The Sounds of Christmas

When I noticed that my post was due on Christmas morning, my first reaction was to cringe and wonder, What on earth could I talk about that wouldn’t seem banal on such a morning? Not sure what to do, I do what I always do. I put the worry aside and took the dog for a walk. 

The various churches in our area often play recorded music. There is little live bell ringing in churches today, which is a loss. As a former bell-ringer, I miss the sound of bell music. When I was barely twelve years old, I was part of a group from my school that performed for the mayor of Boston (in a public concert) during the holiday season as well as for my community. When I hear bell ringing now I actually listen as though I understand what I’m hearing—the different bells, the timing, the way a ringer has to pitch and snap the bell forward, etc. 

On my walk I heard the recorded music from a small nondenominational church nearby, and let my mind drift. In the distance a dog barked and I knew another dog walker was out and about. Briefly a car with the bass ramped up sped by, crushing the bells and the dog. I registered all this and more as I waited for the world to fall quiet so I could enjoy the bells again.

This was one of those moments when a writer recognizes the obvious. In my recent work I’d forgotten the sensation of sound—the music that alters how I feel, the pain of shouting voices, the laughter that starts me smiling and makes me curious, the chorus of dogs barking in response to each other, and the snatch of conversation from two people walking past. The world is one long musical composition of which we hear only bits and pieces. But what if we listen?

The morning of a holy day is a good time to begin to listen well and carefully, to set aside the urge to add a comment or tell a story. Now is the time to listen to the world around us, the sounds we screen out instead of embracing as part of the fullness of life. There is a rhythm to movement and the noise it creates, and if we listen carefully and long enough we’ll see people walking up the steps in time to the beat of a car coming around the corner, or the landing of birds while a tree branch bends. If we listen we can hear the rhythm that holds us in sync with each other, each sound a grace note of life. 

May your holiday be rich in all the best ways.

Filling the Stockings by Paty Jager

2017 headshot newI don’t know about other mystery writers, but Christmas for me is like plotting a great caper.

Nothing thrills me more than finding the perfect gift for a family member of friend. Then there comes the wrapping. It had to be as fabulous as the gift I purchased.  I want the person receiving the gift to know by how it’s wrapped with love and excitement that this is something they are going to like.

And don’t get me started on finding all the little items that will fit in each family member’s stocking… I think about their favorite colors, animals, hobbies, and all the things I know about them and slowly accumulate my bag of goodies.  Everyone gets the usual things like some chocolate and candy canes. I mean really, that’s a given in the stocking.  Males get slightly different items than the females. As the holiday grows closer, I put each person’s stocking items in separate bags to make it easier to help Santa out while filling the stockings. 😉

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When I was young, I’d shake and weigh every package under the tree that had my name on it. I’d sit for hours pondering what could be in the box. Part of the rush was hoping for things, you know you wouldn’t get, but could dream about.

At one point in my life, I was a horrible snoop. I’d unwrap my packages and others I couldn’t figure out and then wrap them back up. My mom became wise to that and started using a code so we didn’t know who the packages belonged to!

The anticipation of Christmas and what could be in the presents is what helped develop my love of a mystery. That and receiving the whole Nancy Drew collection of books.

If you celebrated Christmas with presents were you a snoop or someone who waited patiently for the time to arrive to unwrap your gifts? If you don’t celebrate Christmas with presents, what is something in your life that you waited for with great anticipation?

Whatever you celebrate this month, I wish you all a wonderful celebration and happy healthy New Year!

 

My latest audio book, Yuletide Slaying, book 7 in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series, is a perfect listen for this time of year.  You can find it at these audio book vendors or ask your local library to order a copy.

Yuletide Slaying

Yuletide Slaying AudioFamily, Revenge, Murder

When Shandra Higheagle’s dog brings her a dead body in a sleigh full of presents, her world is turned upside down. The man is a John Doe and within twenty-four hours another body is found.

Detective Ryan Greer receives a call that has them both looking over their shoulders. A vengeful brother of a gang member who died in a gang war is out for Ryan’s blood. Shandra’s dreams and Ryan’s fellow officers may not be enough to keep them alive to share Christmas.

