Let’s call it the after-Christmas Merry Christmas issue (or maybe the Boxing Day issue). After all, Dickens noted at the end of A Christmas Carol, the day Christ is born is a day we should keep in our hearts all through the year.

Therefore … This week’s issue focuses, naturally, on Christmas stories, particularly those of the mysterious variety. As Mike Gray notes, in his review linked below, “Some of the finest mystery authors regard the Yuletide season as the perfect opportunity for crime.” It is fascinating that so many writers regale us with tales of nefarious activity built around the day God came to us as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Could it be because mysteries generally present us with good breaking through our limited perceptions and eventually triumphing over evil?

Whatever the reason, there is nothing quite like settling in next to a roaring fire, perhaps wrapped in that new Snuggy your beloved bestowed on you, with a good whodunit.

In his introduction to a collection of supernatural and mysterious tales, titled simply Stories, Neil Gaiman shared a question he was asked about what he might inscribe on a wall located in a library’s children’s area. He answered,

“I think I’d just remind people of the power of stories, of why the exist in the first place. I’d put up the four words that anyone telling a story want to hear. The ones that show that it’s working, and that pages will be turned:

‘… and then what happened?'”

Imagine those kings and shepherds gathered inthat manger on that very special birth day, we now celebrate on December 25th, returning to their homes and families. They gather around a fire and share stories of their travels and witnessing the birth of this very special child. Might not a question some of those who were not there be, “… and then what happened?”

Today, we may know, in our minds, what happened, but in our hearts it still remains a mystery. We at the Culture Alliance and the American Culture hope you and your families had a wonderful Christmas, and may you keep the day in your heart all through the new year. Enjoy.

Short Fiction

The Advent Reunion: Parts 1 & 2 / Part 3 / Parts 4 & 5 written and read by Andrew Klavan Andrew Klavan gives a wonderful telling of his own Christmas ghost story. The Advent Reunion began as a homemade Christmas video as a gift to his fans. PJTV reproduced it with snazzier visuals. Ellery Queen Magazine produced a prose version, and it will be included in a ghost story anthology to be edited by Otto Penzler and published by Vintage Books in 2011.

The Flying Stars by G. K. Chesterton “Well, my last crime was a Christmas crime, a cheery, cosy, English middle-class crime; a crime of Charles Dickens. I did it in a good old middle-class house near Putney, a house with a crescent of carriage drive, a house with a stable by the side of it, a house with the name on the two outer gates, a house with a monkey tree.”

The Thieves Who Couldn’t Stop Sneezing by Thomas Hardy “It must have been about nine o’clock when, riding along amid the overhanging trees upon his stout-legged cob Jerry, and singing a Christmas carol, to be in harmony with the season, Hubert fancied that he heard a noise among the boughs. This recalled to his mind that the spot he was traversing bore an evil name. Men had been waylaid there.”

Reviews & Interviews

An Elf Seeks Justice For Christmas – L. Jagi Lampligher’s brief review of The Fat Man, A Tale of North Pole Noir by Ken Harmon.

The Perverse Affinity Between Criminality and Christmas – Mike Gray reviews Murder for Christmas edited by Thomas Godfrey. The stories by Chesterton and Hardy, linked above, are included in this collection.

National Review’s John J. Miller interviews Otto Penzler, about Penzler’s latest mystery collection Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop. Thinking and Believing – Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews David Downing, author of Looking for the King.

Commentary, Criticism, and the Writing Life

The Mega-Selling Christian and Conservative Novelist by Hunter Baker “He has sold over 400,000,000 books.  According to his website, the number is growing by about 17 million a year globally.  He has made a reputation writing about evil, but his most popular character is one of the finest fictional human beings you can imagine.”

A Forgotten Poet by David B. Hart “He was first and foremost a gifted classicist, and one whose special interest in late antiquity led him in the last fifteen years of his life to an ever deepening fascination with Byzantine civilization.” On Palin’s Reading List, C.S. Lewis by Michael Flaherty Walden Media’s President and Co-Founder reflects on C.S. Lewis.  “He wasn’t a children’s writer, as the governor’s critics proclaim – not by a long shot.”

Scrooge and the Ghosts of Charity by Bruce Edward Walker Is there “something a bit more complex” in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

Bar Jester’s Writing Seminar; or, How To Write Like the Average Undergraduate Male by Jason Peters “The first thing-and this for obvious reasons-is that you must prefer ‘within’ to ‘in.’ ‘Within’ is longer and takes up more space on the page; plus it’s a word that makes you sound smarter because it makes you sound smarter. So you begin thus: ‘Within the poem …’ ”

Zen and the Art of Self-Publishing by Cory Doctorow “[O]ne thing I’ve learned is that being a freelancer with more than 100% demand on my time is a good thing-it means I get to choose which things I’ll do to earn my living.”

News & Miscellany

Why Western Writers are in Love with Mother Russia “All lives are interesting, and one of the jobs of fiction is to prove it. Still, that task is easier if they are Russian – which helps to explain why, as well as spewing out renegade oligarchs and rogue spooks, Russia has recently inspired an abundance of novels.”

Arabic “Booker Prize” Assailed for being too Western “The most prestigious literary prize in the Arab world unveiled its nominees this month, riling critics who say it is a politically charged shortlist crafted to appeal to Western audiences.”

Surprised by C. S. Lewis: Why His Popularity Endures “C.S. Lewis was talking to his lawyer one day when the attorney told him he had to decide where his earnings would go after his death. “Lewis, … told the lawyer he didn’t need to worry. ‘After I’ve been dead five years, no one will read anything I’ve written,’ Lewis said.”

Poetry Corner – Two Offerings from Ogden Nash

I Do, I Will, I Have

Pretty Halcyon Days