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.

Broken Things by Angie Lofthouse

Excerpt from Broken Things

Sometime during the evening, the gentle Christmas Eve snowfall turned into a full-fledged blizzard. Kendall lifted the kitchen curtains and watched the riot of blowing snow obscure the Christmas lights on the pine trees. No way could the Belnaps drive home in this.

She finished drying the last of the dishes and stepped back into the big family room just in time to hear her mother say, “You’ll have to stay here tonight. It’ll blow over by tomorrow. No,” she held up her hand to ward off Sister Belnap’s protest. “It’s no trouble for us. There’s plenty of room. I couldn’t live with myself if I let you drive down the canyon in this weather.”

For the hundredth time that evening, Kendall’s eyes strayed to Patrick Belnap. He was looking at her. She quickly turned her attention to a fascinating glass ball on the Christmas tree. She couldn’t help watching him from the corner of her eye. They’d known each other for practically their entire lives. Two years ago, he’d left for a mission a short, acne-covered teenager, and now he was back a tall, handsome man with a spirit of confidence and goodness about him that made Kendall want to shy away from him like a vampire away from a cross. He had been one of her best friends, but now he looked like a stake president in the making. She didn’t know what a sinner like herself could say to him.

Kendall moved around to the back of the tree, away from her parents, away from the constant reproach of her sisters and brothers-in-law with their perfect temple marriages, away from Patrick’s beautiful brown eyes.

Or so she thought. But Patrick came and stood beside her behind the tree. “Hey, Kendall.”

“Looks like you’re stuck with us,” she said and inched toward the wall.

“I don’t mind.” He smiled. “Why have you been avoiding me all night?”

“I haven’t,” she said.

“Then why are you hiding back behind the Christmas tree? I know you better than that.”

Kendall fiddled with a bit of tinsel. You don’t know me at all. “I’ve changed, I guess.”

“Not that much.”

Yes, that much. She moved an ornament to a different branch. Her heart felt too heavy to hold in her chest.

“I’ve really looked forward to seeing you again.”

Oh, please don’t say that. She turned around and tried to look neutral. “I’m sorry, Patrick. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I think it’s great to see you again. You look great.” She stopped. “I just feel…awkward.”

“Because of what happened with your fiancĂ©?”

“Shane.” Shame crashed like a flood through her chest. She stepped back and accidentally brushed an ornament off the tree with her shoulder. It smashed on the wood floor into half a dozen pieces.

“Oh, no.” Kendall knelt on the floor and picked up the broken pieces with shaking hands. It was a figurine of a little Christmas caroler in a red hat and mittens. Her grandmother had given it to her years ago. Tears brimmed in her eyes. “It’s ruined.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gifts from Jesus by Kasey Eyre

Excerpt from Gifts from Jesus

Savanna Clark winced as she flipped through the stack of bills on her desk and compared them with the amount available in her checking account. The numbers didn’t add up. Clicking her mouse, she reluctantly transferred money from their dwindling savings account to cover the bills. After writing checks and getting everything ready for the mailbox, she pushed herself up from the desk and wandered into the kitchen.

Noticing the snowy winter scene on the calendar, Savanna counted only ten days until Christmas. Here in Las Vegas it didn’t even feel like Christmas. The sun was shining brightly, and some of the neighbors still had green grass and a rainbow of flowers in their yards. She frowned, disappointed in herself for not having more Christmas spirit this year. She didn’t sign up to help at the school for the holiday parties or send out the annual Clark Christmas card. She hadn’t even baked any Christmas goodies.

Usually, Savanna had Christmas planned out months in advance. Gifts were purchased and wrapped well before Thanksgiving, covered in old blankets and hidden away in her closet where her curious children couldn’t find them. She always planned a holiday party for their friends and loved giving gifts to neighbors. But the past two years had changed all that. Because construction work had slowed, her husband had received several pay cuts at work. Last Christmas had been small, with simple gifts and less elaborate celebrating, but it had still been enjoyable. She was worried about this year, though. There was no longer enough money for anything extra, even gifts. Tears of frustration pricked her blue eyes as she thought about her two children waking up Christmas morning to no gifts under the tree.

Savanna shook her head and pursed her lips. She was not going to cry. Instead, she looped her long, brown hair into a messy ponytail and started cleaning to take her mind off their money, or lack of it. But, as she tidied the kitchen and emptied the dishwasher a bitter childhood memory entered her mind. It’s just like the Christmas when I was nine. That year all I got were hand-me-down clothes and books from my cousin.

