The Christmas Coat is witty satire, a modern take on Scrooge and the meaning of Christmas. Right now it’s FREE on Kindle, Apple, Nook, Kobo, and Smashwords. But, you can also buy it in print and on Audible! Short, sweet, fun! Check it out.
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Inspired by a true Christmas tale…
Jacob Gusky wakes up hoping Santa has arrived. And he has… but not for Jacob, one of two Jewish boys living at the Boys’ Home of Manhattan. When a friend gifts him a tin whistle, Jacob learns the power of giving, the joy in receiving, and hears what he considers to be the sound of happiness.
Recently widowed and completely out of options, Frannie takes her daughter Molly to the Home for the Friendless. “You’ll be back before Christmas?” Molly asks. Frannie gives Molly half a quilt square and keeps the other, choking on her reply.
Now a happily married father of three, Jacob Gusky owns Gusky’s Grand Emporium, Pittsburgh’s first premier department store. After unearthing the tin whistle from the orphanage, he is reminded of what it felt like to have nothing, and decides to make a difference in the lives of others no matter their faith. But with so little time before Christmas morning, can he even begin to give the orphaned children of Pittsburgh what he knows they need?
“The Christmas Coat comes across as a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol.”
Two days before Christmas, ornery Elliot Ebberts is tasked with school drop-off. Distracted by an important real estate transaction, he’s short on holiday happiness. Snarled by carpool chaos his extravagant, lucky coat goes missing. In a panic, he starts his search, tracing the coat’s path as it passes through the hands of good people in dire situations.
Meanwhile, his plan to WOW his wife Libby with an ostentatious gift reveals Elliot’s shallowness to the world and mortifies his entire family. Is it too late for him to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, to remember who he is without all the trappings of the job that defines him? Can Libby and their children ever forgive him?
Interested in a short, sweet Christmas story? The Christmas Coat is free, it’s fun, and available in ebook, audio, and print! Check it out.
Christmas Past and Present
Along with Santa, the Christmas tree might be the most commercially recognizable symbol of the season. In our house we try to put our two trees up in mid November even if we don’t finish decorating them until closer to December. There’s something nice about slowly unveiling all the family decorations and the stories that go with them versus the all out rush we’ve had in certain years when we wait to start until well into December. It does make for a messier house as the bins of ornaments sit out for some time as we complete the process, but we have locked that in as “the way,” to do it.
I love the article linked here because it brings to life the past and also reflects reality over fantasy. There are ideal decors, decorations, trees and festivities we all associate with Christmas. In our minds we recall the highest fashion, the best of all that can be, but the photos below reflect real life way back when, when trees were spindly and only sometimes did they look like perfection.
But really, for the families involved, I’m sure each one was its own version of prefect.
(Black and white photo from article)
Strongman and the Mermaid–Dresses
Most of the characters in The Strongman and the Mermaid wear utilitarian clothing most of the time. But without giving away too much … there are times when women in the book have the opportunity to wear something special. Though this isn’t the dress in the book–its shiny, fabulous, body skimming shape could star in one role in the novel. Be sure to pick up The Strongman and the Mermaid to see how a gorgeous, unusual dress plays a part in the plot!
Pink Moon–Strongman and the Mermaid
This gorgeous painting by Gigi Mills “Pink Moon,” inspired a couple threads in the novel The Strongman and the Mermaid. Gigi’s work often includes dark nights and water that reminds me of Pittsburgh and specifically Donora. I don’t get the idea that the artist knows about these places (to the degree she’d paint a night sky of one of them), but to me she captures something that always makes me think of whatever Donora novel I’m working on. In the early to mid 20th century, the mills that lined much of Donora’s shoreline emitted chemicals that played with light and often made for stunning night skies.
Visitors to the Pittsburgh/Donora area when steel was king saw the blast furnaces light the night, the unique and powerful spewing of fire and heat. Seeing the blast stopped first-timers in their tracks. A softer coloring of the sky happened less regularly but could be just as awe-inspiring. Those who lived in these towns up and down the three rivers would see the result of the particles that hung in the air, bending light, painting the atmosphere in colors that occasionally outdid the oppressive smoke and smog. Be sure to pick up your copy of THE STRONGMAN AND THE MERMAID to see how the pink moon figures into the life and times of Lukasz and Mary Musial. httpss://smile.amazon.com/
The Strongman and the Mermaid–Shrove Tuesday
In the #strongmanandthemermaid I use Polish and Slavic traditions to give shape to both plot and character development. I do this for two reasons–one is because there are so many lovely, rich events to take advantage of. Need to bring two characters together in order to have them fall in love? How about Shrove Tuesday?
