First, a little background on our author:
Sierra Donovan is a wife, a mother of two and a writer, though not always in that order. Her job and greatest joy is helping people find true love on the printed page. She is a firm believer in old movies, Christmas, chocolate fudge and happy endings. Her holiday romance, “No Christmas Like the Present,” is now available in stores and from online retailers.
Thank you for joining us at Scribbler’s today, Sierra.
What would you most like your readers to know about you that they would not read in your official bio?
I love animals – especially dogs.
Tell us Scribblers a bit about No Christmas Like The Present and what inspired this story.
“No Christmas Like the Present” is one of the few times I’ve “tried” to have an idea, then actually seen it blossom into something real. I love the Christmas season and I thought how nice it would be to have written a wonderful perennial like “A Christmas Carol.” I tried brainstorming about a woman with holiday stress meeting a man who helps her enjoy Christmas. At first it felt very generic. Then it hit me: It’s Fred. I’ve always loved Scrooge’s cheery nephew from “A Christmas Carol,” and when he walked into my brain, that’s when I knew I had to write the story.
Is there a playlist you’d recommend for reading your latest release?
Your favorite Christmas music, of course! I’m partial to the old-fashioned ones myself – traditional carols and pop standards from performers like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
What was the first story you remember writing?
The very first story I wrote was in first grade, about an argument between two know-it-all birds. After that, around fourth grade, I embarked on a “script” for the gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. It had people screaming and fainting and falling in love all over the place.
What’s the first thing you know for sure about a new story concept? Plot? Character? Something else?
Usually I start with the basic situation: co-workers at a radio station. A pregnant heroine. A woman with holiday stress. But then sometimes a character walks into my head and says, “I’m your next hero!”
Do you develop a deep backstory for your characters before sitting down to write or do you just have a loose idea of who they all are?
It’s a mix. I have a vision of my characters from the outside, then try to work out the reasons they got that way. I’ve found that often that’s the key to the happily-ever-after – figuring out the needs that the characters fulfill for each other.
I related to Lindsay and her not enough time to enjoy the holiday mode. When writing, do you identify more the Heroine’s role or the Hero?
It depends on the story. In “No Christmas Like the Present,” definitely Lindsay. I’ve been in her shoes. My husband brought a healthy dose of the merry Fred into my life! But I always enjoy writing my hero’s point of view. It’s so much fun showing him falling in love with the heroine.
What one thing about your hero, Fred that drives his heroine Lindsay crazy? And what one thing about Lindsay that drives her Fred nuts?
Hmm. I suppose for Lindsay, it’s Fred’s utter refusal to see the “down” side of things. Fred, on the other hand, doesn’t let much of anything ruffle his feathers. But it distresses him to see Lindsay make things so hard for herself.
Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
No, although sometimes there’s a sprinkling of traits from people I know. And in “No Christmas Like the Present,” I used first names of relatives for the Christmas cards Lindsay labors on throughout the book. Those people don’t appear in the book, so they don’t really count as characters. It’s just a little nod to people in my family.
Is there a secondary character you feel may deserve his own story?
At this point, I don’t plan on it with this book.
What are your strongest influences when it comes to naming your characters?
Sometime I’ll borrow a surname from a family member. More often, I pick up names from movie credits. Could be a character, could be an actor, could be one of those other hard-working people whose names go by when the credits roll. It’s a handy tool, because my husband and I watch a lot of movies together.
Can we have an excerpt from No Christmas Like The Present?
December sixteenth, and she’d barely started on her Christmas cards.
Lindsay Miller sat in the living room of her apartment, the TV tray in front of her stacked high with cards and envelopes. Every year she promised herself she’d get started early, and every year she ended up behind. The whole first paragraph of the notes in her cards used to be an apology for being late, apologies for not writing during the year, and pledges to do better next year. At twenty-nine, she’d given up on the annual litany of excuses. They’d heard it too many times before. But every year, she still vowed to herself that she’d surprise them all.
