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Writing Fearless: A Christmas Tale

I admit it. I am guilty of studying tropes and trends, because I know that readers like them and my publisher expects them. And also, being familiar with tropes and trends is helpful.

But early this year, when my publisher asked me to write yet another Christmas novella for the 2015 holiday season, I was less than enthused. Honestly, if I had to write another:

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a) Retelling of the Gift of the Magi (I did that in my novella I’ll be Home for Christmas),

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.sheeplaughs.com/scrooge/scrooge_stewartDVD.jpg

 

 

b) Take on Scrooge (I did that in my book Last Chance Christmas), or

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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c) Baby in a barn story (I did that in my novella Silent Night)

 

 

 

I. Would. Scream.

(Did I mention that the publisher made this suggestion in January, right after I was thoroughly Christmass-ed-out?)

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I expressed these negative feelings to my husband on our daily commute. I railed against Dickens for having written the quintessential Christmas Novella of all times. I ranted about Scrooge — about how he is such a powerful icon of the season that he’s everywhere, in every story you read.  I mean, even It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have Scrooge archetypes messing up Christmas for everyone.

“Not gonna do it,” I said.

Then my husband said, “What if you wrote a story where Tiny Tim was all grown up?”

And I said, “Okay, if Tiny Tim is a grown up, who’s Scrooge? A little kid?”

And he said nothing.

Did I mention that he’s a whiz at knowing when to shut up?

The next morning, this idea of turning Cindy Lou Who into a tiny-sized Grinch was still rattling around in my head. So I Googled the words, “Kids who hate Christmas.”

I got the usual listing of posts about greedy kids, even greedier grownups, and people ungraciously mouthing off about Christmas gifts they hated. But once I got past all that crap I stumbled across several heartbreaking and utterly inspiring articles and blog posts about and by parents whose children either have autism or who are on the Asperger’s spectrum.

For many of those special kids, Christmas is a nightmare. For their parents, Christmas can be a difficult obstacle course that requires love and patience and even more love.

A story began to form in my mind, but I didn’t think I was courageous enough to write it. The courageous ones are the parents of these special kids, and I didn’t feel as if I had any authority to write about them.

I put the story idea aside. I worked on a dozen other ideas all of which had some well-worn Christmas trope that failed to inspire. I dithered. I procrastinated. I complained.

And then I sent an email to my BFF and critique buddy, Caroline Bradley, who just happens to be the mom of a child on the Asperger’s spectrum. I didn’t contact Caroline to seek information about Asperger’s– not at first. At first it was just to have a conversation about whether I was brave enough to take on this topic.

Bless her, Caroline was more than enthusiastic. She told me that if the story had captured my heart, then it shouldn’t matter whether I was qualified to write it (that’s what research is for) or whether it was the usual trope (sometimes you have to stop listening to the marketing people). In short, she told me to be brave, write fearless, and tell a good story – words I hope to continue to live by.

I started by asking a lot of questions of a lot of parents and siblings of autistic kids.  I did my research. And then something magical happened, when I had finally stopped telling myself that this story was beyond me, I discovered that it was actually inside me.

The story arrived fully formed in a matter of days and needed almost no revision.

This experience has convinced me that when I dig deep, stretch my boundaries, and tell a story from deep inside my heart, the writing is never a problem. It’s when I back away from the hard stuff – that’s when the writing becomes impossible.

midnight clear coverA Midnight Clear, a Christmas story of a single mom with a special needs child goes on sale today. Here’s an excerpt.

So, tell me, have you ever had a story present itself that you thought you weren’t brave enough to write? Did you write it? What happened? Was it hard or did it turn out to be easy?

21 responses to “Writing Fearless: A Christmas Tale”

  1. Vivi Andrews says:

    What a fabulous inspiration story, Hope. I have books that seem too “big” for me and I’ve written one or two, only to be told they’re not marketable. So onto the shelf they go until the wheel of the market turns again. 🙂

    Congrats on your new Christmas release! It sounds like it really has the spirit of the season.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Vivi, that’s always the risk of writing beyond the boundaries. But sometimes you just gotta do it. I hope you take those stories off the shelf one day and get them into the hands of readers.

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  2. Gwyn says:

    I’ve not had a book I was afraid to write, per se, but the direction they chose–oh, the joys of being a pantser–escaped my comfort zone, so I put them aside. Since I’m no longer looking to publish traditionally, and am, thus, no longer restricted by their niches and preferences, I’m revisiting those stories, curious to learn where those directions might lead.

    Loved your excerpt. Kudos on your courage, my friend. Can’t wait to read this one.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      I’m not really a pantser, but I have had characters go rogue on me from time to time and usually they take me to very dark, but oh-so-interesting places! I often wish they would take me to funny places. I like writing funny stories, but my muse seems to want to take me to places that are much more emotional. And I guess we’re all at the mercy of our muses. 🙂

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  3. This is pure genius.

    I can’t wait to read this story.

    You’re just brilliant. 🙂 Go write a few more hard stories for me to read for Christmas, will you? 🙂

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      No, I am not the brilliant person. My husband is the brilliant one. He’s always coming up with one-liners that take me off to new places. And, yes, by the way, the hero in this story is a grown-up take on Tiny Tim Cratchet. His name is Tom Crawford. Ha, ha.

