Thursday, August 25, 2011

Making the Old New Again

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 in print and Kindle formats and at 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. 

LEAVE A COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED COPY.  I'll make a sequential list of the comments and use a random number generator to pick one.


  1. now this is just plain fun! i am continually amazed at the creativity out there.

  2. Rick, I'm enjoying your book so far and look forward to discovering where it goes! I'm going to hand it to my hubby's 11-year-old sister when I'm finished. :)

  3. First off, thanks to Davin, Michell, and Scott for letting me contribute this post. I've been following the Lab since it was just Davin's blog, and I really like the community of writers here. The posts and comments have enriched my writing and helped me to become a better writer and storyteller, and for that I thank you all.

    Tess- Thanks, it was a fun book to write, although it was frustrating, too. If I had hair to pull out, I would have!

    Michelle- I'm glad you're liking it so far, I can't wait until you get to the ending(s) of this story-within-a-story (within a story). And thanks for spreading the word and sharing it with your sister-in-law, I hope she likes it...

  4. Sounds like an interesting book and I had fun listening to how you thought through everything.

  5. Having read the book already, I can sincerely say how much I enjoyed it. I could imagine reading it to my nephew, and I know he would get a big kick out of it. It's also very heartwarming!

  6. Thanks S.P. It was fun trying to write this without making it a big spoiler-fest.

    Davin- Thanks for the kind words, I hope you do have the chance to read it with / to your nephew. It's been getting a positive response from kids and adults so far.

  7. This sounds like such a fun book, yet with enough details to chew on! This reminds me of the time when my sister and I were kids and would tell each other 'santa claus stories'..I think I need to buy this book for her for old times' sake..:)


  8. Lavanya,

    If you do get a copy and read it I really hope it lives up to the nostalgia!

  9. You're a brave soul to try to take such a well-known subject and make it fresh!
    Please put my name in the cyber hat to win a copy. :)

  10. Rick, that sounds like a sweet story. I love the creativity! Best of luck sending your baby out into the world!

  11. Lisa- There are over a thousand ways I could have screwed this story up. Thanks to some good critique partners and a lot of time in thought and revisions, and a healthy dose of inspiration from The Muse, I think I cleared the major hurdles. I hope you have the chance to read it!

    Carrie- Thanks! It's been a great experience so far. I have a relationship with the principal, librarian, and several teachers ay my kids' school, and donated a few copied to the school library today. I may get to do a reading for the school in November / December, that would be a lot of fun!

  12. The Random Number Generator has spoken:

    Carrie C, you are the winner of a signed copy of "The Man in the Cinder Clouds"!

    Thanks to everyone who commented, and Carrie if you send me an email with your mailing address at rjdaley101071 (at) gmail (dot) com I'll get your book in the mail.


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