My Favorite Christmas Movie

As advertised in last week’s blog, this was the week for A Christmas Carol at our house. My favorite Christmas movie happens to be The Man who Invented Christmas. It’s a fictional treatment of Charles Dickens writing his classic A Christmas Carol. I have no idea how much of it is based on fact or fancy. Was Charles Dickens on the verge of bankruptcy when he sold the idea of writing the unnamed and unwritten book to his publishers? Did he have a friend who functioned as his agent? Did he write the entire book in only six weeks? Did he have to pay for the illustrations himself? Did he really have an ill nephew who was the model for Tiny Tim? At the end of the film there’s a notation that claims the book went on sale at Christmas on 1843 and was a total sellout. I’m pretty sure that’s true. The rest of it may well be nothing more or less than what is sometimes called “literary license.”

But what really rings true about the movie, and what speaks to me—is that it offers an incredibly accurate depiction of writer’s block—if not everybody’s experience of writer’s block, then certainly mine. I, too, have had the experience of selling an unwritten manuscript, cashing the check, and being faced with an approaching deadline while still having absolutely no idea of who or what was going to be in the story.

That was certainly the case with the first Ali Reynolds book, Edge of Evil. Tired of all my characters,I was whining on the phone to my editor when she said, “Okay, write a book. It can be an old character or a new character. Set it wherever you like. Just have it here by the beginning of January.” Naturally, I said fine. That was in May. I had been writing two books a year for years, so that didn’t seem like a problem. The contract came. I signed it. The check came. I cashed it. Then June and July passed. August and September passed. Suddenly it was the middle of October, and I had no idea who was going to be in the book that was due in New York January 1.

At the time, my way of dealing with writer’s block was to watch the news incessantly. So that day in Tucson—a Thursday—I went to the family room and watched the noon news. i was expecting my favorite local newscaster, Patty Weiss, to be on the air. She was 53 at the time and had started working in local television news while still attending the University of Arizona. That evening, when I went to watch the Five O’clock News, Patti Weiss had vanished. She’d been sacked by her new news director for being too old to be on the air. By Monday, I was writing about someone named Ali Reynolds being yanked from her news anchor desk in LA for the same reason—for being too old. In case I haven’t mentioned this, it’s a really bad idea to make mystery writers mad! (By the way, when I gave Ali that name, I had no idea there was a baseball player from Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a very similar name, but thanks to my SERs—my sharp-eyed-readers—I know that now.)

I have no doubt that at some point in time an acquaintance of Charles Dickens, speaking about the plight of poor people, made the following comments. “Are there no work houses? Are there no prisons?” I believe that arrogant comment stuck in his head and went into his story with one of his characters quoting those real words verbatim.

I know what it feels like to have characters keep me awake night after night because they refuse to do what I want them to do. The person I thought was the killer in Payment in Kind just flat-out refused to do it. In the movie, Charles Dickens’s whole cast of characters go on the warpath due to his intention of having Tiny Tim die at the end of the story. His whole crew insisted that was absolutely wrong! Something very similar happened to me when I wrote the third Beaumont book, Trial by Fury. The way I wrote it to begin with, Ron Peters was, as Charles Dickens would say, “dead as a doornail” at the end of the story. But it was my beta readers, as opposed to my cast of characters, who sent me a chorus of “No way, José!” As a consequence the end of the story was rewritten and Ron Peters is alive and well to this day. Ditto for Frigg, the fictional artificial intelligence in Man Overboard. I thought she was a goner by the end of the story, but my readers, including my then editor, begged to differ, and Frigg is still around and playing an active role in the upcoming Ali book, Collateral Damage.

Bill watches a lot of car shows on TV and YouTube. His current favorite is Vice Grip Garage. In it, a talented mechanic named Derek, an incredibly cheerful and optimistic guy, drags long-dead vehicles out of fields and swamps, coaxes them back to life, and then drives them home to rehab them. You’ve got to like a guy who starts out by letting you know the following at beginning of every episode: “I am an idiot. Don’t do what I do. And don’t follow my advice unless you’re desperate.” For those of you who have read Nothing to Lose, I can tell you this series is currently Twinkle Winkleman’s favorite TV show. But it was due to another one of Bill’s gear-head shows—Wheeler Dealers—in which someone rehabbed and sold a 1970’s International Harvester Travelall—where Travelalls first came to my attention, and that’s why that vehicle in particular happens to be Twinkle Winkleman’s ride.

Because that’s the real cure for writer’s block—living life and being aware of the world around you. Locking myself away in a solitary attic just doesn’t work. I find inspiration by paying attention to the world around me. For example going to coffee at a local Denny’s years ago and watching a real estate transaction go south was an inspiration all its own. The whole thing played out with me sitting in a booth across the room. The real estate agent was already on hand and waiting impatiently when the customers showed up—an older guy accompanied by his much younger, arm-candy, much bride. She was the one looking for the house, and she was focused on the buying only the high-priced spread. The guy knew what he could afford, and it didn’t come close to what she wanted. I never actually met the guy, and he has no idea that he ended up in a book, but he turned up as a detective from Pullman, Washington, in one of the early Beaumonts.

