The Making of “Fluff & Hum, a Fireside Miracle”

Six years ago, my original Christmas stories began with Hubble, a penguin who wished he could fly. In the years that followed, I gave you Candy Cane (the striped giraffe in search of a friend), Piph (pronounced “Piff,” a snow-white elephant in search of belonging), Toff and Tot (the flamingos that found love in one another) and Pato (the brontosaurus that creates a “trail of light” to save his family).

This year, I humbly present Fluff and Hum, a patchwork elephant and dazzling hummingbird. Please, take a moment to celebrate their public unveiling with me – and to welcome the first female characters into my Christmas collection.

In the Beginning | It was mid-July and I began brainstorming about this year’s feature with hopes of replicating last year’s success with Pato. I spent months dreaming up, crafting and revising Pato’s look and story. Officially born in June, the idea to feature a dinosaur, more specifically a Brontosaurus (my favorite, though a disputed species), had been planned for nearly a year, since the release dates for Jurassic World and The Good Dinosaur were finalized.

My features and stories have always been socially, contemporarily or politically aware. For example, Candy Cane’s story was anti-bullying (2012), Piph’s was anti-poaching (2013) and Toff and Tot’s (2014) was a bold statement crafted in response to Russia’s anti-LGBT legislation, and the United States’ battle with marriage equality.

I am a writer and an artist, and I believe it is my responsibility to use my art to connect with people in affecting ways. I want you to find joy and hope in my stories, but to also think about them, to open your minds – and hearts – to my diverse cast of characters and their situations. If their stories or visuals resonate with you in any way, if you are moved or feel affection for them, my goal has been met. It warms my heart to hear, “This is my favorite one yet,” “I save them all,” or “I look forward to your card every year.”

I am eager to create and share them. I’ve loved the joy found, tears shed and love felt for these characters. I love them deeply.

I tell you this because in mid-July, we wrote history when Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated by a major political party for president. This year’s card was supposed to commemorate that history, to capture the hope her campaign brought and to represent the love I felt for Hillary – and blend it with prominently featured jungles (ex. ZootopiaThe Legend of Tarzan, Disney’s The Jungle Book, and Washington, D.C.).

This year was supposed to be about a young girl conquering the world to reclaim a brilliant yellow elephant she’d lost to the jungle…

In the End | November 8-9:  I was months into a celebratory story that I hoped would serve as my memento of the year our nation elected its first female president. When that moment didn’t come to pass, the story and the art died. Not only did I scrap the work, but I felt personally defeated. Frustration set in and hope was replaced with disbelief, disgust and despair.

Though I felt uninspired, the realization of expiring time couldn’t be ignored. I had a matter of weeks to recreate something I was finishing. I turned countless pages for concept art and brainstorming, knowing I still wanted to create that memento, capture the beauty of a single moment (and act of kindness) and to produce something worthy of being shared and loved for years to come. I was ambitious.

December 6-7: In the unfamiliar position of having to begin again – and with less than a week remaining now (because the card physically debuts at the annual Ugly Sweater Party and Cookie Exchange), between the evenings of Dec. 6 and 7, I experienced a creative miracle.

I realized this was the tenth Christmas without my Grandma Sarah (she passed on Sept. 11, 2007). It became apparent to me that a hummingbird would be my featured cover – and that her story would serve as a memento to Grandma – to Hillary – to history – and to kindness and compassion, hope and love.

As I began crafting the story, I realized I still needed that second character – and an elephant was necessary, because “An elephant never forgets.” Sure, it wouldn’t be a brilliant yellow elephant, but her design assumed a new, overwhelmingly important meaning (stay tuned). In Fluff and Hum, the hummingbird is a weary traveler unable to escape the harshness of winter alone. The glass that greets her won’t shatter and in order for her “light” to be saved, she needs the love and compassion of another – a patchwork elephant.

Now, you should know my Grandma Sarah loved to sew – I recall her watching countless episodes of Sewing with Nancy on PBS – though, to be honest, I never paid attention. I was young, and far more interested in Wild Discovery or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also remember the homemade gifts she gave us every year – gifts like a pajama set or pillowcases. I miss those gifts most, and when I think of them – and her – I am reminded of Joseph’s story from The Bible and of the song “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton.

Those recollections led to the development of Fluff becoming a patchwork elephant whose origins are subtly, though unmistakably implied. Because elephants are matriarchal, honoring the women of my family, by featuring Fluff as a female character, was important. The initial heroine to my story, Fluff acts selflessly and courageously to provide warmth and kindness.

The way Hum repays Fluff is magical – and through the life she gives Fluff’s dreams – all can see what Grandma Sarah meant to many – what Hillary meant to millions – and what women have meant to history.

Fluff and Hum is a feminist Christmas miracle that I hope draws your attention to hummingbirds and elephants (of course!) and to hope, love and compassion. I hope their story reminds you of my Grandma, of our shared history, of the challenges that lie ahead and of somebody you care deeply about or remember this Christmas season. I hope you carry forward their story and the compassion and kindness they share with one another.

Finally, please take note of their positioning toward one another, despite being on opposing sides. I hope you enjoy – and if you love this card as much as I do, please tell me where Hum has carried Fluff’s dreams to by using “#FluffsDreamsAreIn” (add your city after a space, example: #FluffsDreamsAreIn St. Louis or #FluffsDreamsAreIn Paris).

Merry Christmas!

BONUS: A quick fun-fact. In the weeks post-election, I toyed with the idea of featuring a circus-themed story about an “anteater clown.” In the final version of Fluff & Hum, the anteater clown makes a brief appearance.

Now I publicly present: Fluff & Hum, a Fireside Miracle


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