The sound of the front door closing startled Savanna. She checked the clock. It was too early for the kids to come home from school.

Drying her hands on a dish towel, Savanna walked through the kitchen into the living room. She found her husband slumped over on the couch, his head resting in his hands.

“Michael, why are you home so early? Are you sick?”

Michael looked up at his wife and shook his head. “There’s still no work. We all got sent home early with half a paycheck. We’ll see if I still have a job after Christmas.”

Substitute Santa by Gussie Fick

Excerpt from Substitute Santa

The cell phone vibrated in Kurt’s pocket. He grabbed it before the Pink Panther theme blasted out in the candlelit dining room. “Yeah,” he answered, too rushed to check the caller ID. He was surprised to hear his wife’s voice.

“Are you busy?” Courtney asked.

“I’m always busy.” Kurt managed the Chez Henri, a black-tie restaurant in Park City.

“You have to come to the ward party tonight. Bishop Nielson needs a Santa. The fellow from second ward got sick at the last minute.”

“What?” Kurt had forgotten all about the ward Christmas party tonight. “That’s impossible.”

“I told Bishop Nielson you’d do it. He’s desperate.”

Kurt felt his blood pressure rise. It was Christmas Eve and the diners were in a holiday mood. “I’ve got a restaurant to run.”

“Tell that to the bishop.”

Kurt knew he’d lost the argument. “All right. When do I have to be there?”

“Ten minutes ago. The program’s already started.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Third Strike Christmas by Brian C. Ricks

Excerpt from Third Strike Christmas

Kevin was on his third strike this Christmas, and he knew he was in trouble. He blamed it on those charming jewelry commercials that start airing after Thanksgiving. It’s early Christmas morning. Prince Charming and Perfect Hair are sitting under a large tree in their freshly pressed red pajamas. It looks like all the presents have been opened, but no—Prince Charming whisks out a small box with a red bow. Perfect Hair’s eyes glimmer. Charming opens it. Hair gasps. They hug. Then they kiss. 365 more days of marital happiness are guaranteed because Prince Charming brought out the perfect present on Christmas morning.

For twenty-five years Kevin was indoctrinated with the idea that Prince Charming husbands always produced the perfect surprise on Christmas morning. No worries, he mused as December approached a few months after his wedding. I can cook up that perfect open-gasp-hug-kiss moment easy. 

Deeply in debt for dental school, he and his wife Katie stretched their budget and gave themselves twenty dollars to spend on each other. The visit to the jewelry store and the chuckle of the employee—Son, we don’t sell anything for less than two hundred dollars—had left him stumped, but nonetheless confident.

His break came two weeks before the big day when Katie ripped her favorite A-line dress with her violin case after coming home from church on Sunday. Kevin didn’t know what exactly made a dress an A-line, but he hatched a plan. Kevin had a sister in town who owned a sewing machine—he and his sister would make a new dress for Katie.

The good news was that Rachel, his sister, knew what an A-line dress was and had a pattern. The bad news was that twenty dollars didn’t go far at a fabric store. Kevin managed to get the very end of a roll that was mispriced and, with the help of two coupons and a growing line of increasingly impatient holiday shoppers behind him, he was shooed out of the fabric store with enough fabric for the dress.

At least, he thought it was enough fabric. Rachel said two yards wasn’t enough to make a skirt, not to mention a dress. Nor did she seem to think that one hundred percent wool was the right fabric. But Kevin was insistent that they try—It’s our first Christmas, we have to try!—and they spent a whole afternoon sewing. They had barely finished the bodice when Kevin had to go, but Rachel promised she could finish it on her own.

Two days before Christmas Kevin picked up the already wrapped dress from his sister. “It turned out beautifully,” Rachel insisted. “Katie will love it.”

Christmas Stash by Jennifer Ricks

Excerpt from Christmas Stash

"But why would Jeremy’s boss do such a thing?” Mom shook her head.

“Oh, it’s simple,” Claire said as she pinned up another section of the garland. “Eat and be eaten, you know,” she gave a significant nod, her eyebrows arched high.

“But will he really be able to find a new position?”

“Don’t worry about that,” Claire responded merrily. Her swollen belly jiggled to and fro as she bustled with some ribbons. “Jeremy will be snatched up in no time.”

“But, dear,” Mom said with concern, “it’s got to be before—”

“Stop worrying, Mom!” Claire laughed. “I’m sure we’ll just have time to get hired—somewhere—and find a new house—someplace—before little Isla joins us.”

Mom’s lips were still a thin line, but she didn’t voice any more doubts.

