Riane Konc wants to help you Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance | Book Review | Chicago Reader

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Riane Konc wants to help you Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance

The choose-your-own-adventure-style parody features all the best tropes and treats of made-for-TV holiday specials.

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'Tis the season for cheesy, made-for-TV holiday movies. These fluffy flicks appear on the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime, and now even Netflix. Each one is loaded with snuggles, slapstick, and secrets that threaten the entire town. And at the heart of every story is a woman who will save everything.

That formula drives Riane Konc's book Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance (Ulysses Press). The Cincinnati-based humorist and Second City instructor's debut follows a businesswoman named Chrissy. In the book, readers decide the fate of Chrissy's hectic holidays—whether she'll answer phone calls from her candy-cane-farming mother, return home to Candy Cane Falls, or ditch the fam to ski with a terrible ex-boyfriend—and craft their own cheesy Christmas movie.

Before this year, Konc had only passively watched such fare. But when she saw a posting from California-based Ulysses Press searching for holiday-themed parodies, she sent her best pitch and got the job. Quickly, she started doing research, watching movies like The Christmas Card, A Christmas Detour, and It's Christmas, Carol! It was easier said than done in the middle of springtime.

"At that time, these movies weren't largely available to stream, so I would check out a stack of ten made-for-TV Christmas movies on DVD from the library in March, April, and May," Konc says. "I was always avoiding eye contact with librarians. I felt like I needed to tell them that everything was fine, that I was OK."

Further stress came from a frightening patch of writer's block that Konc couldn't shake. But with each day of watching, studying, then writing, she slowly developed a rhythm that lifted the block. Still, she felt the material might be too weird.

"I would hit my word count and sit at my desk for a minute and think, 'What has happened here today?' It was a surprise every time," she says.

Some of the weirder moments included Chrissy and her mother discussing strains of peppermint as if they were talking about weed, conversations presented without context in the middle of scenes, and the invention of a "Grinch snake"—the only venomous snake active in the midwest during Christmas break.

"I thought there was no way they would publish this book," Konc says. From someone who once had no opinions on the subject, Konc has become a Hallmark holiday movie aficionado. She has the most respect for those movies with puns in the titles, like Snowmance and Fir Crazy. She can easily rattle off subgenres and plot details like secret royalty, cookie-baking contests, and ruthless condo board associations. While writing, she wanted to cram in every piece of holiday ridiculousness she came up with.

"I could have written a book that was twice as long, because I wanted to have every microplot," she says. "I wanted to cram in as many of those story lines and twists as possible, but I knew that would be tiresome. The story of 'the big business lady who hates Christmas but has to learn a lesson' became the plot, and having that structure helped. Then each choice gave texture and allowed me to incorporate those smaller elements of the other Christmas movies."

The key was balance. Konc wanted to write something that could be enjoyed by everyone from a holiday-loving grandma to a Christmas cynic.

"There are happy endings galore, and cuddly moments of Christmas cheer for anyone who is looking. If you want to read someone ruthlessly satirizing a genre, that's also there," she says. "If you love Hallmark movies, you can read this without feeling bad about yourself. They're being made fun of by someone who has watched as many as you."  v

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