Tag Archives: Christmas

How my characters spend time over the holidays

Last week on Twitter, mystery reader JayeL wrote:

Then she named some authors including me, and said: “Challenge issued.”

Well, if it’s a challenge…

This was fun — short fiction, 140 characters at a time. It also says something about how readers perceive characters, and how writers structure suspense novels.

Readers love vivid characters. Especially series characters, who come back time after time to face new challenges and adventures. But when those characters feature in crime fiction — mystery, suspense, thrillers — the challenges they face involve mayhem, danger, and death. The characters must face those challenges, or it’s not a crime novel.

Readers have asked me why the pace in my novels is fast. Why must the characters race to solve mysteries under time pressure? Why can’t they enjoy a leisurely lunch, or spend a week on the beach, or take a painting class?

Because that’s not even a story.

Here’s a secret. My characters all live full, rounded lives. They throw New Year’s Eve parties and deliver Meals on Wheels and spend long weekends reading Sue Grafton and binge watching The Sopranos. But the portion of their lives that makes it to my thrillers involves danger and daring.

A couple of years ago, a forensic psychiatrist wrote a journal article about how that specialty is portrayed in popular fiction. I was thrilled that she included Jo Beckett. And I was amused that she noted, somewhat skeptically, that in all the Beckett novels, Jo solves the case. Of course she does. The only cases I write about in the Beckett novels are the ones Jo solves. The cases her colleagues solve aren’t part of the story.

But just for the holidays, I’ll let you imagine Evan Delaney, Jesse Blackburn, Jo Beckett, and Gabe Quintana chilling on the beach in Santa Barbara. Ho ho ho and Happy New Year.

Bowie and Bing: Lessons and Carols


The story behind this strange and lovely duet:

At the time, it was about the most unlikely pairing imaginable: gender-bending glam rocker David Bowie and stodgy crooner Bing Crosby. And yet, when the two got together to sing a duet on the 1977 TV special Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, they made holiday magic.

“Bowie balked at singing the traditional Christmas carol ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ on the special. Grossman recalls, ‘He said, “I won’t sing that song. I hate that song… I’m doing this show because my mother loves Bing Crosby.”‘”

Scrambling to find a solution, Grossman and Kohan hit upon the idea of introducing a counter melody to “Drummer Boy” that Bowie could sing while Crosby sang the traditional arrangement. “It all happened rather rapidly. I would say within an hour, we had it written and were able to present it him again,” Kohan remembers.

The result: “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” a tune that pleased both Bowie and Crosby and went on to become a holiday-music standard right alongside the original “Little Drummer Boy.”

This tale offers several lessons, beyond reminding me how much I love David Bowie. The video reveals how generous Bing Crosby is during the performance, letting Bowie’s vocal shine.

From a writer’s perspective, it reminds us:

  • When you run into a problem, collaborate to find a solution that respects all the artists and builds on their strengths.
  • Deadlines can spur creativity to wonderful levels. Bowie’s melody was written in an hour.
  • Challenges can result in magic.

Peace on Earth. Happy Holidays, everyone.

The Christmas sweater: my work as a parent is complete

Die Hard sweater

My son had friends over for a Christmas party. To get in the festive spirit, he made a Christmas sweater. He decorated it with dialogue from our family’s favorite holiday movie, Die Hard.

I am so proud.

Considering how my other kids reacted — by rattling off lines from the movie — our next family project will be to hand craft Christmas cards featuring Die Hard dialogue. “Schnell! Schnell!” “Karl, shoot the glass!” “Welcome to the party, pal.” “And the quarterback is toast!”

The spirit of the season is upon us.

Christmas with my family

Quotes from Christmas Day:

Son, reading tag on gift: “‘From the Rebel Alliance gift shop.’ Please tell me it’s piece of Alderaan.”

The Husband, reading tag on gift: “‘From a Family Man.'” (Opens gift.) “I get it!” Shows everybody his Heisenberg T-shirt.

Son, at dinner: “Innie turning… to… outie.”

Son, a minute later: “What’s for breakfast tomorrow?”

Husband: “Cinnamon rolls.”

