Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ready or not, here comes Christmas...

It's hard to believe that Christmas is finally upon us. To me it always seems as though the first ten months of the year drag on for ages, but once you reach November 1st, the Earth steps up its rotation like it's trying to win a race. We spin through the holidays like spinning tops on the deck of a swaying ship and stumble forth into the New Year with the last crush of a brisk wave. It makes for eight weeks of chaos, but leaves decades of memories in its place.

For me, many of those memories have taken place inside the state of Alabama. My mom is a native of Wetumpka, Alabama (a tiny spec of a town just northeast of the state capital, Montgomery). Most of her family still lives there, and so it is that we've spent many a Christmas holiday nestled in the arms of our Dixie-dwelling relatives. In fact, I was six weeks old when I spent my very first holiday in Alabama in December of '84.

Tomorrow we'll be taking off for the first half of the trek and will arrive on Christmas Eve at The Nana's house (The as in The One and Only). Aunts, uncles, cousins and other extraneous members will pass through over the next few days and eventually my parents and I will make our way back home feeling like we were there too long and not long enough, at the same time.

This year (being a monetarily challenged, unemployed, recent college graduate) I decided to make my family members a DVD with a slide show of photos from our many shared Christmases in Alabama. I've shared a few of my favorite photos down below.

But in addition to sharing the holiday spirit with my family, I'm also going to be taking some notes during this year's Christmas voyage. I've recently decided to stage the sequel to "Ancient City Christmas" in Alabama. I hope to return to St. Augustine for the third and final book, but in the meantime I think my home-away-from-home would be an excellent place for Bailey Hamilton and her whacky family to gain some perspective and perhaps take a second chance on love...

Well I sincerely hope everyone has a wonderful holiday--whatever holiday it is that you celebrate. If I could just make a few recommendations for getting the most out of the holidays, I would suggest: (1) Hug at least one person you love with gusto; (2) Eat an extra serving your favorite holiday food (for me, that would be my mom's stuffing); and (3) When your whole family is gathered together, step outside and look at them through the front window--you'll be surprised what you can see from an outsider's perspective.

Later days,

That's me on the left (in the stripes) with (from left to right) my great-grandmother (MawMaw), and my cousins Stacy, Jennifer, Jessica, Sian, and Christopher.

Here's me again with my great-grandparents, MawMaw and Pop. When they were still around, we would gather at their house in the country with the whole extended family (The Nana has six brothers and sisters!).

I love this picture of my cousins Jessica and Christopher enjoying the best Christmas present you can ever give a child--the ability to use his or her own imagination.

This is from my second Christmas in Alabama. I'm the little tyke down in front in between my two grandmothers--my Grandma Grace (in the red dress) and The Nana. I wish I'd been old enough to appreciate how lucky I was to have them both with me at the holidays.

Here I am (already representing for Florida State at such a young age) with The Nana and my cousin Christopher. I'm not sure what we're doing, but it looks like we're having a blast.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

St. Augustine Christmas Parade

Just in case anyone was wondering, just like in the book, St. Augustine does have an annual Christmas parade that draws visitors from all over the state. It's not held on Christmas Eve, but rather on the first Saturday in December. Below are some photos from this year's parade (which always involves an interesting conglomerate of haphazard parade floats).

Nothing says Christmas like pirates!

Nothing says Christmas like Pikachu either!

Loving this tricked out VW van with the matching Christmas can't beat that!

I understand the need to emphasize the "true meaning of Christmas" but I think this might be going just a tad too far...gotta love St. Augustine!

Rudolphadillo is a staple in the St. Augustine Christmas parade! It would be the holidays without him!
Here's my high school alma matter (Menendez) marching in the parade.

Cute dog in a gorgeous old Porsche.

My middle school alma matter (Murray). I marched with this band in both the Christmas and Easter parades.

The air force's special land cruiser is always a treat.

Who says you can't have a sleigh ride in Florida?

Friday, December 5, 2008


In life, there are two phrases you can never, ever, EVER say enough:

(1) Thank you
(2) I love you

Along the lines of number one, I wanted to post the acknowledgements as they appear in my book, Ancient City Christmas :

First, I have to thank my parents for not laughing at me when, two months into my unemployment (with a mounting pile of student loans), I announced that I was going to write a novel. Thanks, too, for the twenty-four years before that--your endless faith in me means more than I could ever say.

