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Christmas Day--Relax and Enjoy!

It's Christmas Day and the countdown is over. I'm on my way to the kitchen for leftovers and some of that homemade nut roll!

I wish you good times with family and friends, time to relax, and good books to read.

I'll be back here next week with thoughts on New Year's Resolutions.
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Day 2, December 23rd: Christmas Lights


Day 2: December 23rd—Christmas Lights
Christmas lights are so beautiful! In the evening the tree inside the house gives you a warm, cozy feeling. But I also love to see all the outdoor decorations that people display. They’re like greeting cards to the neighbors and those passing by.

Our books might be like those twinkling lights at Christmas. It feels warm and cozy to have finished writing a book and be able to share it with others. But there are so many other books to look at! So many there for us to enjoy.

One new book that I discovered this Christmas is A CHRISTMAS GOODNIGHT by Nola Buck, illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright, Katherine Tegen Books 2011. A child says goodnight to the people and the animals at the first Christmas, then to the things in nature. Later illustrations show the child in his own home with his own nativity, again saying goodnight to the baby Jesus. The illustrations are colorful and simple, with smiling faces and sometimes sleepy eyes. This is a beautiful addition to my collection of children’s Christmas books.

Do you have a favorite children’s book of the season? Perhaps you’d like to share it here.
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Day 1, December 24th: Christmas Traditions


Day 1: December 24th—Christmas Traditions
There are many Christmas traditions that people enjoy every year at this time. Today our family celebrated by getting together for Christmas Eve dinner. It was a fun time. Later we'll go to Midnight Mass. Here are some other traditions that people keep.

Decorating the tree and putting up lights
Stringing popcorn garland
Baking Christmas cookies
Sharing treats with the neighbors
Caroling
Lighting the Advent wreath
Making your own Advent calendar with things to do each day for Baby Jesus’ birthday
A Las Posadas celebration
Doing things for a secret friend during Advent
Making your own Christmas cards
Making Christmas crafts
Going to a Christmas concert
Going to a Christmas play
Driving around town to see the Christmas lights and decorations
Getting together with friends
Reading Christmas stories
Writing a children’s Christmas story or poem

I’d love to hear more from readers. Traditions make this time of year even more special. They bring us closer to family and friends. They make us think outside of ourselves. And they make us feel good inside.

You might take a tradition that you love and write about it. Or write a story centered around a tradition. It could be a Christmas tradition, or one for any time of the year.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas!
For those of you who celebrate in a different way, I wish you blessings for the season!
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Day 3, December 22nd: Gift Wrapping


Day 3: December 22nd –Gift Wrapping
My husband and I wrapped Christmas presents this morning. We decided to go all out and put on ribbons and bows this year. They look so beautiful sitting under the tree! What’s inside each package isn’t elaborate or expensive. But they’re all chosen with the person receiving them in mind.

Kind of like our stories. We wrap them up with care, typed with no mistakes and with great cover letters, and send them off. But editors look beyond the wrapping to what’s inside. Is the story original, or more like the tie or cuff links that dads got too many of back in the 50’s? Is it well written, with words chosen especially to fit the age of the child who will be read to? Is the word count appropriate, or could we have told the same story with less?

Good writing is in the re-writing. Get out a manuscript that you’ve written recently, or an older one, and give it another look. Does the “wrapping” look better than what’s inside?
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Day 4, December 21st: Creative Gift Giving

My critique group in Indiana exchaqnges gifts in December. But not just any kind of gift! Our gifts relate in some way to writing, or to the writer. They come with a note or poem. And they cost $1 or less!

It's fun to see all of the ways we can be creative from year to year. I've received bookmarks with quotations, ornaments related to writing for children, a prayer stone, a small piggy bank for rewarding writing efforts and many other things. I've kept every one. This year I made corn bags that you heat and wrap around your neck. I enclosed this poem, which goes to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It":

When your neck is feeling achy
Read a book.
With a corn bag wrapped around it
Read a book.
When you feel a little dozy
And your corn bag's warm and cozy
Wrap it up and snuggle up and
Read a book!

When it's cold out and it's snowing
Read a book.
When the winter winds are blowing
Read a book.
When it's gloomy and you're tired
Read a book and get inspired.
Get a pen and paper out and
Write a book!

Ok--here's the challenge: Think of an original gift for a writer, costing no more than $1, and write a note or poem to go with it. Good luck!
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Countdown to Christmas, Day 6: Christmas Cards


Day 6: December 19th
Today I was getting the last of my Christmas cards ready to mail. I know, it’s only six days away! These last few are the ones that I put a personal letter into, so they wait until the end.

There are so many different kinds of cards. There are religious cards, the strictly ‘happy holiday’ cards. Cards with Jesus and the holy family, snowmen, and cozy homes pictured surrounded by snow. My middle daughter makes her cards with little cut-outs that she pastes onto the card! They’re beautiful. There are cards with photos of families or the kids (I love to get those). And there are the cards with letters enclosed that tell what’s happened during the past year.

