“Nativity,” a Classic Christmas Story full of Mirth by Dawn Major

Writers are always attuned to sources of inspiration. A word, an expression, or even the smallest shared story works its way into an author’s headspace and becomes the basis of stories, poems, novels. The chapter titled “Nativity” is a collage of two real pieces of inspiration that came together in my novel, The Bystanders. It may be read on its own as a story, or as a chapter from the novel.

When my family moved from Los Angeles in the late 1980s—to live off the grid—we found ourselves outside the small town of Lawrenceton, Missouri. It was quite a culture shock. We went from the city to rural living, but it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived. And the people were amazing.

At my family’s first Midnight Mass at St. Lawrence Church, I was selected to play the part of Mary in a live nativity. I was in third grade at the time, and I recall being concerned people might think I gave birth to Baby Jesus, so that was kind of funny. But the live nativity element was the first bit of inspiration for this chapter/story.

The second part that influenced “Nativity” was one of my mom’s most precious possessions, a Vatican commissioned nativity scene that cost a fortune. It’s stunning, but it was a pay-as-you-go program and every month a new piece arrived, except the most important character of all, Baby Jesus. For three years mom received, lambs, cows, multiple angels and shepherds, but no Baby Jesus. As you can imagine, she was getting upset. And then one day Baby Jesus arrived, and my dad and sister got to him first. Big pranksters, these two. They wrote an official looking letter from the Vatican apologizing because they weren’t going to be able to send Baby Jesus, they had discontinued the collection, and to please accept a cow in his place. They found one of the many cows in the collection and replaced the cow with Baby Jesus. My mom was livid when she opened that box and read the letter. Eventually, they fessed up and now the nativity scene takes up her mantle during the holiday season.

Mom’s Nativity

With “Nativity.” I wanted to write a classic Christmas story. So many of our modern holiday stories are really new versions of classics. I also wanted to share one of my favorite family memories. I hope you derive some mirth from “Nativity” as my family and I have over the years.

St. Lawrence Church

photo by Linda Bayles Fitzgerald

NATIVITY

Lena and Holda were twins; however, most parishioners didn’t see them as two eccentric hens, but as one big lady who cracked in half. They lived in a ninety-eight-year-old house that once served as the rectory for Saint Lawrence Church. After the last full-time priest passed, the diocese decided the new priest, Father LeClair, should split time between the two town parishes—Lawrenceton and Bloomsdale. Hoping to preserve one of few original structures left in town, the ladies bought the rectory, and moved in. In turn, the parish supplied them a tiny income to keep up the church. They attended every Sunday Mass, every wedding and Baptism. They were at church for each feast day, every saint day, and most importantly, Midnight Mass—they had overseen Christmas almost as long as Christ. READ MORE…

A Conversation with Co-Editor, Alex Hofelich, about putting together the Georgia Gothic Anthology, Stories from the Dark Side of the Deep South

We need stories where we can smell the grease from the Varsity onion rings while we enjoy a frosted orange, where we can hear the muffled thud of bass from the Old Masquerade, where we can see the hand-scrawled roadside sign for BOILT P-NUTS and smell the fecund rot of the swamp swirled by an ocean breeze. Stories that did this and leaned into the gothic…

Alex Hofelich

I met Alex Holefich and the other individuals who helped put the first volume of the Georgia Gothic Anthology together through the Atlanta Chapter of the Horror Writers Association. HWA Atlanta Chapter is a group of very talented and supportive writers and artists who have accepted me into the fold with open arms. They get my strange! I’m so pleased to have discovered this wonderful group and to be part of the Georgia Gothic Anthology, a collection of horror stories and poems set in some of the darkest realms of Georgia.

DM: What was the impetus to create the Georgia Gothic Anthology?

AH: 2020 was a heck of a year and it ruined our opportunities to have our monthly Atlanta HWA chapter meetings in person. So we decided as a chapter we needed a group project to help make sure we continued to learn and develop skills and be able to spend time together. Since we have a fantastic selection of authors, artists, and editors in our chapter we arrived at a consensus to try our hand at an anthology.

