Christmas 2022


O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
O come and behold Him, born the King of Angels

O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord

“O Come, All Ye Faithful” by John Francis Wade

And now to announce the two winners of these books by the fabulous Sarah Aronson and Kate Hosford respectively (see this post for the interview):

   

    

The winners are Marian Beaman (Brand-New Bubbe) and Laura Bruno Lilly (A Songbird Dreams of Singing: Poems about Sleeping Animals).

Winners, please comment below to confirm.

Happy holidays to all!

Crocheted Christmas lights pattern by Sarah at Repeat Crafter Me. Check it out here.

Baby Jesus image from freeimages.com. Crocheted lights photo by L. Marie.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like The Christmas Alphabet

I’m still pretty much a kid caught up in the lights, sights, and sounds of Christmas. The other day I reminisced with a friend about the tissue paper wreaths and the red, white, and green construction paper chains we used to make in elementary school. And looking at the lights while driving home from her house was another trip down memory lane as I recalled the leisurely car rides my family took to admire the Christmas lights. I haven’t done that since my nieces and nephews were small.

After putting up the tree, I pulled from my shelf a book that captures some of the wonder of the holiday.

This pop-up book takes me back to elementary school and dioramas made. In case you have no idea what a diorama is, here the definition from Merriam-Webster:

a scenic representation in which sculptured figures and lifelike details are displayed usually in miniature so as to blend indistinguishably with a realistic painted background

We didn’t get all fancy like that definition. We used a cardboard box, tissue paper, Elmer’s glue, construction paper, and other pieces of cardboard to make old-school dioramas back in the days before Pinterest.

  

I love the simplicity of each image in The Christmas Alphabet. And yes, I’m fully aware that paper engineering might seem simple, but is complex in its execution.

The Christmas Alphabet reminds me of the simple joys of the holiday season. Even if I choose to avoid venturing out into the cold or feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, I can open the book and be inspired all over again.

Photos by L. Marie.

The View from the ER


So, Thanksgiving was not the way I’d planned it. The signs of its unusualness started on Monday with sinus pain that worsened by Tuesday. The trip to my sister-in-law’s parents’ home that I had been looking forward to was starting to look like it wouldn’t happen. I made the call most of us dread—to get a doctor’s appointment, only to discover the only available one was 11 days away.

I can tough this out, I thought. Ha. A few nights with little sleep thanks to pain caused me to ditch that plan and head to the ER on Friday, after a turkey-less Thanksgiving spent at home. Now, one does not head to the emergency room lightly. You have to come prepared. I brought a book, my Nintendo Switch, and a writing pad. Hmm. Which one would I choose? If you answered none of the above, you would be right. I sat there instead, trying to sleep, just wanting the pain to stop.

Now picture in your mind the sound of a record scratch. If you were born after a certain year, you might not know what that sounds like. Go here to hear it. A record scratch, according to Merriam-Webster is “something that abruptly calls attention to surprise or change.”

There I was, feeling sorry for myself when a woman arrived with an infant carrier. When asked the baby’s age, the mom replied, “Four months. She tested positive.” And then I heard the most chilling sound I think I’ve ever heard in my life: an infant wheezing—a tiny, gut-wrenching sound.

More sick children were carried in. Sick adults came too, some in wheelchairs. I was surprised at the amount of lower back pain people were experiencing. Some had had a fall, which left one woman concussed.

All of us waited for hours to see a doctor. I heard a nurse tell someone that the estimated wait time was two hours. A low estimate, I later discovered. Another nurse announced a stroke alert after a man came in with numb fingers. A woman came in with chest pain. The patient shuffling began with high-risk patients like these.

After four hours I saw a doctor for probably less than five minutes. His pronouncement—dental abscess—was met with prescriptions for a high-powered antibiotic, a probiotic, a high-powered pain pill, and a lesser potent one.

   

But though I came for what I needed, I was left with something more: a remembrance of that baby wheezing, a tiny note of fear and helplessness that caused me to pray and think of someone besides myself.

   

Photos by L. Marie.

Christmas 2021

What child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

Lyrics by William Chatterton Dix

Happy holidays to all. Though none of us thought we would still have to deal with wearing a mask, here we are. May you have joy and peace even in this.

Marian, Merry Christmas! I’m sending you Charles’s book, War of Nytefall: Eulogy. I am sorry it has taken so long to announce a winner!

 

Baby Jesus image from freeimages.com. Author photo and book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz.

