Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Recent posts on holiday lights brings to mind an item I read in the newspaper. At that time, I found the column amusing, but now I'm not so sure. The Christmas lights do add to the beauty of holiday decorations and displays. However, all the additional light and intense focus on holiday traditions doesn't always bring happy results.

Any smooth surface around these lights will give off reflections. There's no escape from the image of the gray haired woman staring back at you when you pass a store window or mirror. At first you think the image resembles your deceased mother. Perhaps you turn quickly to get a better glimpse of someone passing on the street behind you, but see no one familiar. You may dust a table or glance at a framed photo and see a reflection of the stranger again. She looks familiar, and yet she doesn't. But she is always there, peeping over your shoulder when you pass a light reflecting surface. When you can't find a favorite book or misplace your keys, you recall how your mother once did the same things.

The impression gets worse when you attempt to pass on family traditions.  Recipes can't be found, or attempts to cook your family favorites go awry. You're desperate to recreate memories from the past, yet your attempts fall short of your expectations.

All the while, that older woman appears behind you like a shadow, and you're certain she is always frowning. You're disappointed at what you consider your failure to rekindle traditions. Yet guests compliment your decorations. Others love the refreshments or ask your secret of creating such a wonderful holiday scent in your home.

But you can be certain not everyone likes the same thing, and that is true of writers and readers. Even the best of friends aren't going to like the same movies, music or books, and that is good news. Each person will notice something different. You may love the extra hint of sage in the holiday stuffing, while your family may love the moist/dry consistency. And you can bet that shadowy image is going to be there, and she will always forget some detail...

The good news is that all readers don't read your book to look for mistakes. Most people read purely for pleasure, and even that reflection in the mirror smiles some of the time.
Now...about those other reflections, the ones you assumed this post was about... Do you look back on the past year and make New Years' Resolutions? 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Last week when I finally finished and proofed my latest book, I asked my husband, not usually a fan of women’s fiction, but an excellent editor, to read it before I submitted it.  He’s not the first person to see the book so I wasn’t too worried about him liking it and looked forward to his usual critique.  He did like it a lot, or as much as he would a work of “women’s” fiction, but more interesting to me was his amusement at how I incorporated so many aspects of my life into the book. 

It seems that the world is divided into those who focus on a few things and do them really well and those who are interested in so many things that they can’t/don’t limit themselves.  Accordingly they do several things fine, but don’t excel as they might have if they’d narrowed their focus. 

A prime example from writing of someone who does nothing but write would be Janet Evanovich.  As those of you who have heard her speak know, her life is writing.  Although she lives in an extended family household with her husband, children and their spouses, writing is what she does all day long every day.  By her own account, she gets up in the morning and writes.  At the end of the day after dinner, she goes to bed thinking about what she is going to write the next day.  She has said publicly that she never reads.  Reading someone else’s work would interfere with her creative process. 

An example of someone with a more complicated and varied existence would be Eloise James who has also spoken at RWA conferences.  In addition to writing her regency romances, James is an English professor at Fordham University. Without needing to spell it out, Ms. James obviously must always be multi-tasking. Also evident is that she does both well.

My latest book took me three years to write.  I only know because I checked in my computer and saw that was how long it’s been stored. It’s clear that I need to pick up my writing pace if I want to have more books out there.  What’s interfering in that goal is my very complicated life that is entirely self-inflicted.  I am a retired Deputy Attorney General of New Jersey.  I retired so I could focus on my writing.  Two years into retirement I was appointed a law guardian, a lawyer for children, in New York.  The job doesn’t take as much time as being a DAG did, but it is a distraction. In addition, because I now live in Manhattan where I have access to a cornucopia of art, I have become a compulsive museum and gallery attender as well as an amateur painter.  This also sucks up time. 

It’s clear that I should spend more time in front of my computer. Should I also eliminate these other activities?  Is it possible that my legal work and my art obsession enhance my writing?  I like to think they do.  What I do certainly makes my life richer and therefore more interesting.  I believe protagonists gain from my experiences and knowledge though perhaps that belief is self-serving. 

