Sunday, November 2, 2014

Checking It Twice Anthology

Can Santa learn a lesson from the Savior?

Can a foreign exchange student help you see Christmas a little more clearly?

Do things really look better from a distance?

And just how many holiday ornaments does one woman need?

Get in the Christmas Spirit with Volume 2 of award-winning stories from LDS Publisher's 2010 and 2011 Christmas Story Contests!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Meet Gussie Fick!

Gussie Fick is the author of Substitute Santa. She also has a story, Christmas Joy Ride, in the Stolen Christmas anthology.

LDSP: Hi, Gussie. Thanks for stopping by. I like to start with getting to know you. Where did you grow up? 

Gussie: I was born in New York City, grew up on Long Island, and moved to the San Fernando Valley in California when I was a teenager.

LDSP: Wow! You've lived on both sides of the U.S. Cool. So where do you live now?

Gussie: I live in southeastern Idaho in a beautiful high mountain valley. I have two of the best jobs in the world—I teach art to elementary school children and work part-time at the county library.

LDSP: How fun! What are your favorite hobbies? 

Gussie: I love old books! I have too many—in boxes everywhere. Even the horse trailer. 

LDSP: That sounds like my house. What was your favorite book as a child?

Gussie: I was “horse crazy” as a child and loved all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley. Now my husband and I own four horses but he takes care of them. 

LDSP: When and why did you begin writing?

Gussie: I think most writers begin writing when they’re children and I did too. One of my first stories was about a beautiful Mayan maiden who was about to be sacrificed in a deep pool. Horrors!

LDSP: That's a long way from Christmas stories. Why did you decide to enter the LDS Publisher story contest? 

Gussie: I love to write Christmas stories! Writing contests are fun and always a good stretching exercise.

LDSP: Have you ever entered a contest before? Won anything? 

Gussie: I entered the contest last year and my short story “Joy Ride” is in the Stolen Christmas collection.

LDSP: That's right. I remember. It was a good one. What inspired you to write Substitute Santa? 

Gussie: It’s sad that so many men put their career first and don’t spend enough time with their children.

LDSP: I agree. And women, as well. What are you working on now?   

Gussie: I’m writing a Book of Mormon historical adventure that was inspired by another contest the LDS Publisher sponsored on her blog. I promise—there is no Mayan maiden about to be sacrificed in a deep pool.

LDSP: Cool! I look forward to reading it. Let's talk about Christmas. Do you like Christmas? 

Gussie: I love Christmas! I love to sing Christmas music in the choir. I love all the old decorations on the Christmas tree—especially the ones the children made. Now that we live in Idaho, every Christmas is white!

LDSP: Are you on Santa’s Good List or Naughty List this year? 

Gussie: My husband thinks I’m on Santa’s Naughty List. I should do something naughty to him!

LDSP: Uh-oh. Divinity or fudge? 

Gussie: Both! (I’m on the Naughty List, remember?)

LDSP: Who is your favorite character in It’s a Wonderful Life

Gussie: Clarence, of course. I need wings too. Too bad I’m on the Naughty List.

LDSP: Which would you rather have on your roof, Rudolph or Frosty? 

Gussie: Rudolph. The idea of a possessed snowman on the roof is creepy. Haven’t you seen Christmas With the Kranks?

LDSP: Yes, I have. I totally agree! Which of The Christmas Carol movies is your favorite? 

Gussie: I love The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Our family watches it every year.

LDSP: Thanks for dropping by the blog, Gussie. It's been nice getting to know you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Checkin’ It Twice by Michael Young

Excerpt from Checkin’ It Twice

He looked down and thought how his stomach was more like a half-deflated balloon than a bowl full of jelly, and his nose more black cherry than maraschino.

His job gave him every reason to feel jolly: perfect job security, cheerful co-workers, state of the art technology, travel to exotic places, and unlimited hot cocoa. But today the calendar read November 25th. The most dreaded deadline of the year was today: the finalization of the Naughty List, based on this year’s deeds.

Sure, he could see kids when they were sleeping and know when they were awake. He knew if they were bad or good with the help of his monitoring elves. It was just so hard to make the final decisions. Though most people assumed he checked the list only twice, he often agonized over it for weeks, checking and rechecking it.

There was the regular Naughty List, which was bad enough. Then there was the Chronically Naughty List, where only the naughtiest appeared. Those on the second list risked being
permanently banned from Christmas privileges, with only coal to look forward to for the rest of their lives.

St. Nick didn’t like having to put anyone on that list. But, rules were rules and he couldn’t break them without setting a bad example.

He stuffed his large girth into the tinsel-draped chair behind his desk, and picked up his candy-cane striped pen. The Naughty and Nice lists lay out in front of him, filled with names in calligraphy. Off to the side lay the third list, which held only one name. St. Nick’s eyebrows rose.

