Monday, December 30, 2019

Christmas, Romance, and Disappointment

Christmas is a season we associated with family get-togethers, special food, the giving of gifts, family members from all over sitting together in church, and children anticipation what will be under the tree on Christmas morning. We don’t usually connect the season with deep disappointment or betrayal, but writers certainly can, and do. 

It’s not accidental. Disappointment at Christmas seems to bring a special poignancy to a story. In romances, it’s usually about disappointment in love, relationships, engagements broken, or hopes unrealized. The usual expectations and warm feelings of Christmas bring a sharp contrast to a hero or heroine dealing with deep disappointment, hurt, regret, or depression.

Here’s how two different writers used the idea of disappointment to tell their stories.

The Christmas Baby Bundle by Barbara Lohr

The Christmas Baby Bundle, a novella by Barbara Lohr, is one of the author’s “Windy City” story series, set in contemporary Chicago. Connor Kirkpatrick is a city firefighter, and his wife Amanda is a schoolteacher. They’ve been desperately trying to have a baby for years, and the biological clock is running. They’ve finally turned to adoption, and through an open adoption process, are waiting for the birth of the baby who will become their new son.

But the stress has taken its toll on both Connor and Amanda. They’re arguing more. They’re less close to each other. Connor’s new extended work schedule isn’t helping, and Amanda’s anxieties about something going wrong with the adoption are sky-high. Connor’s large family is preparing a huge baby shower for them, and she hopes to somehow fight off developing flu. That this is all happening at Christmas heightens the story’s tension.

Lohr develops this short, compact novella along two primary lines and one minor line of tension and possible disappointment. Will the birth and adoption go as planned? Will the strains grow too great for Connor and Amanda? And will the “baby success” of the rest of the family make Amanda feel even more distraught?

The Christmas Baby Bundle is as much as a story about the anxieties we create ourselves because of our hopes and insecurities as it is about a childless couple. And it always seems worse at Christmas.

The Best Friend’s Billionaire Brother by Bree Livingston

The world of romance novels seems filled with billionaires these days. It may be that millionaires have become too ordinary, or that billions are now required when millions once sufficed. (I blame Silicon Valley and its tech billionaires.)

In The Best Friend’s Billionaire Brother by Bree Livingston, the billionaires in question are the West brothers, living near Amarillo, Texas, who regularly contribute to buying a lottery ticket as a way to stay in touch. Except, one day, their ticket wins an insanely high jackpot and turns them all into billionaires.

Gabby Fredericks has long been in love with one of the brothers, Wyatt West, a rodeo circuit rider who always seemed to consider Gabby his little sister’s best friend – and nothing more. He’d once proposed to a woman in front of the entire family, with Gabby standing nearby. Unable to deal with the heartbreak, she had transferred colleges and moved to Charleston, South Carolina. And now she’s coming home to be the maid of honor in her best friend’s wedding. She knows Wyatt will be there, but she’s convinced herself she’s completely over him.

That is, until she sees him when he picks her up at the airport.

Carrie Ann, the sister and bride-to-be, knows where Gabby’s heart is; she also knows Wyatt is completely clueless. So she devises a plan to bring Wyatt to his senses, a plan that, when executed, shows every sign of abysmal failure.

The disappointment here is primarily Gabby’s, and it’s what the story centers on. Livingston could have slipped into a story of self-obsession, but she balances it nicely with proving Wyatt’s perspective as well. And that’s how we learn that what Gabby believes and what the reality is are two very different things.

The Best Friend’s Billionaire Brother is part of the author’s Caprock Canyon series of stories.

Photograph by Jouwen Wang via Unsplash. Used with permission.

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