Lynn Voedisch: Bringing the holidays to the page (or not)

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Not very many fiction writers make Christmas (or Hanukkah) the center setting of their novels. There was only one Charles Dickens and his “A Christmas Carol.” Few writers have even tried to surpass it. The holidays as a theme is usually used for marketing purposes in series detective novels, romances, even those strange hybrids, the cat mysteries (cozy whodunits featuring cats that help solve crimes). Most writers creating literary fiction or even thrillers and pot-boilers stay far away from the cheer and festivity of Christmas.
Some people don’t bring up cold weather at all. I, definitely a summer person, don’t like writing about snow and wind chills, even when that’s what I have swirling around me.

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Yet I did bring characters together to Chicago in January in Dateline: Atlantis, freezing up the California-bred characters nicely before sending everyone off to Florida and the Caribbean. Christmas was never mentioned. There was a family dinner in that novel that could have doubled for Thanksgiving, but I never mentioned the holiday. I wasn’t trying to get readers in cheery, cozy mood, because a murder happened while the characters dined.

As much as I hate cold and frostbite, some writers seem to revel in it. Many writers of crime fiction love to make their detectives wade through snowdrifts five feet high, suffer in stakeouts in sub-zero weather, and struggle to hold a gun while wearing two layers of gloves. Hats off  (and quickly on again) to Libby Hellman and Sara Paretsky for making Chicago look so bad, but a perfect place for criminal mayhem.

Writer Stuart Dybek, another Chicagoan, once write a short story called “Cordoba” about a man who hails a cab in a blinding snowstorm. The cabby has the name of woman that he’s in love with.  He hasn’t met only gotten her phone number, but he’s in heaven,  Somehow, Dybek makes the snowscape sexy as the cabby goes on about all the pleasures he’ll soon be experiencing in his new girlfriend’s apartment. That is is he has the guts to call her. Then just as things seem perfect for the cabby, he loses the woman’s phone number and blames his fare for stealing it.  The customer doesn’t have the number but knows murderous lust when he sees it and dives out of the car into the snow. The storm gets worse and the cab gets stuck. The patron makes a hasty exit. At the end of the story, which I heard Dybek read to a group of authors, the customer finds the phone number stuck to his scarf. On a whim, he calls the woman. It’s just a luscious piece of work, even if it makes Chicago look like a horrible place to live. (I’ll write about that another time, but Chicago in spring, summer and fall is quite cosmopolitan and offers great entertainment.)

But Christmas? Well, there are the aforementioned series fiction styles which have a Christmas theme once in a while. There’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas (a true classic) by the late Dr. Seuss, The Christmas Box  by Richard Paul Evans (which I have never read) and the wonderful children’s classic, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. But nothing earth-shattering comes to mind.

Christmas is a day to take part in and enjoy and not to write about.

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On December 23, 2016
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