Tuesday, December 18, 2012

12 Blogs of Christmas: Favorite Books

As a writer, I think there is no better gift at Christmas than a story.  For the 12 Blogs of Christmas, I took book suggestions from several others and had quite a response! From traditional, to humorous, to contemporary and a few that some wouldn't think of as a Christmas story, the list is quite diverse and entertaining.  Click on the book covers for more information, and be sure and visit all of the author blogs below in the 12 Blogs of Christmas!

My blog, I go first! One of my fav books ever is The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips. It's Christmas Eve in Wichita and most people are home celebrating with their families-but not Charlie Arglist. He's trying to tidy things up, so to speak, before he leaves town with the million dollars he has just stolen. Although I love Christmas cheer and happy thoughts, I like this book because it's a reminder that 'other things' are going on while the rest of us are celebrating---and not always the kinds of things we want to think about. And I have a mad writer crush on Scott Phillips.
Karen DeLabar is all about romance.  "I love reading it, writing it and experiencing it. My "go-to" book during the holiday season is The Gift which is a collection of three Nora Roberts books, Home for Christmas, All I Want for Christmas, and Gabriel's Angel. The three stories are short and can be considered romance fluff, but this time of year a little fluff is okay. Plus, they encompass everything I love about the holiday: magic, hope and love." Visit Karen's blog to discover some great Christmas movies with the 12 Blogs of Christmas!
No, Natalie Kenney the Toys'R'Us Big Book doesn't count. But your second choice certainly does! "I love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum Mystery Series and she wrote a Christmas-themed Plum story: Visions of Sugar Plums. It's so difficult to choose a favorite book of any kind, but this one has tons of laughs, a hot guy, and a little Christmas spirit. What more can a gal ask for?"  Natalie is sharing some unusual, traditional and fun Christmas cookies on her blog during the 12 Blogs of Christmas. 

 "I have always had a love/hate relationship with life Christmas" says author D.C. McMillen. "It is for that reason that I recommend You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs. If you have ever confused Santa with Jesus (and who hasn’t?), tried to create an edible masterpiece in the kitchen without bothering to follow a recipe or waking your parents’ (and who hasn’t), or if you have ever felt undeserving of a perfection you cannot help but relentlessly strive for (and who hasn’t?) then this is the book for you. Filled with acerbic observations, witty commentary, and a consistent stream of self-depreciating humour, this is the perfect book to read while sitting in front of your freshly decorated tree and sipping a glass of red. Until you laugh too hard and accidentally snort wine out your nose. In honor of the 12 Blogs of Christmas, D.C. is toasting us with favorite Christmas drinks on her blog today! 
Erica Lucke Dean is all about a traditional Christmas. "I want to create a completely vintage feel in the house during the Christmas season.  It makes me feel like I'm back in my grandmother's farmhouse.  I like Dickens' A Christmas Carol for that very reason. Bring on those Ghosts of Christmas past. I'll be wearing my very best flannel nightie."  To share some special Christmas memories, visit Erica today, one of the 12 Blogs of Christmas.
  My favorite Aussie, Ciara Ballintyne chose The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett as her favorite. "The Hogfather is the Disc's equivalent of our Santa, but his sleigh is pulled by four hogs. An assassin has been commissioned to kill the Hogfather, which he plans to achieve by causing children to stop believing in him. To encourage children to believe in the Hogfather, Death takes his place to deliver all the presents. If the Hogfather dies, the sun will not rise."  Ciara is spotlighting some unusual Christmas decorations for the 12 Blogs of Christmas, so check those out!
 No, Wendy told him with a little smile. Only until Christmas. Then we have the capon.
Why is Justin Bogdanovitch's recommendation Stephen King's The Shining? "Well, long ago, while reading it for the first time, I had to look up what a Christmas capon was (how it was invented by the Romans also lands in Stephen King country). But back to The Shining...It takes place in the lead up to winter, the promise of the holidays brings a semblance of family unity even to the Torrance family. The ghosts come out before Thanksgiving. Danny eventually meets the dead thing in room 217 and it wraps her hands around him in a terrifying embrace. After Thanksgiving, when Wendy contemplates how to cook that special Christmas capon, the bruises on Danny's neck have faded. The Torrances, like any family, look forward to Christmas. Unfortunately, at this moment in the novel, they are in the calm eye of a monstrous hurricane force. I try to read The Shining or watch the Kubrick film sometime during the holiday, just to get in the mood; it's a perennial favorite!" For the 12 Blogs of Christmas, Justin is highlighting Christmas Faux Pas on his blog!

