Monday, November 15, 2010

Julie L. Cannon is the author of the award-winning Homegrown Series, published by Simon & Schuster and described as ‘Southern-Fried Soul Food.’ Her latest release, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, published by Summerside Press, was chose as a Top Pick for Fall 2010 Releases by CBA (Christian Bookseller’s Association) Retailers & Resources magazine. It was also included in Nielson’s Top 50 Inspirational Releases this month. In addition to writing, Julie teaches creative writing workshops. She lives in Watkinsville, Georgia, with her husband, Tom, and their youngest son, Sam. Visit Julie at her website:

Julie has written a book with my favorite theme of all--Christmas. Today, she is sharing with us what she loves about Christmas and what inspired her book.

Welcome, Julie! What do you most associate with Christmas where you live?

I live off of Hog Mountain Road in a little town called Watkinsville, Georgia, where herds of cows and fields of hay are beautiful scenery. Along Main Street, we already have dec
orative Christmas lights in shapes of wreaths and holly and bells fastened to the power poles. Lots of churches dot our landscape, and soon they’ll have nativity scenes (both live and peopled with statues) in their front yards.

A Christmas parade winds its way through town the first Saturday of December, complete with lines of tractors and septic-tank cleaning trucks, with majorettes and baton twirlers, and a float from the 4-H club, the FFA Club, and the high school glee club. Every church will sponsor a float, tossing peppermint drops and Tootsie Rolls along with invitations to join them for worship.

White Christmases? Hah! I’ve had seventy-degree Christmas days and ones we think of as bitterly cold in the 30’s. Family is the word around here for Christmas. The first question neighbors ask after “How are you?” is “When are y’all getting together?” meaning when is the family assembling to celebrate the holiday. For the most part, Jesus is still the reason for the season in my community, though we do enjoy our holiday feasts and exchanging gifts.

Do you have any special family traditions you do at Christmas time?

We hang the stockings, hunt down, cut, and decorate the tree, shop for gifts and cook special foods like pecan pies and sweet potato soufflé . When the entire family convenes at my folks’ house (siblings and in-laws and their children) my 75-year-old father reads the Christmas story from the first chapter of Luke’s gospel and he says a blessing over the meal it’s taken weeks to prepare. My mother makes sure she has a crèche scene or two out for display, along with plenty of angels blowing trumpets, and she usually buys paper products emblazoned with Bible verses – probably to get a little of the Gospel into some unnamed family members.

Every year we are blessed to participate in a mission-outreach called Operation Christmas Child, sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. You fill shoeboxes with hard candy, clothes, toys, school supplies, etc… and these are distributed to many impoverished children the world over. In fact, today, November 15th, is the first day of the National Collection Week for participating in Operation Christmas Child! On-line you can find instructions as well as places to take your shoeboxes for distribution.

One year when my youngest was about six years old we were buying some toys to fill a shoebox and for a number of reasons, I wasn’t letting him choose toys for himself. Standing in the checkout lane, his voice rose up loud and furious as he proclaimed, “I HATE the kids in Afghanistan!” I’m sure we’ll be embarrassing him with this memory for years to come.

Do you have a favorite Christmas Carol and if so do you know why?

Hmmmm… I love them all, but thinking about it, I guess it’s “Silent Night.” I say this because I just realized it’s the one I chose to feature in a very touching scene in “I’ll Be Home fo
r Christmas.” It’s being played in a chapel at war time and people are mourning for soldiers. “Silent Night” is timeless. It never fails to lift me up and transport me someplace where I am infused with hope and peace and awe.

If you could spend Christmas any way you could how would you celebrate?

Well, it would have to have two ingredients: some sort of spiritual aspect – either gathering at a chapel to worship or being in God’s presence somehow, and family. I mean, what else is there? But, if I had limitless funds, and time to do anything, I would pick a Carribean cruise or a lavish ski trip somewhere so scenic it takes your breath away.

