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Thursday, Sep. 18, 2014

Former Lilbourn resident co-authors book featuring photos of visits with Santa

Sunday, November 16, 2008

(Photo)
Pictured is the cover of "Scared of Santa: 265 Scenes of Terror in Toyland" by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins. Joyce, a former Lilbourn resident, is an assistant editor for the Chicago Tribune.
(Submitted Photo)
SIKESTON -- While it may be the season to be jolly, not everyone has a ho, ho, ho for Santa Claus. And Denise Blankenship Joyce and co-author Nancy Watkins have the pictures to prove it.

Just in time for the holidays, Joyce, formerly of Lilbourn, and Watkins have released their book, "Scared of Santa - Scenes of Terror in Toyland." The stocking-sized 274-page book features photos and short captions of mostly wailing children (and occasionally their parents) with Santa Claus.

For Joyce, the book is a labor of love and laughter that began several years ago while attending a nationwide feature editors conference. During the conference another newspaper showed a feature they did of children crying while seated on Santa's lap. She tucked the idea away until 2003 when Joyce, who currently is assistant editor in the Live! section for the Chicago Tribune, suggested it for a Sunday section of the Tribune.

"We got more than a couple of hundred of photos," she recalled during a recent telephone interview. "We were just laughing our heads off at these pictures. Some of the Santas are so scary it's no wonder the kids are weepy."

The feature was a success and even more photos were posted to the newspaper's online photo gallery, drawing thousands of hits from Internet viewers.

In 2004, the photos were put back online, again drawing lots of interest. One of the bosses suggested another round for the newspaper's print edition.

"We got all this fresh stuff and we were laughing again," she said about the return of the photos to the newspaper in 2006.

The Chicago Tribune readers weren't the only ones who enjoyed the photo feature. Joyce said she received a call in January 2007 from a literary agent in New York suggesting the feature should be turned into a book.

Soon, Joyce and Watkins found themselves learning the ins and outs of book publishing, from the legalities of contracts to dealing with publishing companies, which vied for rights to the book. HarperCollins ended with the top bid and the work began.

"Writing for a newspaper is one thing but a book is different," admitted Joyce, a 1973 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia's School of Journalism.

For some six months, the pair would dedicate their spare time to their book.

As they looked at the pictures, Joyce said they would group them by themes, from lots of tears to toddlers wriggling out of their clothes to the creepy Clauses. The biggest category, she said, was the classic cry.

Then they each took a stack of photos and began writing a short caption for each. Joyce said for her that was the easiest part.

"You looked at the picture for little details," she said. "Sometimes the joke would come right away, other times you might have to come back to it."

The pair would trade their photos and captions for a review. "Nancy was able to improve on some of mine; I don't think I ever improved hers," said Joyce. "She is a genius."

Sometimes the women would use family members as sounding boards. Joyce said if they didn't understand the caption, then the writing started over.

Before any of the pictures could be published, signed permission was received from parents and other contributors. That became a hurdle as they searched for contacts. Also, in some cases, they had to have photos re-sent to them to ensure they were of publication quality.

"There were some that got away. We loved the picture but couldn't track down the person who originally submitted it," she acknowledged.

As far as her favorite, it was hard for Joyce to choose. Thumbing through the book she pointed out several. "I have a bunch of favorites," she admitted. "Probably it is whichever one I'm looking at."

She also learned that the photos -- tears, fears and all -- are the favorites of the families who submitted them.

"The pictures of the kids crying somehow elevates them to the extra-special category," Joyce said. "We heard a lot of times from parents who said they pull it out every year, and of the family stories that get retold and embellished. It is, sort of, that the crying becomes a source of joy and laughter--and fodder for lots of teasing."

Those pictured seem to agree. Joyce said she heard from one man who had submitted his photo and recalled being scared. But, he told her, he wasn't traumatized. "Kids get over it," she assured.

The readers are enjoying the book. It received a positive review in USA Today and the London, England, Daily Mail has contacted the authors as has Readers Digest. It was recommended by a Borders book store sales manager as his pick and can be found at Barnes and Noble books stores and on Amazon, too.

With the book now complete and ready for the holiday season, Joyce said that although the effort was worth it, she is glad it is done. "My husband made a joke he was starting to get jealous of Santa Claus. It seemed every waking minute was devoted it," she said.

As for her own visits with Santa, Joyce, the daughter Betty Blankenship of Sikeston and the late Barney Blankenship, said growing up on a farm in New Madrid County, she doesn't really recall ever being taken for that trip for the picture with Ol' Saint Nick. Readers will never know if she was scared of Santa.