For romance readers, Christmas came early this year thanks to the release of How the Dukes Stole Christmas, a holiday anthology including short stories from Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe. The tales have three things in common: magical shortbread, cinematic inspiration, and happily ever after. Individually, they take readers from Scotland to New York and follow enchanting characters on the memorable Christmases where they find love. As a holiday treat, we chatted with these authors about some of their own favorite holiday traditions, the inspiration behind the anthology’s stories, and the characters they want to meet under the mistletoe.
Bookish: The stories in this anthology are all tied together by shortbread that may or may not be magical but is definitely disgusting to anyone unfortunate enough to eat it. What are your favorite delicious holiday cookies and treats?
Tessa Dare: There are very few holiday treats that I’d turn down! However, since I’m likely in the minority on this one, I will take the opportunity to stan for fruitcake. So maligned, yet so delicious. To be fair, I prefer my mom’s homemade fruitcake—apricots, dates, walnuts—to the commercial fruitcakes full of of neon fruit bits. But I’ll eat that, too.
Sarah MacLean: The irony is, my favorite holiday treat is shortbread! My mom comes from a long line of Scots, and we have a family shortbread recipe that has been passed down for several generations—which we’ve included in How the Dukes Stole Christmas. I’m so happy to have a chance to pass the buttery deliciousness on to our readers!
Sophie Jordan: My favorite holiday treats are those unique to my family. Every Christmas we eat a chocolate bundt cake. It’s super moist and delicious and when you cut into it—are you ready???—you see swirls of red and green and gold. It wouldn’t be Christmas in our family without it.
Joanna Shupe: There are so many! My favorite is the chocolate Yule log I make for Christmas Eve that tastes like a giant Hostess Ho Ho. It is absolutely delicious and the one treat I look forward to each year.
Bookish: What movie is your story based on? What aspects did you want to capture about that story, and what did you want to change?
TD: My novella, Meet Me in Mayfair, is loosely inspired by the film Meet Me in St. Louis in that it involves a large family facing a sudden move at Christmastime, a morbid little sister, and a holiday dance with swapped dance cards. However, that’s just the setup. The actual romance involves an all-night first date strolling through the snow—think Before Sunrise set in Regency London. Deep conversation, a bottle of brandy, a snowball fight in Hyde Park… and the beginnings of a lifelong romance.
SM: One of my favorite holiday movies is Scrooged, which is likely due to the fact that I lean more toward grinch than Santa, so I’ve always loved the edginess of the movie—including all the bold, brash, off-kilter characters around the edges. But I’m not all cynic: I also love the lost-love-regained plotline, and was excited to tell the story of two people who were destined for each other if only they’d let themselves see it.
SJ: My novella, Heiress Alone, is inspired by Home Alone, one of my favorite holiday movies. I wanted the heroine to feel neglected and overlooked by her family… and then to actually be forgotten when they accidentally leave her during the holidays. I made a point to incorporate thieves, which was fun! And it was easy to turn a hermit neighbor into a grumpy duke.
JS: My story is based on Christmas in Connecticut, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. It’s a Christmas romantic comedy that is full of lighthearted dialogue and zany plot twists, exactly what I was hoping to capture in Christmas in Central Park. Only I wanted to add waaay more sexy times.
Bookish: If you could spend Christmas with any literary family, which would you choose? And which romance character would you want to meet under the mistletoe?
TD: I’m spending Christmas with the Weasleys (from the Harry Potter series), without question. I want my own hand-knit jumper from Mrs. Weasley, and to sit around the Christmas dinner table in that cozy, ramshackle, magical house.
Now, as for a kiss, I have to take my inspiration from a different place. I want to kiss Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary. In the snow. Dressed in my knickers and a robe. You know, the scene where she says, “Nice men don’t kiss like that,” and he replies, “Oh yes, they f*cking do.” Swoon.
SM: I’m going to cheat and say I want to spend the holidays with Lisa Kleypas‘ Ravenels, because that means I also get to spend it with their enormous found family which includes her Wallflowers! My parents moved to the United States before I was born, but we didn’t have biological family here—so they made us a wonderful, loving family of friends who joined us for the holidays. I vote for a wonderful collection of favorite people: Ravenels and Wallflowers combined.
As for the romance character I’d like to meet under the mistletoe, these days I’m crushing very hard on the hero of Adriana Anders’ Saved by the Mountain Man, a novella included in the Reindeer Games holiday anthology. Micah is a kind, strapping dreamboat who just needs a little cuddling, and I’d happily give up my Christmas morning to him!
SJ: The March family from Little Women, of course! Maybe because part of the book features them celebrating Christmas… but this family, with their warmth and closeness, just seems to embody Christmas.
The romance hero I would like to catch under the mistletoe? Anthony Malory of Tender Rebel. This book isn’t even my favorite Malory book, but Anthony is sexy and charming. He possesses just the right amount of charisma and smoothness for a mistletoe kiss.
