Someone at your memorial will speak the facts. They’ll say you were born then and died now, describe the work you spent your life doing, mention the people you loved who are still alive and the ones who died before you. Everyone in the room will already know those things, but they’ll expect someone to say it all anyway. It’s a declaration that yes, you did live and now it’s all right to say what they remember about you while the memories are as strong as they’ll ever be.

When my people memorialize our dead, first we tell the facts and then we tell the stories, which are far finer than mere truth. We don’t exactly lie. The events really did happen, but a little creative plumping is expected. If the deceased were allowed to attend, he might feel embarrassed, but he’d probably sew on a couple of his own embellishments. Bigger stories make better memories, and this is the time we want the best memories we can get.

After my uncle’s memorial yesterday, my sister lamented that she’d forgotten a story about him until after we had left. My people particularly like stories about what sort of child a person was. It’s as if we think childhood tales show our real selves before life lowers curtains of artifice around us. My sister and I have heard this particular story dozens of times from my mother.

When my uncle was seven years old and my mother was five he took her to the department store to see Santa Claus. It was a different world then, and no one worried about these children tracking down some holiday fun by themselves. At the store they joined the long, long line to see the jolly elf, whom they referred to as “Santy Claus.” The line moved slowly. My uncle, a vocal boy, expressed impatience, especially towards the heavy-set woman just in front of them.

After some length of time that my mother never detailed, my uncle lost patience with the inconvenient facts of his situation. He kicked the woman right in the middle of her backside and said, “Get the hell out of my way, fat lady, I’ve got to go see Santy Claus!”

My mother never described quite what happened next, but we were always laughing too hard for it to matter much.

Now my uncle is gone, my mother’s gone, and certainly the fat lady and Santy Claus are gone as well. But we still have this story that we can share to explain who my people were and how we got this way.

Do they smoke dope at an elvish solstice festival?

I know it sounds like a frivolous question, but I grappled with it for several hours yesterday. You see, I’m writing a story about Santa Claus, and he’s an elf, and the next thing that happens in the story requires a bunch of elves all together in a jolly horde. So, I needed to create an elvish solstice festival. Obviously. But then I had to describe the damn thing.

What do big groups of elves do for fun? I’m not talking about those gangly, pasty Tolkien elves that creep me out, and that would creep you out too if you met one of the pouty, immortal bastards. I’m talking about happy elves that clean your house in the middle of the night and make toys and steal your firstborn child if you can’t guess their name. You know, elf hijinx. But what do big gangs of them do for a good time?

I thought of lots of things they might do. Dancing around elf-sized solstice-poles, holding shoe making contests, dueling with candy canes, and so forth. None of it seemed right. I liked the image of the teenage, future St. Nick and his friends hiding behind a giant toadstool and smoking a joint. But that didn’t seem right either. I felt like a crummy writer. I hated my brain, and I wanted to beat it to death with tequila.

My fourth tequila shot reminded me of something I learned in improvisational acting. When you want to start a scene, don’t think about something happening. Go with an emotion.

Okay, you may not relate to that, so try this. Think about when you were five years old and you wanted to tell a fib. Some enlightened parents call it telling a story. My parents called it being a lying little shit. Whatever you call it, you needed to tell something that wasn’t true. It’s just like being a writer, except that five-year-olds don’t get paid, and writers don’t get paid either, but they get lots of rejection letters that make them think about tequila and smoking dope.

Anyway, your five-year-old self may start his lie with, “What happened was, I was standing in the kitchen, and then I was just playing, you know, and just standing there petting the dog, and then the dog jumped on the table and then knocked the baby on the floor…” You know the whole time you’re talking that you knocked the baby on the floor when you climbed the height chair to grab a fist full of cake frosting. This pathetic lie ends with you locked in the broom closet for a week and fed only spaghetti noodles slid under the door. All because you just talked about stuff happening.