Now for something safe for the kiddies...
Raine Thomas says, "I love the Grinch! My favorite Christmas story is How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. My parents always let us stay up to watch the annual showing of the movie on TV, and they would read us the story before bed on Christmas Eve.  I've continued this tradition with my own daughter." Raine is entertaining us with Christmas music today, one of the 12 Blogs of Christmas!

Maureen Hovermale dug herself out from a pile of books and assorted bookmarks to address the subject of Christmas books properly: Charles Dickens is the MAN. Forget about Ebenezer, turn your eye on the Messrs. Snodgrass, Winkle, and Tupman and drink a glass of hot brandy-and-water while you’re at it. The best quote ever concerning Christmas is by Charles himself: Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!  ~Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, 1836
For the 12 blogs of Christmas, Maureen is treating us to Christmas lingerie and other sexy holiday apparel (like fuzzy socks) today!

 As a kid, Amberr Meadows was a timid little bookworm, but she always dreamed of what it would be like to be one of the bad kids. "In real life, it never would have happened, because my mom would have killed me, but my rebellious daydreams were safe. I discovered The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in movie form first, and immediately after I saw it, I had to read the book, by Barbara Robinson. (Even then, I was of the opinion that a book is almost always better than the movie based upon it). The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about a family of cheating, stealing, swearing, smoking kids who hijack the annual Christmas Pageant at the church and make it best one ever (hence the name). I thought the book was awesome, because it proved that even the most unruly kids could be kind, too." Amberr has some favorite and delicious holiday foods on her blog today for the 12 Blogs of Christmas!

Ever wonder how Santa gets down the really tiny chimneys?  Some houses have no fireplace and hence no chimney.  How is it that Santa manages to leave presents at those houses?  Melody Ann Jones-Kaufmann was one of those kids.  She had these questions and more.  "My Dad was smart enough to buy me a book about Silver Spurs, one of Santa’s elves.  This tale, written by Robert R. Knigge, answers those nagging questions that trouble logical children like myself.  I found that I as a parent had to answer those same questions and thus I passed my beloved book on to my children.  I suspect one day I’ll be reading it to my grandchildren because logic like the force is strong in this family."  Melody is taking a look at favorite Christmas toys, old and new, for the 12 Blogs of Christmas!

One Marie Patchen's fondest Christmas memories of books was the year that her grandfather bought her the entire boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series. "I read those books until they fell apart, and each book contained a special Christmas story, from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the open plains of Kansas. That original boxed set is long gone, but a few years ago, my sister surprised me on Christmas morning with a new set.  She had searched the internet far and wide until she found the exact same set that I'd first received from my grandfather so many years ago.  Christmas was always an interesting affair in the Ingalls' household, and thanks to my sister, I got to re-live the experience." For the 12 Blogs of Christmas, Marie takes us down memory lane with Classic Christmas Cartoons...

These are some of our favorite books. What are yours?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Fiction: The Fix-It Box

Trees are going up, Santa is on every corner and parties are everywhere.  But Christmas is also a very difficult time for so many people.  Please remember to keep them in your hearts.  

I wrote this short story ten years ago and thought I would share it this week.  I hope you enjoy.  

