"A Candle Loses Nothing By Lighting Another Candle" - Father James Keller

Friday, July 2, 2010

Christmas In July - My Interview with Author Joanna Wilson

KIKI: In celebration of Christmas in July, I have invited author Joanna Wilson to ABA. I had the pleasure of spending a day selling books beside Joanna this past December. And, as I love everything Christmas I was fascinated by her book , The Christmas TV Companion--the survey of cult TV, rare and weird Christmas programs.This book was derived from her complete guide to Christmas-themed episodes, specials and made-for-TV movies coming out this November. It seems and thrilling and ambitious undertaking to me. So, first I want to give Joanna the floor to explain to us what got her started on this journey.

JOANNA: Well, I've always been the biggest TV junkie and knowing this, several years ago, my boyfriend gave me a book as a gift--on the history of the Rankin/Bass produced animation. He knew I'd love to read about those classic stop-motion TV specials such as 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer' and 'The Year Without a Santa Claus.' I was so in love with that book that I began to use the table of contents as a checklist to go back and watch all those sentimental favorites that I grew up watching. As I was at the library and the video store renting these old titles, I began to find other Christmas programs I hadn't seen in years and was really enjoying watching those as well. This nostalgic personal project began to grow and grow as I paid more attention to the Christmas-themed episodes of my favorite TV series and started looking for Christmas-themed movies. Realizing that there wasn't much already written about all this programming inspired me to take my research and turn it into a useful guide for others.

KIKI: Wow, now can you tell us a little more specifically what these books are about, what information a reader can expect from them? Because I know from reading 
The Christmas TV Companion, that if you start now with a notebook and pen in hand, you may just by December have your TV viewing agenda completed. I am big on watching holiday TV, but I never imagined that there was this much!

JOANNA: The Christmas TV Companion is a useful guide for TV junkies to remember or learn about the more unusual Christmas programs. This includes chapters on horror, science fiction, animation, variety and dark-themed Christmas programs. Most people are quite surprised to discover how many programs veer from the traditional expectations of what Christmas on TV should be. My commentary includes discussions that range from ‘The Star Wars Holiday Special’ to 'South Park' and the more mature animated programs from Adult Swim that air on the Cartoon Network. I also created several marathon suggestions for viewers to construct their own holiday programming schedules to suit their own particular tastes, called Make your Own Marathons.

This book which came out last year was derived from the research that I’ve done for the complete encyclopedia of Christmas-themed TV episodes, specials and made-for-TV movies entitled Tis the Season TV which is due for release this coming November. Whereas The Christmas TV Companion contains my commentary on a selection of unusual Christmas TV programs, the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV is a reference book that covers all Christmas-themed materials from the history of television. Tis the Season TV has literally thousands of entries compiled from 8 years of research and viewing. 

Christmas on TV is the best and the worst that TV has to offer. TV’s highest quality productions have included the very first Hallmark Hall of Fame production--the first opera specifically written for television, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” as well as the highly acclaimed “Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory.” However Christmas on TV also means the all too common superficial sitcom adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol.’ It can also be the worst, derivative conspicuous commercialism disguised as children’s entertainment. Yet we all watch our favorite holiday programs every year, it has become a common language for everyone and I’m endlessly fascinated by the diversity of what’s been created.

KIKI: Obvious next question is how did you find all this programming?

JOANNA: I spend a great deal of time combing through network schedules to catch Christmas programs as they broadcast and re-broadcast throughout the year. Our local libraries are also a wonderful resource that I have come to depend upon. I have also made extensive use of an online rental queue and online video databases. You may even find me at thrift stores buying old VHS copies of rare materials.

KIKI: Where can we find you on the web?

JOANNA: I write a blog all year long with nostalgic and timely references to Christmas moments from television’s past. You can find me at: http://ChristmasTVCompanion.blogspot.com 

KIKI: So, in all of these shows, do you actually have favorites? If you can, give us a few in each category like favorite movie, favorite TV series Christmas special, etc. Don’t forget to include your favorite children’s Christmas special, and my personal favorite from the book, Horror Christmas show? 