Do you have any special memories of Christmas?

When I was 13, my Dad smiled at me and said, “Get in the car, gal.” It was one of those sout
hern Christmas days, not too cold and not too humid. We drove out into the country and pulled down a long dirt drive. My Dad parked the car, hopped out, opened the trunk, and there was a leather saddle. We were at a horse farm. My father had purchased a horse for me! My teenaged heart’s dream! Her name was Molly, she was blind in one eye, and unbeknownst to us, pregnant.

What does a typical Christmas Eve and or Christmas Day look like for you?

Christmas Eve we have a special meal, stand in awe looking at the tree lit up and anticipating the next day and opening the gifts. There’s a Christmas Eve service at our church and we go to that. I make sure I have cinnamon rolls or blueberry muffins, and lots of bacon for breakfast. I only have one child who is still the age to be called a “kid,” but generally all three of my children will be saying, “Can’t we just open one gift tonigh
t? Please?” My husband makes sure the camera is ready for the next a.m. and maybe we’ll watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” or “Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” and then we’ll jump in our beds to try and sleep…

Christmas Day usually starts a little earlier than this 48-year-old woman wants. Sam, the 12-year-old, will most likely be up before the sun, poking around at the gifts under the tree (which we’ve sternly admonished him about, saying “Don’t you open anything Santa brought before your parents are up). He is allowed to get into his stocking. The older two, 19 and 21, will probably need to be roused by us old people. When all are up, and sufficiently awake, we open gifts, and eat the candy and nuts and fruit in our stockings, as well as the bacon and bread I set out. The day is kind of lazy after that; playing with the new toys, calling friends and relatives and visiting.

Do you have any Christmas movies or Christmas books you like to see or read each year?

I like to read
Truman Capote’s short story, “A Christmas Memory,” which is a very southern tale of reminiscence about his Aunt Sook and how they made fruitcake together when he was a young boy. I also enjoy hearing or reading the poem/story “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Since I was born with a book in my hand, I’ve usually got one eye on a book while my family watches “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “A Christmas Story.”

Tell us a little about your book:

It’s 1944 and Maggie Culpepper is furious at God because of her mother’s untimely death. She stumbles into a recruiting center and enlists in the U.S. Navy WAVES, leaving Watkinsville, Georgia to serve at a naval base in New Jersey. The proverbial boy-next-door, William Dove, whose battle with polio has left him 4-F, or physically unfit for military service, wages a war of his own for Maggie’s heart from the family Christmas tree farm. William learns a priceless lesson in surrendering to God from the farm’s aging caretaker, Tyronious Byrd, who’s been through some deep, dark valleys of his own.

What a gorgeous cover! Where did you get the idea for I’ll Be Home for Christmas?

Summerside Press gave me the title, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, the name of the song Bing Crosby made famous. They told me it was the very first book in a series called ‘When I Fell in Love.’ I began to think and think about the 1940’s and what would be interesting to me – a new twist on a love-story. Somehow I stumbled onto a website about the U.S. Navy WAVES, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, and I had my idea. It would be the exact opposite of the usual WWII love story - where the man goes off to fight, leaving the woman behind. My heroine joins the WAVES, leaves Georgia for a naval base in New Jersey, and her beloved is 4-F, or physically unfit for military service because of his battle with polio.

Do you have a Christmas message for my readers?

Yes. God gave us a gift - himself in human form. Jesus is truly the gift that keeps on giving. There will be a day in the future when Believers are with God and Jesus forever, and there will be no more wars, no more casualties of war, no more grief and no more tears.

But down here on earth, having Jesus in a person’s life does not make them immune from war or its ensuing heartache. But, though we will go through dark valleys here, God is with us through His Son, and will lead us through safely, and if we surrender to Him, He will use the suffering in our lives for good.

Julie is giving away a copy of her book, I'll Be Home for Christmas. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!


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