Please give a warm welcome to Billie Thomas! She’s the author of “Murder on the First Day of Christmas”. Take it away Billie!
The Story Behind the Story.
By Billie Thomas, author of Murder on the First Day of Christmas
We’ve all heard (and cheerfully discarded) the writing advice “write what you know.” While true to a degree, we’d all prefer to let our imaginations drive our stories rather than our SAT scores. But writing who you know – in other words having a thorough, personal and intimate understanding of your characters – is advice I believe in wholeheartedly. Luckily, when it comes to the core relationship in my Chloe Carstairs mystery series – the relationship between Chloe and her mother Amanda – I have a lifetime of inspiration from which to draw.
My mom and I have always been big mystery fans and we traded books back and forth endlessly. No matter how our relationship was going at the time (can you say ‘rollercoaster’?), our love of mysteries was always neutral ground. So when I set out to write one, I knew Mom would be my biggest fan and toughest critic. The idea of a fun, funny mystery with a mother-daughter relationship much like our own, appealed to both of us, and our relationship was the perfect inspiration. The first draft was a joy to write. I’d work on a chapter, send it to my mom, she’d make suggestions and I’d rewrite. Easy. Fun. Maybe even therapeutic.
Sadly, my mom died unexpectedly of an aneurism at the end of 2011 and never got to see Murder on the First Day of Christmas get published in December 2012. While the book is the perfect tribute to her, I still have 5 things I wished I’d thanked her for more explicitly. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but a heartfelt one and one that shapes everything I write.
She gave me a life-long love of books.
My best Christmas present ever – even better than my go-cart or Commodore 64 – was a library card in my stocking. I was seven or eight at the time and when I gravely signed the back, I knew this was a Big Deal. It’d be years before I figured out how big. We went to the library every Saturday and I could pick out as many books as I wanted. By the time I was nine, Mom and I had an unofficial book club where Nancy Drews, Judy Blumes and eventually, Agatha Christies were enthusiastically traded and discussed. Reading and writing have been constant joys in my life and my Mom deserves all the credit.
She turned off the TV.
For several years, the TV remained mostly dark in my house. My parents watched the news and “60 Minutes.” My sister and I could only watch one hour a day during the school year and slightly more during the summer. That was it. No daytime TV at all except a few Saturday morning cartoons. Yeah, I hated having to fake-laugh when kids recounted SNL sketches, but that dark TV helped make me creative, healthy and able to entertain myself.
My mom wasn’t a fancy cook, but some of my favorite meals were hers. Spaghetti. Pot roast. Pork chops with a ring of crispy onions on top. Fried chicken for my birthday. She kept it all pretty healthy. Breakfast, always, sugar cereals, never. A side salad at every meal. Family dinners were the standard and we read Trivial Pursuit cards at the table. I don’t know why. She also understood that it was sometimes necessary to delay breakfast till ten when Taco Bell opened. Loved that.
She taught me to be a girl’s girl.
I don’t know how she managed this, since my dad was her whole world, but Mom always stressed the importance of cultivating friendships with girls and never letting guys come before them. (Husbands notwithstanding.) She said the only woman you couldn’t trust or respect was one that didn’t trust or respect other women. I completely agree.
She was willing to be the bad cop.
Any journals I kept before 1988 only had two or three entries in them, all detailing with Anne Frank-caliber anguish show stupid, cruel, unreasonable, lame, wrong or mean my mom was. Once I called her a “bourgeois bitch” – I can’t imagine why, but suspect it’s because I had recently learned the word bourgeois. I’m sure I communicated those feelings in thousands of other ways over the years. She didn’t care. Even if it hurt her feelings, she didn’t let it stop her from enforcing rules, teaching discipline and saying no when she needed to. You only have to meet or work alongside someone who thinks the world is their juice box to know why that’s important.
As I said, not an exhaustive list. I hope Mom’s somewhere where she knows these things and is proud of the job she did raising me. I miss her every day and am thankful I have the series to work on because it makes me feel close to her. If I ever hear that a daughter loved Murder on the First Day of Christmas and passed it along to her mom, or vice versa, saying “this is so us”, I will be thrilled. I’ll bawl my eyes out, probably, but sometimes I do that when I’m thrilled.
About Murder on the First Day of Christmas:
Finding a severed hand at a client’s house might throw lesser decorators off their games. But Chloe Carstairs and her mother, Amanda, won’t let a little thing like murder keep them from decking the halls. With a body under the partridge’s pear tree and a dead Santa in a sleigh, they have to crack the case before the killer strikes again – this time much too close to home.
Filled with laugh-out-loud humor, romance and a delightfully difficult mother-daughter relationship, this new series from Billie Thomas offers a fast-paced caper as these two southern ladies try to keep their very merry Christmas from turning into the Noel from hell.
Connect with Billie Thomas and her protagonist Chloe Carstairs at:
Thanks for being my guest today Billie! You’re story sounds like a great read and I’ve got it on my TBR pile.