“Angie!” Claire set down the figurines she was arranging on the mantel and hurried to her sister. “You’ve got it all wrong!”

“What are you talking about?” Angie countered.

“You’re supposed to do the advent counting down, not up.” Claire pulled the tole-painted pieces from Angie’s hand and began rearranging them the other way.

“But this way you just think of the date,” Angie protested.

Claire ignored her. “There,” she said, stepping back and smiling, the advent numbers beautifully arranged counting down. “Now you can turn them to today.” Claire waddled back to the box of decorations to select her next prey.

“Christmas Nazi,” Angie muttered as she walked out of the living room toward the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh by Weston Elliott

Excerpt from Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

Every bulb on every tree stabbed at Jack’s bloodshot eyes like they were being poked with sharp sticks. Every other night of the year he’d slept in the comfortable, incognito darkness of the downtown park. A few months ago, someone had taken it to mind that the old dump needed sprucing up, seeing as how it was only a couple of blocks from the new, glittering downtown. First, they’d started up a farmer’s-slash-flea market every weekend. Then when winter hit, they brought in a bit of T.L.C. for the season.

As if throwing some lights on a few trees is gonna make the world’s problems go away, Jack thought, then growled at himself. Truth was he’d enjoyed the lights for the first two or three nights. Then again, he’d been on a good buzz then, and a few hits off a bottle hidden in a brown paper sack made everything look better. No, the world didn’t get any kinder, nor the people in it, but the slow burn of alcohol in his guts made him just not care.

Tonight he was too ripping sober to think anything in the world was good or kind. The painful truths of life came into sharp focus when he actually had the mind to think about them. That was probably why he’d stayed pretty well sloshed for the last fifteen years. Right this minute, all he could think about was how to get his hands on another bottle of anything that could be called ‘rot-gut,’ and sink himself back into the comfortable, hellfire pit of drunkenness.

A couple strolled hand in hand down the sidewalk and Jack held out a shaking hand. They were both well-dressed, well groomed, and from the names printed on the sides of the shopping bags they carried, they obviously had money.

“Got any change you could spare?” he asked, the words grating on his soul. Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, he’d actually had some pride. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like, but every once in a while—usually when he was forced into involuntary soberness—that pride reared its head to torment him. Once, way back before the current ice age, he’d had a life with all the trimmings.

The young woman leaned closer to her companion, who gave Jack a dirty look, pulled his wife closer to his side, and hurried past. Three steps on the other side of him, they stopped, and the young woman leaned her face close to the young man’s ear. The man turned around, leaving her there, and stepped toward Jack, pulling his wallet from his pocket.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, slipping something into Jack’s hand. Saying nothing more, he turned back to the woman who smiled broadly at him. They walked off arm in arm, no doubt happy with themselves for their Christmas generosity.

Let ‘em be smug. Jack didn’t care, especially after he unfolded the bills and found three twenties in his hand. That would buy a nice bottle or two.

Milkshakes and Mittens by Brenda J. Anderson

Excerpt from Milkshakes and Mittens

Snow flurries followed Natasha Collins inside the small building that housed the Movie Shack, a modest grill combined with the town's only movie rental store. A sparse collection of movies lined the walls, which were decorated with various handmade trinkets for sale. Natasha stepped past a display of children's animated shows and up to the worn counter separating the main room from the small kitchen in the back. A petite woman in her late thirties dried her hands with a towel and smiled at Natasha.

“Afternoon, Ms. Collins. What can I get you today?”

“Hello, Jaleen. Vanilla today, I think, with a hint of cinnamon.” Natasha watched as Jaleen White, one of few neighbors she’d met in her neighborhood, spun around to begin assembling her milkshake. Her full brown curls bounced as she worked. Reaching up to pat her own graying blonde tresses, Natasha pursed her lips. Adjusting to small town life in northern Nevada had been easier than accepting the intrusion of these gray hairs.

“Here you are.” Jaleen set the milkshake on the counter. Natasha reached in her purse and pulled out a couple of bills, placing them on the counter for Jaleen. She picked up the shake, but thoughts of the cold weather waiting outside kept her from moving toward the door.

“I don't know why I buy these shakes when it's so cold outside. Habit, I guess. Never was quite so cold in Phoenix this time of year.”

“Sunshine all the year round?” Jaleen asked as she dried some dishes.

Natasha nodded. “Pretty much. Winters there are more like late spring here.”

“Mother Nature definitely takes her time warming things up here. I hope you've got plenty of warm clothes.”