Need to show the inner workings of an established family unit and how their decisions impact newcomers? Invite them to Shrove Tuesday! Shrove Tuesday (also Shrove Thursday THROUGH Tuesday), Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, and Pancake Day are all differently named traditions that mark the beginning of Lent–a time for quiet reflection and plain eating.
The second reason I am using traditions in my books is because when families moved to America from foreign lands they often flocked to areas of the country and cities where there were others from their homeland.
These clusters of Poles and Slavs, Italians and more were in search of the American Dream but they held tight to the rituals and beliefs that created an immediate sense of belonging in a new place.
I can’t imagine Strongman without these traditions as not only did they lend drama and weight to the book, they give it the authenticity that readers are looking for when they pick up historical fiction. Hope you’re having a wonderful day celebrating in whatever way you like! Fill us in on your traditions!
Love, Love, Love…
The good old Farmers’ Almanac httpss://www.farmersalmanac.com/the-legends-and-lore-of-valentines-day-726 has done a wonderful job of illustrating the legends and lore associated with Valentine’s Day. The Almanac even includes a quiz for people super in love with this special day for sweethearts.
According to Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions: Reviving Victorian Family Celebrations of Comfort & Joy (S.B. Breathnach), Valentine cards “…were among the few tokens that could freely be exchanged between men and women, and much was read between the lines, or in this instance, the hearts and flowers.” Breathnach goes on to discuss the way the degree of elaborate decorations on the cards illustrated the depths of a person’s love for the recipient. The more stuff on a card, the more promising the love.
Things have changed since the coy, secretive Victorian days… Now, overt acts illustrating attraction and desire (special underwear, racy text messages, mutual… well, you get it…) are more likely displayed or sent than a card with hidden messaging.
There’s nothing like the blush of new love. The excitement it brings is perfect for this red-hot holiday. Dr. Seuss said “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” That sums up new love perfectly, when as long as a pair is together, nothing else matters. Oh, those days. Can’t you just call up the feeling if you shut your eyes and imagine… Or maybe you’re in the throes of new love now. Oh, those days.
The length of time this exciting stage lasts is different for everyone, but it’s possible for couples to continue to recognize the truth in that statement even as time marches on, sagging our skin, bloating our schedules, and challenging everything that makes early love wonderful. Continuing to see that reality with lover A (or husband 2 and wife 3) is better than some dream, takes a little more consideration after years of being together. Perhaps each person has to play out in his or her mind what it would be like to live without the other. Time together requires many couples to really imagine it, to envision never sharing life’s developments, good and bad, small and large ever again, in order to remind themselves, that though love is different decades later, it’s even richer. Or not…
Let’s face it, many people need the thrill of never-ending newness and discovery. They aren’t alive if their heart isn’t thumping, spurred by thoughts of the next time they’ll see the current, budding love of their life. If that’s you, then perhaps serial monogamy is your ticket. Everyone is different so it’s best to know thyself and tread through love accordingly.
Here’s one take on ripened relationships: Marcel Proust on love:“When you come to live with a woman, you will soon cease to see anything of what made you love; though it is true that the two sundered elements can be reunited by jealousy.” Good old jealousy to the rescue. It does fire things up, doesn’t it?
This is my favorite… Julian Barnes: “Some of the freckles I once loved are now closer to liver spots. But it’s still the eyes we look at, isn’t it? That’s where we found the other person, and find them still.” Oh, the eyes… the way someone looks at his love… so many stories held in just one gaze, in just that way you’ve come to feel known and loved.
And then there’s Katherine Lee Bates: “Old love is gold love, old love, the best.”
No matter which stage you fall into or how you view it, if you’re with someone, wish them a happy Valentine’s Day in just the way that would be meaningful to him or her. Is that a lavishly decorated card, ala secret Victorian messaging? Or maybe it’s the seemingly mundane act of doing the dishes or putting the kids to bed for your wife or husband. Or maybe the two of you require full blown, crazy romance? Any way it works for a couple is the way to go on this long-lived, much loved by some and hated by others, holiday.
