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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Usually on Wednesdays I post one quote, or maybe a few, if I’m so inspired. Today, I give you a link to a Literary Advent Calendar and a snippet of a poem instead. By visiting the calendar each day, you can read a poem or lyrics or some other seasonally appropriate quote – even if I don’t post something.

This time of year is filled with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, family, and friends – so I can’t promise to faithfully attend to my blog. Though I will try.

Today, I will post the first stanza of one of my favorite Christmas hymns, In the Bleak Midwinter, based on a Christina Rossetti poem written in 1872 (or earlier), which was given a melody in 1906 by Gustav Holst :

“In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago…”

along with a link to Bookriot’s Literary Advent Calendar. Enjoy!

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Charles Dickens is author of several books of which I’ve always been a fan.  “The Adventures of Oliver Twist,” “Great Expectations,” “Tale of Two Cities,” and “The Personal History of David Copperfield” are among my favorites. That said, it is a scrap of a book, “A Christmas Carol,” from which I pull today’s quotes.

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is more than a ghost tale (though there are ghosts), more than a family drama (though there is family drama), and more than a period piece (though the tale does give a glimpse into historical London). For me, it’s the ultimate story of redemption – of a seemingly hopeless cause who not only sees the light, but after his Christmas Eve adventure, Scrooge “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

I love Dickens’ description of that Christmas Eve long ago – one which actually fits the weather here at Woods Edge this Christmas Eve: “The City clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already; it had not been light all day; and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.”

But I suppose the quote I like best for today, one which works as both a promise for me to keep the kindness of Christmas year-round and a wish for you to do the same: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach…A Merry Christmas to everybody! A Happy New Year to all the world.”

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 Ghostly folklore, legends, and family stories are fertile soil for growing fiction of spirits, specters, the dead and undead. An example of this is my short story Bells.

Step one, start with what you’re familiar with by recalling and jotting down memories. For me, I remember seeing (for a split second) my great-great-grandmother beside me in the wavy mirror of my great-aunt’s home.

Great Aunt Georgie lived in a small town in western New York state known for its lake-effect snows. But it wasn’t the winter I recalled. For the first 20 years of my life, my family and I spent the Fourth of July in Phelps, NY at a family reunion with dozens of assorted cousins. And I remembered the leather strap of bells attached to the front door handle that clanged every time the door was opened or closed.

Step two, look at family memorabilia and photo albums. I leafed through an old album and spotted a sepia-toned picture of my Great Aunt June and Great Uncle Clifford. Then, I returned to step one and wrote down down a sleigh ride story Uncle Clifford had told me.

Step three, add some facts to root your fiction in reality. Mentioning actual locations, traditions, regional or national events, or historical figures all work well. Aunt Georgie’s house was located on the corner of Park Street and another road, and Oaks Corners wasn’t too far away. My father-in-law did indeed drill holes in his family’s Christmas tree’s trunk and filled-in the bare spots with whatever greenery was handy to create a fuller tree. And train gardens (HO, N Gauge, and American Flyer) are a part of my family’s traditions.

Step four, mix it up! Use your imagination to scramble facts and make-believe. In truth, Aunt June out-lived my great uncle by 15 years.

Step five, identify your theme and use your writing skills to gently shape the story. Re-order, tweak, polish, trim, expand – whatever is needed in the writing to make the tale flow smoothly from beginning to end.

So writers, use these steps to compose a ghostly story. Readers, try to figure out where the truth exists in some of your favorite ghost tales.

As for me, I followed these same steps when creating my zombie love story: The Return of Gunnar Kettilson due to appear shortly in Cemetery Moon magazine. But I’ll leave you guessing as to which parts are memory, which are folklore, which are fact, and which are make-believe.

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Cardinal in Holly Snow drifts are so deep, it’s hard to carry seeds out to the birdfeeders. The red-shoulder hawks perched in one of our trees this afternoon were so cold, they stood on one foot with the other tucked up in their feathers. The fox that lurks in our woods bounds over the drifts looking for a meal. The squirrels seem reluctant to come out in the cold to pilfer the birds’ food. Winter solstice is here, and I long for the warmth of spring.

Now, back to making Christmas cards — with one of my cardinal paintings on them.  The message typed on the front excerpted from Carol of the Birds: “Whence comes this rush of wings? Birds of the woods in wondrous flight…sweetest music bring” And on the inside: “Wishing you peace & joy, not only this holiday season when heaven & earth join the birds in song, but always.” And this is my wish for you in this season of miracles and magic.

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 My newest eShorts, Bells and Assassins,  just received their first 5-star reviews from Karol Kidd, a retired teacher from Ft. Meyers, Florida. Karol also gave Sideshow by the Sea 5-stars: “Bells brought a tear to my eye as it was such a touching tale of love and endearment.”

vcw-a-cvr[1] “The sci-fi elements of Assassins will keep the reader engrossed as well as challenged. It’s an excellent quick read.” And: “The fantasy elements of Sideshow by the Sea will keep the reader engrossed as well as challenged. The cover illustration truly enhances the appeal of this title.”

