Holiday Gift Ideas 2021

Like the last two years, I want to post some ideas for mid-winter gifts. This year, to do my personal utmost to fight the pandemic and still support bricks-and-mortar and small businesses, I’ve mostly avoided crowded shops and post offices and instead ordered online. As always, my favorite gifts to give are books, and I ordered all these from my local indie bookstore.

But Christmas is fast approaching. If you have a local indie, check with them to see if they have time to get your books by Christmas. Or you can use Barnes & Noble – their website notes if you order by Dec. 20th you can get books shipped just in time with express shipping.

These are the books I’ve gotten for my loved ones – and some for myself!

my own copy

For picture-book lovers of all ages: The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper. The text is a poem from the Christmas Revels, and celebrates the return of light into the darkest of times. I love this poem so much I bought a copy of the book for myself.

For young middle-schoolers: Stuntboy by Jason Reynolds. Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book, but I was greatly impressed by the book Stamped Jason Reynolds co-wrote with Ibram X. Kendi, and by hearing Jason talk at a book-signing. Also, his description of the book was so charming, I knew I wanted to get it for my nephew. Here’s Jason’s description of Stuntboy aka Portico Reeves: “he’s awesome. He’s got a hightop fade, a cape, a cat, a grandmother, a best friend (which has been hard for me to get used to because I thought I was his best friend) and lives in a castle. Most importantly, he has a super power.”

my advance copy

For young adults and older: For All Time by Shanna Miles. This is a great story of star-crossed lovers meeting and being parted across time, with vivid glimpses into times past and some excellent twists. I feel honored to have gotten an advance reader’s copy, and hope to post a more full review in the new year.

my own copy

Also for young adults and older: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer. One of my favorite books of the year – I highly recommend it for anyone who has read all the previous Enola Holmes books. For fans of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian mysteries, and the Enola Holmes movie – I highly recommend starting with the first book, Enola Holmes and the Case of the Missing Marquess.

Photo Provided by Laura Selinsky

For adults young and old: Whitstead Christmastide edited by Abigail and Sara Falanga. A collection of short stories set in a Dickensian village where the veil between worlds is thin, and wondrous things can happen. I read one of the stories as my friend Laura Selinsky was polishing it, and that inspired me to buy three copies, one for myself. I am reading it presently, and it is warming my heart.

For animal lovers: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The wonderful stories from the life of a Yorkshire veterinarian; if you’ve seen the excellent adaptation on PBS, know that the stories are even richer.

For more ideas, I invite you to see my blogposts from 2019 and 2020.

May we all celebrate the light, and share it.

Holiday Gift Ideas

My favorite gifts to give are books. If you’re like me (and also haven’t finished your gift buying yet), I have some books to recommend. Many of these I have already given as gifts, or would happily give, and some are current favorites of mine.* Of course, you can always give them to yourself anytime of year!

Covers of several books
A Small and Varied Selection

As a gift to your community, buy books from your local bookstore if you can! If you can’t visit a store in person, you can order online from many independent bookstores as well as Barnes & Noble.

Some of these books are e-books – and yes, you can give e-books as gifts! Here’s how for Barnes and Noble Nook books and for Amazon Kindle books.

For picture book lovers and readers:
Imagine! by Raúl Colón. A story told in the luminous illustrations of Raúl Colón, about a boy who goes to a museum where people from the artwork leap out to interact with him.

Stretchy McHandsome by Judy Schachner. A delightful book for fans of Skippyjon Jones, and cat-lovers of all stripes.

For Middle-graders and above, especially fans of sci-fi:

My Best Friend Runs Venus by Katrina Forest. A fun interplanetary journey undertaken by kids in robot avatars trying to save the solar system.

 

A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine. The poignant story of a boy who discovers the mind-boggling fact that his family are time-travelers, while dealing with the loss of family members. It’s about family, friends, adventure, grief, and the love that changes everything; it truly touched me.

For fans of fantasy, young adult and older:


Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine. A captivating take on Romeo and Juliet’s story, as seen from the characters in the shadows, with magical underpinnings.

Ink and Bone, The Great Library Book One by Rachel Caine. For those who prefer a steampunk flavor over Shakespeare, this is the story of a book smuggler in a world where owning books can get you attacked by automaton lions.

 

For adults:


Accessing the Future  ed. by Kathryn Allan & Djibril al-Ayad. An inclusive anthology of speculative fiction, featuring a favorite of mine, “A Sense All its Own.”

 

The All-You-Can-Read Buffet by Stephen L. Thompson. An eclectic collection of short stories for varied tastes, from horror to humor, the everyday to the fantastical.

 

The Easy Road by Alexandra Scott-Coulter. For fans of rock ‘n’ roll, especially anyone who’s dreamed of being a rock star, this is the story of a man who becomes just that.

