Merry Christmas to Me

So, I’ve bought myself a leather biker jacket. I’ve wanted one for a while, and thought I deserved a Christmas treat. The company selling it had a 20% off sale, so I ordered it. I felt both exhilarated and guilty, the way I sometimes do when I shop. Guilty at spending money on myself. Exhilarated because once, when I was a sales rep for a publishing house, the author of one of my favourite books came to talk to us dressed in a biker jacket, jeans and Converse trainers. I’m sure she was wearing a top, but I clocked on the jacket and shoes. She had style and confidence and was the writer I wanted to be, back then. I felt a mixture of envy and enlightenment as I listened to her talk about her old family home falling apart after centuries, and how it hurt to see the land where it once stood. After my parents sold our house, I had recurring dreams about the sale falling through, and us being able to stay there. It’s funny. I have no desire to see my hometown ever again, but I still miss that house. Ordering from catalogues may be simple, but when it comes to ordering from the Universe, I like to complicate things.

I don’t know if it was a girl crush or her visiting was part of some universal plan to set me on the right path, but her short talk to a bunch of sales reps had a profound effect on me. Someone else mourned a dwelling as though it was a person. I felt a connection, like my thoughts were not crazy, but shared by another. And I really liked what she was wearing. I immediately bought a pair of Converse trainers. I’m now on my third pair.

As I waited for the jacket to arrive, I thought about all the Christmases I had growing up. We were a Christmas family. Birthdays were not celebrated. I can count on one hand the number of birthday cakes I’ve ever had. But Christmas celebrations were epic, with at least a dozen people at the house, excellent food that seemed to flow in a steady stream, and a warm home with a fantastic tree surrounded by carefully wrapped presents. It was easily the most wonderful time of the year.

As I got older, things changed. The focus on presents was around the grandchildren. Instead of wrapping gifts Christmas eve my dad and I went to my nephew’s hockey games. We stopped for coffee afterwards. When I got home I ended up in the kitchen as my mother prepared feast after feast. I was tasked with simple duties and looking back it seems I spent a lot of time crushing walnuts with a rolling pin. That can’t be right, but some things stick in the mind, and others don’t. For me, it’s walnuts. And clothing choices, I guess.

My jacket arrived on the morning of the 23rd, and as I pulled it from the box I knew it wasn’t right. It was too small, perhaps not in actual size but in how I wanted it to hang. The zippers were too big, too showy. Even as I pulled it on I knew it would be going back. Looking in the mirror, I felt like I was going to a Hallowe’en party, dressed as the Terminator. It wasn’t what I wanted, after all. Part of me was disappointed, part of me was pleased. Once it was returned my credit card would be paid in full again. This started me thinking. If I had ordered it when I first saw it, I would not have wasted so much time hankering after it. I could have ordered it, returned it, and moved on. I would have known sooner that I am not the leather biker jacket type. Since that day I’d listened to that author, things had changed. I was now a published author. I had done it my own way, mostly in a hoodie. The holidays are different now, too.

After my dad died, Christmas changed forever. I suggested going to Florida one year and we ended up at a gorgeous condo right on the water. We met great people. We didn’t exchange presents, and we didn’t have turkey. But a new tradition was born. Long walks on the beach, cold beer at an outdoor bar, shopping at factory outlets. I loved every second of our Florida holidays.

If I could order up a Christmas the way I ordered up a biker jacket, I’d ask for such different things. The stuffing my mother used to make, and her mashed potatoes. A trip to the rink to see my nephew play hockey. Coffee with my dad, sitting on a bench at my favourite condo in Florida, in flips flops, jean shorts and hoodie. It might not fit perfectly, but I know it would hang just right.

My First Attempt At Casting

The publisher who bought the audio rights to my novel sent me a questionnaire awhile back, asking if I had any ideas on who I wanted as a narrator.

I thought about it for a second, thinking how much I loved Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders, or Tom Hardy in, well, anything, when I realised I needed an American accent. And a male actor, if it is okay to say that. There are two female leads in my book, but the character who seems to resonate with most readers is the main male character, Hank. I may have made him up but I see him in my mind as clear as day. I know how he walks and talks. And I want good things for him. I love Hank, the way I love Tim Foley, a male character in a book called Gypsy Autumn that found a place in my fourteen-year-old heart and has stayed there ever since. The way I love Dominick Birdsey from Wally Lamb’s beautifully sad yet life affirming I Know This Much Is True. Mark Ruffalo played the part in the screen adaptation and was perfection. I love him too, and Michael Keaton and Colin Farrell and Tom Hiddleston. I told myself to be realistic, narrator-wise. But then I remembered something.

A friend told me a while back I had to start dreaming bigger. Thinking about Tom Hiddleston narrating your book is the big league of dreams, I think. So I gave myself a pat on the back and got back to work. I thought about Hank’s voice, his dignity, his quiet strength, while giving myself permission to imagine without constraint while running through a catalogue of shows and series I loved. Frasier is my all-time favourite, and while I think David Hyde Pierce can do anything, he seems so happy on Broadway I didn’t want to pull him away from that. My other favourite series is Criminal Minds, about a group of FBI profilers who solve crimes with intelligence and not force. If I thought there was an agent like Aaron Hotchner, Spencer Reid, Derek Morgan or David Rossi in real life, I’d pitch a tent on the lawns of Quantico. A squatter at FBI headquarters. That’s something I could see myself doing, if it was summer and my tent had a shower and bathroom.

By the time I was done Spielberg was directing the audio, Andre Rieu was playing the violin with his orchestra, and Tom Hanks was playing Hank. I was being interviewed by Anderson Cooper and I had so much money in the bank I went shopping at Louis Vuitton on a whim.

Imagination is a wonderful thing.

Truth be told, Hank’s voice and his character is based on a soldier I saw being interviewed who fought in Normandy and Bastogne. I would have asked my publisher if we could have had him, if it was possible. This would have been my dream – maybe not the biggest dream, but genuine. Much like Hank.

In the end my Australian publisher sent me some audio auditions and I chose a man who read beautifully and had a family connection to Normandy. I liked the symmetry of that.

Still I think about the soldier I saw interviewed, and I like to think he knows, wherever he is, about the role he played in my book. He does, at least in my imagination.