Several months ago, he had sent his elite elves to carry out interventions for each of those on the Chronically Naughty List. For those who remained after the interventions, he conducted a trial, with one elf as the prosecution and one as the defense.

Every year they had managed to shrink the last list considerably by the middle of November, but he had not expected this. A single name. “Dallin J. Snark,” read St. Nick. “How can we get you off this list?” There was nothing to do but conduct the trial. He’d have to call on Amras and Nerwen, his most experienced and talented elite elves.

Foreign Exchange by Teresa G. Osgood

Excerpt from Foreign Exchange

It was a dark and stormy night. I know, that’s what they all say. Still, the rain pelted the bare trees unmercifully, and the streetlights had been on since three in the afternoon. There was no other way to describe it.

Well, I could also say it was cold. The wind that blew the rain in nearly sideways gusts was a typical moist Mid-Atlantic howler, the kind that makes you feel like your parka is a colander, and your thermal underwear might as well be cheesecloth. But I couldn’t really feel the chill, squashed as I was in the back seat of Dad’s hatchback with my little brother, Jimmy, my big brother, Matt, and Rolf, the German exchange student. Our breath was steaming up the windows, and the air was stale with sweat. Didn’t Rolf ever use deodorant? Most of the guys in my sixth grade class smelled better than he did.

I could also say it was Christmas Eve, but that would give you the wrong impression entirely. There were no snowflakes, no sleigh bells, and there was precious little goodwill in the back seat of that car.

“Paul’s on my side,” Jimmy whined, shoving me toward Rolf. I pushed back, but there wasn’t room for any of us to budge.

Dad sighed. “Can’t we all be on the same side?”

Usually, when we all went out together, we took Mom’s Oldsmobile. Jimmy sat in the middle of the bench seat in front, and I was stuck straddling the hump in back. We had clambered into the Olds that evening, laden with plates of cookies that we weren’t supposed to eat, and dutifully buckled up.

“Is everyone buckled?” Dad called, then turned the key.


“Oh, no.” Dad tried again.

“Do we need to jump-start it, dear?” Mom asked.

“No, it’s the starter. This car is not going anywhere tonight.”

Matt started to look hopeful.

“Then we’ll have to take your car,” Mom decided.

Jimmy couldn’t sit on the gearshift, of course, so he squeezed into the narrow confines of the back of the Honda with the rest of us. It was sort of a relief whenever the car stopped and we spilled out into the night, sloshing up to someone’s front door to give them our goodies. I would have been just as happy to not stand there singing in the rain, before we handed them over. That was our tradition, though. Rolf loved it, and sang loud enough to cover for a couple of us, so Matt kept his cracking voice down. I was just lazy and mumbled along.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Slushballs by Janice Sperry

Excerpt from Slushballs 

It wasn’t just a snowball. It was a dirty slushball. And it hit me on the ear. Slush oozed under my fuzzy pink scarf and down my shirt. I screamed and yanked the slushy scarf off my neck.

Jimmy Torbell laughed.

I glared at him while I used the dry end of the scarf to clean the icky slush off the side of my face and neck. “I hate you, Jimmy Torbell. You’re such a jerk.”

Jimmy stuck his tongue out, which was so very juvenile. I didn’t really expect any better from a nine-year-old boy. “I know you are, but what am I?” he replied.

I stomped my foot, but I knew better than to answer his taunts. His chappy red hands were reaching for more slush. I ran.

“You run like a girl,” he yelled.

I turned around to inform him that I was a girl and he hit me in the mouth with another slushball before I could speak. Gross. I spit the slushball out. My mother taught me that every girl is a princess and I should be a proper lady, but princesses and ladies don’t have to deal with slushballs. I ran and hit him in the chest with my head. He fell on the pile of snow between our driveways. I was cramming snow in his face when my brother, Matt, dragged me off and carried me inside, kicking and screaming.

My mother was disappointed, but I was tired of Jimmy’s slushballs. They were cold and filthy and my favorite scarf was too dirty to wear on the last day of school before Christmas break.

“Megan, what possessed you to tackle Jimmy and mash snow in his face?” Mom asked. It sounded like a bad thing, the way she put it.

“He hit me in the ear and in the mouth with a slushball,” I told my wet socks.

“Jimmy is having a rough time right now.”

I rolled my eyes. “I know. I know. His dad lost his job. They have to move. Blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t give him an excuse to be mean. Plus, he gets to move in with his grandparents which might as well be heaven.”

Mom closed her eyes. I could tell she was counting because her lips twitched. “You are older than Jimmy.”

“By a year. I was teaching him a life lesson,” I said. “If he doesn’t learn it from me, he’ll learn it from someone even older. And bigger.” I almost added meaner, but I didn’t want to push my luck.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fishing Buddy by Rob Smales

Excerpt from Fishing Buddy

Bill pulled his sled through the darkness, his cleats clicking and crunching on the ice as he made his way across the frozen lake. Above, high cloud cover blocked out the starry sky. Up ahead, a small fire was a bright spot in the night, its light an unexpected beacon to Bill’s destination.

