Second in a series on why I wrote, “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”
It seems like Christmasstories are usually set in other times or places than where we live.
I wanted to write a book where the magic was in my front yard, among my neighbors, at my church.
“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” is a book of 12 family Christmas stories set in a Cincinnati neighborhood. Some of them happened. The rest of them could have happened. A few of them may even have happened to my own family!
More than any other gift, we all need to feel the nearness and goodness of God. Everything we pour our time into in December – buying gifts, decorating, cooking, performing in concerts and plays, reading the old stories to our children – it’s all in the effort to give each other love and delight, to affirm that life is worth living and there is a good Creator in the midst of it.
We, as much as the characters in these stories, need to be reminded of these truths. Some are worn down from the exhaustion of trying to build a life out of poverty. Some are overwhelmed with the hard work of parenting. Some are broken by addiction, disability or someone else’s cruelty. All of them are ready for God to show up.
And God does show up, in many unexpected ways, right in the middle of everyday life. “Christmas on Pleasant Hill” shines a light on those moments, right where we live.
“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” is available from Amazon.
(First in a series about my book of Christmas short stories.)
Sometimes a setting just calls out to an author. “There are books and books here,” it says, “In the gingerbread houses, in the quiet woods, in the old stone churches and the grimy, crumbling apartments.”
The neighborhood of College Hill, about six miles north of downtown Cincinnati, used to be called “Pleasant Hill,” back in the 1800s, before the Farmers’ College sprawled over the hilltop with its fields and parklands and the Ladies’ College sat prettily on the main access road.
Back then it was a pleasant, country town where people of means could escape the grime and coal pollution of the city; hence all the lovely Victorians lining Belmont and Glenview.
Much of its beauty remains: the grand houses, the towering trees, the nature trails winding through La Boiteaux and Tanglewood Preserves. But – the other stark reality is that now, many of its people live in poverty. When great beauty lives alongside great need, there is a fairytale in the making. Happy ending or not, depends on the choices people make.
“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” is a book of Christmas short stories in which dreams come true and wrongs are righted. A little boy escapes his gated mansion to help a neighbor who needs Christmas presents. The shattered life of an addict pulls together when she inherits a mansion. A young music minister overcomes political, financial and talent hurdles to pull off the best Christmas concert ever.
Setting doesn’t make a book, but it’s much more fun to write it when your setting is a familiar, well-loved place.
“Christmas on Pleasant Hill” is available on Amazon. Reviews greatly appreciated!
I tend to look back and have some insight into why I chose to write a book. In the drafting phase, though, I’m far less aware, less conscious. People, situations and issues just show up in my imagination.
They’re kind of irresistible – beckoning me like an open door to a walled garden.
The other nine reasons I wrote this book are all good reasons, but I don’t think many novelists just crank out books for logical reasons.
There are many logical reasons not to write a novel – they take a super long time, they’re hard to get published and even with healthy sales, you wouldn’t want to calculate your hourly pay. Probably about as much as someone who knit a scarf getting eight bucks for it at a craft show.
We kind of do it for love – we knitters and novelists and artists of all kinds. Many of us feel like that’s what we were made to do and that’s the gift we can give people.
To have someone enjoy it – that’s compensation too.
She was a Christian who read her Bible all the time. She was also mean, judgemental, self-righteous, prim, petty and vindictive – basically the antithesis of how Jesus acted. You just don’t often see a sane, appealing Christian character who can speak in whole sentences on mainstream media produced this century.
Often people who follow Jesus are depicted as villains or fools, on screen and in contemporary books.
I just finished writing a novel, “Someone They Can Trust,” that depicts real people who say they’re following Jesus, and almost all of them are really following Jesus. They’re likable, authentic and say amusing things. They show how a relationship with God is fleshed out in real situations.
I’m not saying there aren’t some ignorant and hateful people who say they’re Christians. I just know from experience that there are many mature and loving people in our churches. That’s important for everyone to know. That’s why I wrote this book.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a public health problem of staggering proportions, and a personal tragedy for a good chunk of our population. (Around six million people have it in the United States.)
Even if we weren’t dealing with a pandemic, increasing poverty, unemployment, and a childcare crisis – the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is a loud call to band together and live more communally. Dementia can wreck a family. It’s that hard to deal with.
There is a character in my manuscript, “Someone They Can Trust” who has Alzheimer’s, and the story shows how a loving community can make life livable for the victims of the disease and for their caregivers.
