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A Visitor in the Night

What inspired my book, Christmas in Carling?

In December 2018, my daughter and I traveled to our favorite Resort and Spa, The Rosseau, for a special Mother/Daughter weekend away with friends.

Located two hours north of the city of Toronto, The Rosseau has been our best-kept secret. It is a hidden gem in an area of cottage-country called Muskoka. Set amidst many scenic lakes and rivers, coated by a unique rocky landscape and dense forests, the region boasts a reputation for high-end real estate, the most beautiful water views, unparalleled sunsets, and, of course, epic social gatherings. But this bustling summer tourist mecca eventually transforms into a frozen icy haven. That is when we love to visit. The hotel is a little quieter. For me, it is a peaceful place to write.

That day while driving up the winding laneway that leads into the luxurious hotel perched high upon the hillside overlooking Lake Rosseau, the snow started to lazily fall as we pulled under the covered entrance. Decorated for Christmas it looked so festive and welcoming. All we needed was the snow. Within hours, the storm worsened and we got our wish - fifteen centimetres.

Settling in, enjoying the activities we planned of the little girls, the other mothers and I spoke with the friendly staff and got caught up on each other's lives. After the painting, jewelry making, and swimming outside in the snow storm, our daughters snuggled up in pajamas to watch a movie in our suite. After a hectic day, everyone went their separate ways around eleven. When my daughter fell asleep in her room, it was so quiet in mine. All I could hear were the ice pellets hitting the window and the wind gusts whistled past in irregular intervals, creating a form of white noise that helped me drift off too.

Two hours later, my eyes opened. Staring at the ceiling, I was wide awake. Now, for me, (I am sure other women can attest), two o'clock until four is what I call the witching hour. Not sure why, but it happens every night and has become an annoying, uncontrollable habit that has been hard to break, I digress. Some people say it comes with age, others say it is a result of an over active brain (which most authors have), regardless, it has been both a blessing and a curse, since I do my best writing done during that time. Because I was supposed to be on a mini-vacation, and needed a break, I opted to mindlessly watch YouTube, and check social media for updates (instead of working), hoping it would help me fall back asleep. That is when I saw it...

There, in the middle of the night, cutting through the darkness, were headlights. Now, keep in mind, the weather was horrific - a mixture of ice and snow, white outs and dangerous driving conditions. Curious, I slipped out of bed and walked over to the window to see who was arriving at the hotel in the middle of the night, in a storm. A black Cadillac Escalade SUV pulled up under the covered entrance. With my room located on the right hand side of our suite, I had a view of the main doors. Pulling the sheers aside slightly, I watched a man get out of the vehicle and stretch his arms high above his head. I assumed he'd been driving for a while and was certain it was a stressful trip to say the least. He wore a dark wool overcoat, with the collar standing on end, dark denim jeans, a red baseball hat and a plaid scarf around his neck for a pop of color. With a pair of Red Wing boots on his feet, he looked quite stylish. Taking account of his surroundings, not seeing a soul anywhere, he happened to look up. Tall, at least six-foot-three, and ruggedly unshaven, he was so handsome. Opening the rear door, he swung a brown leather duffle onto his shoulder before raising the tailgate to get his suitcase out of the back. Closing everything up, he walked inside the hotel and out of sight.

In an instant, a million questions scrolled through my mind. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why was he traveling so late at night - in a snow storm? Was he meeting someone? Perhaps on a business trip? Or, was he, like us, searching for quiet place to rest his head and soak up some relaxation? How did he know about this frozen icy haven? My brain would not turn off...

Wherever I go, I always take a blank notebook with me, because you just never know when something will inspire you to write. Leaving my bedroom, grabbing the coiled notebook from my bag, I walked into the adjacent living room and stretched out my legs across the sofa. Part of me was tempted to head downstairs to see if I could catch a glimpse of him - mostly for interest sake, because I was nosey. Disheveled, without a stitch of makeup on, I opted against that course of action. (LOL) In case you're wondering, no, I was not in the market for anyone. (LOL)

That night, based on that experience, I wrote over eighteen chapters and sadly ran out of pages in that notebook. Unable to continue, I went back to bed and plunged into the creation of this character in my mind. Being a Boston Red Sox fan at heart, knowing they had just won the World Series weeks prior, I thought the mystery guest resembled first baseman, Steve Pearce. This is how the character Ty Reynolds came to be.

Over the next several hours, I typed my thoughts on my phone and created the plot for the book. Needless to say, I did not get any sleep. But it didn't matter, because the story was well on its way and the excitement of it fueled my soul.

That morning, over breakfast, I shared with my friends the makings of what happened. Captivated, hanging on my every word, they were in awe. We kept watching for this mystery guest to appear. Unfortunately, there was no sign of him anywhere. The consensus between the ladies was that the guy was probably tired from his trip last night and needed to sleep. Throughout that day, we kept our eyes peeled for a tall, handsome stranger wandering the halls and kept conjuring up scenarios as to why he was there.

When we finished dinner that evening, I stopped at the front desk and asked for a stack of blank paper and explained that I was an author that got inspired. They willingly obliged without question and happily wished me good luck.

After two days, we did not see that man once, which heightened his mysteriousness even more. To this day, I often wonder who he was and why he was there. Guess I will never know. Perhaps his purpose was to grant me the spark to write Christmas in Carling - a heartwarming holiday romance that blends a tale of two seasons - Christmas and Baseball. The story is bursting with traditions, selfless acts of kindness and winter adventures only found around The Rosseau. It follows two characters who bond over the reason they are hiding from the world over Christmas.

Recently, while visiting The Rosseau to read my final edit of Christmas In Carling, I often sat in the Lakes Lounge. It has a view of the entire lobby and adjacent corridors. There is always something to see that inspires me. The staff are so friendly and they invite you in like you are family. It is not uncommon for them to share pieces of their lives and inquisitively inquire about yours. If you ever visit the hotel, the staff mentioned in the book, truly exist. You can ask for them by name. I tried to capture their essence in the characters portrayed in the story. They are wonderful people.

During the month of December, there is a special feeling you get at the Rosseau. It's hard to describe unless you've been there. Guests find a Christmas tree in every corner and you can smell the burning logs from the large fieldstone fireplace in the Lake Lounge. Outside, the caldron fire is surrounded by Muskoka chairs where you can enjoy smores, hot chocolate, and apple cider. Walking or snowshoeing through the wooded trails, you will see deer jumping a few feet away from you -maybe even a rabbit or two chasing each other through the snow. It is simply a magical place.

Many of my test-readers have asked who inspired Julia and Sydney. I usually hesitate when revealing this information. It is heart-wrenching and I hate to be reminded of it. Being a hockey mom, working in the amateur athletics industry, I would sometimes hear of news that would shake you to the core. This was one of those stories.

Years ago, I knew of a family that was ripped apart by a horrible accident. It involved a dad and his son (a hockey player) who were on their way home from a tournament in bad weather. You can only imagine what comes next. I would rather not divulge the rest. You can read about it in the book. No matter the time of year, losing a loved one leaves an unfillable void. The holidays are especially hard. This story was written for those suffering loss. For those needing hope. For those finally seeing a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Because grief never ends. It just changes shape as the years go by. For some unknown reason, this mother and daughter came to mind when I was thinking of the Julia and Sydney characters. I pray they have been able to move forward in life despite what was taken from them. This is a story about appreciating life and the little moments we share. Never take it for granted, because you never know....

I hope you enjoy Christmas In Carling.

Lots of Love to you. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

E.A. Stark

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