Updated: Jan 24, 2022
New York Times bestselling authors to speak and sign new holiday releases
October 21, 2021
BY NANCY STETSON
Photo: Bill Miles
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING author Mary Kay Andrews most vehemently did not want to write a Christmas book.
She was on a writers’ retreat last fall with the four other founding members of Friends & Fiction, an online podcast they all host, and someone floated the idea of doing a Christmas book together, with everyone contributing a short story.
Ms. Andrews’ response bordered on being Grinch-like:
“I said, ‘Absolutely not! I’m not good at short stories.’”
Besides, she’d just handed in her book “The Newcomer,” which would be published in the summer, and knew she had to start working on her next novel, slated for the summer of 2022.
“So I nixed the idea, and they all said OK.”
So, no Christmas book.
But driving back to Atlanta, she got the idea for a title: “The Santa Suit.”
“Sometimes that’s how it works for me,” she explains. “It’s a throwback to my newspaper days. Lots of times I would write the headline to remind myself: This is what you’re writing about. So many times with my writing process for novels, the title comes first.”
What she wound up writing was a short novel about a woman named Ivy Perkins, who has just gone through a divorce. Wanting a change, she buys a farmhouse in North Carolina, sight unseen, and moves in a week before Christmas. The previous owners hadn’t cleaned out their belongings, and Ivy discovers a vintage red velvet Santa suit with a child’s note in the pocket, asking, “Please bring my Daddy home safe.”
Ivy learns the previous owners played Mr. and Mrs. Claus at children’s homes, a department store and the town Christmas parade for 40 years. And, their home’s Christmas decorations drew people from miles around.
“She sets out to find the answers (of who the little girl was),” Ms. Andrews says. “She finds herself gradually being embraced by the community and embracing the idea of Christmas. When she opens her heart, she finds all kinds of Christmas magic happens.”
She began the book last November, and told herself she had to have it finished by January.
“It took until February,” she admits.
She wrote it secretly; it wasn’t until she was halfway through that she told her agent. They then told her editor, who loved the idea.
Ms. Andrews has written two other Christmas books. “Blue Christmas” and “Christmas Bliss,” but this was the first standalone, she says.
“The girls in the attic are constantly surprising me,” she says, referring to the muses in her head. “They send down things I don’t expect, and sometimes I accept that gift and sometimes I turn my back on it.
“We’ve been through such a dark time these past 20 months or so, if I can write a story that puts a little light, a little joy, a sense of comfort (into people’s lives,) that would be a good thing to do. This year especially, my motto is: We need a little Christmas.”
But she also has another motto: Buy my book, dammit.
And people have.
Readers have embraced “The Santa Suit,” making it No. 10 on the New York Times Best Seller list.
“That was another lovely surprise,” she says. “I’m glad I listened to the girls upstairs and not to myself.”
Some people have shown up at previous events wearing Santa hats or sweaters, but it’s not mandatory, Ms. Andrews says. That said, she loves a good costume.
“If they want to dress up,” she says, “it’d be lovely — elf ears, Santa hats, ugly Christmas sweaters.”
Kristy Woodson Harvey was also working on a Christmas book, “Christmas in Peachtree Bluff,” to be released Oct. 26. It’s the fourth book in her Peachtree Bluff series, but can be read as a standalone, she says.
And it’s her first Christmas book.
She had the idea for it and pitched it to her publisher, who gave her the green light, then scheduled it for an October release.
“So get writing,” Ms. Harvey says.
Luckily, she found herself with the time to do so.
“I wasn’t having the holiday season I normally had — none of us were — no big family gatherings, no parades, no crowds on the sidewalk. So I sat down and wrote about the Christmas that I wished we were having.”
The book begins with Vivi, a 15-year-old, “in the midst of those teenage angst-y things. Her bad behavior winds up getting her grandmother, step-grandfather, and herself, stuck in Peachtree Bluff during what has been deemed the storm of the century. It is up to this trio of sisters, Caroline, Sloane and Emerson, to not only rescue their family but put Peachtree Bluff back together just in time for Christmas. There’s a storm, and everyone has a major issue they’re facing in their life.
“Put them in as much danger as possible and see what happens,” she says about her characters, laughing gleefully. “It was fun to write.”
She wanted to finish it by New Year’s Eve, but didn’t want to write during Christmas. So she powered through.
“I wanted all my decorations to be up, and I wanted to feel Christmasy while I was writing it,” she says.
She estimates she wrote 4,000 words a day.
“Four thousand words a day for 20 days, and that was the first draft,” she says, explaining that she’s typically a fast writer.
She’s not kidding — she released “Under the Southern Sky” in April, and after “Christmas in Peachtree Bluff” comes out this month, “The Wedding Veil” will be released in March 2022.
That’s a lot of writing.
“I wasn’t doing much else (because of the pandemic and canceled holiday events),” she says modestly.
“It’s definitely a book I wrote for my readers. I was getting so many requests for more Peachtree Bluff books, it almost reached fever pitch. It’d been two years after the last book (in that series) came out. I had the idea for the story; I knew I wanted to write it. I hope everybody loves it as much as I do.”
photo by Bud Photography
Patti Callahan’s holiday book, “Once Upon a Wardrobe,” was just released Oct. 19.
“It’s not a specific Christmas book,” she says, “though there is Christmas in it. It was very much inspired by ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ which is set in Narnia, a land where it is always winter and never Christmas — until it is.”
The novel takes place from October to Christmas.
“It does culminate at Christmastime, but it’s not necessarily solely a Christmas novel,” she says.
“It’s a story about how we reconcile the big question: Where do stories come from? The main character is a young boy, 8 years old, named George, who is obsessed with the brand new book that burst on the scene in October 1950: ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’”
Ms. Callahan’s book, “Once Upon a Wardrobe,” is being released 71 years to the month after the initial release of C.S. Lewis’s classic.
“George’s sister is a math and physics genius. He wants her to go and ask her professor where Narnia came from. She doesn’t want to; she thinks imagination is just for kids’ books. She does ask him, and adventures ensue.”
Ms. Callahan books work on various levels, examining themes and issues pertinent to our lives. This one, she says, is “about this ineffable question of where books come from. Sometimes we can point to certain events and moments in an author’s life, but on a whole, even though we can find some things, the big things are ineffable and unexplainable. It’s about how to reconcile imagination and logic, how we can live with a little bit of both. The answer is sometimes an and/both, not an either/or.”
Ms. Callahan’s previous book, “Surviving Savannah,” released in March, focuses on the 1838 sinking of the steamship Pulaski, often called the Titanic of the South, juxtaposed with a storyline set in the present. It examines, as she puts it, the question of “how do we survive the surviving?”
Previous to that, she wrote “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” about how Joy Davidson met and married Oxford professor C.S. Lewis, who penned “The Chronicles of Narnia.” While researching and writing that novel, she says, “I could see the breadcrumbs in C.S. Lewis’s life. I could see ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’
“Where do stories come from? How did a story like this grow in the world? How do we define it? Can it be defined? It’s interesting that some books enter our universal consciousness, and others just slip right by. Why is that?
“Imagination,” she declares, answering her own questions, “is a bit of magic.”
Ms. Andrews will be speaking and signing books in Florida along with Friends & Fiction NYT bestselling authors Patti Callahan and Kristy Woodson Harvey. Fellow Friends & Fiction host, NYT bestselling author Kristin Harmel, will moderate.
They’ll be at F.M. Don’s in Punta Gorda at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 25, as a Books and Brunch event held by Copperfish Books, and at the Sanibel Community House later that afternoon, from 5-7 p.m. at an event held by MacIntosh Books + Paper.