It's October, and everyone is excited about fall and Halloween. This is the time of year when everything tastes like pumpkins, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It's also the time of year when all the Autumn-lovers post their hatred and frustration about Christmas displays being out too soon at stores. "At least wait until November!" they cry out, sharing images and gifs of frustration.
I do understand that, because I love fall as well. I'm not big fan of being cold, and I dread winter weather. This California girl still hasn't adjusted to the freezing temperatures and occasional snows that come with living in Tennessee - even after being here for fourteen years.
That said, my head is already full of Christmas. Worse, my head has been full of Christmas since May.
No joke, the moment I finished my final round of proofreading for Echo of the Cliffs, I embarked on my next project: writing two short Christmas stories for an anthology. Author C. M Huddleston, who has a book blog called Monday Morning Indie, invited eight of her favorite children's authors that she's reviewed to write holiday-themed stories based on the characters from their books. She asked me to write stories based on both my middle grade novel No One Needed to Know and my YA fantasy Cry of the Sea.
The deadline was August 1st, so I couldn't put them off. I came up with an idea for my No One Needed to Know story pretty easily. That novel is about 6th grade girl with an autistic brother in high school. The conflict of bullying in the novel is resolved, so I needed a new problem for them to face. I thought of my own kids. I have a step-daughter 7 years older than my daughter. One night a few years back, the older one had her Winter choir program on the same exact night as my daughter's fifth grade Holiday play. I remember the chaos of that evening trying to attend both events. I decided to use that concept and tell it from Heidi's point of view. That story flowed easily, and I hope with a fair bit of humor.
Here's a little excerpt from "Sharing the Spotlight"
My event was the cool one. We were doing this play about Santa’s workshop where the elves are building the toys, and then all the toys come to life while the elves are trying to wrap them up and put them on the sleigh. It’s pretty funny. My best friend Cathy got the part of the narrator, because she is the best at reading aloud. Jackie, LaQuita, and Stacy had all the girls in sixth grade jealous because they got to play different kinds of dolls. They were going to wear tutus and do a cute dance routine that Stacy choreographed. Everyone kept telling them how awesome and pretty they were and how they wished they got to be dolls. I thought Jackie and her friends were just okay. The dance was my least favorite part of the whole show.
I was an elf, and I had my very own spotlight moment. No lines or singing or anything, thank goodness. What I got to do was juggle hacky sack balls with my feet. Not just one, but two. My soccer skills made me especially good at this activity. No one else in school could do it, and everyone tried. It took a ton of balance. You use every part of your foot, your knees, your shins, and your calves when playing hacky sack, and when you’re learning, you fall a lot. When Mrs. Overstreet saw me juggling the hacky sacks on the playground one day, she added it into the play. She covered the hacky sack balls with red and green felt, though, instead of leaving them yellow and black. I’d been practicing every day so that I wouldn’t mess up. I could juggle way longer than the time they were giving me in the show, so I felt confident I wouldn’t drop any. Everyone had been cheering me on during rehearsals. It was going to be one of the highlights of the whole event.
I had a fun costume, too. My mom put it together for me. I wore some polka-dot pajamas of hers. The top was belted, and the pants were rolled up to the knees. She got me both red and green tights, cut one leg off of both, and then sewed them together so I had one leg of each color. I had to wear my sneakers, but they were mostly white. She also made me a floppy clown hat and put big circles on my cheeks with her lipstick. I looked silly but cute. In my opinion, my costume was way better than wearing an itchy tutu.
I was already in costume while I ate dinner, and I was being super careful not to spill anything. Donald had pizza sauce all over his face and hands, which was why he had to dress after dinner. Mom hurried him upstairs to clean up and get dressed. While they were out of the room, I appealed to my dad again.
“Look, we all know that the high school choir performance is going to be boring. They just stand there and sing. I bet Donald doesn’t even know all the words.” Dad frowned at me. I corrected myself. “I know. Of course Donald knows all the words. But he can’t sing well. Have you ever heard him? I don’t even know why he’s in the choir.”
Dad swirled the ice around in his glass of iced tea. “Are you done?”
I deflated. “Yeah.”
“Now that you got all that out of your system, let me explain something to you. Donald enjoys singing, and that is why he’s in the choir. Good or bad, he enjoys it. Also, it’s an inclusive school, so if he wants to be in choir, they have to let him take the class. There is an auditioned choir for upper classmen, but he’s not old enough for that.”
“Oh, come on, Dad,” I said. “Donald’s never going to be in the auditioned choir.”
He made a sharp sound at me like I was a pet about to steal food off the table. “We don’t use the word ‘never’ in this house, especially when it comes to your brother. He might very well surprise us one day.”
