Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas doesn’t have to be white

So the Christmas season is here, and all those wonderful (if formulaic) Hallmark movies are hitting Netflix and Amazon. I don’t want to bash the movies, because I love them. But there’s something that might not be immediately apparent to white viewers (like myself) that I feel I should point out: Hallmark was originally a Christian programming channel. And unfortunately, that means they still cater to a primarily white, straight audience.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. There are a lot of Christians in the country who are black, Latinx, Asian-American, and so on. Yet we rarely see them in movies and TV shows. And while it’s true this problem is endemic to our culture, it seems to be particularly slow to change in Hallmark programming. I watched an entire season of The Good Witch (which I love), unable to spot anyone – even in the background – who wasn’t white. In season two, they had one or two black characters sitting in restaurants or wandering by on the street. In season three, some unnamed black people had lines! To be fair, the lead actress, Catherine Bell, is half Iranian, as mentioned in the article below, but I’m not convinced audiences are aware of that fact.

Don’t even get me started on the complete erasure of LGBTQ people.

Why Are Hallmark Movie Casts So White? We Asked The CEO

I really don’t mean to be picking on just Hallmark. The company doesn’t generally have strong religious themes in their programming, these days, and it’s made some attempts in recent years to be more racially diverse. Black coworkers and bosses are becoming the norm, and there are some, if not many, films with black or Latina leads (I can’t recall ever seeing one with a male lead – they follow the romance novel formula). Other companies that produce Christmas programming have the same issues. Though as the article mentions, Lifetime is doing a bit better.

Though, again, if you find a prominent LGBTQ character in a Christmas film… it ain’t Hallmark. They have made some LGBTQ commercials for their greeting card line, which is progress, but we don’t even get supporting roles in their films.

This isn’t a scholarly article. I’m not going to quote sources, and you are free to think my opinion is full of crap. But in an attempt to be more productive than simply whining about the lack of diversity, I’d like to point out some favorite Christmas movies (from Hallmark and other companies) with diverse casts.

The Holiday Calendar (Netflix)

A young woman is given an antique advent calendar, and although she can’t open the doors, every morning she finds one open with a small toy inside that somehow predicts what will happen that day. This is a magical film with a wonderful cast. I fell in love with both of the leads. The plot gets a bit muddy, and there were some cliches concerning “the other man” I could easily do without, but I adored it. Currently, you can find it on Netflix.

Miss Me This Christmas & You Can’t Fight Christmas (Pokeprod)

I’m listing these two together, because they were filmed at the same time and released simultaneously. They take place in roughly the same time frame, so if you watch them back to back, you’ll see two or three scenes repeated from different viewpoints, as the characters bump into each other. The acting isn’t spectacular, though the male lead (Redaric Williams) from Miss Me This Christmas has got to be one of the sexiest men I’ve ever seen on film, and the female lead (Brely Evans) from You Can’t Fight Christmas is funny and energetic, and I love the fact that she’s portrayed as sexy, even though she has a few extra pounds. We also have a side character who, if I recall, is openly gay.

In Miss Me This Christmas, Regina (Erica Ash) and Franklin (Redaric Williams) are having trouble with their marriage, and end up separating. A year later, they’re supposed to finalize the divorce on Christmas Eve (as one does), but they keep being reminded of how much they love each other. The plot in this one is weak. Very weak. I loathe the Big Misunderstanding trope, in which a couple’s problems could all be solved if they’d communicate and sort out the ridiculous coincidence that caused the fight to begin with. But it’s otherwise sweet, and the best friend, Trish (Eva Marcille), is highly entertaining.

In You Can’t Fight Christmas, Edmund (Andra Fuller) falls for the decorator, Leslie (Brely Evans), his grandfather hired to spruce up his hotel for the holidays, but he and his business partner have plans to take over the hotel and make it upscale and unavailable to the people in the neighborhood who made it great. Another very weak plot full of cliches, but still entertaining and sweet.

