A Few Observations and Comments

All contests on this blog are mostly for fun. They are also a learning experience for you.

So. Here are some mistakes that were made by the authors submitting to this contest. Funny thing (or not so funny, depending on how you look at it), NONE of these items were singular events. More than one person made each of the mistakes listed below.

1. Submitting after deadline has passed. Deadlines were clearly stated in large, bold, colorful type. Submissions received after the deadline were excluded from the contest.

2. Word count too high. Before you submit, make sure you check your word count. Most software will do this for you. If your’s won’t, invest in new software. Most contests/magazines don’t give you a chance to fix and resubmit.

3. No title on your story. I didn’t explicitly state that each story needed a title, but these are short stories. Short stories need titles.

4. Additional submissions did not contain contact info. Your name, contact info, word count and, for this contest, whether you were a published or unpublished author, needs to be included in every submission. Treat each submission as if it was your only submission. Don’t assume the editor will know and/or remember that you’re the same John Doe who submitted a story a week before.

5. No title in Subject line. I didn’t specify that you include the title in the subject line of your e-mail, but it helps. Especially when an editor is looking for a specific story but can’t remember the author’s name, and 80% of the submissions say “Christmas Story” in the subject line.

6. Authors did not know if they were published/unpublished author. I thought the guidelines were clear on this. There was one person who had a situation that did need clarification from me, but the others should have been able to figure it out by reading the submission guidelines carefully.

7. Authors sent published stories. Again, I thought it was clear what was to be considered published and what was not. And again, there was only one request that really needed my clarification.

8. Authors asked where to send the submission/Authors asked where their stories would be posted. ??? I’m guessing someone told them about the contest, gave them my e-mail, but didn’t send them to my website. But still. All of that is covered in the submission guidelines for the contest. The funny thing is, the second question was asked several days after the story was submitted. Never submit your story anywhere if you don’t know the details of the contest.

9. Adding me to your joke list. You don’t know the editor. The editor is not your friend. The editor gets enough e-mail already. Do NOT send the editor jokes or sentimental e-mail spam. Don’t send them to me either.

10. Did not vote for yourself. The whole reason I gave you TWO votes in each category was so you could vote for yourself, and then vote for someone else. Okay, in real life, you rarely get the chance to vote on whether or not your story gets accepted for publication. But it’s the attitude of not voting that’s going to work against you. If you don’t believe in your story enough to “vote” for it, why should the editor?

I am now heading off for my Christmas vacation. I will be back after New Year’s.

Happy Holidays to each of you.


2007 Christmas Contest Winners

Thanks again to all of you for participating in this contest. I hope you feel you’ve received some helpful feedback—either confirmation that you’re on the right track or some tips and pointers on where you need to improve.

I decided to pretend that I was looking for stories for an imaginary Christmas magazine. As I evaluated each piece, foremost in my mind was the question, Would I accept this story, as is, for publication in my magazine? I’ve included my answer in my commentary. If the answer was yes, that doesn’t mean the piece was perfect. It means it was close enough and would only need a slight bit of editing before publication. If the answer was no, I’ve tried to indicate what you’d need to do to fix it.

I also included what I liked best about your story, it’s strengths. As you consider rewriting your story for an actual submission, build on those strengths.

Although the majority of my comments are critical—pointing out what you did wrong—please know that I believe every single submission could be publishable with time and work. All of your stories touched me in some way. I hope each of you will come away from this contest feeling that you have learned something and with a renewed determination to continue writing.

With every contest, it gets harder and harder for me to choose a winner. Rarely is there a submission that stands out as a clear winner, without first having some debate with myself on the merits of the competition. This contest provided lots of debate.

For the first time in the history of this blog, the readers (you) and the publisher (me) actually agreed on who should be a winner in the Published Author category. Since Reader’s Choice takes precedence, that left me having to narrow down down my winner from six* very good stories. I liked each of them for different reasons. I finally chose by asking myself which one I would buy.

In the Unpublished Author category, I couldn’t make up my mind between two of them. I argued with myself all night and finally decided to make it a tie. (I’ll provide the extra prize.)

With all that said, let’s see who the winners are:

Readers Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #10—Arrows to Heaven by Tristi Pinkston

Publisher’s Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #21—The Crooked Christmas Tree by Roger Bonner

Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category: Christmas Story #14—A Dark and Cold Miracle by John Parmley

Publisher’s Choice Unpublished Author Category (tie):
Christmas Story #19—Believe Mr. Thomas by Don Carey
Christmas Story #11—Walking in a Weevil Wonderland by Melanie Goldmund

Winners: Please send me your mailing address within the next thirty days to claim your prize.

A very BIG thank you to the authors who provided prizes for this contest. I hope everyone who submitted a story took the time to read the sponsor bio page and to visit the websites of these very generous authors. If you haven’t, please do so today. It would also be nice if you sent them a message letting them know you appreciate their generosity.

For those of you who did not win, if you want to take credit for your work, please identify yourself in the comments section of your post.

*#4, #6, #7, #20, #21, #26

Voting Starts December 16th!

All stories have now been posted. Voting is open.

Voting Rules:

VOTE between 12:01 a.m. December 16th and midnight December 19th.

  • You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished. You may only vote once per story. We’re on the honor system here.
  • I suggest you click on the Submissions by Published Authors link (here or in the sidebar), read those stories and vote for two. Then click on the Submissions by Unpublished Authors, read those and vote twice more.
  • You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I’m voting for this one…)
  • You MAY vote for yourself.
  • You may vote anonymously or using your Google ID. Just remember to be fair and follow the rules. (Anonymous comments are not eligible for the December Comment Contest.)
  • I will use the date/time stamp on your comment to determine if your vote is eligible.
  • You may tell everyone you know about this contest and invite them to vote, but please do not tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win based on their merit and appeal, not on how much your friends and family like you.

There will be four winners: Readers Choice (Published authors), Readers Choice (Unpublished authors), Publisher’s Choice (Published authors), and Publisher’s Choice (Unpublished authors).

Publisher’s Choice winners will be chosen based on quality of writing, uniqueness of story, and whether or not I liked it. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don’t make it a popularity contest.

I will announce the winners on Friday, December 21st. I will make comments on each of the stories some time during Christmas week.

This contest is sponsored by and prizes provided by:

  • Publisher’s Choice, Published Author: Sorry, the Stork Takes No Returns by Claire Bowen
  • Reader’s Choice, Published Author: The Man from Shenandoah by Marsha Ward
  • Publisher’s Choice, Unpublished Author: Kindred Spirits by Christopher Bigelow
  • Reader’s Choice, Unpublished Author: Grasshopper Pie by Rebecca Talley

Please visit our sponsor bio page to learn more about the sponsoring books and authors.

Christmas 27: The Christmas Stocking

She had pretty much given up on Christmas. Sure, she liked all the trappings that came with the season – the trees, the ornaments, the lights. But it was all too…commercial, too fake. No one really meant any of the things they said when they wished you a Merry Christmas. It was just like someone saying hello or goodbye. It didn’t mean anything.

Andrea had felt this way since she could remember. Since her father had gone away and left her and her brother to fend for themselves. That had been the worse year in memory, and she often over did during the Christmas season just so she would be too tired to remember it. This year was going to be even better. [Better than what?]

Tonight her work was throwing a company party. [“work” is a verb. Her company was throwing a Christmas party.] Being the Friday before Christmas, it made things cramped for time, but she’d already packed most of what she’d need. She looked forward to the party – lots of noise, music, food and the yearly bonus the boss handed out.

She needed the bonus to finish paying for her trip, booked for Christmas Eve. Her brother was going to be out of town, and she didn’t want to spend it with any of her married-with-children friends who’s [whose] happy holidays brought nagging memories. This year she was going to be gone on a cruise ship known for it’s partying atmosphere. Despite having saved all year for it, her bank account was still on the red side – needing that bonus money to cover stuff till payday. It was her present to herself.

Looking around the apartment, satisfied with it’s clean condition, [tell us what she saw; what was the “proof” of its clean condition?] she glanced again at her own appearance before picking up her wrap, purse and keys. Her red satin dress with the slit up the side, her high heels and fake stole were all stunning; her hair had been worth the cost, laying in wild dark curls around her shoulders. Satisfied, she stepped out and locked the door, passing the apartment next door with a twinge of guilt that she firmly pushed aside. Everyone at work would be bringing a friend – but she hadn’t invited anyone. Jared was the only one she talked to with any regularity, but she wasn’t sure he was someone she wanted to take to a social function, he always seemed so laid back. What if he didn’t have a suit? [Who is Jared? Need more here.]

The clouds were heavy and hung low in the sky, a sure sigh snow was on it’s way. She flagged down a taxi and told him the address where the party was being held. This was going to be the kick off night – she could hardly wait.


Packages were mis-delivered to his apartment all the time. Jared was used to telling people that he had their stuff. In fact, the postman regularly left them with him now, figuring it was sure to get to the right people that way. When the package came for his neighbor, his heart skipped a beat.

Not one to push his company on anyone, he hadn’t seen her very much, exchanging even fewer words. But he thought she was gorgeous, and he definitely wanted to get to know her. He day dreamed about her all the time – having her over for dinner, showing her his collection of Victorian Christmas cards… [use real punctuation]

But he hardly ever saw her, and they had been neighbors for almost 5 years now. Perhaps now…now she would have to see him, and he wondered if it would make any difference.

[We need some stronger indication that he’s thinking of Andrea. Give us a description.]

It wasn’t until two in the morning that Andrea stumbled up the stairs, so tired she couldn’t see straight as she tried to find her door key. The party had been even better than last year, the bonus had been exactly as expected, and she could hardly wait for Christmas Eve. Stopping in front of her door, she focused on a post-it note stuck there, and frowned. A package?

Squinting at the note, she shrugged. It would have to wait till tomorrow – there was no way she was going to knock on someone’s door this time of night.

[Need a break here, not below.]

The sound of someone knocking worked it’s way through her sleep numbed brain, and Andrea pried one eye open to focus on the clock by her bed. 11:30 am…most normal people would be up. What in the world?


Jared stood outside her door, nervous and excited at the same time. When she answered, disheveled and wrapped in a robe, he became embarrassed.

“Yes?” she mumbled, eyeing him warily.

“Um, you got this package,” he said, feeling like a fool. What was he thinking? She wasn’t even going to remember him later.

“Oh yeah.” She stared at it and him blankly, before opening the door. “Come on in.”

He gulped and entered, afraid she would change her mind. “Uh, did you get the note?”

“Yeah, but I got in real late,” she said, sitting down on her couch with her feet tucked under. [under what? her? the couch? a pillow?]

She didn’t seem eager to take the package, which puzzled him and he placed it on the low coffee table.

“Does it say who it’s from?” she asked, looking at him tiredly.

Surprised, he looked at the return address. “It says Morgan Waterson, LA.” [Who is Morgan Waterson?]

“Oh.” She reached out and picked it up, suddenly interested in the contents. In no time she had cut open the tape with scissors and pulled out a thin felt stocking, the kind kids used to hang for Christmas years ago.

There was no sound – she stared at it with her mouth hanging open as she held it from her fingertips as if afraid to hold it tightly.

“That’s…um, that’s cool,” Jared said, feeling awkward. “Is it yours?”

She nodded, her eyes looking suspiciously moist. “I – I didn’t know it was still around.” There was a small note tucked in the top, and she pulled it out, wiping at her face. “Mom found these before she died,” she read out loud. “I forgot to send it on to you. Merry Christmas, Morgan.”

Sighing, it seemed as if she deflated with the air leaving her body, the stocking falling to her lap with her limp hand. She looked so forlorn, Jared wanted to pull her into his arms.

“I haven’t seen this stocking since I was a girl,” she told him, absently stroking the faded felt. “Not since my dad left us.” As she rubbed her fingers over the fabric, there was a crinkle of paper, and she felt inside to discover an envelope, yellowed a little with time, her name written on it.

“What in the world…” she slipped a finger under the flap and ripped it open to read it through before looking up at Jared, her face draining of color. “It’s – my dad – I,”

Jared reached over and gently pulled the paper from her fingers, since she wasn’t going to be able to say it out loud and read it for himself.

“Dear Andrea: Never doubt that I love you. Leaving you this Christmas was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m going away to battle, and it’s likely I won’t come home, so I didn’t want you to have to deal with that. Its probably the coward way out, but I wanted you to remember me here, and not think of me wounded or dying half the world away. Take care of your mother, she needs you, and remember your brother loves you too. You will always be my little sprite, Love, Dad.”

Tears were running down her cheeks when he looked back up, feeling a catch in his throat and an ache in his heart. “I –,”

She shook her head, wiping now at the tears. “I know, you don’t even know me, but you see, I thought he’d just left us. Mom never explained, only that he was gone. We never knew…or at least I didn’t.” She took the letter back and pressed it with shaking fingers. “I always hoped he come walking back someday.”

Jared wished now that he’d never come. What a terrible thing to have during the Christmas season! It was like getting a telegram from the past that someone had died.

“I’m glad you’re here, Jared,” she said softly, still looking down at the paper and touching it softly. “You understand.” [we need more clues earlier in the story that they are close friends.]

He stared at her in surprise. “What?”

She smiled through her tears, as if her heart wasn’t breaking. “You have always understood – you see – you know everything that goes on.” She tilted her head to one side as she regarded him. “Why haven’t you ever asked me out?”

He gulped, feeling his palms start to sweat. “I – I was afraid you would say no.”

Her giggle surprised him and she looked up, her face still wet with tears, her eyes sparkling with a light that captivated him. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to ask you. How do you feel about cruising?”

Watch your grammar, sentence structure, spelling. There are a couple of places where you use two words when it should be one word or hyphenated. Use words to create scene breaks, not ***. Ellipses almost never work. Use real punctuation.

Show us more, don’t tell. Give us some inner dialogue, more description of setting, physical appearance. Identify your characters better. You throw out names and the connection is not always clear. Unless it’s a mystery, the reader wants to know the connections right off.

The relationship moves a little too fast to be believable and the characters need to be developed more. The biggest problem you’ll have to deal with is that I don’t believe for one second that her mother never told her about her dad. It doesn’t make sense—unless her mother is long dead or mentally ill.

