Special thanks to Rick Daley for stopping by today! Rick is a long-time reader of the Literary Lab, and we're excited to host him today while he talks about his newly released book.
I recently published a book, THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS. It’s a story-within-a-story (within a story) and it tells the origins of Santa Claus and many of the most popular Christmas traditions.
The challenge in writing this book…wait, strike that…One of the many challenges in writing this book was finding a way to load it with Christmas clichés, but to do it in a way that made each cliché feel fresh and original.
So how do you make the same old clichés new again? Christmas trees, stockings, a fat guy with white hair and a red suit, his wife, flying reindeer, jingle bells, and lumps of coal…I needed to include them all, but I didn’t want it to be gratuitous. Everything had to make sense and come from the characters and the story.
I did a full 15 minutes of light research on the history of Santa, which basically consisted of reading about 5 articles in Wikipedia. I learned that many people have tried to trace a history of the Santa legend, but few have tried to make it a story, and of those, none really caught my interest. This was a good starting point, it gave me room to work and create something original.
The first thing I did was make the book timeless, but very old: a team of climatologists finds a book buried deep in the Arctic ice. This way I have the excuse of “Yes, but this book came first” if it is chronologically challenged. Also, I had an Elf write the book, giving it higher authority than a book written by a mere human.
But that was the easy part. Giving the clichés a feeling of verisimilitude in their origins meant that things had to happen for reasons and evolve, not just appear. (Although the reindeer do just appear, but I blame that on the dogs. If you read the book it will make sense…)
Sure Santa wears a red suit because red is his favorite color, but why is red his favorite color? That’s the issue I had to tackle. And to add to that, to give it more impact, he needed to lose something red so that when he receives his suit, it’s special because he’s getting his red back.
It’s no spoiler to say he meets the future Mrs. Claus and they fall in love, but how does their relationship grow? They need to go through a major event together that brings them close, not just meet and immediately fall in love.
And yes, you’ll probably deduce early on that there will be a lump of coal, but who gets it, why, and most importantly, what can that character do with it? There had to be multiple options, good and bad, to give the story a dramatic edge.
I think the elements came together well, and I credit that to long hours thinking about the story and a few lucky visits from The Muse. If you have the opportunity to read it, it’s available on Amazon.com in print and Kindle formats and at BarnesandNobel.com as a Nook book. Read it aloud to your 1st grader, let your 3rd-6th graders tackle it on their own, and if you’ve ever believed in Santa, read it for yourself so you can believe again.
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