An Announcement and a Party

LDSP1_300Earlier in the month I hinted that there were some changes coming and that I’d make a big announcement. Well, here it is.

I’m ending this blog.


Don’t panic! I’m leaving it up as a resource and I’ll be indexing it so that it will be easier to find information. But basically, things have changed and I’ve run out of things to say.

I started the blog in 2006, when I worked at a publishing company. Blogging was an attempt to help new writers who were completely stymied by the publishing process. By providing information and explanations, I hoped to prevent them from shooting themselves in the foot, so to speak.

I also hoped to make my life a little easier by reducing the number of completely inappropriate submissions I received from authors on a daily basis.

And it worked! It worked really well. And I’ve enjoyed watching the newbies who asked questions in the early days become successful published authors.

Over the past 7 years, the blog has changed a lot. It morphed from a free Blogger blog to this self-hosted site. The content changed from a simple question and answer format in the beginning, to include spotlights of new releases by LDS authors, guest posts by authors and other publishers, monthly book giveaways, story contests, and reading challenges.

My life has changed over the years, as well. I’ve left the day-to-day ranks of publishing. While I’m still actively involved in the  industry, I am no longer an acquisitions editor and therefore, no longer receive daily inspiration for blog posts. I’m also really busy in my new job and it’s been harder to find time to make the posts.

So after thinking about this for over a year, I’ve decided it’s time to archive this site and move on to other things—like the New LDS Fiction site.

A part of me is really sad about this. I’ll miss it. And so, to make me feel better about it, I need to celebrate with a party—the culmination of which will be a reveal of my true identity!

[Ha! You clicked the link, didn’t you? You thought I was going to tell you today? Nope. Not until Friday.]

Not that my true identity is a huge secret anymore. A lot of you sneaky readers have tricked me into revealing my identity. And I’ve really made no effort to hide my writing voice, so astute “listeners” who also know me in real life may have already made the connection. And then some of  you whom I confided in during the early years have blabbed. (Shame on you!)

But for the handful of readers who still don’t know who I am—or who only suspect my identity—I will reveal myself on Friday.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll reveal a hint every day.

And I’m giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card
to one lucky person who helps me spread the word
about the New LDS Fiction site!


To enter to win the gift card, use the Rafflecopter form below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

2012 Best Overall Book Cover Winners

Winner of the 2011 Readers’ Choice Best Book Cover
as voted by LDS Publisher blog readers

EpicTalesMisfitHeroThe Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero by Matt Peterson
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Angela D. Olsen
Cover Artist: Neil Robinson

Here is the award image that you may download for use on your website or blog.




Winner of the 2011 LDS Publisher’s Choice
Best Book Cover is…

EverneathEverneath by Brodi Ashton
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Cover Designer:

Here is your award image that you may download for use on your website or blog.



Congratulations! I’m excited to see the covers 2013 will bring.

2012 Genre Finalists Awards

Before I announce the overall 2012 Best Book Cover Winners, here is a recap of the genre finalists and the awards. Authors, publishers and cover designers may download the award image and upload it to your own blogs and/or websites, if desired. Right click on the image and select “Save Image As…” to save to your computer.


Readers’ Choice Genre Winners
(Click on the Genre link to see details about the cover.)

Athena by Heather B. Moore
General/Women’s Finalist


Carnival Girl by Sonja Herbert
Historical Finalist

Deadly Undertakings by Gregg Luke
Mystery/Suspense Finalist

Banana Split by Josi S. Kilpack
Cozy Mystery/Romantic Suspense Finalist

For What It’s Worth  by Karey White
Traditional Romance Finalist

Family By Design by Heather Justesen
Light/Comedic Romance Finalist

Dispirited by Luisa M. Perkins
Speculative Finalist

Witch Born by Amber Argyle
YA Speculative: Character Finalist

Everneath by Brodi Ashton
YA Speculative: Other Finalist

After Hello by Lisa Mangum
YA General Finalist

The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero by Matt Peterson
Children’s/Middle Grade Finalist


LDS Publisher’s Choice Genre Winners
(Click on the Genre link to see details about the cover. My comments
about each cover will be added soon.)

Athena by Heather B. Moore

General/Women’s Finalist

Carnival Girl by Sonja Herbert
Historical Finalist

Dead Running by Cami Checketts
Mystery/Suspense Finalist

Code Word by Traci Hunter Abramson
Cozy Mystery/Romantic Suspense Finalist

For What It’s Worth  by Karey White
Traditional Romance Finalist

The Reluctant Bachelorette by Rachael Anderson
Light/Comedic Romance Finalist
Dispirited by Luisa M. Perkins
Speculative Finalist

Bonded by Michelle Davidson Argyle
YA Speculative: Character Finalist

Everneath by Brodi Ashton
YA Speculative: Other Finalist

Altercation by Tamara Hart Heiner
YA General Finalist

Evertaster by Adam Glendon Sidwell
Children’s/Middle Grade Finalist

Take the Silver Award if your book was one of the five genre finalists, but is not on the list for Readers’ Choice or LDS Publisher’s Choice.


2012 Overall Best Book Cover

I’ve tallied up the votes in the genre categories and the finalists for 2012 Overall Best Book Cover (in alphabetical order) are:



The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero by Matt Peterson
Children’s/Middle Grade Finalist


A reminder: Please do NOT vote for your favorite author or story. Vote for the book cover that is most appealing to your eye.

Vote using the blue box below.

Voting ends at midnight, January 30th. Overall winner will be announced on January 31st.

I have already selected my winners and they will be announced on the 31st as well. Yes, it is possible for the same cover to win both the LDS Publisher award and the Readers’ Choice award. Next week I will post commentary about why each cover was selected for the contest.

*Sorry for the lapse in ability to vote. I’ve created a new poll that I think will let more than 100 votes be collected. If you voted using the previous Survey Monkey link, please do not vote again. Those votes WILL be counted. You’re on the honor code to only vote one time.


Vote for your overall favorite 2012 Book Cover from these genre finalists. free polls 

2012 Children/Middle Grade Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.

*Another highly competitive category. There are six covers for you to vote on.


Albrek’s Tomb by M.L. Forman
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Cover Designer:

I love the color of this book. It’s just…green. And gorgeous! I like the font choice for the title and the letters are differing sizes. It makes the title itself a piece of art. I also like the magic lights swishing around the dwarf. And I like that it’s a TOMB. I mean, if the book is called Albrek’s Tomb, the cover image should be a tomb, right?


Beyonders: Seeds of Rebellion by Brandon Mull
Publisher: Aladdin
Cover Designer: Lisa Vega?

I liked the first Beyonders cover, but I like this one even better. A sword fight where one guy is blindfolded? Intriguing. And you know this art work was created just for this story. The colors pop. The swords cut across the image, slicing it in half. The title almost gets lost in the image, but I don’t even care because the action pulls me to the book.


The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero by Matt Peterson
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Angela D. Olsen
Cover Artist: Neil Robinson

I like this cartoony/paper cut-out style. It’s different and fresh. It’s also the only non-fantasy cover in this category. I guess you can see where my taste runs. I love that the main character is front and center, with the bear and the storm behind him. I also love the other scouts shown. Caricature at its best!


Evertaster by Adam Glendon Sidwell
Publisher: Future House Publishing
Cover Designer: Goro Fujita

I haven’t read this book yet, but there is just something so haunting and intriguing about this cover. I like the style of the artwork, the use of light. I like that the title is prominent but doesn’t overshadow the artwork, and I like that the author’s name is tucked in under the title. For a book like this, and for grabbing the attention of middle grade readers, the author’s name is not nearly as important as the title and the image. As I had the various covers up on my computer screen side-by-side, my eyes just kept returning to this image. I could not NOT look at it. That’s why it got my vote in this category.


The Magicians’s Last Word by Julie Wright
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer:
Cover Art: Kevin Wasden

I love the almost retro look to this cover, particularly the two main characters. Sort of late 50s, early 60s feel to it. I’m probably telling my age here, but it made me all nostalgic. But does it work in 2012? Yes! I tested it out on some kids, ages 6 to 12. They loved it. Of course, their eyes went to the blue guy first, but they all said they liked the space suits the kids are wearing. They and I also liked the circuit board design and how it carried through on the internal pages of the book. The only downside for me is the silver gray title box. I might have moved that down toward the bottom of the cover.


 One Boy, No Water by Lehua Parker
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press
Cover Art: Corey Egbert

Remember the green cover? Well, this one is blue! I’m amazed by how much can be done with one color. I love it. I love the boy in the center, the Hawaiian frame around him, the water shark rising up to get him. I like the title in the oval at the top. I like the look of the font (although it loses points because I can’ tell what that first letter is…”N”?). And I like that splash of yellow. Great cover!

Click here to vote!