 

Running Wild Novella Anthology Volume 3 edited by Lisa Diane Kastner. I’d buy this for the story “Broken Soul to Broken Soul” alone; a story about ‘Two souls, two traumas, one path to healing … love.’ [Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the other stories yet – it just came out this month!]

 

cover art for Season of Hope novella

Season of Hope by Laura Nelson Selinsky. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Find out in this heartwarming Romance novella.

 

Strife and Harmony  ed. by Dixianne Hallaj and D.J. Stevenson. Strife, doubt, & suspicion — heroic (and not-so-heroic) characters search for harmony in this international anthology. Especially read the exploits of Sippy and Algernon Moynihan, two characters I’ve met and am quite fond of.

Legendary by Amelia Kibbie. I fell in love with the short story that predates this novel – about two boys in England, struggling with bullies and the perils of WWII England; Kirkus Review calls the novel (set years after the short story) “A rousing story of love and sacrifice.”

 

And in honor of the very soul and heart of Christmas,
A Vine-Ripened Life by Stanly D. Gale, a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on and exploration of the great fruits of grace.

 

However you observe this season, may you celebrate the light, and share it.

 

 

* where the picture quality is questionable, it’s because it’s of my own treasured copies.

Guest Blog by Laura Selinsky: Holiday Reading Break

picture of Laura Selinsky
Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

Today is St. Nicholas’ Day, a traditional time of gift-giving, and in honor of the occasion I offer you this gift: a blog by my friend Laura Nelson Selinsky.  It is particularly fitting for this day – please read on to find out why!

Candles, a cup of tea, and…a Christmas story. Sure, there are television specials by the score, but nothing compares to cocoa or tea and a heartwarming story after a busy day. I’m here to share my favorite way to step back from my too-busy life and prepare for the holidays.

In my family, we often shared reading breaks before Christmas…our quiet little respite in the hallowed chaos of the season. Until my kids left home, we read aloud regularly. For the holidays, we read everything from Luke’s sublime nativity story to the nonsense of Vip’s Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher. We read our copy of Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to tatters. I owe the Christmas reading tradition to my high school drama teacher who read Dylan Thomas’s* A Child’s Christmas In Wales to us each year, a practice I continue in my own classroom.

Perhaps you’d enjoy a holiday reading break of your own. The best place to start is Charles Dickens’* A Christmas Carol, with its happiest of happy endings. Be prepared for a little social justice tucked between the candles and figgy puddings of the Dickens. There are many shortened versions of his novella available, and reading a condensation is not an insult to the author. Dickens himself recited a condensed version on his lecture tours. Christmas Carol always awakens a little holiday spirit. If you are one of Gemma’s writer friends, visiting Scrooge is a good way to review Dickens’ mastery of playing his reader’s heartstrings.

If heartstring tugging is your pleasure, then holiday romances make a perfect break between wrapping and baking. My own little romance Season of Hope** was released by Anaiah Press on November 1. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Of course! That’s why romance is the perfect genre for a relaxed holiday reading break.

cover art for Season of Hope novella

Gemma’s note: And the hero of this story is a pastor named Nick! Happy Namesake Day, Nick.  

Thank you for sharing your lovely way of calming this hectic season, Laura! I invite readers to connect with you on your Twitter and Facebook. They can also find you on Amazon.

*Thomas’ and Dickens’ works are in the public domain and can easily be obtained online, but reading from a screen is less relaxing than from paper, (blue light, social media, yadda, yadda…). Your public library certainly has A Christmas Carol on paper. {And likewise your local bookstore! Gemma.}

**Season of Hope is available from Anaiah Press  {Gemma’s note: see coupon code for 30% off , then scroll down just a little to see their Seasonal Titles on sale!} or from Amazon. My publisher Anaiah Press has a Santa’s pack  full of charming novels and novellas being released for the holidays. They might be just what your reading break requires.

Banner of Season of Hope cover art

 

 

Guest Blog by Laura Selinsky: Writing By the Numbers

picture of Laura Selinsky
Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

{From Gemma: I am deeply pleased to welcome my friend and colleague Laura Nelson Selinsky as a guest on my blog to celebrate the release day of her new novella, Season of Hope. Please read on for Laura’s post.}

Banner of Season of Hope cover art
Release Day Nov. 1 2019

If you are a reader of a certain age, your childhood included “paint by numbers,” an allegedly artistic activity. It was the sort of gift you received at Christmas from childless and unimaginative relations. Paint by numbers sets attempted to quantify beauty and force it into the chubby fingers of eight-year olds. At best, painting by numbers represented a quixotic and foolish quest.

As a fantasy writer, I do love a foolish quest. Today, I’m on a quest to quantify my writing by numbers, starting with zero.

