Christmas ghost stories are a tradition going back much farther than “A Christmas Carol.”
The tradition of holiday ghost stories perhaps goes back farther than Christmas itself. With the nights longer and the year coming to an end, it made sense for people to gather and tell tales of those who have passed. Those they have long missed throughout the year. Those who have made us cry and those who have made us laugh. Thus, the Christmas ghost story.
As religious studies professor Justin Daniels will tell, “Christmas as celebrated in Europe and the U.S. was originally connected to the Pagan Winter Solstice celebration and the festival known as Yule. The darkest day of the year was seen by many as a time when the dead would have particularly good access to the living.”
Were these ghostly tales good or bad? I’d like to think they were good. My ancestors had quite a few to share around an open fire. From stories of family traditions to snow covered treks uphill at night so as to make Christmas special for a loved one, they were stories to tell of the night and those to whom who loved.
However, to most, Halloween is deemed a more fitting holiday for ghost stories but truly Christmas makes sense. It’s a time when we feel for those we lost and the memories of their long tales. As my grandpa once told me, “Night is full of mischief,” after he had shared his story of walking up-hill in the snow and seeing the hairy faced monster.
This can be agreed upon with Charles Dickens writings, “The ghosts of Christmas are really the past, present, and future, swirling around us in the dead of the year. They’re a reminder that we’re all haunted, all the time, by good ghosts and bad, and that they all have something to tell us.” One must wonder, what do our ghosts have to tell us?
Much can be told of our traditions and of our family that lived before us. But what happened to these celebrations of our ancestors and the glories that once fancied the celebration of Christmas?
The downfall all begins with a Puritan leader named Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, during the uprising of the Puritan times, often disgraced the less-than-Christian origins of the holiday and encouraged the Puritans to create an ordinance in 1644. This ordinance abolished Christmas as we see it today, with our festive lights and thoughts of gifts and ancestral tales, and instead turned it into a day as any other. He stole our ancestors’ stories and instead turned the Festive Day of Christmas into a day of shame. He claimed those who called themselves Christian to see the truth for Christmas seemed to celebrate those of the dead rather than the living.
Cromwell’s push for this belief would last for more than thirty years, with the Massachusetts Bay Colony banning the celebration of Christmas. One might wonder, what could be the harm of celebrating? Oh, but what a price they would pay. For Cromwell had said, “For if found celebrating, a person would face a penalty of a five shilling fine,” which at this time was three days’ worth of wages. Who could afford that at telling the tales of their ancestors when already starving? (I think at this point we all know who the inspiration for Dicken’s character Scrooge was. In case you need a hint, it was Cromwell.)
As time traveled forward the traditions of Christmas started making a resurgence during the Restoration era, but the damage had essentially been done. Cromwell had made his mark and it was hard to overcome. Christmas faded to nothing along with its joyous traditions. No longer did we celebrate the stories of our ancestors as they were seen as old-fashioned and not needed, though some had tried to resurrect its founding’s.
Through many trials and errors, it wasn’t until a change came about in 1843 with the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But was it the Christmas change that Dickens had hoped to accomplish? Now, it seems not.
While a surge of Christmas Spirit after Charles Dickens publication during the Industrial Revolution had happened, his story of ghosts and tales of the past wasn’t taken as attended. While his words inspired a spark of Christmas spirit that once again became ignited with inspiration there was still a lack of traditional spirit.
Victorians, at this time, had taken his story and ignited a new age of giving and celebration that created a new foundation for Christmas. Tales are rarely told around the fire with the gifts of our ancestors rarely given. A gift that is forever giving.
Amongst our modern age, where the pandemic is at the forefront of many’s minds and the task of celebrating Christmas has become nothing but a virtual event, one has to wonder if another Charles Dickens is at need of rescuing humanity. Of telling the tales of those before us and carrying on the Christmas tradition. The tales of those long before us. Lord help us if it takes Krampus to save us all.
