The Writer’s Desk with the Authors of The Once Upon a Winter Wonderland Anthology
After growing up on both the east and west coasts of the US, Publishers Weekly best-selling author Michelle Sass Aleckson settled somewhere in the middle and now enjoys living the country life in central Minnesota with her husband and four children. She’s traveled the world but is a small-town girl at heart who loves rocking out to 80’s tunes on a Saturday night and playing board games with family and friends. She won the 2018 Genesis Award for Romantic Suspense and the 2018 Cascade Award for Contemporary Fiction and was a 2018 finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award. She writes contemporary stories full of romance, suspense, grace, and, yes, a little sass too.
Andrea Christenson lives in a Minneapolis, MN suburb with her husband and two daughters. When she is not busy homeschooling her girls, she loves to read anything she can get her hands on. She believes that a great loaf of artistic bread can turn a meal into a masterpiece. Andrea’s prayer is to write stories revealing God’s love.
Rachel D. Russell writes contemporary inspirational romance focused on forgiveness, redemption, and grace. Her debut novel, Still the One, was the 2022 winner of the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Award for published contemporary fiction. When Rachel’s not cantering her horse down the Oregon beaches, she just might be interrogating her husband on his own military and law enforcement experience to craft believable heroes in uniform. The rest of her time is spent enjoying her active family, including two teens and three keyboard-hogging cats.
More about Once Upon a Winter Wonderland:
Join USA Today best-selling author Susan May Warren, award-winning author, Rachel D. Russell, and best-selling Minnesota authors Michelle Sass Aleckson and Andrea Christenson in this delightful twist on Bing Crosby’s holiday favorite song, Winter Wonderland.
A Deep Haven wedding at Christmas? With snow glistening in the lane, sleigh bells ringing, and all the world a winter wonderland—magical, right?
Or maybe not, because the snowstorm of the century has buried their small town, and as Vivien Calhoun and Boone Buckam fight the sleet, snow, and ice, just about everything can—and does—happen to skid their big day into the ditch. It’ll take all their friends—and a few strangers—to turn this Christmas wedding from a blizzard to a beautiful sight in this charming collection of novellas.
Discover four enchanting stories featuring old friends, and new, who discover that there just might be a happy ending waiting in this winter wonderland—if only they can shovel their way out of trouble.
Q&A with the Authors of the Once Upon a Winter Wonderland Anthology
TG: Everyone always asks for an interesting fact, we’re going to flip the question. What is one boring fact about yourself?
MSA: I’m hopelessly indecisive.
AC: My favorite chore is washing dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually like doing them, but if forced to choose a chore, it would be dishes for me.
RR: I love to be home—I’m a total homebody.
TG: Where did you get the inspiration for your story in the anthology?
MSA: I love a good sunny/grumpy trope. Throw in a little Christmas and we’ve got a romantic grinch story. We wanted characters involved in a wedding so I came up with a grumpy cop as the best man and the hair/makeup artist from Vivien’s NYC days.
AC: When Team Deep Haven first tossed around the idea of writing a Christmas anthology and it was mentioned we’d need a preacher/pastor, I leaped at the chance. I loved the idea of writing about married love and how it changes through the years. As a pastor’s wife myself, I have a small window into what Bob and Marilyn must have been thinking and feeling.
RR: A Beautiful Sight is Vivien and Boone’s wedding story—and one of the things they struggle with is his devotion to the Crisis Response Team and Vivien’s uncertainty about how that will shape their future. I drew on my own experience for inspiration—My husband spent 27 years in the military, first active duty, then National Guard. Because he was the first sergeant, that meant his soldiers came first. Duty had to come first. Our second son’s birth was actually induced because my husband was put on orders to deploy. Sometimes, it was hard to have him miss those special moments and celebrations in our lives. I wanted Vivien to wrestle with that. I wanted Boone to wrestle with it. It’s a real issue for families who have a spouse in either military or public emergency services.
TG: Do you have any habits or rituals as a writer?
MSA: I tend to feel stifled by strict routines, so I don’t have many rituals. But I do need quiet to hear the story in my head, and I have to be comfortable. Sometimes that’s taking over the dining room table and other times I’m lounging on the couch. If it’s chilly, I’m likely to have my fuzzy green sweater on and a cup of hot tea nearby. And I write best earlier in the day. My brain is mush by dinner.
