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Christmas Stories

For the past few years, I’ve used a Christmas story as my Christmas card. It’s improved over the years from clipart front covers to original artwork by my 3 year old (yeah, you read that right) to more accomplished artwork by Kevin Cantrell. And that’s just the covers advancement, not even accounting for my own skill as a writer (which is why I didn’t include the 1st Christmas story – it would require undue amounts of work to clean up enough to publish on this site).

The history of how this idea came about happened in my church in West Virginia. I’ve always been someone who wanted to leave a “fingerprint” behind, rarely doing things that are the norm. This included my problem with giving out Christmas cards with a holiday wish, signature and nothing else. It was too impersonal to me, and then handing out so many at church made it even worse. One year I tried to put a special note to every member, an inside joke or shared phrase, but that grew difficult. I mean, how many inside jokes do you have? The next Christmas, the pastor came to me and requested a short story that would fit into the Christmas cantata. I sat down and wrote a story about the shepherds first encounter with the angels and baby Jesus, using the Bible’s Luke chapter 2 as my source text. When I finished it, I produced it as that year’s Christmas card. Many stated that the story was how they’d always imagined the scene, a surprise because at least parts of it seemed to come out of a sci-fi flick. I also passed it out at my job at the time and it didn’t go over as well, many stating that I was the only person in the world who would give out a Christmas card that required 30 minutes to read.

Well… yeah.

I hope you enjoy the stories during the Christmas season or Christmas in July!


A SHEPHERD’S STORY – Most of this story is listed above, but what I didn’t put is the reason I waited so long to post this story.  Though I do feel much of it is a pretty solid adaptation of the Luke 2 story, it had some serious weaknesses, mostly in my writing ability.  I think I’ve cleaned it up, maybe not perfectly, but strong enough to find it acceptable for new eyes.

BELLS AND WINGS – This was the first story that was completely original. I was working a challenging job at the time, and as the holidays came, really needed the message from my favorite holiday movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. That gave me the inspiration, but after the story’s opening line (the most popular line from the movie and short story from which it was adapted), I had no idea where the story was going to go. The characters easily came to life, reminding me of my grandparents, and even more, my wife’s grandparents. And the message reminded me, just as the movie, that no matter what we think, we never know who we’ll touch. ( story is copyrighted 2003)

FROM CASTLES TO STABLES – This was the first of 2 stories that I used my son, then 3, as my inspiration, trying to bring him into the family tradition. I went to him and asked, “What Christmas story should I write this year?”

He looked at me and said, “Christmas snow.”

He couldn’t be serious! I leaned in closer, knowing that he would give me more if I asked for some clarification. “What about Christmas snow.”

And as only a 3 year old can answer, he said, “Just Christmas snow.”

For his punishment for setting me on the course of this card, we moved from boring clipart covers and had him decorate the cards with various stampers. It worked great until we turned our back and he decided that snowmen and snowflake ink stamps looked best over the words of the story. We added some other craftiness to the design by edging the card’s corners snow-shaped and tying a small snow ornaments to it. My wife got all the credit for those ideas. I got the blisters.

This story is rushed a bit, one of the challenges of flash fiction, and I’d love to revisit it in the future to fill it out. (story is copyrighted 2004)

FOR THE CHARITY OF A CHILD – My desire to include my son continued, but now he was a year older, a whole 4 years old, with a stronger grasp of the English language and American customs. I just knew he would give me something meaty to run with, and so I asked him the same question as the previous year.

His answer astounded me.

“Christmas bears.”

It just didn’t astound me in a good way.

I happen to love how I pulled this one off, and the double-meaning to the title works nicely. My wife had the idea to tie it into a charity, lifting up one of our favorite holiday traditions. (story is copyrighted 2005)

THE CABIN – After the previous 2 years debacles, I learned a couple of things. First, don’t ask my son for inspiration. Next, creating all new characters and having original story ideas becomes harder and harder every year. Thus was born my (current) attempt at serial Christmas cards. (You’ll need to click each part for that year’s story).

 

The cover for the first Cabin story

Part 1 was written after my mother passed away. As can be expected, I had been melancholy leading into prep for the holidays, but I was determined to not allow that to infect the story. At the same time, I wanted to make an ode to my family heritage, and of course, my late mother. My people come from the Appalachians, a mountain range that runs down the eastern United States. We are Scots-Irish descent, what many would call “Mountain people”. The characters were an ode to the stories I heard of growing up along the West Virginia – Kentucky border. The cabin was remembering my own upbringing along the Ohio River in northwestern West Virginia, and a house that we children swore was haunted. And I nod my proverbial hat to my mom’s Christmas tree with the blue lights…and only blue lights (I’m laughing as I write this). As well as mine and my wife’s penchant of drinking from the same glass (at least before she started drinking only water…yeah, my wife has self-control!)

The cover was done by the amazing Kevin Cantrell, the same person who did the map for the world of the Message. I’d tried drawing a cabin, quite unsuccessfully, and gave up with a call to him. Kevin said he’d do it, and had it to me in no time. He did the image in 20 minutes with a ballpoint pen. That’s no room for error! (story is copyrighted 2006)

 

Photomanipulation makes it shine

Part 2

followed up part 1 nicely. The great thing about it was how others reacted to it. Like the previous year, they ended the story wanting more (a rule of serial fiction, right?). Many new readers asked for part 1, a triumph for me personally, especially when they said that it wasn’t due to not knowing the characters or what was going on. This story almost ended despondent (never a good thing for Christmastime), but I think I pulled it out nicely.

Kevin did the cover for this card as well. He went a different direction, experimenting with what is possible. (story is copyright 2007)

The kids of the Cabin

Part 3 –  introduced the first villain to the ongoing storyline of the Cabin. I also went through some classic Christmas stories (from Dickens to Seuss) and put some lines that was reminiscent of what they attempted to do. So far, I’ve only had one of those lines found, but truth be told, you’d have to really know your Dickens to get the other one.

As previous years, I attempted to tell the story in such a way that allowed a new reader to get the story without reading the first two parts. But given that I had 2 previous stories to build from, it was certainly getting more challenging.

Kevin continued with the covers, this time adjusting his style to a bit more cartoonish. (story is copyright 2008)

Part 4 was, in many ways, the most “un-Christmas” Christmas story I’d done so far. The story took a decidedly darker tone as the children in the world of the Cabin looked at the importance of sacrifice for others. Of course, as I write the stories theme, I realize that sacrifice for another is the greatest gift of all, so perhaps it’s a bit more Christmas-like than it appears. But as the girl in the “real world” portions of the story grows up and the parent begins to face the reality that his little girl isn’t going to be so much longer, it continues to get a bit more melancholy. But that is a part of life and growth, with Christmas not being as much about the glow of the tree and presents and more about the time we spend together, and then seeing our own children (or grandchildren) have the same wonder and excitement that we remember.

Or maybe I’m just trying to make an excuse for the scary front cover by Kevin!

The Cabin  part 5 – This story came out of me after Alex, my son, had requested a read him a goodnight story. It had donned on my how this wouldn’t be requested too many more times, and that led to sitting down and writing the bulk of this that night. In many ways, it touches on the emotions I felt when first starting the Cabin series after the loss of my mother. This story is also a bit of a departure of the normal format I used for the story. Read, and you’ll see what I mean.
 
 
 
The Cabin Part 6: Finales – With the finale to The Cabin serial, it seems a bit bittersweet.  The story itself, what happens to each of the characters, had been planned from the beginning, but the execution is always the challenge, and doing so as flash fiction is even harder.  But it said what I needed it to.  It ended this 6 year experiment in a way that I hope is enjoyable for the reader.
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