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Posts tagged with: Christmas

Give Me Just One Reason

Ah, as I pen this post I’m surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of the holiday season.

Several weeks ago my husband and I climbed into the attic and trudged down with a bajillion boxes of Christmas decorations. There were wreaths, two trees, outside lights, centerpieces, stockings and fancy trappings of a holiday that seems to expand more and more each year. I dutifully fluffed branches, refastened glittering bows and searched for those darn ornament hooks (where DO those suckers disappear to every year?) And after a day and a half -and several trips to Lowes – I had festive, warm holiday décor from the guest bath to the front door. Christmas candles flickered almost in tune with the music streaming into the house via satellite radio. All was perfect, all was bright.

Except I felt nothing warm and festive.

In fact I actually had the thought (a very grinchy thought) that I wish Christmas wouldn’t come at all this year.

Yeah. First time EVER in my life I wished Christmas would have blown past without even honking its horn or tossing out a single gift.

Bah, humbug couldn’t touch what I felt. I wasn’t a Scrooge or a Grinch…or was I? I weathered the office party thrown at our house, bought all the Christmas gifts and wrapped them and still…nothing. I made gingerbread houses with the kids and faked the Christmas spirit the entire time, humming along to Bing and saying things like “Isn’t this fun?” But thing was…it wasn’t. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me (and I won’t delve into my spiritual life because I KNOW very well what the true meaning of Christmas is). Was I tired? Had I finally grown up? Or maybe all the crap of Christmas blocked the joy for me.

I didn’t know.

Now, I know you’re thinking to yourself that this is supposed to be about writing. I’ll get there eventually, but first you have to hold on a bit more.

So this past weekend, I volunteered to take my 14 year old son and several of his friends down to New Orleans to see their high school play in the state football championship game. His historic high school has not been to the state championship in 51 years, so it was a big deal for the school. Almost everyone went down with cars painted purple and gold. Yellow Jackets were going to the Dome (Super Dome) and I was playing chaperone. And just like my attitude about Christmas, I was less than stoked. But I faked it. So we went to the game…and lost. And though I did enjoy cheering and wishing and praying the Jackets would pull off the upset, I wasn’t particularly emotional about the game. After very little sleep (did I mention five 14 year old boys?) we awoke and decided that before we headed home, we’d play a bit in the French Quarter. The day was cold but sunny, and after a terrific shrimp po’boy at Maspero’s and poking around the shops (and finding some cool historic NOLA t-shirts), we headed back to the ‘port (Shreveport). The five boys were in fine form, and -okay let me stop here and say this – my son has been particularly difficult lately. He’s been doing his whole independence thing which means he’s pretty much an ass most of the time. Those of you who have raised boys know this stage – they know everything, they disdain every suggestion you make and pretty much only need you when there are no more potato chips or they cut themselves shaving. So my former sweet-as-sugar, I-love-you-so-much-mommy boy has been not quite a horror show but close for the past five months. Okay, back to driving home. So we stopped and ate at Waffle House and after the boys got enough carbs and caffeine in their system, it was time to plug in the ox cord and sing.

Now this is totally crazy, but what happened over the next two hours changed my heart.

They started with regular teenage crap. You know, stuff that made me cringe. I had to decree no more music with the “F” word or one that called girls the word that rhymes with witch. And I didn’t care about freeing Lil Boosie. So then they moved on to Natasha Beddingfield. Yeah. They knew all the words. Then it was “Unwritten.” Honestly, I laughed till I cried. Then they went to John Denver’s “Country Road” and Celine Dion’s “The Heart Will Go On.” There was ecstatic moves to “All the Single Ladies” And as we exited off the interstate, finally home, they had saved the best song for last – “American Pie.” They knew ALL five minutes of the song.  It was several hours of sheer beauty. Not so great singing. But sheer wonderfulness.

And it was a good enough reason to have missed several hours of sleep, spent a couple hundo and failed at working on the novella I’d declared will be finished by Christmas.

Sometimes all we need is just one reason to smile. Just one reason to press on and to remember the good things in life…and in writing.

