IT’S HOLIDAY MASH-UP TIME!

by Barb DeLong

Are you one of those crafty types—you know, one of those creative creatures who swoon upon entering Michael’s or Hobby Lobby? Then you’ll have noticed that, starting sometime in July, Christmas project supplies elbow Halloween frights in an ever-growing mash-up aisle after aisle, week after week. You might have to ask where the Pilgrim hats are located. Disneyland famously combines Halloween and Christmas in its IMG_1611Nightmare Before Christmas-themed Haunted Mansion open in early September. Some retailers have begun sneaking in some holly among their scary zombie masks.

Christmas in July is a popular promotional tactic used by many businesses, not the least of which are authors of holiday stories. Be sure to read Ottilia Scherschel’s recent WSR post called “Love for Christmas” for insights into the possible origins of the Christmas-in-July phenomenon. And yes, Ottilia, I confess to watching some wonderful snowy Hallmark holiday romances this past summer and loving them with temps outside in the 80’s.

So, what’s my actual point here?

My Writing Something Romantic author group missed the boat—er—sleigh this past July for our Love for Christmas holiday romance anthology promo. Here it is September and we feel perfectly justified in doing so now, especially because the paperback version of the anthology will be available in October (the e-book is already up on Amazon under Love for Christmas, a Holiday Romance Anthology). Check it out. It’s never too early to get into the spirit of the holidays! In fact, it seems rather late.

 

 

 

Love For Christmas

by Ottilia Scherschel

            Readers often ask how do you decide on a topic for your writing? For my Writing Something Romantic writer group’s short story anthology, we all agreed we wanted to write a Christmas romance, and a topic was born. We individually chose the type of romance we wanted to write. “Love For Christmas: A Holiday Romance Anthology” contains paranormal, historical, and romantic suspense stories. We needed a deadline for completing our stories. We agreed it should be July that month when all things Christmas happen.

            Why do people make such a big deal out of Christmas in July? That question had pestered me in the past. Now, it came home to roost, and I needed some answers.

            Christmas in July—what happens? Crafters start making their products for the December holiday. The Hallmark channel shows Christmas movies during the entire month as if frolicking in the snow were a real possibility. People have celebrationswhere Santa Claus is the guest of honor. Stores advertise Christmas in July sales. Authors write Christmas stories. But why July?

            I did some research and found two explanations that appealed to my writer’s heart. One claims that Irish tourists went on vacation in Australia’s Blue Mountains in July of 1980. The Southern Hemisphere with its reverse seasons was enjoying a snowy winter. The tourists convinced the proprietor of their local hotel to hold a party and called it “Yulefest.” The idea was a hit. The proprietor recognized an opportunity and held a Christmas Party each year in July. Local businesses jumped aboard for the moneymaking festival and the event became a tradition.

            Another explanation comes from North Carolina’s Keystone Camp, a girl’s campin Brevard, where “Christmas in July” was first celebrated on July 24th and 25th in 1933. Fannie Holt, the camp’s co-founder, put together an unusual party thatincluded carolers, a Christmas Tree, Santa Claus, presents, and fake snow made of cotton. The tradition carries on today in blistering-hot Southern summers.

            Christmas in July has other explanations, but these two appeal to me. I’m writing about them in September since “Love For Christmas: A Holiday Romance Anthology“will be available in paperback in October, but you can get the e-book now.

How Do Writers Measure Success-Part 2 by Jill Jaynes

How Do Writers Measure Success-Part 2 by Jill Jaynes

 

In my Part 1 Post about “How do Writers Measure Success”, I ended by asking myself:

Why am I doing this?- or What do I really want?

One of the best ways to know if you have succeeded is to have a good idea at the beginning of what the finish line looks like.

In the business world- and many would argue that writers should treat their writing as seriously as any career- one way to know is to have a business plan and set goals. That way you know when you have met them.

That’s great. I’m a writer, what is my goal?