Zero: For much of my life, I wasn’t a fiction writer. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write, but that my writing wasn’t a passionate creative process. In college and seminary, I wrote essays, analyses, and research. As a pastor and ministry leader, I wrote sermons, scripts, and curriculum. For teaching, I wrote reports, emails, and even a few letters. But I wrote zero words of fiction from the day I graduated from grammar school to the day I turned fifty.

Fifty: On my fiftieth birthday, I started a novel. A host of fictional people live in my head, and I wanted to let them out to play. Two months later, I had completed a draft of the still unpublished Daughter of Fire. By the time I was fifty-two, another novel was complete. I began to write query letters, seeking print homes for my books.

300,000: The next decade of writing meant watching my wordcount tick toward the stratosphere. 300,000 is roughly the number of words in A Game of Thrones or Bleak House, depending on how classy you like your wordcounts. And that’s only if I think of each story as a single draft. Some of my projects have been through five drafts; one has been revised nine times. If I consider the number of words deleted, supplemented, or revised? Yikes, that’s a lot of writing. 300,000 is easier to imagine.

Ten: By my sixtieth birthday, I had published a couple of short stories and a nonfiction piece about teaching students with learning differences. My birthday gift was an email from the wonderful editor Kara Leigh Miller, saying that she was taking my Christmas novella before the purchasing committee at Anaiah Press. I had sold Season of Hope by the end of the following week—ten years after I began writing seriously. Through Kara’s editorial guidance Season of Hope grew to 50,000 words, treading the line between an overgrown novella and a wee little novel. Ten is also the number of years that I have spent in a priceless critique group sponsored by Pennwriters and marshalled by Gemma Brook, mistress of this blog.

cover art for Season of Hope novella

One: Season of Hope is being released today, November 1, 2019. It will be followed in ten days by Beach Dreams. I entered my first writing competition this summer, and my short story Shells won second place. That story, a meditation on the ways we measure the children we love, will be featured in Beach Dreams, published by Cat and Mouse Press.

cover art for Beach Dreams anthology
Release Day Nov 10 2019

Winning a writing contest in one try seems absurdly, undeservedly easy if you ignore ten and 300,000. But writers aren’t paint by numbers automatons. If you want to write, ten and 300,000, and the perseverance they represent, are the only numbers that matter.

From Gemma: Thank you for sharing a bit of your writing history, Laura, and the inspiring perseverance encapsulated within. Congratulations on the excellent news of your imminent publications! I invite my readers to connect with you through these links for Facebook and  Twitter or by searching Laura Nelson Selinsky. Readers, you can also find Laura on her Amazon page. And you can meet her in person at the Beach Dreams launch party! If you can’t make the party, you can read new interviews with Laura by Melinda Dozier, by Sara Beth Williams,  and at Batya’s Bits

Interview with Aud Supplee

Aud Supplee, Author

Here begins a new chapter of interviews featuring members of the two awesome critique groups I belong to. Aud and I have been in the same group for about seven years now, and I’m delighted to invite her to my blog.

Welcome, Aud! I understand you have some news to share.

Aud: I’m excited to announce that one of my stories has been recently accepted for publication by Running Wild Press. It’s a novella for adults titled Broken Soul to Broken Soul, about two people with separate traumas who come together and help each other heal.

Gemma: That is exciting! I’ve read prior drafts of that novella, and it not only brought tears to my eyes, it gave me goosebumps, and also made me laugh! I’m so happy it’s going to be seen by a wide audience.

Check out Aud’s book trailer.

G: That’s a very cool book trailer, by the way.
Aud: Thanks!

Gemma: I’d like to chat a bit about your past as a writer. How long have you known that you wanted to be a writer?
Aud: Ever since I was about 8 years old.
G: Do you remember what led you to that?
Aud: Two things:
One: I grew up in a chaotic environment and writing was my way to create order from chaos.
Two: As a kid, I couldn’t find stories that I wanted to read, so I made up my own.
G: Both of those are really compelling reasons. Writing is definitely a positive, powerful way to deal with chaos.

G: What’s your goal as a writer?
Aud: To entertain. I like it when a reader wonders, “What’s going to happen next?” My characters often make me laugh and/or cry. It’s my hope that they’ll do the same for my readers.
G: Your characters have definitely made me laugh! And sometimes make me yell their name out loud in frustration! But that’s only because I’ve come to care about them like friends. And Broken Soul to Broken Soul isn’t your only story that’s brought tears to my eyes.