Lindsay sighed and brushed a handful of light brown hair behind her ear again as she bent to her task. She flipped her worn vinyl address book to the G’s. Only the seventh letter of the alphabet.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sneaked another glance at the old black-and-white version of A Christmas Carol they were showing on television. It was her favorite scene, as Scrooge’s jolly nephew Fred once again explained the joys of Christmas to his uncle. And it was her favorite version of the film, because this Fred was exceptionally handsome. Elegant and dark-haired, with warm dark eyes and exquisite features, resplendent in his long, trim overcoat, top hat in hand.
“I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time,” he said in his rich voice, with that cultured British accent. “The only time I know of when men and women seem, by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely….”
Right, Lindsay thought wryly. Just as soon as I finish these cards.
But she felt a pang. Another holiday season was passing by. She’d gotten her packages sent, at least, but she still had more shopping to do . . . more batches of fudge to make . . . and these cards . . . all to fit around eight hours a day at the office. To really do it right, she had a feeling Christmas would be a full-time job in itself.
She pulled her eyes away from Fred and brought her attention back to the next name in the address book. Ruth Gillespie. Her old college roommate. When was the last time they’d talked? She made the annual mental vow to call her in January, once the holiday rush had passed.
As Fred stubbornly wished Scrooge a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Lindsay’s doorbell rang. She checked the pendulum clock hanging on the living room wall. Almost seven P.M. During the summer, when it was still light outside, she wouldn’t have thought twice about someone coming to the door at this hour, but now that it was well after dark, it gave her pause.
Frowning, she approached the door and tried to peer out the peephole. No good. She’d decorated her door with gift wrap the first week of December, when she still had hopes of getting Christmas right this year. Reluctantly, Lindsay opened the door about twelve inches, her hand still clutching the knob, and peered out.
It was Fred.
The same Fred she’d just seen on television, from a movie made over fifty years ago.
What is the writing process like for you? If you were to describe the process in one word what would it be?
When it’s going well: paradise. On a rough day … well, wait. You said only one word.)
What does your writing space look like?
Cluttered! When I clear my desk, it never stays that way. The new piles start right away. However, on a little display area in front of me, I keep reminders of Christmas: a snowman nutcracker, an eight-inch artificial silver tree, a Christmas candle. Those things help when I’m writing a Christmas story and it’s mid-summer!
Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
I do read them; happily, I’ve been pleased with most of them. Usually the criticism has been constructive, but I haven’t read anything yet that’s tempted me to change the way I write. That honor is reserved for my esteemed critique partners (including my husband!).
What has surprised you the most about being published?
The sky stayed the same color. Seriously, the day I got The Call on my first sale, I was astonished to realize I still needed to pick up my son from school and help him with his science project. Reality went on, largely unaffected!
Who is your favorite character written by another author?
F Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby. When I found out the lengths he went to for love, my jaw dropped. It was misguided, over-idealized love, but still. Wow. And even though on the outside he was “phony,” he had so much more integrity than all the people around him.
Is there any genre you won’t read? Write? Can you tell us why?
I wouldn’t say there’s a straight-ahead “won’t” out there. I will say that, outside my own genre, I still enjoy horror fiction when I have time to squeeze that into my extracurricular reading.
What is your favorite curse word?
What is your favorite sound?
The voice of Frank Sinatra.
What is your least favorite sound?
My kids arguing. Happily, they’re 19 and 15 now, and they’ve turned out to be good friends!
If you were able to give only one piece of writing advice to the aspiring author, what would it be?
Be patient about giving yourself time to develop. Even if you’re talented, you’re not “good” right away. Accept that, don’t let it get you down, and keep working to hone your craft. Find teachers and critique partners you trust and respect. Over time, you’ll develop an ear for the people who understand what you’re going for, but who can spot the things that need improvement. Don’t discard the possibility of being traditionally published, and DON’T put your work out there before it’s ready. You could be cringing a few years later. (That’s a long answer, but it really is one thing!)
What question are you never asked in interviews, but wish you were?
“Do you ever get tired of explaining to Hugh Jackman that you’re a happily married woman?”
What books or projects do you have coming up in the future?
I just finished writing my second book for Kensington. The working title is “Do You Believe In Santa?” although the title and contents are subject to my editor’s review at this point. It’s set in the fictional Southern California mountain town of Tall Pine … and yes, I do plan to return there for subsequent books!
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