When I first started thinking about Of Christmas Past, and what kind of Christmas story I wanted to tell, I kept coming back to the baggage. A lot of LGBTQIA folks don’t always have 100% good memories surrounding family holidays. I’m not saying all of us have Issues, but most of us who have had to be closeted around our extended family, or who made the choice not to be closeted around our extended family, or for those of us who lost formerly close bonds when we came out—well, the holiday season can be a little trying. LGBTQIA folks aren’t usually born into families that are like us, and it can create significant tension. In writing my Christmas story, I wanted to acknowledge that. I love its counterpart—the perfectly happy queer holiday story. They’re some of my favorites! And fear not, because Of Christmas Past still has plenty of holiday cheer, even if I want people to feel okay for not always feeling upbeat this time of year.
My dual way of grappling with that was with two protagonists—Jon is a psychic living in the modern day, and Cecil is the ghost of a servant who lived (and died) in the early 20th century.
One of my favorite things about romance is the requirement for a happy ending. At the same time, I also like to remember that sometimes the path to a happy ending isn’t always happy itself. There are bumps and bruises. Things that we desired or needed—that we thought were in the bag—can be ripped from us when we least expect them to be. It stings. It has a bad taste. There’s a lot of honesty there. I knew I wanted to write about people who weren’t thinking about new beginnings.
Ghosts are one of my favorite fictional metaphors. They’re super versatile! Of Christmas Past didn’t quite manage to be historical fiction, but the voice of Cecil always felt like it was speaking from a different time. I knew that Cecil was a character who was robbed of his happy ending; he was robbed via death, but I hope the arc is relatable for the less lethal disappointments we’ve all experienced. From the start, I knew Cecil was the romance protagonist whose book ended just a few pages too late.
(I’m also looking at the tradition in media of LGBTQIA characters dying, of their happiness not being seen as worthy as their suffering. Not gonna lie—Cecil is a little bit of a reference to them, too.)
Cecil’s a ghost because he needed to find love again. I had this idea for a character who died tragically before his love could be consummated, before LGBTQIA rights were even a thing on the horizon, and then I thought—no. Not today. Not this time. I decided that Cecil was going to get another chance.
Jon’s sort of the reverse. If Cecil is a protagonist who was betrayed by his own story, Jon is a character who doesn’t even know he’s in a romance novel. He’s a grouchy boy. If Cecil’s story is about love that was taken from him, Jon’s story is about a future that was taken from him. The supernatural elements of the story impact him most strongly; and while his voice isn’t exactly millennial, I hope the things he’s lost are: the story begins with him suffering a major university-related disappointment. He realizes the degree and career that he wants will never be his because of the way his brain works, and he is trying to find his footing again when he agrees to take care of a recently bereaved manor house inherited by his aunt.
As you read the book (which, you know, I hope you will!), you learn about some of the other things Jon has survived, but I think this is one of the biggest things that ties him and Cecil together. They are both lonely and lost and a little bit prickly. They’re so focused on what they don’t have that they have a hard time seeing what’s right in front of them. I did my best to treat their pain as legitimate, while also showing them the way forward.
I was worried they were a little too similar in early drafts. I love pairing a more emotional character with a less emotional character—but that’s not really this story. They both really are that bad at talking, and that ironically allows them to create a safe-space with each other. It was important for me to see these two characters heal with each other because they don’t quite have the skills to heal on their own.
…Or, maybe that last sentence in the previous paragraph just defines the things I’m most interested in as a writer? Anyway.
I hope you enjoy this odd little labor of love. I hope it’s a nice thing to read when you’re inside and warm and sipping your beverage of choice while the snow falls outside (if you live in a place that gets snow! Seattle hasn’t seen good snow for a couple years). I hope it’s a story of midwinter healing after big disappointments and looking onwards to spring and summer.
I also hope the beginning is just a little creepy.
