FQ: Please tell our readers a little about the quote that appears at the front of the book, “The Shortest distance between two hearts is a story.” Why did you include it, what does it mean to you? What can it teach us?
LaROCQUE: I chose this quote because in my opinion, few things can permanently impact a life and touch the human heart more than a simply-told story. It’s certainly a method that’s been used for centuries. Nearly everyone has been told a story that continues to resonate with them throughout their life.
FQ: Like so many young children, Ernestine experiences disappointment from circumstances beyond her control (missing the church play). Why did you decide to include this at the start of the story, rather than just write about Grandma Lou and her dinner?
LaROCQUE: Once again, in my opinion, telling this story through the eyes of a child was more effective. It is a simple story with a simple message consisting of hope, love and acceptance and I felt such simplicity would be better told in this manner. I wanted this to be a book a family could read together. And when told through the eyes of little Ernestine, it’s more interesting to children. In addition, it’s important to show that Ernestine overcomes her enormous disappointment in not being the heavenly angel in the Christmas program. We can see this change of heart by the way she eventually accepts the new girl having the opportunity to be this year’s “heavenly angel” and her being next year’s “heavenly angel.” Often times, lessons in overcoming childhood problems can be more effective when told to a child through the lens of another child.
FQ: I would love to meet Grandma Lou. Please tell me she’s based on someone you know/knew.
LaROCQUE: Grandma Lou is me.
FQ: Ernestine’s father tells her the story of Grandma Lou’s Christmas dinner is a true story. Is it? If not, where did the idea come from?
LaROCQUE: It is absolutely a true story that happened to me and the dinner was around my dining room table. In fact, I have a photo that Bill took of us, complete with Gil sitting in the dining room chair.
FQ: Ernestine adores her Grandma Lou. In today’s busy world, so many young children barely know their grandparents. What do you feel youngsters get from having a close relationship with elderly relatives?
LaROCQUE: I think it’s wonderful when possible. There are times when children may find it easier and more comfortable to talk with grandparents or other elderly relatives because it’s not unusual for them to be more understanding. After all, understanding is one of the gifts that age gives us. Often times if a child is struggling, it can be a caring grandparent or other elderly relative, who may offer the greatest and most enduring help.
FQ: It’s refreshing to read a story that promotes strong family values. How important was it for you to include a loving family and a loving Christmas dinner? Do you think in today’s world, many of us have lost a sense of family?
LaROCQUE: I didn’t start out to write about values. They simply surfaced as I recalled the actual events and how they unfolded. I’m selfish and just did this because I didn’t want to be alone. All I did was provide the home and the food and “my guests did the rest.” I do think we have lost sight of family values and I hear others voice the same concerns. As a species we are not designed to live apart. We need each other. And for those who for whatever reason find themselves alone, all the money in the world can’t do for them, what sharing a Christmas dinner around a real dining room table at someone’s home can do. As in this case, most were strangers, but it didn’t matter. The spirit of love brought us together and it was transformational for all. Gil still had ALS, Kelly remained homeless, Sharon still struggled, as did Bill, but for a few hours on Christmas Day, we were all made to feel accepted, perfect, loved and important. And there could be no greater gift to give one another. It is my hope this simple little book with its simple little message may encourage other people to do something likewise. This kind of thing, has the potential to teach children values bring people together helping them to belong, and to create a feeling of family for another, where there was none before. Again, only in my opinion.
FQ: Please tell our readers a bit about the plays you’ve written.
LaROCQUE: I actually wrote a play about this years ago called The Gathering which was produced in southwestern Michigan at 15 different theaters. It was my first play. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have several award-winning plays done throughout the country. Most recently, they were done in June of 2021 in Dallas, Texas, October of 2021 in Traverse City, Michigan, and in Madison, Wisconsin in February of 2022. All fresh off the pandemic!! While most of my plays are comedies, they have great take-away value and, I’ve been told, written with heart. Most are based upon some aspects of real life and using humor, I have managed to weave in certain values we as humans struggle with. I am presently working with Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan where the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is performing some of my short plays before the Medical School and Health and Human Services to help the medical students better understand aging and its effects. To date the program has been successful. My plays are available through Playscripts, Art Age Publishing, Pioneer Drama Service, and Smith and Kraus.
FQ: You’ve also written numerous short stories – it seems to be your preferred genre. Many authors veer away from this genre as it can be quite difficult to successfully tell a great story in a limited number of words. What draws you to the genre?
LaROCQUE: Actually, my preferred genre is playwriting; however, short stories are definitely a close second. The reason I enjoy writing a short story is because short story writing is a wonderful discipline as it keeps me focused. Short story writing is a reminder that “less is often more.” Most short stories are between 1000 to 1500 words. It’s often referred to as skinny writing. In that word length, you must engage the reader, and include some sort of take-away value. In order to achieve those two requirements, the writer cannot squander words, because there’s little room for fluff. It’s easy for writers to get carried away and become verbose and when that happens you run the risk of losing your reader. And that’s something no one wants to do. So, these short story writing disciplines have helped me greatly as they’re a constant reminder of the importance of trying to make a point with an economy of words while staying on target. To me short story writing is definitely a valuable teacher.
FQ: Do you have plans to write more Christmas themed short stories? Perhaps a collection of stories gathered into one book. Is this something you’d like to do?
LaROCQUE: Over the years, I’ve written many Christmas-themed short stories. In fact, I currently have two in this year’s (2021) edition of Chicken Soup for The Soul, Christmas Blessings. This does sound like a very worthwhile idea; however, at this time I’ve no plans for a collection of short Christmas stories in one book. But you’ve got me thinking!