Am I instead an extreme case of multi-tasking? Are there other writers out there who also need to write more, even at the expense of their many interests.

Deborah Nolan is the author of Suddenly Lily and Conflict of Interest published by Montlake Publishing and Second Act for Carrie Armstrong published by Desert Breeze Press which will soon be available in hardcopy through Amazon.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Boring Letters to My Daughter

I had always considered myself a good letter writer—witty, interesting, and erudite. That is, until my daughter came home for a visit at Thanksgiving and cleaned her room. No, wait. “Cleaned” may be the wrong word. This event occurred over twelve years after she left for college, so what I meant to say was “excavated.”

She came up with quite a few treasures along with plenty of clothes to recycle, lots of stuff to discard, and, after unearthing a package of letters people had written to her at camp, she began to read them aloud to the rest of the family. To my horror, mine were preachy, boring, and lacked any information likely to be of interest to my child.

In defense of my preachiness, let me just say that one of the major themes was writing thank you notes, which needed to be done while my daughter was at camp. Her birthday is early July, so we always had her parties in late June, leaving no time for her to write the notes before boarding the camp bus. Since I could not see whether they had been written or not, I just went with reminders. News of my day, which at the time was nothing if not boring, filled the rest of the pages.

And to think, I wanted to be a writer! I couldn't even entertain my daughter!

Meanwhile, and this is really weird, my husband, who as a lawyer normally sucks the life out of any sentence, particularly when editing my books, wrote funny, lively, charming letters to camp. He even included thought-provoking articles. They were a devastating contrast to mine. And in the one instance where he got preachy, my daughter, during the rereading on Thanksgiving weekend, noticed that he had written it from home rather than work, and I was blamed for being a bad influence.

So what accounts for the inferior quality of my missives? When I wrote to other people I was, or at least I think I was, funny and interesting. Was I saving the good stuff for my friends? Was I incapable of being on the same wavelength as a pre-teen/teenager? Was I just a boring person because I was basically at home too much?

Luckily for my ego, some of what I’d written to our daughter was funny and we were all laughing, but that mostly came from stories about the Seeing Eye puppy she was raising whom she had left behind for her parents to care for while she was at camp. I mentioned in the letters things that had been accidentally chewed, cute incidents, and how things were going when I filled in for her at puppy class.  I’d been criticized for being less than firm while working the puppy, something I had never done before. “It’s not ‘Sit, sweetie,’ I was told by the club leader. Our daughter knew that, but I might not have been listening when she explained my role as a substitute puppy raiser.

I had also written about the kitchen renovations. Who knew that a discussion of floor tile wouldn't be interesting to a 14-year-old?

And how was I to know she was adept at doing all the things I told her to do without being reminded?

I’m glad she brought it to my attention, as embarrassed as I felt. I like to think I’ve learned my lesson and I won’t do it again.  Of course that’s kind of an easy promise since I’ve learned what a capable woman she is. The best part is, she likes the fiction I write.

Friday, December 26, 2014

New Release! Hot Hawaiian Christmas

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆  My Novella is Here!  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆  


Hot Hawaiian Christmas by Victoria M. Johnson

Why I had to write this book:  
Hot Hawaiian Christmas combines my love for Hawaii, specifically the Big Island, and my favorite holiday.  I had these characters in my mind who are busy with their lives and I wanted to see what happened when I threw them into a time of year when things get crazier and watch how their lives entangle.  As they get caught up in the spirit of the season, their nights sizzle, and the heroine has more than one problem to resolve.  Hot Hawaiian Christmas lets the reader experience the holiday in a unique setting with characters who are enjoyable to get to know—and root for.  It's also a short novella length ebook, which is perfect for when readers are especially busy themselves. 

It's Christmas in Hawaii, but Lindsay Clark's vacation turns out to be anything but relaxing. With her uncle absent, she finds herself managing the hotel—a task at which she's normally very successful. However, Lindsay's life is turned upside down by the unfamiliar environment, Christmas festivities, and a very tempting guest—Chandler Lewis. He's the honorary Santa for the Kona Christmas parade and has a great life back home in California. Romance is the last thing on his mind. But when he meets Lindsay, he begins to wonder if life could be sweeter in Hawaii.  

