I don’t usually read the new Christmas stories published each year, but when I heard about Naomi Craig’s novella, “The Weary World Rejoices,” I knew I wanted to read it. It’s another example of Biblical fiction at its best and offers a fresh perspective on the birth of Christ. The story is set in the castle of King Herod, told from a scribe’s point of view.
But this tale is just one of six novellas in Keeping Christmas, Volume I. The common thread of all the stories is castles at Christmastime, each utilizing a castle setting. Each story is a different flavor, depending on your mood.
Besides Herod’s castle, the settings include Neuschwanstein Castle, Morioika Castle (a Japanese Castle from 1611), Château Chenonceau in France, and two others in Sweden and St. Louis, Missouri.
I’m featuring two of these stories, plus Q & As with Naomi Craig, Chautona Havig, and Cathe Swanson. Read about Naomi Craig’s first visit on my blog here.
I’m taking a break over the holidays. But I hope you’ll join me again in mid-January.
Blurb for “The Weary World Rejoices” by Naomi Craig
Behind the elaborate furnishings of Herod the Great’s palace, conspiracy and distrust run rampant. Mysterious visitors from the east challenge everything Amal thinks he knows as palace scribe. Will his quest to uncover the Truth free him from the ornate shackles of palace life, or will he be the next victim of King Herod’s maniacal jealousy?
My thoughts on “The Weary World Rejoices”
This is a moving rendition of a familiar tale. In crisp, lively prose, Naomi brings to life the story of Matthew 2 from the perspective of Amal, a scribe in the palace of Herod the Great. It all starts when men from the East come seeking a new king of the Jews. This throws jealous King Herod into a tailspin of madness as he seeks to learn the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah.
No matter how familiar you are with the Bible narrative, you’ll gain a new perspective: viewing it from the inside out. Amal finds himself on a dangerous quest for the truth. Deftly woven in are other known stories and people from Jesus’ birth narrative: Zacharias, Elizabeth, and John; Anna and Simeon; a shepherd who witnessed the angels’ birth announcement; the Bethlehem massacre; and, of course, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Even as Amal and the reader go through unpredictable twists and turns, the overall story stays true to scripture.
Join me for some Q & A with author Naomi Craig.
Questions about “The Weary World Rejoices”
How did you decide to tell this particular Bible-based story of Christ’s birth? How did you choose the perspective of Amal, a scribe in Herod’s palace? Did you consider other perspectives first?
Naomi: The theme of the anthology was Christmas and Castles. This kind of narrowed down the options. I was struck by the concept that until the wise men arrive, no one was looking for the Messiah. Even the scribes and the chief priests who Herod consulted–who should have known better– didn’t seem to indicate any interest in going and seeing for themselves. It made me question if I would be able to get out of my comfortable routine to go to the next town over if something so life-changing happened.
Did you have a plan for the story or did it evolve as you wrote?
Naomi: I did plan out “The Weary World Rejoices”. It was neat to add in the other Christmas story perspectives. Zacharias was a priest, he probably came to the temple two weeks a year. Did he share his story when he came back? What about Anna who saw Jesus dedicated in the temple at eight days? All these people who had first-hand experience with the Messiah were still accessible. If someone was genuinely searching as I made Amal, these testimonies would still be there, woven into the fabric of life.
Besides the Bible, what resources did you use for daily or cultural details?
Naomi: Josephus had some brilliant descriptions of Herod’s Palace and architectural accomplishments. We all know Herod the Great for his suspicious nature and his jealousy–the bad guy of the Christmas story–but he actually was a very gifted architect, and did a decent job running his kingdom and maintaining peace. I also listened to Christmas sermons:-)
What was the most challenging thing about writing this story?
Naomi: “The Weary World Rejoices” is NOT a feel-good Christmas romance. There are some heavy themes in my story. If Amal DID start digging into this series of events and prophecies, inevitably, he would have unearthed a whole load of backlash from Herod, Archelaus (Herod’s heir), and anyone loyal to the king. Anything he discovered when seeking Truth would have put a target on himself and those connected. It made me aware of the high price believers have to pay in many countries today.
What was the most rewarding thing about writing this story?