What I liked best: Your description of the main character in paragraph 5.

Magazine ready? No. This is not really short story material. You’ve got the beginnings of a holiday romance story. It would take some work, but I could see you expanding this into a novel or a Lifetime Christmas movie.

Christmas 26: Anthropomorph

Wolf Man lay on his bed at 11:00 [p.m.], Christmas Eve. What if no one came? He could make a lot of noise and make sure someone came… [don’t use ellipses] but by the time he got their attention, it wouldn’t be quiet. It had to be quiet on Christmas Eve, for the change to come.

So he waited, quietly. At last, an orderly poked his head through the doorway. Wolf Man groaned aloud. He could read the kid’s name badge tonight: “Scott.” [wouldn’t he recognize him without having to read the name badge?] Scott, with the spindly goatee and the derisive sneer. Scott, the leader of the crowd of techs who liked to taunt the mute dog-man when they thought no one who could understand was listening. Who knew if anyone else would come around before dawn? And it was only 11:30: late enough that the curtains were opening, early enough that he couldn’t do much about it. [awkward]

So he groaned, again. Scott, about to close the door, sighed audibly and edged back in, still holding the doorknob. “What’s wrong, Dogbreath?” Wolf Man’s official records named him John Wilson, a dignified, humanizing name—even though it certainly wasn’t his name. The staff called him Wolf Man when the administrators weren’t around. He had left names behind long ago. [Why do they call him Wolf Man? Does he look like a wolf? Sound like a wolf? Act like a wolf?]

He stalked toward the boy-nurse, who shrank back against the door. He met the kid’s eye. Some staff would have known. Wolf Man made eye contact! Something’s up! [awkward]

But the kid averted his eyes like a pup under the alpha male’s paw. “I’ll check your medication!” he yelped, then slammed and locked the door. Wolf Man was classified non-violent, but he had a room to himself because he made patients nervous. The facility’s policies aimed to keep patients calm.

Midnight. The curtains lifted. The kid came back in, with a small paper cup. He glanced toward Wolf Man. “Brought more medication. The doctor said OK.”

“Put it down,” growled Wolf Man.

Scott started violently, and the pill went skittering across the floor, under the wardrobe. [good]

“Tell them I took it.” Words felt rough and unfamiliar, like they always did on Christmas Eve.

Scott’s eyes were as big as a cornered deer’s. “You—you talked.”

Wolf Man nodded, once. “Yeah. So talk to me.” He had to look on the bright side. At least tonight he could swear at the kid—quietly. It would feel good. Wolf Man sat in the desk chair and rubbed his face with his hairy hands. [what desk chair? we need a description of the room]

The kid gripped the doorknob tighter. “I’ve got to go find someone!”

Wolf Man surged out of the chair and grabbed the kid’s shoulder. “No!” The kid let go of the doorknob instantly, but Wolf Man kept his grip, so his hand wouldn’t shake. “You want to bring down a pack of shrinks on me?”

“W-well, yeah. They’re qualified to—” The kid’s eyes rolled around, looking for crutches. [awkward] “—to help. I’m just a tech, and—”

Wolf Man tossed the kid in the desk chair. “I’ve only got till dawn.”

“Dawn?” echoed the kid, curiosity joining the fear in his face.

“Dawn. And I can only talk to one person.” He reached for words that the shrink pack could understand. “Too stressful with more than one person around.” He jabbed his horn-nailed finger at the kid’s nose. “And you’re it. So talk.”

“The charge nurse is going to wonder where I went. They might be wondering already.” The kid’s eyes flitted to the tiny camera in the corner of the ceiling.

Wolf Man let out his breath in a rush, defeated. “Fine. But come back when you can.” He tried to meet the kid’s terrified eyes.

“Tracy’s on duty. She’d do better…”

“No!” His own vehemence surprised him. Scott and his gang of friends treated Wolf like—well, like a wolf. A wild dog, untamable, but good for baiting from a safe distance. Stacy [huh?] treated him like a pet dog. “You shouldn’t treat him like that! He’s a man with feelings, just like the rest of you!” But her eyes reflected the same fear of his implacable muteness. At least Scott was an honest jerk.

“OK, then. I’ll come back.”

Wolf paced until the door opened again and Scott slid back into the desk chair.

He raised a bushy eyebrow at the kid. “I’ve been talking to myself,” he said. “Dogbreath bet you’d run away.” The kid winced. “Wolf thought you’d come back. Dogbreath owes Wolf five bucks.” [good]

The kid met his eye with an obvious act of will. “I’m on break,” he said, “so we have to talk fast.”

Wolf motioned at the camera. “What about…?”

“Tracy said she’d cover for us as long as she could. She wanted to come in here herself.”

“How’d you keep her out?”

The kid’s ears turned pink. “Told her it might be dangerous, with you unstable like this.”

Wolf nodded. Mostly his mind had taken his reason without giving him a dog’s senses or power. But he knew Tracy smelled like fear.

“So, why’d you choose Christmas Eve?”

Wolf sat on the bed. “I didn’t choose it. It chooses me, every year. It’s like the old story. The animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. I can talk until dawn—if I’m careful, and quiet.” He pushed his hands slowly toward each other, until they met with a clap. “Then the curtains close again.”

“But that’s…” The kid’s voice trailed off.

Wolf leaned back on his pillow. “Ridiculous, yeah. Or magical, or blessed. Probably delusional. It might go away with the right medication.” [good]

Scott leaned forward, some untapped germ of empathy itching at him, Wolf guessed. “Do you remember your name, or where you came from?”

Wolf shook his head. “Sometimes names come to me on Christmas Eve.” He pointed at the desk. “See? I’ve got paper and a pencil all ready.”

“You can write?”

Wolf sighed. This was going to be a long night. “So, talk.”


“Yeah, and I’ll answer, and sometimes you’ll ask questions and I’ll answer, [awkward] and we’ll just sit here and be human together.” [good] Wolf folded his arms and waited.

“OK…” Scott’s gaze landed on the bridge of Wolf’s nose. “How about Christmas?”

Wolf nodded.

“I didn’t want to work tonight, but they pay double time if you work on Christmas. Before I left for work, my little sisters sprinkled oatmeal and glitter on the lawn for the reindeer.”

“Oatmeal? How do you sprinkle that?”

“Dry oatmeal. And we always got Pop-tarts in our stockings. They took up a lot of room, so my mom didn’t have to put a lot of other crap in there…”

By Stacy’s Christmas magic, no one came nosing in to find Scott. So when Scott finished, Wolf picked up. His sentences came out broken, incomplete, like his memories. “A trail in a forest. Or a park, maybe. And a stream—or a spring. Except the spring was in a different place. Rushing past me, too fast to hold. And a girl—a grown-up, beautiful girl. Reaching out to me, but the curtains were closing. ‘I can’t find you,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry.’ And the water again, carrying me away…” Scott somehow knew not to say anything. “Karen.” Scott sat up straight, his hand inching toward the pencil. “Karen…Foresman. Or Fordham…” The swirling black at the edges of his mind threatened to snap closed, but the sky outside was still dark. Wolf willed back the chaos, clenching his whole face with the effort. “Tell me some more about the Pop-tarts.”

So Scott talked about Pop-tarts, and sports cars, and the other techs and aides, and the girl he was dating, and the one he wanted to date. And then it was Wolf’s turn again. “Fordham. Yes. And Springdale.”

Scott frowned. “Springdale? Is that around here?”

Wolf shook his head. “No. But it’s…somewhere.” He could see the silhouette of the tree outside his window. The curtains shuddered, preparing to close. He turned his back to the window and crossed the room to where Scott sat, scribbling the important words. Wolf didn’t know if those names were right—or if they would be of any use if they were right. But now the kid’s eyes—Scott’s eyes—met his, human to human. He knelt down so their eyes were level.

The curtains were closing fast, with the morning light. Scott looked panicked. “What should I tell them? What can I do?”

“That fairytale?” Wolf grunted around his closing throat. “About the talking animals?” Scott nodded. Wolf gripped his right hand. “Some say the animals can talk on Christmas. Others say that people learn how to talk…to…animals…” [use dashes] They were still shaking hands when the words became growls, then a howl of anguish.

Someone squeezed his hand and rustled a piece of paper. Slowly, his eyes focused on the face in front of him—and met other eyes. Eyes that saw him. “I’ve got the names,” Scott said slowly. “I’ll do what I can—everything I can.”

With an effort, Wolf Man held his gaze, and, very slowly, nodded.

Work on punctuation and sentence structure. There are a few unanswered questions: How long has he been in here? If longer than a year, wouldn’t the staff know this had happened in previous years and be expecting it?

You’ve got some typos and you mixed up Tracy/Stacy. I’d suggest dropping her altogether. She’s really not needed for the story. Have Scott come in and stay in. It’s night, there’s not that much activity. Or make him be a janitor—no one would miss him if he was in a patient’s room for a few hours. I want more detail to their conversation. And you need a better title.

What I liked best: Your unique
twist on the myth that animals can talk on Christmas Eve. You’ve got some good phrases.

Magazine ready? Not quite. But I’d ask you to rewrite and resubmit next year because the concept is very good.

Christmas 25: Stella Gratiae:* A Christmas Parable

Andrew sneaked into the living room before dawn Christmas morning and found it empty. Nothing. Only the tree, and even that looked dull and useless [lifeless?], its bottom half exposed, with cranberry strands and ribbons dangling off.

Andrew went over to his limp stocking and fished around inside. Was anything there? Had he really been left without any gifts at all? [awkward] Finally his fingers closed around something hard and smooth. He pulled it out and held it: a small yellow stone, with one word etched into it. GRATIAS.** [huh?]

What kind of a gift was that?

He rubbed and rubbed it, thinking that maybe it was some sort of genie-like magic, that if he wished on it enough all the gifts would appear. Nothing happened. Then Lydia ran into the room with his mom and dad. “We beat you!” she yelled. “You didn’t get to open anything yet!”

“That’s because there’s nothing to–“ Andrew began and then stopped as he watched Lydia. She ran towards the tree, made grabbing motions, and then acted as though she were tearing wrapping paper off a gift. “My new Nikki doll!” she said, cradling it.

“But there’s nothing there!” Andrew said. “Look!” He walked over to the tree, through the place where Lydia stood.

“Stop it!” she said. “You’re, you’re walking on top of the presents. No–you’re walking through the presents!”

“Andrew!” his mother said. “Hold still. You’re turning into a ghost!”

Andrew stopped.

“Here, open something,” his father said, handing him a box. [If my child were turning into a ghost, I wouldn’t give him a present to open. I’d be totally freaking out.]

As Andrew reached for the gift his hands passed through. He felt a cold whoosh of air, but nothing solid. [why can he see this one but not the others?]

“That’s the strangest thing I ever saw,” said his father. He looked puzzled, not angry. Andrew was relieved. He did not want to be blamed for making all his presents disappear. “Try this one instead.”

So Andrew tried the next present. And the next, and the next. As his sister Lydia opened gifts and squealed, he tried to touch present after present. Finally his parents decided to open his gifts for him, and tell him about them. [now he can see them? need some transition]

“Here’s your new Lego set! The Imperial Destroyer!” his father said. He gave Andrew an uncertain smile.

“Wow, thanks.” Andrew said. If he could have seen [awkward] the Imperial Destroyer, he would have whooped and torn it open and started to build it right then. But now, with the gift his and not-his at the same time, he felt both grateful and angry. But he said nothing. Lydia was squealing over another present, and although Andrew felt like throwing a tantrum, he did not want to spoil Christmas morning anymore than it already was. [This is his first generous thought. Some change needs to happen here.]

His mom opening his presents for him. [awkward] “This one’s from Auntie Erin, and let me see, it’s a new sweater. It matches those pants Grandma sent you. I think it fits you pretty well.” [Mom won’t know if it fits until after she puts it on him.] She pulled it over his head for him. Andrew looked down. If he wore all his new Christmas clothes he would be the opposite of the Emperor in that fairy tale: naked to himself but clothed to everyone else. [good]

“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked. He tried to keep his voice nice; he tried not to show how upset he was. [another thoughtful act; he wants to spare their feelings] “Are there really presents for me, and I just can’t see them? Did I do something wrong?” He did not mean to cry, but his chin quivered anyway.

“Sweetheart, no!” his mother said. “Oh no, we would never do anything so mean!”

Andrew sniffled a little and managed to keep calm. But only just barely. He sat in his invisible sweater and watched as his parents and sister pantomimed their way through Christmas morning. They glanced over at him, eyes sympathetic, and he tried to smile back. He stuffed his fists in the pockets of his robe and felt the stone. He fingered it, brought it out, looked at it again. Bright yellow, smooth and shining. [see note at bottom]

“What’s that, Andrew?” his mother asked.

“Just a rock,” he told her. For some reason, he did not want her to inspect it.

“Boring old gray rock,” Lydia said, coming over to look at it. “What did you pick it up for?”

“It’s not–“ Andrew began, but then he stopped. “I just liked it, that’s all,” he said. [I like that they can’t see its color.]

Lydia and his mother returned to their gifts. Did they care about him? Were they just writing off the disappearance of his gifts as something odd, instead of devastating? [He’s being selfish again.]

Andrew smoothed the stone. His mother admired a new serving dish, his sister dressed her new doll. Andrew curled his fingers around the stone’s edges, hefted its weight. As he played with the stone, he began to calm down, to feel a little less angry. It was true that he couldn’t see his presents. But he had been given good ones. [gratitude moment] And even with his own presents unseen, the room held an abundance of gifts. [I thought he couldn’t see their gifts either.]

Still holding the stone, Andrew went into his bedroom and looked at all his old toys. His box full of Legos, organized by size and color. His matchbox cars, lined up on their shelf. The electric train tracks, the talking globe, the transformers.

They were pretty good toys. Not new, not wrapped in paper and different and exciting. But pretty good. [awkward] He pulled out the trains and began to play with them, winding the track in crosses and circles around his bedroom. He stuck the yellow stone in the engine and watched it scoot down the track. Gold mist trailed behind. He watched the mist as it swirled in little puffs behind the train cars. He breathed deeply. It smelled like the air just before it rains, damp and clean.