Now Available at Amazon:

Read a sample on Amazon: or Here: Victoria's website

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma, (A 2012 Bookseller’s Best double finalist).  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride. She is also the writer and director of four short films. Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and connect with her on Pinterest  Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Here Comes Santa Claus!

When I was a little girl one of the highlights of my Christmas season was Christmas Eve. Because that was the night my two older sisters and younger brother and I piled in our parent’s station wagon and went down to River Street, Valatie, NY to wait anxiously along with our passel of cousins for Santa to arrive.

You see the tiny village of Valatie, NY is home to the country’s first Santa Claus club.
The club was started way back in 1946 by fifteen area men who used their Army separation pay to provide gifts for the poor.  Valatie was a mill town and the local clothing mills, the village’s biggest employer had slowly been dying out.  These fifteen men brought a priceless gift to the Village of Valatie, they brought the Christmas spirit back. This gift continues through this very day.

I was the second generation in my family to receive that precious cheese cloth sack. After Grandma Mattoon moved from her River Street home, my sister Linda took over the honor of hosting our family for this tradition. My children and now their children fill my sister’s house on Christmas Eve and with their little noses pressed against the window, wait to catch that first glimpse of Santa.  It warms my heart to watch them open their sacks filled with Christmas candy, books, toys, an orange or apple, a can of soda. Of course way back when we each got that special little white box filled with those glorious little pieces of Christmas candy! They were always a stocking favorite.

More importantly this is a huge effort by the community, with months of planning, that is carried out with love and joy. I think everyone who helps out at the club has been on the receiving end. I’m so proud that the village where many of my family members grew up and still live has carried on a tradition that has made many a child, myself included, smile in delight!

P. S.  Virginia O’Hanlon of the famed “Is There a Santa Claus?”/“Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun., spent her last years in Valatie, NY residing at Barnwell Nursing Home. 

Tracey sold her first book on 9/9/99! She is the best selling author of the Women of Surprise Historical romance series, Montlake/Avalon Books and writes the contemporary Wine Country Vixen series. You can learn more about Tracey and her books by visiting her website, Four Weddings and A Fiasco,  The Wedding Toast is available now at

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Resolutions, Grand Plans and Good Intentions–Oh My!

Ends of years seem to be a time for assessing the past and making plans for the future. Many of us take the opportunity to decide whether to do more of the same or change gears altogether.

Often it’s a little of both.

Making resolutions seems to be a requirement but how often do the best intended resolutions fall at the first hurdle.

Grand plans are all good — until we let them turn into burdens we are only too glad to abandon. And that in turn turns its wicked head into guilt that we didn’t keep a promise we had made to ourselves.

I think our foremothers and forefathers had a better idea for the best use of this time of year. In very ancient times, the Romans (and people of many other civilizations) gathered together and celebrated life and the many blessings of having survived the year.

In Celtic societies, bonfires kept the long nights of winter at bay. In more recent times, fires were transformed into lights on trees and now, thousands of lights on houses.

This evening, as I gathered with friends, we traveled through row upon row of houses lit from front gate to chimney top with festive lights, reminiscent of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. When I was small, my family drove to the other side of the city to see the Christmas trees and holiday lights decorating the homes of San Francisco’s wealthiest residents.

To me, this was a gift of sharing the joyous season. Our tree was not as grand but the meaning was the same. The sense that, as a community, we shared this season as a time of merriment and hope.

Velesé Vánoce. 聖誕節快樂 Nadolig Llawen. מערי ניטל

Շնորհավոր Սուրբ Ծնունդ. Buon Natale. 메리 크리스마스 Joyeux Noël.

Wesołych Świąt. Feliz Navidad. メリークリスマス С Рождеством.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Making Cookies--Sharing Time by Fran McNabb

If you haven’t gotten tired of reading blogs and articles about Christmas, I beg a few minutes of your time for one more.

Our little dead-end street skirts the bayou and is made up of families from all over the country. I’m a local, but we have families from Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Virginia, the Carolinas and several other states. We try to make everyone feel at home, especially those who are unable to be with their loved ones during the holiday season.

