Christmas in July (and seeking book reviewers)

I’ve always found the idea of Christmas in July a challenging one. After all, summer is the time for picnics on the grass, reading at the beach, backyard cookouts, vacations, lemonade, hammocks… 

However, I know there are many people who start to plan — and shop? — for Christmas in July — people who, though perhaps reluctant to admit it, feel a mild frisson to know that in a few short months, they will be wrapping presents, decorating a tree, and baking Christmas cookies. So for those people, I give you the opening paragraphs of the final book in my Christmastime series: Christmastime 1945: A Love Story (available this fall).

Christmas_1945_6.28.2019 final

Chapter 1

The snow fell softly over Manhattan as Lillian Drooms hurried home. She was still smiling from her meeting with Mrs. Huntington and the art director of children’s books. Her drawings had been well received and Mrs. Huntington hinted that Lillian had a good chance at being selected to illustrate a children’s adventure series – she would love nothing more! Happiness and Christmas were in the air, and wanting to catch even more of the holiday spirit, Lillian decided to walk up Fifth Avenue and then cross through Central Park on her way home.

The crowds thickened as she neared and then turned onto the Avenue. All around her the sense of excitement was palpable – in the carolers and newspaper boys, in the honking and braking of traffic, in the calls from the vendors: “Hot chestnuts! Pretzels!” Workers rushed from jobs, couples walked arm in arm, shoppers ducked in and out of stores, their arms laden with packages and shopping bags, and groups of servicemen explored Manhattan while they awaited their final train or bus ride home.

Lillian took a moment to look around her at the bustling city, so alive! And this was just one avenue. She knew the harbor and piers, and Grand Central and Penn Stations bustled with returning soldiers. The roads into and around New York City were crowded as never before – the city was bursting at its seams with life and happiness. At long last, the war was over! And this first Christmas after the war was sure to be a memorable one.

Bumped and jostled by the throng of people, Lillian tucked herself into a doorway to take in the post-war Christmas euphoria. The very air tingled with promise and future, and she smiled out at the swirl of commotion. She observed the faces passing by, all united by a sense of cheerfulness and gratitude. A soldier and a young woman passed by, briefly stopping to embrace and kiss. Across from her, a family, with the father in uniform, stopped to buy bags of roasted peanuts from a street vendor. An older couple laughed as they nearly collided with a ho-ho-hoing Santa Claus bell ringer. Down the block, a cluster of sailors pointed and gawked at the skyscrapers, and across the avenue, a group of WACs – such smart, confident women – chatted with a group of soldiers.

Lillian stepped back out into the stream of people but continued to look all about her. The signs of Christmas were everywhere – wreaths and decorations appeared in nearly all the windows and doors, along with red ribbons and garlands of shimmery tinsel. After the gray of war, everything seemed to be in color. Was it her imagination? Was it her own happiness coloring the world? No, indeed, the dresses in the department store windows boasted brighter shades, and young women sported bolder makeup, brighter lipstick that suited their flashing smiles. And the lights! Strings of colored bulbs shone everywhere – outlining windows and doorways and awnings. It was the first time Christmas lights were used freely since before the war and no one was holding back.

The war was over, Christmas was in the air, and Charles would be home soon! Lillian took a deep breath, checking herself, not trusting to such perfect happiness. She would muster the calm and pragmatism that had gotten her through the war years. Charles was not home yet – in fact, she hadn’t heard from him for several weeks. It could be January or February or later before his arrival. But he would be home – and he would never have to leave her again.

3D-Christmastime_books_ALL_3

https://amzn.to/2NYcA5a

I hope you enjoyed this bit of Christmas in July.

If there are any readers, book bloggers, or book clubs who would be interested in writing reviews for my series, please let me know (email me at Linda@LindaMahkovec.com) and I’ll send you a link to my ebooks. My goal this year is to increase my reviews, especially on Amazon. To those followers who have already left reviews, THANK YOU!! and let me know if you would like to review my other books — The Garden House, The Dreams of Youth, and Seven Tales of Love.

I hope the rest of your summer is lovely, relaxing, and filled with much happiness.

hammock white wine

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Kuntzman’s Kitchen

In the Christmastime series, Mrs. Kuntzman, the elderly babysitter for Tommy and Gabriel, plays a role from beginning to end. Her presence and her cooking infuse the books with a sense of holiday coziness and warmth.

They saw [Mrs. Kuntzman] standing at the door of her brownstone, waiting to welcome them. She was in her late sixties, gray-haired and a bit stooped, and utterly grandmotherly in her affection for Tommy and Gabriel. Even though Lillian had told her it wasn’t necessary, she often had pancakes or cobbler…freshly made for the boys. (Christmastime 1940)

“And,” said Mrs. Kuntzman, holding up a finger – she went to the kitchen and returned with a plate covered with a red and white checked napkin – “I have extra strudel for youse. Still warm. I always make too much.” (Christmastime 1940)

“We brought apples for you from my sister’s orchard. And some cherry preserves.”

