Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Month: December 2016

On My Wish List

There are certain stories that appeal to me so much I can read (or watch) them over and over again. Many have a Christmas theme, as I’m the type of person who totally agrees with Andy Williams. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

The movie, A Christmas Story, ranks high on my list. Set in the early 1940’s, the story features a typical family in the weeks before Christmas. There’s a curmudgeonly but lovable dad, a funny and empathetic mom, a young son named Ralphie with an obsessive Christmas wish, and Ralphie’s overdressed younger brother, Randy. The movie was based on a short story collection titled, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. The book was published in 1966, and the stories were drawn from the author, Jean Shepherd’s, own childhood.

Parts of Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical short stories gave birth to the movie.

Yet the film almost never happened. One evening in the late 1960’s, a young director named Bob Clark heard Shepherd narrating some of his stories on a radio show. Clark wanted to make the stories into a movie, but it would take nearly 20 years and a Hollywood-style deal to get the job done.

After Clark directed a highly successful movie called Porky’s, MGM gave him the go-ahead to make A Christmas Story only if he’d commit to doing a Porky’s sequel. Clark agreed. So in 1983, on a tiny budget with next to no marketing funds, he created the film he’d been longing to make. The author, Jean Shepherd, acts as narrator and even has a cameo appearance as a disgruntled shopper in the Santa line at Higbee’s Department Store.

The movie’s limited release earned lukewarm reviews, and quickly became relegated to a shelf. In 1986, MGM sold A Christmas Story, along with a batch of other movies to Warner Brothers for use on cable television.

BOOM! As soon as a vast audience had the opportunity to see A Christmas Story, it was on its way to becoming one of the most popular Christmas movies ever made. People couldn’t get enough of watching the sometimes gentle, sometimes outrageous humor lurking within the relationships of this 1940’s era family. For some, it recalled memories of their own youth. Others looked at it from a “those were the good-old-days” perspective. But most loved it simply because it reminded them of being a kid who believes in the magic of Christmas.

No matter the reason, A Christmas Story soon became a holiday tradition. It typically runs for twenty-four straight hours starting each year on Christmas Eve, and is so beloved, it generated a business, a Broadway musical, and a museum.

Yes, it even has a leg lamp in the window.

To view a plethora of fun facts about the movie, and find gifts galore, check out this link to A Christmas Story House. Purchased by a fan and carefully restored, the house is sure to delight even the most passionate and picky movie-lover. The house is located in Cleveland, Ohio (even though the story takes place in Indiana). Fans can take a tour, view movie memorabilia, and visit the gift shop. They even have movie-themed presents for sale.

Personally, this place is on my list to someday visit. I’m simply dying to know if descendants of the Bumpus hounds still live next door, waiting to plunder and pillage the Old Man’s castle.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy seeing this wonderful film for the first or (like me) the zillionth time. You can bet your snow boots that I’ll be watching it again come Christmas Eve.

And speaking of Christmas, I’d like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. Here’s hoping you receive your own heart’s desire on Christmas Day.

Even if it’s a leg lamp.

Perfect for any decor.

 

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A Nerd Meets the Man

While working on my novel manuscript, I used a number of sources to help me keep straight a complicated list of timelines, locations, and people. Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War by T. J. Stiles, figured prominently in my efforts. The book is a well-researched, scholarly work published in 2002.  It won the Ambassador Book Award and the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship.

This book has more miles on it than a Boeing 747.

This book has more miles on it than a Boeing 747.

As you can plainly see, my copy is worn, bent, and filled with place markers. If I opened it, you’d notice ink lines drawn under passages and notes in the margins. It may appear I’m nothing more than a book abuser, but I believe such signs of wear only confirm how valuable the contents are.

Any book in pristine condition obviously hasn’t had much use, so this one can only be described as a winner.

In 2010, it delighted (but did not surprise me) to discover that Mr. Stiles’ second book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, won the 2009 National Book Award for nonfiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

Impressive? You haven’t heard anything yet.

In 2015, Mr. Stiles published Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. This book won the Western Writers of America Golden Spur Award, the William H. Seward Award for Excellence in Civil War Biography, and the Pulitzer Prize for history. The book was also a finalist for many other awards in 2016.

You can only imagine how much my admiration for such a talented author and historian grew. When I saw him posting about appearances he’d be making across the United States, I asked him if he’d be coming to the St. Louis area.

As a matter of fact, he would. On November 30, he planned to be in town to speak at the Civil War Round Table of St. Louis. I scrambled to find out where and when the group met, as I knew nothing about them, and a few short weeks later, writing critique partner and friend, Donna Volkenannt, and I set out to see T.J. Stiles (hereafter referred to as The Man). Like a couple of intrepid explorers, we fought our way through heavy rush hour traffic to reach Mehlville, Missouri, which is near Jefferson Barracks for those who know St. Louis.

We arrived at the Royale Orleans Banquet Center and were warmly welcomed by the members. Then on to a round of Civil War trivia, a scrumptious banquet, a raffle of Civil War books (Donna won two!), followed by The Man, who speaks as eloquently as he writes. And all without benefit of notes or a Powerpoint.

Are you a history lover? Then I’d highly recommend checking out the schedule for the Civil War Round Table of St. Louis.  The meetings are fascinating and the attendees aren’t slouches either. They really know their stuff.

The Man in action.

The Man in action.

To find out more about The Man, his credentials, and his books, take a look at his website . I think you’ll be impressed as I am.

Speaking of books, some attendees brought copies for The Man to sign. Alas, I felt too embarrassed to bring my beat up copy of Jesse, and although I’m now reading Custer’s Trials, I didn’t think to haul it along with me. No matter. Mainly I wanted to introduce myself to The Man, shake his hand, and express my thanks. At our meeting, I admit to becoming totally nerdy and asked him, “Do you mind if we’re in a picture together?” He laughed and graciously agreed to pose.

I’m the blushing groupie on The Man’s right.

The Man and The Nerd

The Man and The Nerd (Photo courtesy of Donna Volkenannt)

 

 

 

 

 

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