Hi Sheila and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, The Lodge on Holly Road!
Please summarize the book a la Twitter style for the readers here:
This is a story of a Santa in need of some Christmas spirit, a man in need of true love, and a young woman in need of a better life. And they all meet at Olivia Wallace’s Icicle Creek Lodge in Icicle Falls! Olivia herself could use a little romance. Maybe she’ll get it this year. And maybe, just maybe Santa will find his Christmas spirit again.
Please share the opening line of this book:
The toddler wasn’t crying. Oh no. These were the kind of earsplitting screams that would make the strongest department store Santa want to run for his sleigh.
Please share a few Random facts about this book…
It’s set in the fictional town of Icicle Falls.
It has recipes.
It’s my 5th Christmas novel.
What, in your mind, distinguishes this book from other books out there in the same genre?
I would hope the cast of characters, including my department store Santa, make the book unusual, and I think the recipes are a fun selling point that make the book a keeper. I’ve tried to mix humor and a feel good vibe along with some serious moments and I hope it will both entertain and encourage readers this holiday season.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters?
Oh, I think it would have to be the scene where the characters bring a big, out of control dog to the lodge as a Christmas surprise. But, surprise, the dog is much more interested in rampaging the inn than sitting quietly under the tree. And that’s not the only plan that doesn’t go according to plan!
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: A copy of “The Lodge on Holly Road” and “The Nine Lives of Christmas” which will be a Hallmark movie, airing November 8th.
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: Have you ever made plans at Christmas that didn’t go “according to plan”?
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
The toddler wasn’t simply crying. Oh, no. These were the kind of ear-splitting screams that made even the strongest department store Santa want to run for his sleigh. Her face was a perfect match for James Claussen’s red Santa suit and both her eyes and her nose had the spigot turned on full blast.
What was he doing here sitting on this uncomfortable throne, ruling over a kingdom of fake snow, candy canes and mechanical reindeer? What had possessed him to agree to come back to work? He didn’t want to be jolly, even imitation jolly.
“Come on, Joy,” coaxed the little girl’s mother from her spot on the sidelines of Santa Land. “Smile for Mommy.”
“Waaah,” Joy responded.
I understand how you feel, James thought. “Joy, that’s a pretty name for a pretty little girl. Can you give you mommy a big smile?” he coaxed.
“Waaah,” Joy shrieked and began kicking her feet. The black patent leather shoes turned those little feet into lethal weapons. Come tomorrow he’d have a bruise on the inside of his left thigh.
“Ho, ho, ho,” James tried and the shrieks got louder.
Okay, this was as good as the picture with Santa was going to get. He stood and handed off the child, who was still kicking and crying, barely dodging an assault to the family jewels in the process. The jewels weren’t so perfect now that he was sixty-six but they were still valuable to him and he wanted to keep them.
Shauna Sullivan, his loyal elf, sent him a sympathetic look and ushered up the next child, a baby girl carried by her mother. Rosy cheeked and alert, probably just up from a nap, the baby was all dolled up in a red velvet dress with white booties on her feet and a headband decorated with a red flower. She was old enough to smile and coo but not quite old enough to walk or, thank God, kick Santa where it would hurt.
This baby girl reminded him of his daughter Brooke when she was a baby, all smiles and dimples. Big blue eyes that looked at him in delighted wonder. Oh, those were the days, when his kids were little and Faith was still …
Don’t go there.
“And what would this little dumpling like for Christmas?” he asked, settling the baby on his lap.
For a moment it looked as if she was actually concentrating on an answer. But then a sound anyone who’d had children could easily recognize followed by a foul odor told him she’d been concentrating on something else. Oh, man.
“Smile, Santa,” Krystal the photographer teased and the smelly baby on his lap gurgled happily.
James had never been good with poopy diapers but he gave it his best effort and hoped he looked like a proper Santa.
Finally, they were down to the last kid in line. Thank God. After this Santa was going home to enjoy a cold beer.
That was about the only thing he’d enjoy. Oh, he’d turn on the TV to some cop show, but he wouldn’t really watch it. Then he’d go to bed and wish the days wouldn’t keep coming, forcing him to move on.