Naomi: I love that Amal is able to find the courage deep inside to seek after the Messiah. He is able to grow from his place of fear and put more value on Jesus than his position and even life.
You’ve written Biblical fiction in various time periods. Do you have a preference?
Naomi: I have discovered that the story is easier to write for me if there is more historically documented. The more details provided, the better! So far, Ezekiel’s Song and The Weary World Rejoices have been the easiest to write.
Blurb for “The Lights of Castlebourne” by Cathe Swanson and Chautona Havig
He bowled her over at first sight–his dog, that is. Sydney just wanted a chance to do the landscape design at Castlebourne. She never dreamed the owner’s electrician would light up her heart at Christmas.
My thoughts on “The Lights of Castlebourne“
In a completely different vein, the novella “The Lights of Castlebourne” is a lighthearted Christmas romance. Full of wit and humor, plus fun and frolicking (especially from a large dog), this story is set at a castle near St. Louis, Missouri, overlooking the Mississippi River.
Entrepreneur Sydney Elliot, a landscape architect, offers her services for free to enhance her portfolio. Her first visit and impression of the place is complicated by Murphy the dog who’d just met up with a skunk and plunges headlong into her. That’s also her first meeting with Philip Ward, an engineer who’s handling the castle’s electrical issues.
Further complications involve the curmudgeonly owner, Mark Bradford. Additionally, Sydney’s over-the-top mother has expectations Sydney can’t seem to escape, complete with a preplanned future and hand-picked spouse. Sydney’s lively, over-the-top cousin Arielle keeps popping in with her own ideas and unsolicited advice.
Another fun fact: this story was created through a collaborative effort. That intrigues me.
Join me for some Q & A with authors Cathe Swanson and Chautona Havig.
Questions about The Lights of Castlebourne
What was your inspiration for writing The Lights of Castlebourne as a collaboration?
Cathe: I dreamed up the whole series one night – literally. In my dream, Chautona and I were running the castle together. When I woke up, I called to tell her about it, and we decided to write it as a series, starting with “The Lights of Castlebourne.”
Chautona: It’s funny. I didn’t remember where the castle idea came from. I assumed from the time I stayed at the castle Cathe lived in and we got to talking, but now that I read Cathe’s response, it felt familiar. One thing we wanted to do was write this prequel novella to the actual series for a newsletter giveaway, so the castle stories with Keeping Christmas was a perfect opportunity to do that. We could write it for the collection, and when the collection disbanded, we could then use the eBook for that giveaway.
Explain how your collaboration worked. Did you brainstorm all the ideas together first—setting, characters, plot? Did you alternate writing chapters? Who was in charge of what?
Cathe: We brainstormed the series on the telephone a few times, inventing characters for each book, and when we finally started the Lights of Castlebourne, we wrote a chapter-by-chapter outline. We split up each chapter into two scenes. I wrote the scenes from Sydney’s POV, and Chautona wrote Philip’s scenes.
Chautona: Cathe forgot the drive from Minneapolis to the Wisconsin Dells. She drove, and I typed out all kinds of crazy ideas–the things Mark (who will be the main male character I will write in the novel) would say and do–his grumpy personality etc. And Arielle (the main character Cathe will write) will be driven and determined to get past the grumps and get agreements instead. She wants that castle for exclusive venue rights for her clients and is determined to get it.
Another thing we did was create a beat sheet of things that would happen.
- Sydney meets Philip and dog attacks
- Dog has a close encounter of a stinky kind
- Mom makes plans for her
- Burn the castle down (just kidding. We didn’t do that one!)
What are the pros and cons of such a partnership? Does this process only work for plotters rather than pantsers? What advice would you give other authors who want to try a collaboration?
Cathe: This kind of collaboration requires continual and open communication. The editing needs to be a shared endeavor, so that both authors have an equal part in the process. It’s hard to keep each author’s voice unique while achieving a story that “flows,” without losing the collaborative effect.
Chautona: Obviously, I agree with what Cathe said. She was crazy patient with my behind schedule, which really should have made her throw the manuscript at me from Minnesota (all the way to California) and tell me to do it myself. I’d think it was her turn when it was mine and so forth. (We had a lot of illness at the beginning of the year, and it put me behind on all projects). However, she was patient with me, and it shouldn’t always be like that.
