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.

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.

A Timely Christmas Message

Winston Churchill’s Christmas Message, 24 December 1941

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Churchill went to Washington, D.C. with his chiefs of staff to meet President Roosevelt and the American military leaders and coordinate plans for the defeat of the common enemy.  On Christmas Eve Churchill broadcast to the world from the White House on the 20th annual observation of the lighting of the community Christmas tree.

His message begins:  I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family…..

…..This is a strange Christmas Eve.  Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.  Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field.  Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.  Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.  Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

Churchill’s message is somehow as relevant today as it was 75 years ago.  Let’s take the message to heart and enjoy the holiday season the way is is meant to be.

I Love Short Shorts

iOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLo  No, I don’t mean the cheeky, ripped cut-offs the young gals wear. I mean short stories in varying lengths between a few hundred words (flash fiction) and 10,000 or so, something to be read in a single sitting. Merriam-Webster defines a short story as “an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.”

O-kay. I’m not sure I wholly agree with that simple definition, because—well, let me go back in time about four years. Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America decided to publish an anthology of short stories called Romancing the Pages written by some of its members. I’d never considered writing short and had read very few short stories through the years. But, I answered the call. It sounded easy. Come up with a simple romantic plot; dash off a few thousand words during the down time while working on my novel. Hey, it was a chance to get something published. “The Guy With the Dragon Tattoo” came in at around 2,500 words, took many weeks and many revisions to finish. But I kinda liked writing short, even though it was just as hard (maybe harder on some levels) than working through an entire 60,000-word novel.

But what is the appeal of short stories to the reader? Their appeal, as I mentioned, lies in the fact you can read most of them in one sitting, while getting your hair done, waiting to pick up Junior from soccer practice, that hour at night before turning off the lights. We live in a Snapchat, Twitter, sound bite world. There isn’t the angst associated with picking up a short to read versus an 80,000-word novel. Wow, don’t have time to devote to that tome, so I’ll save it for, um, later.

But why else read short? It’s a chance to try out different genres, authors, styles. Since writing “Dragon Tattoo,” I’ve read dozens and dozens of short stories across many genres and romance sub-genres. A few did focus mainly on creating a mood; many contained an exciting plot and delicious characters. The good stories contained a beginning, middle and end that satisfied like a hearty bowl full of Irish stew. I experienced a full range of emotion appropriate to the genre. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I sighed.

A side-benefit? Instead of reading the back of my Cheerios box for the millionth time, I can get in a whole story during breakfast to satisfy my reading addiction. Short stories can encourage those who don’t regularly read to get in the habit.

This year, I once again had the opportunity to contribute to not one short story anthology, but two. My critique group, Writing Something Romantic, is working on an anthology called Love for Christmas, which we’re hoping to publish before the holidays. My story, “Charmed by Christmas Magic,” came in at 10,000 words. The other romance anthology, Secrets of Moonlight Cove, will publish in the next few weeks. Each fun story in the anthology takes place in the fictional California coastal town of Moonlight Cove, and references characters from the other stories. “Maggie’s Mystery Man” also runs 10,000 words. Look for announcements of both publication dates here, on Facebook and other social media. I hope you’ll give shorts a try. Bet you can’t read just one!

 

Living in the Moment

Kathy's SnowmanAs the holidays grow closer, I find myself so busy getting ready that I forget to enjoy the simple acts of preparing for the celebrations. I always work off a to-do list that seems to become never-ending. I cross off things accomplished in the evening and add things to be done in the morning. A trip to the post office for stamps. And a second trip the next week to mail packages. Then Target on Monday, Costco on Tuesday – well, you get the idea!

But yesterday my shopping errand brought me back into the moment. A moment of delight and anticipation and pleasure.

I went to Barnes and Noble.

Just walking into a real brick-and-mortar store devoted to the sale of books, books, books sent a thrill right through me. I hurried straight to the back where the children’s books are displayed, fighting the urge to check out the romance section first. (That would have to wait for another time.) I was on a mission to choose age-appropriate books for my grand-nephews. And as I picked up the familiar storybooks, happy memories flooded through me.

For many years, I taught First Grade and the highlight of each school day was story-time. How the children loved the tale of the witch who wanted to pick her pumpkin to make pie, but the giant pumpkin wouldn’t budge from the vine. Although the mummy, the vampire, and the monster all tried their best to help her, it was the little bat who solved the problem. And, of course, they all celebrated with the witch’s delicious pumpkin pie.

Once when I was sharing The Night Before Christmas and read the phrase the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath, the children stared at me wide-eyed and aghast. Santa smoked a pipe? ( The class had learned about the evils of drugs and tobacco in October.) I quickly assured them that, although he’d once smoked, Santa had given it up a long time ago.

Since none of my grandnephews are older than Kindergarten age, I had no difficulty knowing which book would be right for each child. But there were so many wonderful choices, familiar and new, that it took a long, long time to settle on two books for each boy. I found a brand-new one which was perfect for the two-year-olds: llama, llama, red pajama. (The title has no caps.) If you know a youngster who doesn’t want to go to bed alone at night, check this one out.

As I left Barnes and Noble, I had a satisfied smile on my face. Not simply because I could cross this errand off my to-do list.

For the duration of my visit there, reading children’s storybooks, I was truly living in the moment.

Memento vivere.

That’s Latin for Remember to Live!