Monthly Archives: December 2013

In Days Gone By

I enjoy the Christmas season. I always have, but I yearn for the days of Christmas past. Maybe it’s the year I’ve had or maybe it’s just a cold, hard study of the season, but Christmas is no longer the Christmas of my youth.

Each year, I’ve gotten fewer and fewer Christmas cards, not just personally, but in my workplace. I remember years ago, lining doorways and walls with the dozens of cards I’d get. At work, we’d litter the entire entryway with cards. This year, I’ve received five at home and about seven at work. I know what many of you are thinking. So what? But I think sending cards of greeting and blessings is a huge deal, a huge part of Christmas. It’s an acknowledgement of the people who have touched our lives and is a wish or hope that their lives be blessed, but nobody makes time for that anymore. I have been guilty of it, too, so I’m not sparing the rod from my own back.

When we were younger, we went caroling every year. We’d carry candles around and sing to our neighbors or seniors in homes, and it was normal, expected, fun, comical and rewarding. In this day and age, carolers are either laughed at or ignored, as they are seen as people begging for money. I once had a man come out of his home in recent years when I was caroling (not alone), and he asked me “What do you want? Are you wanting money?” After I blinked away the shock, I had to tell him that we weren’t asking for anything, just singing songs, hoping that he would enjoy the music and have a good evening and holiday season. He stared at me as though I was daft.

We went to Christmas tree lots to buy Christmas trees, not ride ponies or pay money to slide down inflatable slides or play midway games. The overwhelming smell of pine and the hunt for the perfect tree was excitement and entertainment enough for us. And the trees were not hundreds of dollars, either. They were cheap enough that our single-income family of six could afford easily. And we made our own ornaments, and everyone in the family helped decorate, no matter their age. We weren’t scolded if ornaments were broken and we never cared about our tree being beautiful (which it almost-always was not).

We baked together, decorated cookies together, and gave them to our neighbors. We didn’t gobble them all up ourselves and we didn’t cry when we had to give them away. We were excited to see their faces light up when they enjoyed our goodies.

Black Friday was not this all-out shopping marathon of toxic proportions, and I find it disturbing that there is no great outcry that our Thanksgivings are being hijacked by the grasping opportunism of major retailers. When I was young, Black Friday was less about shopping and more about giving the women a day out after slaving over the stove to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving meal for everyone. We women would gather on Friday morning at someone’s house, drink coffee, eat pastries or sandwiches made of leftover turkey and then we’d shop wherever we wanted. We all went in the same car, wore hideous Christmas sweaters and sang carols the entire time. We’d go out for a big lunch and then go back to our homes and families. While we were away, the men and boys of the house were busy decorating the outside of our homes with lights.

On Christmas Eve, we ate a full turkey dinner, visited with our families, gathered around the piano where my mother, grandmother and aunts took turns playing while everyone sang. My Papa, Dad and uncles each took a part of one of the kings in “We Three Kings of Orient Are” while the rest of us crooned the choruses. Each child was allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve. We’d then get on the phone to all of our family members who lived in other cities and states and we’d pass the phone around and talk to them for hours. After filling our bellies with dessert, we’d go to a candlelit midnight service and worship Jesus.

Back then, it really was about Jesus. It really was about family and giving and hope and gratitude. It really was a season of miracles, and it felt magical. At least that’s how I remember it. Perhaps I’m looking back through a child’s memory, which makes everything brighter and grander than it really was, like the adult whose face drops in shock when they drive past their childhood home and find that it really was a tiny, square box, and not that grand adventuredome they remember. Who knows? But for whatever the reason, it’s just not the same.

Even still, my best wishes to all this holiday season!

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I Know It’s Coming, But How Will I Fare?

I’ve read and heard that to be an author you have to have thick skin. Well, I call BS on that. How in the heck is that even possible when you pour so much of yourself into writing? Writing is difficult, and wonderfully-fun and fulfilling, and exposing and nerve-wracking. I know I can only speak for myself, but I find it very hard to believe that I’m the only author out there who labors for years on a book, who struggles to find confidence that others will see the value in my work, who constantly struggles with self-doubt.

When I write, my characters are alive to me. They are in my head constantly, sparring with each other, working their way toward an epic HEA, and they demand that I take time from my husband and kids, time from the comfort of my own bed well into the night (even though I’ve got a nine-hour work day ahead of me). They demand that I steal every possible second away in order to write their story.

Then, come the reviews.

So far, so good, I’d say, but I know it’s gotta be coming. And that is, the bad review, the scathing appraisal of my years of work, sacrifice, and agonizing over details and editing. It’s got to come because not everyone’s tastes are the same. Someone’s gotta dislike my book(s). And when that bad review comes, I wonder how it will affect me. I get the idea behind the whole “thick skin” comment, but it is far easier said than done. I care about my stories, and I want people to LOVE them. If someone says they didn’t, I’m afraid that I will feel like I failed. Intellectually, I know that’s crap. In business, and in life, I have learned that you absolutely cannot please everyone. Why can’t I let that sink in with my writing?

Now, constructive criticism I can handle. When I entered Love of a Lioness into the Amazon contest and made it to the quarter-finals I considered it a huge win, even though I didn’t move on to the semi-finals. But then I received my review from Publishers Weekly and I got upset. The reason I got upset was because it was a good review! According to the contest rules, it was the PW editors who determined which books moved onto the semi-finals. When my book didn’t move on, I was upset, sure, but I was anxious for that PW review to find out what I could improve on, to find out what went wrong to boot me out of the contest. So, to find a good review was unacceptable to me. I wanted to know why and that review didn’t tell me. If it was that good, why didn’t it move on? Well, the only other logical conclusion would be that it just wasn’t as good as the other stories, or not good enough. To feel like everything you did was good, but not good enough is…nauseating. I’m more of a tell-me-how-to-make-it-better gal. So, helpful criticim I can handle, but for someone to just not “like” my story – that will be hard for me. I just know it.

If there are any authors out there who can give some tips on how to bounce back from a bad review, I’d love to hear it…because I know it’s coming.

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