Andrew felt someone watching him and turned around. It was Lydia. “I’m sorry about your presents,” she said. “I made this for you, just now, and I brought it straight to you so it wouldn’t disappear like the other ones.” She held it out to him: a wrapped square. He opened it and found a picture of himself, drawn by Lydia. Lydia was only seven, but it still looked a little like him, with his nose and his cowlick sticking up in back. [why can he see this one?]

“I’ll put it right on my desk,” he said. “Thanks, Lydia.” He was surprised at how grateful he felt. Lydia beamed. [gratitude moment]

“I’ve always wanted to make one for you,” she said, “but I just never did before.” [in their entire lifetime, she’s never drawn a picture for him? Why not?]

“I’m glad you did today,” he told her. She knelt with him on the floor and together they watched the glowing train wind around its path. [contrast this with how he acted before]

Behind them, Andrew’s mother and father came in. Andrew smelled cinnamon. “I don’t know why your gifts disappeared,” his mother said, “but I made your favorite French toast for breakfast. It’s not like your other gifts, but you can eat as much as you want.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Andrew said. Suddenly he felt very thankful for French toast and all the times she had made it the way he liked it, out of raisin bread, with cinnamon-apple topping.

“I’ve been trying to think of something good to give you, too,” his dad said. “And I don’t have much at hand. I keep shaking your presents and wondering why you can’t see them or touch them.” He handed Andrew a piece of paper. “I O U a fishing trip,” it read. [he can see and touch this?]

“I’ve never taken you ice fishing before,” his dad said. “and I know someone who can let us borrow his ice shack.” He looked at Andrew and his face was anxious. Andrew could tell he really wanted it to be okay. “It’s got a heater,” his dad added.

“That would be great,” Andrew said. He’d never been fishing with his father before. “Thanks, Dad.”

He hugged them all. He still didn’t understand why his gifts had disappeared. And, in spite of the glowing stone, and its sweet-scented mist, he missed his new unseen presents. He wanted to keep the stone, and the gifts it had brought, and also have all the presents back. He wanted to play with the Legos and admire the careful brush strokes on Lydia’s picture. He wanted to see his new sweater and wear it ice fishing.

If all his presents had not disappeared, would he still be going ice fishing? Would he be eating French toast for breakfast? Would Lydia have worked so hard on a picture for him? Or maybe, Andrew thought, he would have had all those things, but he wouldn’t have appreciated them.

“Come to breakfast; it’s ready,” his mom said. His family left to go into the kitchen.

Andrew stayed back a minute and watched the train round the final bend. He pulled the stone out of the engine. It shone in his hand. The writing had changed. Instead of GRATIAS, it said JOY.

On his way into the kitchen for breakfast, he placed the glowing stone at the top of their Christmas tree, in the hollow between two branches.

*Star of Grace

Watch for punctuation, sentence structure. Make it flow a little more smoothly. Pump up the sensory items. I’m not sure why you use the two foreign words. There needs to be a clear reason, or it’s just distracting.

You need to clue us in to his previous ingratitude or greed or something, so there’s a reason why he’d only get that rock in his stocking. We need a Christmas Eve scene that shows Andrew as ungrateful, greedy, and mean to his sister, so that we understand why he needs to change.

The idea of the invisible gifts teaching the boy gratitude is a great one, but you’ve got some missing pieces that need to be addressed. How old is Andrew? Why aren’t his parents upset? Why can he see some gifts but not others? Does he ever see the gifts? The invisibility should only last until the child learns the lesson. You need a tighter resolution. We need to see more of a change in him.

What I liked best: The basic concept. It is intriguing and I think you can do a lot with it.

Magazine ready? No. But if you rewrote it to make a stronger story, I’d like to see it again.

Christmas 24: Lydia’s Christmas Wish

The glow from the Christmas party filled her heart as Lydia entered her bedroom and twirled around, still hearing the music in her mind. What a wonderful evening, she thought, stopping and clasping her hands to her chest where she could feel her heart beating like a wild thing. Never had she enjoyed such company! [good opening paragraph for this genre]

The past year had been long and dreary as she’d mourned her father. Thankfully her aunt and uncle had taken her in, bringing some joy back to her life. While not destitute, she hadn’t been left with enough dowry to attract anyone of title – her father had left debts that made selling the estate imperative. Her hopes, therefore, had not been high as guests came to call on her aunt and uncle. They were popular and wealthy, so their guests were much the same, and wondrous to behold. [don’t tell us they’re popular and wealthy; show it to us by describing them in some way.]

But tonight! Oh, it had been glorious! She had met so many who were kind and fulsome [assuming this word is appropriate for your setting, but it’s not clear what your setting is] in their compliments. She knew that she had looked her best in the new gown her aunt had given her. Royal blue in color, it brought out the sparkle in her eyes, and offset the fairness of her skin. Her long dark hair had stood out [awkward] against the many blondes in the room, and she had found herself the object of such attention that she’d been nervous.

Her aunt had waved most of them away, except for one gentleman whom she’d introduced with a small bow.

“This is the Earl of Whithersby,” she’d said in warm tones. “He is a dear family friend and neighbor, as his property is just over the hill. This is my niece, Lydia.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, my lord,” Lydia had curtsied gracefully, after which he bid her rise. [would she really need his permission to rise? There’s not that much difference in their social class.]

“Please, call me Lawrence,” he’d insisted, his eyes warm and friendly in his face carved in handsome lines. [I’m imagining Pride and Prejudice here—and it would be inappropriate for him to ask her to call him by his first name so soon.]

They had danced several times, which seemed to set tongues wagging, [good] she could hear them as they passed. He ignored all of it, keeping her supplied with punch, and then insisted on taking her in to dinner. It had been an evening of dreams and she felt her heart beat quickly, thinking him very attractive. She felt as if she knew him already, as her aunt spoke of him any moment he was absent. Aunt Margaret held him in the greatest esteem, espousing nothing but praise for his management and appointment.

With a dreamy sigh, Lydia settled on the window seat, gazing out into the cold, crisp night. She watched the clouds drift past the moon which cast soft light on the snow covered ground. It was the Christmas she had always wished for. This evening…[don’t use ellipses] this was the type to make memories from. Caroling with friends, sipping hot wassail, shopping in the stores along London’s busy streets. [she did all this, plus dinner and a dance in one evening?] The trip to London had taken quite a while to describe in the little notebook mother had given her upon her 12th birthday.

“Oh Mother,” she said, pulling a soft blanket around her shoulders and leaning back against the window frame. “I wish you could have been here, you and father.” [drop the journal; give us this info in some other way.] The ache she felt for her mother had been tempered by time – she’d died five years ago. The ache for her father, however, was fresh and seemed always with her. They had grown close the years before his death, spending many hours in front of the fire, reading to each other and conversing about what they read. If only she could find a someone to be with, like her father had found with her mother.

There was a light tap at her door, and she turned to see her maid, Gertrude, enter.

“Oh miss!” the girl exclaimed, seeing where she sat. “Tis late to be sitting in that cold drafty window, you’ll be catching your death, you will!”

Lydia sighed and submitted to Gertrude’s administrations. Soon she was under warm sheets and blankets, reviewing the evening once more. My only wish for Christmas, she thought drowsily, is to see the Earl – Lawrence, again.


Morning dawned snowy and cloudy, and Lydia gradually became aware of the lovely smell of hot chocolate and the sound of a fire crackling. She sniffed the air appreciatively before throwing back the bedding to grab her wrap, hoping Gertrude was lingering nearby. Sure enough, the minute she picked up her cup and saucer, there was a tap on the door.

Downstairs, the atmosphere was still festive, the decorations gleaming from last nights party. She hurried to the parlor, as Gertrude had informed her that’s where her aunt and uncle waited. [Did she get dressed first?]

“You have a guest, miss,” the butler said before she got to there. “He’s waiting in the Parlor.”

Lydia’s heart quickened its beat, nerves slowing her steps. She licked suddenly dry lips, and stopped at the doorway to the parlor, the lovely scene with the decorated tree and roaring fire losing any appeal once she realized who the visitor was. [awkward]

“My Lord!” she gasped, putting a hand to her throat. “What a surprise!”

The object of her cherished dreams stood, coming to her side where he bent over her hand, his warmth and distinguished good looks unchanged. “Good morning, Miss Lydia,” he said, his voice setting her stomach to butterflies. “Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas to you,” she replied, missing the warmth of his fingers when he released her hand. [good] “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

He smiled, waving her to a chair. “Please, sit down,” he entreated. “Would you like some hot cocoa or wassail?” [It’s her home; he would not invite her to sit or drink, she would ask him.]

Lydia felt sure that her hands would tremble too much to hold anything without spilling. “Oh, no, I am fine, thank you.”

The Earl seemed ill at ease and paced a few steps as Lydia stared at him with wide bemused eyes, scarcely believing he was here to see her. Finally, he turned and knelt down before her chair.

[Up to this point, your story has the makings of a fine romance—great descriptions, the requisite attraction, a few stumbling block, lots of dreamy sighing and racing pulses. But this is where you lose my willingness to believe the story.]

“My dear Lydia,” he said, his voice low and tremulous, causing her pulse to quicken even further as he took one of her hands in his. “I know this must sound mad – I have deliberated all night, but have been unable to see any other solution. I realize I am a stranger to you, but could you…um, might you…consider marriage to me?”

She stared at him in confusion, her heart telling her that he’d felt the same as she had, yet her head refused to acknowledge it. He must have seen the signs of faintness because he was up and reaching for the bell pull, but she stopped him with a gasp; not wanting the whole house in an uproar.

“I am not certain I heard you correctly,” she managed to whisper, her eyes searching his face.

He knelt again, taking both hands in his and lightly rubbing them with his warm, strong ones. “My dearest, I fear that I’ve frightened you,” he admitted, his voice husky. “But I cannot think of life without you. Please tell me that you don’t despise me – that I have some worth in your eyes!”

Lydia shook her head, feeling as if she was still sleeping — this had to be a wonderful dream from which she didn’t want to awake.

“I regard you with nothing but the highest respect,” she finally managed to say, looking into his handsome face which was flushed with emotion. “I could never despise you.”

“Then you might be persuaded to consider my offer?” His grip, while tightening, was still gentle as he held her hands, and Lydia felt it was a anchor for her heart.

“I would be pleased to accept,” she heard herself say, a song beginning in her heart. “I am stunned that you think so highly of me.” [No! It’s too soon.]

He smiled and leaned closer to her, touching her face with feather lightness. “It would not surprise you, I think, to know your aunt has continually brought your virtues to light before your visit. I feel as if I’ve known you for ages, and have anticipated your arrival with much eagerness.” [huh? Need more set-up for this.]

Lydia gazed at his fine boned face, seeing the warmth and sincerity in his eyes. “You do me much honor,” she said softly. “You have already spoke with my Uncle, I presume. Does my aunt know?”

The Earl smiled. “I’m sure they are waiting to toast the occasion.”

“Then we should not keep them waiting,” Lydia said, letting him assist her up.

He paused before they reached the door, however, and pulled her into his arms as if unable to stop himself. “I never dreamed you would accept,” he murmured in her ear. [then why did he ask?] “You have made me incredibly happy, my darling. Happy Christmas,” he said in a soft whisper, pulling back to slip a delicate gold ring on her finger. [No ring.]

Lydia gazed at it in wonder before raising her face to meet his lips in their first kiss. She only wished her parents could have seen this day…the day her Christmas wish had come true.

You’ve got some run-on sentences and a few other technical mistakes. Don’t use ellipses. Don’t use *** to change scenes. Find the right words to do it for you.

The romance moves much too quickly. Even in the time period you’ve chosen, I do not believe he would ask her to marry him so soon. There needs to be some struggle, some possibility of it not working out to create the needed tension. Take it slowly, give us more depth. Perhaps have him ask if he may call on her.

What I liked best: your descriptions of Lydia, her surroundings, her thoughts and feelings, dialog that I assume is appropriate for the time period. You create a good sense of time and place. Good first paragraph for the genre.

Magazine ready? No. This is really not a short story. You have too much happening in too short a time period. Consider developing this into a novel, where you can take the time to develop the characters and their relationship.

Christmas 23: Christmas Once Again

The season is here,
I can’t wait to be free
From this stuffed cardboard box
Where she always stores me

Along with all the others [awkward]
Who can’t wait to get out
To decorate this home
Before the next Christmas sprouts [punctuation]

The ornaments are chatting
About where they’ll be on the tree [punctuation]
The star is bragging,
He’ll be on top, you see [punctuation]

That snowman she puts
On the same windowsill,
He complains all the time
About the persistent chill [punctuation]

And that ‘Santa in a Sleigh’
Who’s always happy and gay,
Is getting on everyone’s nerves
With his singing today [good image]

But like every other year
The time has finally come [for what?] [punctuation]
As soon as the children are in,
The excitement, the fun [punctuation]

We’ll scatter the home
Colours of green white and red [awkward] [punctuation]
The tree will be decorated
By tonight, it is said [punctuation]

I hear her footsteps
As she approaches the closet [punctuation]
My heart is pounding
And we all have gone quiet [punctuation]

When she opens the box
I take a deep breath [punctuation]
I couldn’t be more ecstatic
Yet I’m scared to death [punctuation]

I’m at the bottom of the box
So it’ll take a while [punctuation]
Those pretty snowflakes are first [punctuation]
Their sparkles make her smile [punctuation]

She’ll decide where to put us
Giving us all great fear [awkward]
But we end up in the same spot
Year after year [punctuation]

When it comes my turn
I’m ready to be hung [punctuation]
There’s a special hook for me [punctuation]
It’s always the same one [punctuation]

Next to the kitchen,
Close enough to the tree,
I have the most magical spot
In the whole house, you see [punctuation]

I smell the cookies being baked [punctuation]
I can watch the TV,
Best of all, people kiss
When they pass under me [punctuation]

My pretty gold ribbon
And lush green leaves,
Plenty white berries
And attractive prestige [what about them?]