2012 YA General Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Cover Designer:
I like the elements of this cover. I like the background image—the colors and the fadedness of it. I like the red stripe with the author’s name and the red swirly thing off to the side. I like the photographs. I like the simple font choice of the title. But in many ways, this one has too many things to look at. It’s too busy and makes my eye jump around all over the place. Having read this book, I understand that this was most likely intentional. And as a big blurry unit, yes, it caught my eye in the bookstore and I picked it up for a closer look. That’s what a cover is supposed to do. But once I started looking at the individual elements, I was less captivated. It’s almost like it’s trying too hard. And yet…it still catches my eye every time I walk past it in a bookstore…

Altercation by Tamara Hart Heiner
Publisher: WiDo Publishing
Cover Designer:

This book cover is a perfect example of how much a cover can influence a reader’s decision to buy or read a book. Have you seen the first cover for this book? No? Click here to see it. Other than the coolness of the hand and the trees, there’s really nothing in that old cover that would make me give that book a second look. And while this cover doesn’t do much to develop the theme of the story or give you any hints as to what the story is about, it’s still 100% captivating to me! There is just so much action in that image, so much movement. I’m intrigued. And the straightforward title and author font frames it rather than distracts from it. And that is why I picked it as my winner.


The Breakaway by Michelle Davidson Argyle
Publisher: Rhemalda Publishing
Cover Designer: Melissa Williams

This was my very close second choice. There is just something so menacing about that man’s shadow on the wall behind this girl. I want to know the story behind it. I want to know what happens to her. I’m not sure the title font is a choice I would have gone with (it seems almost too light and fun for the image, which is what made this a close 2nd)  but I do like that it picked up the blue from her shirt and sort of ties it to the image. Great cover.


Finding June  by Shannen Crane Camp
Publisher: Sugar Coated Press
Cover Designer: Jackie Hicken

I love this cover. It is such a fun and colorful image and fun font. It just feels light and fresh and … fun! Yes, fun. I’ve read the book and it wasn’t what I expected from the cover, but it is still a great cover and it got my attention and held it for awhile. Sometimes I don’t like the current trend of cutting off heads from a cover image, but it worked for me in this one. I would, however, have chosen a plainer font for the author’s name.


What I Didn’t Say by Keary Taylor
Publisher: Keary Taylor
Cover Designer:

Yellow! I love it! I love the faces of these two people on this cover. They are so full of life and love and I want to know their story. Great way to set off the title with a spiral notebook—places us right in YA territory. Good font choices for both the title and the author’s name. Clean, simple, fresh.

Click here to vote!

2012 YA Speculative Covers: Other

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.

*These are covers that feature something other than the character’s face as the central design.

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Cover Designer:
This book came out in January 2012. I remember when I first saw it, it took my breath away! I couldn’t stop looking at it. I thought then that it would take a pretty exceptional cover to boot this one out as my overall favorite. And I was right. Okay, here’s what got me: 1) Color. Red and black, startling and captivating at the same time. And it’s not against the usual white background, but a creamy one. For me, that cream background make the red and black even more compelling. 2) The Image. Oh. My. Gosh! Look at that dress!! It swirls and curls all over, turning from red to grays. And the bottom of it looks like it’s turning into those roiling clouds of black and smoke. Like the girl is dissolving into the darkness below her. 3) The Title Font. Again, red. And gorgeous! And a work of art with that swirl. And…I just love, love, love it. And the author’s name? It’s there but it’s not at all obnoxious. I don’t even mind the little blurb because it fills up the space, and yet I can totally ignore it if I want to. And now, a FULL YEAR LATER, I still love this cover!!! Oh, and why does this book fit this category, rather than the character category? Because of the red dress. That’s the central image, not her face.
Publisher: Walnut Springs Press

Cover Designer:

This cover got a lot of nominations, which is why it’s here. Not that it doesn’t have some good things about it, I’m just not sure it would have made my list here because there are soooo many phenomenal covers in both YA speculative categories. But here is what I do like about this cover: the light coming out of the hands. That gives us the speculative feel. I also like that gear or cog or whatever in the background. I don’t know if this book has steampunk aspects to it, but it feels like it does. I also like the way the series title is minimized, while the book title is featured. I think that’s a good choice for the first book in a series by a lesser known author.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Cover Designer:

Again, RED! Red seems to be a theme this year—or at least color. The title font is okay. The font for the author’s name feels a little dated to me. The image is okay. But that red cloak. Yep. That is going to grab the eye of every YA-reading female that walks past it. For sure.
Publisher: Jacob Gowans

Cover Designer: Britta Peterson

I love the sci-fi feel of this cover. Everything about it gives you that feeling. The shading in the title font makes it pop out—high chrome. I have know idea what that star thingee is, but I love it. It contrasts well with the other colors, making it pop. I like the way it’s cutting into the white thingee and makes it look like it’s bleeding. Love it!
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Cover Designer:

An example of when less is more. I love the simplicity of this cover. I love the teal. The simplicity of the fonts. I love the image of the humingbird in the jar. I love the whole understatement of it. Very, very cool! 

Click here to take survey

2012 YA Speculative Covers: Character

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.

*Another category with too many choices, so I’m breaking it into two. These are covers that feature the character as the central design.

I went back and forth a million times in this category. I honestly, truly love every single one of these covers. I am intrigued by the faces, the expressions (or lack of them), the colors. And every single one of these made it on my “To Read” list simply because of their covers. Seriously.


Bonded by Michelle Davidson Argyle
Publisher: Rhemalda Publishing
Cover Designer: Melissa Williams

After much consideration (and actually, after picking another cover first, then changing my mind, then going back and forth between the two), this cover finally got my first choice vote. Everything about it captivated me. I love the image of the fairy girl, her pointy ears, the beauty of her skin, the coloring. She is exactly what I imagine a fairy or elf would look like. And I love the reflection in the water. It’s like peace and struggle, fantasy and reality all mixed in together, but separated by the title. I love the title font. It is just beautiful. That big B is gorgeous, but then all the other letters have little fairy lights around them. And I love that the author’s name is visible, but doesn’t distract at all from the image of the cover. Gorgeous! Rhemelda does a great job with their covers. Why did it finally move to 1st place and stay there? The mysteriousness of that reflection.


Demons by Heather Frost
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Erica Dixon

Oh, my! Those eyes! That face! Cover model crush! He is just so mysterious and frightening, but attractive at the same time. But the best thing about the cover? That the blue of his eyes is picked up in the description and the authors name, while the white of the title pops it to the forefront. I like that the font is so clean and simple. Great cover.


Desolate by Ali Cross
Publisher: Ninjas Write
Cover Designer: Dale Pease
Artist: Fanye L.O.

Desolate. Doesn’t that cover image absolutely convey that? The colors, the position of the character, the lonely swing, the stark water and landscape behind her. Even the red of the title adds to that lonely, lost melancholy. I love it! I also like the way the author’s name and the title of the book frame that central image. Great work.


The Shapeshifter’s Secret by Heather Ostler
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Rebecca J. Greenwood

This was the other cover that I went back and forth on. I love it! Look at her eyes, her face! Look at the way her hair wraps around her on one side, while light wraps her on the other side. Oh my gosh! I want to know what her secret is! I love the font used for the S, and the splash of red color outlined in white that makes it pop out. I like the filigree in the background. I even like the little blurb tucked in close by her neck. This is really an awesome cover! 


Witch Born by Amber Argyle
Publisher: Starling Books
Cover Designer: ??

I love this cover. I love the color of it. I think I like it even better than the cover to book 1, because that one was definitely an illustration while this one looks like a real person. I really like the butterflies all over the place and the way her hair is blowing—kind of like she’s caught up in a butterfly storm. I like the font choice or the title and the little stripe along the bottom with the series info. It’s noticeable but doesn’t detract at all.

Click here to vote!

2012 Speculative Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.

*These are for adult speculative fiction. YA comes next. And yes, there are six covers for you to vote on. It was too hard to narrow it down any more than that.

Speculative is quite possibly my favorite cover category, just because you can go absolutely crazy with it. It was fun looking at all of these covers.


Beautiful Sorrows by Mercedes M. Yardley
Publisher: Shock Totem Publications
Cover Designer: Yannick Bouchard

This cover is a juxtaposition of sweet and innocent, with scary creepiness. First, the illustration of the young girl is haunting and beautiful. I love it. And she’s drawing with chalk. So sweet. So innocent. But then, you read the title. And you see the cracked and barren land she’s drawing on. And then you see the storm clouds gathering… it gives me a delicious shiver. I loved it. This is probably my second favorite cover in this category.


Dispirited by Luisa M. Perkins
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Cover Designer: Jason Robinson

A great haunting cover. This is one of the few times that I think a black and white image really works. That photo gives you the long lonely road, barren trees, creepy house. While Beautiful Sorrows made me shiver, this one makes me shudder! I can hear the ghostly moans just looking at it! And the title is yellow. Great choice. This one wins for me because the stark imagery of it absolutely captures the essence of a scary, horror, demony, ghost story.


Dreamspinner by Lynn Kurland
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Cover Designer: George Long
(Artist: Dan Craig)

I picked this one for the classic fantasy look of it. Snow covered mountains, castles, forest, and a strong main character front and center. I love the blues and golds. Great speculative/fantasy look.


Murders in Whitechapel  by Kindal Debenham
Publisher: Wandering Leaf Publishing
Cover Designer: Robert Ennis

Steampunk and creepy doll murder. Yes! This image is just so…creepy! I mean, is that blood on that doll’s dress?!? I like the smashed lens in those glasses. I want to know the story behind it. I even like the blue brickwork in the background. The only thing I don’t like is the series title so prominent and the book title so small, in relationship to each other. I’d probably have gone with only two lines on the series title, and a much larger book title. And that font choice is difficult to read. But the image…cool!


