December 24, 2012

Even Santa Has His Writing Critics

By Jonathan Lane

We all want our work to be read and adored, and we authors love to read positive, gushing reviews.  But sometimes, unexpected criticism can be the best thing to ever happen to an author.  Such was the case early on with us when we co-wrote our new book, Being Santa Claus – What I Learned about theTrue Meaning of Christmas, published by Gotham Books.

Sal Lizard has countless precious stories from his two decades playing Santa Claus, stories which span the emotional expanse from heartwarming and inspirational to whimsical and funny, and even some tear-jerkers.  And Santa Sal tells his stories incredibly well.

The book seemed easy enough to write.  Sal would recollect his amazing adventures while his friend Jonathan would record the stories and transcribe what Sal said.  What could be easier?

With three or four chapters done, Jonathan sent what we had completed thus far to his mother, a teacher of reading and English for forty-five years, to review and edit.  Jonathan figured that she would gush over everything…because moms do that sort of thing.

And so it came as a bit of a shock when Jonathan’s mother said she wasn’t crazy about what she read.  But she didn’t just throw a wet blanket on us and leave.  She gave us some very constructive criticism.  She said, “I don’t feel as though I’m getting to know who Sal is through the stories.  It seems as though things just happen to him, and I don’t get a sense of why he says what he says or does what he does or how he feels about anything.”

Despite our disappointment at the less-than-enthusiastic review, it was just the feedback we needed.  We quickly realized what we’d done wrong.  Sal’s stories are wonderful when told by him across a dinner table, but a book is a whole different experience.  Jonathan had mainly been transcribing the casual conversation-style stories Sal told, often verbatim.  But with a mother’s valuable insight, we went back to square one.

Jonathan re-interviewed Sal about everything they’d already written, and this time the stories were interrupted frequently with probative questions for clarifications, details, thoughts, feelings, descriptions of people, places, things, and however much Sal could recall of his conversations with people.  And it’s pretty amazing how much Sal actually does remember, even two decades later!

Going back and forth with Sal, Jonathan now took a much more active role in transitioning the now detail-rich oral stories to the written word.  People and settings were described, and adding in Sal’s thoughts and feelings helped develop the chapters into emotionally satisfying and often dramatic glimpses into the world of a professional Santa Claus and the many lives he’s touched.

Jonathan’s mother read the revised chapters and loved them.  She now felt very in touch with Sal as a real feeling person, and during the two years Jonathan and Sal worked on the manuscript, she couldn’t wait to get an e-mail with the next chapter attached.  Even Jonathan’s father, a man who doesn’t typically show emotion, admitted to crying while reading one of the chapters later in the book.

What emerged from the final manuscript has met with wide-ranging praise.  One of the reviewers on Amazon said: “From the minute I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down. It touched my spirit. Each short vignette leads straight to the next. Some had me laughing, some had me in tears. I was there with Santa Claus feeling everything he felt.”

…and all of that because of one piece of unexpected criticism.
Sal Lizard and Jonathan Lane are the co-authors of Being Santa Claus – What I Learned about theTrue Meaning of Christmas, published by Gotham Books.  

Sal Lizard lives in Georgia with his wife Linda and has been playing Santa Claus across the country for over 20 years.  He has two grown daughters.  

Jonathan Lane lives in southern California with his wife and 2-year-old son.  This is the first published both for both of them. 

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