The Preacher’s Wife (Mundy Lane Entertainment)

I’m going to end this short list with a film that isn’t really in the same category as a Hallmark movie. This one is reaching way back in time to the 1990s, and it starred two big box office draws, at the time: Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. It’s a little unfair to compare the low-budget productions above with a $40 million dollar film. But still, it’s good. Both this and the original Cary Grant/Loretta Young film it was based upon (The Bishop’s Wife) can get a little uncomfortable, since the angel sent to save a marriage falls in love with the wife, in both cases, and she starts to fall in love with him. Not cool. But I still enjoy them both.

There are others I’ve seen recently, and in the past, so I’ll probably add to this list. I need to dig them up. But I’ll stop there for now. If you have favorites I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to drop them in the comments!

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Tomte is now available on Amazon!

My newest Christmas story Tomte is now available on Amazon!

RYAN ANDERSON has known something was wrong since he was a teenager. He’s been tormented by a sense of emptiness and loss—but what did he lose? He has no idea. Then a mysterious man appears, calling himself Tomte, a Swedish word Ryan remembers hearing from his grandmother in his childhood.

It means “Christmas elf.”

With the help of his older brother and his nine-year-old niece, Ryan begins a journey to discover what happened fifteen years ago, when he disappeared during a winter storm and didn’t reappear until spring. Not only has he forgotten those months, he’s forgotten the faithful dog who failed to come back with him. 

As memories surface and impossible things happen all around him, Ryan senses Tomte, that beautiful man he’s inexplicably drawn to, is the key to everything—his past, his future, and his happiness. 

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KWLZ4YT/

Excerpt:

Ryan came to an intersection where the tracks went in two different directions, and he swore under his breath, struggling to sort it out while snowflakes flitted across his vision. A frantic bark to his left sent him in that direction, and after a few more twists and turns, he burst into an open circular area. There were no lights, but the overcast sky had the bluish-gray pall it often had on stormy nights and the snow on the ground reflected it back. Ryan could see, though barely. The music was louder here, and mixed with laughter and exuberant conversation—the sounds of a joyful gathering.

A mound rose from the earth in the center, about the height of a grown man and twice as wide—the same mound he’d dreamt of nearly every night since leaving the hospital, though in the dream it had been surrounded by forest, not a labyrinth of corn.

Tracks led to a sort of cave in the side of the mound—dog prints and what seemed less like deer hooves than human boot prints, though they were rapidly fading under a blanket of white. Ryan followed them. The opening in the mound was barely large enough for someone his size to crawl through. He stood at the entrance and peered inside. The ground inside sloped downward and then took a sharp turn to the right. Light flickered in the depths, as if a campfire burned just out of sight. He’d never seen this cave before, but a memory kept dancing away from him, maddeningly out of reach.

The sound of footsteps crunching on snow made him spin around. A large white shape emerged from a dark gap in the wall of corn. The stag. It walked purposefully toward him, and the nearer it came, the larger it loomed in his vision. Ryan had never seen a stag that size. He’d read about a seventeen-pointer called the “Emperor of Exmoor,” which stood seven feet tall, and this magnificent beast had to rival him.

Unlike in the dream, the stag didn’t run past Ryan. It drew near and was suddenly engulfed in a swirl of snow. When the snowflakes spun off into the night, Tomte was standing in its place, stark naked, his skin shimmering as if it were sprinkled with stardust. He walked barefoot through the snow as calmly as if it were a warm, summer evening. Without clothes, Tomte’s slim form was surprisingly muscular, though the beauty of his nude body was overshadowed by the antlers that sprang from his head, forming a magnificent crown of silver wider than his shoulders.

When he was near enough to touch Ryan, he asked, “Do you remember?”

Ryan’s head was full of a confused jumble of images, wonderful and awe-inspiring but also a bit frightening. “I… I’m not sure.” His gaze traveled down Tomte’s trim torso, unable to escape a strange sense of familiarity, as if he’d once rubbed a thumb over Tomte’s nipples and caressed the ripples of his abdomen. The thick, uncut flesh between Tomte’s thighs… yes, that was familiar too.