“Me, too!” Natasha laughed. “How are those girls of yours doing?”

Jaleen bit her lip and looked down at a stain on the countertop. “Good.” She paused, “I suppose you heard that Kelly's pregnant.”

“Oh, no, I hadn't. I'm so sorry.” Kelly was the oldest of Jaleen’s seven children and barely out of high school. Natasha’s heart ached for both Jaleen and Kelly.

Angry tears slipped down Jaleen's nose. “The father's run off. I guess he was one of those workers they bus in from the city to work at the casinos. Hasn't been back in nearly a month, just after Kelly found out.”

Natasha set her milkshake down. “Oh, Jaleen. Come 'round here so I can give you a proper hug.” She wrapped her arms around the younger woman running her hands up and down her back as Jaleen allowed herself a short sob.

“I'm okay,” she said, as she pulled out of Natasha’s embrace and took a step back, quickly wiping the tears from her cheeks.

Sensing Jaleen's embarrassment, Natasha searched for a way to change the subject and lighten the mood. She spotted Jaleen's black suede boots.

“Oh my, those are lovely boots.”

A faint smile lit Jaleen's features, and she propped her right foot up on the barstool right next to Natasha. “Yes, they are quite nice. Took nearly a year of saving to buy them, so I don't wear them too much. I thought maybe today they'd cheer me up.”

Natasha reached over and fingered the soft fringes of suede dangling from the cuffs of the boots. “Beautiful. Looks like we might wear the same size.” She paused a moment, then continued, “I used to dream about boots like these when I was a little girl. We didn't have the money then. When I grew up and starting teaching, they just didn't seem practical anymore.” She stood up and patted Jaleen's arm. “You wear them well.”

“Thanks.” Jaleen gestured toward the kitchen. “I'd better get back to work. Football practice is out soon, and I need to get some burgers grilling. Those teenage boys sure can eat a lot.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Real Magic by LisaAnn Turner

Excerpt from The Real Magic

Stephen stood in the doorway, watching his little girl kneeling before the Christmas tree. The sparkling array of colorful lights cast an ethereal glow around her brown hair. Daddy’s little angel, that’s what Jane looked like. From her Christmas light halo to her long white nightgown, she fit the picture beautifully.

He moved to take a step toward her, wanting to share one brief moment of her innocent anticipation of the coming holiday, but noticed her hands balled into fists at her side and stopped. She only made fists when she was angry. It was the first tell she’d developed as a small child. Her bright red face and wailing lips had faded as she’d gained the self-control and composure of a ten-year-old, but her fists had remained the same.

Jane’s head was bowed low as she examined a Santa ornament. Stephen took a long slow breath and closed his eyes, trying to think of what he was going to do. He had hoped she wouldn’t learn the truth about Santa for at least another year.

Before he had a chance to compose an explanation, Jane stood and turned, freezing when she saw him. Her eyes sparkled with a combination of the moist residue riming her lower lids and the reflection of the lights from the Christmas tree. She watched him silently, her brow creased in what looked like disappointment and betrayal. His stomach tied in knots at the sight. This was going to be a lot harder than he’d expected.

With Wondering Awe by Jennifer Carson Shelton

Excerpt from With Wondering Awe

Becky Manning found a colorfully wrapped box topped with a red bow in the back of her closet. Forgetting about what she was searching for, she retrieved the box and read the tag: To Sarah, From Becky. A tear rolled down her cheek. She'd forgotten all about last year's Christmas gift. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented her from giving this gift to her sister. The biggest one was Sarah's passing.

“What's that?”

Becky spun around, nearly dropping the box. Her fourteen-year-old brother, Jared, stood beside her bed.

“What are you doing in here?”

“Mom wants us all in the living room.”

Becky sighed and stepped out of the closet. She placed the box on her desk and faced her brother.

“What does she want?”

Jared shrugged, more interested in the package now than the message he’d just delivered. “What's that?”

“A present.”

Jared read the name. “Why did you get a present for Sarah? She's dead.”

Her eyes shimmered with tears. She buried her face in her hands. Jared stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do.

“Becky? I—I'm sorry.” He patted her shoulder, looking relieved when her tears subsided.

Becky sniffed and looked at her brother. “It's okay, Jared. I just miss her.”

“Me, too. Is that why you got her a gift?”