Reading, Writing, and Resolutions…
Sticking with a new year’s resolution is easier said than done! This year I’m trying to write faster and better and make more home-cooked meals.
For those of you who are trying to read more, here are some tips;
Always keep a book with you,
Don’t read a bunch of things at one time (or if your mind runs on several tracks, keep different books in the car, in the bedroom, in the family room)
Don’t force yourself to read something you don’t like,
Read before bed,
Find like-minded readers to discuss plot, characters and endings of stories,
Keep track of your progress!
If your in need of some light stories to get you started, try checking out my romance, historical and women’s fiction novels on amazon! There’s a large selection of stories to get you started on making this the best reading year yet!!
Christmas Stories–Number 1
“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar…” (A Christmas Memory, Capote).
Most Christmas stories are light and pretty, strung with delicate or bold, shiny words that lend shape to holiday tropes, well-worn and loved, played out with only a change in character jobs, hair color, and cityscape. These stories are wonderful in a million different ways, (see my Hallmark Channel addiction) but to balance all the sugar, there’s nothing like a savory Capote Christmas tale.
These stories are lit with gentle candlelight, the fear that Christmas might not turn out as planned, and the plot delivers a Christmas wish only in part, leaving the reader with a crush of delight, sadness, and yearning, a wish there was just a little bit more to the three short stories in the collection called A Christmas Memory. Grown from Capote’s childhood, these tales take root in our minds and spread to our hearts reminding us of what really matters at the holidays. Hint—it’s never that an entire town is saved from bankruptcy by a lucky character’s last minute inheritance. It’s the simple wish delivered in the form of handmade ornaments, kites, and heart-made fruitcakes mailed to friends all over the world, to some they never even met.
“A trunk in the attic contains: a shoebox of ermine tails (off the opera cape of a curious lady who once rented a room in the house), coils of frazzled tinsel gone gold with age, one silver star, a brief rope of dilapidated, undoubtedly dangerous candy-like light bulbs. Excellent decorations, as far as they go, which isn’t far enough: my friend wants our tree to blaze “like a Baptist window,” droop with weighty snows of ornament. But we can’t afford the made-in-Japan splendors at the five-and-dime. So we do what we’ve always done: sit for days at the kitchen table with scissors and crayons and stacks of colored paper…” (A Christmas Memory, Capote).
When I think of childhood Christmases mine were full of 70’s and 80’s splendor—a time for excess that was never part of everyday life. My parents made sure each year was everything we could have imagined. As I grew up I watched soap operas with both my grandmas. I remember the glistening, shimmering holiday celebrations on Young and the Restless in particular. Throughout December every blessed character wore sweaters of woven gold and silver, their lips moistened with glosses that never dulled, their hair swept into intricate holiday dos. Oh, I couldn’t imagine anything more decadent than one day living through the holidays like that, my high heels clicking and clacking over marble floors, me wrapped in tinseled clothing, dripping in jewels, my eyes brightened by the white lights that decorated the show sets top to bottom.
Yet, here I sit as an adult who could drape every household surface and myself in head-to-toe cheap diamond-like bobbles and what do I find? The holiday stories I love most are set in spare, dusty kitchens where what the characters string together ornaments made of paper and things dug from their backyard, harvested from trees, or made by secondary characters of ill-repute. These Capote stories are edged with sadness from loss and not enough instead of highlighted in soap opera gold and way too much. Told by a sad southern boy who lit up New York with dry wit, wry smile, and pointed writing, I hear both voices in the stories. And each one leaves me wishing Capote had written more… just one more tale about a boy and the little bit extra he wished for each year but never quite got. “This is our last Christmas together. Life separates us…” (A Christmas Memory).
No! I think each time I get to that part, as if I hadn’t read it before. It can’t end like this!
So much is told in the last two pages and many people who receive this book never pick it up again after all of that rustic feeling, dulled tinsel décor and not quite happy ending. But for me, I look forward to it. I set it where I can see it throughout the year and anticipate reading it sometime after Thanksgiving. The spare story, detailed with lovely, handmade wishes and unfulfilled dreams is woven with enough love and hope that I read it again, and again and again, thinking maybe this time it will end the way I want it to. Even though, of course it ends just as it should.
So, if you know someone who likes a little dark mixed into their holiday sparkle, gift her this book. It’s beautiful in its own shabby way, like nothing else you’ll read this season.