Why Mother Christmas?

In September/October of 2022, my new graphic novel, Mother Christmas, Volume 1: The Muse, will be released by Rosarium Publishing. It is a love letter to the winter holidays and the hope that they celebrate and inspire. Light in the darkness. Hope in times of uncertainty.

Now, more than ever, I wanted to write a story that celebrates hope. We live in difficult times, and fear is ever-present in many people’s lives all around the world: fear of the pandemic, violence, war, loss of basic rights and freedoms, fear of global warning and a collapse of so many things we have grown accustomed to. Fear of change, fear of difference, fear of being passed by, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being judged, fear of being forgotten. There’s a lot of fear.

The story of Mother Christmas is largely a story about fear and hope. In Volume 1, you meet the Kobaloi who literally feed off fear. You also meet the Muses, whose job it is to inspire.

How does this all come together for Christmas? Set around the Winter Solstice, so many of the holidays of this season recognize the primal fear of darkness and the unknown. Our ancestors worried that as days got shorter, the sun may never come back. Now, we have so much science and technology on our side, and yet we still do not know what the future holds or if we can survive what is happening all around us.

So we look around for the hope. We listen to stories that comfort and inspire us, that challenge us to do better and show us ways to try. What better way to look at hope than by looking at some of the archetypes that we hold dear, like Santa Claus?

Mother Christmas attempts to answer a question that first occurred to me back in 2003: “What is Mrs. Claus’s story?”

Most of my story ideas begin with a question. This question led to more: Where did she come from? When and why did she come on the scene? What exactly is their relationship?

Which led to still more questions: Why are they living such a long life? What’s the deal with the presents? Where does the magic come from?

I began digging into the biography and lore of St. Nicholas. We were living in Frankfurt, Germany at the time, so we were able to plan a trip to Turkey. With my baby strapped to me, we explored the cities of what had been Lycia the land where the historical Nicholas lived: Patara, Myra, and the surrounding areas.

That trip is a story all on its own (for another blog post). It allowed me to visit for myself the wonderful places that have come to feature prominently in the story of Mother Christmas.

When Nicholas was alive, the Roman Empire was populated by people practicing many different faiths. It’s at the intersection of those spiritual practices where our story begins.

I started writing that story 17 years ago but didn’t finish it until last year, when I began to work on it as a graphic novel, illustrated by Victória Terra, for Rosarium Publishing.

This month I wrapped up the script for our first volume, and Victória is finishing up the art. We are so excited to share this world with you, and what a world it is! All the images in this blog post are from the first of the three volumes story.

Volume 1: The Muse introduces us to Amara, and she’s probably not what you expect Santa’s eventual partner to be.

Amara is one of the Muses, from the House of Polyhymnia. She is assigned to Nicholas’s sister, Flavia, to inspire her in her life’s purpose.

In Volume 1, you get to meet some of the other Muses.

You also get introduced to the Kobaloi, creatures that feed on fear.

A glimpse from a children’s book for Muses:

This is just Volume 1. In the remaining two volumes will follow Nicholas and Amara all over this world and through other realms, from Turkey to Iceland to Germany to the UK to America and more. Eventually you’ll learn more about some of those longstanding questions about St. Nick: Elves? Flying Reindeer? Presents? Krampus? You’ll also meet some of the other historical and mythic figures who have played a part in shaping up the winter holidays we have today.

In Volume 1, we watch the relationship develop between Amara and Flavia and Nicholas, as well as Amara’s struggles as she tried to figure out what being a Muse means to her and how she can best use her abilities to help humanity.

By her side (most of the time) is the Guardian assigned to watch over and help protect Flavia from birth until death.

Then there are the others who seem to be helping the Kobaloi to cultivate fear and sabotage the work that Muses and Guardians and other are doing to help humanity.

I’m excited to share these glimpses of what’s to come. Mother Christmas is already available for pre-order online, and I’ll post more information as it becomes available.

There will be a launch party or two, and signings around the country (hopefully just in time for the Winter Holidays).