Instead, go with emotion. You should start your lie with a hurricane of tears, and then shriek, “The baby’s going to die! Don’t let the dog kill me too!” This is more like it. Your mom is so freaked out that she never considers you might be a lying little shit. This lie ends with the dog tied to a stake in the backyard and you getting a popsicle.

So how did Mr. Tequila help my five-year-old self create an elvish solstice festival? Instead of trying to imagine what was happening at this festival, I took each character in the story and wrote about his favorite thing at the festival, and why it was his favorite thing. It didn’t exactly write itself, and the four tequila shots didn’t help. But when I’d finished it felt right and made sense, and I had a realistic place for my characters to do some dumb stuff. Well, as realistic as an elvish festival can get.

And no, they don’t smoke dope at an elvish solstice festival. Snorting lines of pixie dust is another matter.

Yeah, we know what’s in that pipe, Sparky.

My short story “The Santa Fix” was published today by Open Heart Publishing in the anthology “An Honest Lie, Volume 3: Justifiable Hypocrisy“. It’s available in paper format now, and will be offered in electronic format soon.

I think that the anthology itself has a lot going for it. The 14 stories were selected from over 5000 submissions. Open Heart Publishing is dedicated to green publishing, using print on demand to keep inventory low and reduce deforestation. That makes the cost of an individual book a little higher, but overall it’s worth it. And the physical copy of the book is a really beautiful, high quality volume.
Of the 14 auhors in the anthology, the one who generates the greatest interest will be given a book contract a year from now. So I would be tremendously grateful for any support anyone would like to offer.

Simply voting for me costs nothing, so please do that if you can. Just go to the site and click my name on the left side to give me 1 point. You’re not limited to one vote in the contest. Vote early, vote often!

Purchasing a copy of the book through the publisher’s website by clicking my name earns me 500 points, which is a huge boost for me. If you purchase through a retail outlet like Amazon, then I get no points at all, so please use this link.

An Honest Lie, Volume 3: Justifiable Hypocrisy

I have decided that Santa Claus can kiss my ass. We once had a warm relationship. He gave me my first bicycle. I helped him build the deck over his back porch. We bitched about global warming together, which is truly creating havoc up at the North Pole. It was all good.

But I’ve realized that with the best of intentions he has helped create a world of “Suits”. I saw someone’s definition of a Suit a while back, and to paraphrase it: a Suit is a person who doesn’t understand that the universe doesn’t give a crap about their opinion on any subject whatsoever.

I am not against gifts and charity. I love generosity and mercy. But my buddy Nick has changed. Once he was fine being the personification of kindness (and a left-handed bribe to hold over kids’ heads). Now he’s a force of nature that fulfills the desires of the deserving.

Sure, he’s led some kids to feel entitled to iPods and computers and cars because they’ve been good, and they want them, and therefore the universe is obligated to provide them. (Not all kids—just the future Suits.) But ooh, the adult Suits! I do not want to get all political, but it seems everybody is concluding that the universe should just make things happen because they want a thing to happen and they’ve been good boys and girls.

You hate something and want it to stop? (Pick anything you care to name… war, high taxes, bad health care, illegal immigration. A Suit’s suit is just as likely to be tie dye as it is to be Armani.) For a Suit, all you need is a righteous stance and a proud ignorance of history, facts, and the forces at work. Really, NOT knowing the facts is a mark of pride for a Suit. The universe should just make it happen in the natural course of events because you’re right, in the same way Santa was supposed to bring you a teddy bear because you were good.

So Santa, you’re fired. I can’t have you hanging around my Christmas anymore. I’m taking over the gift giving for my friends and relatives, and my criterion is that they get presents because I love them, whether they’ve been good or bad, but with the clear understanding that I do not represent the universe in any fashion. I recognize that I do need a holiday icon, since as far as the embodiment of the season goes, I blow. I think I’ll offer the Thanksgiving Turkey the job. He expects everyone to buy their own yams.

Sorry Nick, but it had to be done.