And that’s how The Man Who Invented Christmas plays out. When Charles Dickens began to write this book, he wasn’t planning on writing a “classic.” He was focused on meeting a deadline because he needed the money. He found the inspiration for his wonderful story by living his life and by transforming the people he met along the way into unforgettable characters. Was there an aging waiter at his club named Marley? Maybe, maybe not, but even “dead as a doornail,” Marley lives on. As does Scrooge. As does Tiny Tim.

The day after Bill and I watched the movie, while I was busy getting that day’s steps, Bill broadcast Jim Dale’s audio version of A Christmas Carol throughout the house. Having watched the creation of the story the day before, listening to it gave me goosebumps in more than one place, most especially when Mr. Scrooge wakes up in his own room in his own bed and discovers it’s still Christmas and he still has time to live his new life.

And so, for this week, rather than wishing you a Happy New Year, this writer—and meeter of deadlines—would like to quote Tiny Tim.

“God bless us every one!”

42 thoughts on “My Favorite Christmas Movie

  1. Oh, Judy, how I love the way you listen and watch the world around you and then charaters come alive in your mind! While the rest of us watch the world spinning, we shake our heads or cry or pray or laugh or whatever. But you light up with brilliant stories. I, too, am one who often works better under pressure. Sometimes I kick myself for it and then sometimes I pat myself on the back. Just hope you continue doing in 2023 what you have done all these past years, entertaining your fans. I say Happy New Year to you & Bill and, indeed, God Bless Us Everyone!

  2. Happy New Year. I am beginning to like your blogs more than your books. And I only read 25 of your novels in 2022, and am always on the hunt for more. By the way, Twinkle Winkleman deserves a series of her own.

  3. Fabulous: “… the real cure for writer’s block—living life and being aware of the world around you. Locking myself away in a solitary attic just doesn’t work. I find inspiration by paying attention to the world around me.” Those who lock themselves in solitary attics must have spent time in the world beforehand, don’t you think?

  4. I love how you write.
    I am a glass artist and painter, and I frequently am stuck for inspiration. Sitting and staring at a piece of paper or a piece of glass is, I’m sure, much less difficult than writing something brand new. I like the idea of stepping away and interacting with the world.
    You’re a genius!

    • Sue, my mother was an artist, as you are. She painted more birds than anything else, and the birdfeeders in the yard were where she went for inspiration. There, and books about birds, and the local raptor rehab. It would seem that, for you, interacting with or studying whatever subjects YOU like to paint might get you going again.

      In our house, it’s songs. Inspiration might come from tending the garden or today’s news, or something silly the cat did or the child said. One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Tracy Grammer, tells stories about the inspirations for her songs. Her best ones are rooted in very personal things that she experienced or observed.

      My wish for all on this turning of the year is that we all pay attention to our lives and experience them to the fullest and best of our abilities. To life!

  5. And God Bless you, J.A. You are my absolute fav. Writing from Tucson on the Agua Caliente wash, hoping it will run this winter and where, right now, we are having a nice rain with the Christmas tree still ablaze. Thank you

  6. Very interesting. Sorry to say I don’t believe I had ever heard of this movie. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. Happy New Year to you both.

  7. I love how you are hooked on A Christmas Carol. We attended a play at the Seattle Rep this season called “Mr. Dickens and His Carol”. I think you would really enjoy it. It is about the how and why Dickens wrote the book. Unfortunately, I think you will have to wait until next season.

  8. Really enjoyed today’s blog. Love your sharing ups/downs/frustrations and achievements. As they at one time said to kings on thrones, “OH King may you live forever.” May my favorite writer J A Jance, live forever.

  9. That’s a movie I’ve never heard of either, but I just ordered it through our library system–there were 23 copies in the system, so obviously other people have heard of it! And I echo what Diane Edwards said, “You’re my fave!”

  10. What a wonderful post! I also enjoyed that movie, and found it very believable. I enjoyed reading how you included real life people and events in your stories. Since I’m not a writer, I’ve never experienced “writer’s block”, but I’ve always been totally amazed at an author’s ability to create life on paper–whole worlds, in some cases–but always characters, and towns, and places, and events–that become as real to me as figures from history. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll be in my twilight years telling grandchildren stories that I remember without remembering that they were fiction! Thank-you for all the stories, and for this blog. I love getting a peek behind the curtain! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  11. A great post, J.A. My favorite Christmas movie is “Scrooged” followed closely by the George C. Scott version of “A Christmas Carol” because of the late Edward Woodward’s portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present.
    I wish you and your husband a very Happy New Year.

