Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dickens again. Bah Humbug?

Yes, it's that time of year again. The time we all eat and drink ourselves into oblivion and get merry and overspend and wear ourselves out with trying to make things "perfect" for the holidays. And it's the time of year for beloved but well-worn stories that warm our hearts and try to teach us a lesson. A-hem. Like Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol."

Do you remember the first time you saw or read this odd Christmas ghost tale?

I do. I was about five or six. . . Hallmark Hall of Fame productions put on a live staging of the play-- in black and white, of course-- on television. Ghost stories loomed big in my youthful mind; my elder sister had slumber parties where they competed to tell the awfulest, bloodiest tales. Yeah, I listened. I mean, who wouldn't? So I was scared witless of ghosts and things that go bump in the night. And suddenly ghosts were given legitimacy and immediacy on this scary TV show. I slept with the light on for two weeks afterward! And the guy who played Scrooge-- don't recall his name but he was a doozy. A Barrymore or Rathbone or somebody. Old and not pleasant-looking-- almost as scary as the ghosts. Needless to say, for years afterward I avoided all presentations of this story like the plague.

Then came George C. Scott and his version made all kinds of sense to a grown-up me. And I began to actually like the unique and thought-provoking story devoid of Christmas sop and treacle. (You see the way I got some British sounding words in there? I should be a writer!)

Anyway, the last version I loved came out last year-- animated, with Jim Carey as Scrooge. Terrific interpretation of this tale that gives a strong indication of the dream/nightmare quality of the visions the character sees. Nice interpretations of the "falling" sensation and other dream-time standards. Suggesting that the encounters are more dream than waking vision. A really nice adaptation. . . not, however, for young children. It's scary. As it should be.

So when I was asked to do a Christmas anthology for Harlequin and I and my co-contributors began talking. . . the topic of ghosts came up. . . I suggested angels instead. Angels trying to do some good in order to get their wings. Okay there's a little "It's a Beautiful Life" in there, too. And after some back and forth-- A Harlequin Christmas Carol was born!

Our three stories showcase the "past, present, future" aspect of Dickens's tale and mine is, of course, PAST.

Claire Halliday is stuck in the past. She is Yesterday's Bride: her betrothed died in a tragic accident one week before their Christmas nuptials. In the four years since, she has been plunged into mourning along with his family each holiday season. But this Christmas, sensible, sober, stuffy Cousin Ralph is arriving from India and the family oldsters drape the house with mistletoe. Claire is desperate to convince them that she wants no part of their matchmaking or of the life they are planning for her. But when Cousin Ralph arrives, he's nothing that Claire expects and she finds herself fighting a potent attraction, the meddling of the family oldsters, and the well-intentioned efforts of an apprentice angel bent on earning her wings. How can she resist a man with adventure in his eyes, the scent of spices in his skin, and a way of laughing that makes her toes curl with longing?

Okay, you see how I worked in that "past" thing? Well the other two writers, Jacquie D'Alessandro and Hope Tarr did similar things with "present" and "future." And voila-- a fabulous Christmas anthology! Lucky me, I've read the whole thing and I can tell you, you're going to love these stories. You'll get a chuckle, a sniffle, and maybe a thrill or a chill along the way.

Three angels help three unlucky young women find true love. . . at Christmas. . . what's not to love? And you'll get a dose of Christmas in merry old Victorian England. . . mummers, wassail, kissing balls, the obligatory "morning-without-servants breakfast," the candle-lit tree, Christmas games, Yule logs, Boxing Day, and family readings. It will put you in the mood for merry-making and romance!

So what's your favorite Christmas tradition? What do you look forward to most about Christmas? What was your most memorable and enjoyable Christmas? Are you a Christmas enthusiast or a modern-day Scrooge?


Cindy Gerard said...