Priestess of the Eggstone by Jaleta Clegg
Publisher: JournalStone
Cover Designer: Denise Daniel
(Artist: Philip Renne)

Another nod to the classic imagery—this time sci-fi. I have no idea what this book is really about but I love the images. The monsters, the girls outfit, the gray square space-ship type walls behind them. Very, very good! The title is just right. (I like it when the book title is more of the focus than the series title). I like the sci-fi look to the font. Good cover.


Rock Band Fights Evil (#2) by D.J. Butler
Publisher: D.J. Butler
Cover Designer: ??

I totally love this cover! I mean, what’s not to love, right? You’ve got the windblown hair and monster fighting costume of the main character. An oversized sword. A many-tentacled monster. And the title? I love it!! I also love that bright blue background and all the swirly smoke at the bottom. This has a sort of tongue-in-cheek feel to it. I’d expect a very modern, demon-hunting story line. Love it!

Click here to vote!

2012 Light Romance Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.

*Note: This is the category for lighter romance or romantic comedies.

Publisher: Walnut Springs
Cover Designer: ??
I love this image of the main character looking right at you. She’s fresh, clean, clear, as are the colors of her dress, hair, even the shopping bags she’s carrying. This is exactly what a light comedic romance should look like. The downside to this one is the author’s name looks like it’s been tattooed on her forehead, and the title—even as big as it is—gets lost. And the series title totally disappears. And yet, that fresh, sweet face makes me look every time!
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Angela Olsen
This cover got a lot of reader nominations. I like the colors of it. I like the simpleness of the font, and how that blue at the bottom grounds it. But I think the image is too tightly framed. It feels like it’s being squeezed. And it’s a busy cover. Sometimes busy is good, but sometimes my eye flits around too much and doesn’t now where to land. For me, this is a little bit too much. 


Publisher: Triad Media and Entertainment
Cover Designer: Jacqueline Fowers
This cover is just so fun! You can tell right away by the image that this is a romantic COMEDY. It’s fun. I like the softer background. Personally, I’d probably put the title at the bottom in the bright pink. Stamping it across the image is a little too distracting for me. Not sure where I’d put the author’s name—maybe up at the top. And there’s room to the left for a little blurb. But I do love that basic image. It’s awesome!


Publisher: Word Garden Press
Cover Designer: ??
I really like this style of cover for romantic comedies. It’s cute, attractive, and whimsical. Sets the tone of the story and I feel like I know what to expect from the book. In this cover, I like the way the colors work together to set a mood. I might have changed out the font for the author, just so there’s a little variety in the text. But very good main image.


Publisher: HEA Publishing
Cover Designer: ??
I love this cover! You have an intriguing cover model. In this one, that half-face trend works for me. I love those big flowers in the image. Very, very good and solid and expresses the mood and feel of a lighter romance. And it’s pink! Yay! The author’s name is visible but not distracting. And I love the way the title is set off, in that pink shaded box that doesn’t block out the image behind it. I also like the fonts—the clean but quirky “bachelorette” with “reluctant” emphasized both by font choice and color. This cover is the epitome of light romance. Very good job!

Click here to vote!

2012 Romance Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.

 *Note: This is the more traditional romance category.

Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Cover Designer: ??
This cover got a lot of reader nominations. I like this cover, but it’s almost too busy. I really like the image at the top—it whispers soft romance. And I like the image at the bottom. It places us in a time period. I like the title font, it’s nice and swirly and romantic. But. All together on the same cover is too much for me. I lose the title because my eye is too busy jumping from the top image to the bottom image. And when it finally settles, it’s the author’s name at the bottom that carries the weight. Not sure that’s the best thing for a lesser known author.
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Erica Dixon
I love this cover. Everything about it speaks romance to me. I love the colors of it, the pretty pink contrasted with the gray. I like that the author’s name is set off up there at the top, where you can notice it and then ignore it while you look at the cake. I love the wedding cake image with the tag for the title. I like the font choices and they way they’re used in an artistic manner. I even like that little blurb at the bottom in the swirly border. Of all of the romance covers, this is my favorite!
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??
Another cover that got a lot of reader nominations. Like the Edenbrook cover, I like the different elements of this cover, but all of them together are almost overwhelming. I’m not sure I like that cover model but she certainly gets my attention. The title is almost too small and gets lost in the background. I do like that cowboy, but not sure I’d put him there. The one difference between this one and Edenbrooke is that Jennie Hansen is a popular enough writer that her name will help sell the book. So having it be one of the main focal points of the cover works.
Publisher: Spirit Dance Books
Cover Designer: Thomas Gasu
I really like this cover. You have a very pretty girl as the main focus of the cover. That’s good. If you’re going to have a face that big on the cover, it needs to be attractive. The title stands out well in that green stripe and I like that “Catch” is emphasized. I also like that the curve in the green is a mirror of the football image below it. The author’s name gets lost a little, but it’s okay. You can still see it. The cover seems to flow from the girls eyes, down to the football. It’s nice and smooth to my eye. I like it.
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Rebecca Jensen
I love this cover too. Another good example of an attractive girl as the focal point. I really like all that swirly filigree around the edges. It softens it and gives it an air of romance. I really like the placement of the title, the big P and the green background of the box that you can still sort of see through. (Not really, but it feels like you can see through it.) Author’s name is just right in size and placement, as is the blurb to the left of the girl’s face. Caught my eye.

Click here to VOTE!

2012 Cozy Mystery/Romantic Suspense Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.  

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.



All Fall Down by Julie Coulter Bellon
Publisher: Julie Coulter Bellon
Cover Designer: LibrisPro

I like the relative simplicity of this cover. I like the way it moves from light to dark. You certainly get the feel of suspense with it. However, you don’t get much romance. In fact, there’s really not even a hint of romance and it’s too severe for a “cozy” mystery. I’d probably have put it in the mystery/suspense category except it’s marketed as romantic suspense. I like that the author’s name is big—Julie Coulter Bellon has a fan base that will read anything she writes—but because of the color choices it doesn’t over power the title. Good image. Good cover.


Banana Split by Josi S. Kilpack
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Cover Designer:

This is a cozy mystery. While I like the cover, the clever use of image in the font, the colors, the whimsy of the banana split itself, it doesn’t have the hint of murder that most of the other covers in this series have. There’s the net, and because I’ve read the book, I know that’s the instrument of murder, but it’s not immediately recognized as that by an uninformed reader. However, it’s still a really nice cover and I like it!


Code Word by Traci Hunter Abramson
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer:

This cover might also be better suited for the straight mystery/suspense category, except that I’ve read it and I know it’s a romantic suspense. So I put it here. And I love it. I love everything about it. The placement and font of the title. The color and placement and size of the author’s name. The way it frames the image seems to pull me into that tunnel. The long corridor, the woman running for her life… I love it! It caught my eye the first time I saw it and continues to catch my eye every time I see it.


Line of Fire by Rachel Ann Nunes
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Cover Designer: ??

I like the bracelet on this cover, the way the heart is wrapped in chains and there’s a key hanging from it. That gives me the feel of romantic suspense, as does the colors. The city view is a little distracting to me, and I think the choice of font and size for the title causes it to get lost. But overall, I like the feeling this cover creates. It’s intriguing.


Secrets of the Red Box by Vickie Hall
Publisher: Vickie Hall
Cover Designer: Vickie Hall

I really like this cover. The black framing the image gives us the feeling of being trapped. I like the font choice of the title. Looks cool. The author’s name is a little dated in font choice, but it’s not too bad. But the best thing…those eyes! And the words all over her face. That is totally cool! Love it!

Click here to Vote!

2012 Mystery/Suspense Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.
Have you noticed a trend in mystery covers? A lot of them use frayed fonts—meaning, the font has frayed edges, or cut outs, or holes in them. I noticed it for both this category and the romantic suspense category. Not sure what I think of it yet but in these examples, it looks pretty cool.

Cold Justice by Kathi Oram Peterson
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??

This is a great cover for setting a mood with image and cover. It makes me shiver! Great font choice and placement for title. I like the way it goes from cold black to red. The image itself is just so hopeless and depressing. But in a good way. And at the bottom of the cover, we go back to the cold, dead, bleak black. Awesome!


Dead Running by Cami Checketts
Publisher: Birch River
Cover Designer: Janna Barlow

(Notice the font?) I really like that Dead red font. It gives me the feeling of dripping blood without the actual dripping blood. I love the simpleness of the author font. I like the red of the shirt. But the thing that really won me over in this cover? The cross-hairs. Those cross-hairs sealed the deal for me. A great example of a suspense cover!
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??
(Again, notice the font.) This is not my favorite Gregg Luke cover but it is pretty cool. I like the play on the words for the title. And the font and color choice. I have no idea what embalming fluid looks like, but I’m pretty sure I’d believe it if someone told me it was that sickly green color from the title. I like that the author’s name pops in red, but doesn’t take over the cover. The image itself doesn’t scream “suspense” to me. It’s almost too clean and clinical. But coupled with the title, it works.

Precious Cargo by Jean Holbrook Mathews
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??

(See font.) While this cover doesn’t scream suspense at me either, there is something very haunting about that child’s face. And the font almost looks like it’s been shot up by bullets. I love the dark background behind the image and the colors used in both the title and the author’s name. It really made me look closely, pulled me in. Great job.


Venom by K.C. Grant
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??

