With the onset of the Christmas holiday season, a charming book titled “The Reindeer Keeper” recently caught my eye. I’ve invited the author, Barbara Briggs Ward here to share some of her thoughts as well as those of the delightful characters in this Christmas story.
Q: I understand that you grew up on a farm, did that life enable you to create a more realistic setting for The Reindeer Keeper?
A: I was fortunate to have grown up in the country. There were 4 houses in a row all full of relatives. The old farmhouse where my grandparents raised 6 daughters and farmed the surrounding fields was the hub. My cousins and I were always outside playing and pretending. All those surroundings-the fields, the creek, the pine grove, the old barn and farmhouse-the smells and sounds and starkness and beauty of the seasons, especially winter-have remained a part of me. As I wrote the story I was able to tap back into a winter backdrop and my grandfather’s barn and farmhouse with all my senses-creating characters able to do the same; writing a story that enabled readers to feel the cold of winter; hear the wind and snow sifting through the pines as if they were standing there and embrace the characters as if they were dear, old friends-all lending to a story they could not put down.
Q: In the Story, Abbey and Steve meet at a sock hop, fall in love and ultimately get married; is that scenario reflective of your own life?
A: Actually-No. It was taken from a couple I remember in high school. They were older than I was. I thought they were the neatest couple ever. He was a senior. She was a sophomore. They went steady. He was the football player all the girls thought was the hottest and she was a cheerleader with a ponytail to do die for-and the looks to match. They were the couple. When they danced slow dances at sock hops my friends and I watched their every move! They graduated; later married and years later-they’re still married. They have no clue the impact they’ve made on me nor how they wove their way into this book.
Q: Describe Abbey and Steve’s relationship.
A: When the story begins they’ve been married 30 years. Their marriage remains a good one. They are the best of friends. They communicate; have a give and take that continues to work. They are supportive of each other; still find great pleasure in each other. They also find pleasure in little things and enjoy spending time together. They’ve had ups and downs; loss and sadness but they faced the challenges together. Much of what they have together stems from the fact that Abbey’s father was a funeral director who by example taught Abbey about life and living and what truly matters and to enjoy each day for tomorrow is no guarantee.
Q: In this book Abbey faces a number of crisis involving not only her health, but also her family, describe how she deals with these things.
A: Abbey is a spiritual woman with deep insight and wisdom, lending to the way in which she’s dealt with her cancer now in remission. To go back to the fact that her father was a funeral director-she grew up living above the funeral home where she was constantly reminded of the thin line between life and death. She considers obituaries as individual mini-stories of people and how they lived their lives. She always tells her boys that while none of us have control over the dates in our obituaries we do have say over the middle part. She doesn’t get caught up in the small stuff. Life is too short for her. She’s a woman of insight. Yet deep down, despite trying to come to terms with it, she still resents her mother dying and leaving her at a young age. As the story unfolds she comes to terms with these feelings as the wonder of the Season surrounds her.
Q: The big-box store coming to town is something many merchants are now dealing with. Do you think Steve addresses this problem realistically and does it influence his relationship with Abbey and his sons?
A: Steve built his lumberyard up from scratch. When he first started out the only one who believed in him was Abbey. Every expansion has been done carefully. All along he’s kept up with trends and the competition. He understood the potential impact of the internet early on and readied his business accordingly. He’s read about what has happened to whole communities when some big-box stores move in. He’s researched how they operate; has built a solid sales force and through all of it Abbey has remained his biggest supporter. This doesn’t mean Abbey doesn’t worry. It keeps her awake some nights but she keeps this to herself, feeling Steve has enough to worry about. With the boys coming home for Christmas they decide to keep the worry of the big-box to themselves but because their boys know them so well, they sense something is going on. Once they understand the situation, both boys are there for their parents. It’s how they’ve been raised. The threat of the big-box only brings them closer as other worries resurface-testing them as a family like never before.
Q: In The Reindeer Keeper, Abbey inherits not only a farm, but also a herd of reindeer and a mysterious old man who tends the reindeer; when you first conceived this plot did you envision it as a child’s Christmas story or was it intended to be adult fiction?
A: From the moment the idea for this story came to me, it was intended for adults. When I sat down to write it all I had was the title and the image of an old barn based on my grandfather’s. I wanted my characters to ignite that feeling we felt as children while dealing with life as adults. As the story unfolded I found I was but the instrument for Abbey and Steve to tell their story-a story of love and loss; belief and Wonder-a story I felt needed to be written for adults.
Q: This story is reminiscent of how we believed as children, is there a message to be told here?
A: The message to be told is simple-Don’t let life defeat you. We all have our problems and worries. We’ve all experienced loss and pain yet Life remains good and Wonder of it still exists within us if we tap back into the idea of pure belief we felt as children.
Q: What came to mind in your creation and description of the old man who tends the reindeer?
A: Thomas-the odd little man who tends to the reindeer-was purely from my imagination. He developed as I wrote the words. The more I wrote-the more I understood his importance to the storyline. Thomas became the link between everyday life and the Wonder we felt as children. He and Abbey become best friends; share both magical moments and times of sadness.
Q: I loved the picturesque descriptions of snow, hot chocolate and warm fires; were those descriptions taken from your own experience or created in a writer’s imagination?
A: Without a doubt, winter remains my favorite season. I absolutely love snow. A field covered in untouched, freshly fallen snow is, to me, breathtakingly spiritual. My cousins and I would play outside all winter despite the temperature. My grandfather’s old barn would creak and sway as the wind and snow pushed through cracks in the weathered boards while we played and pretended. We’d skate atop the frozen creek even at night. Lying atop the ice we’d talk and laugh under the stars-then go home to the hot chocolate and warmth of the fireplace. I’d say my own experiences were richly enhanced by my imagination-making them all the more amazing!
Q: Do you see this as a Christmas story or is it one that carries a far deeper message?
A: What started out as a Christmas story turned into a Christmas story that has truly touched both women and men in ways that have brought them back to that pure Belief felt as children and rekindled within them a deeper sense of that Wonder once felt but lost when slipping into adulthood. It’s started conversations; ignited Hope and has people asking me for yet another such story of Christmas. Honored as a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Recipient in Adult Fiction confirms to me that Abbey and Steve have impacted their readers in immeasurable ways
Barbara Briggs Ward has been published in Highlights for Children, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Ward has also written and illustrated three children’s books. For more information: www.thereindeerkeeper.com