Say It Isn’t So…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA by G.B. Pool

Okay, I’ll say it. Christmas isn’t just for kids.

They might have all the fun Christmas morning, but it took a lot of effort to make it happen. Santa brings a lot of those toys, but good old mom and dad put a few of them under the tree, too. And then there are the clerks in the stores who sold the toys and the folks in the factories who made some of them. Santa’s elves might make their share, but lots of others work hard all year to design new toys and get them on the shelves.

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And then there are the decorations. Kids make a few cute things in school, but adults make an awful lot of those beautiful things and they put up the tree and string the lights and decorate the outside of the house and bake the cookies and pies and Christmas dinner.

Then lots of adults step back, exhausted after all that work, and spend some time enjoying the holidays, too. And what better way than to watch one of the Christmas classics on TV with the family, though most of the older holiday movies were really made for adults. A kid wouldn’t understand how Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life was taken under the wing of Clarence the Angel and shown what the world would be like without him ever being in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr how about A Christmas Carol? Kids might like the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present and maybe even the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but it will take a while before they understand what the story means on a more adult level.

But that’s the gift these movies and stories are: A gift that keeps on giving as you grow older and start to understand the deeper meaning of each story every time you watch it.

Some modern stories are purely fun with not much meaning lurking anywhere or even any holiday spirit. In fact, many might as well be straight comedies because there is nothing Christmas about them. Even the holiday favorite, A Christmas Story, could just as well been about a boy’s birthday wish to get that Red Ryder BB Gun. Christmas was only in the title.

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Santas Galore

But most of us watch these movies and enjoy the season year after year. We check out the Christmas lights in the neighborhood and write our holiday cards and revel in the aromas of an evergreen tree, baked goods, and the holiday feast.As for me, I have been a collector of Christmas things for some forty years. My collection of Santas is nearing 4000. It takes me two weeks to decorate the house. We put up seventeen trees and those are the ones above 12 inches high. I have doll houses with smaller trees in them, some only a few inches tall, all decorated, so the number is way above that seventeen mark.

 

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Since I like to make things, I have quite a few handcrafted Santas. I have been crafting for years. Other than the fact we are running out of space to house these guys and a few other things that I have made, my imagination leads me into other areas.

What areas you ask? Writing holiday stories, of course. The books include pictures of things that I have made and they also include the True Meaning of Christmas in the stories.

 

santaclaussingerfinalcovercroppedYears ago I worked at Walden Books in the Glendale Galleria. At the beginning of the holiday season the mall had a Santa who sang songs when he wasn’t talking to kids. I moved the Santa to Las Vegas in the book The Santa Claus Singer and made him a lounge singer who gets laid off and who ends up playing Santa at the mall and sings to the customers. He meets a young girl who is need of an operation. He is just the right blood type and he volunteers for the gig. At the same time, he gets a job singing in one of the hot night spots on Christmas Eve. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Only thing is, he promised to visit the young girl that same night. And then his car breaks down…

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The first Christmas book that uses pictures of many of the things I have made is called Bearnard’s Christmas. I got the idea for it when I worked in a miniature shop that sold doll houses. I sketched out a design for a Santa castle, wrote the story, and then built the castle and made the figures to go with the story. It’s about a lady who loves animals and who falls asleep near her Christmas tree only to wake up at the North Pole. She meets a talking Polar bear dressed in a Santa suit. His name is Bearnard. He works for Santa. Some people want to capture him and stuff him and put him in a carnival attraction. They might just get their chance if a miracle doesn’t happen.

the-santa-claus-machine-cover-final-croppedThe newest book is called The Santa Claus Machine. I got the idea from a Christmas card. In order to modernize his image, Santa builds a series of Santa robots that are sent to stores around the world. They are programmed to tell Santa’s stories and record children’s wishes. An unscrupulous sales manager at the largest department store chain in America, along with their computer engineer, kidnap the real Santa and hide him in an ice cave. They reprogram all the Santa Claus Machines to encourage children to ask for more and more toys. When Santa learns about the change, he becomes disheartened and thinks he might have to cancel Christmas.

Each story is set during the holidays for sure, but each has a deeper meaning: something seen with the heart and the soul.

every-castle-needs-a-dragon-cover-trial-2-croppedAnd I have been working on a new story for next year. The idea came when I bought a Christmas ornament, a small dragon. I found a tiny wreath on the sidewalk while walking one of the dogs and slipped it over the dragon’s head. Then I set him on the roof of the Santa castle and said, “Every Castle Needs a Dragon.” That’s the name of the book. I bet you don’t know that dragons are the protectors of something very precious in the world. If they have the wrong champion, they can go astray and do great damage, but if they are taught well, they do nothing but good. Now someone wants to capture this one particular dragon… You will get to read the rest of the story next Christmas.

Enjoy the coming Holiday Season. See it with your heart and your soul. It costs nothing and gives back so much.