So tonight, while you gather around the lit Christmas tree or hearth, ask yourselves, am I a Cromwell or a Dickens? Will you once again tell a tale of your ancestors around an open fire, or will you fall pray to those who want nothing more of you than a gift of the ages.
I’d like to think I’m a Dickens, a Yule ancestor of the times, telling the tale of my ancestors and celebrating their beloved family tale around an open fire.
Releasing December 24th: 6 Famous Christmas Ghost Tales
The Evolution of a Series
Hey writers and readers. I've been crazy busy the last month writing, prepping for the release of Secrets in the Valley, as well as working on a few secret projects. Those are always fun, right? While writing, I also started to think about The Chindi Series from Deep in the Hollow to Secrets in the Valley. It's wild how far we've come! It's also wild how far a series can go.
Focus in uncertain times.
Like the rest of the world, my mind has gone wild with thoughts, fears, sadness, and understanding with everything related to Covid-19. It's been a trying time for us all. Those consuming thoughts can also have a dampening drive on your thoughts and goals. This has been the case with many writers I have talked with lately. They are adjusting. They are worried. Their minds refuse to let go of the uncertainty long enough to write more than one sentence.
I was in this same group a few weeks ago. I did nothing but watch updates, contact friends, and adjust to a homeschool schedule with three children. It was wild and sent my mind in a frenzy. The problem was, I still had book deadlines fast approaching and those deadlines were not going to change. Something had to give. I also knew my teens were home, worried, and I wanted to share something positive and encourage them to keep writing.
After reaching out to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, here is a nice list of suggestions to help you with your personal and business life to stay focused and ease your mind.
Tip 1: Breathe and reflect
Every morning Tina gets up, showers as she did every morning when going to work then sits at the table while she drinks her morning coffee and reflects on her life, her future, and her goals for the day. She keeps her mind focused on staying healthy but also staying true to her goals as best she can.
Tip 2: Create a schedule
Ryan says he gets up every morning and has a plan already in place for his day. No news. No social media. Not until he has finished his writing goals, done his business, and helped his wife with their children's homework. Then, once finished, he will catch up on the days event. This leaves him the evening to phone a friend, talk to his wife, and whatever else he may need to do to process the nonsense and the fear from the days announcements.
Tip 3: Exercise
This is one of mine. I start my day with yoga and focus, much like Tina, on what I need to get accomplished that day and why. Walking also helps me release tension I've been holding and also helps settle those uncertain nerves. Exercise doesn't have to be anything elaborate. A nice walk around the neighborhood, some soft stretching, playing catch in the yard.
Tip 4: Journaling
Amanda says journaling has really helped her process her thoughts and release her fears. It's also helped her get back on point with her writing goals. I've encouraged my teens to do the same. Record history from your point of view, get it off your mind and into words. It's so freeing.
Tip 5: Be kind to yourself
I think that one sums it up all on it's own.
What are some things you have done to help you stay focused and calm during all the uncertainty?
Your story. Your ending.
Endings: It's what we live for, right? Whether watching a movie, reading a book, living life, or writing a novel, the ending can leave us on the edge of our seat. They can make us swoon. They can totally piss us off to the point we cry, throw what's every lying next to us, stuff our faces, and are a total mess for days. It's anyone's guess most of the time. It's also what keeps us going until we reach that final sentence. That final day. Those final minutes.
This past week, I had the complete joy in providing the Teen Writer's with a twisting challenge. Finish the ending for the author. Guess what, they loved it and each ending was so amazingly different. They all had the same story to start their writing journey. I chose Because I Love You by Jacques Antoine. I knew a thriller like this would open the door for many options. It could turn romance, horror, fantasy, however the writer intends to see the stories close.
Let me tell you, this was one of the best classes we've had. There were laughs. There were debates. There was all kinds of interactions as each writer told their tale as they saw it fitting to end. It was the funniest writing exercise ever AND they all learned no story can ever be told the same. This is why so many say write your story. Every story is unique because it's your voice, your view, your imagination.
Gather your writers (or just you and your pen) and settle in for some fun story spinning.