He especially wasn’t looking forward to the next day, December twenty-fourth. How he wished he could skip right to New Year’s Day. Or better yet, go backward to New Year’s Day two years ago when he and Faith were planning their European Cruise.
Stay in the moment, he told himself. Stay in character. He put on his jolliest Santa face and held out a welcoming arm to the next child.
This one was going to be a terror, he could tell by the scowl on the kid’s freckled face as he approached. He was a big, hefty burger of a boy, wearing jeans and an oversized T-shirt and could have been anywhere between the ages of ten and thirteen. Logic ruled out the older end of the spectrum. Usually by about eight or nine kids stopped believing.
“And who have we got here?” James asked in his jolly I-love-kids voice.
Normally he did love kids and he loved playing Santa, had been doing it since his children were little. He’d always had the husky build for it, although when he was younger Faith had padded him out with a pillow. No pillow necessary now. And no need for a fake beard either. Mother Nature had turned his beard white over the last few years.
These days he wasn’t into the role, wasn’t into Christmas, period. Santa had lost his holiday spirit and he was starting to lose his patience, too. Very un-Santa like. He should never have agreed to fill in today, should have told Holiday Memories to find another Santa.
His new customer didn’t answer him.
“What’s your name, son?” he asked, trying again.
“Richie,” said the boy and landed on James’s leg like a ton of coal.
“And how old are you, Richie?”
“Too old for this. This is stupid.” The kid crossed his arms and glared at his mother.
“So you’re twelve?” James guessed.
“I’m ten and I know there’s no such thing as Santa. You’re a big fake.”
Boy, he had that right.
“And that’s fake, too,” Richie added.
James was usually prepared for rotten kid beard assaults, but this year his game was off and Richie got a handful of beard before James could stop him and yanked, hard enough to nearly separate James’s jawbone from the rest of his skull. For a moment there he saw stars, and two Richies. As if one wasn’t bad enough.
“Whoa, there, son, that’s real,” James said, rubbing his chin, his eyes watering. “Let’s take it easy on old Santa.”
Now Richie’s mother was glaring, too, as if it was James’s fault she’d spawned a monster.
“Look Richie,” he said, lowering his voice. “We’re both men here. We know this is all pretend.”
And Christmas is a crock and life sucks. So deal with it, you little fart.
James reeled in his bad Santa before he could get loose and do any damage. Good Santa continued, “But your mom wants this picture. One last picture she can send to your relatives and brag about what a good kid you are.” Not. “Can you man up and pose so she can have a nice picture of you for Christmas?”
Richie looked at him suspiciously, as if he was up to some strange trick.
James sweetened the holiday pot. “I bet if you do you’ll get what you want for Christmas.” Now the kid was looking less adversarial. James pressed his advantage. “Come on, kid. One smile and we can both get out of here. Whaddya say?”
Richie grunted and managed half a smile and Krystal captured it. “But you’re still a fake,” Richie said.
And you’re still a little fart. “Ho, ho, ho,” James replied and rocketed the boy off his leg, sending him flying.
“Hey, he shoved me,” Richie said to his mother and pointed an accusing finger at James.
“Trick leg,” James said apologetically. “Old war injury.” Merry Christmas,” he called and, with a wave, abdicated his holiday throne.
“Okay,” he said to Shauna, “I’m out of here.” Thank God this day was over. He was never doing this again. He didn’t care if every Santa on the planet was home with the flu.
“You can’t go yet,” she protested, and began looking desperately around the mall.
After a ten hour day? Oh, yeah, he could. “No kids and it’s ten minutes ‘til the end of our shift. We’ll be okay. Right Krystal?”
Krystal frowned. “Well…”
It was nearly five o’clock. All the moms and kiddies were now on their way home to make dinner. The next Santa crew would arrive soon to deal with the evening crowd. All they had to do was put up the “Santa Will Be Back” sign. What was the problem? Maybe the girls felt guilty stealing a couple extra minutes from work.
Not James. He’d worked hard all his life and he had no qualms about stealing a few minutes for himself now. For forty years he’d been a welder for Boeing. Then he’d come home and worked some more, putting that addition on the house, mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, repairing broken faucets.
Of course, he’d also realized the importance of playing – – backyard baseball with the kids, Frisbee at the park, the game of Life on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And real life had taught him that you took advantage of everything good that you could, even little things like getting off ten minutes early. Because you never knew what cosmic pie in the face was waiting for you around the corner.
