A Real Elf Sighting: My Family’s Christmas Story

Manassas, Virginia, 1970, Christmas Eve. In a small house in the country, an eight-year-old girl is standing at the glass door with her cousin of ten. The adults are doing their regular, boring banter in the background. The girl and her parents had just arrived yesterday from their Florida homestead, returned to the land of their kin for Christmas. All day, the girl and her cousin had been running around the yard as kids do, yelling, playing, excited to be reunited again, and even more excited for Christmas to get here. Now they’re a little fatigued, but restlessly awaiting Santa Claus.

It’s dark outside, but the porch light illuminates the old car parked on the gravel driveway. Beyond that is a vast dark field with an unseen forest behind it. The girl rests her forehead against the cool glass, her cousin at her shoulder. They giggle now and again, sharing their own sparse banter, separate from the adults.

And then something moves outside. Someone’s out there! The girl frowns and focuses. The person outside is…sneaking, placing his feet toe-first so as not to make any sound on the gravel. One foot over the other, very carefully, hands poised for balance. He is dressed oddly in weathered greenish clothing with a sort of folded hat on his head and…pointed ears? He doesn’t notice the two children watching him, as he makes his way along behind the car, until he gets to the car’s hood.

Finally seeing the two kids in the doorway, the “person” gives a shocked expression, grabs his hat, and drops down behind the car.

This instance happens in a snap. The girl and her cousin both give a start, whip their heads to look at each other, sharing open-mouthed astonishment, and both of them shoot out the door to the outside to catch this…elf!

Straight through the door, they don’t have far to run to get to the other side of the car. It didn’t matter though. The elf was gone.

“Mom! Mom!” the girl shouts as she and her cousin rush back inside to alert the adults of the mystery. “We saw an elf! We saw an elf!”

Her mother gives a smile. “You did? Wow!” Her reaction is obviously fake. The adults take a minute to humor the children before going back to their conversation. The girl and her cousin check all around the house, under the car, and into the darker shadows out skirting the porchlight. They never find the elf or any clue he was ever there. They are truly shaken up. To them, it means that Santa can’t be far, and they don’t want to ruin their turn to get their present delivery that night. So her cousin marches straight home, as he lives just over the hill, yelling, “I’m going home now, Santa! I’m going right to bed!” The girl can hear his echoing voice as he goes, and she too hurries off to bed.

The story I just told you is true. The girl in the story is my mother with her real-life cousin. The adults, the house, the car, the whole setting—and the elf—all of it is a true story. And it really happened on Christmas Eve.

I have no reason to lie about this and neither does my mom. I believe her, and not just because I too love elves, but because she swears it to this day that she did not make it up.

She saw an elf.

In the next few paragraphs, I will go over why I think the story can be taken seriously.

As the author of the Sufferborn series, a story about a girl who falls in love with an elf as an epic plot takes shape around them, I guess I get my love of elves honest. However, I can tell you that I don’t love Christmas half as much as my mom does. Her love of Christmas never wavered, it’s what brings her joy to this day, and maybe that’s all because she finds it so easy to believe, because she actually saw something. I, personally, was born in the middle of the 1980’s when the fantasy genre was popular. For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to that genre and never wavered in that love interest. I love fantasy, she loves Christmas.

So does this mean Santa Claus exists and that elves are connected to Christmas? It doesn’t have to, and I’m not here to convince you that it does. Maybe the elf’s appearance on Christmas Eve was a coincidence. I mostly want to present the case that elves just might be real. I believe if elves exist, they exist, it doesn’t have to be related to Christmas. If you think it is then that’s fine, I wouldn’t want to argue about that. I try to entertain more realistic scenarios to fit around this story, like Dorhen perhaps: an elf who wanders around the wilderness. But I also find it fun to believe in the Santa Claus myth.

I’ve heard this story retold all my life, and since I’ve been an adult, I’ve asked questions to try to either debunk or maybe get a more realistic picture of the supposed elf in the story. There’s a few points to go over which you might find interesting.