Title: Of Christmas Past
Author: Teryn Day
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 5, 2016
Sex Content: Non-Explicit
Orientation: Ace/Aro, Bisexual, Gay
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
NineStar Press: http://ninestarpress.com/product/of-christmas-past/
All Romance Ebook: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-ofchristmaspast-2179102-341.html
Jonathan Barthes has always been able to see—and speak to—the dead. Unfortunately, restless spirits tend to be somewhat needy, and his “gift” has cost him everything from a promising acceptance into med school to a long string of failed relationships. Unable to find a purpose after a terrible autumn semester, he accepts his aunt’s offer to become the caretaker of one of the estates his great-uncle left her over the holidays. He expected the restless spirits: the little girl, the mean governess, and he especially expected the ghost of the vindictive young man who calls himself Cecil.
Cecil’s handsome enough when he’s not making the mirrors bleed or the radios speak in tongues. As the year crawls on and reaches its end, however, Jon begins to help Cecil uncover the mystery of his life—and his tragic death. Jon had a dream of helping the living—but maybe, just this once, when he helps a ghost, that ghost will help him back.
Teryn Day belongs in the Pacific Northwest because she cannot stand heat but loves the woods. She has a deep and lasting fondness for the tales that history tells and believes we should maybe listen. She writes and edits.
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Teryn Day © 2016
All Rights Reserved
He saw the little girl, swathed in light, her tulle dress and her curls bouncing as she saw him. She ran and vanished around a corner.
In the bathroom, he took his contacts out. Now that night had fallen, he knew activity was likely to increase, and the musty smell of the house was getting to him more and more. I’ll get used to it, he thought, reminding himself that even if he didn’t get used to it, he’d be back in civilization as soon as possible.
Jon washed his face.
When he looked up, wiping the beads of water from his eyes, he saw a dark red stream slipping down his forehead. Taking in a quick breath, he felt his own forehead and found only clear water. He looked back in the mirror and saw another drip coming from the seam at the top. Then another, then another, until there was a red cascade down his reflection.
He yawned and squeezed water out of his eyes with his knuckles, before turning around to grab the towel he’d used when he showered earlier, only to see a latticework of scratches—as if by human nails, buried deep into the paint on the wall above the towels. He still reached for one, but the rack was torn off the wall just before his hand could touch it. It slammed into the ground violently, leaving two ugly gouges where it had been attached to the wall. Jon dried his face off with a washcloth instead.
He returned to his room. He merely glanced up as every painting on the walls began to rot—it wasn’t just that the oils seemed to boil, forming bubbles and flaking away, but each and every subject seemed to age before his eyes. Every ancestor lining the hall became elderly, then sunken, then rotted, and then a skeleton before Jon even had time to think to himself, Now, which one was that?
Just after he stepped through the bedroom door, it slammed behind him. The loud noise startled him and he jumped, then looked over to the opposite wall to see a single word drawn in deep crimson near the window. The whole room smelled like copper.
‘DIE.’ Simple, to the point.
“Please,” Jon said, “stop that.”
The entity froze in the middle of writing ‘KILL,’ leaving only the characteristic psychic hum of paranormal activity, of a spirit reaching out to touch the living world. The lights flickered.
When the light settled, a young man was standing in the room with him. He was only a little taller than Jon, with dark hair and eyes that might have been gentle on someone else. He was in a black vest, slacks, and white shirt. Not necessarily a modern look, so Jon suspected he’d been there a while.
Also, he was semi-translucent. Jon stared, unfazed, and resisted the urge to yawn again, for fear it would be just a little too dismissive of this spirit’s attempts to terrorize him. He’d seen it all before, and this one was a bit of a showy prick, so Jon decided it was best not to antagonize him. Excessively.
“It was a little much, don’t you think?” Jon asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he faced the ghost of the young man down.
The ghost moved left, then right. He ducked, then rose and jumped, eyes never leaving Jon’s, and Jon followed him as he did a full circle around him before finally stopping where he began, back straight and heels formally snapping into place.
“You can see me?” the ghost asked, although he somehow managed to make it sound more like an accusation.
“Yes.” Jon did yawn then. “Yes, I do. I’m very gifted.”
“It’s been a long time since anyone could see me.”
“I’m sorry,” Jon said. He probably should give this one more time, but he was tired and couldn’t help himself. “Can I go to bed now?”
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