Standing Under the Mistletoe with Interlude Press: Day 3
A kiss can lead to so many unexpected things…especially one that takes place under the mistletoe. Join authors Killian B. Brewer, Pene Henson, Erin Finnegan, Lilah Suzanne, and Lynn Charles as they explore the most tantalizing literary kisses and their lasting impact in books in this new series, Standing Under the Mistletoe with Interlude Press. Every day from December 4th to December 8th, HEA USA Today, The Book Smugglers, LGBTQ Reads, All About Romance, and The Mary Sue will feature a new article from each author of the LGBTQ+ holiday themed collection, If the Fates Allow (out now from Interlude Press).
In real life, give me friends with kindness and humor. But in between the pages, I want flawed characters, protagonists who are forced into a revelatory moment. And to make my reading complete, please make them tormented, and just a bit obtuse when it comes to love.
There’s one thing that can set the wheels in motion. You know it; I know it. It’s a kiss, or the promise of one, or even the moment that demands one but it somehow slips away, sending my beloved, brooding grump on a path of romantic self-discovery.
But until that moment, and sometimes after it, please, let them be grumptastic.
You can find them brooding on any bookshelf, from literary classics to science fiction (Han Solo? Space Grump.) to contemporary YA.
One of my favorite books is Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. The consuming affair that unravels lives and may change the course of war isn’t every reader’s cup of tea, but this poetic and tragic story of the affair between cartographer and a woman married to a member of his expedition team in pre-World War II Egypt is filled with delicious angst.
Almásy is your classic distant, brooding character in the pre-war passages of the book. But his post-war recollections of the relationship are transcendent; the moment that he and Katharine end their brief affair would seem to demand a kiss, but it’s absence serves as a painful accent point to the moment.
Now there is no kiss. Just one embrace. He untugs himself from her and walks away, then turns. She is still there. He comes back within a few yards of her, one finger raised to make a point.
“I just want you to know. I don’t miss you yet.”
His face awful to her, trying to smile. Her head sweeps away from him and hits the side of the gatepost. He sees it hurt her, notices the wince. But they have separated already into themselves now, the walls up at her insistence. Her jerk, her pain, is accidental, is intentional. Her hand is near her temple.
“You will,” she says.
I try to treat my books with respect—no cracked spines, thankyouverymuch—but I may have thrown my copy of The English Patient against the nearest wall when I first read that scene…in a good way. Those two prescient words serve in lieu of a kiss that is desperately left wanting.
Frustrating? Yes, intentionally so. A kiss-that-isn’t and leaves you wanting more.
The classics are filled with angsty, romantic protagonists: Darcy, Gatsby, and of course Heathcliff, among the royalty of romantic literary grumps.
Let’s be clear, Heathcliff is no gem. He’s brutal, emotionally abusive. He’s also tortured, haunted, and, it would seem against his wishes, deeply in love with Catherine Earnshaw. Their love story isn’t resolved in a kiss—it happens on her deathbed, after all—but it is cemented by it. Heathcliff is haunted by Catherine’s death—emotionally and eventually, literally.
These characters are often male, but I would like to see more women in the literary grump club. It plays counter to romantic stereotypes and opens the character up for some wonderful tics and traits.
In my 2016 novel Luchador, Lola—a champion boxer-turned-luchadora in love with a ambitious burlesque dancer—served this role. I loved turning the tables on this trope. Lola was tough and threatening, but in the presence of Bonnie “Fanny Vice” McCreary, those rough edges smooth. Love heals, folks.
Which is the point of my Grump 2.0, Jack Volarde in Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grille, a short story in the Interlude Press holiday anthology, If the Fates Allow.
Jack, a political consultant, isn’t so much grumpy as he is driven. It’s not ambition that fuels that drive, but a sense of loss that has numbed his senses—until a bartender forces his hand. Jack has no interest in finding someone new, but he soon finds himself into a slow dance in the shadows of Christmas lights.
Javi paused and angled his face to Jack’s. The kiss was brief, comforting, and gentle. Jack hesitated, but didn’t pull away.
“Mistletoe,” Javi said, smiling. “I had to.”
He laced a hand through Jack’s hair, and kissed him again. It was more determined, more certain—a cool, electric rush that started at Jack’s lips and rushed to his fingers and toes. It felt like life itself.
A kiss can represent so many things: a beginning, an end, a revelation, or a moment of healing.
And there are other kisses, the ones that bring both resolution and the promise of something new. Think of first kisses, of those eye-opening moments of “Oh.”
Think, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
A kiss, and kissing in general, is a bit of a theme in Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s beloved coming of age story. Ari and Dante talk about kissing quite a lot: what they expect from it, whether they should try it themselves, the differences between kissing girls and kissing boys.
But this book keeps (spoiler alert) the kiss that matters to the very final sentences of the book. The thing you know must happen, the game-changer, that 358-page build to a simple moment between friends who are clearly destined to be so much more, plays out in a simple, straightforward moment as Ari, reluctant in love and sometimes grumpy in friendship, accepts that he is in love with his best friend.
“Try it again,” I said. “Kiss me.”
“No,” he said.
“No.” And then he smiled. “You kiss me.”
I placed my hand on the back of his neck. I pulled him toward me. And kissed him. I kissed him. And I kissed him. And I kissed him. And I kissed him. And he kept kissing me back.
Could the discovery of the joy of love play out more simply, or more believably, than a kid thinking in wonder, “I kissed him”?
And in that transcendent moment of revelation, love proves itself the cure for the common grump.
About If Fates Allow, out now from Interlude Press: During the holidays, anything is possible—a second chance, a promised future, an unexpected romance, a rekindled love, or a healed heart. Authors Killian B. Brewer, Pene Henson, Erin Finnegan, Lilah Suzanne, and Lynn Charles share their stories about the magic of the season.
About Erin Finnegan’s story, Last Call at the Casa Blanca Bar & Grille
As the one-year anniversary of his lover’s death rolls around on Christmas, Jack Volarde finds himself at their old haunt—a bar called the Casa Blanca, where a new bartender helps him open up about loss, and see brightness in a future that had grown dim.
Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and a winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. Her novel Luchador was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016, and along with her 2014 debut novel, Sotto Voce, received both a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year award and a PW starred review.