“Ach, good! I make cherry krapfen for Tommy and Gabriel. Those boys love donuts best of all.” (Christmastime 1941)

“[Mrs. Kuntzman’s] been supplying me with strudel and cherry krapfen for the spotters all week.” She dropped her voice to add, “Though we’ve renamed them Yankee Cobbler and Allied Donuts. In the same way the restaurants have renamed spaghetti – Liberty Noodles, they call them.’”

“Yes, I’ve seen that,” laughed Lillian.

“And she’s promised one of her famous Christollens. Hmm. I’ll have to come up with another name for it.” (Christmastime 1941)

stollen

Lillian looked at [Mrs. Kuntzman’s] knobby hand against the flour-dusted red apron, the smiling eyes and nearly white hair, and felt a rush of affection for this woman who had become like a grandmother to Tommy and Gabriel – watching over them before and after school, baking treats for them, praising their schoolwork, offering words of comfort.

“And the soup will help,” Mrs. Kuntzman added. “Love in a jar. I don’t want our Tommy sad.”(Christmastime 1942)

Mrs. Kuntzman opened the door, wearing a red Christmas apron with a pattern of poinsettias. The smell of butter and cinnamon and cloves greeted them. (Christmastime 1943)

When Lillian knocked at the babysitter’s door, Mrs. Kuntzman greeted her with a tin of freshly baked cookies.

“These are ones we didn’t eat,” she said, laughing along with Tommy and Gabriel. (Christmastime 1943)

Mrs. Kuntzman opened her door to the young playwrights, and they were greeted by her smiling face, her flour-dusted green apron, and a warm waft of cinnamon and apples.

“Come in, come in! I have apple strudel for youse all, fresh from the oven!” (Christmastime 1944)

Christmas — in the details

The scent of pine, a shimmering ornament, a melody from a Christmas carol running through your mind — part of the magic of Christmastime is in the small details that pervade the season.

In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…

The holly and the ivy…

I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play…

Silver and gold, silver and gold…

The stars are brightly shining…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

How lovely are thy branches…

All is calm, all is bright…

May your days be merry and bright…

Cx snow globe

The Making of a Book Cover — Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series

I was lucky to find a great book cover designer, Laura Duffy, for all my books. The Christmastime series, in particular, required several drafts.

Laura patiently added snow, made streetlights glow, erased modern buildings, and cropped and colored and added details until I had the image I wanted.

The cover for Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series posed the most challenges. Early on, we decided that it would have a few subtle differences. As a prequel, it would not be part of the color sequence of the other books — green, red, blue. And Laura suggested that the “photograph” be vertical rather than horizontal.

I wanted the cover to evoke a sense of happiness and hope, with just a hint of the shadow cast by the war in Europe. After searching and searching for a photograph that would capture the main character’s (Lillian Hapsey) longing to move to Manhattan and start life anew, I found an image that might possibly work — with a little magic from Laura Duffy.

The photo had certain elements I was looking for: snow, a source of light (a lamppost), and it was immediately recognizable as Manhattan, with the Empire State Building in the center of the photo.

shutterstock_548493256

But it needed some work.

First, the lamplights needed to be “turned on.” It took a few attempts to get the right shade of soft gold. Then we looked at several Christmas wreaths, pine boughs, and red ribbons to attach to the lamppost. We decided on the one below. I purchased the photo and Laura added and aged it.

Next, the Empire State Building needed to be more pronounced. The original photo depicted a foggy day (I wanted snow), and the outline of the building was obscured.  So Laura found and superimposed a clearer photo of the Empire State Building and added a light snowfall.

Empire State Bldg superimposed

We were getting closer, but it didn’t yet capture the charm and promise of new beginnings. I imagined a scene at dusk, people hurrying home after work, the Christmas season in the air — and Lillian pausing to look at the view of the Empire State Building and having a visceral feeling of connection — Manhattan embodied everything she wanted.

So Laura turned day into evening, showing lights in the office windows, and patiently adjusting my requests for “less blue, a little grayer, more dusk-like, a little darker, more snow?” — until finally, it clicked — and I entered the world of Christmastime.

The image captures a moment in the story when Lillian becomes a part of the city she so loves. I could see her dressed in 1930’s shoes and coat, her face raised in happiness, knowing that her two little boys would also love the magic of the city. I felt the image now had charm, a sense of excitement, and the feel of Christmas.

1939

Thank you, Laura!

Check out the variety of Laura’s covers here: https://www.lauraduffydesign.com/ 

Christmastime 1939 is now available (the softcover will be available any day now).

(The final book in the series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story,  will be published in 2019.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring on Kate’s farm (the Christmastime novels)

Though most of the scenes in the Christmastime series (WWII stories of love and family that take place on the home front) occur in the month of December, there are a few flashbacks to spring, summer, and fall. The final book in the series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, will have two scenes that take place in the previous spring.

