I like a challenge, but when I started writing a Christmas book that tells the origins of Santa Claus I didn’t know what I was in for. My agent at the time, a 20+year former Big Six Editor, told me with great confidence that no publisher wanted to see such a story; if no publisher wanted it, that must mean no readers wanted it. There’s little point in writing a book nobody will read, except maybe personal therapy.
But I had an idea for a story, and I wasn’t willing to drop it. I wanted to bring the legend to life; to make Santa real, and present him in a way that modern readers young and old can relate to. Someone you want to believe in. Kind of like Batman Begins, but with Santa.
The challenge was to preserve all the key items that make the legend what it is, but they could be thrown in haphazard. I had to bring these familiar characters and images together through the story. And if I did it right I could maybe succeed where others thought the efforts to be futile. They only surefire way to fail is to not try, so I had to do something.
First things first—a plausible premise. A young boy and his scientist father find an ancient book in an ice core taken from the arctic. There’s a sense of reality to the find, but it is no ordinary book; it tells the story of Kris Kringle and how he came to be known as Santa Claus. Now Jason and his dad have to make a tough decision: keep the book and get rich, or find a way to return the book to its rightful owner, i.e. Santa.
Next step—Kris Kringle’s story. Born human but orphaned as an infant and raised by elves, Kris doesn’t fit in and goes on a quest to find his real family. He has an emotional drive propelling him forward, and it’s something we can connect to: the longing to fit in. Now it’s a story-within-a-story.
But there’s another layer…a story-within-a story (within a story)—two kids just lost their parents, and their uncle is trying to rob them of their inheritance. His actions put his niece and nephew in mortal danger, and now Kris Kringle has a rescue operation on his hands. Unfortunately, Kris has complications of his own and with only days before Christmas he struggles to save the kids, deliver his presents, and find his family…
Within these three layers grow the beginnings of our most familiar Christmas traditions. Here’s one example: a sleigh with jingle bells.
Kris has two-dozen elves who agree to help him find his family. They leave their woodland home to set up camp in the Great Northern Glen, a legendary forest sequestered away among the ice and snow. They load a large wagon and set off. When they reach the arctic, they need to convert the wagon into a sleigh, and then continue on. They make their way north, the pots and pans hanging from the side of the wagon-turned-sleigh jingling as they cover the rough terrain...
The story pulls in other Christmas traditions in a similar manner: by revealing them through the actions of the characters and the flow of the story. Writing the story was like working a Sudoku puzzle…one wrong placement and the whole puzzle fails. Thanks to an awesome group of critique partners, I was able to weed out my initial mistakes in plot and characterization and revise and revise and revise until the puzzle was complete.
I hope you have the chance to meet The Man in the Cinder Clouds this Christmas. He’ll show you a history of Santa Claus you never knew…and will never forget.
The Man in the Cinder Clouds
By Rick Daley
This origins-of-Santa story is a great holiday read for the whole family. Its mix of action, humor, and Christmas spirit keeps younger readers turning the pages, but The Man in the Cinder Clouds is not just a kids’ book.
As one Amazon.com reviewer puts it, “THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS is one of those middle grade books that the grown-ups get sucked into along with their kids. You think you bought if for your young reader but after you browse chapter one you just sort of... can't stop.”
This story-within-a-story reveals the origins of our most familiar Christmas traditions: from Christmas trees, stockings, and lumps of coal to jingle bells, the North Pole, and flying reindeer. Highly original and thoroughly entertaining, The Man in the Cinder Clouds will show you how Kris Kringle came to be known as Santa Claus. It wasn’t easy.
About the Author
Rick Daley has been writing professionally for over 15 years. His experience includes marketing copy for print and web, press releases, business proposals, training and technical manuals, and whitepapers. His essays, ranging from family life during the holidays to his first skydiving experience, have been featured in The Columbus Dispatch.
Rick lives in Lewis Center, Ohio, with his wife and two sons (and a neurotic schnauzer).