Eating Christmas -- Umberto Tosi

"I know. Just what we need; another Christmas story," I joked to my cousin, Broadway satirist, lyricist and playwright Gerard Alessandrini on the phone the other day about my latest holiday offerings.

"You can never have too many Christmas stories," he reassured me. Good ones that is, but you can't have the best without putting up with some of the worst. Christmas and the holidays take a beating every year as we endeavour to survive being inundated with canned mercantile sentimentality. 

Cousin Gerard, like my four grown daughters, however, keeps his eyes on the brightest ornaments on the tree--  albeit with tongue planted in cheek. Gerard and I grew in an extended family that celebrated the holidays as joyfully as circumstances would allow. Our festivities included transcontinental reunions and week-long Italian feasts-- that included Christmas Eve crab cioppino in San Francisco and Maine lobster in Boston in days gone by.

The feasting is more fictional these days. I was telling Gerard about my latest holiday writing project-- The Dog That Ate Christmas,  a "first-reader" picture book that I self-published. It isn't my first Christmas book. That was "Milagro on 34th Street," (2012)

 Eleanor Spiess-Ferris
Indie publishing is nothing new to me, but creating this children's picture book turned me back into a rookie on several levels, from composition, to graphics, to illustrations, to layouts. Fortunately, my inamorata-- the noted Chicago surreal, symbolist artist Eleanor Spiess-Ferris collaborated by illustrating the story with her inimitable original drawings.

The project started in June with a Father's Day call from one of my grandchildren, Jorden Sheppard and one of his sisters. Jorden-- a tall, personable young man, was born with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum-- a brain disorder that limits communication between the brain's left and right hemispheres. 

The rare condition impairs many of his sensory motor skills-- both fine and gross-- though not his cognitive abilities-- and seizure disorders. Major challenges have included severe difficulty in reading and writing. It doesn't prevent Jorden from being a keen observer of life, along with a lover of films which he is able to cite and discuss in prodigious detail. 

Jorden started by proudly announcing that he had started reading books. By this he meant all on his own, not with one of his sisters reading aloud to him as she often does. Knowing that I am a writer he wanted to tell me himself. 

The elf finds a pup named trouble
I was proud too. The book was It's Not Easy Being a Bunny, a classic "beginner book" from 1983 by Marilyn Sadler (Illustrated by Roger Bolten), This is a breakthrough considering his disability and the result of special classes and hard work. 

I thought of buying him a few of these books for Christmas. Better yet, I had the brainstorm of creating an original one dedicated to him. I had probably leaned out over Santa's sleigh on that one, but no matter. I started the next day by talking to his mother (my daughter Cristina)-- without promising anything by December 25-- on what kind of stories Jorden might like best. Something about a dog and something about Christmas, she said.

 North Pole Pandemonium
It was all I could do to create a Christmas dog picture book a private printing (The ability to create private book printings economically is one of KDP's lesser known charms.) I figured I could produce at least a proof copy and maybe a first edition and get it to him my December 25. After that I would consider commercial KDP Kindle and paperback editions for next year's market-- and perhaps other children's titles,

It's been challenging, but fun-- also a break from my other projects, including a third Phantom Eye detective novel I hope to have out by spring. I haven't decided how far I will pursue this picture book publishing experiment (also depending on Ms. Spiess-Ferris' commitments). One way or another,  the project has reinforced my respect for authors of this popular genre-- including the seasoned and fine children's book creators in this group. It takes practice along with skill, patience and a lively imagination. Children's fiction makes the same demands on its writers and illustrators as adult storytelling negotiating the rapids of Aristotle's Poetics and its tributaries. 

It's not easy being a children's book creator (or being a Bunny.) But my collaborator and I concluded that it's a lot of fun! 

Umberto Tosi
is author of the classic holiday satire, Milagro on 34th Street, Santa vs. ICE! The story is based on the author's personal experiences as a department store Santa. What's a Kringle to do when a pair of children ask Santa to get their immigrant mama back? A department store Santa's mettle is tested in this touching, powerful and relevant re-telling of the classic holiday tale! (Author will donate royalties from the sale of this book during the holiday season-- December 1 through January 1-- to the American Civil Liberties Union, fighting for immigrant rights.)

Umberto Tosi's other novels include his highly praised, Frank Ritz, Hollywood noir detective mysteries The Phantom Eye, and Oddly Dead. plus his story collection, Sometimes Ridiculous, plus books Ophelia Rising, High Treason, Sports Psyching and Our Own Kind. His short stories have been published in Catamaran Literary Reader and Chicago Quarterly Review where he is a contributing editor. His nonfiction essays and articles have been published widely in print and online. He began his career at the Los Angeles Times as a staff writer and an editor for its prize-winning, Sunday magazine, West. He went on to become  editor of San Francisco Magazine. and managing editor of Francis Coppola's City of San Francisco. He joined Authors Electric in May 2015 and has contributed to Another Flash in the Pen and One More Flash in the Pen. He has four adult daughters. He resides in Chicago.


Enjoy Umberto Tosi's Hollywood noir detective thrillers: The Phantom Eye  and Oddly Dead, out in August, 2022.

 "Tosi writes with tremendous style and a pitch perfect ear for everything that makes the classic noir detective story irresistible. Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer, make room for Frank Ritz!" - Elizabeth McKenzie, best-selling author of The Portable Veblen and managing editor of Chicago Quarterly Review.



misha said…
Your book looks great fun. I'd love to know more about the process of self-publishing a picture book as it's a project I and a friend have in mind for the new year.
Umberto Tosi said…
Thanks, Misha! I will do so. Meanwhile, I've found many useful tutorials by experienced and apparently successful children's book publishers on You Tube. Of course, there is nothing like hands-on experience as the ultimate teacher, as I've discovered often. Happy holidays!

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