Writing the chaotic dinner scene in An Untouchable Christmas, I channeled the Christmases from my childhood. Christmas was a big deal growing up, with my mother doing everything in her power—even when money was tight—to give everyone a “perfect” Christmas; occasionally going into debt to make everything just right. Stockings were filled with ginormous oranges, nuts, and chocolate. I remember doll clothes and Barbie dolls and my very own diary with a lock and key, because heaven knows what kind of saucy secrets a second grader has.
As an adult, I took after my mom, going a little crazy at Christmas. The rest of the year might be red beans and rice with a controlled budget, but Christmas, well Christmas meant pulling out all the stops and occasionally the credit cards. I had tub after plastic tub filled with Christmas decorations, lights, and music. The kids had more presents under the tree than that Dursley kid in the Harry Potter movies. And then I got divorced and my tubs of holiday cheer stayed behind while I moved back to Colorado where I grew up.
The first Christmas I pretended it wasn’t Christmas until the kids came home and we could celebrate together. By the second Christmas, I didn’t even want to pull out the tree I’d found on clearance. Money was tight, and unlike my mother before me, I didn’t have a magic wand to make a Christmas Spectacular out of crayons, glue sticks, and Dollar Store wrapping paper.
Enter our Christmas Fairy Godmother. My mother—the kids called her G—invited us to spend a week with her. I didn’t want to go. That’s the thing I remember, because I wasn’t in a holiday mood and I suppose I didn’t want the shadow of failure to follow me to my mother’s front door, but G insisted, so we went to visit her in Oklahoma. She made all our favorite foods and showered the kids with gifts. She watched the kids while she sent me off to get a pedicure. We went to kids movies and had the kind of Christmas I remember from childhood. It was literally the perfect Christmas because that’s what G excelled at providing.
When I wrote An Untouchable Christmas, I channeled that time in my life, because Sofia has gone from trauma and drama to normal, and she really doesn’t know how to handle normal any more than I knew how to handle Christmas on my own. Sofia is overwhelmed by Logan’s family taking over her kitchen, and the one thing that grounds her is making her grandmother’s cranberry sauce, which is really G’s recipe. Putting her recipe into my Christmas novella is like giving her a piece of immortality. She may be gone now, but every time I boil cranberries for her cranberry sauce, she is with me, helping me to make a perfect Christmas out of crayons, glue sticks, and last year’s wrapping paper.
In An Untouchable Christmas, Sofia’s holiday starts off marginally better than my sad-sack Christmas, until a mysterious phone call before dinner threatens her new security. One this is certain. This is one holiday she will never forget.
I hope you enjoy Sofia and Logan’s encore appearance as much as I enjoyed writing it.
What’s the one Christmas you can’t forget...for all the wrong reasons?
Memory is a tricky thing. Bad memories filter to the top while good memories settle to the bottom of a very deep well and we struggle to keep them alive. The key is to replace the bad memories with good—or drown the bad in that well, whichever works. I’m a violent sort, so I’ll be drowning those suckers. J
Christmases in our house growing up were always good, but that means I have only this vague recollection and warm, fuzzy feelings for the holiday. Well, all but one. The year I turned five, my father was recovering from a major car accident. Money was tight and we ultimately lost the house and Dad’s business to medical expenses.
That was the year someone adopted us. Just for Christmas presents that is. We were the little angels on a Giving Tree. The night before Christmas, a group of men brought what seemed like a truckload of presents for four kids and two adults. They deposited them under the empty tree just like Santa. I bounced on my toes in sheer joy at the mass of goodies. Too young to read, I didn’t know which presents were mine, but my older brother pointed out a ginormous and awkwardly wrapped present labeled “girl, aged 5.” It was bigger than me and taller than my teenage brother. It was mine, mine, mine!
As the men left to bring another load of goodies, I scooted closer to that funny shaped present. I may have poked the side and heard the wrapping crinkle. The finger may have—accidentally of course—punched through a spot in the wrapper. Come on, I was five. What would you do? I looked.