“Come on, ladies,” he said, putting an arm around each of them and trying to move them in the direction of the Starbucks. “The eggnog lattes are on me.” They still balked. He’d never known the girls to turn down a latte. He looked from one to the other. “Okay, what’s going on?”
“It’s a surprise,” said Shauna.
James frowned. He hated surprises, had hated them ever since Faith got sick.
“It’s a good one,” Krystal added as if reading his mind.
And then he saw his daughter hurrying down the mall toward him and the heaviness that was trying to settle over him was blown away. There she came, his brown-eyed girl, all bundled up in boots and black leggings and a winter coat, her hair falling to her shoulders in a stylish, light brown sheet. Once upon a time it had been curly and so cute. Then suddenly she’d decided she needed to straighten her hair. He never could understand why the curls had to go. But then he’d never understood women’s fashion.
He also never understood why she thought her face was too round or why she thought she was fat. Her face was sweet. And she was just curvy. As far as he was concerned she was the prettiest young woman in Seattle. That wasn’t fatherly prejudice. It was fact, plain and simple.
“Daddy,” she called and waved and began to run toward him.
Krystal had been right. This was a good surprise.
“Hello there, Angel,” he greeted her and gave her a big hug. “Did you come to let your old man take you to dinner?”
“I came to take my old man somewhere special for Christmas,” she said. “Thanks for not letting him get away,” she told his holiday helpers.
“No problem,” said Shauna. “Have a great time.”
“For Christmas?” James repeated as Brooke linked her arm through his and started them walking toward the shopping mall’s main entrance.
They were going somewhere for Christmas on the twenty-third? Did that mean she wasn’t going to spend Christmas with him and Dylan? It was their first Christmas without Faith (well, technically their second since she’d died on December 24th the year before). He’d assumed he and his son and daughter would all be together to help each other through the holidays.
But she was an adult. She could do what she wanted. Maybe she’d made plans with friends. If she had he couldn’t blame her for wanting to run away from unpleasant memories. Maybe she’d found someone in the last couple of weeks and wanted to be with him. She shouldn’t have to baby-sit her dad.
“Don’t worry, Daddy,” she said. “I’ve got it all under control.”
He didn’t doubt that. Like her mother, Brooke was a planner and organizer. She’d organized their Thanksgiving dinner, gathering his sister and his cousin and her husband, assigning everyone dishes to bring.
But what was she talking about? “Got what under control?”
“You’ll see,” she said with a Santa-like twinkle in her eyes.
Oh, boy, another surprise. “What are you up to, Angel?”
“I’m not telling, but trust me, you’ll like it.”
He doubted he’d like anything this season but he decided to play along. “Okay, lead on.”
He hoped she hadn’t spent too much money. Kindergarten teachers didn’t make a lot and he hated to think of her spending a fortune on some fancy meal. He’d be happy enough with a hamburger. Anyway, he’d rather eat in the car than go in a restaurant dressed like he was.
They were out of the mall now and at her trusty SUV. She complained about her gas mileage but he was secretly glad she had it. The thing had all-wheel drive and handled well in the snow, which meant he didn’t have to worry about her when she was driving in bad weather. Seattle rarely got much of the white stuff but they’d had a couple of inches earlier in the month and the weatherman was predicting more by New Year’s.
James had always loved it when they had a white Christmas. It meant snowball fights with the kids and hot chocolate afterward. Faith always laced his and hers with peppermint schnapps.
“No frowning allowed,” Brooke said as they got in.
“Who’s frowning? Santa doesn’t frown.”
“He never used to,” Brooke said softly.
“Well, Santa’s getting too grumpy for this job. I think it’s about time for the old boy to pack it in.”
His daughter shot a startled look his direction. “Daddy, are you crazy?”
“No, I’m just …” Sick of this ho, ho, ho crap. It would never do to say such a cynical thing to his daughter. “Ready for a break,” he improvised.
“You can’t take a break,” she protested as she drove out of the parking lot. “You’re Santa.”
James looked at the crowd of cars rushing around them, people busy running errands, going places, getting ready for holiday gatherings with loved ones. Most of the men in Seattle would be out the following day, frantically finding something for their women. He wished he was going to be one of them.
