Author Sally Smith O'Rourke is my guest today, ready to share her Christmas favourite things, memories and even recipes! There's a double giveaway of her Christmas novella, too. Enjoy the interview, read the giveaway details and ... good luck, everyone!
1. What do you like best and what the least of Christmas time?
Gatherings of friends and family most but I love the decorations. I decorate every room. Someone once said being in my house at Christmas is like stepping into Macy’s windows. I love the smell of a live tree and spicy, sweet smells of cookies baking.
There are two things about Christmas that I find difficult. Retail; in the ‘olden’ days stores would spend Thanksgiving decorating for Christmas so everything was festive the next day. Now that day is ‘Black Friday’ and people get hurt in the rush to buy stuff. Now, too the decorations go up before Halloween taking much of the fun and festiveness out of it. I prefer to celebrate one holiday at a time.
The most difficult for me is not having Mike, my late husband, to share it with. He loved all holidays. I love to cook and he loved to entertain so our house was always filled with food, friends and family during the holidays (and not the holidays). I hate that he is no longer here with me.
2. What are your favourite …
a. Christmas movie
b. Christmas book
A Christmas Carol – I have a collection of various editions of the book. My favorite film version is the one from 1952 with Alastair Sim
c. Christmas song
I don’t have a favorite song. I like all of the traditional ones. I am a bit partial to Mel Torme and Bob Well’s The Christmas Song and Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt.
d. Christmas decoration
I adore the Christmas tree and take a prodigeous deal of care decorating it. But I always have a crèche (nativity scene) on display. While I love the trappings of the season I like to be reminded why we celebrate it.
e. Christmas traditional dish/food
We have a traditional family cookie recipe which ranks as my favoite holiday food. Lebkuchen is a recipe that my great-great grandmother brought with her when they came to the United States in 1882 from Germany. It’s not like any other Lebkuchen recipe I’ve seen as it has no candied fruit. My grandmother’s theory as to why it was so different was because the family came from a part of Germany near the Danish board and there may be a touch of Danish in the recipe. But no one knows for sure; it is however, the way Christmas ought to smell, at least in our house. And seven generations later it still does. The recipe is on my blog if anyone wants to take a look.
3. When and how did you decide to write your novel/novella Christmas at Sea Pines Cottage?
Michael O’Rourke and I spent almost three decades together as friends, partners, soul mates, as well as husband and wife. Our life together was the ultimate collaboration, and out of that and our love came many projects, including The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, The Maidenstone Lighthouse and Christmas at Sea Pines Cottage.
Christmas at Sea Pines Cottage is a very special story and holds a singular place in my heart. Meteor’s Tale, as it was originally titled, was created not only out of our love for each other but also for the love of our grandson, Nicholas. Nicky wanted a “big” dog like a Golden Retriever, but his mom, Kelly, felt that since she would be doing the bulk of the care a smaller, more manageable pet would be better. So Nicky had to settle for a stuffed Golden Retriever and Jenna, a larger-sized Pomeranian. A very cute Pomeranian.
But out of Nicky’s desire for a big dog and my curiosity about the kind of man who would choose to maintain a lighthouse alone, came Meteor’s Tale. It’s the story of a loving family told through the eyes of the family’s pet Golden Retriever. Only Mike would have thought of an idea like that, to tell a dog’s story in the first person.
After we completed the original story, we discussed turning it into a Christmas story, an evergreen project, he called it. Unfortunately, I lost him before we were able to carry out the ideas we had to make it a holiday tale. Mike’s amazing talent and gifted writing were silenced in 2001. Like The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, I didn’t want this story to die with him. My publisher liked the story but wasn’t sure what to do with it so I told them about our Christmas idea, they liked that too and Meteor’s Tale became Christmas at Sea Pines Cottage.
4. How would you present it to our readers?
A Golden Retriever puppy named Meteor was bred to be a hunting dog. Unable to stand to a gun after a childish prank perpetrated by his breeder’s teenage son, Meteor is given, as a pet, to a reclusive war hero. While nursing his injuries…physical and mental, Robert has taken up residence at Sea Pines Cottage and is the keeper of the local lighthouse. Meteor, the Golden Retriever, tells the story of Robert’s bravery in saving a young woman floating on a plank in a storm. After putting her on a helicopter, Robet tries to forget her however, Laura comes back to Sea Pines Cottage in search of him to thank him for saving her life. A romance blossoms and they marry on Christmas Day. A year later a baby, Nicholas, is born on Chrtistmas day. Meteor tells the rest of the story.
5. What did you like the best while writing it?
Working with Mike on the original story was the best part, then turning it into the Christmas story we envisioned was fun as well, it was almost as if Mike was doing it with me.
6. Let’s go back to your Christmas. What’s one of your favourite memories from the past ?
Christmas 1987, Mike and I lived at Lake Tahoe with Mike’s daughter, Kelly. My sister, brother-in-law and their four children, my parents and grandmother celebrated Christmas on the 26th at our home overlooking the pristine lake and the snow covered Sierra Nevada Mountains. Since everyone had done the traditional dinners the night before, I did Irish stew, oyster stew (my dad and husband’s favorite), potato leek soup, salad and homemade bread. As a hobbiest baker there were more than enough cookies to go with coffee and tea. Presents were done the day before as well so it was what Christmas ought to be, family gathering, good food, good company. It was wonderful. Last year at his home, my nephew said it was his fondest childhood Christmas memory. A good time was had by all.