Those two little reindeer
Are next in line [punctuation]
Near the fire place they sit
Their red noses do shine [punctuation]

The young ones are talking [punctuation]
School is out for a week [punctuation]
They’ll go play outside
While she fixes them a treat [punctuation]

I see through the window,
The snow falling down
Silently, perfectly
Onto the barren white ground [punctuation]

I admire each snowflake
Perfect and unique [punctuation]
The icicles fall from the rooftop
Like a tiger’s angry teeth [good image] [punctuation]

While the children play
Their warm snowsuits on
Carols are heard in the kitchen
As she sings along [who is she?] [punctuation]

Finally Dad comes home [punctuation]
They run to say hi
They all come in together
For hot chocolate and pie [punctuation]

He brought home a tree
And some candy canes [punctuation]
The kids dance with excitement
Around the choo-choo train [punctuation]

Suppertime has come
Darkness takes over the sky [punctuation]
They thank God for the food
And a great holiday time [punctuation]

I watch as they all
Decorate the tree [punctuation]
Bright lights and balls
Strings of popcorn and cranberry [punctuation]

The smiles on their faces
Make me feel content
To be a part of Christmas,
A time so joyfully spent.

The tree stands up tall
Its radiance makes me high [punctuation]
They gaze at its beauty,
It’s so elegant, they just sigh [punctuation]

The kid’s eyes open wide
To a plate of shortbread cookies
Lightly coated with icing,
Green sprinkles and cherries [punctuation]

They fall asleep [who is they?]
Beside the warm blazing fire
Above which the stockings hang [punctuation]
Oh! they must be so tired

It’s now time for bed [I thought they were already asleep] [punctuation]
Dad reads them a story
About Jesus and the Angels
And Christmas Day’s glory [punctuation]

Soon tucked into bed
They dream about Christmas [punctuation]
Three carolers come,
Mom and Dad watch with bliss [punctuation]

Once the carolers have gone
They’re now all alone [punctuation]
Only a few candles burn
In the stillness of the home [punctuation]

They’ll go to bed too [punctuation]
Tomorrow will be another long day
But of course they stop
Under me along the way [punctuation]

When their lips meet
I feel such glee [punctuation]
A simple sweet kiss
Can bring such ecstasy [punctuation]

Now I hang here majestic
Waiting for another enchanted day [punctuation]
Christmas is the best time of year
And that is all I can say [punctuation]

It’s very, very difficult to write in rhyme. Your sentence structure, rhyme pattern, and meter is often forced, awkward and stiff. In verse format, it’s much harder to follow your story. I’m guessing this is mistletoe talking. You also need to put in some punctuation. It seems a few things are out of order. First you speak of some decorations that are already out of the box and in place. Then in the middle, you have the mother pulling the box of decorations out of the closet to be put up. Also, you have the children asleep before they’re put to bed. You have some sweet scenes, but I’d like to see this done in standard story format, not poem, and have those scenes developed a little more. I would also give it a different title.

What I liked best: The concept of a story told from the point of view of the Christmas decorations. That is pretty unique and intriguing.

Magazine ready? No. It would need rewriting.

Christmas 22: The Little Mouse that Almost Ruined Christmas

This is a story about a little mouse [punctuation]
Oh, not an ordinary mouse,
That finds his shield [huh?]
in the woods or the field [punctuation]
Or maybe even in your house [punctuation]

Tom, Tom didn’t just live anywhere, [don’t repeat the name]
He chose his hiding place with much care [punctuation]
The Grand Central Restaurant,
Is the best any mouse could want,
And Tom sure liked living there.

Each and every eve,
Just after the cook took his leave,
Tom would come out
Eat cheese, potatous, [sp] trout
And just a little beef [punctuation; forced rhyme, doesn’t work]

But Christmas, Tom held most dear, [punctuation]
There was a party every year, [punctuation]
The cook cooked his very best,
The waitress wore a flower on her chest,
And all of it happened right here [punctuation]

When Christmas was still a week, [huh?]
Tom was hungry, and food he wanted to seek [punctuation; awkward]
But the cook was still cooking
And the waitress could be looking, [punctuation]
If she saw him, she would surely shriek [punctuation]

The hunger he just couldn’t stand
And food was oh so close at hand [punctuation]
Over the shelf, behind the dishes,
Down onto the table with the fishes
He followed his route as planned [punctuation]

Just when he was nibbling something off the plate
That thing happened, of which he was most afraid [forced; awkward; punctuation]
Tom, hungry as he had been,
Didn’t see the waitress come in.
But she’d seen him and her reaction didn’t wait [punctuation]

“MOUSE, MOUSE!” she screamed very loud [punctuation; does not rhyme with shout and out]
The guests in the restaurant heard her shout [punctuation]
Women climbing chairs, yelling terrified [punctuation]
Men picking up their knifes, looking petrified [punctuation]
Others were just running out.

“If only I had seen that mouse,” the cook began. [punctuation]
“I would have chopped off his head and fried him in a pan.”
“If only I had seen that mouse,” said the head waiter. [punctuation]
“I would have taken my tray and smashed him little later.”
But only the waitress had seen him before he ran.

Tom had gone back into his hiding hole, [doesn’t rhyme]
Behind the fridge, in the wall
But the damage had been done.
After most of the panic was gone
The restaurant manager called them all [punctuation]

“This is very serious,” the manager began.
“I know,” grumped the cook with his frying pan [punctuation]
“I know,” said the head waiter, with a dignified nod [punctuation]
“I know,” peeped the waitress, still shaking on the spot [punctuation; doesn’t rhyme]
“We can’t stay open, there is no way we can.” [good stanza]

Hearing this, Tom turned suddenly very cold, [punctuation]
No Christmas this year, and all his fault [punctuation; doesn’t rhyme]
He would have to try his best,
To save Chrismas for every guest
And wat he did next was very bold [punctuation]

He stepped onto the middle of the table
And just before the cook was able
To smash him with his frying pan
As only very good cooks can
The manager screamed STOP, quite formidable [punctuation; doesn’t rhyme]

Tom was still shaking slight, [punctuation]
The managers yell had given him quite a fright.
He thought of what best to do,
now that he wasn’t smashed in two, [clever]
And found the following would be right.

Tom said: “I wonder why,
I cannot be your ally.”
“That is a great idea,
It should have been made by me,”
The manager said in reply

So they started of with this idea
And you can take it from me
That there are only very few
That know more about food than Tom knew
What a Christmas this should be.

They put a Christmas tree in the hall,
And tinsels up on the wall,
They served the most delicious food
The guests couldn’t remember it ever being this good
And Christmas at the restaurant was saved after all.

A simple rhyming Christmas story is very difficult; the rhyme structure and meter you’ve attempted here is not simple. In several places you force the rhyme or the meter and the continuity of the story suffers. It gets a little confusing toward the middle. I’m not sure why the manager is suddenly wanting the mouse to help. We need more motivation. Why do the people need the mouse to help them to decorate for Christmas? Also, it seems the few decorations would not be enough to get the customers to come back.

What I liked best: The mouse. You’ve got an okay story line—a mouse is hungry, scares the staff and customers, then saves Christmas.

Magazine ready? No. It needs quite a bit of work, but with time and effort I could see this idea being developed into a picture book.

Christmas 21: No Tree for Christmas

Poor! Too poor even to buy a Christmas tree. Mary sunk deeper into gloom as she heard a passing carriage outside the window of the small brick house she and her husband John had rented. She glanced up to see that the evening snow had begun falling. Mary felt guilty for the heaviness in her heart. Christmas is a time for joy, not sorrow and worry. It’s a time to remember the birth of Christ, she reprimanded herself, and it can be done without a tree or gifts.

Mary had grown up in a well-to-do family. Her father had emigrated from England and had quickly built up a mercantile business in Heber City, Utah, and the family had never lacked. She had fallen in love with her father’s head clerk—handsome John. They married, and after a few children, found that the store couldn’t support everyone on the payroll. So, young and hopeful, she and John moved their family to Salt Lake City in hopes of a bright future. So far, the only work John had found was carpentry. [delete]

She remembered back to a few nights before. After the children had gone to bed, she and John sat alone before the fireplace in the parlor. “To make ends meet,” John said grimly, “we will forego buying a tree. We have no money to buy gifts for the children, let alone each other. I’m sorry, Mary. This Christmas won’t be what you are used to. I feel I have let you and the children down. I would have never left Heber if I’d know it would be this hard.” [delete]

[make this real time, not a memory] She could feel her husband’s tenseness and worry. “It’s alright, John,” she said, rubbing his tired shoulders. “Christmas is all about Christ’s birth, not about trees and presents. We will be happy, you’ll see.” She reminded him that there would be gifts, and they were ready for Christmas morning. She had stuffed and dressed rag dolls for their four daughters, and John had cut and sanded woodblocks for the two boys.

“It’s not much,” was his only answer. [then he leaves to go outside.]

[make real time; more active] She had promised to be happy, so why did she feel so disappointed? Every time she passed the empty spot in the parlor where an evergreen should stand, and where her younger children now quietly played, it shouted the absence of a tree and echoed the void in her heart. She said a silent prayer. “Please, Father, forgive me. Help me remember that Thy son’s birth is the best gift of all.”

Mary came out of her thoughts when John entered the yard, and seeing him made her heart lighten. He was a good, hardworking and devoted man. [why are they so poor. Good place to put a very short reason.] She loved him and tried hard to wisely budget his meager earnings. After paying the rent on the house, there was barely enough left for food, let alone anything else.

Through the window she watched John lean his homemade ladder against the tall evergreen in the yard. The sight of the ladder sinking [at first pictured sinking into the ground] and almost disappearing into the tree’s glistening branches made her rise suddenly from her chair. “That’s it!” she said.

“What, Mother? What?” asked the children from the parlor. [need some reference to the children in the parlor sooner; introduce them into the story with name and age]

“Tomorrow is Christmas Eve,” Mary called happily. “We have a lot of work to do to be ready.”

[writing improves starting here; rewrite the first part with the same liveliness]
The next day, Mary took the children out scavenging in the nearby hills. They gathered evergreen boughs, mistletoe and all the berries they could find. [develop this scene, add some description of what each child did, include some lively dialog] “It’s all a surprise for Father,” Mary explained to the children. Home again, Mary went to work as the children chattered happily and thawed their fingers by the wood stove. Then they strung the berries, hung mistletoe, and cleaned the evergreen branches.

After dark, John arrived home exhausted and dragging the ladder. Mary flung opened [open] the front door. “John, don’t put up the ladder. Bring it into the parlor,” she called.

“Into the parlor? Does something need fixing?” he asked. The children stood hidden, the smallest ones behind Mary’s skirt, shushing one another.

“No, John.” Mary laughed. “Just bring it in.”

John brought the ladder to the porch, shook it off a bit, and carefully lifted it through the front door. “Why would you want this old, ugly thing in the parlor?”

“Now don’t be asking questions. Set it up here in the corner,” Mary directed. The children, smirking now, stood back while John steadied the ladder. He turned and eyed the children suspiciously. “What’s going on here?”

Mary took his arm and pulled him toward the kitchen. “We have a surprise and you mustn’t see until later.”

“It’s a conspiracy, I know,” John said. The children squealed and giggled as they pushed the door closed behind him.

After only a few minutes, and back in the kitchen, they all sat around the table, eating dinner, the parlor door closed. “You all act as if St. Nicholas himself is in there,” John said, taking a bite of home-preserved peaches.

“You found out our secret,” Wallace, the oldest said, feigning disappointment.

“We will show you our surprise later,” Mary said, handing John the bread bowl. “But not until the evening chores are done.” She had directed the comment toward the children. They moaned.

Finally, with dishes done, floor swept, and the children dressed in nightgowns and pajamas, the anticipated moment arrived. Mary opened the door only wide enough to slip through. “Wait here a moment while I get everything ready,” she whispered to the children. “And make sure
your father doesn’t peek.”

In great excitement, the children took hold of John’s legs and hands, and chanted, “No peeking! No peeking!” In a moment, the door quietly opened and the mood of the little family changed. They stepped lightly into the room, wide eyed and in awe at the sight before them. Evergreen boughs and strung berries now graced the old ladder, and candles flickered, balancing delicately in the boughs.

John stood, stunned by the awesome scene. “Mary, you’re a wonder,” he finally managed to say. “This is the most beautiful sight.”

“Don’t give me all the credit. The children helped, too.”

John pulled his little ones around him. “Go get your stockings and we will hang them on the hearth.” The children cheered and scooted out of the room. John pulled Mary close to him and kissed her firmly. “That’s for making it a wonderful Christmas.”

[from here] “I wish I had a gift for you,” she said.

“This is the best gift—turning what looked like a bleak Christmas into a magical one.”

The children returned. John lifted the smallest child so that she could hang her stocking with the others. Wallace brought the Bible to John and he read the account of the Savior’s birth. When finished, he closed the book. “This is the true meaning of Christmas: that Christ
came to the earth to save all mankind.”

There was a moment of silence as John’s words settled into their hearts. Then Wallace began to sing “Silent Night” and they all joined in. The simplicity of the moment struck Mary as nothing had before. Her thoughts turned to a stable, a young mother, and a baby. No pomp had attended them those many years ago. Shepherds came, and later, wise men would find Him, bringing gifts. She listened to the angelic voices of her children, their faces glowing, and to her they sounded as heavenly as any angelic choir could have. Her children would have gifts in the years to come, but this year, they received the best gift—of knowing the true spirit of Christmas. Her tears blurred the candlelight with the last strains of the carol… With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth! [to here, is another story. This story is about the ladder tree; this part dilutes the impact.]

After putting out the candles, Mary tucked the children into their beds, and John, exhausted from his day’s work, gladly crawled into his own. Mary carried the oil lamp into the parlor to have one last look at the beautiful “tree.” Hearing footsteps, she turned to find Wallace standing beside her. “Mama, can we have a ladder Christmas tree every year? I like it lots better than a plain old tree everybody else has.”

Surprised at his words, a lump caught in her throat. She whispered, “Yes, we can—every year, if you wish.” [end here]

He hugged her and pattered back to his bed. Alone in the parlor, she whispered, “Thank you, Father, for giving us this precious gift.”

Welcome, Christmas! Just as every year, even without the evergreen, Christmas had come again.

There’s too much of an info dump at the beginning. Cut the second and third paragraphs. They’re not really needed. Make it more active in the beginning. After Mary has her idea, it moves at a good pace.