The Fix-It Box
by Kelly Gamble

Poker in hand, I watch as the small fire burns in the fireplace. I can attack the logs and attempt to stir the flames, or I can let them die naturally. This is my first fire, and I'm not very good at it. Frustrated, I lie in the middle of the floor, small bicycle parts surrounding me, strung in every direction. With Christmas morning only hours away, I am considering giving up. I am not much of a single parent, and would have never chosen to be one. But David made that choice for me.
Slowly, the fire burns, hanging on to what life it has. I try not to focus on the dancing flames. They entrance me and keep me from the task at hand.  As is typical of this time of year, my mind is flooded with memories and although I am trying to focus on the assembly of my son’s bicycle, I am overwhelmed by the thoughts of those who have tried to help me over the past year.   
My family has tried to convince me that I am not to blame. They tell me that I should get on with my life and try to forget the past. My father calls David a coward; my mother never mentions his name. Jacob, my brother, at a loss for anything else to say, simply reminds me in his cheerful tone to ‘keep my chin up.’  None of them will be over for Christmas this year.
I look at the directions again, this time attempting the Spanish version. I don't speak Spanish, but it sure can't hurt. My anger grows as I realize what a waste of time this is. I at least need tools, but I can't bring myself to go to the shed where David kept his fix-it box. That was his place, and I'm not ready to enter it.   
I have talked to three counselors. They wait while I voice my questions, then wait again for me to answer them myself. If I had the answers, why would I spend what little money I have on them?   I have quit going to therapy, quit trying to make sense of the nonsensical.  There are no answers.  He left no note, he showed no sign that he was unhappy. Although I have never considered death a choice, it is the choice David made.
I consider throwing the directions in the fire.  There are too many pieces; the puzzle is too much for me.  Instead, I regain my supine position amongst the parts and cover my eyes with the paper.
I try not to think selfishly, but it's the little things I miss the most. Someone to change the light bulbs, to fix the television, to make sure the oil is changed in the car; someone to put a bicycle together for our eight-year-old son. Jimmy. He's now the man in the family and tries to protect and comfort me. It's hard for me to look at him sometimes. I can't remember when I last saw him smile.
As I lay among the pieces, I scream. "I hate you for what you did to us!" Then I curl into a ball, crying myself to sleep as I often do; missing David's smile, his scent, his touch.
I wake when I feel a cold chill as the front door opens. I turn as I hear it close, and see my husband, dressed for the weather, standing in the entry.  As he removes his coat, he looks at me and forces a smile. I cannot speak.  Closer, closer he moves toward me and sits with me amongst the puzzle.  He looks into my eyes, and touches my cheek.
"I'm sorry," he whispers with finality, as if there is nothing more to say.
I have no way to respond. I watch silently as he begins putting together the bike, using the tools from the fix-it box he thought to get from the shed. He talks as he works, showing me how to use the many gadgets that are in his precious box. "You can fix just about anything with this stuff," he says as he begins replacing the tools in their designated slots.
"But not everything," I manage to whisper.
I want to know why he chose to leave us, but I am afraid to ask. More importantly, desperately, I just want him to stay. Without looking into his face, I say, "I can't do this without you."
He leans toward me, gently kisses my forehead and traces the tear that runs down my cheek. "I will always love you," he whispers as he stands and turns to leave.  As I feel the cold chill of winter rush in again, I realize David has no answers.  There is no reason, no resolution.  If he cannot account for his actions, why do I continue to expect an explanation?  I cannot continue to allow myself to die inside because he chose not to live.  Suicide was David’s choice; it is not mine.   
I wake Christmas morning to the sound of Jimmy running down the hall. I'm sure I look a fright, still in my clothes from the night before, but Jimmy's eyes are focused on the bike: or what resembles one.  He kisses me on the forehead, just as his father used to do, and says “Merry Christmas, Mommy.”
It is our first winter without David. The laughter that had always filled our home on Christmas Day isn't present this year. I go to the restroom to clean myself up and take a long look in the mirror.  I am here, I am alive, and I can do this.  I dress and comb my hair, and Jimmy and I make the best of our party of two. 
The gifts are all open, but one small box remains under the tree. Jimmy picks it up and hands it to me. "It's for you."
I tremble slightly, holding the small gift in my hand. "Open it," Jimmy urges.
Inside the box is a small key, one that I recognize. I pick it up, hoping its weight isn't more than I can bear.
"It's the key to Daddy's fix-it box," Jimmy says softly. "If we learn how to use all that stuff, maybe we can fix some things, too." He glances briefly at the bicycle, and then lowers his eyes, cautiously waiting for my response.
I gently take him in my arms, feeling a tear trace the same path that it had the night before. "Thank you, Jimmy. It's perfect."
As I rock my son, I clutch the key tightly in my hand, wishing the items inside the box could fix everything. I glance at my fire, which struggled through the night but survived. I have to smile.
I have the tools. It's time to learn how to use them.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Donny and Marie and Writing