The first point is that my mom and her cousin both saw the elf at the same time, and they immediately confirmed what they saw by sharing that initial look of shock with each other. It wasn’t that one saw something and said, “Hey, I saw an elf!” and then somehow convinced the other that they saw it too. Not at all. Both of their “reports” of the sighting happened instantaneously, and was followed up by both of them bolting out the door, without a single word shared, to check around the car.

The next point of interest would be that they both remember seeing the elf wearing a different color. My mom remembers green and her cousin remembers red. I like to think that he wore both colors combined, which could cause their mixed impressions. Nonetheless, detectives know very well that witnesses to an incident will all remember details differently. The fact that they each remember the elf wearing different colors is a point toward it being a real sighting.

The elf’s clothing was NOT a costume. My mom informs me that this was not a shopping mall-style costume. It was neither shiny nor pretty. It was worn and weathered. Going back to the color factor in the above paragraph, I would lean toward the outfit being mostly green so that the elf could better blend into the forest—since he obviously didn’t want to be seen anyway. That would be a more realistic detail, in my opinion, and adding the fact that the clothes were weathered sounds like a real elf wandering around the forest to me.

My brain wants to paint the image of his clothing being Medieval style, probably because that tends to be what we get with Christmas imagery. Elf outfits in Christmas art usually involve leggings, a tunic, and a stocking cap. Alternately, we get the same thing in my favorite genre: fantasy. So I’ve tried to prompt memories out of her of what type of clothes he was actually wearing. She can’t really drum it up, but I feel like her description of the hat might align with Medieval. The fact that he was tiptoeing was a big one though! The elf didn’t want to make any noise on the driveway gravel, so naturally he’d go toe-first. I once saw a video (which has since vanished off of Youtube, otherwise I wanted to link to it, sorry everyone!) which pointed out that Medieval people might’ve walked toe-first in their soft leather or cloth shoes anyway. It occurs to me that if the elf was wearing 20th century clothing, my mom would’ve easily confirmed it. But she can’t. If the elf was indeed wearing Medieval clothing, what does that mean? Does it mean he can time travel? Does it mean he never aged and has been living since that time period? I have no idea. But it’s just so darn intriguing, isn’t it?

She confirms that the elf DID have pointed ears.

She confirms the elf was male.

She confirms the elf was of average human height, especially since he stood taller than the car and had to duck behind it to get out of sight. However, he wasn’t super tall; we’ll call him average—definitely on the lower end of five feet tall. Therefore, I’m no longer inclined to believe that “real” elves must be short or tiny.

I’ll add that in the late 60’s, early 70’s, Manassas, VA was very country, with lush forests and fields. In 1970, its population was 9,164 (in contrast, it’s 42,772 today). My mom describes the area in which her family lived to have plenty of farmland. And as I saw last year on my trip to my grandmother’s funeral, it has a huge Civil War battlefield landmark all around with plenty of preserved natural landscape. A pretty good place for an elf to wander around, I’d say.

The ages of these kids were either 8 and 10, or 10 and 12. My mom seems to go back and forth on what their ages were at the time. Regardless, she stresses every time she talks about this, that the age range is a pretty good one from which to retain memories. I remember very well being 8 years old. I remember the movies I saw and how I felt about them. I remember what was on tv, my best friend who lived next door, the adventures we’d have in the wild blackberry patch, and what I got for my birthday! And, of course, I remember the following ages in that range!

It wasn’t some kind of uncle prank. There were no family members coming out from around the side of the house laughing, and no one ever came forward later. Once that elf disappeared, he was gone. That was the end of it. If it was a prank, don’t you think my mom or cousin would’ve heard the prankster chuckling about it later on?