Choose a short story. It can be any story you like, but be sure to have only one. If you let the students chose a story themselves and everyone has a different story, it's not as fun. Tried it, failed.
Give student 45 minutes to write their ending. If everyone finishes then go ahead and start reading the goods out loud.
Get ready for the fun as each student relays their story!
It’s a new year, a time of possibilities that are just waiting for you to make them happen. So are characters! The villain who has been wronged. The heroine who is ready to save her family. The supporting characters who try to stop the hero from making a grave mistake. The lessons learned from our actions. It’s all there, waiting to be read, written, consumed. Whatever your fancy.
Oh, how a fictional story can tell us so much about real life, especially the characters. No Johnny, don’t go take a peek in the dark. You’ll get captured, or worse, killed. No Catherine, don’t fall for that guy. He’ll break your heart. Go for the guy who protects you, duh. It’s all so painful obvious, yet we love it because we continue to make these mistakes ourselves. We read these stories hoping to learn and prosper from their stories and to escape our own dire mistakes. I know I do.
But the key, my friend, to escaping and rooting for the villain or heroine or supporting characters is character depth. I know I've discussed character depth before, and probably will again, but it's a key ingredient to a good story and I want to make sure my writer's get all the practice they can get. As a writer, I still practice my character depth right alongside my writer's.
As a reader, I need a connection to the character, something that either inspires me, intrigues me, or I relate to. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be just the hero/heroine who has depth. Oh no! I’ve fallen and rooted for a many villain, though usually they die or get imprisoned. Still, I felt their pain and wanted to see that others understood their story. Why? Because I felt their depth.
This week in Teen Writer’s that is exactly what we focused our attention toward. Creating a character from an array of abilities, looks, backgrounds, etc., and having thirty minutes to give this character a life, to give it depth and make me want to know more about him, her, it. Guess what, they did it.
From the atheist angel to the OCD computer tech to the vampire that despised her life, I was hooked on their characters. But how did we get there in thirty minutes? I’ll tell you. We focused on the character, not the story. I told the teens to think of their character, not the novel they want to write. Make me fall in love with this one character as fast as you can by showing me their depth. Boom!
Once we were finished, I explained the importance of doing this with every character, though some may not be as detailed as others. It is imperative you know your characters as well as the story you want to tell. For if you don’t know your character, how can anyone else?
Readers: What are some qualities that intrigue you toward a character? Are you pro hero or villain?
Writers: What is some character development advice you could share?
January 6th Teen Writer’s Exercise:
Several have messaged and emailed wanting to know what my book publishing plans are for the rest of the year. Here’s an update.
I have no books lined up for the rest of 2019. HOWEVER, get ready to meet Jax, Zagan, Bruce, and Lilly February 2020. This 5 book complete series will be released as follows:
February: Angel Deceived
March: Reaper Lost
April: Wolf Redeemed
May: Spirit Avenged
June: Legacy Reclaimed
This fun Rogue Team is out to save mankind from nasty spirits who survive off living souls. The lessons they learn along the way will steal your heart and leave you on the edge of your seat. Or so I’ve been told...
Also, my mystery side could not go untouched. Watch out for special announcements this Spring for a psychological thriller that will leave you gasping at each twist and turn. This book came from the beautiful minds of some amazing girls, who while on a trip with me and my daughter, created this gem of a story. You’ll meet them as we get closer to more detail reveals. Get ready, they’re a hoot.
After taking a little Fall break, we are ramping back up with some fun writing exercises in the PCLS Teen Writer’s Group and I couldn’t be happier. It’s fun getting back in the swing of thing, but it’s also fun getting those creative gears to grinding. That’s exactly what we did!
This week we stretched those brain muscles and did a fun exercise that is sure to get your brain in writing gear. From a 15-word sentence to a one word statement, this exercise was fun and a bit challenging. It’s sure to be just the ticket item you need to get those brain muscles working. So grab a pencil and let the countdown begin.