This was a cover that I remembered from way back in January. I loved it then, I love it now. I love the font and color choices of the title. I like the artistry of the V and the M. I like that the placement of the author’s name doesn’t interfere with the image of the cover. I love the loneliness of the man and the way the colors and shadows stream out behind him. I love that you can’t really see him clearly due to the size. I love the warmth of the yellows and the cool of the blues and grays. But. And this is the one thing that kept it from being my first choice for this category—that image doesn’t really say mystery or suspense to me. It needs some little something to twist the suspense. But otherwise, great cover!

Click here to Vote!

2012 Historical Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.
Historical is probably my least favorite category of covers. A lot of historical books seem to just throw on a period image and be done with it. They don’t add in anything to really capture the eye, to intrigue me. But maybe that’s just me. Historical fiction is not one of my favorite reading categories either. What do you think?
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??
I like the collage feel to this cover—the flag, the compass, the map. The title font is a nice touch. And the author’s name looks cool. The series tag is sort of distracting to me but overall, not a bad look to the cover.
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??
This cover got quite a few reader nominations. To me, it’s a modern woman in a period costume, with a farm. Nothing really grabs me. I do like that scroll. That’s kind of cool. Maybe someone who really likes the look of historical novels can chime in and tell me all the ways that I don’t know what I’m talking about…?
Publisher: Cedar Fort
Cover Designer: Brain Halley
This cover I loved! I like the blue and the sun at the top, and the way it pops against the other colors. I like the carnival tent behind the title. I like the font used for the title and the way it curves. I like that yellow. I like the frilly dingbats above and below the title. The train image is less captivating for me, but it still works with that old-fashioned sepia tone. I like the simple clean lines of the author’s name. Great cover!
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??
This is another cover that kept me looking because of one thing. His blue eye. Yep. It grabbed my attention and held onto it. Every time I walk past it in the bookstore, I have to look. I like the flowing script of the title font that is totally at odds with the the feel of the cover image. But then, that’s what espionage is all about: pretending to be something you’re not. Good job.
Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??
Again, a cover with lots of reader nominations—so obviously, I’m not getting this. It’s a period image of a boat. I do like that dingbat under the author’s name and the way it spreads over the width of the cover, drawing your eye down to the boat. That is a nice touch. And I like that frame for the title. And in the bookstore, the colors of the sky are really nice. Can’t quite get the full effect of them on the computer screen.

Click here to vote!

2012 General Book Covers

Please vote for your favorite cover using the poll at the bottom of the post.

Remember: Vote for the COVER, not the story or the author.

Voting deadline: Midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.


Publisher: Covenant
Cover Designer: ??
I love this cover! I love all of the covers for the Newport Ladies Book Club series—but I didn’t think I should put all four of them together in a five book voting category. Especially when there are other covers I also like. So I put all four of those books up on my screen, and you know what? It was really, really, really hard to pick my favorite! There were things I liked about every one of them. I love that top of the covers have a distinctive design that holds the entire series together, but it trades out colors for each book. I love the flowing script that makes each title fun and fresh. I absolutely love the images on the different covers—each one so different and yet giving you the same fun, fresh, summer reading feeling. So why did I finally settle on Athena? Because of the red/blue contrast. It just pops.


Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Cover Designer: ??

This cover is just cool. It’s simple and complex at the same time. I love the Japanese text background. I love the red on top of the gray. I love that the title is small and reverse color. And I love the size and placement of the author’s name. Sometimes simple is simply awesome!

Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Cover Designer: ??

This is such a lonely cover. The boy, all alone—almost curling in on himself. The colors of the forest behind him, fading out to nothing. It’s eerie and silent and provocative. This cover put the book on my To Read list.

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Cover Designer: ??

I’m looking at this cover and my first thought is, “Who the heck pays rent in a dump like that?” And the answer is, “I have no idea.” And that intrigued me enough to pick up the book and read the liner notes. And the liner notes made me read the book. That’s the point of a cover. This one isn’t really outstanding. It doesn’t grab you like some of the others. But it sparked a question that I needed an answer for. And that’s the point of a cover. 

Publisher: William Morrow
Cover Designer: Mary Schuck
This cover received a lot of reader nominations. I’m not sure why. Because while I read the book and loved it, the cover was not what caught my eye. In fact, it’s a cover I would have passed by if I hadn’t read the liner notes while I was creating the spotlight post for this book. But because it got so many nominations, and I promised that I’d include nominated books, here it is. There’s nothing really horribly wrong with this cover, it’s just kind of boring. And that’s too bad because the book is really, really good!

Click here to vote!

2012 Book Cover Contest

Time for the 4th Annual Book Cover Contest!

I have pre-selected five finalists per genre category. You get to vote for your favorites.

When the voting is over, we’ll award Readers Choice and LDS Publisher Choice Awards.



Posting & Voting Schedule:

Jan 21: General & Historical
Jan 22: Mystery/Suspense & Cozy Mysteries/Romantic Suspense
Jan 23: Romance (Traditional) & Romantic Comedy
Jan 24 :Speculative (Adult) & Speculative (Young Adult)
Jan 25: Young Adult General & Children/Middle grade
Jan 26: Genre Voting Ends at Midnight Mountain Time

Jan 28: Genre Winners Posted & Voting Begins on Overall Best Cover
Jan 30: Overall Best Cover Voting Ends at Midnight Mountain Time

Jan 31: Overall Winner Posted


For those of you who are new to this contest…

I’ve divided the covers into 10 genres, each genre with its own post page.

I’ve picked my top five favs (or nominated favorites) for each genre and posted them in alphabetical order.

Covers were picked based on how attractive I thought they were, and how well they communicated the feeling of the genre and the title. It had nothing to do with what is actually inside the book.

My personal tastes lean toward a cleaner look. I don’t like cluttered or fuzzy images. I like all styles—photographic, artistic, and clip art. I don’t care how big the title and/or author name is but it has to blend well with the image and not detract from it. I really like clever use of fonts—a dated font is usually going to nix a cover for me.

We could argue the artistic merits and complexities of these covers till the cows come home, but let’s don’t, because basically, choosing a book by its cover is an emotional response to the visual imagery and it’s going to be different for everyone.

Guidelines for voting:


  • Pick your favorite COVER, not your favorite book or author.
  • Vote using the link to the poll at the bottom of the post. You may vote for one book in each genre category.
  • Feel free to leave comments stating why you liked a particular cover, or not. Be subjective—why/how did it grab you? How did it make you feel?
  • You may point out that I obviously have no taste because I missed THE best cover in the genre (just don’t call me names).
  • You may send all your friends over to vote, but please tell them to vote for the most visually appealing cover, and not for your book because you’re friends.
  • You may vote through midnight, Saturday, January 26, 2012.
  • On Monday, January 28th, I’ll post the winners from each genre and then you can vote on which of those is, IYHO, the best cover of 2012.
  • Final voting will end at midnight, Wednesday, January 30, 2013. Winner will be announced on Thursday, January 31, 2013.
  • There will be two awards in each category: LDS Publisher Choice & Readers Choice. In some cases, the same cover may win both awards.
  • Prizes: Bragging rights and a WFFI* because your book won.

P.S.: Once the contest is over, I’ll post why I liked each of the covers.

P.S. #2: I’ve included the name of the cover designers when that info was available. If you know one that I left off, please let me know via email & I’ll update the post.
*warm fuzzy feeling inside

Nominate Covers for the 2012 Book Cover Contest

It’s that time again! Voting for the Fourth Annual Book Cover Contest officially begins on Monday, January 21, 2013.

But nominations start now.

You have until midnight on Friday, January 11, 2013, to nominate a book cover for me to consider for the contest. I get the final say, but if enough of you really like a particular book cover, I’ll put it on the short list (even if I personally hate it) (unless it’s just really, really awful).

Here are the conditions for nomination:

  • Must be a fiction book by an LDS author.
  • Must have been published in 2012—republications with new covers will be considered.
  • Nominate your favorite COVER, not your favorite book or author. This contest has nothing to do with what’s inside those covers.
  • Send nominees to me via email with BOOK COVER in the subject line.
  • Yes, you may nominate your own book or a cover you designed—as long as you honestly, truly feel that it’s amazing.

I’d love for you to spread the word about these nominations but please, please, please, stress that you nominate based on your true love of the cover and not your love of the author or story.

Last year there were a lot of posts and tweets that said things like, “Yay, I made the finalists! Go vote for my book.” And a lot of replies that say things like, “I hope you win! I voted for you like you asked.” I truly hope I don’t see any of that this year. I want the covers to win based on genuine visual appeal, not which author has the most friends.

As you spread the word, tell your friends to vote for the cover they like best. It may very well be your cover. But then again, it may not be.

Want to nominate but not sure what’s out there? Click this link to see the 2012 titles posted on this site.

2012 Christmas Story Contest Winners

Before I announce the winners, a BIG thank you to those who voted and left comments for the stories. It’s a lot of work to read through 20 stories and I appreciate your efforts.

And now for the winners…

Like last year, we’re starting off with a tie in the first category. Both stories received the same number of votes.

Readers’ Choice—Published Author Category
We Need A Little Christmas
by Jane McBride


by Jennifer Ricks

Publisher’s Choice—Published Author Category
Homeless Holiday
by Kasey Eyre

Readers’ Choice—Unpublished Author Category
Snow Angels
by Lezlie Anderson

Publisher’s Choice—Unpublished Author Category
Missing Santa
by Rachel Kirkaldie



I commend each of you who submitted stories on your commitment to writing and your courage in submitting your story for public review. Way to go!

