Writing Holi-Daze

- by Patricia McLinn

Fond memories, priceless mental snapshots of everyone together, yet tension simmering between some of those gathered, and, certainly, frustrations on my part with some of the most pig-headed, irritating and uncooperative scraps of humanity around.

My take on friends and family during the winter holidays heading toward us at ultrasonic speed?


A glimpse into an author spending holi-daze with her characters.

Talk about having to do everything. When it comes to fictional holidays, we dress the characters in their best (or not), decide on the venue, do every bit of decorating. And the meals? Let me tell you, there’s no such thing as potluck for authors. We cook it all up ourselves – and decide which serving dish to bring it in.

In one manuscript, I needed six kinds of cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner. I dug up recipes putting things in cranberry sauce that you wouldn’t believe.

I can’t begin to count how many glasses of New Year’s Eve champagne I’ve poured without a single sip myself. (Selfish, that’s what these characters are – selfish.)

Who picks out the presents, does the wrapping, ties the bows? The author, of course. Sometimes that leads to déjà vu when searching out presents for people who live beyond our heads. Or worse than déjà vu – deja didn’t.

Even a mother can be hard-pressed to understand if you say you forgot to get her gift because you’d mentally checked it off your list after buying (and wrapping) a lovely present for your hero’s mom.

I’ve spent many of the Big Three holidays with various sets of characters (and not a thank you note from a one of them!) But holidays with characters go way beyond Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah and New Year’s.

gradyA couple of holidays I frequently spend with my characters are the Fourth of July and Halloween. We authors do like our fireworks and – of course – pretending to be other people.

I’ve also spent Labor Day and Memorial Day with my characters. St. Patrick’s Day and Easter/Passover. Plus Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. How about Columbus Day? Veteran’s Day (coming up Wednesday – thank a veteran!)

And then there are the holidays I’ve made up. Town festivals devoted to lilacs, school events, rodeos, local history and more — all celebrations that show up on no calendar except the one in my head. (And, yes, I had to cook for those, too.)

Ah, calendars – one of the ways the real world can intrude on the fictional world.

You’re writing along, following a stormy relationship in a small town in Wisconsin, when suddenly it hits you. You add up the days since the most recent day-and-month reference in the manuscript. Uh-oh. Whip out a calendar, count the days again. Hoping, hoping you’re miscounting . . .
Nope. You just had the characters go through an action-packed week of plot- and relationship-driven scenes that followed nose-to-tail in perfect, compact order. Except that week included a Fourth of July weekend when not a soul in this town even mentioned a parade, cookout or fireworks.

Rewrite time.

Years ago, I was writing another Fourth of July celebration (told you I like fireworks) – this one in Washington, on the National Mall, where D.C. summer and a hundred-thousand plus bodies give a new meaning to steam.

At the insistence of my dog, I stumbled down the stairs and opened the back door to let him out and — Whoa – ice pellets, polar blasts, shuddering tree limbs. Yet until that moment, I had been broiling hot – and it wasn’t because I had the thermostat set high. (For most authors, royalties aren’t that flush that we indulge in luxuries like exorbitant heat bills.)

It was because I was spending the holiday with my characters.

Those six cranberry sauce recipes I mentioned? They gave me a major craving for the basic recipe (some water, some sugar, some heat, lots of cranberries.) In May. Got a very strange look from the produce guy at the grocery store when I asked for a bag of fresh cranberries.

Right now I’m writing a scene heading toward St. Patrick’s Day. Earlier, I opened my front door and blinked at the fall wreath hanging there. What happened to the shamrocks and green ribbon . . .? Oh. Wait. Right. It’s November on the real-world calendar. Not March. Oops.

So, next time you read a holiday scene, give a thought to the author who carved the Thanksgiving turkey in May, set off the fireworks and broiled those perfect Fourth of July steaks in February, and for some reason known only to the Writing Muse always celebrates fictional Christmases in July.


  1. Hi Pat,
    A nearby town celebrates Wisteria Day in the Spring with an art fair and everyone troops past the Guiness World Record largest flowering plant in the world! Tourists come in busses and the local population swells from 10,000 to over 20,000 for the day.

    Sort of inspires one to make up a holiday, doesn’t it?

  2. I love it, Phoebe. Guiness World Record — that’s impressive.

    My hometown has one of the largest collections of lilacs in the world. I grew up with the busloads of of tourists coming through, too. Asking if I was a native Lilac-ean (g). There’s a parade and all the attendant hoopla. I borrowed all of the lilac festival for my book WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR?

    I’m thinking I’d like to have one of those, uh, less mainstream festivals in a book. Like for garlic-mustard weed — that one could be in my backyard!


  3. Remember to thank a veteran (or active service member) today!

    Many thanks for your service to all military service members current and past.