We’re going to try and do some fun promotions around this, so stay tuned, and please get in touch if you have ideas or questions about bringing Mother Christmas to your town.

A Month’s Time

My last entry was one month ago. I need to update more regularly because a month seems daunting when so much has happened. So I’ll be (relatively) brief.

In between a holiday in the desert (a landscape I love more and more) and wonderful visits from friends, I finished Book #2. Woo hoo! After some feedback I will soon begin a session of revision.

I like that part: revision–smoothing out the rough bits. The sculpture is there, it’s on the table. I know what it wants to be, but it need a little buffing, some chiseling, and polishing. Hard work, but I can see an end.

(And I am so excited to share it with you!)

During this last month I also took a class on comic writing with writer Michael Moreci at the Newberry Library (this glorious library deserves its own post, but for now I say, “Go there! Where else can you see collections that “span the history and culture of western Europe from the Middle Ages to the mid-twentieth century and the Americas from the time of first contact between Europeans and Native Americans” for free? Truly a Chicago treasure. Go!)

I am inspired by folks like Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill and a handful of others who tell their stories the way their stories need to be told, whether that’s as a novel, a comic book, a poem, a film, a play, and so on. I believe there is a valuable lesson is recognizing that stories come in all shapes and sizes.

The class was wonderful for someone like me, unschooled in the craft of comic/graphic novel writing but eager to learn. Plus once a week I got to read books, do homework, and go to class  (I haven’t done that as a student in nearly 2 decades).

Clearly the others in the class had read much more than I; my experience is limited to comics of my youth and college forays into Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and a few others. I felt out of my league with these students who lived and breathed comics for the last few decades, throwing around issues and arcs in our discussions. But they were kind and allowed me to ask many (probably obvious to them) questions.

It was wonderful to break it all apart: read classics and new incarnations, learn about the process of crafting a series, a graphic novel, a re-imagined character. Joe Hill’s Locke & Key was terrific and Moore’s Swamp Thing blew me away, Wil Eisner’s instruction books are a great resource,  and Moreci is a patient, informed, and generous instructor.

Then I had to write a comic script.

My brain broke a bit, in a good way, because when it came back together, I learned things.

Writing is a joy for me, even when challenging, but this was new and didn’t come naturally for me. There were so many new things to think about: Panels! Perspective! Words in captions that cannot go on and on for pages! Ah brevity, we meet again, and I have more to learn. Descriptions that will only be read by an artist! Panels! Pages!

In the beginning I was paralyzed. How many panels? How do I choose? Which perspective? Closer or farther? How do I say something in the most concise way possible?

*Here I thank Twitter for recent 140 constraints that have helped to teach me about trimming down my natural tendency to be verbose. 😉 *

It was writing, but a bit like learning a sestina or villanelle for the first time: it was work.

But I LOVED it! I loved having to stretch outside my comfort zone and take risks. I know I made mistakes, but I look forward to learning from them. We discuss the pieces next week. I can’t wait to read the other students’ scripts. It’s fun to have something so complex to learn and explore.

I tried to explain why I found it challenging to a non-writer friend. When I write, it’s almost like uncovering a sculpture from the marble (a la Michelangelo):

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

But with comic writing, it’s like trying to create a human body, with all those interconnected systems. The script is like the skeleton, and even though I am not going to make the muscles, skin, etc., I need to have an idea of what they are going to look like and give instructions for their construction. There’s so much to consider. It’s not just the form, it’s all that stuff underneath. Comic writing is about guts.

Now, of course I know that good writing is also layered and complex. I love allusion more than most. I also know that not all comics are that complicated. However, the metaphor helped when I tried to explain the way the process felt to me. The closest thing I could compare it to is the surrealists’ Exquisite Corpse exercise (and we’re back to the body metaphor.)

Good things on the horizon: a few more trips, some fun parties, and then glorious Autumn with her cooler temperature and the natural inclination to turn inward as the Earth prepares to slumber. Nice to remember as the temperatures soar: it is only temporary.

Soon the wheel will turn again.

I hope to write more and often again before then.