Daughter: “Satiation.”

Son, in Yoda’s voice: “Breakfast leads to cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls lead to satiation. Satiation leads…”

Me: “… to outie.”

Daughter: “What time are we watching Die Hard?”

Happy Trails. Enjoy Boxing Day.

Have some music

I’m traveling for the holidays. So enjoy Pentatonix giving everybody some Christmas cheer.

The Christmas Letters finale: fill in the blank

For the full background on the Christmas Letter Files, see here. These are actual letters I sent as a joke to friends and family, telling of a life I never lived, with relatives and pets I never had.

Today’s entry is the last in the series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

December 23

Greetings!

Ready for the Yuletide’s hottest deal? Let your favorite expert – me – write your Christmas letter this year. Save yourself the hassle of inventing triumphs and soft-pedaling failures – I’ll do it. Simply circle applicable responses and return the form to me. Allow six to eight weeks for delivery.

Occasion:
Xmas
Chanukah
March Madness

Objective:
Spread cheer and good will
Impress snooty neighbors
Libel obnoxious relatives

Tone:
Cloyingly sweet
Self-congratulatory
In-your-face

Price for Writing:
The Truth $9.95
A Slight Exaggeration $19.95
A Life as Perfect as Mine $99.95

1. Your family is
As warm and perky as ever
Certainly more popular than your friends
Seeking restraining orders against each other

2. You’re spending the holidays

Sewing clothing for the homeless
Singing the “Messiah” at Lincoln Center
Suing the mall for your “accidental” slip & fall

3. Pleasant surprises this year included
The new puppy
The knighthood
The getaway car started on the first try

4. More surprises include

You are homeless
You are the Messiah
The mall is suing you for fraud

5. Signs that the kiddies are growing up:
They totalled the car
Sissy was Playboy’s “Miss September”
Junior’s pyromania seems to be abating

6. This year you were promoted to
Lt. colonel
Full professor
Fry-machine operator

7. Your job
Has made you wildly wealthy
Has been moved to Guatemala
What job?

8. For your anniversary your husband gave you

A large kitchen appliance
A trip to Paris
A black leather teddy

9. Your wife gave you
A large insurance policy on your life
A trip down the stairs
A black leather teddy

10. At school, your son was
Captain of the football team
Water boy for the football team
Caught selling term papers to the football team

11. For graduation your daughter got
A pony
A scholarship to Yale
Preggers

12. Your biggest worry was
UFO abduction
Nuclear Armageddon
Cellulite

13. You spent the year fighting
Secular humanism
Plaque
Extradition

14. You were… relieved/upset… when your… house/livestock/in-laws… survived/floated away/
went up in smoke… during the… flood/brush fire/riot.

15. Your vacation was… terrific/a nightmare… because of/despite the… lost luggage/shark attack/hijacking. The sunsets/artillery shelling/oil well fires… were particularly colorful this year in Tahiti/Afghanistan/Texas.

16. In August your husband got… elected/religion/five-to-ten… Everything was fine until… the Senate subpoenaed his diaries/the congregation stoned him as a heretic/the escape tunnel he dug came up ten feet inside the wire.

17. Your health is… wonderful/phhht. You’ve been… winning triathlons/hearing voices/feeling so much prettier… ever since… the steroid injections/those Army drug experiments/the sex change.

So that I can give your letter the proper ambiance (“attitude”), please circle the answers that best describe your family:

Home Life

Your children are named:
(a) Buffy & Binky
(b) Billie Sue & Bubba
(c) Beavis & Butt-head

Your family most resembles:
(a) The Clintons
(b) The Kardashians
(c) The Macbeths

Leisure

You spend most weekends on
(a) The yacht
(b) Drugs
(c) Furlough

Your main form of exercise is
(a) Water ballet
(b) Foreplay
(c) Fighting your spouse for the TV remote control

Politics

Your favorite monument to liberty is
(a) Mount Rushmore
(b) Salman Rushdie
(c) Rush Limbaugh

The JFK assassination was masterminded by
(a) The Jesuits
(b) The Beatles
(c) John-John