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Biography:

gayle-and-santaA former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

 

 

"Truth or Consequences: The Perils of Ghost Writing" by Jackie Houchin

Jackie is a retired photo-journalist, a book reviewer and blogger. She loves to travel and read, and has a favorite, very intelligent cat named Story (what else?). She is involved in her church ministries for children and the elderly and admits to being a “sinner saved by God’s grace.”
  
 Awhile back I was approached by a friend who asked me if I’d be interested in doing some writing for him. He and a couple friends were building a non-profit website that would feature true stories by everyday people who volunteered to share how they came to faith. The website would be called Real Christian Testimonies (http://realct.org/rct/).
Rick explained that while many people had amazing stories, most were not writers. He needed me to interview and “ghost write” their stories, using their own words as much as possible. (He and his friend were interviewing men; he needed me to write women’s testimonies.)
His request excited me. I had been a journalist for several small local newspapers over the previous years and I enjoyed meeting new people, discovering their unique stories and writing about them. (See my earlier ‘Writers in Residence’ blog post on interview techniques at: http://bit.ly/1LKyVvf ). Although this was not quite what I had done before, I thought I could be good at it and agreed to try.
Rick sent me a packet listing their mission statement, what each story should include, and a release form for the interviewee to sign after reading the final draft of her testimony. This was something I’d never had to do as a reporter, but it made sense. The privately owned website was concerned with accurately telling the person’s personal truth; something you can’t always say about newspapers.
After I wrote a testimony and got it approved, I would submit it with the signed release form and a headshot photo of the person (or an image of something pertaining to the story, if they did not want to be photographed). The website owners would give final approval.
 I was eager to get started.
I had a woman I admired in mind, so I approached her with the idea. She agreed and we set an interview time and a place. She was a college professor now and I knew she’d be a stickler for accuracy, so I took my tape recorder. Then I forgot to turn it on! Boy was I rusty! I’d jotted down only the main points of her story, so when it came to writing it, I had to email her with many questions. Talk about embarrassment! But I learned my lesson. Which each following interview I took meticulous notes.
I wrote up her story, edited a few things at her request, got her approval, and then submitted it. I was eager to see “my story” (although I had no byline) on the website. Rick, however, sent it back by return email for further editing. Huh?
I learned that I could not mention well-know people by name or the specific places connected to them, even though they were an integral part of the testimony, I’d shown them in a positive light, and I hadn’t quoted them. Why? Because I would have had to get permission if their names were included. Wow. That never happened in newspaper stories. Public people were just that… public. Rick also said that the website wanted to stay as “main stream” as possible, without promoting one denomination over another.

I rewrote the sections he mentioned, ran the edits by my professor again, had her sign an additional release form and resubmitted. This time it was approved.

The next two testimonies I wrote ran the same gamut with slight differences. I had minor areas to edit for the interviewees, but the stories got jammed up with the editors again. I had mentioned people in the stories that had made an impact, this time in a negative way. They were non-celebs, however, and I had used only first names, or sometimes simply a relationship (ex-husband, boyfriend, father, etc.), but that didn’t matter.
Rick explained. If any of the people I’d written tangentially about read the story, they (or a relative in the case of one who’d died), might be offended and come after the website. Okaaay. These were a little more difficult to write around and still use the original “voice” of the women, but I finally did it to their and Rick’s satisfaction.

The testimony I’m working on now is a powerful story. The life of this young woman has changed dramatically, but she went through “the valley of the shadow of death,” literally. Several times, my tears joined hers as I listened to her hesitantly tell about it. How was I ever going to adequately write this, I wondered.

It took me a very long time, and then it came in at a thousand words over the website limit.

This time I sent it to Rick first, asking for advice on where to cut it. He came back immediately with what I could NOT write about, regardless of how compelling or effective. Areas of illegal or even criminal activities on the part of anyone mentioned in the story were strictly out. It could hurt my interviewee in the long run, and the words and actions I’d revealed about people, might result in a lawsuit against the website if they were ever to read her testimony. Yikes!
I should have known that, but I’d harked back to my investigative newspaper journalism days, and had forgotten. I’d zeroed in on revealing the details of the story and had forgotten the purpose of the website. (Following a magazine or website’s guidelines is one of the first rules of article writers!)
So I cut and rewrote it – thinking I must be softening the story. Then following Rick’s further advice, I cut it more and rewrote it again.  And, what do you know! The story of how her belief in Jesus Christ dramatically changed her life emerged crystal clear. It was the jewel in the muck.

By considering “the consequences” and being wise about not telling sordid and unnecessary “truth,” I’d done a better job. The young woman’s story was told, God was honored, and I learned a valuable lesson. I will certainly always tell the truth when ghost writing a person’s testimony, but I will also decide and eliminate what is superfluous to that truth and which might bring needless and “nasty” consequences. Good advice for all non-fiction writing, I think, but especially in writing for ministry.