What I liked best: The unique idea of making a tree from the ladder.

Magazine ready? Not quite, but very close. Although I’ve indicated it needs reworking, the parts that work are very good. I have no doubt you will be able to rewrite and polish to get into next year’s edition of my imaginary Christmas magazine.

Christmas 20: I’ll Cry for Christmas

I don’t cry. And just because Christmas was five days away and I didn’t have a dollar to my name didn’t mean I was going to start. I lost my job a week ago because, let’s just say, me and my employer don’t get along the way he’d like.

I know what you’re thinking. People like me are trash. We’re the lowest of the low class, lazy, schmoozing, worthless trash.

But I’m not trash. My ex-husband Jimmy was and I guess when you hang out with trash you get some on you. He left me with two kids, no car, rent payment past due, and a pile of empty liquor bottles.

That was two years ago. I thought things were getting better, but life keeps dumping on us and I feel like I’m constantly crawling up the trash heap and trying to keep my two kids clean from it in the process. [you hit the “trash” analogy a little too hard; go back and weed some out.]

I had worked at a posh [with the attitude you’ve set up, I don’t think she’d use the word “posh”–maybe “snooty”] department store for the last year. Every day I waited on people who had more money than I could even fathom. I hated Christmas because it was a reminder to me of how little I had.

To say I was cynical would be the understatement of the year. I hated those people. I helped them purchase hundreds of dollars of merchandise every day and then watched as they passed by the Giving Tree without a glance. Dozens of little gold and silver bells with name tags for less fortunate children hung from the Christmas tree. I would never understand how people could have so much yet give so little.

As much as I despised Christmas, I was trying to come up with some way to make it special for my girls. Our store had given every employee a red silk blouse to wear during the holidays. We could return it at the end of the season for ten dollars in store credit. I hadn’t considered it before because I knew the blouse was worth a lot more than ten dollars.

Yesterday, I sat on our stained loveseat and looked at the pile of change I had found and the blouse lying in a graceful heap beside it. What a Christmas! I could return the silk blouse for credit at the department store where I couldn’t afford to shop, but first I had to have it dry cleaned. [How much does it cost to dry clean a silk blouse? If all she’s getting is $10 minus the cleaning bill, she’d be better off selling it] If my idea didn’t work then all my hard work to prove we weren’t trash would go unnoticed when Santa passed by our house on Christmas Eve.

So I left Maddy and Becky with Mrs. Fenton across the hall and hurried to the dry cleaner’s. [needs some transition; describe the cold, what she sees and hears] I held the plastic wrapped red silk carefully and cursed the disgusting smells of public transportation as I traveled across town. I dreaded walking into the mall, but I had to do it. I went to the employment office and returned my blouse without incident. I held the gift card tightly as I entered the store. My stomach fluttered as I approached Carol, a woman I had worked with for over a year. To call her a friend would be a bit of a stretch because I didn’t have any, but right now that’s what I needed her to be.

“Hi Carol,” I said.

“Merrilee, how are you?” She tried to hide her surprise but the way she said it, I knew the boss had been spreading rumors about me.

“I need a favor.” I paused and tried to lift the corners of my mouth into some semblance of a smile. “I returned my blouse for the ten dollar gift card and I wanted to know if you could use it.”

Carol hesitated until realization dawned on her. “Sure, honey. You know I always have my eye on something here. Let me grab my purse.” She reached under the counter and I held my breath.

“Thanks so much. This means a lot.” I struggled to get the words out as Carol handed me a ten dollar bill.

“No problem.”

I almost walked past the Giving Tree before I noticed that no little bells hung from the branches.

“Carol, what happened to the Giving Tree?”

“Some woman came in yesterday and took every ornament that was left and arranged to deliver gifts.” Carol raised her eyebrows. “You know, she didn’t look like she even had that kind of money. Like someone who’d never shopped at our store before.”

“Oh.” My heart tingled and my throat felt tight. A piece of my cynic’s armor figuratively fell to the ground.

“Merry Christmas,” Carol said.

I gave her a weak smile and a wave.

The bus was late so I decided to head home before Mrs. Fenton got restless with my six and eight year old girls. [introduce their age earlier] Tomorrow I would find something just right for their Christmas present. I wanted to laugh out loud at myself. Ten dollars and I was going to find something just right. Becky and Maddy were the sweetest little girls around, what had they done to deserve a Christmas like this?

Later that night, the girls and I fixed our last box of macaroni and cheese and then we cuddled in a blanket and read Christmas stories. I tried to keep my mind on the stories but it kept straying as I wondered if there was anything I could pawn to get some extra money. I sighed because there was nothing. Maybe we were trash; we didn’t even own anything worth more than a trip to the junk yard. [if they just ate their last box of mac & cheese, shouldn’t she be planning how to buy food and not presents?]

Becky and Maddy went to bed early and I sat on the old loveseat and tried to contemplate what had happened to my life. A light knock on the flimsy apartment door startled me. I crept toward the door and opened it just a crack.

“Merry Christmas!” cheerful voices rang out.

I jumped back and the door strained against the chain still in place. I quickly removed it and opened the door. “Are you looking for someone?”

“Not anymore Merrilee,” a middle-aged woman said and she held out a small silver bell with a tag attached to it. I took it and my hand shook as I recognized my name and age on the tag. [How did her name get on the tree?]

“I have one too!” A little girl about Maddy’s age jumped up and down with a golden bell tinkling in her hand.

“Mine first,” a voice called out. I looked down to see another little girl pushing her way around her father’s leg.

I took the bells and read: Becky age 8, Maddy age 6 . When I looked up, the father had stepped aside and was lifting a huge box filled with Christmas presents. “May I put this inside?” he asked with a huge smile.

I didn’t know what to say. I nodded my head in confusion.

“I’ll be right back,” he said and winked.

“Look, look we have more.” One of the little girls squealed as her mother lifted another box and carried it into my apartment.

“But how—” I started to ask and my lip trembled.

“It’s Christmas that’s how. Miracles happen every day and twice a day around Christmas.” She reached her arms toward me in a hug. “I hope you and your girls have a wonderful Christmas, this is for you to open after we leave.” She handed me a card in a beautiful silver envelope.

I heard more squeals of delight as someone called out, “Ho, ho ho!” I looked up as the girls danced around their father carrying in a beautiful Christmas tree. It was small, but the perfect size for our apartment. He handed me a sack full of ornaments and quickly set up the tree. [If they’re poor, the apartment is small. Wouldn’t all the ringing voices, squealing and dancing around done by the family wake the girls up?]

“I can’t believe it,” I mumbled. “How did you know?”

“Daddy says we’re Christmas angels tonight,” one of the little girls said.

“You must be,” I said. “Thank you so much.”

“Merry Christmas,” the man said and held out his hand.

The little family was all smiles as they left my apartment. I stared at the beautiful Christmas tree with boxes of presents underneath. Then I remembered the card and I opened it. I gasped as I counted five one-hundred dollar bills and pulled out a sheet of Christmas stationary.


Hate and cynicism are like a slow-killing poison. The longer you hold on to anger and hopelessness, the more it permeates your soul. Soon, you are encased with the poison and it distorts your view of the world. [too preachy. Cut this paragraph]

This Christmas and from now on, let hope, peace, joy, and love permeate your soul. Love casteth out all fears. God loves you. This gift is so you can see the world through His eyes for a small moment—a moment that will change your heart forever. [cut the last sentence]


Your Christmas Angels

They were angels and it was a miracle. God loves me and sent someone at Christmas time—the time of the Savior’s birth to open my eyes. I don’t cry, but I’ll cry for Christmas.

Watch for punctuation and sentence structure. Also watch your voice. The woman starts with an attitude—life is tough, but I’m tough too—but she softens up too much when she interacts with Carol. The change shouldn’t come until after she sees what the “angels” have done for her. with I’d like a little more sensory images.

What I liked best: The tone, the “voice” of the woman. Keep that going throughout the story.

Magazine ready? Not yet. But once you clean up the logistics of your story, I think you’ll have the kind of Christmas tear-jerker that we like to read at this time of year.

Christmas 19: Believe, Mr. Thomas

Across the desk sat an older, well dressed man, and he was getting on my nerves. Our meeting had been arranged by my Board of Directors, and I silently cursed them when the man asked if I would run his brand new, as yet unnamed Christmas non-profit.

I shook my head in disbelief. “You see, the thing is, um, Mr….”

“Nicholas,” he said.

“Nicholas, right. You see, Mr. Nicholas, the thing is I already have a job – a very good one, in fact.” I adjusted the nameplate on my desk which read ‘Reginald Thomas – Chief Executive’. [good detail]

“Yes, you do have a good job,” he said, smiling through his trimmed white beard. “For now.” I wondered what he meant by that, but decided not to ask – it would only delay the meeting’s conclusion. “Nevertheless, I would suggest you seriously consider my offer, Mr. Thomas.”

I was seriously considering a call to security instead. He continued, “Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother you with this, but I’m here as a favor to my dear friend Holly Garland.” [grandmother’s name a little too obvious]

I stopped, and he smiled at me again. “Yes, that Holly Garland. Your grandmother.”

“Mr. Nicholas,” I said icily, “had you done your homework, you would know that my grandmother died over thirty years ago.” The only thing worse than a shameless name dropper was a clueless one. [good]

“Oh, yes. I’m well aware of that Mr. Thomas,” he said, “Nevertheless, she’s very worried about you.”

“She is, is she?” I was beyond annoyed at this point.

“Yes, and she asked me to help you,” he answered.

“I see.” I couldn’t decide if the man was a crazy or a con. Either way, I wanted evidence. Casually reaching into my suit pocket, I started the recorder kept there for just such an occasion. “Mr. Nicholas, do you often speak with the dead?”

“Oh, no,” he said, adding with a smile “Only when necessary in my official capacity.”

“And just what is that official capacity?”

He leaned forward and said quietly “The Guardian of Christmas.”

I gave the man a piteous look and said “Mr. Nicholas…” I stopped, smiling with sudden realization. “Oh, I get it. ‘Nicholas’ – as in ‘Saint Nicholas?'”

“You’re very quick, Mr. Thomas.”

“Not the St. Nicholas!” I said sarcastically.

“The St. Nicholas,” he answered, unfazed.

“Wow,” I said, in mock amazement. “Imagine that! Santa Claus, here in my office. I almost didn’t recognize you without your red suit and bag of toys.” If I was getting to him, he didn’t show it. So I kept going. “And you know, you’re much skinnier than when I saw you at the mall. I bet the reindeer like that, though. Must be easier to pull the sleigh without all that extra weight.” I forced a smile and waited for him to respond.

“There are no reindeer, Mr. Thomas,” he said after a moment, with barely a hint of irritation in his voice.

“No reindeer?” I asked, feigning concern. “Well, what about elves? Surely you have elves working in your toy factory there at the North Pole?”

He gave me a look that was more resignation than anger. “The modern Santa myth is a creation of man, and it is unfortunately full of inaccuracies and lies, Mr. Thomas.”

“Is that so? Well, you know, since you really are Santa Claus, maybe you should use your Christmas Magic and set things right. You do have magical powers, don’t you?” I added slyly.

“I have sufficient ‘powers’ for what I need to do. But the myth is a creation of man, and man has his agency. I don’t presume to take that away.”

“I see; I see. So, Nick, with no reindeer or elves or Christmas Magic, what is it exactly that you do?”

“Don’t you know?” he asked patronizingly. “Why, I deliver presents to children, Mr. Thomas.”

“Really?” I asked. “Is that so?” His head gave a quick nod. “That is very interesting. You see, Santa, I happen to have children. And while every Christmas there are a ton of presents under the tree, I don’t remember ever seeing anything from you.”

“Mr. Thomas,” he said, “I have no issue with wealthy parents who over indulge their children at Christmas,” the irritation in his voice hinting this wasn’t entirely true. “My concern has always been for children who would otherwise receive nothing.”

“Is that so?” I asked. He had hit nerve, and I let him have it. “Well, Mr. Santa Claus, you sure don’t do a very good job.”

“No?” he said, raising his eyebrows.

“No,” I answered contemptuously. “You see, it wasn’t so long ago that I was a child who went without at Christmas.”

“Yes, I know,” he said, the tenderness in his voice only increasing my dislike for the man. “Times were tough after your father’s accident, I won’t argue that. But if I remember correctly you didn’t really go without, now did you?”

I lashed out at the old man. “Of course I did. For years after my dad died, there were never any presents Christmas morning. Ever.”

“That’s true, of course. But you were still taken care of, weren’t you, Mr. Thomas?” He paused, but I didn’t respond. “G. I. Joe – 1976; Electronic Football – 1977; X-Wing Fighter – 1978;”

‘How did he know about those things,’ I wondered. The man had some impressive sources, but I hid my surprise and answered coolly. “Those didn’t come from Santa Claus. They were given to me by the cops.”

“Yes, of course.” He smiled at me. “‘Blue Santa’ has always been a very fine program. I’ve truly enjoyed working with the officers through the years. They’re some of the best partners I have. Mr. Thomas, as much as I would like to, there is simply no way I could deliver all of the presents personally.” Somehow, this idiot was trying to take credit for giving me those gifts. I started to protest, but he continued. “What I can do is use my influence to encourage generosity and giving in others.” He leaned forward and looked me in the eye. “Others like you.”

The old man had me off balance, but I managed to give him a derisive little laugh. “Like me?” I asked.

“Yes, like you.” He leaned back in his chair. “Mr. Thomas, let’s get to the point. I’m asking you, not only to be the chairman of this new Christmas charity, but to be it’s founder and primary sponsor. I think two million dollars would give it the best start, although I believe you could do a decent job for one and a half.”

His words hung in the air, confirming the thoughts that had nagged me all along. He was after my money. His ploy had been good – the best so far. But in the end he was just another money-grubbing beggar, and I knew how to handle beggars.

