Keeping Christmas, Henry Van Dyke

Whether you celebrate this holiday…Whether you spend it working, or alone, with new friends or difficult family…Whether you have enough to eat, whether there are toys or trees, joy or disappointment…Whether you dread the traffic, the budgeting, the small talk…Whether you explode down the stairs in joyful anticipation…

…there is a book for you. In your stocking, at the library, online…somewhere, there is a book written just for you. No. There are a thousand books written just for you, with a hundred more written every year. Whatever you lack, whatever you wish for, whatever problems you can’t solve, there is a book, waiting.

And if Christmas is anything, it is the finding, the loving, the learning, and the letting go of all those beautiful books meant for you. You will find your stories of wonder, of searching, of tragedy and redemption.You will find your heroes, and you will be them. You will find your villains, and you may be them too. You will never be too far gone to find your way back to your books though, because they will offer endlessly forgiveness, and strength, and hope.

We are all welcome beloved seekers of the next great story.


Keeping Christmas

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day,
and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing…
to forget what you have done for other people,
and to remember what other people have done for you;

to ignore what the world owes you,
and to think what you owe the world;

to put your rights in the background,
and your duties in the middle distance,
and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground;

to see that men and women are just as real as you are,
and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;

to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason
for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life,
but what you are going to give to life;

to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe,
and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds
of happiness—

Are you willing to do these things even for a day?
Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider
the needs and desires of little children;

to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old;

to stop asking how much your friends love you,
and ask yourself whether you love them enough;

to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts;

to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you
really want, without waiting for them to tell you;

to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings
with the gate open—

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day?
Then you can keep Christmas.

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—
stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—
and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago
is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love?

Then you can keep Christmas.

Self-promotion Thursday

Alright folks! Only one week until Christmas, and I know some of you haven’t finished shopping yet. And for those of you who have “finished” shopping, are you really sure you’ve bought your loved ones enough books this year? Books are a gift that keeps on giving long after the paper and boxes are ripped apart, and quite frankly, I try to buy at least two for every person on my list. The trick is making sure my brother opens his books last, because once he has them, he completely ignores the rest of us until brunch.

Personally, I had two books out this year that I’m very proud of. I’ll share about each of them below, but first, I want to offer all the authors out there the chance to promote yourselves in the comments today. If you’ve written a book and it’s available for purchase, please feel free to let other readers know about. I get so many requests from people who would like me to review their books, and unfortunately, I just don’t have enough hours in the day to do so. That being said, every time I see one of those emails, I’m proud to know that writers are getting the word out about their own work. It’s a tough part of the job (certainly not my favorite), but if we don’t toot our own horns, chances are, no one else will do it for us. (Unless you’ve hit it big. Or you’re about to hit it big. In that case, congratulations! Kirkus or the New York Times will probably do the work for you! For the rest of us though…) If you would like to share your book, please be sure to include information on how readers can purchase it and a brief description of the work.


Circ, the first Ten To One novel, is written by Simon Fairbanks, Maria Mankin, Yasmin Ali, Jason Holloway, Livia Akstein Vioto, Luke Beddow, Danielle Rose Bentley, William Thirsk-Gaskill, Sue Barsby and Giselle Thompson.

Razvan Popescu lives in a flat overlooking the seaside town of Skegness. He keeps himself to himself and few know the man at all. Even fewer know his past, which he has tried to leave behind in the Romanian woods.

But when a tattooed man is found murdered on the beach, it is clear that some of that past has followed him to this tacky seaside town. As battle erupts within the criminal fraternity, dark forces gather around the town and Popescu’s acquaintances find themselves dragged into a world of violence, fire and fairy tales.

One thing is certain: the circus has come to town.

The premise of the project was that as a group we would produce eleven chapters, each of us writing a section of each from the perspective of a single character. The catch is that after a chapter was written, we would post them on Facebook, and the audience (and a panel of judges) would vote. The character with the fewest votes (combined with the lowest judges score) was eliminated after each round (hence the name “Ten to One”). I came in second, and with my friend Simon, had the privilege of bringing the book to its conclusion.

