It’s not Christmas any more. But my article about Holiday stories disappeared when Book Review Express went down. So I’m giving you a flashback:
I am wary of Christmas time, or any family holidays. These days I don’t go to extended family gatherings as my mum doesn’t want my wife and kids there. It’s not a huge loss. Those get-togethers in an Aunt’s sweltering backyard were sweaty and unpleasant, full of conversational landmines. Being queer doesn’t lend itself to easy bonds with uncles. Being Australian doesn’t lend itself to cosy December montages of log fires and fairy lights reflecting from the snow. So when I was asked about a queer holiday anthology, emphasis on the holiday, I balked a little.
Stories of warm prawns and backyard cricket were out. Where could I start?
I started with that: so many of us are terrified of going home. We feel like outsiders among our people. And I set my story in Montana, the snowiest place I’ve ever been. My Los Angeles living, international basketball star protagonist Shay Allen was going to find herself in an uncomfortable snowy homecoming with quirky neighbours, too many memories, and an old crush.
I called the story TRUE NORTH. Setting a Christmas story in Montana was a joy. I could write that huge sky and the endless sweeping snow set beneath it. I could have the characters huddled together in a small town with warm food and crackling fires and company. My basketball pro could re-examine herself and her past in that beautiful, isolated place.
I’ve now read the four other stories in the anthology, IF THE FATES ALLOW. Each author sets their story in an extraordinary place, and the characters find themselves there.
Killian Brewer’s GRACIOUS LIVING MAGAZINE SAYS IT MUST BE A LIVE TREE is set in Georgia. The South imbues the story with humour and holiday charm, from Thanksgiving in a diner with turquoise pleather seating to the vivid collection of hilarious local ladies with strong Southern voices. It’s a colourful comedy of manners. Within that world, Marcus Sumter’s need for the perfect over the top Christmas to share with his boyfriend Hank is understandable and deeply human.
Los Angeles is almost a character in Erin Finnegan’s LAST CALL AT THE CASA BLANCA BAR AND GRILL. The heart of the story is a tequila bar with a kind of kitsch Moroccan, golden age of Hollywood, hipster bar, Mexican restaurant style. The quirky aesthetic could be located nowhere else. And polished politico Jack Volarde’s story of love and grief and new hope is in that same pattern, people from different worlds coming together.
HALFWAY HOME by Lilah Suzanne and SHELVED by Lynn Charles each have a more “Everytown, USA” feel. In HALFWAY HOME, the story centres around a shopping mall and a local dog rescue. Avery Puckett is quietly unhappy in a quietly lifeless life. And yet she finds hope in these everyday things: an ordinary chihuahua, a shopping mall North Pole, a dog rescue, a girl. The story is about holding on to the ordinarily beautiful things you love and the ordinarily beautiful place in which the story is set is integral to that.
SHELVED by Lynn Charles is set somewhere in fictional Middle America. The twin hubs of the story are the large Piedmont County Library and Karina Ness’ uncle Tony’s barber shop. Piedmont County
Library feels immediately like home, among the books and the patrons and all their many seemingly
unimportant queries. And Tony’s barber shop is a joy, somewhere to find yourself surrounded by warmth and community. Those are the places Karina plays matchmaker to her uncle Tony, and finds answers to her own questions of love and belonging.
These stories could happen to anyone in any place. But in this anthology, the location of these holiday stories ignites the characters and their narratives and brings their new loves, new hopes, and new puppies to life.