Each story will receive a critique sent to the email address used to submit the story. However, due to the apocalypse I mentioned earlier this morning, it may take a few weeks to get them all done.

Authors of non-winning stories, if you’d like me to add your name to your story post, please send me an email. I’ll also link to your blog or website if you want.

We’ll be doing this again next year so start thinking of story lines now! Submissions for the 2013 Christmas Story Contest will open on November 1st. Guidelines for the contest are posted HERE.

Last Day to Vote!

Today is the last day to vote in the 2012 Christmas Story Contest.

Voting ends at midnight tonight, Mountain Time.

Instructions for how to vote are found HERE. Read them!

Note to voters: If reading all these stories is overwhelming to you, just read the first few paragraphs of each one. If it doesn’t grab you, move on to the next one. That’s perfectly acceptable. Quality writing and good stories will intrigue you from the first paragraph on.

Also, yes, you can vote anonymously, if you’re worried about hurting feelings. Just type “anonymous” in the Name field. Yes, you do have to put in your email address, but only I will see it and I promise never to tell. Just note: your anonymous comment may not appear right away. I’ll have to approve it first.

Note to authors: This always amazes me to the point of stuttering—not all of you have voted! In fact, from what I can tell, most of you haven’t. What are you thinking? If you submitted a story, go vote for it! And for other stories, as well.

And spread the word all over Facebook and Twitter! C’mon, authors! If you aren’t behind your writing 100%, then you’ll never make it as a published/publishable author.

Incentive: If you, author or voter, help spread the word about our contest today on any blog or social media site, you can be entered to win Checkin’ It Twice or Stolen Christmas (ebooks). Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To add this form to your blog or website, click on this link, then follow the instructions to add it to your site:

2012 Christmas Story Voting Instructions

Please read the voting instructions carefully before casting your votes.

Voting for LDSP’s 2012 Christmas Story Contest starts NOW!

VOTE between Monday, December 17 and midnight (Mountain) on Wednesday, December 19th.**


Voting Info:

  1. There will be four winners:
    Readers Choice (Published authors)
    Readers Choice (Unpublished authors)
    Publisher’s Choice (Published authors)
    Publisher’s Choice (Unpublished authors). 
  2. Publisher’s Choice winners will be judged on a variety of criteria, according to a point system. But it basically boils down to quality of writing, uniqueness of story and what I think will best sell a book.
  3. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don’t make it an author popularity contest.
  4. You MAY vote for your own story. (In fact, you should. I am constantly amazed by the number of stories that receive no votes. What’s wrong with you people??)
  5. You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished. 

    Click HEREto read all stories by Published Authors. There are 12. Vote for two.Click HERE to read all stories by Unpublished Authors. There are 8. Vote for two.

    NOTE: Due to the limitations of the software, all stories in a category may not show up on one page. After you’ve read the first batch, click the OLDER POSTS link at the bottom right below the last story to go to the next page of stories.


  6. To Place Your Vote: The word “VOTE” must appear in your comment. Leave a comment for the story you’re voting for with the words, I VOTE FOR THIS ONE or THIS ONE GETS MY VOTE or some other phrase that CLEARLY indicates you are voting. Comments that say, “I like this one…” will not be counted as a vote.
  7. You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING must contain the word VOTE.
  8. Anonymous votes count. We’re using the Honor System here and trusting that no one will over vote.
  9. AUTHORS: Please tell your friends that you’ve submitted a story and to come read and vote, but DO NOT tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win on merit, not personal popularity. 
  10. I’ll announce the winners on Friday, December 21st.

**This is a change in the voting deadline date.

[P.S. All comments on the stories and Voting Comments will enter you in the Monthly Comment Contest.]

20 Nepotism

“And you are, um—” the secretary scanned her appointment book.

“Rachael, 7:10, here,” Rachael pointed to her name, trying hard to look casual while placing her finger over her last name. Behind her, a wall clock chimed the hour.

“Y-es, I see,” Molly Frampton, according to the gold nameplate on her desk, said. “Well, they’ll be with you in a moment, Miss—uh, Rachael.” She looked down at Rachael’s instrusive finger.

“Do the building lights always glint the snow like that?” Rachael smiled and gestured toward the window, leaning away from Ms. Frampton’s desk as unconcernedly as possible.

Her nonchalance worked. Ms. Frampton turned to the full-wall window and sighed. “Yes, it does, but it’s getting worse, and it’s not going to be nice to go out in it.” Still frowning out the window, the secretary absently closed her appointment book. Mission accomplished, and, apparently, Rachael was the final interview of the evening.

“This isn’t quite where you want to be at seven o’clock in Christmas Eve, is it?” Rachael said, trying to continue the easy conversation. It was the best way to relax her nerves. Besides, she could just imagine the poor secretary taking five minutes to pack up for the day but having to sit around, staring out the window and jiggling her crossed leg, for the remaining forty-five minutes until Rachael’s interview was over so she could go home.

Ms. Frampton looked up sharply, and Rachael remembered too late that if she got this job, she would be one of Molly Frampton’s many superiors. So much for harmless chit chat to calm her nerve. She should have realized that this wasn’t an office where joking or light-hearted sarcasm was appreciated or encouraged.

In an attempt to avoid further awkwardness, Rachael stood and pretended to examine the blizzard more closely while trying not to pace.

Although she had been in denial for years, she had always known—ever since choosing her career path as an undergraduate—that she would one day be in this trying predicament. It was a nasty trick of fate that made her occupation the same as his, but there was nothing she could do about it. Her success in getting to this point proved that. When all was said and done, all paths in this field led to Donlan & Associates, the best in the business, so here she was.

But besides unavoidable inherent discomfort of the situation, she was dealing with it much better than she had imagined. Years ago, she could only think of an interview like this ending in a shouting match, but now she didn’t care about confrontation, or blame, or anything anymore. She wanted this job—the best she could get at this point in her career—and she wanted it despite the awkwardness. Still, she couldn’t stop the fleeting thought that everything would have been easier if she was married by now. But, then again, she was still working on trusting males—about personal things—fifteen years later, thanks to him.

At 7:10, on the dot, the door to the conference suite behind Ms. Frampton’s desk opened. A disheveled man emerged from the room, the strained, fake smile melting off his face as he turned himself out of the door. He strode down the hall toward the elevators without a word to Rachael or the secretary, but he was muttering to himself and raking his fingers through his hair.

Rachael’s best defense at a terrifying moment like this was to pretend that she had no fears at all, so she was smiling when Ms. Frampton said, “They’re ready for you, uh, Rachael.” She looked down at her closed appointment book, that little frown lining her forehead once again, but Rachael moved forward immediately, gave her as much of a smile as her terribly dry mouth would allow, and headed toward the foreboding door.

There were five of them, as she had known there would be, although she had only met one of them in person before. These opening formalities were easy. It wasn’t the first time that she was in the room with a handful of very rich and powerful business executives who happened to be all grey-haired and male—quite the opposite of her. She was well practiced at making her round about the room in greeting quickly enough so they could only half rise to shake her hand. She knew that they loved being excused as much as possible from the formality of playing the gentlemen.

Luck was on her side that Mr. James E. Donlan was the last in the circle that she had to greet. That made it easy for her to make the obligatory handshake as brisk as possible and eye contact nonexistent. It also meant that her chair—the closest to the door—was also farthest from him.

“Miss, uh—” the man in the middle—Mr. Jeremy P. Grace—looked down at his papers as if he had forgotten her name, but his uncomfortable glance around at the others, and pointed look at Mr. Donlan, gave him away.

“Rachael, please,” she cut in. Her smile was confident, approachable, yet competent.

“Er, yes,” Mr. Grace looked around at his colleagues, but none of them seemed bothered by her insisted informality—the best way she could think of to deal with the situation. They were all looking at either her or Mr. Donlan, who was apparently reading a portfolio brief and not paying attention at all. That was fine with her—it would be very even easier if he decided not to take an active part.

“Well, then, Ms. Rachael, do you know how many candidates you have been competing with over the past several weeks?” Mr. Grace said.

It was an odd opening question, but Rachael knew that this interview would be full of surprises. “Twelve at this point, I assume, sir, and I’d assume ten times that initially.” It was a quick calculation. At seven o’clock in the evening, they would have been working for twelve hours, with one for lunch, and they would have had applicants from all over the world.

“Yes, you’re quite correct. Quick, even,” Mr. Grace said, frowning and looking around.

Ten years ago, Rachael would have fretted that she had come off too smart, but she had learned that it was confidence and equal competency that men wanted from female colleagues in the business world, not weak submission. Even though she was young and female, there was no reason to hold back her skills or her intelligence. Using everything she had was what had made her so successful so far.

“You will understand then, Ms. Rachael,” Mr. Grace continued, “that this position is of utmost importance to our company. We take our director hires very seriously and we require a unanimous decision from this board before we can move forward.” His eyes scanned the table briefly and rested longest on old Mr. Donlan.

Ah, so they definitely knew. All the better, Rachael thought. They knew, but she was still here. That meant that—to them—it didn’t matter.

“Yes, of course,” Rachael replied.

