The Christmas Room by Catherine Anderson is one of these special stories. A word of warning, it is not a “sugar and spice and everything nice” holiday novel. Yet, it is very realistic, believable, and leaves the reader with a good feeling as the book ends, a feeling of hope. The two holiday generational romances touch on grief, healing and redemption. Readers will go through a range of emotions with the characters from joy, to laughter, and sadness. Anderson leaves the reader wishing the story would never end, hoping she will consider making a series involving these great characters.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Catherine Anderson: I was asked to write a Christmas novel that would come out in hardcover. The actual story came to me when I was moving from Oregon to Montana. I wanted to use some of my own experiences for the basis of the story. It became too good to pass up.
EC: The Montana setting played a predominant role?
CA: Yes. As I looked out my window I knew I had to put this setting into the story. I consider Montana a tremendous place, rich in scenery and with such friendly people. Here I was sitting in the middle of an alfalfa field in a trailer while my house was being built facing this brutal winter and a Christmas without a home. Lucky me, it was a record breaking winter where snow was up to the tops of my boots.
EC: Since the main heroine, Maddie, is a mystery writer can we assume she was you?
CA: I did not pattern her after myself, but did use my profession. There is nothing like writing from a travel trailer. I will always bring some of myself to a book. Years ago I was told by a famous author, write what you know. She said heartache and sadness make us better writers because it gives us depth and allows us to understand the emotions of others.
EC: What was true to life?
CA: The scene in the book where Maddie drops her towel and is standing by the window as fishermen passed by really happened to me. My towel fell as I was standing by this big window. I was so embarrassed. Also, I did not have any wardrobe to speak of. My husband was a Scot like Sam. The water tank really existed. We also had a big blue outhouse, although I never dropped anything in there. My sister had colon cancer so I knew something about the disease I gave Maddie. The bull named Satan was not true although we did once adopt a dog with that name, but because it was so sweet we renamed it Satin. I did move to Montana, but from Oregon, not California. I moved because my husband told me where our son John goes we go. After he passed away my son decided to make the move and I knew there is no way I am staying in my Oregon home that is so very isolated.
EC: Did the scene with the Bull Moose happen to anyone you know?
CA: My grandson did get chased by one last summer and was really lucky to get away. After that I read up on them and found out they are very dangerous. I then researched how to save yourself from a moose. I put in the book what I found out, that you either climb a really big tree or get a tree/boulder between you and the moose.
EC: It is a different kind of Christmas story in that it is not all “sugar and spice and everything nice?”
CA: What I wanted to bring to this story was realism. We should not forget about those people who came to the holidays with strife, stress, or financial troubles. Many people have lost loved ones and on Christmas there are empty places. They do feel sad. Because I did experience grief firsthand I wanted to write about it. I wanted to show how the death of Maddie’s husband impacted not only her but also her son and grandson.
EC: Please explain this powerful quote by Sam, “You don’t think of the person for a few hours. Then, bang, it blindsides you. She was my other half in every sense of the word, my guiding light, my advisor, and my comfort during the storms.”
CA: After Sam lost his wife Annie he did not have that person to tone him back down. He was furious at the world and wanted it to stop turning. He was angry and bitter to his friends who still had their loved ones. He never found it easy to talk about his feelings until Maddie came around.
EC: How would you describe Sam?
CA: My editor said he has so many emotional layers. He was very protective, ornery, overbearing; yet, regretful and sorry for these emotions. In the end he became caring and thoughtful.
EC: Did you base him on the actor Sam Elliott?
CA: Sam was basically from my imagination. If there is a resemblance it was done sub-consciously on my part. I do love Sam Elliott and he is one of my favorite actors. Maybe I did imagine him because I do watch the TV series The Ranch. But it was not deliberate on my part. In looking back on how I describe Sam, with the white hair, long mustache and sideburns, and granite face, I do think it resembles Elliott.
EC: Sam was very over-protective?
CA: In some ways I based that on my husband who was that way with his sons. I think if we had a girl he would not have allowed her to wear make-up until she was thirty. After Sam lost his wife, he became frantic about losing someone else dear to his heart. This actually happened to me. Because my son travels a lot for his job I do worry about him getting hurt. Since Sam’s daughter Kirstin was an only child he became afraid of losing her figuratively and literally.
EC: Please explain why Kirstin would put up with that since she was twenty-six years old?
CA: She did not want to upset him and knew that she was all he had left. She also knew he built the ranch for her heritage. She was loyal and devoted, maybe too much. Until she met her soul mate, Cam, she never had anyone else she cared about so she had no reason to stand up to her dad.
EC: How would you describe Maddie’s son, Cam?
CA: He was caring and confident. But regarding relationships he was cautious because of the horrible mistake he made in high school. He got a girl pregnant and never wanted to make another mistake like that. He had this imperfection of taking things too slowly.
EC: How would you describe the grandson, Caleb?
CA: A great, awesome, and sweet boy. I wrote about the grandson everyone would wish they had. He was in tuned to others feelings. I also had him spying on his dad so he wouldn’t be so perfect. I did not want him to be a cookie cutter.
EC: There were some powerful grief scenes. Please explain.
CA: The message I really wanted to send is that if you put one foot in front of the other there is light on the other side of the darkness. There is hope. An odd phenomenon in our society is that now people want you to just get over it and move on. I wanted to show there is no timeline. This is why it is nice to be in a tiny town where people are neighborly, friendly, and caring.
EC: Sam and Maddie connected through grief and became friends that turned into something more?
CA: They realized they had no guarantees on how long they can be together. They are cautious and are not willing to jump into anything. They wanted to be together and enjoyed being companions.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
CA: An entertaining story. This is a different Christmas novel and is not in the traditional mold. I hoped I portrayed the true meaning of Christmas where people come together, resolve their differences, love each other, and open their hearts to others. Even after someone experiences sadness Christmas can still be a special holiday.
EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book?
CA: It will be a return to my Mystic Creek Oregon series. It will be another double romance with an older couple in an assisted living center and a younger couple, the man’s granddaughter and the deliveryman. A dog is featured prominently whose name is Rip, as in ‘let er rip.’ A part of it is based on reality where Rip is actually an alcoholic.
EC: Would you ever consider writing another series?
CA: I would love to write another one based on Montana because this is reality to me now. I live here.