by Ali Vali
The holiday season is here and it always brings back great memories of not only childhood, but the times C and I have shared in our twenty-eight years together. Long time relationships not only work because of love, understanding, patience, and commitment—they work because she knows I really don’t like wrapping anything, and my limit of hearing Here Comes Santa Claus, White Christmas, and other holiday favorites is about ten. On the other hand, she hates the post office, the mall on Friday and Saturdays, people who put confetti in their Christmas cards, and stringing lights. I don’t particularly like any of the items on her list either, but gladly do them so I don’t have to deal with wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows.
The one thing I do love is shopping for her. I’ve had very few misses through the years. Sometimes she’s loved the gift, but it was that I didn’t wrap that peeved her a bit, especially when she hands over one that looks like the package you pay the nice elderly woman at the mall $20.00 to do for you and it takes her until Easter to complete. Anyway, a gift she gave me in 1999 was the first time I thought she’d lost her mind. Was it the flat screen television I’d had my eye on, the one that I’d cut out ads for and pointed out every time we were at the store together? No!
The box was way too small for that, and when I made it through the exquisite ribbon and handmade bow (C went to Christmas college, and I’m not kidding about that) I found the first two Harry Potter books. Never mind that the year before, Green Eggs and Ham was on my wish list. I’d lost my original copy in a flooding incident when I was eight and I’d never gotten over it, so she bought me a copy along with the other small children on our list. The guy at Books a Couple (I call it this because they never seem to have anything I’m looking for) asked if I wanted the one written by Dr. Seuss. Since I was over my limit on White Christmas I demanded the one written by Anne Rice. That’s the version where the ham is green because vampires don’t eat ham thus it’s gone bad.
Back to Harry. I opened that box and I believe the words out of my mouth were, “Is this like the year I bought my brother the bald-guy Chia pet?” It was a gag gift I totally pulled off with a straight face until late that afternoon when I gave him his real gift.
I apologized to her later that night when I’d made it through quite a few pages since there was no new television to watch. When book four appeared, Books a Couple had a promotion where you got a pass to pick up your book at the stroke of midnight the day it came out. No way I was missing that, so I went and enjoyed the kids in costume and how they immediately started reading when the clerk handed them Harry’s latest adventure.
A woman there with her seven- and ten-year-old sons asked C which child was hers, and she had a wonderful time pointing to the geek holding her pass fifty small children back from the register. We laughed about it on the way home and talked about what a wonderful thing J.K. Rowling had done by creating characters that had driven children away from computer games and back to reading. Imagination is priceless, especially the kind you find on the page, and the real gift C gave me that year. Not so much getting me back into reading, I love to read, but it made me wonder if I could write something longer than a business letter.
When I decided to find out, it started my writing career, to the extent that I actually allowed someone to read the stories that ran through my head. The first ones, I admit, were rough, but with a little practice and with great editor Shelley Thrasher, I tend to make fewer mistakes. In every manuscript I manage new ones I sometimes don’t think possible, but some of my earlier ones I definitely have learned from and try not to repeat. I sometimes picture Shelley with her great red feather pen shaking her head, and thinking, “Vali has been hitting the heavily spiked eggnog again,” while she slashes another line in bloodred ink.
The thing about writing, though, is once you start, you open the door to these characters who populate the books, and it’s hard to cram them back into their lockbox in your brain once they’re loose. Some are more demanding than others, like Ms. Casey, but they all come to me in different stages of being with only a bit of background.
In the newest book, The Dragon Tree Legacy came because of the actual tree. The dead remnant of this old oak on the side of the road on the way into New Orleans has been there as long as I can remember. I named it the dragon tree because in profile it resembles a dragon reared up as if scaring off a potential threat. The only green along its trunk and remaining limbs are the vines that have taken up residence, and when storms like Katrina and Gustav come ashore, I hold my breath until I make it around the curve. Even Katrina and her devastation hasn’t brought it down, so it deserved its own story.
This was the first time I actually came up with the title before I wrote a word, so I wanted the characters to fit the strength and perseverance of that tree. Wiley and Aubrey are a different kind of couple from the beginning, not only because of their situation, but because Wiley is somewhat detached emotionally. A wingnut of sorts who’s become a tad unhinged and has lethal combat skills. The challenge was to take someone like that and make her an integral part of a romance that didn’t involve a love affair with her rifle and assorted weapons.
It turned out that Wiley and Aubrey did have a story to tell that I believe even the tree is happy about, and it tackles New Orleans right after Katrina. A tough time for everyone who lived through it, but like Wiley and Aubrey and their relationship, if you can make it through the tough times you come out stronger after you’ve picked up the broken pieces and put them back in some kind of order. It’s inevitable to fight until you get it right when it’s something or someone you love.
So when I look back now those “children’s books” really did inspire me to pick up my pen. Because I did I’ve found mobsters, lawyers, hotel owners, tennis players, snipers, and the like living in my head, and it doesn’t require intense psychoanalysis. What a blast it’s been ever since, considering the people I’ve met, the emails I’ve gotten, and the friends I’ve made. Up to now, it’s been a great time and I’m looking forward to whatever stories come next.
For now my radio is tuned to ESPN, the post office made me turn around and head back to the car after I drove around for thirty minutes to find a parking spot, our Christmas tree lights work until the bottom two branches, C and I both forgot and opened the card from the woman who always puts small snowflake shaped confetti in her card, much to the cat’s delight, and she promised to wrap everything I picked up at the mall this weekend. As I stood in the checkout line at Macy’s on Saturday, Wiley and Aubrey gave me their list of things I forgot to say in their book. They’d given about twenty-six rational story points for the sequel they’re hoping for next Christmas, when the lyrics to Jingle Bells broke through my subconscious and parked itself there until Sunday evening, when in a fit to save my sanity I turned the radio on and replaced the torture with Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.
It was then that I realized it was Cain’s way of saying, don’t forget about me. I might be more sympathetic to the Feds next go round. If you’d like a hint to make your shopping easier, with no chance of carol overload, head on over to www.boldstrokesbooks.com and buy everyone on your list a book. Don’t forget to throw a couple in for yourself.
The other thing to consider, on the off chance that the Mayans are right, is a trip to the grocery store or favorite bakery. C suggests having a cheesecake or whatever your favorite dessert is on hand so you might enjoy yourself before the meteorite hits the Earth. Since I believe the guy who did the Mayan calendar simply got tired, or it was his idea of a giant Chia pet gag, enjoy the season White Christmas and all.
C and I wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a prosperous New Year. Above all else, may you be blessed with happiness, health, and love.