Inside was something soft, brown, and fuzzy. Fur! I couldn’t see the face, but I pictured a smiling bear face on this wonderfully massive gift. After the elves disappeared, Mom noticed a trail of white stuff all over the family room floor. Not just a few drops, but copious amounts of tiny white Styrofoam balls. Everywhere. She followed the trail to that awkwardly wrapped gift where, sure enough, a hole in the toe and wrapping caused it to bleed out all over the house.
She didn’t know I had seen and loved and coveted that fluffy, loveable, stuffed bear, because that would have meant admitting that I’d peeked. So she did what any mother would do. She waited until I went to bed.
Come Christmas morning, there was no awkwardly wrapped giant bear to unwrap. It had disappeared overnight. There were other presents under the tree for “girl, aged 5;” hats and gloves and girlie things, but what I remember most is that giant bear that could have been mine if he hadn’t leaked a trail of stuffing all over the family room floor.
That long ago Christmas may be why I’m a bit fanatical about making Christmas special for my kids. And why I wrote the not-quite-perfect Christmas story for Sofia and Logan. Don’t get me wrong, Logan’s trying to create good memories to drown out the bad of Sofia’s former life, so when the presentfest begins, Eli is in for a giant surprise:
With a squeal, Eli leaped from the table and ran for the tree. Wrapping paper flew as he shredded into the first present, a plastic dinosaur the size of a football. Holding her phone out, Sofia hunkered on the floor and snapped pictures. Dumbfounded by the wild activity, Logan perched on the floor against the sofa. Eli unwrapped several dinos before hitting the jackpot with a dinosaur sanctuary straight from the movies. The delight in his screams lit the house more than the Christmas lights. “Mom.”
“That one is all Logan.”
The boy’s eyes grew larger. “Thanks, Logan.”
“Couldn’t you find something bigger?” Sofia mocked.
“No.” He couldn’t take his eyes off Eli’s joyful face. “But I did try.”
“How long did you spend in the toy store?”
This time, he did turn to her. The teasing glint in her eyes and the lightness on her face hadn’t always been there. He’d done that, he thought, and it was a gold-medal moment. Making Sofia smile was his new goal in life. She deserved all the smiles she could get. “Blake and I might have spent two or three hours in the toy store,” he admitted. He pointed to Eli trying, and failing, to open the sanctuary box. “It was worth it.”
Christmas morning starts off perfect-ish in their house, but a mysterious phone call before dinner threatens more than their holiday celebrations. One thing is for certain. This holiday is one she’ll never forget.
What's your favorite Christmas movie?
“She couldn’t remember the last time she felt embarrassed, but porn in front of a seventy-four year old hitman would do it.” –Vicki Calvetti in Unforgettable
Memory plays a big part in Unforgettable. As much as Vicki tried, she couldn’t forget Blake, her once-upon-a-time boyfriend, but he’s not the only thing she’s tried to forget, and what she can’t remember could get them both killed. It’s too late for Vicki, but we can all use a little help remembering.
But not everything in life is meant to stick in our brains for the next fifty years. So what do you do when you want to forget?
5 tips to help you forget:
What's your favorite Memory Loss technique?
Do you lie?
Not to people. I mean, not intentionally, right? Just the small, comfortable lies that give those around you a soft place to land (wow, look at that haircut!).
No, I'm talking about big lies.
That's right. Do you lie to your workout app?
This came up over dinner with a group of ladies, some of whom admitted they lie to their app so they don't get the "it's been 37 days since your last workout" message. It started me thinking about the ways in which we lie about our exercise habits. For me, sometimes I lie to myself to get on the treadmill:
You only have to get on for 15 minutes.
And most of the time, after 15 minutes, I'm on for the duration. I just needed that soft place to land. That bailout point in case I really hate it as much as I hated the thought of it.
Over the summer and into the fall, I dealt with kidney stones, and because I avoided the doctor, it was much worse than it should have been. The upside of being that sick: I lost 20 pounds.
Now that I'm feeling better, I can feel the weight creeping back. So what's a girl to do?
No, lies won't cut it this time. So I'm going to try something new. People.
You see, it's easy to lie to an app, but people? That's harder, but then again, I was raised on guilt.