Formalities

You prefer to be addressed as
(a) Reverend
(b) Ooh, Baby
(c) Your Imperial Majesty

Do you use the middle name “Rodham”?
(a) Yes
(b) No
(c) Only when wearing your black leather teddy

Note: my own family has recovered just fine from the hot-air ballooning mishap. Being stranded in the Sierras for six weeks was no picnic, and yes, we should have known that shooting at passing planes might puncture the balloon, but heck – you only live once. And there is no truth to the rumors about what we did to survive when our food ran out. However, Grammy did incur moderate injuries when we discovered she’d been hiding a sack of Cheetos under her wig, and her dog Fifi turned out to be… too frail to survive/braver than Lassie/a marvelous appetizer.

The Christmas Letters Day 8: goats & ghosts

Background on the Christmas Letter Files here. Yep, I sent these fake letters to real friends and family.

December 1965

Hi —

It is December, isn’t it? I just spent 22 months in a rubber room at Flaky Acres with no shoelaces or newspapers allowed, and nothing to watch on TV but reruns of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” I keep forgetting my kids aren’t named Jethro and Ellie Mae, let alone what month it is.

So, you know that after Jimmy took up ballet and Paul and Ma shot it out in the back yard with the Uzi and the Sidewinder missile, I got a slight case of nerves and had to be voluntarily restrained. It wasn’t so bad, actually. After I out-wrestled Big Nurse and became top dog on the ward, I took control of the black market in cigarettes and forced the orderlies to change channels to “Gilligan’s Island” now and then.

But the orderlies got me back. One night while I was sleeping they switched my I.D. bracelet with the one belonging to the woman in the next bed. Come morning, the Immigration Service shows up, reads the tag on my wrist identifying me as Marie-Luc DuPoisson, visa jumper from Grenadine, and before I can scream they’re jabbering at me in French and loading me on a leaky boat to Port D’Absinthe. Big Nurse had told them I was delusional, and that I imagined I was an American woman who spoke English. So the immigration agents ignored my protests, chuckling, “She’s almost convincing, isn’t she?”

Meanwhile Marie-Luc got discharged from Flaky Acres with my driver’s license and Amex card in her pocket. She hit the makeup counter at Nordstrom and headed to my house. Paul came home to find candles burning on an altar in the den, Marie-Luc telling the future by casting teeth on the kitchen table, and two goats grazing on our living room carpet, looking flirty in their new Lancôme lipstick. He was suspicious.

I’d been gone a while, but Paul knew he’d never seen me wear chicken-feet earrings. He called a family conference to see if people agreed with him. After everyone watched Marie-Luc for a while, Twink and Vi said it wasn’t me. Ginger and The Professor — er, I mean Janie and Jimmy — asked if she did housework. Ma embraced her as the daughter she’d always wanted.

Paul tried to call the sheriff, but Marie-Luc held him at bay by letting Ma jab pins in a tiny Paul doll every time he picked up the phone. (Paul and Ma’s personality conflict has, let’s face it, deteriorated. Not so much because of the shootout, which they regarded as a fair fight, but because Paul refused to wear a black arm band in memory of Pop’s parakeet Genghis, the head-pecking little SOB who was accidentally blown up in the crossfire.)

Adding insult to insult, when I landed in Grenadine I was arrested for Marie-Luc’s various crimes — goat theft, practicing dentistry without a license — and dumped in De Menthe, the infamous seaside prison. The U.S. Embassy did zip to help.

I was a stranded castaway on an uncharted desert isle. The family tried to aid me: my valiant girls attempted a rescue but were captured entering the harbor. Grenadinian troops saw through their disguise as mimes when the girls couldn’t throw an imaginary rope and pull the boat to the dock. But at least then I had their company in solitary. And their efforts publicized my plight, even if the news media did belittle the the episode as the “Bay of Piglets.”

