Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.

Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.

Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.

The Writing Life

Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.

In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.

My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Romantic Friday Writers Holiday Blogfest: Ghosts of Christmas Past

Romantic Friday Writers is in the holiday spirit! From December 12th through the 21st, share your holiday story or memoir and/or favorite recipe. Check their website for details. Following is my memoir. It's funny how you think you don't recall many Christmas memories that stand out, but as you begin to pull that thread of memory, more and more images flash through your mind.


Also, there is a giveaway on my previous post. If you are a US resident, there is an excellent audiobook of Hilary Mantel's Bringing up the Bodies. (This is the first time I've used Rafflecoptor so if you have any problems with it, let me know.)

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I've seen a lot of Christmas holidays and frankly most of my memories are a blurr of frenzied shopping, holiday cards, and overeating. It's work trying to fit all the holiday tasks into your regular schedule. I can't recall many of the presents I received or gave over the years except the two quarts of wine my parents gave me on my 16th Christmas (it was on my Christmas wish list). That gift left an indelible mark on my memory because I and my step-sister each polished off a quart on Christmas day. I was sick and happy, and she was very, very sick and miserable. (Mogan David would make anyone sick.) My parents thought Christmas was as good a time as any for a lesson on social drinking.

When we hit our teens, my parents strove to make Christmas less stressful by drawing names to reduce the amount of gifts. Their theory was that it was better to have one nice, thoughtful gift rather than a half dozen crappy ones. But having only one or two presents to unwrap on Christmas day was not real popular with us five kids.

We strove to make Christmas a family day by sharing a grand meal together and playing charades. I do recall my stepmother trying to act out Captain Kangaroo. Pretty funny. I also recall a holiday ham without its requisite maraschino cherries. (My stepmother always hid certain things in her closet or under her bed to prevent us children from finding and consuming them, but we found almost everything.) One holiday she had a few too many cocktails and couldn't remember where she had hidden the cherries (and we hadn't found them either). How I would love to remind my parents of that incident this holiday season, but sadly my stepmother passed away in April and my father followed her in May.

I don't clearly remember most of the holidays with my own children either because they were the usual, unremarkable rushed event every year. I do recall when my oldest daughter was four and my stepsister's husband dressed up as Santa and loped across the backyard to make his grand entrance. None of her cousins were buying it. They all knew immediately it was Uncle Bob, but my daughter was beside herself with joy. She was a true believer. Gosh. I just got hit with another memory. I remember when I was eight years old and just before Christmas my mother took me aside and explained that there was no actual Santa Claus and that the holiday was for celebrating the spirt of Christmas or some such rubbish. I was furious with her. Couldn't she have at least waited until after Christmas to make this earth-shattering announcement? Why did she have to spoil my Christmas? Up until that moment I had been a true believer too.

To be honest, there was one Christmas that stood out from all the rest. My father had built an A-frame hunting cabin deep in the Shawnee National Park in southern Illinois on the only acre of private land. Some how the federal government had overlooked that parcel and so my father bought the land and cleared it. He tore down the old, single-room, country school that was there. It was situated next to a small cemetary that dated back to the Civil War era. Life must have been hard back then because one family had several graves--all their many children had died by their second year.

I was a sophomore or junior in high school when my parents decided we would all make the trek to the Shawnee Forest and have an old fashioned Christmas. No radio. No TV. No phone. No indoor plumbing. The only heat was from a Ben Franklin wood-burning stove. We're talking primitive. Cold and snow. We trekked through the woods to find our Christmas tree and chopped it down and drug it back to the cabin. We all strung cranberries and popcorn for decorating the tree. I can still recall my brothers leaning over the loft and looking down on the kitchen/living area below and me sitting at the table stuffing my face. I don't think anyone remembers presents or what we managed to cobble together for our Christmas dinner, but we all recalled the simple pleasures of being together and tramping through the snowy woods. Everyone always said it was the best Christmas, the only one anyone cares to remember. If I could go back in time, I would travel to that lost place, long since burned down by vandals, and take my own family there to walk in in the crisp, cold air amongst the snow-laden trees, past the barren dogwood, and the frozen persimmons hanging from naked branches. I would pause to watch for a deer cautiously picking its way through the woods as I now carefully stalk my Christmas memories.

What is your favorite Christmas memory?