Writing is hard enough without worrying about the business of writing. If sitting down and writing a book that has great characterization, controlled pacing, brilliant plotting and hooks at the end of each chapter is hard, then releasing the book into the cold bitch world of publishing is the devil. You can control nothing and sometimes you feel as though you are washed up against rocks, your forehead tapping a rhythm against the wet sand. It’s hard and sometimes you wonder “Why am I doing this?” or you think “Why bother?”

But all you really need is one good reason. Maybe it’s cathartic and the only validation you need is the beauty of your own words. Or maybe it’s a contest final just when you wanted to trash the sonofabitch manuscript and call it quits. Or maybe it’s a reader letter that says just the right thing. Or a call from your agent telling you the editor wants to see the rest of the book. Or maybe its getting that first contract. Whatever it is, we writers exists for that one little reason to keep tapping away like a woodpecker on crack, creating, pouring our hearts into something worthwhile.

It’s a stretch. I know. Five kids singing “Drove my Chevy to the levee” made me feel good things were possible. Made me laugh. Made me look through the rain-spotted windshield and see the Christmas lights strung across houses in a different light. Perhaps it’s silly, but it was reason enough.

And, really, that all you need – just one reason to write your story today. Find that reason….and if you want me to send some silly 14 year old boys up to sing Cher (yeah, they did “Do You Believe in Love” too) I can arrange it for a fee.

Wishing you a happy holiday…and wishing you a bit of joy in the midst of the chaos!

 

We Wish You….

It’s the festive time of year and the world, preparing for a celebration, is in a spin.

The Rubies thoughts are turning to the priorities of our hearts.

Letting the holiday come and go without telling our readers Happy Holidays would be a sin.

We cherish your support and wish you the merriest of days while we’re apart.

Delight in the hugs received, relish the food and drinks of the season– even if it’s Uncle Joe’s bathtub gin.

Most of all, be safe, and please pray for those who carry worry and sorrow upon the hearts.

Happy Holidays! We’ll be back on the 26th.

The Rubies

Writing Thru the Christmas Crazies!

It’s December, and we are currently knee deep into the annual holiday season. As women, we are usually the ones responsible for the planning and plotting that goes into holidays, even if they aren’t being held at our house. The same is true for me—I do the planning, my hubby does the inviting (usually without telling me until the last minute). We end up with a house full of family and friends who eat, talk, laugh, and play games all Christmas day. That’s after a month full of other parties, family celebrations, gift buying, etc. Something I enjoy with a heart full of gratitude.

Christmas Trees
But all this partying makes it tough to get any writing done. The list of things to do can extend to infinity sometimes (or at least feel like it). All this extra party planning can really cramp my writing style. I’m sure even you non-writers find time short during this busy season. So what’s an author to do?

Here are a few tips:

1. Up your word count on the days you CAN write.

I know this sounds like it will take even more time, but when you do get uninterrupted writing time, do your best to up the amount of your goal. My usual goal for weekdays is 750 words, but for December I’m aiming for 1250. This way, I can manage a few days off during the month without guilt or getting really behind. So push yourself to do more, and enjoy your reward later.

2. Take it One Small Step at a Time

It can be overwhelming to sit down and face a 1000 word goal, but how about 250 words? Oftentimes, I don’t write my whole goal in one sitting. I can’t, because I have very few uninterrupted chunks of time in my day. So here’s how I approach it: During my morning break at work, I plot out the scenes I’m going to work on that day. Then on my lunch break (30 minutes) I type on the Alphasmart. I also have 1 hour set aside for writing directly after dinner. I try to keep that sacred (doesn’t always work, but I try).

Then thirty minutes while the kids do homework or clean their rooms or 30 minutes while the hubby watches a television show. Just 30 more minute before bedtime, then I can sleep. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to tackle any large project in smaller steps.

3. Be Prepared

For plotters, this is much easier. But it is also doable for pantsters too. Before putting down your pen for the day, take a few moments to write out the first few sentences of your next scene. Make sure your notes on the coming pages are complete and you have a decent map for where you are heading. This will make jumping into the next session much easier (no staring at a blank page wondering what the heck you were thinking to have them break into the warehouse so soon…) and your writing will flow more quickly from the start.