Hope had almost slipped away when Jimmy, ballet danseur and former mercenary supreme, intervened. As the girls and I sat in our dank cell one night, the guards shrieked in terror, dropped their weapons, and fled. The door to the cell burst open and in stormed the Joffrey Ballet, camouflaged in full costume for The Nutcracker. The Grenadines were a pitiful match for Jimmy’s disciplined corps. Confronted with a commando force of six-foot tall mice and gingerbread men, the guards flung themselves off the prison walls into the sea. We were home the next day.

I’ve been here a few weeks now, and, frankly, I’m trying to figure out a cheap way back to Port D’Absinthe. Ma and Paul’s sniping is practically constant. I don’t mean bickering; I mean small arms fire. Marie-Luc’s cooking burns through every plate it touches, and whenever Pop eats it he falls on all fours howling like a coyote and sniffing around the furniture. And this morning I heard a small peck, peck, peck on the front door. I opened it and screamed.

It was Genghis. That damned bird, and I do mean damned, was back from the grave courtesy of Marie-Luc’s spellcasting. Featherless, stiff legged, glassy eyed, he staggered into the hallway, chirping, “Revenge! Revenge!” After I passed out Twink managed to beat him off with a broom, but I’ve had it. Wrestling Big Nurse two falls out of three would be better than this.

Here’s hopin’ y’all get ’nuff Chris’mas presents to fill a cee-ment pond —

All of us

P.S. — CNN reports that since Saturday Genghis has terrorized pet shops in Bakersfield, Flagstaff, and Albuquerque. If you live east of the Continental Divide you should probably stay home with the windows locked and your heads covered for the next few weeks. Happy New Year!

The Christmas Letters Day 7: swimming pools, movie stars

Background on the Christmas Letter Files here. Yes, I actually sent all these letters to family and friends over the years. They’re fake summaries of a life I never lived, about relatives and pets I never had.

December 21st

Ho ho ho —

And a bottle of rum. This is daughter Janie, knocking back a belt of Bacardi so I can write this letter. It’ll be short and sweet.

First: YES, Violet and I survived our Club Med para-sailing disaster. YES, my bikini top blew off at 15,000 feet over the Andes. And NO — for the ten thousandth time, NO — I will not discuss my frostbite. And it’s true: a TV movie detailing our ordeal is in the works (tentative title: “Twin Peeks”). Violet is driving the producers mad begging to portray herself, but they want the part to “play younger” — that is, they think Vi’s too old for the role. She may get a cameo shot as Mom, though.

Speaking of Mom, a few months of having her parents living here drove her out of the house. She couldn’t take Grammy’s daily harangues: “You’ve never done _______ right!” (clean, hunt, marry… you fill in the blank.) And having Gramps’ parakeet, Genghis, pecking bald spots on her head was more than she could stand. She took a full time job working a jackhammer down at the new mall.

Jimmy had some sort of life crisis this summer and got culture. Now he dances ballet. Yeah. Goodbye Soldier of Fortune, hello Swan Lake. He’s got tights, a pout more Russian than Baryshnikov, and a pirouette that knocks hell out of vases in the living room. Gramps wants to test him for genetic damage — thinks maybe in all those commando raids Jimmy’s Y chromosome got addled. But whenever Gramps brings it up, Jimmy clips him in the head with an arabesque.

Daddy can’t get enough of the Navy or far enough away from Grammy and Gramps. Now he’s at Top Gun, flying jets. Last week he buzzed our house in an F-18. Dangerous move — there are no rules of engagement for family feuds. Grammy ran out in the yard with her makeup mirror, trying to reflect the sun into the cockpit and blind him.

Daddy returned to base, loaded his bomb rack with flour sacks, and came back for a Pillsbury strafing run. Grammy outran him, zig-zagging across the patio, over the chaise longue — a trail of white splats marks her path — around the barbecue, and into the pool. Which is now a 20,000 gallon pit of papier-mâché.

We pulled Grammy free and hosed her off before she hardened. Then things turned ugly. While we screamed and dove under the lawn furniture, Grammy tried to hose the F-18 with her pearl-handled Uzi. Daddy uncorked a Sidewinder missile. There was a flash, a boom, and a brief “cheep!” Dirt clods rained down, then flaming bits of newspaper and a tiny scorched bird swing. We looked up to see chartreuse feathers settling into a crater where Genghis’ birdcage had stood.

