A Writer’s Holiday Playlist for 2015

Turmoil across the globe, political craziness here in the U.S.A.– 2015 hasn’t been conducive to maintaining a holiday spirit. We are having to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to ensure our positivity. It hasn’t been an easy year for getting in a festive mood.

I’ve thrown myself into holiday music to remedy the situation. Okay, I’ve also turned to less-than-stellar Hallmark Channel and ABC Family Christmas movies, but we all have our own private shame. No other time of year do I watch this type of television. Repetitive plots, disappointing anti-climactic finales, what’s not to draw a viewer whose only alternative is violence-heavy news media? As a writer, I have no excuse for watching them. As a viewer, I’m running low on cheery programming.

So, back to the music. I’ve made a list of holiday songs that are not the repetitive traditional versions. There may be a song or two you haven’t heard, but I think they are fitting considering the world climate.  Take note: If you are all about traditional Christmas music, some— or all— songs on this list might not be for you. I happen to enjoy traditional tunes with a gritty edge. Topped with attitude.

1. Please Come Home for Christmas– B.B. King.  So good. Realize, I’m easing you in.

2. Soul Cake by Sting. This version is live from Durham Cathedral in 2009. I prefer Sting singing this live, as he did during the Rockefellar Tree Lighting this year. Did you noticed he is looking more and more like the Most Interesting Man in the World. What do you think (see first video)? For better quality sound, listen here.

3. I Saw Three Ships by the cast of Les Miserables. Like the latter rendition of Soul Cake, this was from Broadway’s Carols for a Cure Vol. 16, 2014. Because sometimes you don’t want to give up your Broadway just because it’s December.

4. River– It is not the season until I hear this song. I’ve always been a sucker for the Robert Downey Jr. version stemming from my Ally McBeal days, but I saw this singsong rendition by Flyte on Facebook yesterday and it’s pretty awesome.

5. This one is just cheery- Twinkling Lights by Office Romance. Get your smile on.

6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Coldplay is a good way to put a twist on the traditional.  Okay, I know it’s not Frank or Judy, but we’re trying to switch things up!

7. Christmas in LA by The Killers. Bonus: Owen Wilson is in the video. Double bonus: Part of it is a cartoon.

8. The Killers make a new Christmas song every year for Product RED to bring awareness and help fight/cure AIDS and HIV in Africa. This deserves a second song. Here is A Great Big Sled featuring Toni Halliday. And because the refrain is awesome.

9. The New Year by Death Cab For Cutie. My husband’s favorite holiday song. Smile.

10. My new favorite: Christmas Lights by Coldplay. How did I not know this gem, released in 2012, existed? Love it.

When all else fails, pick your favorite genre to read or write and see if Pandora has a holiday channel for you. That’s how I discovered the Celtic Holidays Radio station– perfect listening music for my novel writing. Hey, it could have been worse. This could have been my top ten Hallmark holiday movie list.

A Writer’s Life Post-NaNo

After entrenching myself in writing for the whole of November, I haven’t written in December, besides this blog. Burnt out? You might ask. Slightly, but only from the pace that NaNoWriMo requires to achieve completion. In reality, I have been researching most of December.

No matter how much research an author does prior to writing, they will encounter areas of their work they didn’t anticipate having to learn more about. I am writing a historical fiction novel, so this is something I encountered quite often during NaNoWriMo, despite months of preparation.

My novel is set in Ireland in 1920, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Irish War for Independence, sometimes called the Anglo-Irish War. This is the war that broke Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, newly independent at the end of the war, and Northern Ireland, which remains under British rule to this day. If you encounter a person from this area, you may hear them refer to this controlled land as “The North of Ireland” depending on what side of the argument they are on. Hint: This means they still aren’t happy about being occupied.

In preparation for the intensiveness of NaNoWriMo, I spent August through October 31 constructing a three act structure outline of my novel and researching pre-war Ireland starting around 1900 from the political standpoint of both men and women. This is so I could understand the mentality leading into the war. I also researched the war itself. Reading non-fiction accounts of the time while concurrently listening to fictional novels on Audible ate up many months— the latter helpful in getting an idea of dialogue and phrasing, as well as the thoughts of everyday people. Phrasing I have a little knowledge about since my father was from Belfast, where my characters start out, and I visit family there frequently. However, modern phrasing is not necessarily the same as phrasing in 1920. Insights gained in well-researched fiction are often sparse in non-fiction books, and first person diaries and resources of that era are not readily available for me to read here in the U.S.. Looks like I’ll have to go on a research trip. Darn.

If you aren’t a historical fiction writer, you may ask why I’m researching non-fiction events for a fiction novel. Although most everyone in my book is fictional, as well as many of their experiences, they live in a time of turmoil and that effects what they do, where they go, etc.. A writer can’t ignore the significant occurrences surrounding their characters if they place them in an era of conflict. Especially a historical novelist. Lucky for us, we enjoy doing research.

My point is, starting NaNo, I was prepared. During NaNo, I discovered I have much more to research. Not as prepared as I thought. Knowing I couldn’t stop and read ten hours of research each time I came to a crossroad, and in order to move on with my story, I just marked area’s of my novel with annotations that tell me I need to get more information. I have since read author accounts of that speak of doing the same thing in their first drafts— reassuring to this writer completing her first novel.

An example from my novel looks like this: “Staying on the opposite side of the street from the monastery, I passed the enraged mob, scraping my palm against the brick building at my back. ((FML)) (Find out if there is a brick wall or building in that area.) Rounding the area of the armored car, I crept to the other side when a figure stepped from behind the vehicle into my path.” Please excuse the lack of editing in that passage, but you deserve an accurate look into what first drafts look like. ((FML))= Find More Later. Convenient that after countless times of writing this, I came to think of it as Fuck My Life. It made me smile in the midst of visions of upcoming research reaching unscalable proportions.

Why would I have to find out if there is a brick wall or building in the area of this monastery? My character is at an actual event that happened in Belfast, therefore it is possible that readers from that city will know the neighborhood. Well. Some things an author can fictionalize, but this neighborhood, including the houses and the monastery, still stand, so it is important to be true to the events and area when possible. Yes, tedious to some. Important to historical writers.

Writing at a rapid pace brings out a writer’s weaknesses in craft. This has lead me to spending December reading several books on the craft of writing. Currently, I am reading The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman and How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell before I write another word of my novel. This tells you how I feel about the quality of my NaNo writing.

I will be using these techniques with the remainder of my novel and then go back and edit the crap out of the part I’ve already written. I’ll edit it several more times before I feel it is even close to being ready to show to beta readers. Beta reader= Friend or colleague who agrees to read and critique your book before you show it to anyone “official.” Also see, guinea pig.

As far as content research goes, I am reading The Book of The Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer by Gearóid Ó Crualaich. This gives you a hint about some of the characterization in my novel. I have many more books of research to read/peruse in the coming months as I write, but the good news is that I will be able to stop and look up information as I write. No NaNo timeline to adhere to.

So there’s your peek into what a writer might be doing post NaNo. It also gives insight into what writers do when they aren’t writing.  This month, you can find this writer, sitting by the Christmas tree with a glass of delicious pinot noir, catching up on the books and magazines I didn’t have the luxury of getting to last month. Just don’t ask me how I’ll find time to do the Christmas shopping, holiday planning, and cookie baking.