I took a picture of my desk recently and looking at it as a picture instead of as the place I am parked most of the time, I realized the eclectic mix of things that have found their way into my writing space. Like anyone else, only the things that are most important or most inspirational wind up within eyes view. I have my favorite books. Pictures of my sons. A bookmark from Star Island in New Hampshire. A giant stuffed moose. A journal. My Rosie the Riveter lunch box. My Lucas the Crab magnifying glass. A 'Write Like a Motherf*er' coffee mug. A small lighthouse plaque that my father gave me. My candle of the week. My Two Fridas.

And then there is Donny and Marie.

Okay, let me dispel any rumors that I am some huge Donny and Marie fan, posting 8X10's of the brother and sister duo on my desk because I'm in the fan club or anything. Sure, I may be a "little bit country and a little bit rock and roll," but that's not it, either. Oh, no, the meaning of the Donny and Marie photo is much deeper than that.

You see, I have two sons who to my delight,  and at times to my horror, have inherited my strange sense of humor. One day, I mentioned that I wished I had a picture of them together. I mean, for a mother, what could be better than a picture of your two grown children, looking all sassy, looking like they are the best friends, ever, smiling at you every day as you work?

It seemed like a simple request. But Dillon living across the country (as is their excuse), it was difficult for them to get together to have one simple picture made that they both could agree was worthy enough for my desk.

On Mothers Day last year, Theron walked into my office and presented me with an 8X10 envelope.
"What's this?" I said.
"You wanted a picture, there you go."
I tore it open, and there they were: Donny and Marie.
"Uh, thanks, Theron. Not exactly what I expected..."
"Two grown siblings, best friends forever, smiling at you everyday..." He said.
"It's a placeholder. Until Dillon and I get one for you. Just think of us when you look at them."

And in my household. that just makes sense.

So while others may see a picture of Donny and Marie watching over me as I write, I look up at them and see a U.S. Airman and a Doctoral candidate. Two grown children, looking sassy, looking like they are best friends forever.

My boys.

Currently being played by Donny and Marie Osmond

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happenstance by Valerie Haight

Valerie Haight, one of the most beautiful women I know, stopped by to talk about her new book Happenstance, scheduled for release just before Christmas. Hello, Valerie!

Thank you Kelly, you rockin red-head you, for letting me brag and lollygag here today! (Yes, I lollygag EVERY chance I get.) I’m so excited to be a guest for your awesome blog and thrilled beyond words to be in such great company. Not only do I have a full belly and heart from Thanksgiving, but December’s right around the corner! That means my first release is almost here and I can’t wait to tell everyone about it.

Happenstance is my debut novella available through Turquoise Morning Press and will be released December 23, 2012! I wrote this story based on a corporate setting using some of the relationship conflict I witness on a day-to-day basis. I’m an administrative assistant in a corporate setting…Okay, a gopher. So I get to see a lot of Peyton Place happenings and file them in my scheming brain. I’ve got loads of ideas up there to peruse for more novels but today, let’s talk Happenstance!

Taryn Ballard is happily married and a newly appointed analyst for a prestigious shipping company.  Her career upsurges in record time but she’s about to discover the real price of corporate life.
While on yet another business trip, Taryn suffers a brutal attack by a carjacker. Her husband isn’t there, but her co-worker Devin is.  The accidental bond Taryn and Devin share pitches them into dangerous and confusing territory. Taryn struggles to discern both her feelings for her sexy protector and Wade's reaction to it all. Unfamiliar emotions blur the rules of the game and Wade's ready to quit.
Taryn must rise above disaster to save her marriage. But is she ready to let go of the man who saved her life? In a single moment, Happenstance changes everything.
I’d always heard I should put my MC through the wringer and that’s just what I did with Taryn. She was so much fun to write because I could really play havoc on both Devin’s and Wade’s feelings without harboring guilt myself! Yes, I’m awful. J My favorite two genres are suspense and romance so I couldn’t help mixing the two. Here’s a snippet to give you the feel of the book:

“Devin, it’s Taryn. You were right. The execs want me to meet them for dinner and I feel really foolish because I have a GPS and a connect-the-dot map from the concierge and I’m still lost.”
Devin laughed. “Not a problem. Where are you?”
Taryn took a second to locate the green street sign. “At the corner of First and Third at a tiny, ancient-looking convenience store.”
“Oh, I know the one. You’re right next to us. I could probably see you from the tower window. Okay, which restaurant are you looking for?”
Taryn gabbed the hand-drawn map. “Caminas.”
“I know where it is. Actually, it might be faster by freeway.”
“Of course it would. I just came from—”
An unexpected rush of damp, hot air hit her and Taryn turned, confused to see her door open wide. She sucked in a quick breath and saw too late the arm reaching for her. Terror gripped her as she zeroed in on the gun in her face.

I had so much fun writing this story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! You can purchase Happenstance here on December 23rd!

Tweet with me @Valeriebrbr, follow me on  Facebook or find out the latest on my Author Page about my upcoming short story Magnolia Brides in a wedding anthology out in June!

THANKS, Valerie! Can't wait to read it...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Writers On The Inside

There are a lot of things about myself that I don't normally share. All of my experiences have made me who I am today: the good, the bad and the ugly and I try to embrace them, or at least accept them, for what they are.  I make no excuses, I alone am/was responsible, but sometimes it's easier to tuck things away and just let them live in the past. Recently, I was told about a writing project at a juvenile detention center that hit at my very core, and in order to effectively explain why I am trying to support the project, I have to reveal a few things about myself. For the kids in the program, this is more for you than anyone else.

I was one of those teenagers that could easily be described as a parent's worst nightmare. I ran away from home twice and ended up in a juvenile facility at the age of sixteen after being shot in the head while doing something I shouldn't have been doing. Sure, surviving being shot should have been my first clue that it was time to straighten up, but, you know, hard heads are difficult to soften.

So I'm in the facility, my mother made it clear I was not welcome home if I ever got out, my Dad lived a thousand miles away. It's a hard place for a teenager, even a tough one.

We were allowed one book to read, the Bible, and I read it three times from cover to cover, the first time because I had nothing else to do, the second and third times because I liked the stories. Other than that, our only outlet was ping-pong. Not much of an outlet.

When I saw this particular project, I almost cried. Oh, how I would have loved to have had the opportunity to write while I was there. To share some of the stories running around in my mind, the true ones and the fiction. I like to think had I had someone that would have encouraged me to write at a younger age, things would have been different for me. But I didn't. You do.

Know that there are a lot of us that understand where you are and where you are coming from. We can't do much more than encourage you, but if you are anything like I was, that may be all it takes. Please keep writing, and if writing isn't your thing, try something else as an outlet: music, art, science. But find that way to express yourself that doesn't destroy you. Because no-one can do it but you.

After I got out of the facility I was in, no, I wasn't smart enough to turn everything around. I went right back to it and it took a second brush with death to finally open my eyes. I eventually moved in with my Dad and finished high school, which at the time, was something I never thought I would do.  I went to college, and now have two Masters Degrees under my belt. It wasn't easy, nothing ever is, but I finally realized I was the only one that could change me. So I did it. (And just so you know, getting a Masters degree is about two hundred times easier than living on the street).

So keep writing the stories, I'm enjoying them and I know others are as well. We may not always comment, but we are out there, and every story is meaningful because it comes from you.

And remember, nothing worth it is easy.

Please visit WritersOnTheInside.com and support these young writers. Bookmark it and check back frequently.    

 Writers on the Inside is the place where children who are currently being held in a maximum security facility can empower themselves through the publication of their stories, essays, poems, and art. The youth in the facility are locked up for various crimes and are awaiting transport to a sentencing facility. All youth are between the ages of nine and eighteen, but all of them have a story to tell.