“Actually, I got her this last year, but she never got a chance to open it.” Jared nodded. Becky put an arm around him. “Let's go see what Mom wants.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

The 244th Ornament by Jennifer Ricks

Excerpt from The Two Hundred Forty-fourth Ornament

Two hundred and forty-three glass ornaments of all colors and sizes adorned Kayley’s Christmas tree. Some were shiny Christmas red and gold. Some were frosted with sparkling paint. A few were clear with dainty pictures or patterns inside. Rich plums, crisp ice blues, even a few warm orange and yellow ones—all glowing and blinking like a Christmas miracle.

It was an obsession. Kayley knew that well enough. Hadn’t her mother complained about it for years? Even in high school, Kayley couldn’t resist picking up a box of shimmering orbs from the clearance aisle of the department store.

Kayley couldn’t quite put her finger on why she loved glass Christmas ornaments so much. She loved their variety in color and luminance. She loved the sparkle. She loved that she never could choose a favorite piece from her collection. Maybe some people felt that way about flowers in their garden or books they’d read. But Kayley’s heart belonged to her collection of Christmas decorations.

Now she owned two hundred and forty-three beautiful Christmas ornaments. She also had her own townhouse and her own Christmas tree , so Mom couldn’t complain about the ornament collection anymore, or the boxes that stored them for the other eleven months of the year. Likewise, Kayley didn’t need to complain about all the frumpy, homemade ornaments on her parents’ artificial tree. She had her own holiday space to decorate with her own taste, and that’s just what she wanted. Kayley sat back on her heels to see the effect of her last sprig of tinsel and took in a deep breath of fresh pine. Perfection.

Christmas was Kayley’s favorite time of year. It meant a two-week vacation from teaching. It meant crunchy snow and melted marshmallows in warm cups of rich cocoa. It meant a tangible excitement in her second-grade classroom that drove her crazy and giddy all at the same time. It meant talking of Santa Claus and wearing red and listening to old-time holiday favorites on the radio. It meant a big enough holiday—a whole season in fact—that it filled up her time and she didn’t have to worry about anything else in her life. Or anything that her life lacked.

The Monday of the last week of school, Kayley had started easing into what she liked to call “Holiday Week.” The kids were too excited for vacation to focus for the last five days, and Kayley was an experienced teacher who knew when to give up. For the past three years, she had observed Holiday Week in her classroom. She scoured all her materials and the Internet to find enough “review” activities to cover most of the week—review activities with a Christmas theme. Worksheets with trees and holly and snowmen, history excerpts of events that happened in December (thank you, George Washington), and even science demonstrations about the water cycle and snow. The spelling list for the week consisted of evergreen, sleigh, reindeer, tinsel, carol, pumpkin, and (just to be more culturally diverse) dreidel. Ironically, Kayley never did any Holiday Week activities about Christmas ornaments. Her exquisite collection was something she kept at home and to herself.

The week had gone as Kayley had planned—borderline mayhem the entire time. No one wanted to stay in their seats. Everyone wanted to compare Christmas lists. Crude versions of the most popular Christmas songs spread around the school to be snickered at in corners. And someone was told that Santa Claus wasn’t real.

A Soldier's Christmas by Amie Borst

Excerpt from A Soldier's Christmas

On a cold winter night, Anna sat alone in a hospital room holding her newborn son. She pressed her lips to his sweet head as she rocked him in her arms.

“I’d sing you a lullaby, my love, if I had a song. But my voice is weak and I have no rhythm.” Anna stroked her baby’s face, then gazed out the darkened window, a longing in her eyes. The world around her seemed distant and lonley, and sounds were soft and muted—as if she were wrapped up tight in cotton.


Anna gazed into the face of her baby and a tear rolled down her cheek. “In the morning, we’ll go home and you’ll meet your daddy,” she said. Then she placed him in the bassinette and lay down to sleep.

Morning came much too quickly. When the sun’s rays seeped into the room, Anna gathered her infant son and their belongings, and checked out of the hospital. She drove the short miles to her small home, the home she shared—had shared—with her husband. A Christmas wreath hung on the door, and baskets of flowers covered the front steps. She was grateful for the thoughts and wishes, but she left them in place. She couldn’t bear to read the sentiments right now.

Inside, she noticed the undecorated tree and the boxes of ornaments still strewn on the floor. The room was so still, so silent.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Meet Rob Smales

Rob is the author of Fishing Buddy. He has also had stories published online and in anthologies, Scarlet Whispers and The Ghost IS the Machine. You can read some of Rob's stories at his website, The Storyteller.

LDSP: Hi, Rob. Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? 

Rob: I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts—sometimes known as “the Witch City.” It's a place that takes Halloween quite seriously, so it's no wonder, really, that I started writing ghost stories.