And so it began. The rest of the hour was the grueling, strenuous, and taxing ordeal that she had anticipated—the hardest interview she had experienced yet, of course. But Donlan’s insistent apathy to the rest of the room simplified things immensely.

But after forty arduous minutes of picking out her professional weaknesses, regurgitating a full history of Donlan & Associates products and profits for the past five years, and speculating advantageous directions for their future, the pummeled questions slowed and then stopped altogether. Rachael wanted to whip her head back and forth to follow all the silent messages—raised eyebrows, tactful shrugs, discreet nods—whizzing around the room, but instead she kept her face open and relaxed as she pretended to ignore the silent meeting—about her—that she wasn’t invited to.

After a brief but excruciating pause, Mr. Grace cleared his throat—which must have been a signal to end the mute conversations—and addressed Rachael once again.

“We appreciate your time, Ms. Rachael.” She almost looked down and slumped, that preamble sounded so much like an apology before a flat-out rejection, but held her emotions back as Mr. Grace continued. “You are the last of a long, tiring day.” He looked around at the gaunt faces around him, Mr. Donlan’s still immersed in what must have been the most interesting report ever submitted. Rachael was sure she had failed.

“Yes, a long, tiring day,” Mr. Grace repeated, “and a great attempt to find anyone who would outshine you.” Rachael clamped her mouth close to keep herself from gaping in shock. “To be completely frank with you, Ms. Rachael, you are our top candidate for this position.” Now she had to keep from beaming. “Your qualifications are outstanding,” he looked down at the resume and portfolio that she could easily recognize from half a table away, “and your experience valuable. We would be happy to snatch you away from your current employer as soon as possible,” Rachael was ready to burst her acceptance, “but there is just one more question that we wish to ask.”

So there was a catch. Maybe everything was too good to be true.

“We want to know why, if you really want to work at Donlan & Associates, you haven’t applied here sooner?” As Mr. Grace spoke, all eyes were focused on Rachael, except Mr. Donlan’s, but she had noticed that he hadn’t turned a page for a long time now. “We could have used your professionalism and skill set much earlier in your career,” Mr. Grace said. “Most of the other division directors have been trained up within our own company. So if you didn’t want to work with Donlan & Associates before, when we certainly would have considered you as at least a manager several years ago, why do you feel we are a good fit now?”

There was no doubt that the eight eyes fixed on her were all avoiding looking a Mr. Donlan. But it was the type of question that Rachael had expected, and she had her honest answer ready.

“Well, to be honest, I knew that Donlan & Associates was the best in the business the day I started training for my career. But while most of my peers shot for Donlan & Associates right away, I knew there was wisdom in waiting—waiting for Donlan & Associates to be ready for me and for me to be ready for you.”

She stopped talking, hoping that her brief, honest answer would be adequate. At first it seemed that the room accepted what she had said—and what she had meant—positively, but it only brought on another agonizing pause. She kept looking at Mr. Grace expectantly, but Mr. Grace wouldn’t catch her eye. They were all looking—peripherally, of course—in the direction of Mr. Donlan. It was such a marked and awkward silence that the corner of Rachael’s eye was drawn involuntarily in that direction as well. Only the hum of the ventilation system made a noise in the quiet conference room, despite the vicious—yet silent—blizzard lashing at the full-wall glass window that was certainly the best city view this side of town when unobstructed by snow.

“Well, come in Monday morning,” broke in the gruff, hoarse voice at the end of the table that she hadn’t heard in fifteen years. “Ms. Frampton will take care of the necessary paperwork,” Mr. Donlan said as he dropped the ever-enthralling report in front of him. He looked up briefly and saw her looking at him, but he didn’t smile and she flicked her eyes away as instantly as possible.

The whole room relaxed into a relieved sigh, and the faces before her—excepting Mr. Donlan’s—now wore tired, assuaged smiles instead of stern blankness. She was given hearty handshakes all around, but when she got to Mr. Donlan’s end of the table, she just saw the edge of his briefcase striding from the room with Mr. Grace jogging behind in close wake. Only then did Rachael let herself relax. In spite of everything, she had done it.

She smiled at the remaining three executives’ friendliness as they chattered about how “they knew it had to be her, from the start,” “She’d be reporting to Charlie”—that is Charles J. Bennett, Sr.—“anyway,” and, “It’s not like there was ever any legal obstruction, after all.” Amidst all these relieved comments, Rachael kept thinking to herself in half disbelief that it was over with and things were going to be fine. She was going to be reporting to Charlie. The contact she had with Donlan tonight was all that would be necessary for a long time. They would continue living separate lives just as they had for fifteen years. Sixty floors was going to be enough space for two members of a severed family to not have to interact more than necessary.

As if confirming the easy solution, the executives’ conversation walking out of the tortuous interview room rapidly turned to a burst of holiday spirit as the three partners began bantering about their grandchildren and Santa Claus plans. They gave Rachael friendly waves on their way to the elevator while Rachael stayed behind to make her appointment with Ms. Frampton.

“Whew, it’s over.” Rachael exhaled herself into the leather armchair she had barely touched an hour before.

Ms. Frampton looked surprised again but this time more curious than shocked or incredulous.

“I suppose you’ll need an appointment to complete the hiring papers on Monday, then, ma’am?” Ms. Frampton clipped.

“Oh, no, Molly,” Rachael smiled, purposely retaining her collapsed slouch.

“You don’t want—” Ms. Frampton began. She didn’t know that the poor secretary’s eyebrows could lift even higher.

“No, no,” Rachael laughed, a real, friendly laugh that she truly felt. “Not ‘ma’am,’ please, Molly. Just Rachael.”

Molly Frampton looked shocked for a second more, but gradually her face hesitantly relaxed. “Monday morning then—Rachael?”

“Yes,” Rachael smiled again. “When do you come in?”

“Uh, six-thirty, but the bosses won’t be here until seven. But exactly seven,” she emphasized.

Rachael laughed again. “Oh, I know enough about Donlan & Associates to thoroughly understand the mandate for punctuality.”

“Well,” Molly’s mouth slid into a faint smile, “I guess knew that already. You don’t want to know what a raking eleven o’clock got this morning.”

“You’re right. I don’t,” Rachael said in full honestly. “Well, let’s get out of here, huh?”

She grabbed her bag and waited for Molly to pull on her coat so they could head to the elevator together. Molly looked just briefly puzzled at this consideration, but she brushed her skepticism away almost immediately.

“You know,” Molly said conversationally as the elevator descended, leaving her secretary façade up on the sixtieth floor, “I never knew that ‘Donlan’ was such a common last name.”

Rachael finished pulling on her gloves with forced calm before looking up. The question would have come sometime anyway, easier to just get it out now. And there was no sense lying. “Well, it’s not really,” she said.

Molly’s brow furrowed. “So are you—”

“Yes,” Rachael said, a little too soon. She smiled again to make up for the brief sharpness. “Well, I used to be, I mean. His daughter.”

“Used to be—” Molly looked more puzzled than ever, but Rachael didn’t mind. She had thought about this question often, but she had never pictured her “interrogator,” as she called them in her mind, as kindred of a spirit as Molly. But despite the difference, the moment proved that it didn’t matter who the asker was. Her answer would have to be the same.

Maybe someday she would let it all out, all of it. She’d tell about being adopted and not knowing about it until she was fifteen when her dad walked out on Mom right in the middle of her first chemo treatment, how it was easy to cut her tie to that failed father as part of the divorce proceedings when there was never any biology involved anyway, and how she had made her successful way in the world alone, after Mom’s passing, despite an ex-father living in the same city for all these years. She could tell how she had always known that their common industry would one day lead her to his doors, but she had wanted to make it there on her own merits. It had seemed a hideous possibility to work for him when she started her career, but now it had been long enough that she’d cried and hurt as much as she could over him. Now it was time to rise above. He was going to stop ruining her life because she was not James E. Donlan’s daughter anymore.

“Yes,” Rachael said firmly, “used to be.”

Molly looked puzzled for another moment, but then she busied herself with tying her scarf. The elevator opened into the abandoned lobby, and they finished their bundling and buttoning on their way to the street doors.

“Well, see you, Rachael,” Molly said brightly but so naturally that Rachael really believed that she didn’t mind her lack of explanation. Maybe moving on was going to work.

“Yeah, see you,” Rachael said, trying to smile a thank-you for Molly’s kind acceptance and genuine tact. “Oh, and Merry Christmas.”

“You too,” Molly said warmly. She pulled her collar up, took a deep breath, and plunged into the street.

Rachael took one last look at the empty lobby, “Donlan & Associates” in bold brass letters high on the wall, grateful that, despite the possibilities, it hadn’t been another worst day of her life after all. Instead her Christmas wish for a fresh, new beginning was coming true.

19 An Unlit Fire

Nancy had never felt more awkward in her life. She blinked and looked from the closed living room door, to the bedroom door, and then back to the living room door again.

Slowly she felt her senses turn back on. Her hands felt wet. She looked down and saw that she was still holding a freshly peeled potato under the kitchen faucet. She tasted the stale gum in her mouth smashed paper-thin between her clenched teeth. Relaxing her jaw, she forced herself to take a deep breath. Five minutes ago, the kitchen was full of Christmas cheer as she chatted amiably to Julie, Chad’s arm around her waist, with Fred interjecting something silly with every armful of firewood he brought in from the garage. Now the house felt like a funeral home. Even the CD of classic Christmas songs had gone silent, as if Bing and Frank found it too awkward to make any noise.

