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Ole Alumni Speaks at Content Books

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The holiday season is a time for traditions. In her debut novel, “The Evergreen Tidings,” Gretchen Anthony ’93 takes a comedic look at the tradition of writing Christmas letters. A fourth generation alumni, Anthony returned to Northfield on Nov. 19 for a book reading at Content Bookstore. Since most attendees had not read the book yet, the reading focused mainly on Anthony’s journey as an author and the inspiration behind the book.

Anthony began the event by providing background on her childhood. She accredited her upbringing as a major influence on “The Evergreen Tidings.” Anthony said that the origins of her main character, Violet Baumgartner, have roots in her childhood. Anthony said that as the daughter of a pastor, her family would receive hundreds of Christmas letters a year. As a child, she would read each of the letters, paying particular interest to the “over the top” ones. Anthony recalled having dramatic readings of family favorites with her father. It was from these letters that the voice of Violet came into existence.

Before turning Violet and her other characters into  reality, Anthony was a corporate writer. As a ghostwriter, she grew comfortable embodying voices of others. Anthony described personifying  voices of CEOs as an exercise in character writing. After being laid off due to the economy, Anthony realized she had other goals as a writer. She began attending writing courses at the LOFT Literary Center in Minneapolis. There, Anthony was able to sharpen her fiction writing skills and began giving Violet her voice.

“We’re all a little bit kooky. We might as well revel in it!” – Gretchen Anthony ’93

Set in the Twin Cities area, “The Evergreen Tidings” is a comedic family drama based on a series of Christmas letters written by Violet. The letters present a picture perfect depiction of her family, but this year’s holiday season has new obstacles.

After a retirement party for her husband turns into a disaster, Violet must figure out how to broach the topic in the family Christmas letter. In addition to Violet, the book is told from the perspectives of her daughter, Cerise, and Richard, the husband of Violet’s best friend who has recently been laid off. The book explores famil ideals and what occurs when Violet’s fantasies clash with reality.

Despite the satirical perspective Anthony has toward Christmas letters, it was all in good fun. Boastful Christmas letters are something we all have to deal with, but at least we can find humor in them.

“We’re all a little bit kooky. We might as well revel in it!” Anthony said.

Anthony also shared her hope that the book would encourage more people to write letters during the holiday season. She shared some pointers with the audience on her holiday letter writing process. She emphasized the importance of focusing the day-to-day aspects of one’s year, rather than big events.

It was exciting to meet an St. Olaf alumni finding success in the world of fiction writing. I’m sure “The Evergreen Tidings” would provide some comedic relief in the midst of finals season.

For more advice on writing Christmas letters, Anthony will be a guest on the “Jason Fox Show” on Friday, Nov. 30.