I often imagine what the rural scenes might look like — sometimes drawing on the memories of growing up in small-town Illinois. (A few years ago I took the photo below of a farm outside of town. The tractor had plowed all around the dilapidated house, leaving the poignant patch of history.)

worn farmhouse

Other times I search for images on Pinterest that to help set the rural tone — a few early spring flowers that bloom along the fences and in the meadow,

or signs of spring in the barnyard and nearby trees.

And always, I imagine the interior scenes that take place with Kate and her daughters,  Ursula and Jessica —

warming up with a cup of tea in the farmhouse kitchen, a blanket reached for against the chill spring nights, a few notes plucked on the piano, the comforts of a hot bath and lavender-scented sheets after a long, hard day.

Life on the farm was hard, especially during the WWII years, but Kate and her daughters made sure to enrich their day-to-day living with small beauties and the comforts of home.

Amzaon Link: http://a.co/bZvcQIt

To be released later this year: Christmastime 1939: a prequel to the Christmastime series and Christmastime 1945: A Love Story.

 

The Christmastime stories — rural and small-town Midwest

The Christmastime books, stories of love and family on the home front during the World War II years, portray an America with one foot firmly in the past and the other poised on the threshold of change. The setting for these stories, for the most part, is New York City. However, a few storylines are set in the rural Midwest.

I was born and raised in small-town Illinois and the beauty of the landscape there — old farm houses set among fields and pastures, trains running to and from the small towns, the  woods and orchards that change with the time of year — has always had a strong pull on me. The seasons are rich and distinctive, and the snowy winter setting perfect for the Christmastime stories.

In the first book of the series, Christmastime 1940, we find that Charles Drooms’ past is deeply rooted in rural Illinois, and there are a few flashbacks to his boyhood and life on the farm that explain many of his decisions later in life.

In a later book, there’s a scene where Lillian works on a series of illustrations depicting the role of women on the farm. With so many men enlisted, women had to step into the workforce and fill jobs that had recently been held by men. Lillian draws on her memories of visiting Kate’s farm in the summer of 1941.

postere farm woman

Beginning in Christmastime 1943, a key storyline takes place on Kate’s farm involving her daughters, Ursula and Jessica, and the German POWs who work on the farm while Kate’s sons are away at war. The scenes depict the connection of living close to the land with the rhythms of the seasons, and the rigor and back-breaking work required by farm life.

The farm scenes help to portray a period when time moved more slowly, and a place where most foods were locally grown and cooking was done from scratch.

A time when the home arts played an important role in day-to-day living,

and small-town life offered simple charm and the opportunity for visiting and shopping.

The tension between the beauty and bleakness of the Midwestern winter landscape also serves to reflect the complexities in Ursula, a young woman often driven by opposing impulses.

And on a larger scale, the small town and farm scenes offer a counterpoint to the New York City scenes. The tranquility and wholesomeness of the countryside serve as a reminder of how much was at stake in the war.

The rural setting also represents the tens of thousands of young men, such as Kate’s four sons, who left their small towns and farms to fight in Europe and the Pacific. For many of them, it was the first time ever leaving home. For them, the very idea of “home,” and everything it symbolized, became a deeply cherished and protected ideal.

pie and chair

(For more images evocative of the world of Christmastime, please visit my Pinterest boards at http://www.pinterest.com/lindamahkovec/)

The Plaza Hotel – book cover

All the book covers in the Christmastime series feature an old-looking photograph set in winter. They to help establish a sense of place and give the impression of peering back in time. The images also portray places that are still in existence in Manhattan, so that the reader can feel it’s possible to step into the world of Christmastime by strolling through New York City, whether literally or imaginatively. Hence, the snowy photographs of a brownstone and several scenes from Central Park.

The covers must also reflect the content and tone of the books. I chose increasingly lonesome images and darker colors as the war years wore on, especially for Christmastime 1942 and Christmastime 1943.

Though 1944 was another terrible year, the Allies were clearly gaining the upper hand, and many people believed that the war in Europe would be over by Christmas. (The mid-December surprise count-offensive by the Germans, resulting in the Battle of the Bulge, quashed that hope, and the war raged on.)

But when December arrived, hope was in the air. For the cover of Christmastime 1944, I wanted an image that was lighter, brighter, and more hopeful. When I came across the image of the Plaza Hotel lit up at night, I thought it would be perfect for the story – especially since the hotel figures into one of the plots.

cover Christmastime 1944

If you’re ever in Manhattan, stop by the Plaza Hotel for lunch or tea. Stroll through the lobby to look at the beautiful bouquets of seasonal flowers, the mosaic floors, and the stained-glass ceiling in the Palm Court.

 

And if you’re in the Christmastime frame of mind, you just might catch a glimpse of a lovely woman in a 1940’s satin and chiffon green dress.

Plaza PP mosaic