This story has a story of its own

Posted 07.26.08

I recently sold my Christmas story to yet another foreign textbook. Voices in Time was published this spring by Cappelen Damm AS in Norway, intended for high school students studying English.

There's quite a story behind this piece. I wrote it when I was 17, but it took on a life of its own when I sold Canadian rights to Nelson Bros. for their grade seven anthology, CONTEXTS. Not only was this my first anthology sale, my byline was beside Lucy Maud Montgomery, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, and even Lewis Carroll.

Foreign textbooks publishers contacted me for permission to reprint, and each paid as much as Nelson Bros. did originally, racking up a very nice total for a 750-word short story I wrote in less than an hour and never revised.

It was early in December of 1955. A senior in high school and one of the editors of the school paper, I was asked to contribute something to the Christmas issue. On the bus, returning home from Christmas shopping, an idea struck me.

I was standing in the aisle of the moving vehicle, holding on with one hand, the other clutching my purchases. There was no way I could write down the ideas that came tumbling, unbidden, into my head.

As I came in the back door, my mother was startled to see me drop my coat and my parcels, race up the stairs to my bedroom, shouting, "I have to write something down."

She, too was a writer, unpublished but prolific with verses and song parodies, so she accepted my urgency. When I came downstairs just half an hour later and read her the story, she was impressed.

My strong anti-war sentiments had been prompted by the political situation in the US at the time. Anti-Communist rants appeared daily on TV, our favorite movie stars were called to testify against their colleagues in the infamous McCarthy Hearings, and we talked about this regularly around the dinner table.

Although my father was too young to serve in World War I and too old to be drafted for the Second World War, I had an uncle who brought home a harrowing tale of going down with the Dorchester when it sank in the North Atlantic, and four cousins who served in different branches of the Armed Services, all with tales of the horror of war. I became a pacifist, feeling (to this day) that war solves nothing, and inflicts irreparable damage, not just physically but psychologically.

I was then thinking of a career in radio, and wrote this story in the voice of a news reporter. Its simple language coupled with a universal adult theme has made it a popular choice for teen-aged readers (and also with adults studying English). This is the fourth foreign textbook to publish it.

A Christmas Story appeared in the Hamden High School Dial, in green print like the rest of the Christmas issue, but our faculty advisor had dropped the final line, which annoyed me.

Nobody else has done that until this Norwegian editor, who must have felt it was too "left-wing" for his students. No matter, the strong anti-war sentiment stands, and the image I depicted, of an "enemy" soldier showing compassion for a child who mistakes him for Santa Claus, is as powerful as ever.

Another piece I sold to an anthology the same year has appeared on thousands of websites around the world, bringing the total of countries where my byline (or Simon Teakettle's) appears to 37, ranging across 11 time zones.

Bobbi Graham's website has free pages and many resources for writers, publishers, and cat-lovers. Go to www.SimonTeakettle.com, and make sure you read Terzo's blog.

Copyright © 2008 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.08