Most writers go to great lengths to try and get the details of their books right. I've worked with homicide teams and private investigators so as to allow me to write authoritatively about characters and investigative work. I have traveled to unusual and remote locations to get the feel and essence of that place. As a writer, I am always seeking out that ever elusive verisimilitude--I want my books to have that "truth-like" feeling.
When envisioning my novel St. Nick, I knew my main character was going to be a reluctant mall Santa Claus, but everything else was still fuzzy. Because I didn't know much about the world of Santa Claus, I decided the only way to write about that character was to experience the life of a mall Santa.
Many of the things I experienced as Santa I was able to have my main character, suspended cop Nick Pappas, also experience. One of the "hazards" of being Santa Claus is that there is no place for your body to breathe. You are wearing a large layer of padding, and have a heavy uniform draping your body. On your face is a beard, on your head is a wig, and atop your head is a hat. Your hands are covered in white gloves, and on your feet are black boots. It's crazy hot, and I perspired copiously, even though people couldn't even see me sweat because of the beard and wig. The "elves" that I worked with were constantly filling my water bottle. Every day I had to carefully dry my sodden mass of batting (padding). On one occasion I didn't do a very good job of that, and suffered so much that I decided to have my character Nick experience the same thing. Another on the job hazard comes from the overactive bladders of young boys. I missed that bullet, but one of the other Santas I worked with took one for the team.
Working as a Santa Claus proved to be invaluable to writing the book. I learned firsthand about sore backs (inevitable when you lift so many children into your lap), how to divine mumbled youthful toy requests, the brainwashing effect of Christmas Muzak, and the North Pole politics among elves. I can tell you the only thing shriller than an air raid siren is a terrified five-year-old who is letting the world know he wants nothing to do with a bearded stranger in red pajamas. And then after a day of such screaming, and just when you're thinking Jonathan Swift might have been on to something with his "A Modest Proposal," you get dewy eyed when another five-year-old wraps her arms around you and says, "I love you, Santa Claus."
Like my character Nick, I was terrified working my first day in the North Pole. Seeing a line of kids waiting to talk to a legend will do that to you. I had stage fright and doubts. Was I the right person to make a child's visit with Santa special?
Seeing Santa brings back memories for many. Some remember their first visit to Santa Claus. Some remember taking their children to see him. As for me, I'll always look back fondly at my four weeks of being Santa Claus. My novel St. Nick shares those times, and is my grown-up letter to Santa.