LDSP: True. I've been there. Once. A long, long time ago. Loved it. What are your favorite hobbies? 

Rob: Fishing.

LDSP:  Of course, it is! I could have guessed that one! 

Rob: I have both a kayak and a canoe, and though they are a lot of fun they're just a means to an end: Getting to where the fish are!

LDSP: Do you have any fun fish stories? 

Rob: Probably too many to count, certainly too many to relate here. Can I thumbnail some of them?

LDSP: Sure!

Rob: Hmm, I once caught one small trout using three separate traps, all the the same time, while ice fishing.

LDSP: Three traps for one little fish? That's not a big fish tale, is it?

Rob: Let me try again...I once went to find out if the ice was thick enough to walk on, only to find that it definitely was not, with splashy results.

LDSP: Now, that's one that could be expanded to a story. Got any non-fish stories?

Rob: While camping one year my young son would not put down the shovel once he found out what a latrine was. No one was digging his hole but him!

LDSP: I can picture that one! When and why did you begin writing? 

Rob: I started writing in the summer of 2010, at the age of 41. It seems I am a natural storyteller—my friends like to ask me about my day so they can sit back and listen to me, stuff like that. I had written a little in high school, but that was 25 years ago. My uncle suggested it to me quite strongly one night, and put the bug in my ear. A good friend of mine seconded his idea, and I wrote a few small things for her. She convinced me I should try … and now I'm hooked!

LDSP: I'm glad you are. I loved your story, Fishing Buddy. When did you first consider yourself a "real" writer? 

Rob: I guess it was as soon as I figured out I liked it this much. As soon as I let someone else read what I had written and they got some enjoyment out of it, I knew I was a writer. Now I just have to convince myself I'm a good writer...

LDSP: Well, if Fishing Buddy is any indication, I think you can add "good" to your description. I knew on the first read that I wanted to include it in the anthology. Why did you decide to enter the LDS Publisher story contest? 

Rob: Well, I had this Christmas story, and my whole family liked it. I was already sending things out to try to get published, but everyone I was dealing with were horror publishers—not exactly the ideal audience for the particular story. I googled “Christmas story submissions,” and there was LDS Publisher, at the top of the list. The rest, as they say, is history.

LDSP: Yay, Google! Have you ever entered a contest before? Won anything? 

Rob: The first thing I ever wrote in a serious manner is a romantic comedy short story that is currently occupying a desk drawer until I think I have the chops to fix everything that is wrong with it and try to get it published. The second thing I wrote was a true fishing story called The Accidental Bass, and I wrote that to enter in a small contest on a hunting/fishing website, which I did win. That was a nice confidence-booster, I can tell you that!

LDSP: What inspired you to write Fishing Buddy? 

Rob:  I fish. I fish in the winter. It was getting near Christmas, and I suddenly found myself wondering what Santa might do to relax. He might fish … right?

LDSP: Definitely! Aside from the story Checkin' It Twice, do you have other published stories or books? 

Rob: I have a few stories published in various anthologies and periodicals, mostly in the horror genre. I do have a story, Justice, that is not horror in a book called Scarlet Whispers, a charitable anthology benefiting Hilltop Haven, an equine rescue and rehabilitation facility in Canada.

LDSP: That's cool! What are you working on now? 

Rob: At the moment I'm working on a small collection of my own stories, submitting short stories to a few anthologies out there, and preparing to edit the first draft of my first novel. It is, of course, a ghost story.

LDSP: Creepy! Do you see writing as a career? 

Rob: The short answer? Yes. Next question?

LDSP: Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Rob: Don't wait until you're in your 40's to start writing. Try it when you're young, and if you love it then stick with it. If you're already old, like me, and you're just starting out, my advice remains the same: stick with it. You'll get rejection letters—everyone does—but pay attention to what they say. You can learn almost as much about writing and the writing market from paying attention to your rejection slips as you can from a writing group. Take everything, both good and bad, as a learning experience.

LDSP: That is excellent advice. Let's talk about Christmas for a bit. What was your favorite Christmas gift? 

Rob: Favorite? I'm not sure. One of the most memorable, though, was the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. My father got it for me one year, then the next year he got me the omnibus edition with the second story in it. The next year it was the trilogy. Every year the book grew until I had one book with all five of the Hitchhiker's Guide stories in one volume. Then, the next year, he got it for me again.

LDSP: Funny! What are your Christmas favorites: Song? Tradition? Food? Game? 