Before I could act, however, he had yet another surprise for me. “You have made a lot of enemies in your climb to the top, Mr. Thomas. It won’t surprise you to learn that one such enemy is now on your Board of Directors. I have it on good authority that this person will be pressing for your replacement at the board meeting in February. They intend to assassinate you with your own reputation, and I believe they will make a very compelling case. I am offering you an opportunity to create a new legacy for yourself. If you start immediately, this charity will rebuild your good name in time to save your job.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. He was not just asking me for money, he was trying to blackmail me for it. I was incensed! “Now, listen here, you old…”

But at that point he stood quickly, stopping me with a look. “Think it over, Mr. Thomas. I’m confident you will do what is right.” And with that he turned and left the room.

I started blankly at the door for a long time after it closed. A crazy old man claiming to be Santa Claus had just tried to blackmail me and extort a large sum of money, ostensibly to create a Christmas charity. I could hardly believe.

But I knew I could make a jury believe it. I had what I needed to put the old man in jail for many Christmases yet to come. I quickly took the recorder from my pocket, skipped to the beginning, and pressed ‘play.’

Instead of the muffled sound of my own voice as I expected, I heard Mr. Nicholas’ deep baritone leap clearly from the little speaker. He was singing.

“He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

My mouth hung open. “I don’t believe it,” I muttered to myself.

“Believe, Mr. Thomas,” said the voice on the recorder. “And have a Merry Christmas.”

Except for a few typos, I can’t find much to fix in this story. It gets a little long when Mr. Nicholas is explaining about the Santa myth. You could shorten that and still get the message across. You do very well with the dialog, both between Mr. Thomas and Mr. Nicholas, and with Mr. Thomas’ narrative. It’s fun. It’s clever. It’s touching. Very well done.

What I liked best: The “voice” of the man. It’s great.

Magazine ready? Absolutely!

Christmas 18: Frederick Huckleberry and Christmas

He was from a family of the tiniest of ants, This Frederick Theodore Huckleberry the third lay in an almost warm pool of water created by dew that had been caught up in the depression of an old dry leaf. Frederick’s top hat sat off to the side. He smiled as he reached behind him using a part of leaf- stem as a back brush. “Ahhh…feels good,” he thought.

The lake was lazy this early morning; its water showing small ripples here and there but otherwise was smooth. The sun had poked its face out warming all below with its welcoming presence. The autumn leafs were still in large part, upon the trees that lined the banks. Berries decorated Madrone trees. Multi-shades of greens mixed with oranges and yellows upon the other trees. As if cast upon the small lake for his pleasure, all the tree colors lay upon the water around his leaf. Frederick’s head swiveled around to admire it. He had been up most of the night and was tired. He thought perhaps he was ready for what would now be a mid-day nap.

He thought on what had made him so wakeful. In his minds eye and in all the wisdom inherited from his ancestors, Frederick recalled an age-old story. Soon Frederick Theodore Huckleberry the third would see winter again. It included the human celebration of Christmas. He lifted himself out of his bath and shook off the extra water that wanted to cling. Picking up his hat, he went to rest against the side of one of the many paths that lay upon the old leaf. In recent days, already a chill had been in the air. As if he were with Frederick, his great great- great- great- grandfather (on his mother’s side, of course) voice echoed within his mind. To Thaddeus it was
if once more, it was the time of Christmas. Thaddeus Finley Theodore the second begin to speak to him down through the years long past.

THE STORY BEGAN~~[This is where the story begins; cut all that other stuff]

“Winifred, get up here. Look what has happened. A poor ant has no privacy these days. Here I was all calm and ready for a good nights rest from my arthritis when all this came about. For goodness sake, young people these days have no respect for others. I had a nice warm pile of freshly scented straw gathered up for my bed. Yes, I know Winifred that is your job. You just stay so busy with your knitting and stuff; I’d rather do it myself than wait. Now get up here and see what these young people have done with my straw!” [too long a speech; break it up with some description]

The girl was barely a woman, perhaps a teenager in the world of people. Winifred had heard some human grunting and groaning but was too caught up in her latest project to go and look. [You just jumped from Thaddeus’ POV to Winifred’s; pick one and stick with it.] Now Thaddeus had changed all that with his grumpy demanding attitude. “Oh my. It was a lovely baby she has borne. Would you just look at those tiny fingernails and is that wisdom already in those eyes? I do believe he is looking at me. He is almost as pretty as my own children were. ALMOST. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes and is being so quiet. I can feel there is much ahead for him in his world. Did I hear his mother call him Immanuel? Such an important name. Will he be a king? I must go and make him a gift”. [speech too long; break up] Having said so, Winifred returned to her knitting. She picked up the softest of blues from her collection to represent the sky, white for the clouds, green for the grasses and a touch of dark colors for the trouble she felt lay ahead for the baby. She used her smallest and finest quality needles and quickly made him a scarf with her yarn.

Meanwhile, Thaddeus kept watch, peeking over a bit of left over straw. He saw the donkeys, cows and sheep watching as well. He heard their conversations. They talked of things the old ant had missed. [give examples] Angels had announced the birth. The sheep would donate its wool for clothing. The donkey had already given the mother a ride to the manger upon its back. The cow was ready to do what ever it could. This baby would grow to serve the world and in turn be rejected by many. These humans made no sense at all, thought Thaddeus. He really was not the grouch he pretended to be. He only liked to sound that way. Inside the tiny old ant beat the most tender of hearts. Now it softened even more as he listened and watched from his protected place. What was meant to be Thaddeus’s bed was now beneath the newborn infant. He didn’t look very comfortable he thought. “What can I do about it?” He hadn’t lived his long years with stuffing for brains. Using his best and loudest ant voice (but not so loud as to frighten the infant) he called out to his family all here and there within the manger. Gather more fresh soft straw. We need to fix the bed for this baby. Hundreds upon thousands gathered each with a straw in its mouth. Underneath the baby they placed the straw making it much softer then the thrown together bed had been. Now they left. Only Thaddeus stayed on to watch the baby. Immanuel smiled and Thaddeus knew the smile was for him. Now Winifred returned, newly knitted scarf in hand. She crawled over to the baby leaving her gift upon its chest. Immanuel reached out to the scrap of color and smiled once more, this time for her. It gathered the soft material into its hands and closed its eyes in rest. [paragraph much too long; jumps around some]

Thaddeus and Winifred lifted their voices in praise. “Hark the Harold [herald] angels sing. Glory to the new born king” Now they too went to their beds. Time tomorrow for the rest of the story to unfold.

[cut Frederick] Frederick Theodore Huckleberry the third jerked back to his modern world with a start. He had almost drifted to sleep hearing that wonderful story in his mind. It came to him each year from Thaddeus. Gosh, but he was tired. A ripple picked up the leaf causing it to rock gently. Frederick fell fast asleep. Yes indeed, tomorrow was another day and would come soon

Your story jerks between Frederick and Thaddeus. Dump Fred. Other than your nice description of the lake, none of the pre-story is needed and the last paragraph doesn’t add anything either.

You jump between POVs. Who’s telling the story—Thaddeus, Winifred, or an omniscient narrator? Pick one and stick with it. I have a problem with the ant knitting a scarf. Have them do something more ant-like.

You need to focus your story. Is it about the birth of the Savior or finding a gift for Him? Choose one and make all the details of your story lead to that resolution. Change your title to reflect whichever story you select.

What I liked best: I really, really like the idea of the nativity from an ant’s point of view. I’ve seen it from various other animal POVs, but never an ant.

Magazine ready? No. This one needs a lot of work before it’s publishable. However,
after picking your story apart and pretty much telling you that you’ve done everything wrong, let me say that this story has potential. If you worked on it, added some conflict—the ants wanting, trying to do something for the baby, but finding road blocks, etc.—created some action that lends itself to illustration, you could have a really nice Christmas picture book.

Christmas 17: Bipper and Wick

The snow had turned the forest into a winter wonderland; and as the bears worked hard to get their den prepared for the long winter ahead, the ice on the trees snapped aloud. The hard work made the bears very sleepy, and their yawns could be heard from far away. There was one bear amongst them, however, that had no intention of taking a long winters nap; his name was Bipper, and he didn’t understand the need to sleep for such a long time. It was Bipper’s first winter, and instead of hibernating he wanted to explore the forest for the first time by himself. Bipper was the youngest and smallest bear in his family, and his older siblings never let him forget it. He was constantly teased about his size and age.

As the bears prepared to enter their den, Bipper stretched his legs and rested next to a pine tree. [too much telling; show us what the bear family is doing to get ready]

“Are you going to fall asleep before we’ve even entered the den, Bipper?” asked one of the older brother bears.

“Just taking a little break, that’s all,” said Bipper.

“You haven’t been doing much to help out,” said Bipper’s oldest sister. “What are you so tired from?”

“I’m not that tired, and if you ask me it’s a waste of time to sleep for so long. I would rather be out having fun in the forest,” said Bipper.

“Bipper, even though you’re a bear try not to be such a bear to be around,” said Bipper’s Momma. All of Bipper’s brothers and sisters laughed at Momma bear’s comment. “Bipper, in order to be rested for spring time we bears need to hibernate during the winter,” said the Momma bear.

“Yes, Momma,” replied Bipper.

Bipper kept to himself for the rest of the evening while the other bears prepared to settle down for their long winter nap. Bipper knew once the other bears fell asleep he could leave the den without being noticed. And that’s exactly what Bipper did. After all the other bears began to snore, Bipper quietly sneaked out of the den and into the forest. At first, Bipper was happy with his new found freedom and loved being able to do whatever he wanted. He rolled around in the snow and repeatedly fell to the ground to make snow angles. But after some time passed, Bipper started to feel lonely and missed his family. The berries he was accustomed to eating off the trees were long gone, and he found himself growing very hungry. Bipper had also traveled a great distance, and even though he had a powerful sense of smell, he was finding it hard to find his way back to the den. One evening with nothing but the moonlight above, and a
pesky owl repeatedly asking him who he was, Bipper decided it was time to go home for good. [condense this into one day of adventure; make it the day BEFORE the family goes into hibernation]

Suddenly out of nowhere, a horrible creepy sound could be heard close by. The noise startled Bipper, so he looked around to see where it was coming from. He didn’t see anything! The horrible creepy sound could be heard again, and this time Bipper knew it was getting closer.

“Who’s there?” asked Bipper. “I’m a bear so you better watch out.” [good]

At that moment, a little dog peeked at Bipper from behind a tree. It was the little dog stepping on old fallen limbs that was causing the creepy noises. “Please don’t hurt me, Mr. Bear. I’m just a little dog.”

“Relax,” said Bipper. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Well, that’s a relief to hear, but aren’t bears meat eaters?” asked the little dog.

“Yeah, we’re meat eaters all right, but I don’t want to hurt anybody,” said Bipper.

“Lucky me,” said the little dog. “I have a family that no longer wants me, and I can’t even get a bear in the middle of the forest to want me either.”

“Do you want me to change my mind?” asked Bipper.

“Oh no,” said the little dog sheepishly. “I was only joking.”

“Me too,” laughed Bipper. “I’m just teasing you.”

“I appreciate your kindness,” said the little dog. [cut the meat eating joke; make the dog young too]

“What on Earth is a little dog like you doing out in the forest anyway? This isn’t a safe place for you to be you know. There really are a lot of animals out here who would hurt you.”

“Couldn’t the same be said for a little bear?” asked the little dog.

“Not you too,” said Bipper. Bipper cusped his paw over his face and said, “Now, I have a dog the size of my arm calling me little.”

“You appear to be a very young bear, so I am surprised to see you out here in the forest by yourself. That’s all I meant!”

“Well, I am young. And yes, I am a little bear,” said Bipper. “Until I get older there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t wait until then.”

“Why do you want to grow up so fast?” asked the little dog.

“I am tired of being teased about my age and size.”

“As my grandmother used to say when I was a pup, “Don’t wish your time away. Enjoy thy youth,” said the little dog. You’ll be a big old bear before you know it. Years from now you’ll look back and wish you were still a little cub. Earlier you asked me why I am out here; do you still want to know why?”

“Yeah, I’m curious,” replied Bipper.

“Well, I am out here because I am an old dog that nobody loves anymore.”

“Why would you say such a thing?” asked Bipper.

“Well, tomorrow’s Christmas day and as an early gift for Christmas my owners bought their children a new puppy. When the kids saw the puppy for the first time it was as if I didn’t even exist anymore,” said the little dog.

“I am sure they still love you just the same. My Momma always says she has no favorites. She says she loves me and my older siblings equally. Your age will never change how much your family loves you,” said Bipper.

The little dog nodded his head and said, “You know, you’re right. What was I thinking? They have loved me my entire life. I know they don’t love me any less than before. I guess I was just jealous about the puppy. You have great wisdom for being such a young bear. Listen to your own advice about family and you won’t be so frustrated about being teased. Take it from an old dog, being young is a wonderful thing so enjoy it and have fun. What’s your name by the way?”

“Bipper, what’s yours?”

“Wick’s my name,” said the little dog. Bipper and Wick shook paws, and promised to help one another find their way home.

[this conversation is too long. introduce their names right after they meet.]

To help ease the burden of such a long trek, Bipper and Wick laughed and played in the snow. Much to Bipper’s surprise, however, Wick started to bark out Christmas carols along the way. About a dozen rabbits popped their heads out of their holes to see what was going on. Wick’s singing made every rabbit flap their long ears downward to ease the strain on their eardrums. Since Wick was still engaged in song, one of the rabbits looked over at Bipper and said, “What is wrong with that dog? Why is it making so much racket?”

“Sorry, he’s just having a little festive fun by singing some Christmas carols,” said Bipper.

“That’s what you call that huh, singing?” asked the rabbit.

Bipper approached the rabbit and said, “Look, I know this dog can’t sing in tune, but please just bear with me. We’re on our way home and he just wants to spread a little holiday cheer.”

The rabbit pointed at her hole in the ground and asked Bipper, “You hear that?”

Bipper leaned over the rabbit’s hole and said, “Yeah, I hear Christmas music playing.”

“That’s right,” said the rabbit. “I already have all the Christmas music I need, and I’ve got seven more carrot cakes to make before morning. [good] Time’s a wasting!”

“I understand! Sorry again about the disturbance and happy holidays to you. We’ll be on our way now,” said Bipper. The rabbit shook her head at Bipper and then dived back in her hole.

