Christmas 2015

SantaHere’s the thing I discovered this holiday season…

There aren’t any new original Christmas books being written. When I started doing the book reviews for WKAR, I had this dream of discovering a new holiday tale each year and that plan fell apart pretty darn quick.

Starting in October, I began checking out new releases for possible reviews and everything seemed to be romantic comedies, all dreaming of being a mediocre Hallmark special. (Of course, if they are all mediocre how does that scale really work?) But you know my gut feeling is that all those relationships that begin like that over the holiday season don’t last after the book ends and the tree is put away.  Yes, Hallmark romantic-comedy fans, I’m saying it- they will all be broken up by summer. Bah Humbug!

So here is the challenge to everyone reading who is a writer: Come up with a new holiday story. It can’t be a variation on something we have seen or an adaptation or a re-imagining, it has to be an original take. Something that adds to the holiday season. I want something new and something daring and something that taps into the warmth that is supposed to surround the yuletide season. The gauntlet has been thrown down and if you can pull this off, book reviewers (and readers) will thank you for years to come.

Now here are some of my favorite holiday posts I have done in the past that I think you will get a kick out of this holiday season.

Why the Littlest Angel is the Worst Holiday Story… Ever.  And I still stand by this statement. Here are my reasons why we should all forget this tale and stick it under the bed with the angel’s box of favorite things.

Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I am really proud of this review I did a while back for WKAR. You can listen to my voice (and my attempt to channel Dickens) or read it via the link.

Writing a Good Christmas Story: Four Things to Consider. For those thinking of taking on my challenge, here are some writing pointers that will help you on the mission.

Kris and Me. I know I shared this original Christmas short story already once on the site this season, but I am proud of it. You should check it out. (And Hallmark channel, you can reach me via my contact info listed on my “Man Behind the Curtain” page.)

Neil Diamond’s “A Cherry Cherry Christmas” is the Worst Christmas Song Ever! A Holiday Musical Rant. One last post for the Grinch and the Scrooge in all of us. And this song doesn’t get better with time. Now I’ve just got to get around to creating a rant about “Last Christmas” by Wham! Yes, that song deserves it.

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Writing a Good Christmas Story: Four Things to Consider

Santa Checking His ListI totally get it.

Each year the media world is starving for new holiday stories. They want them for the bookshelves, for the TV screens, and the cinemas. So why wouldn’t any struggling writer (which is 98% of us) not want to give the old Santa Claus an adventure or two?

It pays the bills and, maybe, you will unwrap the golden present. In other words, create a holiday tale that becomes a classic, one that audiences return to yearly… which can also pay the bills yearly as well.

The problem is that for all of the attempts to make that blessed holiday classic it so, so rarely happens. Most holiday tales disappear at the end of the year. The books and the DVDs end up in the bargain bins, and the TV specials and movies are shown at random times in the early morning (if they are shown at all).

Recently, I reviewed a new collection of holiday short stories called My True Love Gave to Me (edited by Stephanie Perkins). My review will be on WKAR’s Current State later this month. I don’t want to say too much about my review here, but the book, in the end, just left me feeling sad.

Not exactly a Christmas feeling, I know, and probably not the one most of those contributors were hoping for. But it is a common feeling for me each year as I dare to check out the new holiday samplings from my fellow writers.

So why is it so difficult to write a good Christmas story? Basically, it is because most holiday writers seem to forget four important stocking-stuffing-ho-ho-ho points. These points are what separate the classics from… well… anything on the Hallmark Channel. Continue reading

New WKAR Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Current StateJust in time for the holidays!

Today on WKAR I take on one of the greats, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I’m really proud of this review and I hope you will check it out. You can listen to the review here:

http://wkar.org/post/book-review-charles-dickens-christmas-carol

If you would rather read my review, you can do so below.

This was my twelfth appearance on Current State and you can hear/read my other reviews via this page on my site or on the Current State site here. I have reviewed other classics as well as contemporary books.

I hope you enjoy my book review… and Merry Christmas! Continue reading

Neil Diamond’s “A Cherry Cherry Christmas” is the Worst Christmas Song Ever! A Holiday Musical Rant.

It Even he doesn't look happy with the result...takes a lot to write a worse song than “Christmas Shoes.”

You could almost see a contest being created around the Herculean task. The title of the contest could relate to old, smelly sneakers or something.

Yet, in 2009 Neil Diamond would have won the coveted holey shoe without any trouble at all with his “A Cherry Cherry Christmas.” (You see how I did that? Because we are talking about the holidays and I said “holey” instead of holy?… Oh, nevermind.)

How did I escape this atrocity to the holidays for the last few years?