One day one of our neighbors admitted she cried all day the first year she moved here because she had to bake cookies alone. All of her large family still lives in PA and one of their seasonal rituals was getting together to make Christmas cookies and candies. From then on, we’ve gotten together for an afternoon of baking and, well, just being together.

Baking cookies is a simple way of reminding us that Christmas might be celebrated with different traditions throughout the country (and world), but many traditions are the same. It’s nice to have the end results of our time together. Everyone takes home several tins of cookies, but that’s not the best part. Sharing time together, enjoying stories of by-gone Christmases, remembering those who are no longer with us—these are the things that are important.  Before my mother died, she loved being part of our holiday bake day. This year is the second Christmas without her, but even though I thought about her throughout the day, I was thrilled to have the mother of one of my neighbors join us. It made the day complete. 

Christmas brings up an array of emotions, but I hope throughout this week, you’ll find the joy of being with those who are important to you—and if it happens to be in the kitchen cooking together—remember that you’re making more than something to fill your holiday dishes. You're making wonderful memories that will be with you forever.

Merry Christmas.

Fran McNabb lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband and loves to keep her family traditions alive during the holiday season. Her first published book, A LIGHT IN THE DARK, is a Christmas themed book set in West Virginia. Visit her at or at

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy birthday to me!

Tomorrow, December 21, is my birthday.  Yes, I’m one of those Christmas babies the world always pities so. When it comes to public sympathy, being born on or near Christmas seems to rival the dreaded February 29 birth date. (I have a grand-niece who missed that by a couple of hours, sneaking in a bit before midnight on the 28th during our last Leap Year.)

Though others may lament it on my behalf, I have never minded the Christmas-time date. My parents always made sure to keep the two celebrations separate. My birthday present, though it might appear beneath the tree, was never wrapped in Christmas paper and was always just as nice as the gifts given to any of my non-Christmas siblings. Like them, I got to choose my favorite meal for dinner. (I didn’t make it too tough on Mom; for years, my favorite was spaghetti.)

As I got older and more aware of the Christmas hype all over the world, I began to feel that everyone in Christendom was celebrating with me. Though that view may be a bit egocentric, it always kept my birthday happy, and I loved that my dad liked to call me his Christmas present. His first-born, I came home from the hospital on Christmas day—a few long decades ago.

That brings me to the real angst of tomorrow. I will be 64. Yikes! 

I want to ask the cosmos, “How did this happen? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was a carefree girl? A happy new bride? A new mom? A first-time grandmother? Though the girl inside me doesn’t feel much different, the body is definitely letting me know it’s been around the block a time or two. 

My brand new left knee (replacement on Nov. 19) is still making peace with the rest of me. One day I hope to lope up the stairs again (there are five in front of my house) without the aid of  a strong man (thank goodness I have one!) to help pull me up. 

Now my other joints are behaving as if they’re jealous of the new knee and my muscles all wear out quickly whenever I dare to exercise. Oh yes, this body is definitely feeling its wear.

Not only that, but my oldest grandson, Austin, has just announced he’s found the lovely young lady he’s going to marry next May 29. Within the next five years, I could be a GREAT-grandmother. Double yikes.

Of course there are compensations. For instance, there are the darling grandchildren, from Austin down to Josh and Evie, born to two different families six days apart and now eight months old. And their newest little cousin is due next March. I wouldn’t trade one of them, not even to have my 23-year-old body back.

Although I’m tempted to ask as the Fab Four did, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me?” I know the most important person in my life (my dear husband, the “strong man” I mentioned earlier) surely will. He’s been an ideal nurse since my knee surgery. Not only that, he owes me: He turned 64 last July.

While I may well mourn the passing of the good health I once knew, the body that did what I asked of it whenever I asked, the quick responses and ready ability, I count up the experiences, the joys, the successes, the wonderful people in my life and know the years have been worth it. Given the chance to be 23 again, I’d have to say “no thanks.” I love being right where I am.

[NOTE: If you don’t recognize the Fab Four or the lyrics, please go look them up. Some things even young folks should know!]

Friday, December 19, 2014

Let There Be Candles!