The funny thing about the “author voice” and consistency is that doing things this way is also an advantage. Because Cathe is writing ALL of Sydney’s (and Arielle’s) scenes, the deep point of view works well. She stays authentic to that character by nature of it being all her voice. The same is true of me. Because of that, the differences in writing style and tone etc. works with the very different characters and their personalities.
How did you develop the characters? Did the two of you create them collaboratively or were you each in charge of certain ones?
Cathe: All the main characters were created collaboratively, with extensive notes and backstory. (Even a family tree!) Secondary characters required less discussion.
Chautona: Like Cathe said–both. We hammered out backstory on our guys, and sometimes that evolved. Originally, Philip was “just” a master electrician, but then we decided it would be a lot of fun if he’d become one while putting himself through electrical engineering school. It made for a few fun comments and a snooty mom’s misunderstanding.
Sometimes I didn’t know what Cathe would think of something (I write while she’s asleep and vice versa), so I’d just write it so she could see where I was going with it and change what needed to be changed later.
We wrote in Notion–an app that allows for a lot of files and such. So, we had pictures, the family tree, links to places–all of it in one place so we could click through to find this or that.
If you planned on spending the day with your heroine Sydney, where would you go and what would you do? What would she want to do and talk about? Would she want to meet with both of you together or separately?
Cathe: I’d like to go sit in the castle gardens and dig in the dirt, have her show me the various plants and advise me on their care and habits. I’d be happy to do some weeding for her.
Chautona: Oh, Cathe and I are a hoot together. We’re a little dangerous, but that’s mostly my fault. I think she’d like to show us around the castle gardens and use her nifty programs to show what everything she’s planted will look like when they’re mature. I think she’d roll her eyes over the paintball wilderness as well. I picture Arielle showing up and not being happy about her shoes getting damaged walking along the more rustic paths. She’s like that.
Thank you for chatting with us and having us on your blog. It’s been a lot of fun to explore the questions!
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy Biblical fiction, you might enjoy my pre-published novel, Rain in the Wilderness. I’m seeking a publisher for it. The protagonist Rebekah is a victim of Herod the Great’s cruelty when her son is killed in Bethlehem in the massacre of infants. To keep updated on my publishing progress, sign up for my monthly newsletter below.
On a different note . . .
Looking for Christmas gifts for the reader in your life? Consider my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here. All That Is Hidden is ideal for readers of literary historical fiction.
In June, I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden. In August, All That Is Hidden became the winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
I invite you to join my monthly newsletter for updates, freebies, and giveaways. Sign up and I’ll send you a free gift: www.StandoutStoriesNewsletter.com
Naomi Craig bio:
Author of Biblical fiction, avid reader, pastor’s wife, Naomi loves reading the Bible and imagining how things were at the time. When she’s not serving in various areas at church or trying to stay on top of mountains of dishes, you’ll most likely find her enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee. Naomi co-hosts #BehindTheStory, an author interview show on YouTube, and Biblical Fiction Aficionados Facebook Group. Learn more on her website.
Cathe Swanson bio:
Cathe Swanson writes books with creative plots and engaging characters of all ages, to glorify God and entertain and bless readers. Her heartwarming stories will make you laugh and make you cry – and then make you laugh again.
A lifelong love of quilting, Cathe’s Swedish heritage and an interest in genealogy led to The Glory Quilts series, and the Hope Again series is inspired by her life in the Midwest and experiences with the elderly, the military, and inner-city ministry. As a child of the 60’s, she’s having fun writing about hippies and the Jesus People movement in the Serenity Hill series. Learn more on her website.
Chautona Havig bio:
USA Today Bestselling author of Aggie and Past Forward series, Chautona Havig lives in an oxymoron, escapes into imaginary worlds that look startlingly similar to ours and writes the stories that emerge. An irrepressible optimist, Chautona sees everything through a kaleidoscope of It’s a Wonderful Life sprinkled with fairy tales. Find her at chautona.com and say howdy—if you can remember how to spell her name.
I’m taking a break over the holidays. But join me again in mid-January for a visit with author Amy Lynn Green.
Meanwhile, have you read Keeping Christmas or any other books by these authors? Do you enjoy Christmas fiction? Answer in the comments below.