Every year, I look forward to my publisher’s reveal of their annual Christmas novella themes. They publish at least two collections every December, one historical romance and one contemporary.
I’ve made a career out of writing historical fiction so my challenge each year is to brainstorm until I come up with a historical setting and story that fits the theme.
Romancing the Christmas Angel, the historical theme for 2019, required more digging than usual.
I thought I had an easy answer. The first collection I put together, several years ago, was called Christmas Mail Order Angels. A group of brides from Merville, Maine accept invitations to become mail-order brides for the gold miners of Angel Vale, Wyoming. My heroine escaped her status as the widowed preacher’s only daughter only to end up marrying Angel Vale’s preacher.
I wanted to follow up that novella with a story about the couple’s grown daughter. She would return to Maine to take care of her aging grandfather whose health was failing. Of course, she would meet a handsome woodsman or fisherman of some sort while she was there.
My plans hit a snag when I discovered several people from the original collection also wanted to write a follow up story, but they asked for me to postpone the collection until 2020.
So, I went back to the drawing board. I could write a novella set anytime, as early as the first Christmas, to as late as 1985. That’s a recent shift; for decades “historical” stopped with World War II. I decided to look for a story that took place during my lifetime.
To increase the nostalgia of that time period, I went to my comfort zone, music, and decided to write a story based loosely on the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” My mind raced with visions of a church nursery worker and a preschooler who wanted to play his drum for the baby Jesus. Then, one day, a band drummer in search of a lead singer hears her singing in the nursery.
I had my basic premise but I still didn’t know my setting. That took some research. Who first made “The Little Drummer Boy” popular, and when? My story would take place a year later.
Bing Crosby’s recording rose on the charts in 1962.
That gave my story an unexpected setting, which altered the threads of the story. My December 1963 novella would begin less than two weeks after President Kennedy had been assassinated. I could no more not mention it than I could a story set in October 2001 without mentioning 9-11.
At the start of the story, the hero is struggling with the death of his brother in Vietnam, his nagging guilt, the hole it left in their band, and his newfound faith in God.
My heroine’s twin brother rose to the challenge to “ask what you can do for your country” by enlisting in the army.
They meet when the hero goes to church, for the first time in years, where he hears the heroine singing “The Little Drummer Boy” in the nursery.
Since I had opened the floodgates to Vietnam, I injected other social upheavals of the decade into the story. How will the heroine respond when she learns one of the band members is black? As the band takes on a spiritual focus, tensions simmer between Catholics and Protestants. With that, also, the sweeping changes that Vatican II made, especially about holding the mass in English.
I had fun interjecting memories of the 1960s—diners, jukeboxes, and princess phones—into my story. I learned a long time ago that if you get a few details right, people will think you know it all. I got to pick some of my favorite details to insert into the story.
In the end, The Drummer’s Angel became a sweet historical romance with a bit of an edge.
Darlene Franklin is a Warrior Woman who writes from a nursing home. She lives near her son and his family in Oklahoma. She has published more than sixty books, including poetry, nonfiction, devotionals, mysteries, and contemporary romance, but historical fiction is the backbone of her backlist. The Drummer’s Angel is available for purchase as an ebook or in print at Amazon. You can catch up with Darlene on Facebook.
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