So, I'm looking for some accountability partners who are interested in working out together. Separately. Across time zones and countries. I'm not a workout guru and I'm not a doctor, so socialize with us at your own risk. And I mean that. Let's make it social. Everything's easier with the support of friends.
I'm posting this over on my reader group, and you're welcome to join us there. We'll post how we're doing, make it fun and social and we won't lie. Seriously.
Here's the deets:
We start easy:
Cardio (walk, run, bike, swim) a minimum 22 minutes a day 3 days a week
22 pushups a day, every day, which I do in honor of military veterans #22pushupchallenge
8 glasses of water a day (minimum)
Head on over to the Facebook group if you're interested. Or, you know, keep lying to the workout app.
Hemingway wrote standing in front of his typewriter. Twain and many others are famous for writing in bed. What’s with weird writing rituals? Is it like a baseball player never changing his winning socks? Or do we just feel more creative when we’re also a little eccentric?
For me, the rituals put my mind in the right space to write. And if I skip one—especially number 4—The word count suffers. So I’ve learned to respect the process, which for me is:
Those are the rituals I follow on a good writing day. Add caffeine, and I’m good for at least eight hours. :)
To know me for more than 5 minutes is to realize I hate mornings. There are many things I do not like, driving through Kansas in August for instance, but mornings and I have a hate-hate relationship. To borrow a line from the Grinch, hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-LOOOOAAAATTTTHHHHHH.
Last night I stayed up until 4:15 am. (Yes, I know, that's morning, but it feels different when you're staying up rather than waking up.) I was reprogramming the website (take a look around and tell me what you think) and I knew if I went to bed I would lose track of my thought process. It might be weeks before I got back to it. So, I stayed up until 4:15 and then crashed. That's actually a benefit. I'm an insomniac, so sleep often eludes me. If I stay up until all hours, then I crash for several straight hours. Which is where I was this morning at 9 when the neurotic dog started barking to wake me up.
If you have dogs, you know they have different barks that mean different things. He has the "there's a stranger at the door" bark, which is scary (like Cujo), and why anyone would stick around through that is beyond me. He also has the "hey, there's a friend outside" bark, which is insistent and excited. And then there's the "I need breakfast" bark. It's more polite than the others. One loud yip to say, "hey, remember me?" and then he gives me a few minutes. Yips again.
Mason the cat (also a night owl) opens one eye and gives me a look as if to say, "this is why we never should have gotten the dogs." He's been trying to convince me of that for years.
But I'm up now, so I pull on the fuzzy robe the kids got me for Christmas and head downstairs. His claws click-click-click on the kitchen tile as I scoop some kibble for Sky (aka the neurotic dog) and Nala (our rescue). While they eat, I pick out a mug (we have a collection) and brew my one cup a day.
God Bless the Keurig.
Seriously. We bought the Keurig as the family Christmas gift two years ago and it was worth every penny. In our house, we wake up at different hours so making a full pot of coffee is wasteful. Plus, I really only need one cup to survive the morning. Today, though, working off 4.5 hours sleep... I think I'll go make another cuppa and catch up on the news.
How about you? Coffee drinker? Tea? Night owl or early bird?
Dating when you have children is like having an overprotective older brother. A friend of mine had her son (aged 9) stare down a man at the pool for daring to look at his mom. I could see the writing on the wall with my son. He had a significant laundry list of “musts” for a potential step-dad.
The top three items on my son’s list were that the man play basketball, be independently wealthy, and have children, hopefully a boy my son’s age. My daughter’s list included the idea that a potential mate not have children.
As a consequence, when my kids were younger, I never let them know I was dating. They’d get a bonus trip to Parents Night Out, and think it was all for their enjoyment, so I could “sneak out” on a date.
The older they get, however, the harder it is to “sneak out.” Surprisingly, many men embrace the midday while-the-kids-are-in-school date because it’s low pressure. Equally surprising are how many times my children bought the lie that I was meeting friends for coffee. How much coffee do they think I drink?