12 comments:

  1. Linda, this is exactly the post we're looking for. Memories are so precious. It is a shame we get caught up in the frenzy of Christmas and then hardly remember each one. Our Christmases evolved over the years--those when the children were tiny have the most poignant memories--lovely lazy days at the beach with the whole extended family. Nowadays it's far more sophisticated, but always memorable when the family gets together!
    Have a wonderful Christmas, Linda, and thanks for your support for RFW over time.

    Denise

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  2. And forgot to say, I adore the sound of that cabin in the woods! I want to go there!!!

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  3. Linda, only you could make an American home Christmas seem exotic. Seems to me the best times were when everyone forgot about what they were getting and focused on being together. Nicely tied between you own childhood and that of raising your children. The "perfect belief" is Santa is so precious, and one of life's little griefs when lost.

    Thank you for sharing your memories.

    ......dhole

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  4. Really liked the story of the cabin in the woods. It is an earth shattering thing when childhood beliefs are broken, not easily forgotten. "I would pause to watch for a deer cautiously picking its way through the woods as I now carefully stalk my Christmas memories." Loved that line! Thanks for a peek into your festival memories, much enjoyed the write.

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  5. Our Christmas memories are so precious especially as they bring us back to the real meaning of the season. Your memories of that cabin in the woods is just perfect; seems like a world so lost to many young people today.

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  6. All my memories from childhood Christmases are of tradition, waking up early to open presents, hanging lights on the tree, singing Christmas songs. I don't remember any of my presents, even though there were many. And yet, I fell into the same trap with my own kids, trying to buy more and more. This is our first year of pulling back. I want Christmas to be about the traditions for them too, not just the presents.

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  7. My childhood memories are filled with family traditions. The larger family getting together to enjoy the festivities and share Christmas together.

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  8. I try to restrain myself when it comes to buying presents, but I usually fail. At least I try to choose a present that I think the other person will really enjoy. In general, I do not like to give gift cards or money because they seem so impersonal. I especially don't like the idea of kids thinking of their parents or grandparents as ATM machines that should fork over the cash. I like to make gifts if I have the time and the expertise.

    But really, when you come down to it, it's the time you spend together as a family that counts--preparing a meal, playing games, telling jokes. That's a special gift and not all families can do that. Some families are so disfunctional that they cannot manage a simple, civil conversation. So the important gift of Christmas is the ability to come together as a family.

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  9. What a lovely post. I really enjoyed reading about your memories of your childhood. The theme of family comes through strongly. I hope you have a lovely time over the Christmas period and wishing you a very Happy New Year.

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  10. Isn't it funny how you remember the cabin in the woods Christmas more than anything, because it was an adventure with your family. A time of bonding. The presents didn't mean much. Just shows how we should strive to give our families good experiences more than material things. Merry Christmas.

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  11. Wow, what a charming memory. It's sad how MANY Christmas' we fly through. My favs where back home, in NYC for me. Seeing the tree at Rockefeller center for the first time. And the AMAZING mechanical Victorian Dolls gracing the window of Lord and Taylor on Fifth Ave. Back in the 1970's. Back then Christmas decorations were "unveiled" the Friday after Thanksgiving. We never SAW ONE Christmas display before then. Man how this holiday has changed. Now I see Christmas stuff as early as AUGUST!

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  12. January 3rd, 2013

    Dear Linda,

    What lovely Christmas memories you have collected in this post. But I was very sorry to read about how your mother destroyed your belief in Santa Claus when you were eight years old. That is so sad and really cruel. (My ex-husband did something like that to our children and I really HATE him for it.) I have wanted to make a traditional Christmas for my children this year, but have not succeeded at all. (They did get lots of presents though.) I was lucky to have have a very happy childhood with lots of nice Christmas traditions, and I very am sad not to be able to give my children the same.

    I wish I could have written a Christmas story for this challenge, but I was traveling alone without the children from December 4th to 17th. Mostly, it was a nightmare. Maybe I will be able to write about it at some future time. But right now, I am feeling a little depressed and have stopped writing. I guess I am so filled with dismay over some family problems that I think I will have to write letters that I cannot mail before being able to write fiction again.

    I am reading about how to write outlines and construct plots instead. I have found lots of helpful books for wannabee writers. Hope I will be able to start writing again in a few weeks. It is not really a question of writer's block. I just have had so much work to do - practical work - that I have not had any time for writing - or the stamina. I have lots of ideas that I am just not getting down on paper. It's frustrating.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Anna

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