Well, thought Bill, I guess I’ll have some company out here. And maybe I won’t even have to make my own fire!

He aimed his headlamp at the distant bright spot and clicked his way through the gloom.

When he arrived at the fire he could see the other man’s set-up. A small folding camp-stool sat in front of the cheery little fire, with a pile of collected firewood lying on the ice next to it. There was a big, antique-looking sled, the kind with runners, with the man’s equipment box attached to the top. Lying on the ice in front of the sled was a gas-powered auger, and spread out across the ice in an “X” pattern were the man’s traps, about twenty feet apart from each other. Each one had a small light attached to it so that he could see when they went off in the dark.

Sitting on the camp-stool in front of the fire was a big man. Okay, Bill thought, he’s a fat man, but big is the PC term nowadays.

“Hello there, neighbor!” Bill called as he approached.

“Greetings and salutations, fellow fisherman!” the man called back, in a deep, jolly voice.

“Mind if I set up near you? This is one of my favorite spots.”

“Not at all!” came the booming reply. “There’s plenty of lake left, and if you pull up a chair I think you’ll find that even I can’t use all this fire by myself!”

The man rose ponderously to his feet, tall as well as wide, and came a few steps closer, his own cleats crunching on the ice. As he leaned forward to direct his gaze toward Bill’s equipment, his face came within the circle of light thrown by Bill’s headlamp. Bill could see that the man had a ruddy face framed by thick white hair and a matching bushy beard. While his body was clad in a red suit of state-of-the-art ‘Arctic Armor’, he had an old-fashioned stocking cap on his head complete with a white tassel!

“It’s getting late, friend,” the fellow said. “Why don’t you use my auger to punch some holes? It’ll be faster than your hand auger, and the faster you get those traps in, the faster we can settle in by that fire to swap fish stories. If you like, you just tell me where you want the holes, and I’ll punch ‘em while you start setting up traps.”

Bill looked out at the dark ice and pointed where he intended to set his holes.

“Deal!” he said. He stripped off one glove and held out a hand.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas Bus by LeeAnn Setzer

Excerpt from Christmas Bus

The hook bit into the plaster, and Bill swore under his breath as white dust rained onto his glasses and a large chip shattered on the floor. This corner of the ceiling, over the check-in desk, gave him trouble every year.

“It looks pretty, Bill,” said Karma, the day clerk. The string of lights threatening to fall on her head cast shifting rainbows over her face. She’d outlasted most of the perky college students he hired. Within a month or two at the Hotel Williams—the “Hotel Bill,” as the long-term residents called it—new desk clerks usually saw more of the real world than they cared to. But Karma had stayed two years.

The easy-listening station finished “White Christmas” and started “From a Distance.”

Bill snorted. “Whitney Houston?”

“Bette Midler,” Karma corrected. “I hate this song.”

“Yeah, me too.” Bill ducked to avoid hitting his head on the curved place where the ceiling met the wall. The Hotel Williams was nearly a hundred years old, and the ceilings arched inward. It looked like it might have been a nice place half a century before, but now it was the worst flophouse in the city. Someone had redecorated in the 70s, with dark, chunky furniture. Luckily, chunky meant sturdy. Even heated domestic arguments only dinged the already-dinged finish.

To Bill’s eye, the blasted place always looked too dark. No matter where he installed lights or placed lamps, shadows muddied the edges, same as the traffic patterns in the carpet, or the grime around the windows. The shadows were ground in. Every Christmas he played with lights, but he could never get rid of the shadows.

“You believe that, Karma?” Bill asked, jerking his head at the radio as he crackled and popped his way down the ladder.

She looked up from the cleaning schedule. “Come again?”

“The song. You think we look all shiny and pretty from where God sits?”

“The gospel according to Bette Midler?” She sniffed. “God has better eyesight than that. He sees sparrows.”

Two blue eyes behind wire glasses and a head of wispy gray hair appeared behind the counter. Bill jumped. He hadn’t realized Agnes had crept up on them. “I rode the Christmas bus!” she crowed.

“Great, Agnes!” Karma said. “Was it worth the eight bucks?” Some entrepreneur was selling double-decker bus tours of the lighted downtown.

“Got off at the library,” Agnes answered. “Drug conviction in room 212.” Agnes spent most days spying on the guests and researching their criminal records on the library Internet.

“When?” Bill asked.

The blue eyes narrowed. “1972.”

Bill nodded solemnly. “I’ll keep an eye on him.” Every couple of months, Agnes’ information came in handy. Even paranoids could have actual scary neighbors—especially at the Hotel Williams.