It’s that simple. Here are a few of the stories written during group. (Posted with the parents’ permission)
Example writing prompts we used:
I hope you enjoy this fun, thoughtful writing exercise as much as we did.
The high of an event, there’s nothing like it. The laughs with friends and readers. The discovery of new books. The connections made and the advice given. It gives a writer hope and inspiration to keep going. It gives us reality of what we are doing and brings us together to enjoy these feats as one. They make us a stronger community.
That is what OUAB restored inside of me this past weekend.
After taking a year and a half off, working on a secret project, and gearing up for an ‘amazing 2019 fall/2020 spring’, I decided I needed to attend an event. I needed to see my people. I was late to the party, having missed the voting and costume designing, but I didn’t care. I was going to the event and that’s all that mattered to me. It wasn’t until I was sitting in a conference room at the Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, MI did I realize how much I needed this connection. I was drained with solitude and doubt. My imaginative juices were low. But seeing the familiar faces, experiencing the buzz of excitement, my spirit meter started to rise. Crazy considering I thought I was doing “okay”. Words were flowing, marketing was okay, reading was getting done, and overall it was looking on the up and up… on the outside. My spirit knew what it needed. It needed a reboot and we had found it.
The atmosphere, the people, the knowledge, the FUN, it all brightened the hope bulb once again. Along with the perks! I love getting to learn something new every time I attend one of these conferences, and I’ve been to a few: Roanoke, Penned Con, UtopYA, as well as many smaller signings and retreats. This time was no different and at no surprise. The amount of talent that was there, I came to panel day with my pen in hand and ready to take notes. I’m so grateful for authors like A.M. Hargrove, Stacey Rourke, Rue Volley, Eric Asher, and oh so many more! Just being able to talk to people, hear their stories, and share ideas is the best part of these conferences. They really rejuvenate a writer’s soul.
The best, best part… Readers. You guys amaze me with your energy and excitement at these events. And without you guys, hello, we wouldn’t even be there. I loved getting to talk with fans and new readers. And the ideas you guys have for your favorite characters is indescribable. Never ever forget your worth in this community and in this world.
Love book people. Book people are my people.
If you haven’t heard of or been to OUAB in Frankenmuth, MI, don’t let another event pass you by. Stacey Rourke and her amazing team put together quite an event that will leave you running on fumes, your brain in overdrive, and a lifetime of fond memories.
5 Steps to Improve Character Depth
Let me just start off by saying my teen's are awesome! They absorb all the information I give them and this week was no different. We talked about Character Depth and how it connects readers to characters.
So, what does character development mean exactly?
It’s the process in creating a person in a story and the changes this person goes through in the story. Changes are the key. What? How? Why?
A few basic rules before getting started:
From the website: Church is an intelligent, immortal cat who was rescued by a Shadowhunter in 1878. He is usually a grouch, unless being petted, and usually does not let anyone carry him without some struggle. Jem is the only human Church has shown affection for and taken a true liking to. The cat served as a guide, as he always seemed to know where everyone was at all times.
HERE ARE THE 5 STEPS OF STRONG CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT TO CREATE MEMORABLE CHARACTERS IN YOUR NOVEL:
STEP 1: IDENTIFY YOUR CHARACTERS & THEIR ROLES IN THE STORYYou need to know who the main people in your book will be. It’s important to identify not just who they are – but also what their roles are in the book. Even minor absent characters can have important roles. Such as a father who died while the main character was an infant. Did he leave a lesson behind for the main character to learn from, such as learning from past mistakes, career goals, family secrets? The father is no longer alive but a memory of him and his mistakes and/or achievements could set as his character development and add to the main characters plot.
Whatever lesson you may learn here, learn this, clichés are old news. Think of how you feel when you’re reading a story and the characters act or do something cliché. It’s irritating, right? Think of the “Wicked Step-Mother” or “Insta Love” or even better “The Chosen One.” Pass!