For a second we just gaped. Then from the living room we heard “The Blue Danube” playing and Jimmy shouting, “Jeté!”

That, to make a long story short, is when Mom had her nervous breakdown.

So I’m writing the letter this year. Mom’s making progress, but isn’t allowed visitors at Shaky Acres yet. And please don’t send flowers. Bouquets trigger her flashbacks about Genghis’ funeral.

What else? Twink is apparently normal. Vi and I have finally buried the sibling rivalry hatchet. And —

Whoa. Vi just ran in screaming that the TV producers are going to make our story into an animated movie, casting Ariel, the little mermaid, as her and Marge from The Simpsons as me.

HA HA HA HA!! Too bad, Vi! Hey, quit it. OUCH! Vi, cut it OUT!! Don’t tip over my chair —

Violet here now. Janie is such a bi—

Janie, let go of my hair!!! Okay, you asked for it. ^)*$%jkl+) ++bn$%@

And a Happy New Year!

I’ve been elfed

DJ Paterson writes:

Wow, four of my favourite authors getting into the festive spirit – Disco elf style.

Sorry – idle hands and all that.

I get it. This is payback for DJ’s win in Contest 2009, which led to him being turned into a cop with a baby face and possibly a big, retro-style Afro, in The Memory Collector.

But what did Mark Billingham, Peter Robinson, or Stephen King ever do to you, DJ?

That’s all right. I like the video. We got moves.

Watch the entire video.

The Christmas Letters Day 6: parakeets, Presley, & Peru

For the background on these Christmas letters, see here. Again: These are actual fake Christmas letters that I once sent to family and friends. They’re a fictitious version of my life, featuring invented relatives and pets.

December 20th

Yuletide ho ho hos!

The winds of change are blowing…

… And they’re bringing a breath of fresh air to our town. The refinery shut down for good last March, and since then most dogs have regrown their fur, lawns no longer catch fire when it rains, and I haven’t lost any more teeth.

Half the city’s out of work, of course. My parents lost their jobs and have moved in with us. Pop has adjusted well to forced retirement, but Ma’s having a rough go of things. Day after day, she bakes – gingerbread effigies of company management, which she skewers and sets afire with an acetylene torch. But who can blame her? After driving a dynamite truck for 32 years, a life reduced to watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills would turn anyone bitter.

Still, everybody has settled in to the new arrangement. We’ve learned to sleep through the folks’ late night mixed martial arts bouts, and to ignore Pop’s parakeet pecking on our heads during dinner. Ma’s fondness for indoor skeet shooting still jangles our nerves, but give it time, I say.

A sea breeze has also blown our way. Three weeks after my parents moved in, Paul joined the Navy. I’m darned proud, and darned lonesome. I told him I’d follow him to his post. We all told him. But families aren’t allowed to accompany submarines under the Arctic ice pack, so we’ll have to wait ’til the spring thaw for contact.

Spurred by Paul’s patriotism, Jimmy has set his sights on becoming a Secret Service agent. Yes, he has hurdles to leap – the school expulsions, his nasty letters to the Chief Justice, and the fact that three South American countries are seeking his extradition for plotting coups d’etat. But he has a plan to overcome these barriers: he’s going to expose the conspiracy that links JFK’s assassination to the Walt Disney Corporation and the explosion of Mt. St. Helens. I know, I know – most people think the Jesuits are behind it all. The truth is nothing so obvious. I can hardly wait!

The spring turned into a whirlwind when our Twink became a rising star on the tiny tot beauty pageant circuit. She heard the winner’s theme song so often (“I’m Prettier Than You”) that she had it memorized. But to our dismay, she abandoned the pageant circuit shortly after my fight with another mom over possession of the last can of hairspray in the Tiara Room. All Twink does now is climb trees, play house with some plain-Jane friends, and turn in her homework. And she says she wants to be a teacher! What a blow.