Nancy felt angry, embarrassed, and confused. A moment ago, she was telling herself how smoothly things were going with both Julie and Fred giving her thumbs up behind Chad’s back. Now here she was, alone with her boyfriend in the kitchen, wondering what would happen. What did he think? She’d never worried about Julie and Fred being a problem, but now she felt desperate. How could Chad keep liking her if his only encounter with her sister and brother-in-law was a sudden fight ending in two slammed doors?

Eventually she looked over at Chad who looked like he was coming out of his own stupor. He looked around, made brief eye contact, and then slowly started peeling another potato.

“What was that all about?”

Nancy shrugged. “I–I don’t know. I’ve never seen them fight like that.” She turned off the faucet and grabbed a towel to dry her hands.

Chad kept peeling his potato without saying anything, and she just stood there looking at him. Flick, flick, flick. He was peeling the same spot on the potato over and over, his brow deeply furrowed. Flick, flick, flick. She crept a few feet toward the living room door. She couldn’t hear Fred. Flick, flick, flick. She saw Chad rotate his potato, but his face was still clouded over. Nancy crept over to the bedroom door. No sound from Julie. She lifted her hand to knock but withdrew it. Hands at her sides, she walked back to the kitchen.

Flick, flick, flick.

She felt like crying. She wanted Chad to hold her, but what was he thinking? Maybe he wanted out of this crazy family before he even entered it.

She walked over to the CD player and restarted the music. Ella’s voice filled the room. The sound of “Silent Night” dampened the beat of Chad’s peeler, but the house still felt terribly empty and still.

“My parents argued like this a lot before the divorce,” Chad said without looking up. He put his potato in the pan and started on another.

Nancy walked closer to him, her hands jammed in her pockets. “Yeah. What did you do?”

Chad stopped peeling and a small grin spread across his face. “One time I ran around the house yelling ‘Fire! Fire!'”

Nancy looked at him. “How did that work out?”

Chad went back to peeling. “Not well, they took turns blaming each other for my delinquency.”

Nancy sat down next to Chad and started on her own potato. She chanced a glance at the two guilty doors but they remained closed. “It’s Christmas Eve, they have to forgive each other, right?”

Chad shrugged. “They sure took the Christmas cheer with them, didn’t they?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry, I didn’t think this would happen. They’ve only been married for a couple of years, and they’ve always been fine when I’m around them.”

Chad stopped peeling. “What’s that supposed to mean? Only a couple of years? Do you mean it’s okay for couples to fight if they’ve been married for, what, five years? Ten?”

Nancy looked over at him. His face looked strange. She’d never seen him looked so steeled.

She looked back down quickly and felt hot tears swell in her eyes. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. I’m just surprised and–and embarrassed. I wanted this visit to be about them getting to know you, not,” she gestured at the closed front room door, “this.”

Chad was silent for a minute and she heard the flick, flick, flick of his peeler again. They’d never made mashed potatoes together before, and she was impressed at how well he was doing. It made her feel even worse that he was angry.

Flick, flick, flick. Soon there was only one potato left. Nancy grabbed the cutting board and started chopping the pile of potatoes while Chad started peeling the last one. She wondered how long Julie and Fred would stay in their respective fortresses. Maybe they did this all the time; maybe they would stay in there all night.

Nancy watched Chad put the last potato in her pile and then slink off to look at the pile of unlit wood in the fireplace. “We used to have a fireplace when we lived in Colorado,” he said, almost to himself. Nancy stopped chopping. “I used to lie on my stomach, watching the sparks float up the chimney and wonder where they went. One time Dad told me they turned into fireflies.”

Nancy got up and took a furtive step toward him. “I love the fire, too,” she said. “Every Christmas I’ve stayed at school that’s what I’ve missed the most. I was really glad when Julie invited me over because I knew we’d have a crackling fire.”

Chad glanced over at the living room door. “Yeah, I guess we will if they ever come out.”
Nancy took another step closer, and then another, until she was only a foot away from him. “I bet I could find the matches. Dad kept them above the mantle before he died. I bet that’s where Fred keeps them.”

Chad looked over at her. “I wouldn’t know how to start it. After the divorce, Mom moved into an apartment. The few times I saw Dad we never went camping or anything. Can you start it?”

“No, Dad always did it. Then Mom couldn’t handle the smoke once she got sick.”

They stared at the stack of wood. Nancy tried to think of something to say, but she didn’t know what. Maybe this was the end, maybe not. Chad had mentioned how much he hated couples fighting one time, but she didn’t know he would be this sensitive.

A creaking noise made them both look up. Julie’s tear-stained face poked around the corner. Nancy ran over to her and gave her a hug. She heard Julie mutter something but couldn’t understand it. She glanced over at Chad but he was staring at the fireplace again.

“I’m sorry about all this,” Julie finally said, and Nancy released her grip. They walked into the kitchen. Julie blew her nose and picked up the knife. “I guess we’d better finish making dinner.”

“I’ll get another knife,” Nancy said and started rummaging through drawers. She looked over at Chad again to see if he would join them, but he stood there with his back to them, still staring at the fireplace.

They finished chopping the potatoes and put them in the pot of water. It had just started bubbling when Fred’s face appeared in the kitchen. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Julie burst into tears, ran to him, and threw her arms around him. He staggered backward under this sudden attack but soon regained his balance. He put one hand around her back and started stroking her hair with the other. After a moment, they both straightened up and looked at Nancy and Chad.

“Sorry about that,” Fred said, “I guess I lost my temper.”

“It’s okay,” Nancy said, feeling the words tumble out too quickly.

“You can light the fire if you want, Chad,” Fred said after taking a deep breath. “The lighter’s just above the mantle.” He looked down at Julie. “Julie’s Dad always kept the matches there, and I wanted to keep up the tradition, you know.”

“I’ve never lit a fire before,” Chad said. “I guess I’ve always been afraid I’d get burned.”

“Can’t say I’ve never been burned,” Fred shrugged, “but an unlit fire won’t keep you warm. Here, let me show you.” Fred pulled the lighter off the top of the mantle and held it out to him.

“Okay,” Chad said with a quick glance at Nancy, “I’ll give it a shot.”


18 A Stony Hill Christmas

Things like this only happened in the movies; or so I thought.  It turns out, some of the ridiculous scenes in Christmas films do happen.   Only, I didn’t wake up in a big Victorian with my beautiful wife resting by my side.  There weren’t two mischievous, yet extremely charming children, slumbering down the hall.  There was no stack of silver-and-gold of gifts waiting under the tree.  My life was far less glamorous than that.  I was living alone in a one-bedroom apartment. My family was scattered all across the US.   And, despite the few friends I had still living in New Jersey, I felt alone.  The holidays were just making it worse.

I guess I had seen too many Christmas movies.  I never seemed to bump into an attractive girl, who I had once dated in high school, in town for the weekend.   I never had that harmless fender-bender that led to sharing a warm cup of hot chocolate in a cozy little Diner.  Nor did I have a co-worker, who maybe had too much wine at the holiday party, reveal she had a big crush on me. The holidays it seemed, didn’t hold any special power; at least, not anymore.

As I mentioned, I was living alone in the Stony Hill apartment complex, or “Stony Hell”, as my friends called it. It wasn’t super nice; but it was close to work, just five-hundred bucks a month, and utilities were included!  I should mention that roaches were also included, as well as a pack of rabid squirrels that lived in the attic.

I woke up tired. I hadn’t been sleeping very well lately. All night long I had been haunted, not by three ghosts, but by the fond memories of childhood Christmases past.  Now it was Christmas day and I wasn’t feeling the magic. It was just another Tuesday.  I hadn’t even put up my tree yet, looked like that wasn’t going to happen this year.

As I clicked on the fluorescent lights to my kitchen I heard the familiar pitter-patter of tiny roaches retreating to the cupboard.  But other than that, not a creature was stirring.  Even the squirrels which normally rustled above me must have had holiday plans, because they were strangely silent on that winter morning.  Everything was exactly as I had left it.  The sink was full of dirty dishes.  A forgotten gallon of warm milk and the leftovers from last-night’s dinner rested plainly on the counter.  My advent calendar was still stuck on December second. I grabbed a pack of blueberry pop tarts from the shelf and a can of Coke and started my day.

As soon as I stepped into my living room, I noticed something was wrong.  The box of fake candles I had bought for the front window sat unopened on the couch next to the spot where my Christmas tree was supposed to go. I may not be able to magically produce a Christmas tree and decorate in one day, but I [could] plug in some fake candles to go in the front window.  I quickly dismantled the box and searched for an extension cord. I had to disconnect the fish tank, but I finally found one.

As I approached my front window, I saw the large shadow of a tail in the venetian blinds.  Seconds later, a large squirrel lunged past me, slamming into my prized collection of Bruce Springsteen CDs.  Unlike the furry Hollywood variety, this squirrel clawed and shrieked at me as he leaked feces over the white carpet, like a gumdrop trail from hell.

You never plan for bad things to happen.  I didn’t wake up thinking that my apartment would be invaded by an ill-tempered squirrel.  Like most things in life, it just happened.  I wish I could tell you I rushed to face my attacker with bravery and emerged  victorious. But what really happened was much less glorious. I grabbed my keys, and then sprinted down the stairs to my car wearing only boxers.