This was also the impetus we needed to form up critique groups so writers could run stories past each other before submitting them to the editorial team. The two critique groups are still going strong and we’re looking to assemble a third. And the editors could learn from each other since I’ve got a decade of experience with a short fiction market and Peter Adam Salomon started the HWA Poetry Anthology project. Peter had the toughest job trying to teach two very technically minded folks to get in touch with feelings and flow.

DM: What were some of challenges you discovered putting this anthology together? AND were there any surprises you can share?

AH: One of the tightest knots we needed to unsnarl was revenue. We wanted to showcase the work of a number of our chapter members and have something available to sell at any event that we attended as a group. We did not relish the option of pitching this book to agents or publishers during a time of uncertainty, nor did we want to consider an angel investor. If one person as an individual registers the book in their name, they would be responsible for taking in the revenue and then splitting it up among the contributors while also covering any taxes on the income.

We found PubShare which, for a nominal cut of the proceeds, will handle the intake and sharing of revenue among all the participants. Several members have had positive experiences with the service in the past, so we decided to give it a shot. We did our best to develop an equitable percentage breakdown and this model has a lot of promise to handle similar future projects. This might allow for a self-publishing approach to producing anthologies that others may be able to consider as a viable alternative to producing token-payment anthologies.

DM: As an editor, what submissions stand out? What do you look for?

AH: As a group we created a poll to decide on the anthology’s theme, and Georgia Gothic won by a comfortable margin. There’s not enough fiction that really shows off the richness of the South, and especially the richness of Georgia. People don’t think about much when it comes to horror in Georgia. When we’re lucky, they think about a woman who would have been good if there had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life. When we’re less fortunate, they think of banjos and bad canoe trips.

Georgia is a too-infrequent setting, so we were looking for these stories to fully inhabit Georgia, from the cities to the swamps, the mountains to the shore, from Buford Highway to the roadside barbecue stand. We need stories set among the kudzu that is working to reclaim the buildings of Central State Hospital, an asylum that was later converted into a notorious prison. We need stories about how Atlanta burned in 1864, and how we have been continuing to burn the city every forty years or so while we try to forget our past. We need stories about Atlanta’s specific brand of white flight and how that manifests in the perennial ITP vs OTP skirmishes. We need stories about the anger against carpetbagging pillagers, who moved the capital and set the development pattern that remains in effect along the rail headed back to the north. We need stories about how one of the major motivations for prohibition was the number of businesses that had fraternization among the races, and how prohibition was enforced largely by the Klan. We need stories where we can smell the grease from the Varsity onion rings while we enjoy a frosted orange, where we can hear the muffled thud of bass from the Old Masquerade, where we can see the hand-scrawled roadside sign for BOILT P-NUTS and smell the fecund rot of the swamp swirled by an ocean breeze. Stories that did this and leaned into the gothic were ideal for inclusion.

DM: How varied in terms of skill, background, and diversity are the contributors for this anthology?

AH: This anthology shows off a full range of writing talent, from new writers to those with Stoker nominations, and as mentioned above, our editorial team has a comfortably solid resume. Part of the goal of this project was for all of us to get to learn from one another, as well as some of the more seasoned members of the team to help mentor and lift up those with less experience in the creation and publishing of short fiction. We have good gender and LGBTQIA representation. As a chapter, we have some additional recruitment needed to grow from a couple writers with multiethnic backgrounds. With the massive multi-generational immigrant population in Georgia, we have an opportunity to show off an exceptionally wide range of experiences and perspectives.   

DM: How did you decide on the final design for the cover art?

AH: We have some incredibly talented artists in our group. Lynne Hansen does a ton of amazing covers. One of my personal favorites of hers is the 2020 collection Halloween Season by Lucy A Snyder. Lynne graciously volunteered to make a cover for this project. Much of the cover was inspired by the collective mood with particular details drawn from Persephone Justice’s “The Old Meadow House.”

DM: Will there be opportunities next year for a volume two? Editors? Cover Artists?

