Hefty and bearded, Thomas Allen Stanley is a retired insurance agent who loves golf and has benefited from his conservative investments.
He moved from Detroit to the Christmas Pines Plantation (CPP) adult community in South Carolina, built around what was advertised as a championship golf course. Stanley's grown accustomed to being alone (though he still has heart-to-heart talks with his late wife), and likes being the first to hit the links every morning.
But one December, there's trouble at Christmas Pines: George Sandusky, who'd long played Santa Claus for visiting grandchildren, has mysteriously begged off, and despite the obvious typecasting, Stanley refuses to step in. After all, he's estranged from his only son and, by extension, his little granddaughter.
So begins the 68-page ‘Twas, the first of four fictional tales of the season written by Bill McMillen and sent as holiday cards by him and his wife, Barbara McMillen. ‘Twas, in 2009, was followed by Rudolph, Drummer, and this year's Kings.
Our cleverest readers will spot a commonality among some of Mr. McMillen's other characters: Mrs. Findlay, Miss Hardin, Rich and Mouse Richland (the CPP's self-appointed social director), and Lucy Lucas.
Mr. McMillen, 65, retires this week as assistant to the president at the University of Toledo. He wrote the 68-page‘Twas about a decade ago and, as he'd done with much of his prose, slipped it in a drawer.
"It was too long for a short story, too short for a novel; it sort of fits into the novella category. I never sent it out [to a publisher]," said Mr. McMillen of Perrysburg. But when he came across it years later, he enjoyed it.
"I went back and did a little rewriting."
The McMillens married three months after meeting at Ohio University where both earned master's and doctoral degrees in English. Mrs. McMillen, retired from teaching English at Bowling Green State University, is skilled at computer design and for years had designed the family's holiday cards, so creating cover images for the nonreligious books seemed a natural progression.
This year's story, Kings, is the shortest of the set but was the most difficult to write. It centers on the birth of Stanley's grandchild, told from four points of view including his, his Jewish golf buddy (the other grandfather), Stanley's son, and his daughter-in-law.
Mr. McMillen, an avid golfer, never lived in a retirement community but has friends who do. Characters, mostly retirees, are not based on actual people. "It's more of a folk tale with somewhat of a moral message."
He understands that this holiday greeting creates an obligation for people who receive them: to read or not to read, which, given that they range from 31 to 68 pages, could take an hour or more.
"People really seem to sit down and read it," he said.
Printing (almost 300 copies) is done by locally owned Metzgers and costs about $5 each, including special envelopes. Mailing costs, depending on weight, can be up to $1.50 each.
His work at UT in various positions has always required writing, from reports to speeches, and in 2009, he published From Campus to Capitol: the Influence of Government Relations on Higher Education. A novel, Sticks was published in 2000.
"I have a lot of manuscripts; some I think are pretty good, some are not as good as I think they could be."
The commonality between many of McMillen's characters? Many of their names can be found on the Ohio map.
Interested in Bill McMillen's holiday books? He's bound sets of the four slender paperbacks (totalling 186 pages) with red ribbons and placed them for sale at Ukazoo bookstore, 830 N. Westwood Rd. A set is $20, and all proceeds will go to the Boys and Girls Club of Toledo. Information: 419-537-2665.
Contact Tahree Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org and 419-724-6075.