That’s about all I know about this bizarre incident. The sighting happened so fast for my mom, but the image is burned into her memory. She’s quite adamant about this. After many years, her cousin began to deny that he saw anything. It’s too crazy to believe. “We imagined it, I’m sure,” he’d say whenever she’d bring it up in their adulthood. But my mom would counter, “How can two people imagine the same thing at the same time?” She retains her childlike Christmas spirit and refuses to give up on this experience, and I don’t think she should. It’s a really cool story and one for the ages. It’s not my story, but it’s still a link to the world beyond our own which I’m constantly looking for and writing about. I wish it were my story, to be honest. I also believe in ghosts and stuff, but I would so much rather see an elf!

I hope my sharing her story has brought you a little bit of joy or hope this season. Don’t take life so seriously and don’t let the world bring you down. It’s ok to believe in elves and other beings of the fantastic!

And it’s ok to believe in Santa Claus too. Merry Christmas!

(This post is approved by my mom)


12/21/22. In the above image, I generated the background using AI, describing an old car at night, and picked the one I liked best for this illustration. When my mom checked out this post, she was amazed to see that the car looks just like the one that was in her grandmother’s driveway. How weird is THAT?

Sufferborn’s New Look!

Finally, it’s here! I am proud to present the brand new cover for Sufferborn (book 1)! It was a long journey, short if you consider the time frame, but a fairly smooth transition. The worst part about it has been my anxiety: what should the new cover look like? Which idea to go with? How long will it take to paint? How long will it take for the final oil glaze to dry? How long will it take to get it professionally scanned? And can I get a ride to the photoimaging company downtown Nashville?

The thing is, I needed to get it all completed before February in order to use the new cover for an ad I had already bought. Though all of those concerns ran smoothly, it was the waiting that hurt the most. When you have a big project (and OMG, yes, making a good, hand-painted book cover is a HUGE project), you just want it to be over and done right now—hahaha, know what I mean? But patience and diligence pays off. Even if it takes a long time, practicing patience and diligence will get you the narrower time frame—procrastination will draw it out for additional months and even years.

So the painting. In my haste to create and get it done, I have been completely uninspired about what to name it. Though I usually love naming paintings, this one I couldn’t quite take the time to care about what it was called—lmao! I slapped the title “Sufferborn Trio” onto the back for the benefit of identification when dropping it off at the photoimaging company and called it a day. Dusted my hands off.

Sufferborn Trio is a great one, I think. In my opinion, it’s a fine replacement for the original cover, titled “Open Heart.” Sufferborn Trio is no less complex and expertly done. I did my best to be as expressive as possible, keeping loose, while at the same time digging in hard to create the BEST possible piece I could within my personal skill boundaries.

Take notice of the two characters at the sides, Daghahen and Lamrhath, the insidious twins who will become quite the epic pillars of drama as time passes. Looking at my references, I knew that the two characters on the sides had to be foggy and recede so that the central figure, Dorhen, can clearly stand out. I had two steps for making that possible: step 1 was to paint them thinly and “coldly,” and step 2 was to go over their whole figures, after they dried, with a whitish glaze. A glaze is when you add a tiny speck of paint to a large glob of pigment-free linseed oil. Because I need my book cover paintings to dry fast, I used liquin original instead of oil for this. I especially used a lot of thin, expressive strokes for Daghahen (at left) to create his elderly appearance. A lot of his blue underpainting shows through. Lamrhath (at right) was painted similarly, but with more careful, thoughtful strokes and coverage. His colored layers are still thin, allowing the underpainting to show through, but all of him is still extremely thin and even, dare I say, underdeveloped. That’s how they both turned out looking faint and cold. It also kept my painting time short and simple, a win-win.

Dorhen, on the other hand, got all my love—as he always does. His face contains the thickest layers of paint on the whole piece, followed by the rest of his exposed skin. Any piece of clothing that appears dark, I take the liberty to keep thin and easily executed, which is something that I’ve picked up in the last decade of painting.

But I won’t bore you anymore with painting techniques. In effort to make this new cover communicate the book’s genre more clearly (dark/epic fantasy), I chose these three characters. These three are present in the prologue of Sufferborn. The twins are the root of the problems that concern the main characters, Dorhen and Kalea. And this scene depicts a moment at the middle of the book when all the elements come together to create the “real” dilemma in the Sufferborn series. This should be a fitting cover indeed.

