Christmas Gift Ideas

I wrote a post last year about gift ideas for the writer in your life (or for yourself, if you’re a writer). To add to that list of pens, books, and writing apps, I’m promoting two other writerly gift ideas.

Agile Writer Conference

Agile Writers is a Richmond, VA-area writers group of which I’m a member. The group runs numerous courses, like a comprehensive program for writing a full first-draft novel in six months, to specialty classes covering different aspects of writing, editing, and publishing. Next month, Agile Writers is putting on their first ever writers conference. I am of course attending, and I’m also speaking – I’ll be teaching a class about how to use Twitter to build your author platform and connect with your readers.

A conference ticket makes a great gift – for your writer loved one, or for yourself! And because I’m a speaker at this conference, if you register using the code GRACE17, you get a $10 discount. Cool, huh? Conferences are a great place to not only learn about every stage of writing and book production, but to network with other writers and people in the publishing world. So click on over to the Agile Writers site and get your ticket with the discount code of GRACE17 before Christmas! Continue reading

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Christmas Stories

Just a brief post for Christmas week. I hope you are enjoying the holiday, getting to spend it doing things you love, with the people you care about most.

As I was reflecting on two of my favorite things – writing and Christmas – I remembered a fun holiday movie from a number of years ago: Beauty and The Beast: Enchanted Christmas. My favorite scene/song from that movie is “Stories” – Belle realizing that the power of good storytelling might just be the trick to reaching the Beast.

Beautiful animation, beautiful words, beautiful meaning. A good story, like good music, can transcend time and culture and bring us all closer together.

Enjoy the song, and enjoy the holidays and the rest of 2013. Merry Christmas!

Music Review: “Dreaming Of Home,” Susan Aglukark

Canadian singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark has long been one of my favorite music artists. She is Inuit – the aboriginal people who live in the arctic regions of northern Canada – and her music bridges all cultural gaps. Her latest album Dreaming of Home is no different. The spirit of Christmas and a love for family and home are universal, and this collection of holiday songs shows just that.

Dreaming of Home features several familiar Christmas favorites, like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” and “Huron Carol.” Other songs, like “Caledonia” and the titular song “I’m Dreaming of Home,” are simple songs of the love and warmth of home.

If you’ve heard Susan’s first Christmas album from a number of years ago, you’ll recognize “Old Toy Trains” and the Inuktitut version of “Silent Night.” These are new versions, though, for this album. As much as I love her original renditions of these songs, I was excited to hear them again with a different sound.

As she usually does, Susan sings in both English and her native language of Inuktitut on this album. “Huron Carol” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are in Inuktitut, while “Old Toy Trains,” “Silent Night,” and “Do You Hear What I Hear” are sung in a mix of both languages.

My regular readers probably know how much I enjoy listening to music in other languages, but I think this is especially meaningful at Christmas. Hearing Christmas songs in different tongues, whether they’re familiar tunes or not, to me exemplifies the meaning of Christmas – it’s a gift for everyone of every culture, all over the world.

A gentle folk-rock sound and Susan’s clear voice make this album a delightful Christmas treat. I know that I’ll be adding these songs to my annual Christmas playlist for many years to come.

Merry Christmas!

Susan Aglukark’s website

“Do You Hear What I Hear”

Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come

For the month of December, my posts will all be Christmas-themed, just to be festive (or annoying, depending on your point of view). You can love it or hate it, celebrate it with joy or celebrate a different winter-time festival—but either way, Christmas is here and so is its impact on our culture. So I figured it would be appropriate if my blog reflected that.

For everyone who celebrates Christmas, the presents have been unwrapped, the food has been eaten, the pictures have been uploaded to Facebook. Even if some things happened or didn’t happen this holiday that made you unhappy or stressed, I hope that you can find at least one thing that you can be thankful for.

I love Christmas, and my memories of Christmases past are pleasant ones. The tree, making Christmas cookies, dinner with family and games after. I grew up listening to a wide variety of Christmas music, and every year I add to my mental and physical playlist of Christmas songs.

Christmas present this year was especially fun, because my nephew is now old enough to unwrap gifts and play with toys. Watching him pushing his new wagon around, wearing his ugly Christmas sweater (which, of course, on a baby is cute), adds a new level of magic to Christmas day. More memories for Christmas past.

I hope to have many more Christmases yet to come. There’s more Christmas music to listen to, more toys to give my nephew, more gingerbread houses to build and pictures to take. It’s a season of kindness and charity—which really should exist at all times of the year—that the world sorely needs. I hope I always keep love and generosity in my life, so that my future isn’t like the doom that was predicted for Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Here’s to many more Christmases in the future, and to a great 2013!

Xmas 120

Writing Exercise – Christmas with your Characters

For the month of December, my posts will all be Christmas-themed, just to be festive (or annoying, depending on your point of view). You can love it or hate it, celebrate it with joy or celebrate a different winter-time festival—but either way, Christmas is here and so is its impact on our culture. So I figured it would be appropriate if my blog reflected that.

I love Christmas (just in case my regular readers hadn’t picked up on that yet!) And every year starting about mid-November, I get a strong urge to write a Christmas story, or at least a Christmas scene, even if the current project I’m working on has nothing to do with Christmas.

I often do write at least a partial scene that involves Christmas, and it can be a fun and insightful writing exercise. Especially if your story does not involve Christmas, writing a Christmas scene with your main characters can be a way to learn something about your characters that you may not have known before.

For example, if your story takes place most anywhere on earth sometime during the past 2,000 years, it’s likely that at least one of the characters has at least heard of Christmas, right? So what might that character’s Christmas traditions be like? Take a moment and just imagine, and then write it down.

Does your character come from a dysfunctional family where no one gets along and holiday gathering consist of arguing and watching  TV? So what if that character was invited to a classy Christmas party with their new spouse’s happy, well-adjusted family? How does your character react?

What if your Native American character is just learning to trust the ranchers who moved into his territory, and they invite him to spend Christmas day with them on their new farm? Does he just watch through the window as they bring a tree into the house and sing songs around the old piano, or does he go inside?

Really, this writing exercise doesn’t even have to be about Christmas at all. Use a different holiday—any holiday. Or some other special event—a wedding, a football game, a concert, a family reunion.

This sort of writing exercise works best if it’s about an event that is not part of the plot of your story. It’s intended to get you to explore a side of your character that you hadn’t thought of before, to add depth to their personality and background.

So if your story is about a teenage boy who follows his two favorite bands all over the country in hopes of becoming a rock star one day, then writing a scene with him at a concert would be important for the story, but not a unique exercise.

But for a crime drama about a hardened cop who’s forgotten how to enjoy himself, writing a scene with him at a concert might be a way for you to discover what your character is like when he unwinds.

Or send the rock star boy or the hardened cop home to the grandparents house in the country for Christmas. Now what does the character do?

If you’re taking some writing time over the holidays, then try this exercise with one or more of your characters. It doesn’t have to be about Christmas, or any other winter-time festival. Just put your character in some setting that is logical for their life, but may not occur in the actual plot. And then write!

Spend some quality time this holiday with your characters, and get to know them a little bit better.

And have a merry Christmas!