Okay, So It’s 2021 . . . All Right Then


Just made a post-holiday work deadline this very day (or at least the day on which I’m writing this). So, if you’re wondering why you haven’t seen me at your blog on in this space, that’s why. Now that I’ve come up for air, I can say what I’ve been meaning to say: Happy New Year! I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season.

I spent the holidays working to meet the deadline, so all was quiet. Not a creature was stirring, except me, getting up to get more coffee or chocolate.

Yup.

As per my usual routine, I never make New Year’s resolutions. If a year like 2020 has taught me anything, it has taught me that plans can be changed at the drop of a hat. This is not to say that I plan to coast through the year without any desire to improve or perform any of the actions usually birthed through resolutions. But I don’t like to make promises that I can’t keep.

Another thing that 2020 taught me was to monitor my expectations. Ever read a book by an author that you thought was so outstanding, your expectations were sky high before the next book rolled around? Or, ever experience a time so bad, you thought, Well life can only go uphill from here? Expectations naturally form when something new dawns, and we can’t help approaching the unknown, based on our experiences. (Maybe that’s what’s been happening with Wonder Woman 1984. But I digress. . . .)

Many a time my expectations were so unrealistically high about a thing that nothing could possibly match them. I’m sure you know that feeling. So I have a “Take it as it comes” approach as I ease myself into 2021.This is also not to say that I lack hope. I’m just . . . cautious.

How about you?

Anyway, wishing you a joyous new year!

Meme from somewhere on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie.

“Minuit, Chrétiens” aka “Midnight, Christians”/“O Holy Night”

Peuple a genoux, attends ta delivrance!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Redempteur!

People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

The following are the lyrics many know. Though they are different from the above, the music is the same.

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Composer: Adolphe Adam (1847)

Lyrics: Placide Cappeau (whose original title was “Cantique de Noël”)

Translated from French to English by John Sullivan Dwight.

The winner of the delightful, soon-to-be-a-Christmas-staple, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas by Mary Winn Heider (click here for the interview with Mary Winn), is Marian Beaman!

 

Marian, please comment below to confirm. Happy Holidays to all!

Nativity image from somewhere on the internet. Mary Winn’s book cover is from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf.

Check This Out: The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas

With me on the blog today is the marvelous Mary Winn Heider, another Secret Gardener classmate, who is here today to talk about her picture book, The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas, which was published by Running Press Kids. Mary Winn is represented by Tina DuBois.

 

El Space: How on earth did you come up with this concept? Why unicorns?
Mary Winn: And of course the flip side to that coin, how could it possibly be anything but unicorns!

El Space: Good point!
Mary Winn: The truth is that I didn’t come up with the idea—my editor pitched me the premise and I thought it just sounded like so much fun. So I started with the idea that Santa has to use unicorns instead of reindeer, and then I experimented with a variety of scenarios explaining why it had to happen and how it ended up like that, which included both a Magical Animal Temp Staffing Agency and a parody version of The Night Before Christmas. I really love the wild brainstorming phase. But the more I worked on it, the more I was drawn to this very sweet unicorn troop who were absolutely bowled over to be invited to audition as reindeer substitutes. There is something so adorable to me about these fantastic, magical, stylish unicorns being so gaga about Santa.

El Space: Your book is so funny and quirky—a really tough balancing act to pull off. I can’t help thinking of Santa Cows by Cooper Eden, though your book isn’t about cows. 😄 I also think of Elf, a movie I love watching each year. It seems to take just the right balance to keep the humor from sinking into the sea of coy. How do you achieve that balance? I can’t help thinking of your novel, The Mortification of Fovea Munson [click here for the interview with Mary Winn about that book], which also has that balance.

 

Mary Winn: That’s such a lovely compliment—thank you for that, Linda. I agree with you that the balance is important, and while I’m drafting, I definitely err on one side and the other. That overstepping is a really useful part of my writing process—and I think for how I write, the metaphor really works: it feels exactly like being on a balance beam. I start off making big swings and toppling into the tries that don’t quite work, and then gradually making more nuanced adjustments until I feel a sort of intuitive rightness. I don’t have an algorithm so much as a very, very loose recipe. I like to make sure that as absurd and ridiculous as I get (and I like to get real absurd and ridiculous—my writing partner on my current project just sent me comments on a chapter today, which included the note, Mary Winn, this is preposterous. And to be clear, I consider that a really positive note)—as absurd as I go, I make sure that the story always stays grounded in something true and real. In this case, it’s the unicorns’ sincere need to not let Santa down.