  12. a friend started me on the Beaumont series by giving me the first few books in the series, which I started racing through. At the start of Taking the Fifth, Ron Peters was inexplixably in a wheelchair?!? I then found my friend had not included Trial by Fury. Being an absolute “read in order” reader, I spent an entire hot summer day taking public transit all over Vancouver . It took six small independent book stores to find the back issue. (This is before searching for books availability online).
    That day, searching for the book, I remember being more bothered about Ron’s new situation, (how did it happen, will he be ok, what’s Beau going to do without his partner), than the slog in the heat. I also realized I was completely captivated by the Beaumont Universe, I like visiting there. I find something new, or am delighted by a familiar passage. The bonus is having the universe expanding with Brady, Reynolds & Walker stories. I like reading about good people, (ok, sometimes flawed), dealing with crime, evil & everyday life in a very believable way. Many thanks for creating a great escape for us, even if you are not always in charge!

      • Oh, yes. I have a collection of your books and a few with your autograph. Miss seeing you in person in the north Seattle area. My dearest friend, that recently passed away, always came with me to your appearances as she, too, was an avid fan of yours. When I gave in to flying once in a while (I quit at 80) I would make sure to have one of your books to get me though the agony as I knew I couldn’t put it down and it would make the time go much faster to my destination. Thank you for that wonderful peace of mind as I endured something I detested (claustrophobia and Vertigo being the culprits.)

    • What I like about Ron Peters is that we read how he recovered from his horrible injuries and was gradually able to resume his career as a policeman. It shows how a person can be active even if confined to a wheelchair.

  13. Is your husband familiar with the ABC? radio car show “Car Talk, starring Click and Clack the Tappet brothers? Hilarious! Come to think of it, I’m not sure they’re still on the air, although last I knew they dd have a web site.

    • I had the same exact thought- The Car Talk shows are on CDs-
      My IT husband Carl is checking to see if they are still available- Will report back-
      At times when I was riding Shot Gun with Carl I heard Car Talk- I am a complete ignoramus about cars, but I found Car Talk hilarious too!

  14. Merry Christmas. As usual you keep us entertained with fabulous tales. And yes, I remember Patti Weiss. That was the most unfair situation.

  15. A wonderful post…as always honest and thoughtful. I don’t know how you do what you do, but love the positive comments from all your readers! I am committed to reading all the books that I haven’t had time for in the new year! Much love to you and Bill! Lunch in January is my hope!!

  16. I find all posts in this blog interesting and this week’s is especially so. I find the process of bringing a story to life is fascinating.

    I don’t know if this has ever been brought up. Probably has, but I’ll bring it up again. Ever since hearing about the professor at the U of A who wouldn’t let a mere girl in his creative writing class, I have figured that you turned him into serial killer Andrew Carlisle in the Walker family books. Did you send that professor an autographed copy?

    • He actually passed away before my first book was published. So did my first husband. If they’d both been alive, it probably would have killed them.

  17. Thank you for telling us about the movie “The Man who Invented Christmas”
    I had never heard of it
    I will see if our library has it

  18. Thank you very much for writing about Charles Dickens. I was totally unaware of the movie and the book. After reading your post about your yearly experience I bought the book and the dvd. Love Amazon’s rapid delivery. The video will be our main home entertainment today. The book will get in line for next year ?. Your faithful reader, Judith Ann (Vromans encounter). Be well!

  19. I once tried to write fiction- To say that I got nowhere due to “Writer’s Block”
    would be extreme, generous, UNDESERVED flattery!
    I can handle non-fiction- You don’t have to summon characters, plot, themes,
    descriptions of physical surroundings etcetc from the blank slate that sits there
    across the keyboard, accusing you of being a lazy, untalented, PATHETIC creature who is perpetrating a fraud on any reader who would be unlucky enough to open the book you wrote which, thankfully, would NEVER be glanced at by an editor, let alone PUBLISHED!
    Being able to write one book of fiction, let alone four distinct series, is simply miraculous to me- Happy New Year to Beau, Joanna, The Walkers, and Ali, and to Judy, Bill, and all the JaJance fans everywhere-

  20. Help! I thought I had it written down somewhere, but can’t find it? In which Beau book did he learn about his father’s family and visited them in Texas? They were very welcoming.

    I don’t believe he ever wrote much about them after, but it was good that he had found them at last.

    • The pronoun choice here is interesting. “He” wrote about them. Beau writes his own books? I think that slip shows how much we readers feel that the characters in these books are real. Especially Beau!!

      • What I remember is Beau visited the family in Texas. They were well-to-do and had an inheritance that should have gone to his father. They gave it to Beau who invested for Scott’s and Kelly’s college expenses.

        I think their last name began with M.

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