But no matter how many times you meet for coffee or a late lunch, sooner or later you find yourself with the dreaded Saturday night date. Once you have kids, Saturday night requires some logistical maneuvers.
At 13 and 15, the kids are too old for Parents Night Out. They have to be fed, and possibly bribed to behave (pizza acts as both food and bribe). Plus there’s the fact that I haven’t told them I’m dating again.
My daughter figured things out pretty quickly, and her only concern was that I still have time for her. That’s an easy thing to promise. My son, however, was a different challenge. He’s protective in the extreme and has been known to get abrasive and verbally abusive to boys who get too close to my daughter (a habit I may or may not encourage). What would he think about me dating?
“So,” I say across the kitchen as I put away the dishes. “I have a date tonight.”
The third degree begins: what does he do, how many kids does he have, does he have pets, how did we meet. This inquisition continues long after the dishes are put away and the dishwasher reloaded. I answer them all and lean against the counter facing my son.
“That’s fine,” he finally says, “as long as he treats you right.”
Aw, how can I not love this kid? But before I get too happy, my son wags his finger at me. “But I get to meet him after three dates.”
I smile and think to myself, not going to happen. My friend Dan’s rule is that he has to be in a monogamous relationship for six months before he introduces a love interest to his daughter. I’m not sure I’d go with six months, but three dates is too soon. I’m sure there’s a happy middle ground.
I like the idea that we’re fated to be with certain people in our lives, so here’s a list of my top 5 romance movies where the characters try to fight fate (and fail).
You can fight the good fight with many things in life, but fate isn’t one of them. Blake and Vicki in Unforgettable might just be fated, but they’re both trying hard to fight the chemistry, history, and the way their lives continue to intersect.
There’s only so long that denial works, and Vicki isn’t exactly one for denying herself the pleasure of Blake’s company, but even if they accept their fate, they still have a mob boss, a hit man, and the Department of Justice to handle.
What's your favorite Rom Com? Let me know in the comments
Do you like fast-paced books with twists and turns? Me too, that’s why I write romantic suspense. The faster my heart pounds as I’m writing, the easier it is to sleep at night. When I take a break from writing, I like to watch movies with unexpected endings.
As a kid, I watched AMC with old movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, a movie that started me on this twisted path. I know Hitchcock’s Psycho is considered #1, but Rear Window captivated me. I liked the unlikely voyeur.
A hazard of writing suspense is the need to pick a movie apart and figure out the end before I get there. It drives my kids crazy. When a movie surprises me, it’s a keeper. I tend to go for the less obvious choices, because no fan of suspense likes predictability.
1) Seven (1995) with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. My mother was a fan of the psychological thriller and often recommended serial killer movies. She liked the twisted as well. :) “The price of sin is death.” With a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as his excuse to kill, Pitt and Freeman are out to find the killer before he finishes all seven. It’s the classic detective story. With a lovely twist.
2) A Perfect Murder (1998) with Michael Douglas and Gweneth Paltrow. It’s a remake of the classic Dial M for Murder, which was one of those movies I watched on AMC, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying every moment of this exciting thriller. “That’s not happiness to see me, is it?”
3) Shutter Island (2010) with Leonardo DiCaprio. It was one of the last movies my mom recommended to me. Honestly, I had to watch the movie twice. The first time to experience (talk about a rush) and the second time to really understand. “Do you understand? They can’t let you leave.”
4) Dead Again (1991) with Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, and a surprise visit from Robin Williams who acts as the odd expert in reincarnation. “You burn somebody in one life, they get a chance to burn you back in this one. It’s the karmic credit plan.” It’s a romantic suspense twisted in time.
5) The Secret Window (2004) with Johnny Depp. It doesn’t hurt that it’s Johnny Depp, but it’s the twist that blew me away. Let’s just say I didn’t ruin it for the kids because I had no idea. “The only thing that matters is the ending.”
I’m a simple girl. I like romance... with a twist. And the occasional dead body.
Funny story. During the Mercury Retrograde Incident in September 2016, Cindy's original blog disappeared. Five years, gone in a random act of chaos. Now she gets to repopulate her blog world one post at a time. Join her if you dare. :)