Audio Links:

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/yuletide-slaying-shandra-higheagle-mystery-book-7-unabridged/id1441592155?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Nook: https://www.nookaudiobooks.com/audiobook/251575/yuletide-slaying

Audiobooks.com: https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/yuletide-slaying/356808

Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/audiobook/389993251/Yuletide-Slaying

Playster: https://play.playster.com/audiobooks/1001800000000251575/yuletide-slaying-paty-jager

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Yuletide-Slaying-Shandra-Higheagle-Mystery/dp/B07JP1L8QD

Audible: https://www.audible.com/pd/Yuletide-Slaying-Audiobook/B07JNKQNPC

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, Indiana

by Sally Carpenter

In finding a setting for my new series, I wanted to use a small town, as is typical in most cozies. But I didn’t want a generic town or the same city as every other cozy. What could I do that was unique enough to stand out?

 I recalled a town I’d visited as a kid: Santa Claus, Indiana. Being a Christmas junkie myself, it just made sense to model my fictitious cozy town after this one.

 The tiny burg of about 1,000 residents sits among the rolling, wooded hills of south central Indiana, just a few miles north of the Ohio River, the state’s southern border. The town was settled as early as 1846.

 According to local legend, in 1852 the good townsfolk were gathered around a potbelly stove after the Christmas Eve service to try and pick a name for their burg. A wind blew open the church door and revealed a charming scene of falling snowflakes and the sound of sleigh bells. The children ran to the door shouting, “Santa Claus!”

Industrialist Louis J. Koch, who had retired from his business in the nearby big city of Evansville, decided to take advantage of the town’s name. He set up the world’s first theme park—even older than Disneyland. Santa Claus Land opened its gates in 1946.

The park had wooden roller coasters, kiddie rides, live reindeer, a doll museum, artists making glassware, magic and puppet shows, performing animals (this was long before PETA), the Christmas Room restaurant, and a live, year-round Santa Claus, played for many years by Jim Yellig.

Over the years the theme park expanded into the current Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari water park. The park added sections related to other holidays: Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and a non-scary Halloween. Despite the growth, the park is still owned and operated by the Koch family, giving it a non-commercial, hometown appeal.

But the Christmas spirit doesn’t stop with the park. A giant Santa Claus statue stands at the town’s border. The streets have such names as Elf Lane, Fir Tree Circle, Jingle Bell Lane, Madonna Drive, Mistletoe Drive, Ornament Circle and Rudolph Lane.

The local Catholic parish is, of course, St. Nicolas Church.

Each year the town post office receives thousands of letters addressed to Santa. Many people send their Christmas cards through the post office just to receive a special postmark.

As a kid, I was familiar the town, about an hour’s drive from my home, because of the Santa Claus Campground where I attended the summer church camp (the camp is still in operation today with the same buildings). One year, mom picked me up at the end of camp and we visited Santa Claus Land. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos nd I don’t remember much about the park.

For my book I recreated my own theme park, the Country Christmas Family Fun Park, where my heroine performs in one of the musical shows. I’ve borrowed a few features from the real Santa Claus Land, but also added new elements of my own. I also had a blast thinking up such establishments for the town as the North Pole Café (a restaurant) and Lollipop Lanes bowling alley.

Many years ago I met a man named Noel. He was born on Dec. 25. I though that was a great name, so naturally I named my heroine Noelle, using the French spelling that I think looks more feminine.

I’m hoping readers will find Yuletide, Indiana as much fun to visit as the real-life Santa Claus, Ind.

 

 

 

Christmas is Coming

by Janis Patterson

For once I’m way ahead of a deadline. It’s a situation that doesn’t happen very often, and I’m going to enjoy every bit of it!

A couple of months ago a couple of mystery writer friends and I were having lunch and somehow the subject of holiday anthologies came up. They seem to be a popular genre and – as all of us are always interested in upping our sales – the idea of us doing a Christmas anthology of murder mystery stories appeared (sorry, gang – I don’t remember whose idea it originally was) and everyone loved it.