The squirrel peered down from my second floor unit me hiding in my car, taunting me as I speed-dialed the superintendent, reaching the answering service.  They took the message but didn’t promise anything.  At that moment, it hit me.  It was Christmas Day.  There was no one coming.  I was on my own.

My limbs froze in my car, while my mind boiled with the thought of the squirrel running wild in my apartment.  I wasn’t going to let some little rodent  steal my home and my Christmas.  I finally got out of the car and ran towards the building. The courtyard was empty except for an old woman walking her dog.  She took one look at me, and headed off in the other direction.

As I climbed the stairs of to my apartment, my breath quickened.  I could hear the squirrel grinding through my living room above.  When I finally made it to the top of the stairs I stopped dead in my tracks at the door.  With my fingers on the cold brass knob, I tried to summons the bravery of the Minute Men from the Revolutionary War who flushed the Red Coats out of New Jersey. But did I really want to spend the holidays getting a round of rabie shots to the stomach?

Before I could turn the knob, my superintendant came bounding up the stairs.  I smelled alcohol on the old guy’s breath as he blew past in a bright red jogging suit.  He could have passed for a Santa, a mall Santa anyway.  Just like the real St. Nick, he went straight to his work.  This pretty much included swatting at a squirrel with a broom stick.  “Open all the windows!” He yelled.

I froze in the middle of the room as the squirrel bounced around the apartment like a pin ball.

“Go on! Open up!” My superintendent screamed loader this time.

Finally, I sprung into action.  With my head down, I plowed through the living room towards the front windows. I jimmied the locks open with the skill of a master locksmith.  Mission accomplished, I swept through the rest of the apartment clearing multiple paths to the outside world, or egress as the military say.

The whole ordeal jump-started my body.  I felt the rush of adrenalin pumping through my veins.  I felt alive again, like I could run a marathon.   I wouldn’t say it was Christmas miracle because those don’t typically happen when you’re naked. But, for the first time in a long while, I had hope that things could only get better.  I would start with the apartment.

17 Stan the Snow Elf

There are all sorts of elves in the world. There are toy-maker elves, there are shoe-maker elves, there are cookie maker elves, and there are even mean, trouble-maker elves. Impellakrykustenapo was a snow elf, with a typical snow elf name, but his friends called him Stan.

Deep underground, where it stays cold all year, Stan woke from his summer hibernation. He stretched. And he yawned. And he scratched his belly. Sniffing the air, he could tell that the weather outside was nice and frosty. He hopped out of bed with thoughts of all the frozen fun that awaited him.

Stan went to his closet and picked out a green pair of pants, a green shirt with white trim, and a sparkling white cap. He dressed as quickly as he could and dashed out of his home to look for his friends.

First he went to the meadow next to farmer Frank’s barn. – No one was there.

Then he ran over the mountain to where the stream trickled through the hidden dale. No one was there – except for a pair of squirrels sitting in their tree.

And finally, he traveled along the river, past the old mill, and next to the waterfall where his friend Cecil lived. He called for Cecil to come out and play, but Cecil didn’t answer.

Leaves still gathered at the entrance of Cecil’s home. When he peeked inside everything looked neatly put away, just like Stan’s home in the spring, before he hibernated. Stan heard the whistling sounds of Cecil snoring.

Stan didn’t want to wake up his friend. Especially if winter hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe he had woken up early, which he sometimes did. So, he skipped through the hills, and the forest, and farms until he reached the nearest town.

On tippy-toes he sneaked into the candy shop. Then he waited for the candy-maker to walk into the back of his shop. When the man left, Stan hopped up on the counter and looked at the calendar that hung on the wall.

It was December 23rd.

How could that be? It was almost Christmas and none of the other snow elves were awake. If the snow elves didn’t get together and dance and sing, there would be no snow. Who ever heard of Christmas without snow?

This was serious. Snow elves had the most important job of all the elves – making snow for Christmas and they were almost too late.

Stan ran all the way back to Cecil’s and didn’t even bother asking to come in. He went right up to Cecil, sleeping in his bed, and shook him.

Cecil didn’t budge.

Stan pulled the covers off Cecil and shouted out his full snow elf name: Beguscelidosilatu.

Cecil snorted once and turned over.

Something was horribly wrong. It was plenty cold enough that the rest of the elves should be awake by now. They should have been awake for Thanksgiving.

In Cecil’s closet, Stan found a storm horn. He grabbed it, took a big breath, and blew it at Cecil. Then he blew it again. Louder.

Cecil’s eyes opened just a tiny bit and he said, “Go away Stan. I don’t want to wake up.”

Then Cecil closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Stan tooted the horn, shook the bed, and shouted at Cecil, but he couldn’t wake him up again.

Maybe he didn’t need the other elves to make it snow. After all, he was in charge of the entire area between the Wilson’s pond and the line of oak trees that bordered the Desmond Dairy, and from Mary Mosswood’s picket fence to Mockingbird road.

He dashed home to get everything ready for a grand winter party. Stan took his finest string of jingly bells from under his bed. He mixed a big batch of Ice Punch and put it in a jug to keep it chilled. Then he visited his cousins, the cookie-making elves, and got a whole bag of snow-flake shaped cookies.

Stan went to the clearing where all the snow elves gathered. He ate some cookies. He drank some punch. He took out the string of bells and jingled them as he danced around an old evergreen tree.

He continued until all the cookies were eaten, all the was gone, and his feet hurt from all the dancing. No snow fell.

It sounded like Christmas. It smelled like Christmas. It even tasted like Christmas. But it didn’t feel like Christmas. And if it didn’t snow it wouldn’t look like Christmas.

Something was preventing the rest of the elves from waking up and it was preventing Stan from making snow. He decided to go into town and see if he could find what that something was.

From the church bell tower, Stan watched the people below. He watched until it was dark. He watched all night. And he watched in the morning. Finally, it came to him.

There was no Christmas spirit. It wasn’t anywhere to be found. People passed each other in the street without saying hello. They didn’t even smile. With packages clutched tightly in their arms, they bustled from place to place without any of the warmth that made Christmas special.

While it was true that heat made snow elves sleepy, the Christmas spirit was a different kind of warmth. It made the elves want to dance and sing with one another. When they did that, it snowed. The merrier the gathering the more it snowed. However, unless something changed the cold hearts of the townspeople, there would be no snow this year.

Stan knew just what to do.

He climbed down the bell tower, into the church, where he borrowed some children’s clothing that he found in the donation box. He dressed so that nobody would recognize him as an elf and then walked outside.

An old woman shuffled slowly on the icy side walk. She carried many packages and looked as if she might fall.

Stan skipped over to her and said, “Please may I help with your packages? I can carry them and you can take my hand so that you don’t slip on the ice.”

The woman scowled at Stan.

But Stan didn’t care. He smiled back at her. He smiled until her frown went away and she handed the packages to him. They walked across the street and down the block until they reached a small green house. Stan waited for her to open the door and then took the packages inside and laid them on the kitchen table.

“Merry Christmas,” he shouted as passed the woman on his way out.

She waved good-bye. “Merry Christmas to you,” she said with a smile.

That made Stan feel good inside. It felt like Christmas.

Walking down the street, Stan came across a hospital. If any place needed a little cheer, it certainly had to be here.

In one of the rooms a little boy sat in a bed. He was all alone in the room and looked very sad.

Stan walked in and said, “Would you like to hear a story.”

The boy sat up straighter and nodded his head.

“Once upon a time,” Stan began the story. Then he told the little boy about a shoe-maker elf who liked children and made them magical shoes. He happened to know that particular elf pretty well, but told the story as if it were make believe.

When he had finished the story he told the boy good-bye.

“Thank you, friend,” the boy said. “I’m so glad that you came to visit me.”

So was Stan. He didn’t know the boy. Still, he was glad he had come and visited him, all the same.

As he walked out of the hospital and along the sidewalk, Stan whistled. At the end of the block, a man worked in his yard, raking up leaves. It was a big yard. There were a lot of leaves.

“If you have another rake,” said Stan. “I can help you and we’ll get these leaves raked up twice as fast.”

The man’s face brightened at the suggestion. He went into his tool shed and came back with another rake.

Because the rake was so big and Stan was so elf-sized, it took him a little while to get used to raking the leaves. The man introduced himself as Mr. Henke and the two of them sang Christmas songs while they worked. Before he realized it, they had finished raking the entire yard. It had hardly seemed like work at all.

“Now I have time to help Mrs. Sutters,” said Mr. Henke. “I can fix her door and then she won’t have any more trouble getting in and out of her house.”

Mr. Henke shook Stan’s hand and then put the rakes away and walked over to the house next door.

Now it really felt like Christmas.

Stan returned to the gathering place. He picked up his jingly bells and started to dance and sing. This time it was different. He thought of all the giving he had done today and it brightened his heart. As he danced, a snow flake drifted down from the sky and landed on his nose. Then a few more came down and rested on his shoulder.

He started to dance again. Only this time, Cecil was there to join him. They took either end of the string of bells and danced around the old evergreen tree.

One by one, the rest of the snow elves joined Stan and Cecil. Some brought bells. Some brought flutes. And Lora brought a huge pot of Ice Punch.

They danced and they sang until morning. And when they returned to their homes, the town and all its surroundings was covered with a blanket of pure, white snow.