There you have it! A brand new book cover. Hope you enjoy the book and its new look! If you are a person who misses the old cover, subscribe to this blog on the sidebar for news on when I have posters available. If you would like to get your hands on a copy with the old cover, click the “contact” tab at the top of this site to ask me directly for one. I have a few kicking around and might be able to hook you up (and I’m happy to add autographs)!

Check out Sufferborn on Amazon!

Sufferborn will get a new cover for book 1

That’s right, folks, a new cover for Sufferborn is in the works and will be released soon! You may or may not find this news favorable and I understand either way. So for now, I’ll fill you in on my reasoning and let’s take a moment to appreciate the old book cover.

Why am I changing Sufferborn‘s book cover? The answer is simple: advertising. That’s all. I do love the painting on this cover and will cherish it forever, but in order for me to have more flexibility for advertisement, I’ve decided to design something a little less edgy. Lately, my attempt to buy an ad was rejected for reasons of “blood and gore”—hahah, I’ll take it as a compliment! So that’s the practical reason for doing so. Let’s go back in time a few months though. Although it IS a good painting and I love it a lot, I can’t deny that I’ve felt a slight…hesitance(?) about how the cover was looking. It was one of those things that you love at first, but then your mind starts wandering into foggy territories of doubt. My doubt was so, so slight, it’s hard to explain. I did not voice my doubt for a long time, but it was there. After a lot of wonder and debate and finally asking my husband and friends if they thought a book cover change would be good (my husband was against it), I decided to just leave the cover as is and move on with my plans for book 3… And then the advertising problem happened. It was the answer to my dilemma.

What made the old cover so special? My friends, it was special. Let me tell you. I don’t know if it was the ideal cover for book 1, but I really put my heart into it. Let’s take a look at “Open Heart,” Sufferborn‘s soon-to-be-former cover…

Open Heart. Oil on linen. 2019.

What to say first?… “Open Heart” was designed to express the character that is Dorhen. His soul. I thought, “If I can paint his soul, I will.” The wound is symbolic. In the book, he tells Kalea, “I lost my soul.” And in another scene, Kalea tells him he has an empty heart, or maybe a hole in his heart. The hole in his chest means a lot to this book. It’s everything in the book. The look on his face was aiming to show Dorhen’s desperation in the book. He’s looking at Kalea and showing her his wound. He needs her help and he’s pleading to her. The fire in the forest behind him is his past, a literal representation of something in the story. Even his codpiece is made apparent on the cover—something of his garments that is brought to attention. This, I would say, is a perfect image of Dorhen. Dorhen is a character I’ve had trouble painting and drawing for many years. Not that it’s hard to come up with a brown-haired boy with sad eyes, but maybe its all the emotional signals I had been missing in previous attempts.

How did I construct this character in paint? Dorhen in this painting is made up of a radical number of different references. Even I was shocked at how many things were blended to create this person! Once again, I was also shocked that I had finally created such a perfect image of the elusive Dorhen. Who would’ve thought that all I needed was a photo of my husband, one of my favorite bought art model photos (who looks nothing like Dorhen), and a few stock photos of manly chests? The most recognizable trait of my husband’s is the hands and forearms. I snapped a photo of him doing this pose and it proved all I needed for the arms. As a result of using his meaty Scottish arms, Dorhen turned out looking strong—like someone who can take a lickin’ and survive in the forest. The “strong” trait was exactly what I was looking for too, because I don’t think of the “Norr elves” as being lithe and delicate. The Norr elves are rugged and tough. Male elves (a.k.a. saehgahn) like to fight within their own communities, and building a strong appearance for female elves to ogle is very important to them. Dorhen’s face was a thing of trial and error and it required many layers and a little frustration and repainting to achieve. Each step, whether it was on purpose, unplanned, a mistake, a repaint, or a well-planned system of layers, played a part in achieving this face. When I put down that final “draft” of the face, it was a magical moment.