It might be my first proof of Christmas angels. (And not the little ones who are all alone with no toys to play with except a shoebox… Wow, I hate that children’s book; most depressing vision of the afterlife ever.) See, I love the holiday season and one of my little embarrassing quirks is each year I give the local radio stations a chance to prove to me that there is still the possibility of good Christmas music being made. Usually, they don’t succeed…

Actually, sadly, I can’t think of the last time they have convinced me that anyone should consider making a holiday CD at all again! Continue reading

Talking About Some Deaths in Literature

Death is kind of on my mind a lot recently. My grandfather (who I wrote about here), died on February 9 and the loss of him and how it has impacted my every day thoughts had really made me think about death in relation to a lot of things around me. In my author-esq head, it’s not surprising that literature found its way into the mental ramblings (or should we just be honest and call them distractions from reality?).

It seems many times we don’t take “dead” very seriously in literature. Unless it is gruesome (Hi, George R.R. Martin!), or the other characters are seriously changed because of it for the worse (Seriously, why did Little Nell have to snuff it?), many times it seems to float past us as a plot device. Is it because we have a long history of people returning to life in books so it doesn’t feel as final? (Aslan, Gandalf, every comic book character, and most religious stories, etc.) The corpse is rarely there in a story, unless it has just happened; that could be part of it as well.

Death in writing is a plot device. It is a tool both sharp as a knife and as a blunt as a sledgehammer.  We cheer when bad guys die. We look at a death sacrifice as heroic, not thinking of the final end that just happened to a character.

Is it simply because we don’t see characters as “human?” So maybe it is more a fault of us writers that a readers feels, or doesn’t feel, the loss. There might be something to it. I wrote a book, MEGAN, that is built around a death and I tried to show a character from being told of the death of another with all the initial stages of acceptance over the course of a day. Hmmm… Probably why the work isn’t as popular on amazon.com than my time-traveling adventure, My Problem With Doors. So clearly, death is not a selling point.

There is a lesson there  I learned that you will not need to now. You can thank me later.

Sometimes a death can slip right by, almost as an afterthought. My favorite example of this is the first Harry Potter book. One thing I love to point out to people is that Harry Potter begins with a double homicide. Yes, we see the scene later in the series (We get a little description in the first book, just a taste). And while JK Rowling does her best to take a light approach to that first chapter (Vernon in all his heavy-set foolishness), it doesn’t change the fact the story really started the evening before when Voldemort went into the home of the Potters and slaughtered them gleefully. Continue reading

Me, Myself, & Charles Dickens

I’ve always felt a personal connection to Charles Dickens.

For example, I only have a few authors hanging on my walls at home, but he is one of them, right next to Mark Twain (Who, strangely, a lot of visitors think is Albert Einstein… Yes, I secretly judge the people who do that each and every time).

Right from the beginning of my exploration into books, I knew his name. When I was six or so, I remember getting a series of “comic” book adaptations of classic literature. I’m sure you remember these books. Opening any page, on one side would be heavily simplified and edited narrative and on the other will be a black-and-white drawing of what is happening. While as an adult I question whether we should be ruining the surprises and endings of great works of literature for kids in books like that, at the time, I couldn’t get enough of them.

Well, I had dozens of these books when I was a kid and most of them were attributed to Charles Dickens. These books were how I first experienced the madness of Miss Havisham and the “pointed” end of Sydney Carton. Continue reading

If the election is a story…

As children we are raised to think of our history as a story.

I’m not sure when this way of teaching American history began, but it was definitely prevalent throughout my education. Textbooks would present events, not as simple linear moments but as stories with beginnings, middles, and endings; each with their own book or chapter.

Consider, for example, how we look at the Civil War: The Civil War has a beginning with the election of Lincoln and Fort Sumter; a middle with Gettysburg; and an ending with Lincoln’s assassination. Everything else that occurs is seen in the context of that storyline. You can do this same trick with other wars and major events and you will see how it has affected your view on history as well. We all do it, we were taught to do this; we probably just didn’t realize it at the time that is what was going on. Continue reading

Why This Writer Feels Guilty For Loving SHERLOCK

Let me say this off the bat– SHERLOCK is one of the best written TV series I have ever had the pleasure to watch.

I love all the twists and turns and surprises in each episode. I think the actors are great in their parts and I look forward to each new episode. I’ve already seen two of the three new episodes of season two, and it is even better than the first season. As a fan, I hope the series goes on for another 10 years.

OK, I got that off of my chest.

Now, let me say I feel slight tinges of guilt for loving and supporting the series, because it is not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s vision. Oh, they are his characters (the main ones, albeit with cell phones), but they are not his stories, his world, his words, his adventures, his time period. The creators are–to put it bluntly and completely on the table–taking what they want from his stories in piecemeal, and remaking it for their own profit.

Again, I love the series. I want it to go on, but it does set a precedent that makes me a little concerned. Because of this series’ success are we going to see “new versions” of classics all over the place? Is that a good thing? And more importantly, does it give the respect to the original artist that they deserve for their own creation?

Consider this, if SHERLOCK wasn’t such a well-made, well-written series would we be as happy around the enterprise?

If it was crap, I can guarantee you that the Sherlock Holmes fan sites around the world would have risen in protest around it. The fact it is good, helps. So do we say, it is OK to “reinvent” an artist’s creation as long as it is good?  And who defines good? I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t trust TV executives to make that call for me. Continue reading