As Bipper and Wick continued their journey through the forest several more animals vented their frustrations to Bipper about Wick’s singing. A squirrel even claimed Wick’s singing caused her peanut cake to turn upside down. Enough was enough! The sound of wick’s singing was so bad Bipper thought it was going wake every animal in the entire forest up. To get the point across to Wick that he needed to quit singing, Bipper reminded him that bears are meat eaters and he would appreciate it if he wouldn’t sing another note. Wick was disappointed that no one appreciated his talent, so he just hummed Christmas carols the rest of the way home.

Cut this by half, take out the meat eating stuff, add a little more action and conflict, have Bipper and Wick meet and interact with two more animals on the same level as they do the rabbit. You need to focus the story. Is it about a little bear who runs away from home and then learns his lesson? Is it about a friendship between a bear and a dog? Is it about the search to find his way back home? Is it about a dog that can’t sing on tune? Pick one as the main focus of your story. Everything else should work toward supporting that focus.

What I liked best: Loved your character names. They are catchy. I also liked the little glimpse into the personality of the rabbit.

Magazine ready? No. This story needs to be rewritten with a specific focus. But, if you were to do that, and create action that lends itself to illustrations, this could be a good picture book.

Christmas 16: A Final Christmas

It is cold outside her home this Christmas season. Snow banks rest against the structure and icy white flakes build up multiple layers against the windowsills, blurring outward vision for one whose eyes are already dimmed by age.

An elderly lady sits within this humble place. She is pondering over Christmas’s past and events over the years she had witnessed. She feels somehow that this will be her final Christmas. She no longer cares for the material, but thinks instead on what she yet may have to offer her ever-changing world. [rework these to paragraphs into one. ]
A tear makes its out from the tear duct, crawling slowly down the wrinkled path of her cheek. She is remembering the one love of her life. He’s been gone a long time now. Her son was lost in a war. She thinks of her daughter who tries so hard to buffer her lonely hours, by calls and letters. She remembers the grandchildren so far away, some with babies of their own. [Show us; don’t tell us.]

The old radiator shakes her thoughts away. She goes to check and all is well. She knows the friendlier sounds her home makes in its conversation with her, its only tenant. “Enough self-pity!” she tells herself and bundles up against the harsh weather to take her daily walk. Dusk is making its way across the sky. Carolers, even in these early hours are out. She hears and smiles over the words of “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “Santa Claus is coming To Town”. The musical notes are welcoming and fall softly around her ears. They warm her and seem to bring lightness to her elderly shuffle.

Her thoughts return to the season and she thinks, “What gift can I give?” Christmas is fast approaching and only hours away. Chimes from a nearby church call out. She changes her usual direction to better hear them. On her way pass happy but weary shoppers. They surely have made that last minute purchase and are going home.

Nestled in an almost hidden corner near the church lays what appears to be a large pile of ragged clothing. A muffled cry of sleep, pain or near unconsciousness comes from it. Painfully the old woman bends down, brushing away bits of snow. She sees a face ravaged by time and life itself. At first glance she takes it to be a tramp. It doesn’t matter to her. She feels too old to be of a concern to this wearer of rags she has found. She encourages him to his feet with the promise of a warm home and meal. She is no longer alone.

[You jump POVs, from the woman to the man. Pick one and stick with it.] Time has passed. The man has warmed himself and shared a meal with this stranger. He tells her of how despair had overcome him. He had neither job, family nor home. In deep depression he had simply laid down and given up.

What a wonderful and inspirational gift this lady was to him. His soul seemed to glow. She recalled life to him with her memories of the yesterdays. She had done such good with her life. He sensed from her a new strength he could share, which he had not known before.

She had assured him that he would be welcome to share her home, as long as he truly needed it. When he left, he knew he too would survive all things. If she could, than so could he.

She had given the greatest gift of all. She had given the gift of herself.

I like what you’re trying to do here, but I just don’t believe that an elderly woman would go to church and invite a man she thinks is a tramp home with her. Perhaps she could go to the church for a Christmas dinner and invite him into the church with her.

We need more action, some dialog. Show, don’t tell. Who is the main character in the story? The woman or the man? Pick one POV and stick with it. Show us how the main character was, what event happened, and how the main character is now different and better because of it. We need details and more character depth.

About the title—is this her last Christmas? Does she die? If yes, that needs to be part of the story; if no, change the title.

What I liked best: The idea of an older woman sharing her wisdom and strength of spirit with a younger man.

Magazine ready? No. This one needs rewriting, but when finished, it would fit the short story format very well.

Christmas 15: Christmas at Fielding House

“Claire, the silver pieces need polished for the Christmas Eve dance.”

“Yes, Mrs. Fielding.” Claire straightened her apron and tucked a bronze curl behind her ear.

Mrs. Fielding nodded as Simms held out her coat. “We have much to accomplish in one weeks time, exciting though isn’t it?” When she smiled, lines crinkled around her dark eyes. The wrinkles were the only sign that Mrs. Fielding was aging. At sixty-one, her ebony hair remained as beautiful as ever.

“I’m so excited for my first Christmas dance at Fielding House.” [Who said this? Claire or Mrs. Fielding?] A spot of natural rouge [color] appeared on Claire’s cheeks as it always did when she was happy about something.

“It’ll be something like magic for you I’m sure.” She touched Claire’s cheek. “Such a buoyant spirit you have, it reminds me of my own Delia.” [Is Claire a servant? Or a friend/family member? You’ve started by describing her as a servant, but Mrs. Fielding treats her more intimately.]

Claire ducked her head, but her blue eyes shimmered under long lashes. “Thank you Mrs. Fielding. Have a good afternoon.”

Simms [who is Simms?] opened the door for Mrs. Fielding and an icy blast of New England wind tugged at Claire’s curls. She stepped toward the door and listened to the sound of horse hooves pattering across the cobblestones. [does she see anything? When do they close the door?] Then she gave Simms a dimpled smile and headed to the sitting room to pull the drapes. [Now she acts like a servant]

As she reached across the frosted window, she noticed a small carriage arriving. A young man jumped onto the street. He pulled out a valise and flipped a coin toward the driver. Then he waved and lifted his hat to reveal dark black curls. Claire’s heart jumped.

She watched the young man climb the steps and when she saw his profile, she knew that the high cheekbones and straight nose could only belong to a Fielding.

She frowned when his knuckles made contact with the hardwood. Claire had witnessed Mrs. Fielding shed many tears over her family. Years ago, her only daughter had fallen for a man who had taken her to hard country out West. When Delia’s son, Edmund, was five years old, she had succumbed to pneumonia. Mrs. Fielding had seen Edmund once and heard from him even less. [this doesn’t make sense; maybe she’d heard from him only a handful of times, and seen him even less.]

A joyous voice boomed throughout the entry way, “Where’s my Grams?” [Simms would not let him do that.]

Claire rounded the corner [of what? where? She was at the window.] and stopped short with a gasp when her eyes met the emerald gems beneath the darkest lashes she’d ever seen. He smiled and stepped forward with his hand outstretched. “I’m Edmund Beckett and you must be the beautiful Claire Walden.” [he’s pretty forward for this time period. You need to explain that.]

Claire paused and then put her hand in his. “Pleased to meet you. Mrs. Fielding will be back in time for supper.” [Again, is she a servant or a friend? If a servant, would she be shaking hands?]

“You’re wondering how I know who you are,” Edmund said.

“Yes sir, I am curious.”

Edmund stepped closer to Claire. “Grams told me all about you.” [Why would Grams tell him all about a servant?]

“But I thought you weren’t in contact.”

“Ah, no we weren’t until recently when my father passed away.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“Don’t be. If you’ve heard much about my father, you aren’t sorry anyway.”

Claire swallowed and touched her flaming red cheeks. Edmund chuckled and leaned closer. He took one hand from her face and squeezed gently. [Whose hands are at her face? We need to see them go there.] “I’m not like him, not at all.”

Claire was completely unnerved. “I’m sorry, but I must finish my duties.” She released her hand. “I’m sure Simms will help you.”

Claire hurried into the dining room to gather the tarnished silver. She headed to the kitchen with shaking hands. What was she to think of Edmund? He was all charm and glorious beauty and according to Mrs. Fielding, his father was exactly the same way toward Delia.

How had Mrs. Fielding come into contact with her grandson and not mentioned it once to her? [If Mrs. Fielding is telling her grandson all about Claire, it doesn’t make sense that she doesn’t even mention him.] Claire closed her eyes. Immediately, she visualized Edmund’s face with his green eyes smoldering. She snapped her eyes open and stood abruptly. She wouldn’t be charmed into the same fate Delia had suffered.

“Excuse me, Miss, but you have a visitor,” Simms announced.

“Who is it?”

Simms merely smiled and motioned to follow him. Claire’s face fell when she saw her visitor. Tucker Forsey stood with his hat in hand and a smile across his freckled face. The young man had worked at the stables for as long as she could remember. [The butler would not announce visitors for the servants. They would come in the back way.]

“Hello Tucker. What brings you here?”

“I want to ask you to the Fielding Christmas Dance.” [Again, servants would not be invited to the dance.]

“But I—”

“I know you’re eighteen now and can go and I’d like to take you.”

“Actually, she already has an escort.” Claire jumped when she felt Edmund’s hand on her waist. [This is really too fresh for the time period.]

Tucker scowled. “Who are you?”

“I am Mrs. Fielding’s grandson, Edmund Beckett.”

“Claire knows I’ve planned on taking her since last year. She should go to the dance with people of her own class,” Tucker said.

“I’m sure Claire has considered all of her options.”

Claire shook her head. “Tucker, I was actually planning on going alone.”

“Please come with me Claire,” Tucker pleaded.

“I’m honored, but I cannot attend with you. Have a Merry Christmas.” Claire escaped the room quickly.

She had barely resumed polishing the silver when Edmund entered the kitchen.

“I’m sorry about that Claire. I wanted to help, but—”

“I’m not going to the dance with you or anyone else. I don’t even know you!”

“But I know you, and I hoped to speak with you.”

“You don’t know me!”

Edmund’s fingertips brushed her sleeve as she rushed past. “Please Claire.”

Claire ran to her bedroom and tried to compose herself. How could Edmund claim to know her? Several minutes later she heard a soft knock.

“Claire, may I come in?” Mrs. Fielding’s voice accompanied the twisting of the knob.

“Oh, I haven’t finished the silver.”

“That’s not why I’m here. I want you to listen to me for just a moment.” Mrs. Fielding said. “I’m delighted my dear grandson has surprised us with a holiday visit.”

“But he—”

“Just hear me out,” Mrs. Fielding said and she patted Claire’s hand. “Edmund has been writing me these past six months. He feels he knows you because of the details I provided.” Mrs. Fielding smiled. “I must admit Edmund is more like his mother than I could have hoped. Please don’t be afraid to know him. He’s a good man. That’s all I will say now.” Claire blinked back tears as she left the room. She didn’t understand what was happening, but she must protect her heart.

Over the next week, Claire tried to keep her distance from Edmund. But he seemed to always know where she was, whether it was trimming the lamps or dusting furniture, he found a way to be near her. Claire felt her defenses weaken as Edmund’s smiles grew broader with each conversation they held.

On Christmas Eve, Fielding House was picturesque. Bright red bows hung on doorknobs and a garland with silver tinsel was draped across the mantle. The Fielding House Christmas tree had always been Claire’s favorite. The flickering candles cast lovely shadows on the glass balls hanging from every bough.

The dance would begin within the hour and Claire’s heart was tied in knots over Edmund. Although she had fervently vowed not to have anything to do with him, her heart fluttered when she heard footsteps behind her.

“Claire, I hoped you’d be here,” Edmund’s voice sent thrills down her spine. “I have something for you.”

“Edmund, it’s not Christmas yet.”

“I know, but I couldn’t wait.” Edmund handed Claire a silver box and then placed his hand over hers.

“Before you open it, I want to say something.” He looked into her crystal blue eyes. “Perhaps you don’t know me as well as you’d like in light of the feelings we have for each other.”

Claire started to shake her head, but Edmund placed one hand on her cheek and spoke softly, “Claire, I loved you before I even met you. I felt foolish to have such feelings without seeing you, only reading about your goodness. But having spent time with you, I know I cannot ever deny the feeling I have that we should be together. Please, open your gift and let love overcome your fears.” Edmund leaned in close to her and kissed her cheek.

Her eyes sparkled as the heat of his lips spread across her face. Claire opened the box and gasped. A dazzling glass ornament lay nestled in folds of blue velvet.

“Thank you Edmund, it’s beautiful. Let’s hang it on this branch.” Claire pointed toward the top of the tree.

“There’s something else.” Edmund held the box closer and smiled when he heard a sharp intake of breath. A sparkle radiated from a diamond ring tucked in the box. Edmund was kneeling before Claire realized what was happening. “Claire Walden will you marry me and make this the happiest Christmas of all time?”

Claire’s body stiffened with every emotion from fear to excitement as she took in the scene around her. Then she remembered Edmund’s words before she opened the box, to let love overcome her fears. She smiled and held out her left hand. “Merry Christmas Edmund.”

Watch for typos, spelling, grammar, punctuation. I’m a little confused—is Claire a servant or a friend of the family? I’m not sure of her place here. You need to pick one or the other and then make her actions and the way Mrs. Fielding treats her consistent.

You use some of the classic romance techniques well, but the relationship moves too quickly to be believable. Give them more time, let them develop a little more.

What I liked best: Edmund. I like his personality, even though he’s quite fresh for the time period.

Magazine ready? No. Too much is happening to fit it into a short story. Consider turning this into a novel.

Christmas 14: A Dark and Cold Miracle

Elder Jensen was not a good missionary. He knew and I knew it. He wasn’t terrible, he just wasn’t very good. He kept most of the rules most of the time, and never did anything which was out and out sinful. He just didn’t want to be in Finland. That, in and of itself, didn’t make him a bad missionary. Not many people voluntarily go to Finland in the middle of winter. Where we were, just south of the Arctic Circle, the sun rose at 11:00 a.m. and set at 2:00 p.m. The language was hard and the people weren’t interested in religion. They were interested in cross-country skiing, ski-jumping and vodka, and not in that order.

