Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series
- Why did you decide to write the prequel?The idea began when my distributor (the wonderful Kathy Meis from Bublish) suggested that I write a short story to introduce readers to the series – to be used for promos, podcasts, and other ideas for discoverability. I liked the idea. I had often thought about Lillian’s years in Brooklyn so I thought it would be a quick write. Well, the more I wrote about Lillian’s past, the more attached and interested I became, and the story grew to novella length.
- So you didn’t plan the prequel before the other books?No, not at all. But I’m so glad I wrote it. It fills in Lillian’s life a bit more and I really like the idea that there is a book for each of the WWII years – 1939-1945. And a seven-book series has a nice ring to it.
- What was the greatest challenge about writing a prequel after most of the books in the series had already been published?The biggest challenge was structural in that there is no central love story, as in the other books. It’s the only book in the series not to have “A Love Story” as part of its title. That said, there is a love plot with one of the characters, and romance and passion still color the book. However, the focus is on Lillian and a pivotal change that takes place within her.
The other challenge was working back in time. I had already started to write Christmastime 1945so in my mind Tommy was 14, Gabriel 11 – all of a sudden I was writing about them as eight and five. And Lillian was a different person from the woman she had become by 1945 – in 1939 she was more insecure, more fearful about the future, full of struggles, a widowed mother trying to solve all her problems on her own.
- So how did you decide to structure the prequel? I knew the story would be about Lillian’s time in Brooklyn and the events that would lead up to her decision to move to Manhattan – that would be the crux of the story. And from early on, I knew I would use Dickens’ A Christmas Carolas a thread that would run through the book. I wanted to play with the idea of the past, present, and future in Lillian’s life and weave it into the structure. The prequel is very much about Lillian’s move from the past — which she idealizes and hangs onto, and the present — which is filled with fear and struggle, to her vision of the future and how wonderful it could be. So, like A Christmas Carol, it’s a book about personal transformation and second chances.
- How long did it take you to plan, research, and write Christmastime 1939?About a year and a half – longer than expected. I realized that I had to go back in time for the research as well, and imagine the world on the eve of WWII, before the US was committed to involvement. And I had to do additional research on Brooklyn, department stores, Italian cooking, and other details that figure into the story. My original plan was to publish Christmastime 1939and Christmastime 1945in the same year, but that became impossible once I started the research and writing.
- How is the prequel similar to the other books in the series?Most of the main characters are the same – Lillian, Tommy and Gabriel, and Izzy. And the themes are the same – love, family, living with a sense of purpose, finding and creating beauty. And the overarching contrasting themes of home and war still frame the story.
- What’s different?The main differences are the plot and the setting – most of the action takes place in Brooklyn. And the orchard where Lillian’s sister lives plays a larger role – representing the charm of Lillian’s youth, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the country, tranquility. Overall, the prequel is a smaller story, with fewer subplots.
- After 1945, might there be another book in the series?No – the WWII years of 1939-1945 feel just right for this series. And I’ve built the arc of the series to culminate in 1945 – so that will be the final book (though there will be a brief epilogue that takes place a few years later). Though I have to say, I’ll be reluctant to leave the world of Christmastime. I’ve grown quite attached to it. Who knows – maybe down the road I’ll write shorter, related pieces on individual characters – mini sequels or contemporaneous interludes, something like that. I like the idea of keeping the options open.
Linda Mahkovec and World War Two Vet