G: What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of and/or happy with?
Aud: Standing Ovation. It was my first published book, put out by Ace Tempo Books. It’s a YA novel about a girl trumpet player who upsets her family’s balance when her dream of fame motivates her retired jazz musician father to come out of retirement. Sadly, this book is out of print. The last time I read Standing Ovation was during a train ride to an author presentation to promote another novel. Even though the book was old, it still made me laugh out loud!
G: Oh, I love that! Now, tell me more about that other novel.
Aud: That other novel was my second published book, I Almost Love You, Eddie Clegg, put out by Peachtree Publishers.

Eddie Clegg by Aud Supplee

Aud: It’s a middle grade novel about an 8th grade girl who begins to develop a father/daughter relationship with her alcoholic stepdad. Fun fact: That book was rejected over 30 times.
G: Wow! That is all too common, but still, how did you deal with all that rejection? What did you do next?
Aud: I had a few cool rejections for Eddie. One publisher wrote that the main character was “refreshing and endearing” and the book was “beautifully written,” but it wouldn’t fit their list. I remember saying to myself, “They don’t want refreshing and endearing characters or a beautifully written book?” Obviously, there’s nothing you can do with a rejection like that. A lot of the other letters were form rejections. They sting, but I’m blessed to have a significant other who always takes my side. Whenever I complain that publishers are stupid for rejecting me, he not only agrees with me, he tells me I’m a genius. (Laughter) They’re not really stupid; calling them that is just part of the process.
G: Dealing with rejection can be a multi-step process for sure!
Aud: After a day or so of whining about it and licking my wounds, I’ll put the manuscript aside for a while, then re-read the manuscript with a critical eye, make changes and submit it somewhere else. Here’s the other thing about Eddie. I loved that story and the characters and I believed in it enough that I would have kept going until somebody accepted it. Also, it didn’t hurt that whenever I’d ask my husband if I’d ever be published again he always said, “Yes.” And he’s the most indecisive person I know!! (Laughter)
G: It’s wonderful to have so much support! And that you were dedicated to your characters and your story.

G: Now, what’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Aud: The dreaded first draft. Once that one’s out of the way, the rest is pure joy.
G: What’s the best?
Aud: Editing! I love polishing and seeing how a raw idea evolves.
G: Wow – for me, it’s just the opposite. I really enjoy the first draft. The editing makes me sweat. Of course, having a great critique group really helps. Even if their hard questions are sometimes what make me sweat the most!

G: Is there a place that you’ve lived, or visited, that especially influences your writing?
Aud: When I was 15, I spent a summer at a lake in Maine with relatives. It ended up being the setting for Broken Soul to Broken Soul, as well as for my adult short story, “Monkey in the Middle,” also accepted by RWP for their next short story anthology.
G: Congratulations on that acceptance! And a lake shows up in your book trailer, too.

G: A lot of writers when they start out emulate other writers, consciously or not. Can you think of any authors you emulated?
Aud: This probably makes me different from the average author; I began life as a reluctant reader. As a kid, I didn’t think anybody wrote stories I wanted to read, so I started writing for myself. When it comes to emulating, I probably emulated lively stories and conversations I’d heard when my mother and grandmother met for coffee. I think that’s why I enjoy writing dialog so much. Without realizing it, I paid attention to the cadence of their voices.
G: That’s very cool! And I can vouch for your dialogue – it just feels so real when I read it.

G: What writers do you most admire?
Aud: Right out of college I couldn’t get enough of Kurt Vonnegut. Back then I was also a big fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. I was also impressed with Stephen King’s down-to-earth dialog.

G: What authors do you read most and enjoy most now?
Aud: I like Timothy Keller and Andy Stanley. Both are Christian nonfiction writers. As for fiction, the actual author doesn’t matter. If it’s a fantasy, cozy mystery, romance, literary fiction, Christian fiction, middle grade, YA, or anything about horses, I’ll pretty much read it. Good or bad. You can learn a lot about the art of writing by reading really bad fiction.
G: You know, you’ve got a good point. I’ll have to remember that the next time some writing doesn’t impress me.

G: What are you reading presently, or most recently?
Aud: I just finished a YA novel about a girl surfer titled, We Thought We Were Invincible, by Michelle Lynn. I’m bad with names, I only know that author’s name because I just checked it on my Kindle. (Laughter)

G: And what are you working on now?
Aud: Edits to my middle grade novel called, This Way/That Way.
G: We’re reading that story at our critique group now, and I’m really enjoying getting to know your heroine, Nickie. She’s quite a character!

G: What is the next project you hope to do?
Aud: It better be book three of my Frama-12 trilogy. (Laughter)
G: Good, because having read the drafts for the first two, I can’t wait to find out what happens in book three!

Check out Aud’s blog at https://audsupplee.com/
While you’re there, you  can read her interview with me and Stan Gale, another of our critique group.

And check out Aud’s Instagram for some fun photos.

Thanks for joining me, Aud!

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