By Natalie Bickel
“Fun stuff report.” This is how I defined my role as a feature editor for The Cardinal of Louisville from 2014-2015. I wrote about student trends, school movies, and vacations. The opportunity with the U of L student newspaper has tremendously accelerated my writing journey.
From this foundation centered on journalism, I created a Bloghas written for publications such as Cheri Magazinefinished my first novel, published a short story in an anthology and finally wrote a children’s book called The Christmas Index.
When I was writing fictional but realistic assignments for my short story writing class, like an obituary for our favorite celebrity, nearby construction, or local business milestones, I knew I really liked writing that way, but I didn’t. never thought I would branch out into a children’s book author.
The idea came to me just after Christmas 2020. I had recently finished another round of edits on my novel, and was thinking about another adventure. Writing has always been my method of dealing with the world around me, using emotions, experiences and metaphors to take readers on a journey with me, expanding my individual life moments. When I write, my goal is for people to feel exactly how I feel, to be able to imagine a setting so clear they could almost reach out and touch it, not to see a screen with words, but rather a redefined world that comes with a new way of seeing everyday experience. Then it hit me. I could do this by writing about one of my favorite moments that happens every year – a tradition my dad started and still does every year – a scavenger hunt filled with clues down to the last gift.
While talking with friends about their traditions, I discovered that my family’s rhyming clues were unique. The concept was solid and I had all the clues from every Christmas, going back to 2000. My dad customized most of the clues to everything my brother and I were doing at the time. For example, maybe we passed our driving test that year or we were obsessed with Hillary Duff and other TV shows. Although I like these specific stanzas, in order to make The Christmas Index universal and relatable, I picked my favorite clues and made them more general.
My dad also included many rhymes that were sometimes a bit exaggerated, in each clue. I tried to match his rhyme structure throughout the story portion of The Christmas Index. It took some practice, because I don’t usually write that way. But, once I was in it, it was like the rhymes kept coming to mind – in my dreams, while watching TV, while at work, while walking, etc. put on the paper just before it disappears.
Writing a children’s book also usually requires a happy ending, which wasn’t a problem, and a “moral to the story” reveal at the end. To achieve this, I broke the fundamental reason why my brother and I cherish our tradition – throughout the chaos there are intense feelings of love, joy and dedicated family time. Between the laughter and the breathless runs around the house, we find a connection with each other.
Since writing The Christmas Index, I’ve found many more that have some version of an annual seek-and-find or hunt-to-find giveaway. I am grateful that many of us have memories and traditions that bring us back to a sense of childlike wonder while being surrounded by the love of family.