Rob: My favorite Christmas food is, hands down, peanut butter balls. My mother has made them from scratch every year since I was quite small, giving them out to everyone who came to the house for Christmas. Now that I'm in my 40's and she's in her 60's, she doesn't make them anymore... except for one small batch. Just for me. Every year. Thanks, Mom.

LDSP: What’s your favorite part of Christmas? 

Rob: Watching my son open his gifts. That and the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version of The Little Drummer Boy. But mostly my son.

LDSP: What kinds of Christmas stories do you like best—funny Santa stories or touching Christ stories? 

Rob: I prefer funny. Who doesn't like to laugh?

LDSP: Good point. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 

Rob: Stephen King, but not for the obvious reasons (fame, fortune, etc.). Regardless of what he's writing, and whether or not you like his subject matter, he has a way of describing the characters in his stories that I've never seen duplicated. He will choose one thing, the way they walk for example, or their hands, and with a line or two about this seemingly odd choice he somehow gives you a mental picture of the character in question, their physicality, their character. He somehow describes them without describing them, and that is an impressive feat.

LDSP: I agree. Most of his books are too creepy for me. I'm not a horror fan, sorry. But the few I've read have been very well written. What book are you reading now? 

Rob: Dangers Untold. It's another anthology I have a story in, and I'm reading all the other stories in the book.

LDSP: Are there any new authors that have captured your interest? 

Rob: If you like the horror genre, look for a man named Jay Wilburn. He started writing, coincidentally, at about the same time I did, and not only does the fellow have quite an imagination, he has the writing skill to back it up. To date I have only read his short stories, but his first novel hit the stands recently, a book titled Loose Ends: A Zombie Novel. Keep your eye on this man. He's going places.

LDSP: Thanks for the tip. And thanks for stopping by. Have a great Christmas—and enjoy those peanut butter balls!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Meet LisaAnn Turner

LisaAnn Turner is the author of The Real Magic.

LDSP: Hi, LisaAnn. Let's start with an easy question. Who are you? 

LisaAnn: Good question. When I figure that out I’ll let you know.

LDSP: Oh. Maybe that wasn't an easy one. 

LisaAnn: No seriously, I haven’t figured that out completely but I’m on my way. Right now I think I should probably be institutionalized for multiple-personality disorder—my personalities ranging from stressed out college student to exhausted employee, and overwhelmed wife and mother.

LDSP: That's a lot on one person's plate! Do you have time for any hobbies? 

LisaAnn: I’m a sucker for a good strategy or time management game on the computer and I have to really limit myself or I can get carried away really easily. I also love to write stories…go figure. There’s nothing better than trying to translate my daydreams into words and watching as the world I’ve created in my head gets richer and more intricate and the characters more intriguing.

LDSP: Why did you decide to enter the LDS Publisher story contest? 

LisaAnn: I was looking for a purpose for my writing. It’s fun to let my imagination just run wild but sometimes I love to have a concrete reason for writing, as well as boundaries for what the story is about and when I have to have it completed. Nothing works quite like a deadline to get me to focus.

LDSP: I hear you! Deadlines work for me, too. What inspired you to write this particular Christmas story? 

LisaAnn: One of the most poignant memories from my childhood is the Christmas I discovered the truth behind Santa. I remember wondering where all the magic went and why I couldn’t figure out how to get it back. This story was my way of figuring out how to uncover what the “Real Magic” of Christmas is all about.

LDSP: Sounds like a pretty traumatic event. Tell me about it.

LisaAnn: A sibling (who shall remain nameless—though they know who they are) decided it would be fun to show me where all the presents were hidden. I was so sad to lose the gift of believing in Santa and set out to prevent that from happening to anyone else. At school every time someone attempted to convince a believer that Santa wasn’t real I would jump in and vehemently claim that he was as real as anything.

LDSP: Good for you! What’s your favorite part of Christmas?

LisaAnn: That’s easy. It’s the traditions and the spirit that permeates everything, from what the radio stations play to the way we treat each other. I wish this spirit of giving and love could bleed into the rest of the year. Can you imagine what kind of world we’d live in if the spirit of Christmas could exist all the time?

LDSP: That would be wonderful, indeed.

LisaAnn: Yes, it would. With traditions, there’s a predictability about Christmas that I love. I know exactly what we are going to eat for Christmas Eve dinner and when we will make and decorate our Gingerbread houses. It’s a holiday stuffed to the brim with fun and exciting things we only do once a year. There’s just so much to look forward to.

LDSP: Is there anything you could do to make your Christmas celebrations better?

