The tradition began back in 2012 when my publicist said, “What do you have for Christmas?” The next thing I knew, I was publishing the two Christmas novels I had in my “finished” pile. Yes, I used to have a nice, healthy stack of those. I digress. One of those books published on Black Friday. Year after year, I released my “annual Christmas novel” the day after Thanksgiving. After all, it was a perfect day for it. Everyone’s exhausted after Thanksgiving and all that shopping…. All they want to do is sit and relax with a book.
Or that’s how I like to picture it.
A few years later, Cathe Swanson and I decided we wanted to do a Christmas Collection. We’d write novellas to provide quicker reads during what is often a frenetic season. The next year, we added Toni Shiloh to the team, and each year, we had a guest author. Last year and this year, we’ve been joined by Jaycee Weaver.
Novellas aren’t always my favorite thing to write. I like to tie together several stories into one, and you can’t do that well in under 50k words. But some stories don’t need to be expanded, and those get reserved for our Christmas Lights Collections. This year I had just one problem, though.
We decided on a theme for the collection.
Yeah, it was my idea, too. But when it came time to decide what I’d write for 2021, there was a problem. That theme limited my choices. See, we decided on “military” for our theme. In some way we wanted to honor the military or its veterans in our novellas this year, and I firmly believe in that idea.
But I didn’t just want to make one of my characters a vet and then call it good. I wanted more. I wanted the story to be incomplete without that military hero/ine. But what?
I’m about to introduce you to the crazy brain of an author. Might want to strap in tight.
When Blessing Bentley released, I began getting questions about the book in that book. Five Ways to Chase a Moose and Other Relationship Killers. When would I write that one? Or did it actually exist? If so, who wrote it? I decided then that I’d write it someday.
That was my first plan for this year’s collection. I did all kinds of research on the use of moose with military groups and came up with the perfect plan. I was so excited. Sure, where I was setting it and the characters I planned to use meant that it would actually take place after Bentley could have read it. OOPS. I could make this work. It’s fiction, after all! Sigh.
I killed that option and rightly so.
Then came the idea about the Christmas tree farm. I’d planned on it for a couple of years. Maybe now was the time. But how/where/why the military? Well, another idea came to me, and I realized they’d blend perfectly. Yes, it was a bit complicated, but that’s okay. If it’s a bit longer, I’m okay with that.
Then I remembered an idea I’d had for a while… and it wouldn’t be as complicated as my Christmas tree farm story. It also didn’t require adding a couple of elements I hadn’t originally planned for that one. Better yet, having that element in my new one makes the story stronger. It takes it from being a sweet idea to a strong, powerful message of gratitude for the country I live in and what makes our citizens decide to dedicate years of their lives to serve it.
And isn’t that what this collection is really all about?
The answer followed, and The Stars of New Cheltenham was born. Read it and the other three military-inspired novellas in this year’s Christmas Lights Collection, Home for Christmas releasing October 12, 2021.
Six years of stories to lighten and brighten your hearts at Christmas—that’s what The Christmas Lights Collections are all about. We look forward to sharing our hearts with you this Christmas.
Raylin is a New York City woman who is used to having all the finer things in life. Cars, high-rise apartments, designer handbags, and the latest in fashion. Her job as an interior designer lets her jet-set all over the world and is highly requested of by people in all walks of life. From Middle Eastern Sheiks to small island vineyard owners, like Dante Greco of Elnora Island.
When she opened her mail one afternoon, a letter screamed for her immediate attention. The address was from a place she’d never heard of and the author’s name was a faint memory––Bud Barrows.
“I know where your daddy is…He’s on the Independence Islands,” it said in the shaky penmanship.
She was sure she would faint from the shock if she was that kind of girl. You know the kind––weak and in need of being taken care of. She read the words of Mr. Barrows several times, committing each one to her memory. She refused to be swayed from her mission and watched for a reason to make her way to the islands. She needed answers. The kind of answers only he could answer.
When she saw the request from Dante Greco of Southern Shores Vineyard, she convinced her boss to send her down and she promised it would be a quick two-to-four-week assignment. She didn’t consider that her new client hated the beige, white, and gray color pallets her company liked to use. He wanted to keep it close to what the main house was like. “Nothing modern. Traditional Italian or no business.” Thinking fast, she convinced him to hire her anyway and she provided what he wanted.
Long days on the job site or hunting down the materials needed for the mini-Villa kept her from her search. But she would not give up. She refused to leave until she found him. Excuses and false delays kept everyone in New York off her back. Her mother, stepfather, and even her boyfriend would call her and insist she comes home, even for a weekend, but she wouldn’t hear it.
You see, Raylin was told in the days after 9/11 that her father had gone missing in the rubble, and he’d never been found. She hadn’t believed it for a minute, but she struggled with the idea that her own mom would lie to her about it. What parent would do such a thing, right? What could she possibly gain from a lie like that? There was also the nagging feeling that he was out there somewhere, waiting for her to find him.
For the first time in her life, she was doing something for herself. Whether it brought closure to a chapter in her life or opened the door to know her father, she didn’t care. She just needed to find the man who would give her horsey rides on his back and call her “hummin’ bird” as he tucked her into bed at night when she was little.
Will a hurricane and a kind minister who had kind eyes and a dumpy Jeep throw more obstacles in her hunt?
Find out in “Seasoned Grace”.
Some stories grab hold and won’t let go. I experienced one such story as I work through the Independence Islands books. Stealing the First Mate is one of those books that forced me to dig deep. I don’t mind. Not at all. I love when stories teach me something, especially something about myself.
I struggled with several parts of this story, which is not unusual. I suppose we all have doubts. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Nigel has doubts too. He’s struggled with his love for his best friend, certain he doesn’t deserve her. He believes in protecting Darcy, even at the risk of his own happiness. Considering they’ve been friends since Kindergarten and you have an added element of fun.
I love a friends-to-something-more. Don’t you?
There’s always a tension in those situations that appeals to me and draws me into the story.
Jesus is also a friend who wants to tell you a story.
The same thing happened again in my next book in the series, Footprints on her Heart. Just when I thought I’d get to write all about the animals (which I did) and not have a soul-searching lesson to face myself, Kara walked onto the page. This girl is something else. She came into Footprints and took over. Some of these characters, I don’t know where they get this need to have their story told. Not like I created them or anything (ha!). Truly though, God gets the credit for what I do. It’s only through Him that I could even put words to the page, much less have the courage to share them with you. Footprints on her Heart is near and dear to me as Kara is the closest I’ve ever come to writing myself as a character. She’s introverted to the extreme but also has a biting wit (I missed out on that part). Through Trent and Kara, I learned that being as introverted as I am is not always a bad thing. Are there things I wish I could change? Sure. Does Kara wish she could change? Absolutely. Will she? I hope you’ll read her story and find out.