El Space: So glad to hear about your process and the hard work you put into your books. And I love the illustrations! How much input did you have with the illustrator, Christian Cornia?
Mary Winn: I didn’t talk to Christian until after the book was out, but I adooooooore the way he drew the unicorns. All the little details, like that How to Rainbow book that one of them is reading at the top—just to die for. And the crocodiles! That crocodiles spread is among my favorite things ever.

El Space: That is a great spread in the book [which you can see part of if you click here and scroll down]! What Christmas book, if any, did you love to read when you were a kid or as an adult? Why?
Mary Winn: Hmmm. . . . Good question. I don’t actually recall one that I liked to read specifically at Christmas. I was a weird, indiscriminate kid, and loved to read seasonal books all year. But I do associate Christmas with reading, because I’d be off from school and I could just read the entire break!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary Winn: My next novel—The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy—comes out in March, so I’m starting to think about that book again. It’s funny how they sort of hibernate in your brain between the time that you finish them and they come out. And I’m working on a really exciting hybrid graphic/prose novel with an illustrator pal. It’s definitely the most exciting part of my days right now!

Thanks as always, Mary Winn, for being my guest.

Looking for Mary Winn? You can find her by clicking on one of these:
Website, Highlights, Twitter, Instagram, and Barrel of Monkeys.

Looking for The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas? Look here: Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop

But one of you will receive a copy at your home! Ho-ho-ho! (After Christmas, sadly, but something to look forward to.) Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced early next week.

 

When my copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas arrived, Henry quickly commandeered it. “And look how nicely it fits under the Christmas tree,” he said, I guess as a hint for me to get him a copy of the book since I snatched mine back.

Random squirrel meme:

Mary Winn’s book covers are from her website. Author photo by Popio Stumpf. Santa Cows cover from Goodreads. Elf movie poster from Ebay. Random squirrel meme from sayingimages.com. Balance beam image from HuffPost. Henry photos by L. Marie, who is grateful for her copy of The Unicorns Who Saved Christmas.

End of an Era—2019 and the Decade

By the time you read this, 2020 will be here. But today being New Year’s Eve, I asked Henry what he was looking forward to in 2020. You know, the kind of question everyone asks on the eve of a new year.

“Grapes,” he said. Not quite what I’d expected to hear, but to each his own.

Um, those are not grapes, Henry.

Though they weren’t asked, Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal chimed in with, “Catching some Zzzs” and “Tacos” respectively.

And Malik added, “Continuing to be awesome.” Perhaps having low expectations is the way some cope with the changing year.

Henry’s new BFF, the Bunny Cupcake (who sadly will be moving away soon), had very little to say other than bidding Henry a tearful good-bye.

And so, we bid good-bye to 2019 and the decade. I’m hardly tearful however. I’m glad to see you go, 2019! Thanks to the polar vortex, various family illnesses, manuscript rejections, pet deaths, and job losses, you will not be missed.

But as I consider those challenges, I can’t help seeing what they shaped in me, my family, and friends. Resilience is formed not in ease but in hard times. So 2019, your peaks and valleys left a residue of resilience that we can all carry into 2020—a year of endless possibilities.

I’m not one for making resolutions. And if you follow this blog at all, you know that I hardly ever post goals. (Some might say I never post goals.) But I’m writing three books that I’m looking forward to finishing in 2020.

What are you looking forward to in 2020? Comment below!

Happy New Year!

Photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

The Gift of Story


When I was a kid, I learned to value stories. My parents read books to me at bedtime, which made me want to read stories for myself. Many of the stories they read were fairy tales or fantastical adventures written by Dr Seuss. As soon as I learned to read, I read just about everything—fiction and nonfiction. I had (and still have) an insatiable curiosity for the stories of others. Sharing stories is the main reason why I love to give books away.

  

I love being taken on an adventure through the pages of a book. So many aspects of life are stressful these days, so I value more and more the stories I read and the characters I grow to care about. My favorite time of day is the time I can spend with a book, watching the workaday world fade away beyond the edges of the pages in front of me.

So without further ado, here are the winners of the books for the Christmas giveaways, which were announced in this post and this one:

The winner of Love, God, and Mexican Pastries is Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Up for Air is Laura Bruno Lilly!


The winner of The Art of Breaking Things Is Nicki!


The winner of A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity is Marian!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Happy reading! And thank you to all who commented!

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Book stack from blogs.mtu.edu. Books covers (with the exception of those being given away) from Goodreads.