Smugglivus Smugglivus Guest Author

Smugglivus 2010 Guest Author: Zetta Elliott

Welcome to Smugglivus 2010: Day 4

Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors, bloggers and publishers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2010, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2011.

Who: Zetta Elliott, writer, educator, activist and author of YA and Children’s novels. We are avid readers of Zetta Elliott’s Fledgling blog and her articles on Diversity (like this article on Diversity in YA, which she kindly wrote for our Young Adult Appreciation Month). After reading her book this year and meeting her at the Book Blogger Convention, we knew we had to invite Zetta to be a part of Smugglivus.

Recent Work: A Wish After Midnight which we reviewed HERE.

Without further ado, Zetta Elliott:

Christmas is my favorite time of year. My “inner child” is drawn to anything golden and glittering, and though I’m not a particularly religious person, I do find the story of a guiding star shining in the sky to be quite compelling. One of my favorite phrases is “the adoration of the Magi” and I like that at least one of the Three Kings is usually depicted as a man of color.

There is something magical about Christmas, and I don’t mean flying reindeers or a fat man in a red suit who shimmies down the chimney late at night. For me, Christmas is magical because it’s a season filled with sweetness—gingerbread and eggnog, candy canes and candied yams. Christmas is the season of illumination: candles left in windows, flickering lights on homes and trees, and shiny ornaments made of silver and gold.

For me, Christmas is a time of indulgence—for a few short weeks I release my cynicism and allow myself to be shamelessly sentimental; I sing solemn hymns and corny jingles, I search the sky hoping for snow, and I actually turn the oven on so I can bake cookies for my friends. I immerse myself in holiday festivities; I get a real tree and drag it home on the subway, then coerce friends into stringing popcorn and cranberries for garland. I reserve a special place on the tree for the one decoration leftover from my childhood: a kneeling angel in a milkweed pod lined with faded green velvet.

The holidays are a moment to contemplate the meaning of redemption and renewal, and we access these ideas through narrative. Every Christmas eve I watch the 1951 version of Scrooge starring Alistair Sim—I recite the lines I now know by heart (penned by Dickens, one of my favorite authors). And I time it so that the film ends right at midnight; my last thought before going to bed is of the miser Ebenezer’s spiritual transformation, and I wake on Christmas Day to the pealing of bells in Brooklyn. Giving is an important part of Christmas, but I refuse to shop—I try to give things that I’ve made by hand, and otherwise I donate to charity on a loved one’s behalf. That hasn’t gone over so well in my family; there wasn’t much cheer the year I gave everyone personalized haiku…

My love of Christmas manifests in my writing in other ways: my second play, Scratch, is set during the holidays; my time travel novel, A Wish After Midnight, sends a teenage girl back in time and she arrives in another world—desperately in need of charity—on Christmas Eve. I’m currently working on the sequel to Wish, and have been researching Vodou spirits (lwa) that might assist my character in opening a portal to move through time. I was immediately drawn to Simbi Makaya—a master magician, he is often represented in Catholic iconography by an image of the Three Kings. Yet when I asked a Haitian friend to verify what I’d written, she suggested I use another lwa, Legba—guardian of the crossroads.

Faced with the likelihood of a rewrite, I seized the opportunity to temporarily switch gears and develop another part of my imagination. I’ve decided to try my hand at bookmaking and my first original book will be Let the Faithful Come, a Christmas story-poem I wrote ten years ago. I’m comfortable expressing my ideas with words, but it’s thrilling (and challenging!) to represent my thoughts using colors, textures, and images—and few things activate my imagination like Christmas! It’s a moment when we try to be our better selves—or, at the very least, we admit that we have a better self buried deep within.

When this night has passed
and the brilliant star fades before the soft dawn,
let the faithful return to their homes
with hearts cleansed and uplifted.
Let them rejoice!
Let their songs ring golden like bells in the sun,
so that all those who have slumbered will wake and rise…

Of course, the holiday season will eventually draw to a close, and all my glittering ornaments will get packed away. My tree will be turned into mulch, and I’ll spend at least six months sweeping prickly pine needles off the floor. I’ll gradually revert to my everyday self but a part of me will hold onto the magic of Christmas; in a way, writing speculative fiction helps me to sustain the holiday spirit all year round because it allows me to focus on what’s possible and not just what’s real—the sacred alongside the mundane. Christmas feeds my sense of wonder and reminds me that stargazing can inspire the most moving and memorable stories…

Happy Holidays, everyone!

About Zetta:

I’m a black feminist writer of poetry, plays, essays, novels, and stories for children. I was born and raised in Canada, but have lived in the US for over a dozen years. I currently live in my beloved Brooklyn. When I’m not writing, you’re most likely to find me strolling through the botanic garden…

Happy Holidays, Zetta!

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  • rhapsodyinbooks
    December 4, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Beautiful post. Zetta is such a wonderful writer; by following her blog I get to read her lovely prose several times a week, and am thankful for it!

  • Karen Mahoney
    December 5, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Happy holidays to you too, Zetta!

    I’m not a particularly religious person, but I have to admit to being fond of the warmth and sparkle of Christmas. Also, I ALWAYS watch A Christmas Carol (starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge) to get me in the mood. 🙂

    Cheers, and I hope 2011 brings you many wonderful things.


  • janicu
    December 5, 2010 at 10:27 am

    The DIY bookmaking post you linked to was very cool. I’d love to see the finished product!

  • Zetta Elliott
    December 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks, everybody! and thanks to Ana and Thea for giving me the chance to write about my favorite season. The DIY project came to a halt for a moment b/c I applied the crackle thinking it would fade, and it didn’t–I had effectively blotted out 2/3 of my beautifully painted pages. So I’m in the process of re-painting each page of the book, and now there’s texture as well as color. Next time I’ll mix the crackle paste WITH the paint and save myself an extra step…will definitely post photos as the project winds up!

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