AC: I wish I did! I think I would be more productive if I came up with some. Ha!
RR: I often listen to classical music while I write. I find it helps my mind focus and tap into creativity, especially when my mind is otherwise busy or I am experiencing stress.
TG: What habits would you encourage others to take up to be a more productive writer?
MSA: Protect your writing time as much as possible! I use the Do-Not-Disturb function on my phone while I’m writing to keep distractions to a minimum. During the fast-draft phase don’t stop to research little details. Instead use an asterisk to mark the spot and move on. Same with adding action beats or dialog tags. Just get that story on the page and fill in the blanks on the next pass.
AC: Push through the hard days. Don’t let yourself make excuses. (Yes, I am talking to myself on this one!)
RR: Start with prayer. Truly, take some deep breaths and rest/surrender to God. So many times, I have dived into writing, wrestling with my story—when I finally pause and pray, I find more peace in it. It doesn’t mean I suddenly throw down thousands of words onto the page, but my focus is where it should be—on the One who called me to write.
TG: What do you snack on or drink while writing?
MSA: Hot Cinnamon Sunset tea or a good cup of Earl Gray are my go-to’s, but I’m not opposed to a Brown-Sugar Oatmilk shaken espresso in the afternoon for a little pick-me-up.
AC: Coffee. Always coffee. And, usually, a little chocolate to reward myself.
RR: I don’t snack; I usually drink water while writing, but sometimes have coffee. Sometimes black. Sometimes not. Sometimes unsweetened ice tea.
TG: How do you overcome writer’s block?
MSA: I skip to a scene that I’m feeling more confident in or more excited to write.
AC: I’ll let you know when I figure it out. Right now, it involves way too much whining to be honest!
RR: Going for a walk to clear my mind, then phoning a friend to brainstorm through the sticky part.
TG: Are you an “edit-as-you-go” writer or do you wait until the very end before you do any editing?
MSA: I write very ugly fast drafts because I really need to see the big picture before I buckle down on the details. So I wait on the editing until I have a clearer vision of what happens in the overall story.
AC: Definitely more edit as I go, but I don’t necessarily mean that I turn out a clean copy. There are plenty of things to go back to and fix, but I do like to get someone else’s opinion after my first draft, so I try to make it fairly clean the first go-round.
RR: I’ve been an edit-as-I-go writer, but I’m veering away from it as much as possible because shifting between divergent and convergent thinking has really bound up my creativity.
TG: What would you say is the most common mistake new writers make?
MSA: It’s a mistake I still make: overwriting. It takes practice to learn how to use one powerful statement to get your point across instead of many sentences.
AC: Thinking they only have one story to tell. The world (and each of us!) is full of stories. Write one, then write another, and repeat.
RR: One that I made—that I think others sometimes make—is that I thought it would be easier. That if God had called me to write, everything would fall into place. The stories, the words.
TG: What is the best piece of writing advice you’re ever received?
MSA: Before you pursue publication discover your “why.” Writing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There’s plenty of discouragement and obstacles so know firmly why you’re doing it and when those valley moments come remember your why and keep climbing!
AC: Don’t compare yourself to other writers. God called you to write like YOU, not *insert pretty much any name here*. I had to learn that in parenting too. God called me to be me. His opinion of me is the only one that matters, and He thinks I’m pretty great.
RR: I’ve learned so much from so many amazing authors. One that stands out—that I keep by my writing desk is “Let your first draft be dull, gray matter,”—something along those lines from Rachel Hauck.
TG: What is coming up next for you?
MSA: I’m working on a romantic suspense story in a collection with other authors that will release early next summer as well as another full-length Deep Haven story also out in the last half of 2023!
AC: I have another Deep Haven novel releasing in 2023. Woohoo! We’ll be meeting Robin Fox and catching up with Sammy Johnson from Hangin’ by a Moment. Maybe Sammy will finally get his happily ever after.
RR: My extended Deep Haven Collection Fox Family novel, It’s Your Love is scheduled to release in the summer of 2023.