A bitter north wind blew Violet’s way this summer — her marriage ended after just three weeks. At the time, it had seemed so perfect: my baby, becoming Mrs. Elvis Presley! (And yes, doubters: Elvis. Presley. Check with the Hall of Records – that’s the name he wrote on the marriage license.) The newlyweds headed to Reno, where Elvis planned to announce a major comeback. However, the casinos didn’t believe he was really “The King” and would only book him as an Elvis impersonator. And lounge acts don’t pay much, so Vi also took a job… as an Elvis impersonator. She got better reviews. So much for wedded bliss.

To restore Vi’s battered spirit, Janie treated her to a Club Med Cancun vacation. There, the winds of fortune picked up. Literally. The girls were para-sailing when a rogue gust snapped the rope that tethered their parachute to the tow boat. The kids whipped away into the Mexican sky and haven’t landed yet. But they’ve been sighted several times, and last week a Peruvian llama herder found Janie’s bikini top snagged on an Andean peak. We’re hopeful that prevailing air currents will hold, dropping the girls in western Africa before hurricane season.

What next for the family? The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Jolly Holidays –

All of us

The Christmas Letters Day 5: Panting Petticoats

(Background on the Christmas Letter Files here. Yes, I actually sent all these letters to family and friends over the years. They’re fake summaries of a life I never lived, about relatives and pets I never had.)

December 19th

To our fellow travelers toward harmonic convergence: Ho ho ho!

I’ll get to the point: Mindy Mankiewicz has changed our lives. You must all meet her. Mindy is a KMart clerk and trance-channeller for Xolchzxtl, who was an Aztec manicurist in pre-Columbian Acapulco. Through past-life regression therapy she has revealed these truths to us:

In a past life I was an early hominid, “Uuh,” whose fossilized teeth the Leakeys recently unearthed in East Africa. I was later Mary Magdalene, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Emperor Hirohito. Paul’s former selves include Porcinus, a Roman Senator poisoned for dallying with Nero’s favorite gladiator. (That’s why Paul gags when I serve Spam piccata — an ancient, fatal meal haunts him still.) He was also Mary Magdalene and “Hoss” from Bonanza. Janie’s regression proved most startling: along with Mary Magdalene and the thoroughbred champion, Secretariat, she was Guinevere Blackstar, offspring of Henry VIII and a space alien named λ∗δεφ=ξψζ (pronounced “Muffy”). Janie’s messages to Buckingham Palace — “Kiss off, Liz, the throne is mine!” — remain unanswered.

On other fronts, we were standing tall this summer when Jimmy, our capital-P Patriot, testified to Congress about the coup in Carta Blanca. He was “Commander Bravo,” the mystery witness wearing the brown paper bag on his head and the “No Fat Chicks” T-shirt. He related how he and comrades-in-adventure “Raging Stallion” and “Captain Macho” (Timmy Goldfarb and Luis O’Malley — remember them from Central High?) pulled the infamous “pinata caper” that dumped pigeon guano on the Russian ambassador. We are proud, proud, proud! Of course, “Stallion” and “Macho” face gruesome deaths if their identities become public, so don’t anyone blab their names to the Washington Post.

Violet (aka Sister Mary Pectoralis) is home. Her stay with the Sisters of the Bench Press came to an abrupt end during the Pontiff’s visit, following a mishap during the papal mass at Dodger Stadium. During Vi’s liturgical dance, an aerobics routine (“Just a Closer Squat With Thee”), her hand weights slipped, flew across the sanctuary, and pegged three archbishops dead on. They went down like bowling pins. The Reverend Mother Schwarzenegger shipped Vi home that night.

What now for the family? For Paul, it’s telephone sales, offering volume discounts on the 50,000 “Trump for President” buttons we bought last spring. We have to recoup our stock market losses somehow. (We should have been suspicious when our broker told us to send his commission checks to No. 04425-J, Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. But how were we to know that when he said he had “inside information,” he meant he was Bernie Madoff’s cellmate?)

