When your world is shaken apart, who needs Christmas?
When love is ripped from your hands, what do you hang onto?

Seven chapters.
Seven writers.
“XMAS SR ’06.” One holiday story from 1906.

Christmas is a time for stories, and seven local writers have come together to tell a new one for Santa Rosa this holiday season. They include Press Democrat columnists Chris Smith and Gaye LeBaron, as well as other newspaper writers and local authors.

“XMAS SR ’06” takes place the first Christmas after the April 18, 1906, earthquake that leveled much of Santa Rosa. The quake killed at least 100 people and forever changed the small farming town.

Eleven-year-old Jessie Collier tells the story. Jessie and 7-year-old sister Maddie must stay with their father’s parents in Santa Rosa after he leaves town to take a job in a lumber camp near Mendocino. Soon events will force the girls to enter the world of their maternal grandmother, a stone-faced woman who, like young Jessie, wants no part of Christmas.

The story debuts Sunday, Dec. 16, with a new chapter running each day. You can read it in print or view the chapters online here at Digitale Stories.

It’s The Press Democrat’s second exclusive serial this year. The first, “Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery,” was published in print and online last spring — the work of 16 different writers who came together to tell the tale of a scheming killer and a young reporter caught in the crosshairs. Look for season two of that thriller to continue next spring.

For “XMAS SR ’06,” co-editors Robert Digitale and Dean A. Anderson brought together a team of talented writers to bring each chapter to life. This fall the seven writers collaborated to create a story of loss and hope, of silent grieving and childlike innocence.

Digitale wrote Chapter 1: No Presents. He is a Press Democrat staff writer, the host of Digitale Stories and the author of the fantasy Novel, “Horse Stalker.”

Press Democrat Columnist Gaye LeBaron wrote Chapter 2: The Giant’s Footsteps.  A daily columnist for four decades until her retirement in 2001, she continues to contribute a “historical perspective” column twice monthly. She is the author, with three other researchers, of a two-volume local history: “Santa Rosa, a 19th Century Town,” and “Santa Rosa, a 20th Century Town.” Read her recent Sunday columns here.

Petaluma author Amanda McTigue wrote Chapter 3: Leaving Home.  Her debut novel, “Going To Solace,” was published in August by Harper Davis. Her original text for a Choral Concert commemorated the September opening of The Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

Healdsburg writer Steve Cotler wrote Chapter 4: A Way Back. He is the author of the Cheesie Mack series for 8- to 12-year-olds from Random House.

Press Democrat Staff Writer Kerry Benefield wrote Chapter 5: Decision Time. She is the newspaper’s education reporter and writes the schools blog, Extra Credit.


Geyserville author Stefanie Freele wrote Chapter 6: Two Surprises. Her work includes a newly released short story collection, “Surrounded by Water” from Press 53. Her first collection, “Feeding Strays” by Lost Horse Press, was a finalist in the John Gardner Binghamton University Fiction Award and the Book of the Year Award.

Press Democrat Columnist Chris Smith wroter Chapter 7: The Gift. He joined  the newspaper as a stringer in 1978 and went on to serve as a general-assignment reporter and occasional columnist. He has been a full-time columnist since 2002. Read his recent columns and his “Sonoma Stories” features here.

Healdsburg author Dean A. Anderson helped develop the story and kept Digitale from adding in sword fights and space aliens. (just checking to see if you read this far down into the blog.) The sixth of his Bill the Warthog detective novels for kids, “King Kong,” was nominated for a Christian Retailers Choice Award. Anderson also was brave enough to write “Red Muumuu,” the experimental first chapter that launched “Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery.” For more on his books, click here.

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