Allow your character to stay true to themselves and their stories.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT EXERCISE:
When developing your characters ask yourself these questions:
STEP 2: GET INSIDE YOUR CHARACTER’S HEAD
Really get to know your character inside and out. Dig deep to get to know them. You may not need all this information for your story, but it’s helpful to know. Here are some example questions you can ask to get to know your character:
What do they look like?
What’s their pets name? Are they allergic to pets?
What’s their favorite color?
Who is their best friend?
When was the last time they went on a date?
What style of clothes do they wear?
Do they have any special jewelry or accessory?
Where does your character live?
Does your character live with anyone else?
What are their dreams?
What is their current living situation?
What is their favorite food?
REMEMBER: IT’S NOT JUST DEFINING THEM IN THE BEGINNING – IT’S THEIR JOURNEY AND WHO THEY BECOME!
Whatever genre and plot you have developed for your character remember the important thing, readers want to see changes in the character's personality and behavior.
STEP 3: RESEARCH!Research is a vital ingredient in setting the stage for your character. To get true depth, you want to research everything possible about the setting, plot, time, etc., of your story. Even if it is a topic you know a lot about, fact-checking never made a fool of anyone.
Do know there should be a limit. Have you ever fell down the rabbit hole of link click after link click? In a perfect world, I’d like to say no but that would be determined as a lie. Do accurate research, but in a necessary timely manner.
STEP 4: STRONG DIALOGUE = STRONGER CHARACTER DEVELOPMENTDialogue is an important part of almost every story. It’s how your audience connects to the characters, major or minor. That connection is what will lead a reader to stay or move along to someone else’s story. How might you add strength to your dialogue, you wonder? Consistency is one key factor.
Consistency is an important key element when it comes to writing dialogue, especially between characters. A character who has a sudden change in attitude or life perspective can be a bit of a turn off for readers. It can cause confusion if there is no reason for the sudden change.
If a character’s attitude and voice needs to change for your story, make sure it happens gradually and with resolution, which allows your reader to understand and sympathize with the character.
STEP 5: SHOW, DON’T TELLWho hasn’t heard the rule of thumb in writing Show, Don’t Tell? There’s a reason you’ve heard it so much. It’s true. It’s vital. It’s what makes a book thrive. If there was one rule of thumb every writer needs to know and work at it, it’s the show, don’t tell rule. Here’s why:
Example of telling:
Jimmy went to the store. It was hot.
This is an example of showing:
Sweat poured down Jimmy’s brow as he made his way down the cracked sidewalk. The heat was even causing the strongest of materials to become brittle and break. His body felt heavy, his skin slick with sweat. He dreaded the walk back home from the store with an arm full of groceries. It was a miserable day to be running errands.
Scenes and emotions are very important when you are writing. It helps readers see more, feel more, and ultimately get attached to the characters and their story.
PRACTICE THIS BY DOING THIS SIMPLE EXERCISE:
First Lines and Such
I do my best to teach my Teen’s every aspect of writing. I want to be the best Mentor I know how to be. Yesterday, we talked about first lines and paragraphs that captured us and drug us into the story effortlessly.
The biggest stressor I push: this doesn’t always happen right off the writing pen.
I am 32,000 words into my current WIP and after yesterday’s lesson was inspired by the exercise we did. I went back and sure enough, I spruced up that opening.
“Funerals were made for rainy days. Days when the sun wasn’t shining with life and the clouds were a blanket for our sadness. Maybe that was why I didn’t cry at Mama’s funeral. It was too bright to feel the coldness of death. I wasn’t sure, but as I stood there watching her casket lower into the earth, I was acutely aware of not feeling anything at all.”
Could this change again? Possibly. Right now I’m happy with it. The lesson learned, the story can change as it grown, as you grow. Don’t force it. Don’t rush it. Just let it flow.
Writing Exercise To Practice Opening Scenes:
1. Pick a first line from any book.
2. Pick a scene from a magazine.
3. Create your characters.
4. In 4 paragraphs, set the scene and let me see these characters.
Writing my thoughts and experiences one post at a time.