LisaAnn: Definitely! Every year I try and find ways to incorporate Christ in the celebrations and every year I realize I haven’t done enough.

LDSP: Aside from the story in this book, do you have other published stories or books?

LisaAnn: Define published... No, not yet but I’m sure working on it.

LDSP: What are you working on now?

LisaAnn: A book I’ve been working on FOREVER. Every time I think I have the plot all figured out something throws a wrench in the story and I have to re-write everything. The story is getting better and better and I think I’m finally at a place where I’ve figured out most of the vital plot details. I hope.

LDSP: What’s your story  about?

LisaAnn: That’s for me to know and you to find out.

LisaAnn: Okay, I guess that's fair, being as I certainly keep a few secrets myself. 

LisaAnn: I just don’t feel comfortable publicly declaring what the story is about until it stops evolving. I’ve done that before and felt like a complete idiot when the story changed so much it was completely unrecognizable and didn’t match up at all with what I had said.

LDSP: I think every writer has experienced that at one time or another. Do you have any advice for new writers?

LisaAnn: Yes, I do. To coin a phrase from Genie from Disney’s Aladdin (in bumble bee form), “Beeee yourself.” There are so many people out there trying to tell everyone how to write and, quite frankly, all of them are wrong (well, not with the grammatical stuff). There is no one right way to craft a story. It’s an individual process that requires a lot of effort, patience, thick enough skin to take the criticisms and use them to your advantage, as well as the convictions to stick with it long enough to find success.

LDSP: Good advice! And speaking of genies, if you had three wishes what would they be?

LisaAnn: Wow, that’s a tricky one. I guess I’d ask for wisdom, patience, and a distaste for sugar. (I have an addition to sugar that I need some help with.) I know I’m not asking for anything really exciting or cool but these are the things I’m in desperate need of at this moment of my life. Ask me again in a few years and I’m sure it will be different—except the sugar part—I’m not sure how I’ll ever conquer that one.

LDSP: Well, don't look to me for help on that one. I have my own sugar issues. Maybe we should form a support group? Writers Addicted to Sugar Anonymous (WASA, for short).

LisaAnn:  *laughs*

LDSP: Okay. Maybe not. Thanks for stopping by Lisa and have a wonderful Christmas!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Christmas Capers Winners!

Our Christmas Capers Photo Contest on Facebook is over and the votes have been tallied.

Third Place: Elaine

Second Place: Shirley

These two ladies win the Release Day Goodies package
Checkin' It Twice ebook, Stolen Christmas ebook, Santa Bingo, Nativity Bingo, I Love Christmas! Activity Book.

First Place/Grand Prize: Kimberly

In addition to the Release Day Goodies Package, Kimberly also wins a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Didn't win? Didn't enter? 
You can still get the Release Day Goodies!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fall & Thanksgiving Facebook Covers

Yes, this is a Christmas site but it's not quite Christmas yet. Here are some fresh fall Facebook covers.

To use images, click on the image. A larger image should display. Right-click on that image and select "Save Image As..." Save to your computer, then upload to your site.

**Note: You may not post these images for distribution from your own website or blog, but you can link back here to share them with your friends.**

Pinecone & Fall Leaves


Golden Leaves

Leaf in Hand

Autumn Leaves 1

Autumn Leaves 2

Autumn on Mountain Stream

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Babies

Pumpkin Row

Pumpkin on Step

Pumpkin Patch

Vermillion Leaf

Red Leaves on Black

Red Leaves

Turkey Talk

Fall & Thanksgiving Profile Pics

Feel free to grab one of the profile images below and use it on your Facebook profile or page.

To use images, right click on the image. Select "View Image" to bring up the full-size image. Right-click on that image and select "Save Image As..." Save to your computer, then upload to your site.

New profile images will be added at the top of this post.

**Note: You may not post these images for distribution from your own website or blog, but you can link back here to share them with your friends.**

Thanksgiving Gourd

Pumpkin & Leaves

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Stem

Pumpkin and Wheel Rim

Christmas Facebook Profile Pics

Feel free to grab one of the profile images below and use it on your Facebook profile or page.

To use images, right click on the image. Select "View Image" to bring up the full-size image. Right-click on that image and select "Save Image As..." Save to your computer, then upload to your site.

New profile images will be added at the top of this post.

**Note: You may not post these images for distribution from your own website or blog, but you can link back here to share them with your friends.**

Checkin' It Twice


Magenta Ornament


Red Ornaments

Fat Santa Ornament

Father Christmas Ornament