One of three protagonists in the book is the main caregiver for her beloved Grandmother, who is found to have Alzheimer’s early in the story.
The character’s journey is not only about a descent from a devout and useful life; it’s a story about life going on and being full of graceful, sweet moments even in the midst of the disease. Those are what we can learn to create for each other.
God is obviously a good designer, as the varied gorgeousness of Earth testifies.
I’m assuming God also likes good art to be part of our worship gatherings, since his instructions to the Hebrews for building their first temple were specific to the last detail and He had artisans in mind to do the work.
In my latest manuscript, “Someone They Can Trust”, one of the main characters is an artist, and her love for God is both inspired by beauty, and returned with skillful, beautiful painting.
Another character is a worship minister who uses the arts to the best of his ability in planning powerful worship experiences. He also uses the arts as a way of reaching out to the community with invitations to a fabulous gathering, based on something I saw Charlie and Ruth Jones do in Greensboro, N.C. a few years ago. (https://www.joyfulcommunity.com/grub)
Every month they opened their downtown home to 20 to 30 people for a wonderful meal, followed by an open stage for local artists.. I had never seen a more diverse group of people enjoying themselves together more.
My theater company, “Friends of the Groom” joined them, performed some sketches, and were delighted and renewed by the great food, spoken word and music.
Good art and hospitality are a powerful combination. I wanted to show how they build strong community. That’s why I wrote this book.
Sometimes you get so attached to characters that you just can’t confine them to one book. Two of the three protagonists in “Someone They Can Trust”, my latest novel manuscript, first showed up in short stories in my collection, “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”.
Matt was a funny, talented, self- deprecating music minister who pulled off a bizarre but successful Christmas concert in, “The Best Christmas Concert Ever”. Janice was an attractive woman recovering from a wrenching divorce, the departure of her grown children, and a difficult mother needing care in “The Painting”. I just had to see what was going to happen next for these people I liked so much! The third lead character in the novel, Maya, has not appeared in any other book, but has lived in my head for a few decades. I have no idea where she came from!
All three of them are my favorites. That’s why I wrote this book.
I have a love-hate relationship with my neighborhood, which is also the setting for my new novel. We moved here to be near downtown, be near our church, and be present in an urban neighborhood that was struggling. We figured that at the very least, we could help by paying city taxes and keeping up a pretty old house.
The neighborhood is multi-racial and has housing stock ranging from crumbling little apartments to premier mansions. I love its huge trees, surrounding woods, elegant architecture and the outstanding kindness of many of its residents. I hate the poverty, the garbage on the streets, the emptiness in the eyes of young people hanging out on corners.
The novel I just finished, “Someone They Can Trust” is set in this neighborhood, with characters attending a church there that is grappling with the brokenness of the community. It’s good to know that God shows up and does wonderful things even in tough places. That’s why I wrote this book.
In the novel I just finished, “Someone They Can Trust”, black people and white people go to church together, pray together and study the Bible together.
This shouldn’t be a big deal, given that the Bible presents a vision of God’s kingdom welcoming every single people group, but the U.S.A. has an abysmal record regarding racial equity, and our churches are mostly segregated.
The black church has been a place of refuge and safety for generations of African Americans, so it’s understandable if they want their churches to stay segregated.
There are many reasons why white churches are segregated – they may reflect the reality of all-white surroundings, they may not know how to go about being welcoming to people of color even if they want to, or they may contain outright racists. Or all of the above.
Despite these wrenching realities, the bigger reality is that God’s Spirit of love is always working to break down barriers of race, class, age, belief and education. This novel shows a church allowing that to happen. We need to be able to replicate churches that are safe for people of color, which are also attended by white people. That’s why I wrote this book.
The novel I recently finished, “Someone They Can Trust”, takes place in a church a lot like mine, in a neighborhood a lot like mine. Because the setting will be familiar to some readers, I want to make one thing really clear – the abusive pastor in this novel is radically different from any pastor I have ever had in any church I’ve ever been to. I have only ever known pastors who are kind, decent, respectful and morally above reproach.
So if anyone reads an excerpt and recognizes my setting, please don’t think I’m talking about any of its pastors!
The fictional pastor in the book, is a compilation character who emerged from several alarming stories I heard from friends. Unfortunately these kinds of stories keep emerging in national media, and holding abusive leaders accountable doesn’t seem to be a strong suit for our churches. If we can’t discipline our leaders in a biblical way, we have a problem on our hands – that’s why I wrote this book.