I find a To Do list essential for big projects and my writing is no different. This way, I can see how much time I have, then jump into whatever task I have time for, without worrying I’ll forget what else needs to be done.

4. Utilize the Buddy System

Find a writing friend who needs to accomplish as much as you do at this time. Vow to keep each other accountable. Daily emails require you to send in those totals, even if the sum is 0 (and embarrassing enough to force your hands to the keyboard). Set up times for write ins (getting together for the sole purpose of writing—bookstores are great for this).

And don’t forget a reward. Plan an outing to get your nails painted or a massage when all the hard work is done. A night out to dinner with some girlfriends. Or form an accountability group where everyone pitches in $10, and the top three performers during the holiday season get to split the pot for After Christmas shopping! This will give you a tangible reward, other than the relief you’ll feel when you see all those words on the page.

My hope is that you’ll be able to be as productive as I hope to be this holiday season. We’re all busy. I know that. But you can still manage something (this is me giving ME a pep talk here). So tell me your best advice for getting writing (and other holiday tasks) done during this busy time. (because I need all the help I can get!)

Christmas Traditions

Pine trees are being strapped to vehicles. Giant sized socks are being hung in the living room. Blue, white, and multi-colored lights are flashing all over the place. I’m forcing my kids to smile with threats of coal to get a decent photo. An overweight man in his 60’s is spying on my children (but no longer smoking his pipe).
If an alien race was to observe us right now, they’d be totally confused, decide the depleted ozone must cause brain damage, and move on to conquer other worlds. Thus, leaving us to enjoy another fantastically, peppermint-sticky, tinsel-encrusted holiday season.

So where did these well known traditions start? Here are a few:

There were many pagan celebrations centering around the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (December 21st). Christmas was originally called the Feast of the Nativity. It was originally thought that Jesus was born in the spring. However, in 350 AD Pope Julius I chose December 25th in an effort to absorb the traditions of the pagan Satumalia festival, a hedonistic festival lasting a full month when food and drink was plentiful and Roman social order was reversed (slaves became masters and peasants were in command of the city). Christmas was celebrated in England starting in the 6th century.

In the middle ages, a Lord of Misrule was elected among beggars or students with a group of subjects who went from rich house to rich house, demanding their best food and drink. If the owners refused, they would then be terrorized with mischief. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they cancelled Christmas. Charles II reinstituted the popular holiday when he was restored to the English throne.

The pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas, so they did not bring the holiday to America. In fact from 1659 – 1681 Christmas was outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings! Talk about Bah Humbug! It wasn’t until June 26, 1870 that Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States.

Christmas Trees:
Evergreens have been a symbol of health and renewing life for thousands of years. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when they would bring evergreen trees into their homes. Some built wooden pyramids and decorate them with evergreen branches. Martin Luther, the 16th c. reformer first put lit candles on his tree to recapture a beautiful starlit night sky he saw through the branches of evergreens.

The first record of a Christmas tree on display in America was in 1747 by German immigrants, but many saw it as a pagan symbol. It wasn’t accepted by most Americans until after the 1840’s. In the 1890’s tree decorating was on the rise in America. In Europe, celebrators kept their trees small (about 4 ft high) while Americans liked their trees to stretch from floor to ceiling. In the early 20th century Americans decorated their trees with homemade ornaments. With electricity came Christmas tree lights, making the trees a popular decoration about towns.

The huge Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City started off as a small, unadorned tree placed by construction workers in 1931 at the center of the construction site. Two years later another tree was placed there with lights. These days the giant Rockefeller Center tree is a well known symbol of the holidays and holds over 25,000 lights.

Stockings:
The idea of the Christmas stocking came to America from the Dutch. In Holland, the children kept their clogs near the hearth, filled with straw for the reindeer. They also left a treat for Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) near the fireplace. In return for the treats, Sinterklaas left some gifts for the children.

 Santa:
St. Nicholas, a monk born around 280 AD in modern-day Turkey, is credited with being the origin of the familiar jolly elf. He was admired for his piety and kindness, and thousands of tales of his charitable work with the poor and sick abounded. He became known as the protector saint of children and sailors.