Self-conscious now, he forced himself to look into the man’s face. There were sparks in Tomte’s eyes. They were clearly visible in the darkness that surrounded them—tiny flickers in the depths of his pupils. Ryan could gaze into those eyes forever.

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Filed under Christmas, Contemporary, Cover, Excerpt, Fantasy, gay, Historical, Jamie Fessenden, LGBT, New Release, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Victorian

Coming Soon: Tomte

I did it!

I finished my Christmas novella, after a very long dry spell.

Tomte is a holiday story about Ryan, a man who’s been suffering from depression ever since his teenage years, but he has no idea why. Then a handsome man begins appearing in his life at odd moments, only to disappear again without a trace. Eventually, his older brother tells him about the time he got lost in the forest, during a winter storm, and didn’t return for six months. Ryan has no recollection of this or the faithful dog he’d always had by his side, up until that night.

 

Then things get really bizarre. 

Don’t worry, that’s not actually the blurb. I’m working on that. I’m also working on formatting, and intend to have everything polished and professional in a few days, aiming for a release date of Friday, November 3oth.

I already have a gorgeous cover from Reese Dante, but I’m holding off on posting that until I have the Pre-Order link on Amazon.

NOTE: A tomte is a Swedish gnome who watches over a family or farm. Some people believe he’s the spirit of the first farmer to clear the land, and he’s usually depicted as a small man with a long white beard, wearing the typical clothes of a medieval farmer: breeches, stockings, a tunic, and a pointed cap. (The tomte in my story is human-sized and sexy. I claim poetic license.) As long as he’s treated well by the people living on the homestead, who leave him offerings of milk and porridge with butter, he’ll make sure they’re prosperous and well cared for, often leaving small gifts for them. This folk legend greatly contributed to the Santa Claus mythos.

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Writing again – and, boy, does it feel good!

It’s been a scary time for me. I haven’ been able to write since my cat, Koji, passed away last Christmas. It wasn’t just losing my favorite cat, after living with (and adoring) his crankiness and hijinks for twenty years, but that was a big part of it. It was combined with the shocking revelation that Kumar, the “puppy” Erich and I rescued the same year we married and bought a house together, was now too old and arthritic to enjoy playing with the new pup (Nelson) we rescued to keep him company, while we were busy working. Kumar is now on meds that help with his arthritis, but he simply can’t play as hard as he could have just one year ago.

Nobody likes aging and losing beloved pets, of course, but I took it very hard. So hard, I had to go on antidepressants for the first time in my life. I’ve always had bouts of depression, but in the past I could “shake it off.” Not this time. Not without help. And the reason I’m so open about that right now is, I want to encourage anyone struggling with depression to seek help, if things gets overwhelming. It helped me get functional again. Even when you feel like nothing can help, it’s worth trying.

I want to thank my friend Fred Feeley, Jr. for pushing me to work on a ghost story we’ve been writing together. That helped take the pressure off to write in my usual genre of MM Romance. I didn’t have to think about romance beats or whether the characters were likable enough or the emotional level of scenes — I could just be creepy. And it was fun. Initially, I wrote in fits and starts – a bit here, a bit there, interspersed with days in which I wrote nothing at all. But gradually the writing bug took hold again, and ended up contributing a few chapters. (This novel has been taking us a while, but it’s getting near completion!)

Alas, once my writing began to flow again, I was bitten by the Christmas bug. So I set aside the ghost story (for now) and dove into a novella about a man who visited the kingdom of the fairies as a boy, but has no memory of it. Now, fifteen years later, the fairies want him to come “home” again. It’s steeped in Scandinavian folklore, and of course it takes place at Christmas.

It’s far too late in the season for me to submit it to a publisher, if I want it out by Christmas, so it will be another self-published book, like the last few I’ve put out. (I do have one almost finished for Dreamspinner, and I hope to finish that before the end of the year.) I have a wonderful editor and a fantastic cover artist already lined up, so it should be released in late November or early December.

