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Light up your Christmas with Roan Parrish

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Roan Parrish — Photo courtesy of the author
Roan Parrish — Photo courtesy of the author

Our SGN winter book club is getting more festive thanks to Roan Parrish and their new holiday book The Lights on Knockbridge Lane. This book takes a page from the Hallmark Channel, with all your favorite holiday tropes—it has a small-town Christmas, a sunshine and grumpy pairing, and a precocious child teaching their single parent a thing or two about love.

An accidental author
I sat down with Parrish this week to discuss the book and what inspired them to create such a jolly tale. "I love holiday stories, and this is a Christmas book," they said. "I'm Jewish and people were like, why are you writing a Christmas book? Growing up not celebrating Christmas, I have no negative association with it. It's just magical and snowy and cheerful. I wanted to write a Hallmark Christmas movie in book form, but Gay, very Gay," they laughed.

Parrish got into writing Queer romances while pursuing their PhD. "I didn't read romance until grad school. I was doing my PhD and excited to have escapist fun reading." They fell into writing romance novels by accident, after a trip to visit a close friend.

"I wrote my first romance novel as a joke for a friend," they revealed. "I had no interest in publishing it. My best friend had started a job as a professor and was lonely and wished there was a romance novel about her. I said, I'll write you one. I wrote the first chapter on the plane back to Philadelphia and sent it to her." Parrish laughed as they recalled the story. They thought their friend would call them a nerd, but instead, she loved the chapter. "She had to know what happened next. I kept sending her chapters. When it was done she told me I needed to publish it."

After Best Laid Plans was published, they realized they had a knack for writing feel-good stories. The next step was to make them Queer. "I'm Queer myself, and was always interested in reading all the stories," they said about creating a unique style of LGBTQ+ centered romance novels.

Navigating misogyny
While Parrish is female-presenting, most of their main characters are cis-males. "It's really interesting," they said about writing female characters, "I think the character Ginger from Small Change was the hardest to write. For me, it was that there's so much pressure if you're a woman writing a female character that they stand in for you. I also struggled with a romance novel being satisfying with a happy ending. With male characters, love does solve their problems, but with a woman it felt disingenuous. The misogyny was difficult to navigate," they said.

Writing male characters is not difficult for Parrish; it gives them enough distance from their subjects while also being able to write some of themself into each character. "Some of their hobbies are based on people I know in real life," they said of characters Adam and Wes from Knockbridge Lane. "Adam likes to go to Estate sales, and that's my hobby too. Adam loves Christmas movies and is cheerful and cozy whereas Wes is very introverted and hides in his house. That's me. I plucked certain things from real life."

Image courtesy of Harlequin Special Edition  

Real-life vibes
Although their books typically consist of feel-good vibes, Parrish often finds inspiration in real-world problems. "I think a lot of the time I write a book as an outgrowth of a problem, either a personal problem or a world problem," they said. "One book I wrote is a sort of riff on a rockstar romance. My lead character hates fame. It almost ruins music for him. His love interest is in rehab because of fame and stress. I wrote this book in response to the first time I was publicly visible."

For Parrish, writing is a way to work through these feelings. "All my books have intentions. The Lights is the first and only book I have written with a child. I'm not a kid person, I don't have kids, I don't want kids, but my sister and her wife had a kid a few years ago. The coolest thing about kids is that they haven't been beaten down by society yet. Their raw and basic desires are still visible in them."

Parrish found that writing about Gus, the charming young daughter of Knockbridge Lane's main character, let them analyze how adults can lose their autonomy as they learn to grow up and function in society. "For this book, the two love interest characters have lost the ability to ask for what they want and understand their desires. Both of them have lost that spark of saying what you want. Gus models what honesty about desires can look like. It's a cheerful Hallmark-esque love story, but you can't have a real love story until you access the desires and have the bravery to speak them out loud."

Hallmark-worthy tropes
When planning a Hallmark-worthy love story, Parrish had to make some tough decisions, particularly which cliche tropes to include. "I love opposites attract. I enjoy grumpy/sunshine where one character is grouchy, and not that social, and the other character is extraverted and sunny. At a certain point, it has to flip flop," they said. "For a holiday romance, I love a Gilmore Girls—style tight-knit town with wackadoodle traditions where everyone knows everyone's business. So ripe for romance cheesiness," they laughed. You can find all the best small-town wonderment and sunshine/grumpy dynamics in Knockbridge Lane.

One thing you won't find in a Roan Parrish novel is an unrealistic misunderstanding that motivates drama. "My least favorite thing is the misunderstanding that catalyzes the whole second act. It's a very unpleasant and super 1990s straight couple problem," they say of the overdone trope. "Seriously?! You didn't ask for a follow-up?" When writing Queer couples, a lack of communication is just inauthentic, Parrish thinks.

Aside from communication, Queer romances also do the "found family" trope best, they say. "One of the best [Queer tropes] is found family. So many Queer people have a lot of experience with later in life needing to create a family because all the people you were friends with are married and straight and boring," they said about the trope. "It's always positive and nurturing."

However, when it comes to Queer stories, they would like an improvement on the biological family aspect. "I would love to see more Queer stories about families that aren't homophobic," they said, recalling some of the more recent Queer holiday disasters to hit streaming services.

Coming soon
Parrish is already hard at work on their next few projects. "I am super excited about a couple of projects," they gushed. "In September, I have my first rom-com: The Holiday Trap. It's like The Holiday meets Schitt's Creek. It's a house-swapping romance that takes place in New Orleans and Maine. Both the main characters swap houses for December and they both fall in love. Gretta finds Queer community, and Truman feels connected to the small town and close-knit community."

Parrish is also wrapping up their first dive into the horror genre with a project they collaborated on with their girlfriend. "I love horror, and I did my first horror project. It was a collaboration with my girlfriend Timmy, who's a musician. It's a six-horror anthology with music scored to each piece." For this project, Parrish would write a story, and Timmy would write music to go along with it, or Timmy would write a score, and then Parrish would come up with a story to match. "In the future, I am hoping to do more horror. I also really wanna write YA and branch into other genres," they said.

Holiday traditions with Roan Parrish
While they wait for their projects to hit the shelves, Parrish is excited to celebrate the holiday season with their friends and family. "I celebrate both Hannukah and Christmas. The entire month of December is just full of cozy vibes and gifts," they laughed. Their favorite thing to do around the holidays is bake cookies with their sister. "I am an avid baker. I love anything that means baking for people. Every year I make gingerbread men with my sister," they said. "We eat so much we get sick and wanna die. We say we won't do it next year, but we always do!" They love to give away extra cookies to their friends and neighbors. "People gave cards back last year; it was so lovely."

While the holidays for Parrish are always sweet, there is one thing that would make it even sweeter. "I would want to pack a warm picnic with hot cider, coffee, and cute finger food. I would drive out to the Christmas tree farm in the country and wander through the trees and have a winter picnic, standing, of course, because of all the snow, and commune with the trees. Then I would go home and set up our fake tree because I wouldn't want to cut down a whole tree for just a month," they laughed as they described their ideal holi-date.

If you're looking for a sweet treat this holiday, pick up a copy of Roan Parrish's The Lights on Knockbridge Lane and read along with us this week! You can check out the SGN book club on Instagram at @sgn_books https://www.instagram.com/sgn_books/, and you can find Roan Parrish on their new advice podcast, Dear Romance Writer, now streaming on Spotify!