The usual shy answer at the beginning is “to get published” which most often translates into “to convince a publisher to publish my book.”  By the way, these words have led to some of the worst contract agreements in history. Many authors have signed contracts full of clauses that are against their own best interests because they are afraid that if they raise even the tiniest question about any point of a contract offered by a Real Live Publisher, that said publisher will take their golden-goose contract and hit the road.  One newbie (future NYT) author actually naively signed over the use of her legal name to a publisher! She couldn’t use her own name on any books sold through any other publisher for YEARS.

Of course, publishers of various sorts are no longer the only path to publication. But there is still something to be said for achieving the recognition of a professional publisher as a measure of having written a “good” book. Personally, I chose to shop my first work to small press publishers rather than go to self-publishing first, because I wanted to know if my work was marketable. If someone in the business of making money off of books thought mine was worth acquiring, well, that said I was on the right track.

So, getting published is a great goal. Am I done yet? Am I a success now?

It’s a funny thing about goals, but one is almost never enough. Once you reach it, you find another one waiting for you.

So, now I’m published. And  I’m still asking “What is my goal? But now the answers start changing.

My next goal could be “I want to sell more books.” Or  “I want to get good reviews on my books.” Or maybe “I want to make the New York Times or USA Today list.”

But about now, I have some real decisions to make about what goals I’m willing to pay for. Because success, as we all know, most often comes at the price of hard work.. So I have to ask myself, what kind of success can I afford?

Tune in next time for Part 3!

Our Christmas Anthology

Decorated Christmas tree on white background

Some time ago, our Writing Something Romantic sisterhood decided to publish an anthology of Christmas stories. While other things, including life, intruded on our original schedule, we have accomplished our goal at last!

Each of us contributing to the anthology wrote a story in our own genre. So as you might expect, my story, A VOTE FOR LOVE, is a historical romance. It didn’t take me long to decide the setting.

Montana Territory in the 1880’s is a favorite of mine. I’ve visited the state on several occasions and its history has always fascinated me. I love the time and place and find it easy to recreate in my imagination.

The story of the suffragettes in the West has always intrigued me. Women earned the right to vote in Wyoming and Montana before suffrage was gained nationwide around 1917. The suffragettes didn’t have it easy. Speaking out on street corners and passing out thousands of leaflets was considered quite shocking at the time. They actively campaigned against politicians who opposed the vote for women. And they campaigned for pay equity and improved working conditions. Sound familiar?

My story is about spinster suffragette, Paulette Winslow. I was inspired by a photo of a real-life suffragette who lived in Great Falls, Montana, during that time period. She was shown standing by her bicycle, which she rode to the library where she worked as the city’s librarian. Something about her—the way she stood so straight and proud—caught my attention and my imagination took over.

Did I mention this was a romance? Enter my hero, Brent McFarland. Tall, broad-shouldered and drop-dead handsome, he’s newly arrived in Helena to take over the Gazette from its former owner. Brent wants the territory to become a state and make Helena the capital. He’s not completely opposed to women’s suffrage—he just believes it’s the wrong time to write about it in his newspaper. He wants to keep the horse before the cart.

The moment Paulette and Brent meet, sparks fly! The feisty redhead nearly whacks the wealthy newspaper owner over the head with her suffragette posters. But a sleigh ride into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, ending in a snowball fight with friends brings the two adversaries together. Their attraction outweighs their differences, and in the end, they find their happily-ever-after.

 

 

 

A Witch For Christmas – a Short Story

This year my critique group, Writing Something Romantic, decided to publish a holiday  IMG_1611     anthology of original short stories. Because I write light-hearted paranormals, I focused on a humorous witch story with a Christmas Eve deadline. I played the “what if” game. What if a witch who’s been cursed by an evil sorceress must find her one true love by Christmas Eve or be doomed to a loveless future? What if she doesn’t realize that her perfect match is right under her nose?

I had fun with this story. When I named my characters, I chose names from witch and wizard folklore, from movies like Harry Potter and TV shows like Bewitched. I borrowed fantasy book author Roald Dahl’s first name and a name from the high fantasy video game Zelda. The fancy restaurant in my story, Tres Becheur, means “very snobby” in French. I wrote my scenes from memories of whizzing down snowy slopes on a dented aluminum saucer, and afterwards enjoying a mug of rich, hot chocolate with a generous dollop of whipped cream. I still love decorating for the holidays, from overloading the Christmas tree to trimming the mantel, even though I sometimes wish I had a witch like Abigail Goodbody to lighten the task with a well-placed spell.

