dig a hole — or get one of the kids to dig a hole — in Christmas tree 2014 3September or October. Then pick out some baby evergreen, celebrate it for the holidays, and then plant it in the ground after the holidays. Very satisfying. Christmas tree e 2015

If I was feeling less proactive I'd take my handsaw and wander up into the woods, of which we have quite a wide selection in this part of the country, and collect a nice little conifer. Best place is some construction site, one jump ahead of the bulldozers. I would think of it as pre-recycling.

And this year, it's been a rosemary Christmas. I bought a rosemary bush and celebrated with tiny trimmings. The smell is wonderful. Just wonderful.

What's your very favorite life-affirming plant for the winter season?

Marriage stories

 001Hi, Jo here, talking about marriage stories. Most romances are courtship stories, sometimes with marriage at the very end, but I love a marriage story, especially a marriage of convenience or a forced marriage. I'm not so keen on marriage in trouble stories, though I did one in The Shattered Rose.

I need a short hand here, and MOC — marriage of convenience — doesn't work, because some are very inconvenient for one or both parties! So I'll use VBL — vows before love. That's the crux of it, isn't it? These two people will be in love (after all, it's a romance) but when they say their vows they aren't, and possibly are enemies.

The Shattered Rose is medieval, and medieval is a great time period for the arranged or forced marriage because it was more common back then. All four of my medieval romances are VBL, because even in The Shattered Rose Galeran and Jehanne made an arranged marriage when young. They'd come to love one another, but then trouble shatters that.

That's the original cover, which was absolutely gorgeous — and which didn't sell well at all.

I think nearly every romance reader loves a VBL story. Am I wrong? If you don't like them, why not?

If you do, join me in listing the delights.

1. Rational conflict.

The perfect situation for a romance novel is one that forces the hero and heroine together even as something else drives them apart. In the real world, if we fear/distrust/dislike a person we avoid them as much as we can. This, however, does not a good romance make. With VBL they are locked together. In a historical VBL they have little chance of breaking the marriage, and the woman least chance of either.

Question? If we like VBL, do we like heroines in vulnerable situations? Is this healthy?

AmoldI like VBL a lot, and yes I do like heroines in vulnerable situations sometimes. The first book I wrote, An Arranged Marriage ('nuff said!) puts Eleanor in a very vulnerable situation, but also shows her strengths. To me, it's no different to a thriller that begins with a man trapped and vulnerable — held hostage, wounded and captured, wrongly jailed et al. It's a launch pad for his heroism. What's more, assuming our hero isn't the sort to beat her or lock her in an asylum, he's stuck in a box with her, too, with few defences, and without some of the barriers he has against the wider world. She will learn his secrets.

That's the original cover, which I like a lot.

2. Rational sex.

We all know the tricky part of the modern historical romance is that sexy books are popular, but sexy acts without marriage weren't rational for ladies in the past. Even in the more recent past. It happened, of course it did, but before the pill it was risky behaviour, and the consequences shaped many women's lives, sometimes badly.

With VBL, there can be sex before love, too, but that doesn't mean it has to be bad sex. However it goes, it's allowed, and the woman won't be ruined by it — though it might, of course, ruin some plan of hers. An interesting story possibility!

In Christmas Angel, we have a rationally arranged marriage between two sensible people, but they still manage to get all tangled about the sex!

3. Sex between strangers.

VBL doesn't mandate that they be strangers. The couple might have known each other all their lives. The story might have a betrothal period during which they get to know one another, even if that doesn't remove the conflict. That was the situation in An Unwilling Bride, my second Company of Rogues book. Beth and Lucien are both forced into the marriage, very much against their wills. They have their betrothal period, but manage to make things even worse!

But sometimes they are strangers at the altar. Alas, perhaps, I find it hard to push them into sex if the vulnerable heroine is reluctant. It can be erotic, but it can be unpleasant, and more importantly it can put the hero in a very bad light. Yet it's reasonable that a marriage must be consummated eventually, which can lead to an interesting dance!

So, what do you think of my 3 delights of the VBL? Do you agree?

Do you have others to suggest?

What are some of your favorite VBL stories?