My daughter showed me a card that they had received one year that was a ‘family letter’ but it was hilarious. Not the typical letter of how everyone is doing and what they did that year. My sister-in-law asked for funny stories from family to put together for their card this year. I hope she got a good response, and I can’t wait to get it.

If you were to write a Christmas letter to put into a card, and wanted it to be ‘original,’ how would you write it? Would it be funny? A collection of riddles? A game of some kind? Or maybe a re-make of a Christmas carol? It’s never too early to get started for next year!
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Day 5, December 20th: Christmas Cookies

Day 5: December 20th
Happy Hanukkah to all of my Jewish friends!

Today I made Christmas cookies with two of my grandkids. Sugar cookies never looked (or tasted) so great! And I probably wouldn’t have made them if it hadn’t been for my grandchildren being here.

Doing things with other people can give you a lift sometimes. It can be more fun. And the results are usually better. With the cookies, you can take a look at what someone else did and get ideas. The tiny brown chocolate chips in the gingerbread boy’s icing eyes were really cute. We put some on the buttons, too. I had cutters for bells and stars and trees, but the kids brought some for stockings and candy canes.

Writing can be better as a team effort, too. Some writers collaborate on a project. I’ve never done that, but I do have a wonderful critique group. Getting another person’s eyes and ears on something that you’re working on is a great help. A picture book is a kind of team work. It’s the combination of text and pictures that make a picture book. And even though the author and illustrator don’t work together, the end result comes from two different creative minds.

The text for a picture book comes before the illustrations. But a picture can inspire a story, too. Has a picture on a Christmas card ever really moved you? What if you took that picture and wrote a story or a poem to go with it? Maybe you could even write words to go with that picture for an original Christmas card.
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Countdown to Christmas, Day 7: People Watching


Day 7: December 18th
Are you a people-watcher? If you’re a writer, you probably are. At this time of the year it can be especially interesting.

There was the little girl in the store who kept asking to use the hand sanitizer that the store supplied for customers. “I want to use the hand sanitizer! Why can’t I use the hand sanitizer? But I want to use the hand sanitizer! Why won’t you let me?” You could hear her insisting all the way down the aisle. Her parents were very patient. I couldn’t help smiling.

Then there were the three angels at the end of the line in the chorus who were swaying to the Christmas carols as they were singing. They were certainly enjoying themselves. Another angel at the other end had halo problems. It kept falling off. She just picked it up and put it back on and kept on singing.

Parents take their kids to the mall for the yearly Santa photo. Will they sit on Santa’s lap? Will they talk to him? Will they look at him? If they talk to him, what will they say?

Working with kids, having your own kids, or just watching kids in action is good preparation for writing for kids and developing characters. “Know your audience,” editors say. What age are you writing for? Spend some time with kids in that age group.

The next time you’re out shopping, slow down just a little and be a people-watcher. Pick out someone who especially catches your eye. When you get home, sit down and write a short story around that character. You never know where it might take you!
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Countdown to Christmas, Day 8: Familiar or Original?


Day 8: December 17th
Editors are always looking for original stories. We sometimes see familiar stories written with a new spin on them that gives them ‘originality.’ For example, “The Night Before Christmas,” and “The Night Before Thanksgiving,” or “Snowmen at Night” and “Snowmen at Christmas.” How about “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” and “Leroy the Red Neck Reindeer?”

So how do you make a familiar story sound new and original? Try changing the situation, or changing the main character.

In “The Night Before Thanksgiving,” the holiday changes, giving the reader a different situation. There are similarities, but enough differences to give it a new spin. In “Snowmen at Christmas,” an ordinary night becomes something special.

Character drives the story. When you change your character, the story will change because of the way your character handles the situation, or reacts to it. When Rudolph is sick on Christmas Eve, he calls on his cousin Leroy to cover for him. Leroy shows up driving a pick-up truck and wearing a John Deere tractor hat. At the start, the other reindeer aren’t too sure about a reindeer who goes ‘two-stepping across the sky,’ and makes ‘jingle bells with a rebel yell.’ But he soon has them all ‘scootin’ a hoof on every single roof, by the light of a neon moon.’

When I talk to students about my picture book TURKEY SURPRISE, I sometimes ask them how they think the story might change if the little pilgrim brother refused to hunt for a turkey at the beginning. Or what might happen if the turkey was caught? How might he get away?

Just for fun, try re-writing a picture book with a different type of character, or by changing the situation.
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Countdown Continued, Day 9: 'Show' Us a Character


Day 9: December 16th
Thinking back to songs of the season, and yesterday’s blog, you might just recognize the following words, taken randomly, from another well known song.

…you’re as cuddly as a cactus
…your brain is full of spiders
…you’re a nasty, wasty skunk
…your heart is full of unwashed socks
and so on, from “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

Wow, what a guy! What great similes and metaphors. Ok, so here’s the challenge—create a vibrant character for a children’s book, and SHOW us that character without telling us anything about him or her!
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