AH: We’re certainly excited to start planning for a second volume of Southern Nightmares. The theme that came in second in the group poll was Smothered, Scattered, and Covered and that provides so many opportunities to consider the interesting characters that inhabit 24-hour diners at three in the morning, the Southern traditions around hospitality and food, while letting us engage in a little more quick and messy spatter that the Gothic did not quite have room for. Kelley M. Frank did the interior art for Georgia Gothic, and she’s excited to return to provide cover art for the next volume. Since these diners specializing in hash browns and waffles are all over the South and we’ve figured out a revenue paradigm, we’re thinking we could open this anthology to a little wider submission pool while reserving a number of slots for our chapter members. We want to hear all sorts of Southern Nightmares while also dancing with those that brought us. There will probably be some sort of official announcement in the next month.

DM: Thanks for spending the time answering my questions and good luck with the anthology.

AH: My pleasure, thanks for the invite.

TO PURCHASE/DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY OF THE GEORGIA GOTHIC ANTHOLOGY: AMAZON, PUBSHARE, APPLE BOOKS, BARNES & NOBLE, OR RAKUTEN KOBO

Meet the editors, copy editors, cover artist, interior design, and layout folks who helped put the Georgia Gothic Anthology together:

Editor

Alex Hofelich is Co-Editor of Pseudopod, a weekly horror podcast magazine. It is part of the pro-paying Escape Artists network, which has been delivering weekly short fiction in multiple genres since 2005. He has been involved with PseudoPod since 2009, and edited the anthology For Mortal Things Unsung, which celebrated the first decade of PseudoPod. 

Editor & Copy Editor

Vicki Greer is an editor who specializes in horror, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction and romantic suspense. She welcomes new, unpublished and self-published authors as well as more experienced writers! Target ages include YA to adult. In her spare time, she also edits technical articles, primarily in computer science and related disciplines. She’s a Microsoft Word geek, and is always happy to help with formatting issues as well. She’s a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association as well as the HWA. When she’s not editing, she reads (naturally), builds websites, does cross-stitch, and attempts to herd her four cats.

Editor

Peter Adam Salomon’s second novel, All Those Broken Angels, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award® for Young Adult fiction. His poem ‘Electricity and Language and Me’ appeared on BBC Radio 6 performed by The Radiophonic Workshop. He founded both National Dark Poetry Day (Oct. 7) and the Horror Poetry Showcase for the HWA and was the Editor for the first poetry collections released by the HWA.

Cover Artist

Lynne Hansen is a horror artist who specializes in book covers. She enjoys using her 20 years of book marketing and promotion experience to create art that tells a story and helps publishers and authors reach the audiences they deserve. Her clients include Cemetery Dance Publications, Thunderstorm Books and Bloodshot Books, as well as folks like New York Times bestselling authors Christopher Golden, Rick Hautala, and Thomas E. Sniegoski. For samples of her work and information on how to commission her, visit LynneHansenArt.com.

Interior Design

Kelley M. Frank is a horror artist and author. She writes film and book analysis reviews, and has appeared in a number of anthologies including Slice Girls and Flesh and Bone: Rose of the Necromancers. She specializes in creepy illustration, as well as abstract work expressing her emotional states. She’s also an asexual witch and an outspoken advocate for the strange and unusual.

Copy Editor & Layout

Melissa V. Hofelich is the copy editor at Nightmare Magazine and an extended family member of the Escape Artists podcast network. Originally from South Jersey, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband Alex and their four cats. She’s worked for both The Man and The Devil over the years (though generally not at the same time), trying her hand at jobs such as accounting, professional box-slinging, fraud detection, and lingerie sales. Her true passion is the care and feeding of books and libraries. Melissa holds a BFA from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia and is a ravenous reader, gamer, and crypt creeper.

Layout

T.S. Dann is a raving jerk from Atlanta who wasted a decade of his life in law enforcement. Through uniform patrol, robbery/homicide investigations, and a stint at the medical examiner’s office, he lost what little faith he had in humanity. He has seen more corpses than you have friends, and probably prefers their company. 

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