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!

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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!

Christmas Music to Write By

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 did a post a few months ago about Music to Write By – music that inspires me and that is my choice listening material when I want to get into writing mode. At Christmas time it’s no different.

Usually, listening to Christmas music gets me into a mode to write something Christmas-y, which may or may not be appropriate to whatever I’m actually working on at that time. But I do have a few (or rather, a lot) of Christmas songs that inspire me to write in general. So here are a few tracks and the reasons that I use them as music to write by:

In the Bleak Midwinter – by Loreena McKennitt

Canadian musician Loreena McKennitt is one of my favorite singers to begin with, and I love her Christmas music as much as I love her non-seasonal stuff. This track in particular is good writing music mostly because it’s instrumental—I can’t actively write if there’s a song with words playing. But whether I’m listening and brainstorming or listening and writing, this elegant rendition of a classic Christmas carol is simple and beautiful.

 

Adam Lay Ibounden – by The Mediæval Bæbes

I don’t know if this technically a Christmas song, but I’ve heard it performed at Advent services leading up to Christmas. There’s nothing like a 15th century Middle English song with a hurdy gurdy whining in the background to get my creative juices going. In my current WIP, the fantasy world the characters travel to is very primitive, especially musically. Simple tunes sung with straight tones is very appropriate to get me into medieval-ish fantasy world mode.

 

Af álfum – by Frostrósir

I’ve got to put a non-English song in this list, of course (Old and Middle English don’t count). The Icelandic Christmas group/concert called Frostrósir (Frostroses) puts on a spectacular live show (in Iceland, of course), with a different cast and selection of songs every year. “Af álfum” (Of Elves) is a fun song that always makes me smile and perks up my mood if I’m down. I have trouble writing if I’m grumpy, so this song is a good pick-me-up.

 

The Lost Christmas Eve – by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Trans-Siberian is Christmas music. Like a lot of their songs, it captures the magic and the mystery of Christmas, both in the music itself and in the lyrics. If I could write lyrics half this good, I could be a great poet or songwriter.

 

Does anyone out there have a playlist of Christmas songs for their writing?

Books make good Christmas Gifts

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.

Since it’s the season for buying lots of stuff to give to other people, I decided to compose a short list in support of buying a book as a gift for your friend, family member, or even co-worker who you don’t really like. In the future, when I have some published works under my belt, this would of course apply to you, dear reader, buying (cough cough hint hint) one of my books. But since I’m not published (yet!), you can go spend your money with other authors for this Christmas.

So here’s my list of Christmas shopping tips, and why I think you should spend your money on books:

-Books are the gifts that keep on giving. A good story, or even a good non-fiction book, can be enjoyed again and again, and can be enjoyed by multiple people for years after the moment of the giving.

-Even if someone doesn’t like to read, there’s a book out there for them. It may not be hard to shop for the teen who’s into YA fantasy novels, but what about those other people? Well, even non-reader Uncle Bob might enjoy a glossy photo-filled book about his favorite wines, or a book of sports cartoons might be the perfect Secret Santa gag gift for your co-worker.

-If you’re buying an e-reader as a gift, it would add that little something extra if you spent a few dollars more and put a book or two on there. Especially if the person receiving the e-reader has never used one before or isn’t especially tech-savvy, having some ready-to-read books on it will make the gift that much more personal and user-friendly.

-Books don’t have to be expensive gifts. Sure, you can buy that $50 glossy hardcover coffee table book. But if your budget (and/or long list of people to shop for) doesn’t work well with that, you can still buy books. Most paperback fiction can still be bought for under $10. And don’t forget e-books, many of which are cheaper than that. And many small press and indie authors have special deals on their own websites with discounts or free gifts at this time of year, so check out author websites.

-Buying a book supports the author, so it’s like two gifts in one. Whether the author is a gajillionaire like J.K. Rowling, or a struggling indie writer you’ve never heard of, every book was lovingly crafted by somebody. Somebody put time, thought, energy, money, and love into every paperback, non-fiction book, and e-book out there. So if you buy a new book for a gift, you’re also giving to that author, and they deserve a merry Christmas too.

How many of you like to give or receive books as gifts?