JOANNA: Like most people, my favorites are the ones I watched when I was a kid and continue to enjoy as an adult. My favorite specials are ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special.’ My favorite episodes are ‘The Voice of Christmas’ from The Brady Bunch, ‘A Vision of Sugar Plums’ from Bewitched, and the Dick Van Dyke Show’s holiday episode ‘The Alan Brady Show Presents.’ My favorite movies are ‘The House Without a Christmas Tree,’ ‘The Homecoming: Walton’s Christmas,’ and ‘A Christmas Story.’ I also love some of the non-traditional more bizarre programs that I covered in The Christmas TV Companion such as ‘Hey, Hey It’s Knishmas’ from Chowder, ‘Rebel With a Claus’ from Squidbillies and the made-for-TV movie based on the Terry Pratchett sci-fi/fantasy book ‘Hogfather.’ Just for you, Kiki, my favorite horror episode is ‘And All through the House’ a Christmas-themed episode of the TV series ‘Tales from the Crypt.’ My favorite horror movie is the original 1974 ‘Black Christmas’ directed by Bob Clark, the same director that made ‘A Christmas Story.’
This is what I had to say about it in my book The Christmas TV Companion:

"Director Bob Clark did more to permanently associate his name with Christmas films than create the now-classic 'A Christmas Story.' He also blazed a trail with his brilliantly made 1974 cult slasher flick, 'Black Christmas.' The story takes place in a sorority house at Christmas time as female residents begin to disappear and obscene phone calls are received by the remaining house mates who are unaware that the deadly danger is lurking in the house with them. 

The thrill in watching 'Black Christmas' today is in the rarely imitated, open ended conclusion of the story. The film ends before the killer is caught! This terrifying lack of completion also means viewers are left to speculate just who is the serial killer and why he does what he does--making the imagined far more scary than the usual tying up of loose story ends with a complete explanation provided in most other horror films. There is speculation amongst this film's fans concerning its legacy and the extent of influence this film has had on the slasher genre. Many claim it as the inspiration for 1978's better remembered 'Halloween' and its tremendous success.

The influence of 'Black Christmas' was strong enough to inspire a 2006 remake. This updated and bloodier version of the story removes the mystery behind the supposed killer, the no longer unseen, Billy. Here, the character of the criminally insane Billy is expanded and explained, and he’s not working alone! There’s also an update on the story line with the obscene phone calls. In this remake, cell phones reveal the origin of the calls and ring tones sound off the location of the caller within the house. Whimsically, it recasts actress, Andrea Martin, also from the original film, now playing the more age-appropriate house mother instead of a sorority sister."

KIKI: A lot of special things have happened to you since The Christmas TV Companion came out. Can you give us a few highlights, like your favorite review you got for the book?

JOANNA: One exciting thing that has happened was that I participated in a TV special, talking about the history of Christmas on TV for the History Channel. This documentary about the culture of Christmas is scheduled to air this holiday season in 2010. I’m also very proud of receiving a glowing testimonial from Barry Williams, the actor who played Greg Brady on ‘The Brady Bunch’ TV series.

Information for Sales… 

My book The Christmas TV Companion can be purchased through the publisher’s website: http://1701Press.com as well as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble online, and Oldies.com. The encyclopedia, Tis the Season TV, will be available for purchase from the same sources upon its release in November 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool interview! I have the book as well and can't stop pouring over it. I love guides, but I REALLY love guides like this that are full of information that isn't quite as common. It's a great read, and I enjoy Joanna's blog and posting with her on Facebook as well!


In accordance with the new FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, Kiki Howell of An Author's Musings, would like to advise that in addition to purchasing my own books to review, I also receive books, and/or promotional materials, free of charge in return for an honest review, as do any guest reviewers.