This time of year, children around the world fall asleep to joyous tales of Santa and his merry band of toy-making elves.
But what about the other side of Christmas -- the darker side?
It's this aspect of the holiday season that Maria DeVivo of FishHawk Ranch explores in her book for teens and tweens, "The Coal Elf."
A Randall Middle School seventh-grade language arts teacher since 2005, DeVivo said she came up with the concept for the book while teaching at a Catholic school in Long Island.
"I'm not your conventional teacher," she admitted. "I have tattoos, I wear lots of black and I'm into horror movies."
The Catholic school was hosting its annual Christmas party. DeVivo found a black Santa's hat and wore it to the party in 2004.
"The kids loved it," she said. "And it just clicked in my head -- we know all about the elves that make toys for the good children. But what about the coal kids get if they're bad. Who mines that coal?"
She tossed around the idea for the book in her head awhile before she actually sat down and put pen to paper.
"Then, in the summer of 2010, I began writing 'The Coal Elf,'" she said. "It took me eight weeks to finish it."
DeVivo found the process of getting the book published much more difficult than the writing.
"I sent it to a bunch of small publishing houses and the feedback I got was that it was too weird, too dark. And nobody was willing to take a chance on a weirdo book by a debut author," she said. "It was rejected over 100 times. I was pretty frustrated."
DeVivo put the book aside and began working on another book for teens about zombies in the summer of 2011.
"I had a lot of agents interested in that book and was about to sign a contract when Twilight Times Books contacted me about publishing 'The Coal Elf,'" she said. "Suddenly everything was happening at once. I couldn’t believe it."
Getting "The Coal Elf" published was the culmination of a lifelong dream for DeVivo.
"I've always wanted to write," she said. "Ever since I began reading, I was writing. I also wanted to teach and, from early on, I knew I could do both -- that was my plan."
With that goal in mind, she majored in English literature at St. John's University in New York and began to teach, a career she said she loves. Now, with her first book published, her dream is complete.
"It’s such an awesome experience," DeVivo said. "I feel so blessed and thankful. I've had amazing support at Randall and the kids are all into it."
She's also building a fan base outside her school. At a recent book signing at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Brandon, she sold out of copies of "The Coal Elf" in an hour and 15 minutes.
Fellow Randall teacher Melissa Oliver, a seventh-grade English teacher, was on hand to purchase extra copies of the book for the school library.
"Oh, my gosh, it's wonderful," she said of the book. "Kids will just love Ember's (the main character) wit and sarcasm."
Octavia Brand agreed.
"I couldn't put it down," she said. "I was emotionally connected right away. The descriptions are so vivid, you feel like you're in the book. I can't wait to read the sequel."
"The Coal Elf," which DeVivo said is suitable for readers age 12 and up, is the story of Ember Skye, a fed-up teenage Coal Elf with a chip on her shoulder.
Having been torn away from a carefree life and forced into a world of dirt and darkness has started to get the best of her. And being the only girl-elf working as a coal miner at the North Pole doesn’t help much either.
Her nemesis is Sturd, a power-hungry, twisted elf with a checkered past and a serious grudge against Ember. Slowly but surely, his maniacal tendencies are revealed, leaving Ember with the sacred “Naughty List” literally in her lap.
When a mysterious illness threatens to decimate elves both Above and Underground, Ember is thrust into a journey in which she confronts the literal and figurative demons of her past.
DeVivo's second and third books are due out soon.
"The Altered" explores the themes of prejudice and tolerance in the guise of zombies and how they adjust back into society once cured.
"Aestrangel, the Fallen" is the story of Aestra, an angel given the body of a teenage girl and sent to Earth to ensure that high school senior Jake Parker pursues his destiny.
And, yes, DeVivo is working on a sequel to "The Coal Elf." It's due out next June.
For more information, visit DeVivo's website.