7. The best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
My parents believed that Christmas was a time for family and friends, cooking and relatively small gifts. Birthdays were meant to be special for us so big gifts were not under the tree. We would go shopping for gifts but that included buying something we would really like to have and give it to the US Marine Corp’s Toys for Tots. Mike and I continued that tradition. Don’t get me wrong, we exchanged presents but the big memorable gifts waited for our birthdays.
For example, one Christmas I got very nice winter clothes that included a water-proof jumpsuit, sweaters, gloves, hats; the whole nine yards. We lived in the mountains so it wasn’t unusual to get things like that, all useful winter wear. On my birthday 2 months later I got baby blue figure skates with fur trim to replace the used hockey skates I had for my skating lessons. The clothes were all for ice skating, I just didn’t know it unil my birthday.
The same thing happened a few years later when for Christmas I got a sewing basket filled with findings, a pair of tailor’s shears and pinking shears. My birthday gift two months later was a sewing machine, the same machine I still have and use today. So my most memorable gifts were actually for my birthday.
8. How will you celebrate the upcoming festivities?
I’ve lost most of my immediate family. My parents, sister and husband are all gone so I spend holidays with two of my sister’s children who live locally and their families. I’ll bake and make candy to add to the festivities. I’m considering a cheese cake this year.
A Golden Retriever puppy named Meteor was bred to be a hunting dog. Unable to stand to a gun after a childish prank perpetrated by his breeder’s teenage son, Meteor is given, as a pet, to a reclusive war hero. While nursing his injuries…physical and mental Robert has taken up residence at Sea Pines Cottage and is the keeper of the local lighthouse.
THE GIVEAWAY CONTEST
International readers can win 1 e-book copy of Christmas at Sea Pines Cottage, while US readers will be entered for 1 paperback copy. Leave your comment below this post, add your e-mail address, the country you are writing from. If you live in the US but prefer the e-book version, just say it in your comment. This contest will be closed on December 30th.
WATCH THE BOOK TRAILER
Christmas at Sea Pines Cottage
The big yellow school bus eased to a stop amid the squeal of air brakes. By the time the young boy jumped down from the bottommost step, the puppies were already at the gate jumping and yipping their collective greeting.The child unlatched the gate and as he stepped through was besieged by seven wiggly pups. He fell giggling to the ground as his face and neck were thoroughly licked and nuzzled.The sound of his name brought him to his feet with the puppies scurrying around him vying for a free hand to receive his pets.The older boy stood outside the gate. “Mom wants you to go in and rest or you won’t be able to go trick or treating tonight.”The small boy ruffled the ears of each of the seven puppies and then left, skipping alongside his brother.The older brother, with some distain said, “Just because dad breeds dogs doesn’t mean the puppies are yours.”Without responding, as young children are wont to do, he asked his big brother, “Are you taking me trick or treating or is mom?”Shaking his head at the unheeded warning he conceded, “I am. Mom thinks I’m too old, the only way she’d let me go was by my agreeing to take you. So Jimmy, Bobby and their pesky little brothers are coming over and we’re all going together.”Getting excited, “Are you going to dress up, too?”Grabbing his little brother up and pretending to carry him off, “Yeah, I’m going to be a pirate. Argh.”The little boy giggled with pleasure and expectation.Night fell and the only sound was the wind rustling the trees that surrounded the kennels.Snuggly warm in the embrace of his siblings, the young pup suddenly raised his head, his acute hearing discerning a sound other than the wind. He sniffed the air, his sensitive nose recognizing the older of the two boys who had visited them earlier in the day.The puppy got up and trotted to the gate in anticipation of a treat or ear rub. The other puppies roused by his movement followed. They waited at the gate sniffing the air and milling around the locked gate.Suddenly three human forms darted out of the darkness, causing the motion controlled lights to come on. As they ran past the puppies’ enclosure, one of them tossed something into the center of the yard.Expecting some tasty treat, the puppies rushed to where the object lay. One pup nudged the thing with his nose, in spite of the strange hissing noise it made and yelped when a small spark singed the fur of his muzzle. The other puppies stood back away from the thing as it continued to hiss and spark.The light at the end of it grew brighter as it started to spin in a circle. As the puppies drew farther away from it, the objectionable thing started exploding, one small explosion quickly followed another. The animals running helter, skelter to get away from the horrid noise and find safety; piling into the deepest corner of the kennel. After what seemed an interminable time the loud popping finally stopped.The puppies sensitive ears were still ringing when the three human boys rushed in through the gate and picked up the offending object.The boy the pup recognized said, “Gotta get this out of here. My dad will kill me if he finds out about this.”Another boy said as they locked the gate and walked away, “Yeah, but did you see they way they all scattered and whined?
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