My character, Nell, is a young widow trying to escape her past who has recently moved to Skegness (a small, dingy seaside town in England) from Virginia to live with her aunt and waitress at a chip shop. She’s an amateur boxer and a former EMT who has gotten mixed up with murder and mayhem through the thugs running her gym (and an illegal fight club), and while her situation is getting messier, the lives of those around her, including her only real friends in town – a sword swallower and a dangerous mafia wannabe – are falling apart.

We spent almost two years bringing this book to life, and I am smitten with how it turned out. There were some dark times during editing, but the end result is a thrilling adventure that turns the disparate talents of ten writers into something special. If you’d like to buy it in paperback or on kindle, it’s available on Amazon.


The Shakespeare Reader and Other Christmas Tales, by Maren C. Tirabassi, edited by yours truly, is a much more holiday-friendly book. Although I didn’t write this one, I spent so many (so. many.) hours working on it that I feel comfortable sharing it here and encouraging any of you who love Shakespeare, or Christmas, or short stories about Shakespearean Christmas adaptations to check it out.

“The Shakespeare Reader and Other Christmas Tales” is a romp through Shakespeare with holiday settings, but don’t expect to guess how the three stories end.

“The Dark Ride” follows the wife of a retired high school English teacher who tries to make a go of a Shakespeare-themed amusement park in rural New Hampshire. “Enter Friar, Stage Left” is a contemporary re-telling of Romeo and Juliet from the clergy perspective. “The Shakespeare Reader” introduces Ben, who fancies himself a sleuth based on how he recognizes the Shakespearean plots underlying the comings and goings of his Harvard Square neighbors.

This is Tirabassi’s eighteenth book, and it plays to many of her strengths. It combines her warm family friendly sense of humor, her expertise on all things Shakespeare, and her gift for turning a short story into the best way to spend a snowy afternoon by the fire. If you’d like to buy it in paperback or on kindle, it’s available on Amazon.


Now it’s your turn. I know I still have a few people to shop for, and I very much hope to get some ideas from all of you…


Girl on a Wire, Gwenda Bond

Normally I don’t get very much reading done in November, but I spent most of the month squeezing chapters of this book into my crazy schedule. I even allowed myself to read it before bed, and while I know many of you are probably avid pre-bed book lovers, I never read then. I’m not one of those people who likes to read until they fall asleep, mainly because I have never in my life fallen asleep reading. I didn’t even fall asleep reading in college when I was doing way too much on way too little sleep. It just doesn’t happen for me. My husband actually tried reading to me from a financial document he was looking over in bed the other night, and after he was done (and out like a light), I was completely wired.

Words do not relax me. Books are much too thrilling. Admittedly, I have the same problem with watching tv or movies. Some of my friends will nap with the television on (or even in the theatre!), but I can’t do it. No matter how tired or sick I might be, stories are exciting, and my brain will not allow me to miss a beat. Let me reassure you, Girl on a Wire did not put me to sleep. Not even a little bit. Every night I had to force myself to turn off the light and put away my kindle. Then I would lay in bed thinking about the story and the characters and how long it would take me to finish if I just kept reading through the night…

It was a vicious cycle. I only allowed it to continue because I didn’t have any other time to read, and Bond’s story was just that good. I’ve never been a huge fan of the traditional circus, but I absolutely love Cirque du Soleil and Cavalia (if you’re not aware, Cavalia is a beautiful horse show; I share their philosophy on training below because I generally do not approve of animals being forced to perform, but it truly was obvious during the show that the trainers adored their horses and treated them gently with love and respect). Bond manages to capture the purest, most exciting parts of those shows in her novel.

I was completely captivated by the young protagonist, a wire walker names Jules, and her antagonist/love interest Remy, a trapeze artist. They both come from old circus families with a sordid rivalry between them (the novel is based very loosely on Romeo and Juliet). The reader travels with them through one season of the circus, and I found myself desperately wishing to see their tricks for myself. Bond creates such an authentic experience of their lifestyle that I both wanted to reach the end of the story but also longed to continue living in their calloused, sparkling, death-defying world just a little longer.

