Indie Saturday – Author Kathleen Valentine on “The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood”
Today, we have author Kathleen Valentine on the blog’s ‘Indie Saturday‘ feature with her book “The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood” (Available at Amazon). This novella (a mixture of folklore, tradition and good old-fashioned romance) is a sure bet to be a welcome addition to anyone’s treasured library of Christmas stories!
Author Kathleen Valentine tells us the Belsnickel Story:
I grew up in a Pennsylvania Dutch community where many traditions brought from the “Old Country” were very much a part of our lives. I grew up among story-tellers who gathered on porches and in living rooms and around kitchen tables, almost always with good home-cooked food and cold beer, to tell stories – many of them passed down through generations. When I wrote my first novel, The Old Mermaid’s Tale, the main character, Clair, was a girl, much like myself, who loved listening to those stories and who wanted to preserve them for the future.
One of the traditions I most treasured in our community is known as Belsnickel, celebrated on December 6th, the Feast of St. Nicholas. When I was a child Belsnickel night was anticipated with excitement and, of my seven siblings with children, only three of them have preserved the tradition for the next generation. For years I have worried that the Belsnickel legend would fall into obscurity. Over the years I tried to write about the custom but everything I wrote always sounded like a textbook recounting of a quaint bit of folklore. What I wanted to do was create a story that could stand on its own and be of interest to people who had never heard of the tradition while subtly introducing the Belsnickel tradition and how it works.
Then I had an idea, why not create a fictional town rooted in the atmosphere and environment of the Pennsylvania town I grew up in, populated with characters who were people readers could relate to, and tell the story of their attempt to keep a beloved tradition alive? So Marienstadt was born. I created Marienstadt as a Pennsylvania Dutch community that was the home of immigrants from Bavaria, the Rhine River Valley, and the Alsace districts of what was to become Germany. Now, a few generations later, the descendants of those immigrants live contemporary lives filled with contemporary challenges but some of them still honor the traditions their families cherished.
So I created three friends who’d known each other all their lives. Oliver Eberstark is descended from the German immigrant who built the first sawmill on the river that runs through Opelt’s Wood. As a young man he was handsome, athletic, and a local heart throb. His best friend was Nicholas Bauer who was born on the Feast of Saint Nicholas and always loved the Belsnickel traditon. Their other friend was Dan Fritz. The three friends graduated high school and scattered but now some fifteen years later, Oliver and Nick are back in Marienstadt. Nick is now Father Nick, a Catholic priest and pastor of St. Walburga’s Parish. Oliver is a misanthropic recluse who lives alone in his great-grandfather’s mill and keeps to himself. No one knows why he is so changed.
Father Nick enlists the aid of their old friend Dan’s younger sister, Gretchen, who runs a quilting shop in town, to help revive the Belsnickel tradition for the children of the parish. He also decides that getting Oliver to play the part of Belsnickel would be good for him and perhaps help him come back into the community. Setting up this dynamic proved to be quite exciting because the characters and their story were complete fiction but framing them in the context of my own early life experiences provided seemingly endless riches on which to draw. The food, the way people talk, the sense of community, the habits, everything came flooding back as I wrote. This is a world I know so well and yet never wrote about before.
The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood has provided me with the opportunity to tell a charming, romantic love story flavored with the culture I grew up in and, at the same time, offer readers a glimpse into an ancient tradition that I hope will survive for future generations. I’ve been so enthralled by the process of creating this world that I have started two more stories in the same setting featuring recurring characters. We’ll see where this goes. That’s one of the joys of writing fiction – you can follow your fancy and be continually astonished by where it takes you.
Kathleen Valentine currently lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, America’s oldest seaport.
The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood by Kathleen Valentine is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition (with a free sample). You can also check out her Amazon author’s page for a list of all her books. You can also get in touch with the author via: Facebook, Twitter, Website and Blog.
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Read an embedded sample of “The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood” after the jump!