St. Nick became popular in America towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, a New York newspaper reported that Dutch families were honoring the anniversary of the saint’s death (Dec. 6th). The name Santa Claus evolved from the Sinter Klaas which was shortened from Sint Nikolaas (Dutch St. Nicholas).

In the early 1800’s, Santa Claus was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and Flemish trunk hose. It was Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, who in 1822 wrote the long poem ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas for his three daughters. It was originally titled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” and is still read today.

In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on the poem to create the modern Santa image. He gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with fur, the North Pole workshop, the elves, and his darling Mrs. Claus.

These are just a few of the Christmas traditions we know today. It’s fun to dig into history to see how the customs we’ve lived with our whole lives began. For an author of historical fiction, I also must make certain when orchestrating my characters, that I don’t force them into anything outside their historical customs. No, Mr. Darcy, you may not dress like Santa Claus in a bright red suit to hand out gifts to poor orphans to win the heart of Elizabeth Bennet.

I’m sure some of you have special holiday traditions. What does your family do to make the season bright?

Happy Holidays!

Free Reads Revisited

Happy day after Thanksgiving! Let’s talk Christmas!  

Back in February 2011 my free read, Holiday Hostage went live. It’s been available for way over a year with close to 100,000 downloads. What did the experience teach me? I don’t know. Did offering a sample of my writing drive my sales up? Not sure. Would I do it again? Haven’t decided. 

Thanks for stopping by.  

No! Don’t go! There’s more. 

It was a rush to have well over 50,000 copies downloaded in the first few month alone. How many of those have actually been read? Again, I don’t know. Of the samples actually read by readers, how many truly liked the story? I wish I knew. Or maybe I don’t. If anyone in fact did read it, did they buy one of my other stories? Yes. Two people that I know of. One hated both (I know – why did she buy my book if she disliked my free story – can’t answer that – I’m no psychologist). But one person liked the free story and loved the purchased story. Or she felt sorry for me and was being super kind. Either way, I’ll take it. 

From speaking with other authors who have offered free reads, the consensus seems to be that it is a double-edged sword. Here’s my take on free. Cheap people, me included, will download something free. Because, well, because it’s free. Why not? What do you have to lose? I’ve done it myself. My mother does it. We come from a long line of cheap (I mean thrifty) ancestors. On Ancestory.com just type in the keyword cheap. Thems m’ people. We dine on Costco samples, clip mass coupons and download free books to our shiny e-reader that we bought on clearance. 

Here’s my theory: spacenut333 who loves to take long walks on the beach, travel exotic places collecting souvenir snow globes, and who reads futuristic sci-fi has downloaded my free story and hates it because she doesn’t like contemporary romantic comedy. Or she doesn’t think I’m funny. Her cat that she reads aloud to doesn’t think I’m funny either. And spacenut333 and her cat collectively send me death threats via an Amazon review. Not a fan. I get it.  

My next theory is mine and mine alone. It’s not 100% accurate or scientifically proven. Stay with me. If you get something for free, you don’t appreciate it as much as if you pay for it. Unless your grandmother gave it to you. Why? I don’t know. Maybe people are afraid to admit in a public forum that they paid good money for a book they don’t like. They got suckered by a pretty cover and a flowery blurb. Mostly, if you’ve got money on the line, you’re probably going to investigate before buying. You’ll read the first chapter and/or check out the reviews and not buy a contemporary romantic comedy if you really like steampunk or fantasy. 

Lastly, after years of toiling in customer service, I think people in general are more apt to complain than compliment. Hence my many 1 star reviews, with lovely comments like “wish I could rate it lower”. Add the anonymity of the Internet… 

I can only hope that of the thousands of copies of Holiday Hostage that were downloaded, some people actually read the story and enjoyed the read and will give me another shot to entertain them in the future.  

How ‘bout you? What’s your take of free reads? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Anyone found a “must read” author from a free story?

Holiday Novels—A Boost to Your Spirit

Would you believe I saw a Christmas commercial before Halloween this year?  I remember a time (back in the Jurassic era) when department stores waited until the day after Thanksgiving to unveil the decorations for the holiday season.  If you don’t, you’re probably younger than I prefer to admit being.

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