Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about how I came to invent “the Twelve Shopping Days of Christmas” for my 2009 cozy mystery, A Wee Christmas Homicide. This was to be the third book in a three-book contract for the Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries, and my editor had requested a Christmas book. Since I had no guarantee that the publisher would want more books in the series, I was ready to pull out all the stops.
I don’t outline, but I did have to come up with a short and rather vague synopsis as a requirement for getting approval to actually write the book. Initially, I had two things in mind for the story. First was that Liss, who runs Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium in the tiny village of Moosetookalook, Maine, would discover that she has in stock the toy every kid wants that Christmas. “Tiny Teddies” are miniature bears wearing various costumes. Liss bought a supply of the ones in kilts for her shop. At the time, she had no notion how popular they would become. Or that someone might kill to possess one.
My second idea was to use “The Twelve Shopping Days of Christmas” as a way to turn Liss’s windfall into a promotional opportunity for the entire community. Two other shops in Moosetookalook also have a few of the precious toys to sell, so together they get busy organizing a parade, an auction, a pageant, and other events. I had a lot of fun with this, and found plenty of opportunities to insert humor into the tale. For one thing, Liss ends up having to keep doves, hens, geese, and “calling birds”—parrots—in the storeroom at the Emporium. One of them is a particular trial. Chapter Three ends with this sentence, still a favorite of mine: “Polly hungry,” the parrot screeched, sounding even more irritable than before. “Gimme the f—ing cracker!”
Recruiting enough (bag)pipers isn’t as easy as Liss thought it would be, either, but it does give her an opportunity to further her relationship with state trooper Gordon Tandy, pitting him against her other love interest, Dan Ruskin. I never intended to let this triangle last long, so the subplot of A Wee Christmas Homicide also sets up the idea that, when she’s with Gordon, Liss too often lets her impulses override her better judgment. In particular, a chase scene on snowmobiles has consequences.
I’ve always been fond of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and one of my favorite jigsaw puzzles shows scenes from all twelve days. That said, I inadvertently set Liss up for a major blooper, one that, strangely, no one seems to have caught. At least no one wrote to me to point it out. I only caught it myself after the book came out and by then my only recourse was to have Liss, two books later, joke about her terrible memory for lyrics.
Have you spotted it yet? Take a look at the title of this post. Liss (and I) had nine lords a-leaping and ten ladies dancing—the reverse of what’s actually in the song! Oh, well. Good for a laugh, right?
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for “excellence and achievement” from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. Her website is www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.