Letters from the Dead

Three years ago I had the good fortune to interview Hugh Martin for the column I used to write for the late and lamented North County Times (a daily newspaper purchased and then incorporated into the San Diego Union-Tribune).  My column was on writing and writers, and Martin had just published his autobiography THE BOY NEXT DOOR.  Attached you’ll find a link to that story: www.utsandiego.com/news/…/russell-songwriter-martin-gets-around-to/.

Just three months after my column ran, Martin died.  Since that time, with every Christmas season I remember my conversation with Martin.  How could I not remember with his music resonating in the air?  Martin was the songwriter for one of the most recorded songs in history:  Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

I am not good about keeping emails.  To keep my inbox from getting out of control, I am in the habit of purging almost everything.  And yet I kept one of Martin’s emails to me, and with every Christmas season I find myself reading it anew:

Dear Alan,

My secretary read me your December 12, 2010, piece in the North County Times.  It was accurate, entertaining and brought out just the parts of my life that were most informative.  

I’m sorry that my voice gave out after 45 minutes. Thank you for the perfect interview.  

I’m most grateful.

           Hugh Martin

Mr. Martin and I sent several other emails back and forth.  I actually invited Martin to come to my house for a Christmas party (my hope was that I could get him to sit at our piano).  Martin said as tempting as my offer was, he was having a great deal of difficulty getting around, and was “too vain” to have others see him in that condition.

Ah, what a shame.  I would have loved to have heard more of his stories, and have the man that played for Judy Garland play for my friends.  And though Martin wrote other works almost as famous, such as the Trolley Song, and The Boy Next Door, the song I would have most wanted to hear would have been Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Most of us have our holiday traditions.  One of the reasons I wrote ST. NICK was that I wanted to write a different and modern Christmas story in a setting you wouldn’t expect.  I tried to imbue my book with the “heart” of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and hoped it would resonate with readers in much the same way.

Does a heartwarming book have a place in this day and age?  I am glad to say I have never written a novel that has received such positive reviews as this one.

  • Alan Russell 12/16/2013