During recent Decembers, I’ve been catching up on my holiday reading. You know what I mean…all those books on the shelves, bought in years past when I was way too busy to actually read ‘em. The other day I picked up The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, a book my daughter had purchased at a school book fair nearly 25 years ago.
Thank goodness, I was not drinking my cuppa or tea would have spewed all over the place. Holy Herdmans (the six kids who take over the Christmas Nativity pageant), this is an hilariously horrible story! And when I finished the last page, I sat basking in gratitude that this book existed. Because honestly, I’m not sure The Best Christmas Pageant Ever would have sold today.
Here’s a list of just a few gems you’ll find in this short Middle Grade book:
--cigar smoking (by a kid)
--the Bible and lots of religion
Yep, and that’s just the title and the first paragraph. Imagine a present-day agent reading that first paragraph! I laughed out loud but the word “aghast” is coming to me, imagining that scene.
And it’s true, there’s plenty of politically incorrect stuff in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. But there’s a transcendent message, and Robinson delivers it in a perfectly non-preachy way. So perfectly that the book’s won awards and continues to be a perennial best seller since 1972. There’s even a movie and a play, and as far as I know, the play is still presented to this day.
So what’s this totally irreverent and funny book got to do with you, writers? Just this: write what you want to write. Tell the story you want to tell. And don’t worry about agent/publisher/market pleasing.
The truth is, most of us who write a swell book that has something objectionable in it to the gatekeepers will not find a publisher. Maybe the time isn’t so great for selling a story that has Christian themes or a kid who smokes, so maybe you keep changing the manuscript to make it fit someone else’s wants. Or maybe you throw up your hands and walk away.
Which is kinda the fatalistic point of where I was this year. And then I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and got to thinking. I know kids still read that book. And I think kids will read my books…the one with spirits and spirituality, or the one with the Civil War backstory (and a guy who smokes). But they can’t read a book that hasn’t sold and been published.
And that’s where the faith comes in, ‘cause maybe the Best Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza) Present Ever we can give ourselves is to believe in ourselves and our stories enough to put butt in chair and self-publish.
So okay, it might be something different for you, but isn’t it time to go after what you want? I mean, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2020 (and sort of the Herdman kids, too), it’s that we make today count because who knows what the future holds?
I published a book for someone else who had a dream; I think it’s about time I published my own dream. So kick fatalism to the curb and tell me. What do you believe in enough to make happen today?