Christmas in July takes new meaning when you’re an author

We’ve finished celebrating Independence Day as I write this, but yet I’m in a Christmas state of mind.

Before everyone starts railing against me and telling me how Christmas is over-hyped and over-commercialized and so on, I said it’s a state of mind I’m in. I haven’t got the tree up, no mistletoe is hanging over the door, and I don’t have a ringtone of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on my cell phone.

Why is my mind on Christmas? Because my next book is Christmas-themed. With my average turnaround for a novel hovering between eight and nine months, it is essential that I have Christmas in my heart, or at least let the occasional snippet of “Jingle Bells” slip out of my mouth once in a while. (Actually, I found myself humming “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” a couple of days ago.)

Sleigh Bells and Slain BellesI’m currently finishing up the first draft for Sleigh Bells and Slain Belles, the fifth book in the Zachary Gagewood Mysteries. I freaked out some of the folks in the writing group I’m with, the Shawano Area Writers, when I told them the next book was taking place during the Christmas season. Some of them thought I was going to have Santa Claus whacked, but after I assured them that the jolly old elf wasn’t even making an appearance in this book, they were much more receptive.

Interesting. They’re cool with me offing anyone else, as long as I don’t harm one hair on Santa’s head. Then again, writers, especially published authors, can be an odd sort.

Anyway, getting back to Sleigh Bells and Slain Belles, the long and short of it is that there’s a Christmas princess who presides over the Gingerbread Ball, an annual fundraiser for the local Ladies Society and an opportunity to collect winter coats for needy children. As you might have guessed, the princess is deposed in a most unpleasant manner, and my protagonist, Zachary Gagewood, must track down the real killer.

Adding another Christmas twist, the person who is accused of the crime is someone who has not been kind to Zachary, despite the two growing up together as friends. Any other time of the year, Zachary would probably let the jerk rot in jail, but being it’s the season of goodwill, he feels a need to clear his fair-weather friend’s name.

It’s not an easy task focusing on Christmas during the off season. While I can certainly craft the outline for the book in November and December, any author can tell you that it is rare for a book to remain completely faithful to the original outline. Circumstances change, and occasionally the path is riddled with plot holes that can totally shred your tires.

When that happens, you have to consider what comes next. Besides the usual details, you’ve got to remember to set your scenes carefully, keeping in mind what decorations are up in the locations where the story takes place, what music could be playing and what other holiday jubilation could be taking place. This is easy enough to imagine during the regular holiday season, but not so much when it’s Easter or Mother’s Day.

An Eagle River Christmas cover copy

Fortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve written something Christmas-themed. I wrote a romance a few years back called An Eagle River Christmas, and just like with my current novel, I had to have Christmas on the brain in order to make it through, although I started that book right around the holidays, which meant I had a basic framework by the time New Year’s Eve rolled around. I also wrote a short story called The Farmer’s Heart in 2009 for a publishing company that was part of a plethora of holiday-themed short stories sold during December, but I had to write the story in September and October, and it was tough thinking of Christmas when there were Halloween decorations everywhere I looked.

Of course, you could run into the same problem no matter what holiday you’re writing about. I did another short story related to Valentine’s Day, and I must not have had romance completely on the brain in November when I wrote it, because the publishing company that took The Farmer’s Heart rejected the Valentine’s Day piece. Can’t win them all.

It takes a lot of focus and concentration to bring a novel to life. I’m currently helping someone in the Shawano Area Writers get her first novel into print. It is something that has taken her several years to create, and as a beta reader, I’ve had to point out to her when something doesn’t seem in harmony with her overall story, which involves a one-room Wisconsin schoolhouse in the 1950s. Despite a few minor flaws, she did an impressive job staying on course. That’s the hallmark of a good book.

Well, now that the fireworks are all finished, I need to start making out my Christmas list.

Just kidding. I’m too busy trying to figure out what my characters would get each other for presents.


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