Plus: “TEACHERS OF TEENS TAKE NOTE: The author, Vonnie Winslow Crist, is writing fun works that are beyond the usual classroom basal reader fare. Sideshow by the Sea being one of several available at Echelon Press. Required literature and language topics of instruction could easily be based on Ms. Winslow-Crist’s delightful stories. Plus, reading them as ebooks would kick up the level of enthusiasm for many students who are not especially avid readers, but will tackle anything on the computer.”

Thanks, Karol. Maybe a teacher or 2 will want to use my short stories in their classroom!

Update: Both Bells and Sideshow by the Sea have been updated and appear in my book, Owl Light, published by Cold Moon Press.

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vwc-b-cvr[1] My ghostly holiday eShort, Bells incorporates some of the Christmas traditions of my extended family. Gatherings of friends and family to share in a holiday meal is a tradition that I’ll be celebrating several times again this year. There are always too many of us to sit around one table, so we spread out across the house sitting where ever we can locate a chair or stool or nook by the window. We share memories, the latest news, dreams for the future, love, laughter, and sometimes, tears.

 When I was young, my father, Nathan Winslow,  meticulously put up a HO gauge train garden. He even got my grandfather, an accomplished oil painter, to realistically paint plaster mountains. His was a train garden of exactness and beauty. My husband’s family also put up a train garden. The George Crist family Christmas train garden was so exciting for my husband and his brothers when they were boys, that they’d ignore the gifts and rush for the trains.

My husband, Ernie, and I continued the train garden tradition. On Christmas morning, our kids would run to see the trains. When they became older, they’d help their dad throughout December fix up the train garden for their younger cousins to see when they came to visit. Last Christmas, Ernie and I were lucky enough to have our grandson with us at Christmastime. And little Nathaniel was inspired to crawl his first few feet trying to grab a miniature train that circled around under the Christmas tree.

Sleigh bells on door knobs, watermelon pickles, patched-together trees, and carols playing in the background are other traditions mentioned in Bells we continue in my family. Another Christmas tradition is baking cookies. I baked them with Granny and Mom. My kids baked them with me, and maybe my grandson will sprinkle some colored sugar on my cut-out cookies. (For ”Granny’s Sugar Cookies” recipe, see end of blog).

 I encourage each of you to celebrate the holidays with those you care about. Make good memories and establish family traditions, remembering you’re born into a one kind of family — but you can also build a family of dear friends. And especially at this time of year, treat others with a little more kindness and love. For as Aesop so wisely wrote in his tale of “The Lion & The Mouse” — No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.  Update: Bells can now be read in Owl Light, one of my books from Cold Moon Press.

Granny’s Sugar Cookies:

1) In a large bowl, cream together: 1/2 cup margarine and 1 cup granulated sugar. 2) Blend in: 1 large egg. 3) In a separate bowl, sift together: 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. 4) Next, add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and blend well. 5) Chill for 1 to 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dust a pastry cloth with flour and roll dough out to 1/8″ thickness with a lightly floured rolling pin. Cut out holiday shapes with cookie cutters. Put cut-out shapes on a cookie sheet that’s been coated with a vegetable shortening spray (allowing room between cookies). Decorate with colored sugar. Bake in oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove cookies from oven when edges are lightly browned and using a spatula, scoop the cookies onto a rack to cool. Watch Granny’s Sugar Cookies carefully during baking, as they burn easily.

I usually double this recipe. Granny’s Sugar Cookies are a family favorite and disappear quickly! They also freeze well in sealed containers.

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vwc-b-cvr[1] Bells, a new eShort of mine has been published.  It’s a Christmas ghost story, and I promise the names Scrooge and Marley are not mentioned. Bells actually includes scraps of “real” holiday memories and family members in addition to things that were drawn from my imagination. But that is often the case with fiction — writers select threads of factual experiences and actual people they know and weave them with dreams and make-believe. If the author works hard at stitching the two together, readers will have a difficult time separating fact from fiction in the resulting tapestry. And that’s what we want as both reader and writer, a lovely, seamless blending of ideas that takes us into the world of the story.

In the case of Bells, the reader is invited into the world of 17 year-old Melinda on a snowy Christmas evening at a family get-together in an old house in a small town. The 100+ year-old house on the corner of Park and Millstone Streets is filled with people, delicious foods, holiday decorations, family traditions, a love story, and ghosts. And I challenge you to determine what parts of the tale are “real” and which parts are purely the stuff of dreams!

Update: Alas, Bells is no longer available as an eshort — but hooray, it’s included in Owl Light, published by Cold Moon Press.

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