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  4. Liz Talley says:

    Wow, Hope, that’s strong stuff. Congrats on pulling that story from behind the fear and giving it life. I have a book that’s (hopefully) upcoming that involves a woman who’s had three miscarriages and a husband who goes down in a helicopter mission in Afghanistan. When she learns he’s missing, she has her fourth miscarriage. I have no idea what hopelessness a person like that feels and that’s tricky research because most women who’ve been through something like that don’t want someone to poke a needle around their emotions. But I think I can do it because I think every one of us has had those thoughts of What if? And if I let myself go to that dark place, I think I can find the light and the strength to help this woman find love…and tell her story. At least I hope I can.

    This novella sounds fantastic! Congrats, Hope!

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Liz,

      If anyone can write this story, you are the one to do it. You already know what a fan girl I am. You are on my auto-buy list because your stories are not only beautifully written, but have a deep, emotional core that gets me every time.

      I think we often shy away from the topic of miscarriage, but I don’t believe it’s a completely taboo subject. A miscarriage lies at the center of my very first published book. And I know, when I was shopping that book around, that it got a lot of negative responses because of that. But, in the end, it was that story that sold the Last Chance Series.

      By the way, I’ll take this moment to announce that A MIDNIGHT CLEAR is the last, Last Chance book. I’m officially moving on to a new series after nine books and 5 short stories.

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  5. Rita Henuber says:

    O. Thank you for writing this. I know it will be a wonderful success.
    I have a story that I sometimes work on that will never go anyplace but the computer. Too much of me and others who went through and are still going through things.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Sometimes writing is catharsis for stuff that we go through in life. I have a couple of books like that, myself. Maybe one day, when you’re at a different place in your life, you’ll come back to this story and you’ll be ready to share it. Or not.

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  6. Diana Layne says:

    Wow, that’s amazing, what a story, Hope. I’m pretty sure my severely dyslexic kid is also on the spectrum and now that we have insurance again and my depression is under control, I’m about to start the procedure of getting him tested. I loved the excerpt. I’m sure this is a beautiful story and I look forward to reading it.

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  7. Sharon Wray says:

    Amazing story, Hope. And I LOVE the excerpt. I am writing a story way to big for me, but it’s the story that was given. And if it’s meant to be finished and read, it will be. All I can do is write hard and have faith.

    Off to buy your book!

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Those “given” stories are usually the best ones in my experience. This has happened a couple of times to me, and I can’t help but feel that sometimes there’s a little bit of divine inspiration (or maybe a muse run amok) when these difficult stories present themselves. But you can’t ignore them, can you? They need to be written and they won’t be happy sitting in a box under the bed.

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  8. I LOVE THIS, HOPE!!! I’m so glad you went there, and I’m sure you did a fantastic job. Just the fact that you were so worried to write it makes it clear how serious you take the subject matter. Yay, you!

    I have a historical dragon trilogy I’ve been dying to write and the third dragon, The Black Dragon, is the little brother of the heroine dragon rider of the first book. But he is Deaf and while I write Deaf characters all the time (It’s okay! I have a degree and a Deaf son!), it would be a totally different matter altogether to write from the perspective of a Deaf character. I’m just not sure I could (or should) do that. I’m very torn.

    Luckily, I have a thousand other projects demanding my attention at the moment. Maybe someday. And I would love to ask my son all the questions that have been bubbling inside me all these years.

    I’m so excited about this book! Sharing now!

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Darynda,

      One of the things I didn’t know when I first started thinking about this story, was the fact that the only way to tell it would require me to write in the Point of View of an autistic person. So not only did I have a moment of crisis about the subject matter, I also went there a really big moment of self-doubt when it came to writing the little boy’s point of view. To prepare myself for this, I read several books that were written by people on the spectrum. My pal Caroline sent me in the right direction there. And when I sat down and put my fingers on the keyboard, Aiden’s voice just came to me.

      So don’t be intimidated. You already know a lot, and your son can definitely help. You may discover when you sit down to finally write this, that the story had been there all along. 🙂

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  9. I love this post, Hope, for so many reasons. How brave to write the story in your heart, no matter how challenging. And the story itself sounds fantastic. It needed to be told.

    I’m not sure if I’ve conquered my fears enough to write that “big” idea book yet, but in 2016, I hope to write three novellas that center around holidays. I’ve never written a holiday-centric book, nor a novella (that I’ve published), so both will be new territory for me. 😀

    Oh, and I see this is your last LAST CHANCE book — congrats! Leaving a series and starting a new one IS a challenge I met this year, and it isn’t easy. So maybe I have challenged myself after all. 😉

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      I never had written a short story until I was asked to write a Christmas short story. And boy that required some real stretching exercises. The thing about Christmas stories is that I always feel like I need to include some Christmassy theme whenever I sit down to write one. And my publisher keeps asking me to write them, so I guess I must be doing something right. But finding new ways to write about Christmas is very challenging.

      Also, you are so right about leaving the comfort zone of a series and going off to start a new one. I’ve been in the middle of that, and it’s been a struggle. Not to mention that the first full-length book in the series is — you guessed it — a Christmas story. Honestly I’m all Christmassed out. 🙂

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  10. Elisa Beatty says:

    Oh, wow…this is so wonderful. I was in tears by the end of the post, and then went and read the wonderful, heartfelt excerpt!!! What a wonderful Christmas book–and it’s about what really matters: connection and love.

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