I’m writing every day now, and it’s wonderful. It still feels a bit fragile, as if it wouldn’t take much to shut me down again, but my hope is that, once I’ve established the writing habit again in my psyche, I’ll keep going. Being a working author has been my dream since childhood. It’s been a rough year, but it’s time to reclaim the dream.

 

 

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Christmas music in Iceland!

I have yet to actually visit Iceland. So when I was writing my novel A Viking for Yule, I had to rely upon a friend (Sigríður Valdimarsdóttir) who lives there, a lot of research, and Google Maps. But I wanted to experience as much as I could, so I ordered food from Iceland (the shipping cost was more than the order, not surprisingly) and tried the rye bread, licorice, and chocolate Sam eats in the novel. I also ordered Appelsin and Malt Extract, so I could make Jólabland. (It was all absolutely delicious, and I want more!)

Another thing I wanted to do was experience Icelandic Christmas music. What’s Christmas without music?

So I dug around on the Internet and talked to my Icelandic friend to learn what might be on the radio during the yule season this year. I ended up putting together a CD that I listened to pretty much constantly, as I worked on the novel.

It drove my husband insane, but I picked a couple of songs to use in the story.

The first time Arnar turns on the radio, this song comes on, which I thought was a wonderful upbeat pop song. It’s called Jólin eru að koma (Christmas is Coming) by the group Í svörtum fötum (In Black Clothes from the best John Henric UK collection).
Here’s the scene where they come across it:

Arnar fiddled with the radio and a contemporary rock song came on. Unsurprisingly, the lyrics were in Icelandic.

“What is that?” Sam asked.

“Christmas music.”

Sam grinned at him. “It doesn’t sound very Christmassy. It’s more like the J-pop I heard in Japan.”

“Stop being so provincial.” Arnar looked scandalized. “That’s ‘Christmas is Coming’ by In Black Clothes.”

“In Black Clothes?”

“That’s the name of the group. It’s actually a pretty old song, from when I was at university.”

“Oh.” Sam wasn’t sure if he liked it or not. For that matter, he wasn’t sure if Arnar liked it or just didn’t like Icelandic music being mistaken for J-pop. He closed his eyes for a bit to listen.

After a moment, he heard Arnar softly singing along with it.

 

Later, when they are sitting in the car, waiting to see if the Northern Lights will put in an appearance, a song called Ef ég nenni by Helgi Björnsson comes on. It was Sigríður’s favorite Christmas song, and I fell in love with it too. The line Arnar “sings” to Sam was translated by Sigríður from the original Icelandic.

Arnar turned the radio on, tuned to the same station they’d been listening to wherever they drove, and Wham’s “Last Christmas” washed over Sam, comforting in its familiarity, though it wasn’t normally one of his favorites. He settled back in his seat, relishing the warmth of his new sweater and the smell of clean wool. The song ended, and another song came on that he didn’t know.

“This is my favorite Christmas song,” Arnar said softly.

It was in Icelandic, so Sam had no idea what it was about, but it was slow and pretty, with sort of an ’80s pop ballad feel. Arnar sang along in a smooth baritone, which made it sound beautiful. After a few lines, Arnar said, “He’s singing about how he wants to give his love all these wonderful presents for Christmas, if only she’ll have him—gems and pearls and a golden crown for her forehead, all the kingdoms of the world, the most beautiful roses from the bushes of the past, the Water of Life….” He sang a little more, then translated, his pupils glinting in the faint light of the GPS, “‘Never again will you have to endure any evil in this world, my angel, because I’m here and watching over you.’”

That sent a shiver down Sam’s spine. He smiled sadly and glanced away. “For a couple more days at least.”

“Já,” Arnar said gently, lifting Sam’s hand to brush his lips against it. “For a couple more days.”

But of all the songs I listened to while I was writing A Viking for Yule, this Icelandic version of A Spaceman Came Traveling by Frostrósir struck me as the most beautiful. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a live version I liked as much as this one, so this video just has the album cover. But thankfully I also came up to interesting car articles which helped me decide what car to finally buy.