Coming up with a holiday story for Juniper Sawfeather, the leading lady of my YA fantasy trilogy, was definitely the bigger challenge. If you're unfamiliar with the Juniper Sawfeather Novels, they are about a teen daughter of environmentalists who discovers mythical creatures. I'd already written a prequel to the series called "Beneath the Wildflowers" which is in the free anthology Kick Ass Girls of Fire and Ice YA Books. Book 1, Cry of the Sea, takes place in October, while book 2, Whisper of the Woods, begins on New Year's Eve. I decided to set this new short story between those two stories.
There are a few details about how Juniper spent her Christmas in the opening chapter of Whisper of the Woods. Using that information, I decided to write about the very busy day she has on Christmas Eve going back and forth from visiting her grandfather on the reservation, her mother's parents in the suburbs, and then winding up at a logging protest site that night.
There is a taste of the magic and mythology from the trilogy, and a good set-up for book 2. Mostly, though, it is a chance for fans of Juniper to get to know a little bit more about her and her family, or for people who've never read the books to meet her. It took a few revisions, and some insight from one of my dear friends who is a fan of Juniper to help me get it just right.
Here's an excerpt from "Christmas Among the Evergreens"
“Where did you get fresh berries this time of year?” Mom asked, utterly amazed.
I said nothing as I enjoyed the delicious sweet-tart flavor.
Carol grinned, showing off her beautifully straight dentures, “Would you believe I found them right here in the woods?” She gestured with her thumb over her shoulder. “I thought I was going crazy when I saw them. Clumps and clumps of them. I dragged Richard in there to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.”
Richard nodded. “They’re there all right. It was almost magical, seeing plump blueberries in December. We plucked a lot, but there are still some left if you want to get some. That is, if the animals haven’t gotten to them yet.”
“We better hurry then,” Mom said.
Dad said he’d stay and take care of some business with Carol and Richard while Mom and I hiked into the woods to gather berries.
“Well, this is a fun start to the morning,” Mom said to me.
I had to agree. While it wasn’t super bright out, the clouds were high and scattered, and no rain was forecast. The morning sunlight filtered through the tall canopy of trees and dappled the ground with color. The world smelled of pine, my second favorite aroma next to saltwater. We wandered a bit until we saw a couple birds flitting around some high bushes nestled between the trees. Mom clapped her hands and sent them flying.
“There’s some left,” she said.
I held the bowl while Mom plucked the berries. I ate one berry for every handful she dropped in the bowl. Okay, I might have eaten more than that.
“We won’t have any to bring back to your father if you keep eating them,” Mom teased me, but I noticed she plopped a few in her mouth, too.
I handed her the bowl and said, “I’m going to see if there are any more.”
Leaving her to her task, I wandered away, searching for more of the same kind of bushes. Eventually, I emerged from between a couple trees into a small clearing, about ten-feet wide or so. Across from it was the most massive tree I’d ever seen. I recognized it right away as one of the Red Cedar trees, an evergreen known for the umber color of its bark and its incredible height. I noted the red paint mark about seven feet up that signaled it was one of the old trees to be protected. Of course it was old. The trunk was so large it would take at least three, maybe four, people lying toes to fingers to make up the circumference. I craned my neck back and couldn’t see the top of it. I wondered how high up it went and what it would be like to be up that high in the air.
I approached the tree and put my hand on it. The bark was smooth and remarkably warm on this cold day. The logging protest hadn’t been a top priority for me, and I hadn’t taken a lot of interest in it. Looking at this wondrous tree, however, I understood why my parents cared about it. Something as grand as this shouldn’t be destroyed. I patted the trunk and whispered, “My parents are going to protect you. I promise.”
Then I felt the strangest sensation under my palm. It was like the tree breathed. Like it let out a sigh.
These stories now appear in the newly released Christmas anthology Winter Wonder.
Winter Wonder brings you a confection of Christmas stories by an array of well-loved authors featuring characters drawn from their award-winning books. Eleven new stories spanning all ages from the young to the young at heart will whisk you away on a snowstorm of delight to worlds of fantasy, adventure, history, and even outer space with tales celebrating the magic of Christmas or the wonder of winter holidays. Fill your child's holiday reading with stories of adventure, myths - both Greek and Native American, science fiction, time-travel, a lyric poem, mystery, and even a bit of romance. Eleven stories will entertain your middle-grade to teen to young-at-heart readers. We welcome you into our winter holiday wonders with stories guaranteed to entertain, illuminate, and cheer.
This book is a treat for only 99 cents at Kindle or only $8.99 in print at Amazon. (I am told it will soon be available for Nook as well.) I know it's only October, but it's a great time to start thinking about your gift list, and this would be a nice treat for a young reader you know or anyone who enjoys good Christmas stories.
Can I focus on fall and Halloween now? Nope. My head is still wrapped up in Christmas because I've been asked to direct the holiday classic play Miracle on 34th Street at a local theater. I started rehearsals this week.
Someone please bring me a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie and a Chai Tea Latte while I start picking out Christmas carols and staging the show, so I don't miss everything about this season.
Happy Autumn to you! As always, I'd love to hear from you, so leave a comment. Feel free to scroll down to read more of my blog or visit the other pages of my website.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.