The novel itself is a mystery, an untangling of old hurts on a backdrop of mind-boggling artistic and athletic feats.  For me though, the most satisfying part was not the resolution of that mystery, but the world in which such a story could even exist. The stakes are inevitably high right from the start because each of her performers must constantly push the boundaries of safety and sanity in order to succeed. Even without subterfuge and regrets, every act holds the possibility of disaster, and Bond plays with that tension beautifully. She doesn’t have to overstate the obvious – that this could all end very sadly indeed – because it’s there already in each sharp intake of breath as we watch her balancing act unfold.


For more about Gwenda Bond, head here.


From Cavalia’s productions have made an indelible mark on the world of live entertainment with their one-of-a-kind homage to the age-old bond between human and horse. Our equine performers are the heart and soul of every Cavalia show. We are committed to nurturing them and prioritizing their comfort and well-being. The Cavalia approach is based on training methods designed to ensure the horses enjoy training with us and performing on stage. Trainers pay close attention to the horses to ensure that every request is adapted and respectful of what they are ready to offer. Our philosophy is rooted in patience, trust and deep-seated respect. This genuine sense of caring and authenticity is inevitably what resonates with our audiences.

Letters from the Way: A Walking Journey Arles, France to La Reina, Spain, Barbara V Anderson

It’s been a while since I’ve come across a book that perfectly filled a spot in my soul that I didn’t even know I needed filled until I read it. I was at a Christmas faire at the beginning of November selling books with my friend Steve. He had just received his copy of Letters (he had contributed a piece to the conclusion), and I was marveling at the beautiful job Anderson’s publisher had done with the book’s endpapers (I might have been drooling over them, in fact). The whole book is peppered with Anderson’s incredible photography of France and Spain, but those endpapers…I was smitten. I absolutely had to read the book. It was too lovely to pass up.

Sometimes beautiful books disappoint. So much work goes into the design, but the content doesn’t live up to the reader’s overly high expectations. Not the case here. No. I planned to savor Anderson’s book, a collection of letters she wrote home to friends during her unconventional pilgrimage. It seemed like too dense a topic to burn through, but once I began, I couldn’t stop. I found myself desperate to be transported to the wet cold forests of France, to the hot rocky roads of Spain, to the lush mountain sides, and even to the awkward, perfect, exhausting dinners with strangers (dinners I couldn’t even eat, I should mention, given that I’m lactose intolerant and cannot have red meat or pork!). Her “long walks,” as she thinks of them, are far from perfect. Bad weather, obnoxious walking buddies (for miles and miles and miles), excruciating injuries – she’s plagued with all of them – yet my desire to join her adventure never faltered.

She was searching, in part, for some proof that God exists. Most pilgrims believe in a higher power before they set out; Anderson does not. My impression was of a sensibility both artistic and scientific in nature – something along the lines of Da Vinci or Tim Jenison (if you haven’t watched Tim’s Vermeer, you’re missing out) – a desire to seek and believe in extraordinary things from a mind firmly rooted in tangible reality. At the same time, her appeal is largely in how relatable she is in these letters written from the road She is an ordinary woman pursuing something exceptional.

The result is a book I cherished. I took it with me all day, reading it in the car in the parking lot of a friend’s apartment, then while waiting to pick up my dry-cleaning. I reread some of the letters later in the week and only grudgingly returned Steve’s copy to him after I’d kept it three weeks longer than promised. Reading about Anderson’s journey was a perfect escape from Christmas shopping, from the return of an ant infestation, from the daunting list of things that must be done before we leave for an early and extended trip for the holidays. Hers was Europe the way I imagined it when I was small – the slow-paced day, the café au lait at dawn and the wine at night, and the people both strange and civilized. Her world, for those weeks, was one I had imagined well before and was delighted to see, for a moment, come to life.