It’s November, and you know what that means. Wampanoag and Pilgims, turkey, gratitude, and Christmas novella publicity. Authors of Christmas books write about all things holly and mistletoe around Easter, spend summers by their air conditioners polishing and proofreading the Christmas tree scenes, and cook their Thanksgiving turkeys while figuring out how else to publicize this story they’ve devoted whole sections of the year to getting published.
And all so you and I can spend December cozied up near our Christmas trees, sipping a favorite hot (or cold—we do understand Christmas is celebrated in hot climates also) beverage and reading as many Christmas stories as we can cram into 25 days.
I’ll be interviewing a few of my favorite authors about their contributions to make our Christmases merry and bright. Today I host my friend (and editor!) Susan Baganz. Her novella this year is Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps, a sweet-in-every-way story. (Pop over to Amazon to preorder )
Susan, welcome to the Tuesday Prude! Let’s jump in with a controversial issue.
Christmas: start celebrating and decorating before or after Thanksgiving?
I decorated this past Saturday which goes against my usual “don’t set up the tree till the day after Thanksgiving” policy. The variation this year is only because I’m due to have surgery and want to be able to relax and enjoy healing and the holidays without overdoing it. The lights might not be turned on until then, but no promises. We do love having a Christmas tree and if my kids, now teenagers, had their way, it would be up year round!
Which of the cookies in your book’s comprehensive list intrigued you enough to want to try your hand at baking—and eating?
The funny thing is, I will bake cookies but I’m not a big cookie eater myself, which is probably a good thing! I’ll taste one or two and then I’m done and leave the rest for my husband and kiddos. Having said that, raspberry Linzer cookies, baklava tassies, Irish cream delights and English cranberry orange shortbread, might be a few that would tempt me to bake and taste.
I am a cookie lover, so maybe I better not try my hand at any of those bits of deliciousness. Your sugar cookie recipe at the end of the book is tempting enough!
Give us a quick character sketch of Noelle and Rudy, your protagonists in “Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps.”
Noelle has a Christmas Eve birthday but doesn’t like Christmas. She’s trying to get an event planning business off the ground while working at the library. She’s strait-laced as far as her morals go and has great organizational skills.
Rudy’s ears and nose tend to turn red when he’s embarrassed. He does art and decorates as a hobby but works at an Investment Firm. He loves Christmas and the reason for the season.
HA! I love that Rudy’s NOSE turns red!
What inspired you to have the setting be a Dickens’ village party?
I started the book with a title and went from there. Street lamps. The lyrics to “Silver Bells” came to mind, the city sidewalks, busy shoppers and then I thought of the old-fashioned lights and bright colored store fronts that used to be part and parcel of the holidays and soon I had this quaint and magical idea for an event! Fun to write about, not sure I’d want the hard work of putting it together like Noelle and Rudy did.
That is part of the magic of writing—we can create something really beautiful without ever leaving our laptops.
Speaking of inspiration, what led to the title of the book?
I have written a few Christmas novellas and all of them have been historical. I decided to do something contemporary and put it in Milwaukee which led me to make it part of the Orchard Hill series although few characters from previous books appear. Given my penchant for titles involving food and traffic/road related words in the vein of Pesto and Potholes, Salsa and Speed Bumps etc…it seemed natural to do Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps.
It’s a delightful title! Something else delightful—last Christmas Day you were barely married to the love of your life. Are there any Christmas traditions you’d like to incorporate into your household?
That’s a great question and one I’ve not really found an answer for yet. Christmas is pretty laid back for us. We attend Christmas Eve service, just the two of us as the kids are with their father. Christmas day I fix a special brunch which has to include bacon. I let the kids sleep in. After brunch we open gifts. I’ve done this since the kids were little. Gifts appear under the tree as I purchase and wrap them, so they learned at a young age to be patient. We never told them Santa brought gifts. So they have learned to anticipate but not peek. The rule was if they tried to open something it got sent back and they didn’t dare test me on that! As the kids are older, there are fewer gifts and this year we are giving them a memory instead. There will still be some small things under the tree. Usually the rest of the day is relaxing, possibly watching movies, although the kids won’t do that with us. I might make something special for dinner later. It becomes a day of rest. Our big family celebration with my parents takes place on a different day.
I expect as the kids leave home that will change and then we’ll have to change with that, but I really like the low-key relaxing day.
Why is a faith message so important in your novels?
I believe I will stand before God for what I write. When I teach at conferences, I tell authors that we will be held accountable for the words we put on the page, and the theology we convey in our stories whether obvious or not. I firmly believe that. Even as an editor I won’t contract stories that violate key principles I believe in as a Christian. And we all need encouragement and a fresh reminder of the truth of the gospel. Story is a powerful vehicle for getting beneath the more obvious roadblocks people can put up to hearing the truth. What if someone didn’t know Jesus and read any of my books? Would they see Jesus there? Either in the actions of the characters or the dialogue? That’s always in the back of my mind. In many ways, writing is an act of worship for me.
Elements of faith, hope and love always seem to pop up in your stories. What else can we find when we read your books?
Faith, hope, and love… and the greatest of these is love. Sometimes humor creeps in although I don’t write comedy and admire people who can do it well. I like to write about the fact that even as believers, life can be difficult and that we need to grow spiritually and emotionally. You can’t have one without the other. Sometimes that process is hard and my hope would be that people can be encouraged to persevere to the other side. While I write happily-ever-afters, I’m fully aware that it is a moment in time, and troubles all come our way. We need to savor those joy-filled moments.
Any holiday besides Christmas that you think would be a good setting for a book?
Thanksgiving could be good as I think family dynamics can be as challenging then as they are at Christmas and gratitude is a good theme. Christmas just seems to hold its own magic though, don’t you think?
I know it does for me! Part of the magic comes from lights and decorations in our darkest month. Are there any memorably magical Christmas displays you’ve seen?
The Paine Art Center in Oshkosh does a wonderful Nutcracker theme at Christmastime which is cool. Fond du Lac, the city near where I live, has a fun light display set to music that is free out at Lakeside Park. I took Ben there last year and he was spellbound as he’d never seen anything like that. It was sweet to see that childlike awe as he watched and we listened.
If you were queen of the world, what would your ideal Christmas Day look like?
Ohhhh! I’d need a bigger house! I would have maids to clean and every room decorated—by someone else of course! And a wonderful feast around a large table with family and friends with holiday music playing in the background. Maybe board games after? Great conversations. Maybe gifts? I think being present with people is more valuable than material things.
When you are queen of the world, I will be angling for an invitation to those Christmas festivities. Just warning you.
Finally, tell us why we should read “Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps.”
It is a sweet story and our family’s favorite sugar cookie recipe is at the end of it. If you want a fresh reminder of the wonder of Christmas in the shadow of the cross, then hopefully this story will refresh you and make this season all the sweeter.
Susan M. Baganz is living her own happily-ever-after with her husband Benjamin. She chases after two Hobbits, and is a native of Wisconsin. Susan writes adventurous historical and contemporary romances with a biblical world-view.
Susan speaks, teaches, and encourages others to follow God in being all He has created them to be. With her seminary degree in counseling psychology, a background in the field of mental health, and years serving in church ministry, she understands the complexities and pain of life as well as its craziness. Her favorite pastimes are lazy…spending time with her husband, snuggling with her dog while reading a good book, or sitting with a friend chatting over a cup of spiced chai latte.