“When I go to the movies, I go to escape reality… not to be confronted with more of it.” – Frances Scarlett
When I relocated to Atlanta in 2000, I was coming into the discovery of my Blackness. And what better place to do so than in the nation’s Black Mecca? For the opportunities afforded Black professionals, high (and affordable!) standard of living and a thriving arts and culture scene, many people consider Atlanta to be the jewel of the South. Entertainment played a large part of my discovery and education, and no medium was more impactful at the than film. (You’re surprised I didn’t say books. Don’t judge me.)
The church I attended at the time had a single’s ministry that planned a variety of fun events, primarily centered around eating out or at someone’s house. Though we all loved movies, attempts to gather at the cinema were less fruitful for the simple fact that our diverse preferences would not allow us to agree on what to watch. The guys all wanted to watch action films, the gals universally chose rom-coms, and I – as the newest initiate into Wokeness – wanted to watch films that centered on social commentary/justice, hardship… and slavery. I was very loud about my preferences, implying that anyone who did not see the value in those choices was shallow. That’s when my friend, Frances, said something in retort that has stuck with me for almost twenty years:
“When I go to the movies, I go to escape reality… not to be confronted with MORE of it!”
In time I realized that as a woman ten years my senior, she had trod most of the road I was just gaining a foothold on, and in time (as in when I hit my 30s and began to have kids), I saw the profound wisdom in that statement. That’s when I joined the legion of people who not only consume but are devoted to one of the most controversial genres in television production: The holiday romance.
I love Christmas movies. Every year, I look forward to the Hallmark and Lifetime marathons featuring cocoa chugging, structured jacket and infinity scarf wearing, barrel-curled and side parted wig-wearing women and the handyman/skinny jean wearing men that play their love interests. There’s never any mystery about how a holiday romance is going to end; Happily ever after. The characters all have the same/similar arc: There’s always a deadline to achieve an “impossible mission/goal” (December 25th); a high achieving woman returns to/visits a small town immaculately decorated for the season; she bumps into the town’s most eligible bachelor (who is also handy with a wrench) under contentious conditions; despite their best efforts, they find themselves drifting towards each other; something ridiculous threatens their fledgling week-old romance; and through the magic of Christmas, they solve all their problems in the last 15 minutes of the movie and kiss under a starry sky as snow flurries swirl around them.
But what if you live in a place where there ARE no snow flurries at Christmas? (This would be a good place to cue that despicable song.)
Some place like Africa. Do they even know it’s Christmas? Do Africans even fall in holiday-esque love? Author Tweneboah Amponsah-Mensah provides an answer for that with her second novella, The Christmas Return.
Set in Accra during the 2019 Year of Return festivities, readers will follow Esi as she wrestles with her friends’ and family’s expectations of a single Ghanaian woman over the age of 22. This means being dutiful, obedient and perpetually available. Where the story diverges from the traditional Western holiday romance is the cultural pressure for the protagonist(s) to find a spouse by Christmas. Though her heart wants to find love – the gloom of the past causes her to guard her emotions and build up a shell. However, love has a way of finding the weak spots in even the best defenses! The story has all the sap, corn, tepid tension and treacly ending of any other Christmas tale…and that’s why I love it. I had the opportunity to interview Tweneboah about her inspiration for this timely novella.
M.O.M: What is it about the Christmas romance genre that you love? Do you see it as its own distinct genre?
TAM: The Christmas romance genre combines the joy of Christmas with happy ever afters. I subscribe strongly to both. I already feel like it’s a distinct genre. Lots of stories set at Christmas time tend to have a happy love ending to keep with the spirit of Christmas.
M.O.M: Why did you pick this theme, “The Return” for your story?
TAM: It was influenced by last year’s year of return. I like to think that people returned and found home and love or at least a sweet fling.
M.O.M: How does the novella format serve your storytelling?
TAM: I think the format makes it easier for me to feel little pressure re word count lol. It means even if I don’t have too many words in me, there is still a place for my story in the world.
M.O.M: Did @afadjato have ANY influence on releasing this novella at THIS time?
TAM: Lol! I actually initially wrote this as a series on my Instagram last Christmas but everyone complained it was short so, thanks in part to his reminders, I decided to extend it and release it this year.
M.O.M: Do you have plans to write other novellas any time soon?
TAM: I want to! I published one on Amazon last August as well that I wrote in 2014. Right now, I’m hoping to put together all the short stories and flash fiction I have into an anthology.
M.O.M: Is there anything else you want the readers to know about, your work, your influences, etc?
TAM: My influences are all the awesome writers on TV shows like Grey’s anatomy and This is Us and romance writers like Sonali Dev and Abby Jimenez who write heartfelt and real romances. I’m working on something a little different now but, as always, love features because love is all around us and I can’t help seeing it. It helps that my real-life love is just as romantic especially our origin story.
Are you looking for a sweet escape from reality? In the time that it would take you to watch a holiday romance on TV, you could read The Christmas Return! It’s available on Amazon and can be delivered to most devices.