For me, it’s Panting Petticoats, the torrid sequel to Sin’s Savage Sweat. Your preview:

Ravagingly beautiful in the dying light, wind whipping her auburn eyes, hair ablaze, Shane DuMain McLane stared wistfully down from her office atop the Empire State Building. She had it all, which was a huge amount. The life-and-death decisions she made as CEO of Felicity Lingerie; the power she held, which made her tremble — and men beg; her formula for McLaneium, the superconducting fabric that cured ichthyopiliosis; her innocent French lover, Khalid, who must never know that the Paris fashion show had been her cover for a secret government mission; where would it all end?

She gazed at the portrait on the wall: Felicity DuMain, Belle of Savannah, corset mogul, Union Army secret agent. Shane had inherited her great-great grandmother’s pluck, and her knack for undergarments and espionage.

Yet Shane was a haunted woman. The Tragedy tormented her dreams… the final fence of the Grand National Steeplechase… her beloved stallion, Hedge Fund… a misstep… flailing hooves as the brave horse spun like a berserk Mary Lou Retton to avoid crushing Shane… a gallant goodbye whinny as his head lay cradled in her arms… the Queen placing the winner’s wreath across the shrouded lump on the track… Shane awoke screaming night after night, soggy with sweat — savage sweat.

Her reverie exploded with a crash of her office door.

Him.

“Shane. The formula. I must have it.” Brandon Chase, smoldering, igneous, advanced toward her.

“Never,” Shane gasped. “You’ll have to have me instead.”

She threw him across her desk, mad with passion. Oh, how she hated him! The longing, oh, the ecstasy… no, that was just a pencil jabbing her in the side…

The intercom buzzed. “Miss DuMain McLane,” her secretary repeated. “Telephone, line two. It’s the President.”

‘Til next year —

Meg, Paul, and kids

The Christmas Letters, Day 4: Sin’s Savage Sweat

(Background on the Christmas Letter Files here. Again: These are actual fake Christmas letters that I once sent to family and friends. They’re a fictitious version of my life, featuring invented relatives and pets.)

December 17th

Season’s Greetings!

“Never! Not in a thousand years!” defiantly cried Felicity DuMain, her porcelain nostrils flaring with anger. “I will never sell Mellow Spires. The dirt of this land flows in my veins!”

“Then I’ll wed you! Or if I can’t wed you I’ll have you!” challenged Chase Blackmore threateningly yet sensuously. He yanked her ardently to him, his cruel breaths landing hotly on her white neck like a campfire on a toasting marshmallow.

Spat Felicity, “Ha!” struggling to free her crystalline waist from Chase’s manful embrace, but also not really wanting to. Why, oh why was she drawn to this man she despised, this Wall Street Wizard, opera star, and suspected pirate, and why did her once shimmering, now tattered and dirt stained satin ball gown feel so damp? Pearly bosoms heaving, she hissed in her willowy drawl, “I’ll die first. Or you will. In which case I wouldn’t.”

So begins “Sin’s Savage Sweat,” my first novel. What an incredible, releasing experience it was to write! In a former life I must have been a ravaged Southern Belle. (Never mind that when I was hypnotized at that Elks Club “Occult Nite” I claimed to have been Richard Nixon.) I’ve finally found my niche – but you who’ve been getting these letters for years could (tee-hee) see that writing on the wall. And I found the most wonderful publisher, who charged me quite a reasonable rate for printing the books. Yours is in the mail!*

I’d hoped that Violet would star in the “Sweat” miniseries, but of course since her conversion that’s out of the question. I don’t understand the lure of the ascetic life, but Vi — I mean, Sister Mary Pectoralis — is wonderful happy with the Sisters of the Bench Press, finding serenity in their discipline of fasting, chant, and weight lifting. And their brochure does sound uplifting: “High above the Hollywood hills, cloistered voices greet the dawn in praise. ‘Miserere gluteus maximus!’ ‘Donna nobis abdominalis!’” Imagine, my Vi pumping iron for Jesus!

This has been a real rebound year for us. Paul, thanks to the president’s recently declared war on obesity, has found a satisfying new career in the Calorie Police. His “Refrigerator Raids” are pretty exciting – last week he and his compadres kicked in our neighbor’s door and caught her flushing a German Chocolate Cake down the toilet. And sure, today she’s screaming about the suspension of the Bill of Rights, but next year she’ll thank him. Paul hopes to be commissioned to the cavalry within six months.