And, as with almost all of my stories, there be animals. Abby’s canny feline familiar is a blue-eyed ragdoll named Endora. Joe, Abby’s lovelorn next-door neighbor, resists the siren call of his familiar, a calico tomcat. Oh, not to forget the pickled frog sacrificed to the swirling depths of a black cauldron.

If you love your Christmas on the lighthearted, magical and decidedly romantic side, check out “A Witch for Christmas,” in WSR’s Love for Christmas anthology, available in November 2017 from Amazon.

Writing Short

by Ottilia Scherschel

Ottilia ScherschelWhen the members of my critique group decided to publish a Christmas anthology, I took on a form of writing I had not practiced for years. Recently, I’ve been working on novels but chose to tackle a short story. Okay, now what?

I knew writing short had its own set of conventions with which I was no longer that familiar. I hoped with a little research and study I could refresh my knowledge. The big question looming in my mind was what story could I write that occurred over a short time frame and provided a beginning, middle and end.

I read an article about Tolkien. He said important truths include the idea that all of life constitutes a clash between good and evil, dark and light, and everyone’s choices, no matter how “little” of a person they are, matter. The idea of making a choice that matters in the moment and how that affects us stuck with me. I had to think in terms of a small choice–the kind we make every day without expecting consequences, the kind we make in a pinch, the kind we see as inconsequential. After some thought, I chose to write a romantic suspense story about a business woman who encounters evil when she chooses to take a train from Beijing to Hong Kong, China, during the Christmas season.

I worked on the story for weeks to discover my facts, to pinpoint the details and action I needed and to add that touch of romance. The project turned out to be more labor intensive than I anticipated. When I completed the story, my journey felt worthy. I had a sense of accomplishment. I hope you enjoy reading “Night Train to Hong Kong” in the Love for Christmas anthology releasing in November 2017.

How Do Writers Measure Success,Part 1 by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

So, I’ve written a book. Or a few. How do I know I’m a success as a writer?

That would depend on how I measure success.

I could pick the most common measures – money and fame – but even that is a matter of personal definition.

Financial success is certainly one way to measure success. Money as the currency of success seems pretty self-explanatory.But how much money equals success? Does it have to be”Lottery Rich” (enough to never worry about money again)? Enough to quit my job and support myself? Enough to buy a house? Or does even a single sale do it for me?

Or maybe its recognition, like hitting the New York Times or USA Today’s Best Seller lists. Or winning an award of some kind.

Personally, I think a definition of success has more to do with what satisfies us than just a dollar amount.

They say that nothing succeeds like success, but I think it’s satisfaction that keeps us coming back and working hard. I work in a corporate world and I’ve seen companies spend a lot of money and time trying to figure out the key to keeping good employees. I’ve been asked to take my share of surveys that have been developed to try and zero in on what makes people want to stay a a particular job or company.

In these kinds of surveys, I’ve been asked to rate the factors like the following in order of importance for why I stay at my job or company: Salary, health benefits, geographical distance from home, manager, opportunity to grow, feeling like I have meaningful work, feeling enabled to make decisions, etc.

I’m also asked to rate the reasons I would leave, or have left, a job.

The answers are not as simple as you’d think. Over and over, the results of these surveys show that salary actually does not occupy the first position for why someone chooses to stay in a job. Actually, feeling recognized and empowered has that spot.

Also interesting – the number one reason people leave a job is their boss. A high salary doesn’t overcome the daily misery of working under a bad manager.

In other words, for people who work for a living- and work hard- money simply isn’t everything. It isn’t even the most important thing. In fact, if that is the measure of success, it simply isn’t enough.

Its something a little more wiggly and subjective. It’s a little more personal. It depends on what you really want.

So as a writer, I owe it to myself to sit down and seriously answer that question for myself;-

Why am I doing this? What do I really want?

I’ll talk more about that in a future post.