To the rest of my family--Carla, Dave, Patrick, Nana, Papa, Grandma Sara, and all of my wonderful aunts, uncles, and cousins, thank you for giving me decades of Christmas memories that aren’t anything like the ones I wrote about in this book!

Next, I have to thank my editor, sounding board, biggest fan, and greatest motivator--who also happens to be my best friend, Toni. If not for you and Michael rooting me on through the whole thing, I most certainly would have given up. You’re the best (and I mean it).

Thanks are also in order for the rest of my friends--Alicia, Jaime, Marisa, Julie and Tori--for all the love and support you’ve given me through this and every other stage of my life. I am especially thankful for those of you (and Chris) who endured our infamous night at Scarlett’s (we’ll chalk it up to research!).

Last of all, I’ve always had it in my mind that if and when I ever achieved my goal of writing a novel, I would thank all of the amazing teachers who have impacted my life over the years. Each and every one of you served as a guiding light in my progress, and not even this gesture can possibly thank you enough for your dedication and service.

So a big thanks to all of you: Mr. Alexander, Ms. Ashley Mrs. Baldauff, Mr. Biles, Mrs. Bruner, Mr. Dunham, Mr. Edwards, Mr. English, Mrs. Esser, Dr. Gilmer, Dr. Heere, Mr. and Mrs. Fecteau, Mr. & Mrs. Holt, Dr. James, Mr. Keating, Dr. Kent, Mr. Kundmueller, Mr. Lassetter, Mrs. MacDonald, Mrs. Madden, Ms. Mars, Ms. Mason, Mrs. Milton, Dr. Mondello, Mrs. Morrison, Dr. Rayburn, Dr. Reynaud, Mr. & Mrs. Romaine, Dr. Rudd, Coach Ryan, Mrs. Schill, Mr. Schwarm, Ms. Sparapani, Mrs. Traynor, Mrs. Wamser and Mrs. Wells (my apologies to those that may have slipped my mind, I thank you as well). 


Head over to my website ( click on the green button to purchase my debut novel, Ancient City Christmas. The book is for sale on, which is where the button will take you. You have to create a username and password for Lulu, but it only takes a second and doesn't cost a penny. I only make a small percentage of money on each book sold, but to me, that's not what it's about. I just want to share this story with anyone who wants to read it--including you!

Once again:


Later days,

Where The Magic Happens

Just in case you're not from around these parts, here are some photos I took last week of my gorgeous hometown (also known as the backdrop for my debut novel, Ancient City Christmas).

The Cathedral in downtown St. Aug. (I'm sure it has a much longer, more latin-ish name, but to everyone in St. Johns County it's simply known as "The Cathedral").

The notorious Scarlett O'Hara's (where everyone, frankly, doesn't give a damn)

The Lightner Museum (formerly known as the Alcazar Hotel)

One of my favorite things in St. Augustine--this is a tile mosaic that the Oldest City was given by its sister city, Aviles, Spain. I saw the mosaic while I was an exchange student in Aviles, when it was still a work in progress, and now every time I see it downtown it reminds me of that trip.

The Casa Monica Hotel, decked out for the holidays but still standing testimony to its Florida locale in shadows.

Look for more pictures of the St. Augustine Christmas Parade after this weekend!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Arrived Early This Year

Around two o'clock this afternoon, the mailman rang my doorbell. Of course I didn't know it was the mailman until my dad went to the door, signed for a special delivery, and brought it to me. Only then, when my eyes lit on the return address label did I realize that the moment I've been waiting for since I was eight years old had finally arrived.

I ripped the plastic and paper away in a hurry and soon--but not soon enough--I was holding the fruits of my labor (all 274 pages of it) in my hands. My fingertips glided across the glossy cover, my thumbs passed over the page edges, and my heart soared. 

I took these pictures with my webcam moments later (my digital camera is currently out of commission due to the fact that I cannot seem to locate its cord) so I could try and share the moment with friends.

I'll post more about the book tonight, but I just wanted to dedicate this specific post to that moment in time that no one will ever be able to take away from me when I, Shannon O'Neil, clutched my very first published novel (albeit self-published) in my two little hands. 

Later days,