JS: A Christmas with the Marches of Little Women would be fascinating. I always loved Jo, who was so feisty and ahead of her time.
I’m holding out for Trevor Sheridan from Meagan McKinney’s Lions and Lace under the mistletoe. Tall, dark, and handsome, he’s a cranky self-made tycoon… which is basically my catnip.
Bookish: There are no grinches in this collection, but each story does have a character who needs a little bit of help getting into the holiday spirit. On a scale of Scrooge to Buddy the Elf, where do you fall when it comes to Christmas spirit?
TD: I’m definitely no Scrooge, but Buddy is in a class of his own! I love Christmas, but I’ll confess I’m less into the holiday decorations and baking, and more into the quality time with family. Board games, Home Alone for movie night, firing up the fireplace even in Southern California, fuzzy socks, and so forth.
SM: I gave this up already! I confess, I’m not the most elven person… but my Christmas heart isn’t three sizes too small, either. I’m somewhere in between. Bridget Jones. I’m going with Bridget Jones—not wild about holiday festivities, but very willing to smooch in the snow. Bridget Jones’s Diary is the Christmas movie that never fails to get me in a festive mood—required watching for endless holiday gift wrapping!
SJ: Confession: I am every bit a Buddy the Elf. My house is not just decorated… it’s overdecorated. I’m playing Christmas music 24/7. I’m baking. I’m shopping. I’m wrapping. I’m reading every holiday romance I can get my hands on—and watching them, too!
JS: I’m more like Buddy the Elf’s regional manager.
Bookish: What is your favorite romantic Christmas trope?
TD: Anything with snow. Snowed in at a cabin. Snow-impeded holiday travel. Walking through snow. Snowball fights. Any and all of the above.
SM: Forced proximity! Give me two people in a snowstorm and I’m yours forever.
SJ: It’s got to be the snowed-in together trope, which I fully embraced in my own novella in this anthology.
JS: A giant snowstorm during which the hero and heroine are forced to get cozy in all the best possible ways.
Bookish: If you could give your co-authors gifts from the time period your story is set in, what would you give them?
TD: Fruitcake! Hah, just kidding. Evidently, the most common gift of the Regency era was game. People sent each other turkeys and geese and partridges and so forth. Which is quite weird to imagine—I picture a gift exchange where every box has dead poultry in it—but there you go.
SM: Something that comes up in my story is cocoa powder, which was invented in 1828 and basically made sweetened hot chocolate an easy, accessible treat for Europeans. My hero, Eben, is a historical chocoholic—and has a pot of cocoa powder on hand at all times. A festive tin, a nice red ribbon, and huzzah! Gifts for my fellow authors, with much love!
SJ: Other than shortbread, you mean? Hm. Maybe a sexy kilted Scot with a growly brogue.
JS: A Tiffany lamp.
Bookish: Which novel by one of your fellow anthology writers would you recommend readers pick up based on their favorite story in the collection?
TD: Sarah is a master of heart-wrenching emotion. If you adored the second-chance romance in The Duke of Christmas Past, don’t miss The Day of the Duchess, another story of lost love regained that will have you reaching for the tissues. The book starts with a divorce! In 19th century England, it’s hard to imagine a steeper hill for a hero to climb—but the Duke of Haven will do anything to win Sera back.
SM: There’s so much to love about Sophie’s novella. If you want to read about a heroine fending for herself, try Sins of a Wicked Duke for a perfect second dose. If you love strapping Scottish highlanders, her next book, This Scot of Mine, is delicious. Forced proximity is my jam, and if you want more of that, try How to Lose a Bride in One Night, where a heroine on the run is rescued by a reclusive hero and they have a month alone together when they fall in love. It’s all sighs.
SJ: There isn’t a Joanna Shupe book I don’t love. They are all great. But I’ll have to go with Tycoon. It has forced confinement (you already know how much I love the forced proximity trope!), a working-class heroine, and it is also based on a movie (Strangers on a Train). It’s a great place to start.
JS: I love so many of Tessa’s books, but I’d probably recommend The Duchess Deal, which is the first book in her latest Girl Meets Duke series. If readers like underdog heroines who are smart, witty, and unafraid to challenge grumpy dukes, this is the book for them!
Tessa Dare is the USA Today bestselling author of numerous historical romance novels and several novellas. Her books have won numerous accolades, including the prestigious RITA Award and multiple RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards.
Sarah MacLean grew up in Rhode Island, obsessed with historical romance and bemoaning the fact that she was born centuries too late for her own season. Her love of all things historical helped to earn her degrees from Smith College and Harvard University before she finally set pen to paper and wrote her first book. Sarah now lives in New York City with her husband, their dog, and a ridiculously large collection of romance novels.
Joanna Shupe has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on and soon started crafting her own racy historical novels. In 2013, she won Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart Award for Best Historical. She now lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.