He reminded himself that he still had his kids. He had a lot for which to be thankful, and if Brooke had plans for Christmas, well, he and Dylan could make turkey TV dinners and eat the last of the cookies she’d baked for them, watch a movie, like Bad Santa. Heh, heh, heh.
Now they were on the South-bound freeway. Where were they going? Knowing his daughter it would be someplace special.
He couldn’t help smiling as he thought about the contrast between her and his son. Dylan would come up with something at the last minute, most likely a six-pack of beer and a bag of Nachos, their favorite football food. Naturally, Dylan would help him consume it all.
James was just wondering what downtown Seattle spot his daughter had picked for dinner and was hoping it was in the Pike Place Market where anything went when they exited off I-5 onto I-90, heading east out of Seattle. “Dinner in Bellevue?”
“Maybe,” she said, determined to be mysterious.
They passed Bellevue. And then Issaquah, getting increasingly farther from the city. Where the heck was she taking him?
When they reached North Bend at the foot of the Cascades he said, “So, we’re eating here?”
“Actually, dinner is in the back seat,” she said, nodding over her shoulder to a little, red cooler. “I’ve got roast beef sandwiches and apples and a beer for you if you want it.”
If they weren’t going out to dinner then where were they going? Now he began to feel uneasy. How long was he going to be stuck in this suit? “Okay,” he said, making his tone of voice serious so she’d know he was done fooling around. “What’s going on?”
“We’re going to Icicle Falls,” she said brightly.
“This is a kidnapping.”
This was not funny. “Brooke,” he said sternly. “I’m not going to Icicle Falls.”
“Daddy,” she said just as sternly. “We’re all going to Icicle Falls. For Christmas. I booked us rooms at the Icicle Creek Lodge.”
“You can’t just spring this on me, baby girl,” he said. “I don’t even have a change of clothes.”
“Not to worry. Dylan’s bringing clothes when he comes up later.
He should have known she’d thought of that. She’d probably given her younger brother a detailed list. He tried another argument. “I can’t leave my car at the mall.”
“Dylan’s picking it up after work and driving it up. See? Everything’s under control.”
No it wasn’t. It wasn’t even remotely under control. James was getting hauled off to some stupid Bavarian village that would be chock full of Christmas lights and happy tourists when all he’d wanted was to spend Christmas at home with his kids. Being depressed because his wife wasn’t there with them. And making the kids feel bad. Ho, ho, ho.
“We thought we should do something different this year,” Brooke added gently.
Maybe she was right. They could have tried to celebrate the way they’d always done with a big dinner on Christmas Eve followed by a candlelight service at church and then pancakes and presents in the morning and friends over in the afternoon to sing Christmas carols and eat cookies, but it would have all been hollow and empty.
Still, he’d planned on trying. He’d bought a bunch of Christmas movies for them to watch and stocked up on cocoa, had put up the tree and stuck their gift cards in among the branches. “I just thought we’d have Christmas at home,” he said. Now he sounded like an ingrate and he didn’t want to do that. Anyway, it was too late now. They were halfway to Icicle Falls. The Polar Express had left the station.
“I think this will be good,” Brooke said. “It’s our gift to you.”
“Your gift?” Staying in some lodge would be expensive. “Oh, no. I’ll take care of it.”
“Daddy,” she said firmly. “You’ve always taken care of us. And you’ve always been Santa,” she added, smiling at him. “Now it’s our turn to play Santa. So don’t ruin the game.”
He sighed and looked out the window at the stands of evergreens they were rushing past. He guessed he could play along.
As long as nobody asked him to be Santa this year. Because Santa had lost his Christmas spirit and he didn’t care if he ever found it.
Meet the Author:
Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. She’s happily married and has three children. She’s been writing since 1989, but she did lots of things before settling in to her writing career, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Her band days are over, but she still enjoys writing songs. Sheila’s books are best sellers and often appear as Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Her novel “Angel Lane” was named one of Amazon’s top ten romances in 2009. Her novel “On Strike for Christmas” was a Lifetime Network movie and her novel “The Nine Lives of Christmas” is now a Hallmark movie, scheduled to air November 8th.
When she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences or hanging out with her girlfriends she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.