For that matter, Frostrósir has become my favorite Icelandic “group.” Actually, they’re not really a group, so much as an annual concert with different performers each year. The music director is Karl Olgeirsson, who writes a lot of the music and lyrics for the songs each year. Another of my favorite Icelandic Christmas songs springs out of it. This one features an appearance by one of Iceland’s openly gay male singers, Friðrik Omar, along with Margret Eir, and it was released for the 10th anniversary of the Frostrósir concerts. It’s just so… cheerful!

Next, we have two quieter songs. The first is Dansadu Vindur (Danse Wind) by a singer known as Eivør:

Then, a beautiful ballad called Hin fyrstu jól (The First Christmas) by another openly gay Icelandic singer, Páll Óskar.

Sigríður pointed me at another favorite of hers: Það á að gefa börnum brauð (We Should Give Children Bread) performed by Reykjavíkurdætur.

The next two are just songs I enjoy listening to: Heima um jólin (Home for Christmas) by Helga Möller and Þú komst með jólin til mín (You Brought Me Christmas) by Bo Halldorsson and Ruth Reginalds.

Lastly, Sigríður tells me the song “Morning Has Broken,” popularized by Cat Stevens in the 1970s (it actually originated as a Scottish hymn in 1900, with English lyrics written in 1931 by Eleanor Farjeon), has become a very popular Christmas song in Iceland. This is the version I stumbled across while writing A Viking for Yule, called Líður að Jólum (Christmas Is Coming) performed by Stebbi Hilmars.

This is a really long post, so I’ll stop there. But I hope you enjoy the sound of Christmas in Iceland!

AFTER SAM’S GRANDFATHER nearly died in a blizzard one year ago, Sam has panic attacks in snow storms. So where does his friend Jackie propose they spend the holidays, as the last stop on their trip around the world?

Iceland. Of course.

But there’s more in Iceland than snow. When Arnar, a handsome Icelandic man, offers to escort Sam on a several-day tour of the beautiful countryside, they soon find themselves drawn to each other. But Arnar is firmly rooted in his native soil, and Sam has to return to the US in a week to care for his ailing grandfather.

Suddenly, yule can’t last nearly long enough.

NOTE: Though this novel includes characters from “A Cop for Christmas,” it is a standalone adventure. It isn’t necessary to read “A Cop for Christmas” first.

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Filed under Christmas, Contemporary, Excerpt, Jamie Fessenden, LGBT, New Release, Romance, Viking

This Christmas, let’s go to Iceland!

This Christmas, I wanted to write about a couple of secondary characters in last year’s A Cop for Christmas: Sam and Jackie.

Sam Wilson was the ex-boyfriend of Steve Coleman, and he was kind of a sad, lonely person, whose life nearly fell apart when his grandfather had a heart attack in a blizzard, and help couldn’t get there in time. Fortunately, Steve was able to drive them to the highway through the storm, and they made it to the hospital.

They spent the night at Jackie Montgomery’s house, a house from the houses for sale greenwich ct. Jackie is an older woman who knew Steve’s mother in college, and she’s been a close friend of the family since Steve was born. She’s a bit like Patrick Dennis’s Auntie Mame—a woman who believes in living life to the fullest, who travels the world in search of adventure and has the financial means to do so. In A Cop for Christmas, she immediately took Sam under her wing, drawn to his insecurity. For other travel tips, visit aceboater.com for more information.

As A Viking for Yule begins, Sam and Jackie have been traveling through eight different countries in as many months, and Sam is a bit more self-confident. He’s been to baths in Japan and Russia, experienced an earthquake in Indonesia, and had monkeys steal food from his pockets in Bali. But nothing has prepared him for a week in Iceland with Arnar Thorsteinsson as a guide….