The fire in the background was by sheer accident, regardless of what I said about it being a direct communication of the book’s content. I was going for a sunset effect behind the trees (to symbolize that his time is running out). Instead, it looked like the forest was on fire, and I went with it. It had to have happened subconsciously though, because I was quite emotional around the time of painting. Lots of emotion was flowing as I worked, and I think it shows quite clearly.

In conclusion, “Open Heart” was emotional, tragic, fiery, sad, desperate, and a little romantic (gotta love that codpiece!). It seemed like the perfect cover for Sufferborn at the time. But now I’m moving on and trying something else. Fans of this painting, do not be sad. It may be disappearing from the book cover, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually going anywhere. I still have the painting and always will. And I’ll see about putting it on a poster for sale soon. Look at it this way: printed copies of this book cover will soon be rare collectors’ items!

When does the new cover come out? I’m aiming for early February (2021). I spent the Christmas season painting and right now the final cover is deep in the works. I will share a cover reveal teaser soon, followed by an official unveiling. The new cover is also one I find very relevant to the story.

Check out Sufferborn on Amazon!

Happy Book Birthday Sufferborn!

Has it been a year already??? Holy crud.

Guys, I don’t know what to say. This book is special on so many levels. It’s the project I devoted my life to–literally, every life decision I made centered around this. At age 13 I started coming up with the characters and adventures that would eventually blossom into a book called Sufferborn. At age 34 I published it. I couldn’t be more proud, and now I am overwhelmed because I’m about to publish book 2 Unwilling Deity (Preorder here!). Where did the year go?! And in the near future of January 1st, 2021 I’ll begin writing book 3.

Sufferborn, though, is amazing, I must say. It truly is the fruit of my life-long labor. It’s epic. Lots of characters, lots of attention paid to those characters’ development as well as the development of their cultures–particularly the elven culture. It’s sweet, it’s sad, it’s magical, it’s brutal. It’s tragic. The first book is only the beginning of a much bigger story. If you haven’t tried Sufferborn yet, what are you waiting for? It’s only 99c until Black Friday 2020!

Here’s to the birthday of my first novel! Cheers!

Sufferborn Releases in Two Months!

October 19, 2019! Get ready, because you have two months! Right now I am hard at work pulling together everything needed for the release of Sufferborn, my debut novel! It will be the first book in a long series (of six installments, I’m estimating), telling the tragic tale of two souls who meet but struggle to stay together by the cruel hand of fate. Sufferborn is a piece I’ve been developing over the course of twenty-one years, and counting.

Right now, I am proud to reveal the book’s cover! This is originally an oil painting on linen, completed earlier this year. The painting is titled, “Open Heart.” I’ve been oil painting for pretty much as long as I’ve been working on the Sufferborn story, and my hard work, education, exploration, and discipline has led me to this.

I’ll be releasing FOUR different formats of the Sufferborn books. Some formats may be delayed, please bear with me. I will try my hardest to have the ebook, paperback, and hardback available on the date of release, but just in case things get complex, the hardback release could possibly be delayed. As I said, I will try my best! The one version that will, sadly, have to be delayed is the fourth, and greatest, edition: the presentation edition. This version will be beautiful. I will choose a local printing company for this one—it will NOT be available everywhere. Presentation edition will only be available through me (my website/etsy store, and at my table when I attend conventions). This edition is very special, as it will feature two extra illustrations, plus a “presentation” page in the front matter. The presentation page will be the area I can sign, or even you can sign it and “present” it to your loved ones who read fantasy. The production of presentation edition will be quite different from using Amazon, and that’s why its release delay is inevitable.

Anyway, that’s my news! Keep in touch for more updates and information. Feel free to follow me on social media—links to my social media are located on the right side of this page, and have a great week. I will be having a very busy two months. ~J.C. Hartcarver