This time of year, though the hours of daylight are so few, the world seems filled with extra light. The shops are full of decorations in every shape, color, and configuration imaginable and most of the decorations feature light in some form - and it's not just the shops. I'm doing my bit with candles in my windows. My neighbor’s window is graced with a menorah–more candles. 
The candles displayed by my neighbor and me are just two examples of the traditions honored at this time of  year as many of us prepare for the celebration of a special day - Christmas–or Hanukkah–or–Kwanzaa–or–Ramadan–or (some holiday unknown to me, but precious to someone).  Mid-winter is a time of holidays, each with a distinct set of customs and a unique manner of observance. Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are celebrated with special meals and the giving of gifts. The food served and the gifts given vary according to the tradition being honored, but in each they are chosen to remind celebrants of a their heritage. 

Ramadan follows the opposite path by observing the special time with fasting instead of feasting. And yet, even in this completely different tradition, there runs a common thread. All of the holidays involve at least some level of introspection. Underlying all the festivities, all the customs, both merry and solemn, there is a call to examine our innermost selves, to find out and declare what it is that makes our tradition unique. Paradoxically, in doing this, we come  face to face with other traditions and the realization that they are important to those who celebrate them and, with that, comes an awareness of the need for understanding.
Many celebrations throughout the year involve light (colored lights, candles, crackling logs, fireworks), but this is especially true of those that come in midwinter when night falls so quickly. Maybe it’s because these holidays are so close to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and we feel a need to light the darkness. Are our candles really symbols of the light we find when we seek within and our need to proclaim it to the world? I feel sure that they are and it occurs to me that this need to proclaim is akin to the force that compels writers to write, painters to paint and composers to compose. It’s the artist’s need to illuminate, to direct a beacon that shines so brightly we cannot fail to recognize and then to proclaim the common humanity that lies beneath our differences.
So, I salute and thank all of you who light candles–whatever type of candle you choose and for whatever reason. Let there be candles - millions of candles of diverse size and shape and color–to celebrate our commonality. Let us put our candles together and keep the darkness at bay.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: The Annual Obsession

By Sierra Donovan

It's not surprising that my husband proposed to me just after midnight December 25th, right after watching “A Christmas Carol” on home video.

The classic Dickens story has been a presence in my life for a long time. I first read the story when I was 10 years old – about the same age my husband was when he did. Don't get me wrong; we have plenty of other things in common. Most of them are probably even less hip. We both love classic horror films, country music and the rock 'n' roll of the 1960s.

But the Christmas season in general, and “A Christmas Carol” in particular, ranks high on the list of our favorite things. Based on a very quick count, we have at least nine film versions of the story, and we try to watch as many of them as we can work in every holiday season. (A sad by-product of this is that our children, now 19 and 15, have been known to shudder at the very mention of the tale. But they'll come around.)

A sane person might ask, why the obsession? What makes us relive multiple viewings of Scrooge's past, present and future every year? (Not back-to-back. That would be silly.) But a better question might be, what's made this story so enduring? My husband and I aren't the only “Christmas Carol” geeks, and Dickens' work has held up some 171 years now.

The trite, but probably correct, answer is that “A Christmas Carol” is a tale of redemption, and that's something that resonates with the human race. We love to see Scrooge's transformation and the stages that take him there. And it's not too big a stretch to believe it's because that's something we all want for ourselves – a chance to be kinder, gentler, better people. To get our priorities straight and remember what's really important.

The Christmas season is really a microcosm of the best things in life: God, family and caring for others. We celebrate with some of the things we love most: food, music, decorating, shopping. But those external celebrations are also where it can start going haywire for many of us. We get consumed by the need to get all those things done, and that's where the heart of Christmas can be lost.

This year, it's my hope that we all find and remember the joy of the season, and that we're able to share it with others. In the words of Scrooge's nephew Fred: “And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

And as a final word to the curious, I believe I've arrived at my personal top three film renditions: the 1984 George C. Scott made-for-TV-movie; the 1953 Alastair Sim film; and the 1938 MGM film starring Reginald Owen. If you'd like to weigh in with your own favorite(s), I'd love to hear it!