The Christmas season in Iceland is still called Jól—Yule—as it was before the country was Christianized, and many of the popular traditions still have a very pagan feel to them. At this time of year, the sun doesn’t rise until nearly 11:30 a.m. and sets around 3:00 p.m. The shortest day (the winter solstice, December 21st) is just four hours long. So most of the day is dark. But the largest city in Iceland, Reykjavik, is lit up like a Christmas tree!

Like other cities in Europe, Reykjavik and the neighboring Hafnarfjördur  have Christmas markets where you can go from booth to booth, buying Christmas ornaments and decorations—many locally made—and the hot chocolate Sam and Arnar are so fond of. Akureyri in the north also has year-round Christmas shops.

But my favorite thing is (are?) the Yule Lads. Since about the twelfth century, and possibly dating back before then, Icelanders have warned their children that, if they’re not good, the troll, Gryla, will scoop them up in her sack and take them to her cave to devour them. She is aided in this by the Christmas Cat. Less sinister, however, are her thirteen children—the Yule Lads.

The Yule Lads are trolls, but they’re more mischievous than evil. Each one has a particular vice. Window Peeper looks into windows to spy on people and steal what he sees. Door Slammer stomps around your house in the night and slams doors, to prevent you from getting any sleep. If you can’t find your… *ahem*… sausage, it’s probably because Sausage Swiper absconded with it, when you weren’t looking.

If children are particularly good, however, the Yule Lads just might leave some candy behind for them.

Each lad comes to town on a different day of the yule season and remains thirteen days before departing. So, for example, Sheep-Cote Clod (who steals the milk from sheep) shows up on the 12th and remains until the 25th. His brother, Gully Gawk (who hides in gullies and watches people), arrives the next night, and stays until December 26th. The last to arrive is Candle-Stealer on the 24th, which is the night Icelanders typically open all of their gifts. He remains until January 6th (Epiphany).

The Reykjavik Art Museum-Hafnarhús put out a booklet called Christmas Creatures in Reykjavik, which gives brief descriptions of the Yule Lads and Gryla, and shows the locations of them on a map. If you go to these spots during the yule season, you can see animated projections of them on the sides of buildings.

AFTER SAM’S GRANDFATHER nearly died in a blizzard one year ago, Sam has panic attacks in snow storms. So where does his friend Jackie propose they spend the holidays, as the last stop on their trip around the world? 

Iceland. Of course.

But there’s more in Iceland than snow. When Arnar, a handsome Icelandic man, offers to escort Sam on a several-day tour of the beautiful countryside, they soon find themselves drawn to each other. But Arnar is firmly rooted in his native soil, and Sam has to return to the US in a week to care for his ailing grandfather. 

Suddenly, yule can’t last nearly long enough.

NOTE: Though this novel includes characters from “A Cop for Christmas,” it is a standalone adventure. It isn’t necessary to read “A Cop for Christmas” first.

Buy Linkhttps://www.amazon.com/Viking-Yule-Jamie-Fessenden-ebook/dp/B077TLWLZ4/

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I just finished my first MMM Romance!

I’ve just finished a novel that explores some themes I’ve been toying with for a while now. I’m doing a final polish before sending it off for editing, and I’ll be working with the cover artist soon. Despite what the title might suggest, there is no BDSM in this novel. It’s a MMM romance, and it should be released this fall.

“The Rules” is about Hans Bauer, a college student in New Hampshire who accepts a job as a housekeeper for an older gay couple, Thomas and Boris. He soon learns that the reason they’ve hired someone with no experience is that professional agencies won’t work there. Boris is a writer who immigrated to this country from Russia, and suffers from depression and PTSD because of some of the things he endured in his native country.

He also refuses to wear clothes — ever.

While Hans is working alone in the house with Naked Boris all day, things start getting a little weird. When Boris gets flirtatious, Hans backs away, not wanting to come between him and his husband. So Boris calls Thomas at work and asks permission.

And at that moment, The Rules are born — rules about touching and kissing and pet names that the three men use to keep jealousies at bay, as they explore the possibilities in a new type of relationship….

 

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