My mind – like most writer’s – is a strange and fearsome place. Immediately a story began forming in the swirling and dangerous depths of my imagination and in spite of a looming book deadline, a much-looked-forward-to and lengthy trip to Atlanta to the NRA convention coming up and a vicious case of food poisoning (the worst I’ve ever had) I started writing immediately, much to the detriment of my current work in progress. Some stories just need to be told immediately.

Christmas is supposed to be such a happy time of family and presents and religious devotion, but it seems like I remember reading somewhere that more people commit suicide at Christmas than any other time of the year, which is horrifically sad. Even though I can’t call up the statistics, it seems I also remember there is always a jump in murders and assaults during the holidays as well – which is sad too, but it makes the season a natural for tales of murder and dark deeds.

I have always believed that stories should be just as long as they need be to tell the story. Our group had decided on novellas rather than full novels, and as novellas go, mine is short – truly a novelette (does anyone use that term any more?) at just over 15,000 words. But the story is a very small slice of time and a very concentrated tale with a sparse cast of characters, so that’s all it needed. I could of course pad the word count, but that would dilute the story.
The story? It’s a delicious mix of a family Christmas in a snowbound mansion and a horrible relative who is found dead on Christmas morning. He has been stabbed… and garroted… and poisoned. I have always believed in overkill. The title is, appropriately enough, KILLING HARVEY.

Anyway, the story was finished before we left for the NRA convention – for which I’m glad, as the convention gave me so much information and so many story ideas that my head is about to explode.

If all goes as planned, our anthology should be for sale online sometime mid to late November. If the project falls apart, I’ll release the story by myself. So – be warned : either way KILLING HARVEY will be available, so please plan to buy lots of copies. It will be the perfect virtual stocking-stuffer.

Now as my original deadline approaches with the speed and grace of a runaway train, I must get back to my work in process.

Enough!

by Janis Patterson

I have gone into full rebellion mode. Yesterday afternoon I hadn’t gotten anywhere near my daily word count and that upset me, as I am very serious about my writing. But I couldn’t write. Actually, I was doing pretty good to breathe and sit upright. All I could do was sit at the computer, staring fixedly at the screen and moving around the puzzle pieces on my favorite jigsaw site. Usually I restrict myself to one jigsaw a day, two if The Husband is watching something on TV in which I have absolutely no interest. (For reasons I won’t go into right now my work computer is in the family room…)

Yesterday, though, I went from one puzzle to another, mindlessly putting the pieces together, all the while telling myself I’d get to work right after I finished this one… I lied. Finally I knew if I didn’t lie down I’d fall over, so I left the computer and laid down on the couch and watched a little mindless TV until it was time to get up and fix supper.

And had an epiphany. I was exhausted, pure and simple. Between the holidays, getting ready for the holidays, cleaning up for the holidays, shopping for the holidays, wrapping gifts for the holidays, baking for the holidays, holiday parties, plus some family issues, and writing my regular group blogs, starting a newsletter for the first time, doing a couple of promotional appearances and arrange more, and – oh, yes – working on my new book, all on top of regular life, including cooking, cleaning up, laundry, looking after our furbabies and keeping The Husband happy… I was forgetting something.

Me. In the rush to get everything done, I was forgetting that I am no longer a spring chicken with boundless energy and stamina. I was forgetting that if I go down, pretty much everything else goes down with me and probably won’t get done. I was forgetting that this is my life too, and while there are things that must be done, I deserve to have a little fun as well.

So – learn from my mistakes and don’t pummel yourself into the ground like I did. The things that are essential will get done. Learn to enjoy again. Take your time. Prioritize. I’m not going to freak out if the wreath doesn’t get hung or if we have sandwiches for supper two nights in a row. This selectiveness is not only good for your heart and your stamina, it is good for your soul. You will learn what is important – family, friends, the joy of the season, a good day’s work. You can’t do it all (at least for any length of time or with any quality of life) so enjoy what you can do.

Life is short – make the best of it. And, most importantly of all, be good to yourself, for you are the best gift you can give to yourself and your loved ones.

Merry Christmas! Or, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, may you have the happiest of holiday seasons.