In our column Bookworm Beat, read about some of our favorite books written by women and non-binary authors...
"We don’t post on Facebook about the permission slip your kid forgot to have you sign, or upload Instagram pics of the mess in the kitchen that’s been there for five days because your family has been running in different directions all week and emptying the dishwasher is dead last on the priority list. Instead, I do my best to write a Christmas letter that shows who we really are."
The holidays are meant to be the most wonderful time of year...and also the most stressful. No one knows this better than Violet, who has been writing her annual Christmas update letter alongside her famous party for decades. However, when she finds out her daughter and her female partner are expecting a baby, things take a turn for the dramatic. In her debut novel Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners. Gretchen Anthony explores the meaning of family and how family find meaning in one another.
Gretchen Anthony shared her passion for writing Christmas letters and the inspiration behind her debut novel. Read on to find out more about what is sure to be your upcoming holiday season read!
How did you become interested in writing?
I’ve never not been interested in writing. As I began thinking about a career, however, I didn’t think I could make a living writing fiction, so I established myself in corporate communication. I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad to have lived that chapter in my life, but eventually I realized if I ever wanted to publish my own work, I had to get moving.
You have previously ghost written. What was that work like for you?
I was a non-fiction ghostwriter, which means I wrote for executives and other professionals who publish books and articles, but who don’t have the skills and/or the time to write them independently. I thought it was awfully fun. First, it’s a little like acting because ghost writing only works when you can capture your client’s authentic voice. You also get to immerse yourself in an entirely different world than your own. For example, I wrote dozens of case studies for a psychiatrist and the work was absolutely fascinating. Now that I write fiction, I recognize how fortunate I was to have landed in ghostwriting – it was essentially an extended exercise in character development.
Your debut novel is Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners. What inspired you to write the book?
My family has a long tradition with Christmas letters. To this day, my brother and I have a contest each year to see who can write the funnier letter. When I was young, we used to receive hundreds of cards and letters and as I read them, I began to notice that some stood well above the rest for their boastfulness. Those over-the-top letters, in turn, planted the seed for Violet and, all these decades later, I was finally able to capture her on the page.
Photo Credit: M. Brian Hartz
The novel explores a lot of tensions within a family that stem from a break from tradition. How do you think the issues of this family can be related to by others?
One of the elements readers seem to resonate with is Violet’s journey from saying she supports her daughter’s non-traditional choices to being able to actively support those choices. Most of us have (and will) face similar journeys; we can expect that the people we love won’t always do or believe or say things we agree with. Yet, active love is the ability to cross that divide, which Violet ultimately does – and that’s what readers ultimately find so compelling.
Another element at the heart of the book is the annual, holiday letter. Do people still write these, and if so, do you think they say something about our society's interest in looking "perfect"?
I still write a holiday letter! Sadly, they’re becoming less and less common every year. I say “sadly” because these days, the substitutes – photo cards, social media – are an even less honest depiction of day-to-day life. We don’t post on Facebook about the permission slip your kid forgot to have you sign, or upload Instagram pics of the mess in the kitchen that’s been there for five days because your family has been running in different directions all week and emptying the dishwasher is dead last on the priority list. Instead, I do my best to write a Christmas letter that shows who we really are – yes, I write about our accomplishments, but I also write about the daily stuff. One year, I wrote about my complete inability to tell my children’s underwear apart. I did it because that was one of the biggest concerns in my kids’ lives – they hated wearing each other’s underwear! All these years later, friends and family still mention that letter to me because it was real.
Despite all of the tension, the book is also humorous. Why was it important to you to include funny elements?
Much of life is funny if you look closely enough. If I didn’t believe that, I’d spend all day under the covers, cowering.
What is coming up next for you?
I’m working with my Park Row Books editor, Natalie Hallak on my next book. It’s great fun, about a set of seventeen-year-old twins who find themselves at the center of a cultural firestorm after they launch a podcast to find their biological father. Look for it (hopefully) summer 2020.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.