Wednesday, November 20, 2013

MJ Schiller Describes Delicious Christmas Delights

When you write, one piece of advice you often get is to offer your reader a lot of sensory detail. Put them in the moment with smells, tastes, textures, sounds, and sights. I contend that Christmas is a writer. A very skilled and crafty writer. It etches memories on your brain with tantalizing smells, delightful sounds, and a delirium of sights, tastes, and textures.

The smells are so incredible and varied that they keep candle-makers hopping as they try to recreate each fragrance. Cookies hot out of the oven. Peppermint in hot chocolate. Cinnamon, pine needles, candle wax, berries. One of the most aromatic items I have ever encountered is a Christmas ornament of sorts my mother used to make. I’m hoping some of you will recognize it, too. My mother used to buy whole cloves and stick them in an orange until all the fruit’s pimpled skin was covered with the brown spikes. That required a lot of cloves! And have you ever priced whole cloves? They are exorbitant! (We’re talking five or six dollar for a tiny four ounce jar. They couldn’t have cost that much when we were growing up, though, because we were living paycheck to paycheck at the time.) And I think the idea was to have a bowl full of these pungent orbs. Okay, so I’ve named some of the obvious scents here, what about the not so obvious? The sulfuric smell of the matches that light those fragrant candles. The acidic odor of the cleaning supplies used to prepare the house for the myriad of guests. Speaking of guests, the smell of your grandma’s perfume, grandpa’s pipe, mothballs on Uncle Eddy’s sweater. Or incense at Church, smoke from the fireplace, Christmas poinsettias.
Sounds will keep us busy, too. The first that comes to mind is Christmas carols. But even within that category we have a whole plethora of possibilities: a child’s off-key voice singing “Frosty the Snowman,” a choir in a cathedral, a folksy guitar ensemble, a soulful Gospel version, or even a beachy or reggae rendition. Then there are bells: choir bells, tiny jingling bells on jewelry, and the bigger variety heard on sleigh rides. And now for the obscure: the crinkle of wrapping paper, children whispering in bed on Christmas Eve, the snap of wood in the fireplace.

How about the sights of the season? They are enough to drive you to distraction! Lights on trees, on porches, on rooftops. Colorful ornaments, wrapping paper, clothes. Decorations, books, snowy landscapes. Signs advertising sales, Christmas cards…  It’s endless.

The “feels” of Christmas: silky party dresses, prickly pine needles, thick sweaters, mufflers, gloves. There’s the heat of the fireplace that turns our skin into its own little cook-top.  The nip in the air as you bustle from house to house, visiting friends and neighbors. The uncomfortable feeling of being overstuffed. The stirring of your heart as you listen to a soloist sing “Mary Did You Know?” The joy and surprise of receiving a longed for gift. The pride and pleasure of giving someone the perfect gift. The sense of anticipation as the big day draws nearer. The heartache of missing loved ones whose place at the table is empty for the first time. The excitement of movie releases, new gadgets to play with, new clothes to wear.

And tastes? Don’t even get me started on tastes! It seems like that’s all we do during the holiday season. One gigantic excuse to be little hoglets! Not that I mind a bit. Here’s just a few: the holiday cookies that looked so good in the magazine but taste like modeling clay, the sharp, sweet taste of gingerbread hot out of the oven with whip cream melting on top (I’m good at this, right?) That dinner you have only a few times a year, even though there’s nothing stopping you from having it year round, whether it be baked ham, roasted turkey, or Chicken ala King. For us it wouldn’t be the holidays without Waldorf salad, peanut butter cookies with chocolate candies on top, and Jesus’ birthday coffee cakes.

So, you see, Christmas paints its own picture quite well. It lures us in with vivid sensory memories we won’t soon forget. Although I try to do that in my writing, I don’t think I do quite as good a job as Lady Christmas. But I’m okay with that, to her goes the glory, no problem.

What are your favorite sounds, smells, sights, tastes and touches of Christmas? Share them with us after you read the short blurb for my Christmas romantic suspense novella!

Blurb from Upon a Midnight Clear:

Dylan Fisher is a paramedic & part-time mall Santa Claus. But he never heard anyone ask for what Delaney
asked for, a dad! When Dylan’s eyes land on her mother, Keira Kelly, he almost finds himself in need of CPR. She was stunning! 

Keira is still grieving the loss of her husband, but a reckless driver has her thinking about nothing but survival. When she wakes in the hospital to find a hunky paramedic at her bedside she begins having thoughts that would put her on the Naughty List for sure!  
Short excerpt, am I working any of your senses here?

Upon stepping out of the stifling, over-warm mall, the bracing wind was almost a relief. Still, within minutes, Keira was glad she had insisted on zipping up Delaney’s coat. She gave her mittened hand a squeeze as they hustled across the parking lot to their SUV. The wind blew Delaney’s cotton-white scarf across her face as if trying to protect her from its own blustery nature. Keira glanced down. Delaney must have smiled behind the scarf she wore as the edges lifted with her cheeks, and her eyes crinkled up where they peeked out from under the rim of the hat. It was a good night. Maybe together they would make it through this first Christmas without Kevin…somehow.

Mother and daughter skidded across the parking lot, making tracks in the new kiss of slick snow covering the pavement like a satin sheet. The wind continued to pound into their faces, reddening their cheeks and stealing away the warmth the mall and hot chocolate granted them.

All About MJ

MJ is a lunch lady in the heart of Central Illinois. My gosh, can you get more folksy than that? She met her husband at the University of Missouri-Columbia and now she has an eighteen-year-old (how did that happen?) and sixteen year old triplets! She loves to read, karaoke (where she can pretend she is a rock star) and spends WAY too much time on Facebook. She grew up in St. Louis and still has family there.

Links for M.J. Schiller:


B & N  

Okay, your turn! Share with us some of your Christmas sensory impressions.


  1. Thank you so much for having me here this morning!

    1. I love this post! I can relate to every sensory detail you describe here - even Uncle Eddy's sweater LOL. I remember making the orange and clove ornaments you described and that pungent aroma surrounds me right now as I read it. You have me digging out our Christmas decorations today, MJ!

  2. Dya know what MJ, I think you've got them all covered! I certainly can't think of any that ain't here :). Oh hang on, the smell in the air when you go for a walk on Christmas Day about 7 in the evening. You know the one, when folk have had their fires lit all day long and the chimneys are working hard, combined with the fresh, damp evening air. I love it. And the quiet at that time too. Can't wait!! Great post.

    1. Good one! That is a great fragrance and you described it perfectly! Thanks for stopping in, Cait! And happy holidays to you!

    2. Love that one, Cait! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Love the post, MJ. The only thing I can think to add is a lack of sound--the silence of snow falling. I love that. Unless I have to drive in it, of course.

    1. Yes! I always marvel at how snow falls silently. It's so surprising when you have the shades down and then you pass a window and say, "Look! It's snowing!" I also like how it muffles other noises outside. Thanks for stopping in Miss Peggy!

    2. Peggy, I'm picturing a walk on a winter night with big fluffy flakes illuminated by the street lamp. Thanks for stopping by!