No word from Jimmy, of course. He’s been “underground” since the coup attempt in Carta Blanca. The poor kid – apparently the other mercenaries freedom fighters turned tail when the Generalissimo’s checks started bouncing. No wonder Jimmy didn’t get past the Palace marching band. Still, if he calls in we have a nice surprise for him – a Mr. Cheney called in October and is holding a job for him in the underground bunker at his Wyoming ranch.

Janie has developed an interest in hairstyling and is training as a beautician.  She uses us as her Guinea pigs, which has been an adventure. Especially when she realized, after giving us all “Poodle Perms,” that she’d ordered a pet grooming textbook by mistake. So, no family photo this year.

Our littlest scamp, “Spike,” spent the summer at pre-pre-pre-pre-Harvard Business School. Excerpts from her report card: “Hypercompetitiveness indicates aptitude for investment banking…” “… easily grasps concepts such as ‘takeover,’ ‘powerbroker,’ and ‘offshore banking.’” Pretty good for a one year old, huh?

That’s it for this year! As Felicity pants on page 647 when her parachute lines tangle and she plummets toward Yankee bayonets… but you can read it for yourselves.

Meg, Paul, and offspring

*C.O.D.

The Christmas Letters: Day 2

For the background on these Christmas letters, see here. Quick recap: Yes, these are actual fake Christmas letters that I once sent to family and friends. They’re a fictitious version of my life, featuring invented relatives and pets.

December 15

Season’s Greetings!

Has it really been a year? It seems only but weeks that budding flowers were springing forth in an orchestral symphony of springtime, and now the melancholy blue frost of cold, chill, cruel winter is nipping at our noses. But that’s the magic of Christmas! (My Adult Ed. creative writing class is really paying off, huh?)

What a year we’ve had! We took a delightful vacation to Barstow last summer to compete in the annual R.V. races. “Winnie” (our Winnebago) really kicked up her heels, and so did some chicken-hearted spectators when we inadvertently drove a few rows up into the stands. What a hoot!

Many of you know from our calls and visits that Paul and I have found our calling selling Amway products. It was intended – we feel the Lord’s hand on our shoulder whenever we make a sale. So don’t you dare turn us down when we knock on your door! I’m also doing important social work with the task force on pet etiquette. We teach our animal companions to eat daintily, employ discreet bathroom manners, and be properly introduced before mating. High time for such a program, too.

The kids are wonderful. Jimmy is enrolled at a top-notch survivalist camp. He got us a great discount on a bomb shelter, and it’s quite a treat. We were even featured in last month’s “Doomsday Gazette” (below the headline article, “Michael Jackson – Red Dupe?”) The pictures of us holed up for the nuclear winter – Paul painting by-the-numbers, the twins playing bumper pool, me at the Hammond organ – looked great.

Speaking of the press, Janie’s coverage in the media a few months back was way overblown. The firearms charges have in fact been dropped. Nobody at the prom was even winged. Can’t anyone take a joke nowadays? (The prom queen sure couldn’t – but then I’m too Christian to tell you what I think of a *lutty *itch who rigged the voting so she’d win instead of Janie and then dared to press charges over a little harmless gunplay.)

Violet is a blooming thespian. Her original one-girl show, “Great Women of History,” was a smash at Central High’s Theater Extravaganza. We cried such tears of pride that night! You can, too – for $6.95 we’ll send you a recording of Vi’s performance, which includes her portrayals of Elizabeth Taylor, Marie Antoinette (“Let zem eat cake!”), and the Virgin Mary (“Ave Maria”). Do I hear Hollywood calling?

Well, those are our family highlights. Have a happy holiday season. You are dear and special to us; we think of the ____________ family often.

Paul, Meg, and the gang

Merry, Merry

More Christmas music! Here’s “Come, Join in Praise.” Written by the Husband. Vocals: Dan Hiatt, Jane Maurer. Flute: Dave Tolegian. Keyboards: David Potter. Guitar: Paul Shreve.

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