What a lovely take on The Christmas Carol, Betina. I love what the three of you come up with and can't wait to buy it - maybe I'll put it in my OWN Christmas stocking :o)

The thing I look forward to most about Christmas are gathering of family and friends - oh, and the decorating. I have a Pipka Santa collection featuring only Santa with animals and each year when I get all those life-like statues out and place them on the mantel, I get all warm and squishy inside ... mostly because I can see the grandkids's faces as they study each figurine and all the details with such wonder in their eyes.
Geesh - I might have to get them out early this year!

Betina Krahn said...

The decorating is one of my favorites, too, Cindy. Though I confess, stringing the tree lights gets more annoying each year. I always have to go ouot and buy new ones. But when it's all done-- wow the house looks great.

I'm a sucker for little animal chotchkes. I bet I'd swoon over your collection!

And the kids faces. . . that's really the payoff. Delight is such an underrated motivator!

Helen Brenna said...

Oh, Betina, this anthology sound wonderful. I love The Christmas Carol story. We used to go to the Guthrie every year when the kids were little for the live version.

One of my favorite xmas traditions is a late night church service - love the quietness of that time of day, the softer songs.

We always make homemade egg rolls at Christmas, just the 4 of us, and that's got to be my all time fav tradition. I have this feeling we may be adding a 5th to the table this year! DDs boyfriend!

Leanne said...

Betina, I love this! It sounds wonderful. Love the angel slant and sober, stuffy Ralph who turns out to be so compelling. Wonderful, wonderful!:) I can be both enthusiast and Scrooge depending on if I feel I have too much to do. I should be off deadline this December, so I'm hoping for a more peaceful season. We play a Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme Christmas album when we decorate the tree. How hokey is that!:)

lois greiman said...

Beautiful cover, beautiful story, Betina.

Have you seen The Muppets Scrooge story with Michael Caine? Is that his name? Am I spelling that right? Anyway, it's wonderful.

Janga said...

Betina, I'm even more eager to read A Harlequin Christmas Carol after reading your post.

I love everything about Christmas from the solemnity of church services to the wildness of last-minute shopping. One of my favorite things is putting out the Christmas angels, who range from an atypical one-inch, green-robed, red-haired, grinning Irish angel to a quite typical three-foot, golden-haired angel with a star in her hand. Many of them belonged to my mother, and they seem to bring the added blessing of a touch of her presence to our celebrations.

Christmas books are another favorite part of the holiday. I reread old favorites and add new ones every year. In addition to Dickens's A Christmas Carol, two that I always reread are Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and an old Harlequin with nuns and orphans and an H/H who heal each other, Muriel Jensen's A Carol Christmas.

Christie Ridgway said...

I love that cover, Betina!

My most memorable Christmas was the first one with Son 1. His bday is December 22 and we brought him home on the 24th. Christmas Day came and we were unwrapping gifts (mostly for him) until nightfall.

We are a big Christmas family around here, despite having that Christmastime birthday boy.

catslady said...

Oh I just read about your book on Harlequin True Romance - sounds wonderful.

I started a tradition of having a tree trimming party every year. It started years ago when our favorite uncle had no where to go for the holidays and then we had two kids and my list of family and friends seems to grow. We have lots of food, drinks, laughter and I make a fancy dinner - fun is had by all. Now my daughter who married two years ago has one too!

KylieBrant said...

I love Christmas. Every tradition, the decorating, the music, the baking and family time. What I look forward to the most (after all of the above) are small boxes that might contain jewelry :)

Anonymous said...

My favorite rendition of A Christmas Carol was put on by my sister's fourth grade class (being only in sixth grade myself, I had permission from my teacher to watch it). It was fun to watch my sister's little friends say Dickens' lines, even though none of them could act. I am looking forward to your version of A Christmas Carol as well, especially with angels instead of ghosts (but it's hard to beat a high-pitched "Ebenezer Scrooge, awake!" from a fourth-grader).


Dina said...

well since my bday it almost Christmas, that's one of my fav reasons, lol. I love the music and lights, I love to get into the holiday mood as soon as I can. my most memoable Chritmases are with my daughter, now with my other daughter and grandkids.