So when I say this was a Christmas miracle, I don’t mean the kind of miracle where Jenny, the orphan girl gets a new pair of shoes, or where a mysterious stranger appears out of nowhere to change your tire, so you can make it to Christmas dinner. This was something else. This was a true Christmas miracle, the type of miracle where someone’s life was irrevocably changed as they were literally transformed before me.

We were going through the motions. Elder Jensen had been out of the MTC for about a year, while I had been out for six months. I made sure that we went out every day and knocked on doors and started conversations with strangers on the street. But his heart wasn’t in it. His heart was back in Utah, in some cow town I could never remember the name of. I don’t remember her name either. Something like Mary Kate or Mary Beth. What I do remember is that he was very tall, about six foot five, and she was very short, about five foot nothing.

He talked about two things only: Mary What’s-Her-Name, and basketball. Apparently, Mary was the most wonderful girl in the world. She was beautiful, funny, spiritual, creative, a good cook and a good kisser. Her only flaw was that she was small, and therefore, the five sons they were planning to have would not be tall enough to get to the NBA. He was willing to overlook this flaw, because, you see, he was in love.

He showed me her picture. She was cute, but not Helen of Troy cute. He would read passages of her letters to me. She came across as who she was, a young, naïve girl. She wrote page after page of her undying love for her missionary, and speculated on the wonderful life they would live together. It was as syrupy as you can imagine.

Of course, she didn’t realize that she was killing any chance of him becoming a good missionary. He didn’t have any time to work. His life revolved around getting the mail and talking about getting the mail.

Also, we played a lot of basketball. I can’t deny that it was kind of fun to be with Elder Jensen. He was the senior companion, so I didn’t feel too guilty. I read my scriptures and studied the language. But really, we were just killing time.

Christmas was coming and it was getting darker and colder. Elder Jensen had just passed the half-way point of his mission, the “Hump Day.” He constantly reminded me that next Christmas he would be with Mary. This began to get old.

The miracle started, as miracles often do, with a traumatic event. Think back on some of the more memorable miracles and how they started: Lazarus dying, a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee. This was worse than that. You see, suddenly, Mary’s letters stopped.

At first, it was not a problem. A day or two was fine. She had missed days before. Sometimes the mail came in bunches. But a day turned into a week, then two, and then three. Elder Jensen was going out of his mind. We stopped working altogether. I think we even stopped playing basketball. We went to the mailbox at least five times a day. All he did was write letters to her and ask me what I thought was happening.

This was not a mystery. It is the oldest tale in the mission field. I knew what had happened. After two weeks, I told him what I thought had happened. She met someone else. Of course he got angry at me. She was not “like that.” So I kept my mouth shut and we did nothing. Christmas was getting closer and I started to get depressed. I got him out of the apartment a few times to knock on some doors, but I was hoping for a transfer.

Then it came. The letter. The unthinkable had happened. Mary What’s-Her-Name had met someone else, a returned missionary. She wrote that although she had feelings for Elder Jensen, these feelings were mere infatuation and puppy love. She now knew what true love was. She was sorry, but knew it was for the best.

Elder Jensen was devastated. Some days he was angry and depressed. Other days he switched it up and was depressed and angry. One day he had the epiphany that all girls are evil and could not be trusted. He had turned into a walking cliché.

I tried to keep his spirits up. We even had a “funeral” for his love. We burned her picture and flushed the ashes down the toilet. It didn’t help. Christmas was only a few days away. I hadn’t received any gifts, likely because packages took a long time to get to us. I was anticipating the darkest, coldest, most depressing Christmas of my life.

You can’t predict miracles, and I sure didn’t see this one coming. Three or four days before Christmas we spoke to a woman on the street who agreed that we could come by her home and give her a Christmas message. The next day we knocked on her door and were invited inside. To be honest, I don’t remember much about her. She was young, single, and was probably more interested in American boys than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I started to talk about Christmas and the true meaning behind the season. I wasn’t even sure if Elder Jensen was paying attention. I looked over at him and he had his bible opened to Luke. He asked if he could read some passages to her. He read her the story of the first Christmas. It was a story we had all heard a hundred times before: Mary, the inn, the manger, and the shepherds. But something was different this time.

As I watched Elder Jensen read it, I could tell that it was really affecting him. His voice started to shake and he started to tear up. He finished reading and closed the book. He looked at the young woman and bore his testimony. He talked about a Father in heaven who loved him and the fact that he sent his perfect son into an imperfect world. He talked about the Savior’s lowly birth, glorious life and his incredible sacrifice. He spoke of his gratitude for the atonement and the gift of eternal life.

People talk about having Christ in their countenance. Before that day, I never really knew what that meant. But as Elder Jensen continued speaking, his face changed. His eyes came alive and his skin glowed. Although he looked like the same person, he also looked like a different person. Even now, twenty years later, it is difficult to find the words to explain what happened. Saying that his face was “literally shining” sounds wrong, except it was true.

From that day forward, he was on fire, a changed man. Something in those scriptures had touched him to his soul. He was a disciple of Christ on a mission to share the good news. We worked hard, knocking on doors, preaching in the street and bearing our testimonies. It was energizing to be around him.

Don’t get me wrong, he was still the same person. We had fun. He still loved basketball and he still missed his girlfriend. But even though he was the same person, he was a totally different person, if that makes any sense. His priorities had shifted and he knew what was really important.

I’d like to say that we went on to baptize hundreds of people. We didn’t. We were together for another month until transfers split us apart. I heard through the mission grapevine that he was able to baptize a few families. I had some modest success as well.

I saw him the next fall, when he had a month or two left in the mission field. I was pleased to say that his face had not changed. He still shone with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He radiated joy, hope and good will. And if that isn’t a Christmas miracle, I don’t know what is.

You don’t need these last two paragraphs, but I do like the last sentence.

What I liked best: That it’s the Christmas story from the Bible that creates the Christmas miracle. I also like your clever, conversational style of narrative, and that it’s not your usual Christmas miracle.

Magazine ready? Yes.

Christmas 13: Reggie’s Special Xmas

It was two days before Christmas and little did Reggie [this makes him sound like he’s 5] know that this would probably be his most memorable Christmas ever. [“little did he know” never works in a story; too cliché] Just two hours earlier, sitting in his favorite chair in the family room, he had candidly stated that Santa was indeed real and that he fully anticipated hearing from him on Christmas day. Our family had been talking about the upcoming day and the kids were relating what kind of gifts Santa would bring them. Rena, being all of 12 and thinking she was much older than that, had made a snide remark about the true existence of Santa. Reggie, being just a year younger, had suddenly piped up and declared that Santa was indeed real and she shouldn’t be talking like that. He further added that we needed to arrange the coffee table and chairs in such a way that Santa would have a difficult time getting through to get to the cookies and milk we would be leaving him. Anything disturbed would be conclusive proof that he indeed existed. Marty our youngest, always known for his skeptical nature, seemed to side with his brother, probably won over by his enthusiasm. [don’t tell us about this conversation. Let us hear it. Give us the dialog.] My wife and I exchanged a quick glance only to catch Rena’s intersecting our gaze. It’s as if in a telekinetic way we all wanted to say, “Reggie still believes!” I was personally pleased because throughout their whole childhood we had always tried to let them imagine that the world would always be full of wonders and magic. Yet Reggie wasn’t done yet. It was his turn to state what he wanted for Christmas. He totally surprised us when he said he had always wanted a signet ring, the kind that has an initial on the face. [this is hard to believe] At that moment I resolved to make this Christmas a very special one for Reggie. I was determined to keep this magic going as long as I could.

The next day, the 24th of December, I rushed out to our local jeweler, Fort Richmond Jewelers. I explained to the owner what had happened and what I needed. He stood there for a few moments, his mind quickly doing an inventory of his jewellery stock and he then ambled off into the backroom. He returned clutching a little brown velvet box in his hand. He slowly opened it to reveal a sparkling silver ring with a blank face. He explained he had the engraving tools to make an initial but he needed to state that this was an extremely busy day being the day before Christmas. However he would try to get it done before the end of the day. I thanked him gratefully and left. [Again, give us the dialog.] I was now on to phase II of a plan I had hatched the night before. I stopped at my neighbor’s place to see if I could borrow his huge winter boots. Lindsay was a police sergeant, an imposing figure of a man with a shoe size to match. After hearing my story, he quickly obliged. I then fetched the ladder and pulled out an 8-foot 2×4 board from under the deck. I placed everything on the hidden side of the garage out of view. I went in the house and whispered my plan to Bonnie, my wife, as I ate lunch. No sooner had I finished lunch that the phone rang. The signet ring was ready! I hurried to the store and there waiting on the counter was the silver ring sitting beside a small beautifully decorated box. I paid him and thanked him for all his help. As I stepped outside I noticed the sun’s rays were already slipping down into the horizon, reminding me of the short days that the winter months bring us. Once again home with the little box tucked away in a fold deep in my winter jacket, I winked at my wife acknowledging that everything was advancing as planned. That night, as soon as the kids were tucked in, I slipped out of the house. I gently placed the ladder on the eaves troughs and started climbing it with the 2×4 in my other hand. [Is he nuts? Climbing onto the roof in the snow and the dark?] Once on the roof, I methodically tiptoed on the bare spots on the roof to reach a wide 20cm high snowdrift. I reached out as far as I could and slid the 2×4 board in a straight line leading up to the ridge cap. I mentally measured what distance would be between Santa’s sled’s skis and made another impression in the snowdrift. I then looked around for a place to hide the small box. I located a perfect spot near the chimney pipe and tucked it in a way that it remained visible only when you were standing on the actual roof. Pleased with my work and feeling content about the whole day, I climbed down and went to bed.

We woke up the next morning to the shuffling of feet and the sounds of gifts being weighed and shaken. The Christmas rules were that everyone had to be present to open the gifts so the kids were quite excited to see us coming down the stairs. Once the gifts were open, a traditional Christmas breakfast followed. [what?] After breakfast, Reggie and Marty decided to phone their neighborhood buddies for a street hockey game. During the winter months on our street, this was a daily occurrence. In no time at all, a team of Thompson’s, Hancock’s, Kocay’s, D’Heilly’s and Bilodeau’s was assembled and playing a spirited game of street hockey. All of a sudden Stu, one of the boys’ friends, happened to look up and noticed some strange markings on our roof. The whole game came to a sudden halt. It was quite a scene to see all of them gazing up at the roof with a puzzled look on their faces. One of them mentioned that it sure looked like the tracks of Santa’s sleigh. Reggie immediately wanted to check it out. I mentioned that it was risky to go on a roof in the winter but also agreed it needed to be checked out. I told him I’d hold the ladder while he climbed up. Reggie was quite accustomed to this activity as the boys helped me out during the summer months replacing roofs. Once on the roof, I yelled out to him asking him what he was seeing. He yelled back that it definitely looked like Santa’s sleigh. He also wondered if I had done them but then shouted out that the boot prints in the snow were absolutely huge. [give us the dialog] I then heard a loud gasp. I asked him what was going on. He had spotted the gift box. I told him to go get it, which he did. In no time at all, he was down the ladder in the center of a group of amazed friends. They urged him to open it. Reggie unwrapped the box and gently unfolded the colored paper inside to reveal the silver signet ring. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He showed it to everyone, looked at me with wonder in his eyes and then bolted inside the house to show his mom and sister. The next hour was filled with much excitement. After this special day, Reggie’s firm belief in Santa Clause wasn’t about to be swayed for quite some time.
Technically, watch out for sentence structure, grammar, flow. You need to create multiple paragraph breaks. The title “Xmas” is going to be offensive to some readers. I’d like more sensory detail, some dialog, and a little more depth to the characters. I don’t really believe that an 11 year old would want a signet ring; nor that the father would buy it on what is essentially a whim; nor that he would hide a little box up on the roof and let his boy climb up there in the snow to look for it. A toy of some type dropped behind the Christmas tree is more believable.

What I liked best: The idea of the dad wanting to extend his child’s belief in Santa and going to great lengths to do so.

Magazine ready? No. With some depth and rewriting, this would make a good short story.

Christmas 12: Story

The traditional nativity was enacted, with the narrator reading the beloved and familiar verses from Luke. The Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, who journeyed to the manger to find Joseph and Mary, cradling the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. “And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14). The pantomime ended with the cast and congregation singing “Silent Night.”

It was the conclusion of the usual ward Christmas party, with one departure from tradition: instead of Primary children, the nativity story was portrayed by the fifteen and sixteen year olds. I don’t know how their Sunday School teachers persuaded them to don old white temple dresses and pose as angels, or to wear striped bathrobes as shepherds, but they did, and that night they played their parts with reverence, and a sense of awe came over all who watched.

For me, it was especially touching to see my sixteen year old son as an angel, the light shining on his straight blond hair as he stood next to his best friend, nearly a foot taller, with jeans and sneakers showing under the too-short old white dress, and his five-o’clock shadow making an appearance too. But in that moment they were angels; they believed; and we believed.

These special young people have gone on to missions, college, graduate school, marriage, families, and mortgages. They are faithful and stalwart ward members living in many parts of the country, and they still hold that spark of reverence in their hearts that we all felt on that memorable night. And for that and many other reasons, their interpretation of the Nativity will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories.

You’ve described an event, but not really told a story. You could do so much with teenagers performing the nativity. This could be a very fun and touching story but we need to know why it was touching to you, why it’s a favorite memory. Give us the details. Involve our senses. Let us see, hear, smell, feel all the things you saw, heard, smelled and felt. Make it come alive for us so we can be touched too. Oh, and you need a title.

What I liked best: Paragraph three. The descriptions of the teens, and the last sentence.

Magazine ready? No. But this could be developed into a very nice short story.

Christmas 11: Walking in a Weevil Wonderland

I love my job. There’s something incredibly satisfying about hunting down werecreatures and blasting them into oblivion. Of course, since I’m on call as soon as the moon rises, it plays havoc with my social life, and a lot of guys get turned off when you say that you’re basically an exterminator. But that’s the price you pay for keeping the world safe, or so I tell myself whenever I’m feeling lonely.

Like every December, we were battling wereweevils. [My dictionary doesn’t contain this word, but I’m thinking it would read easier if it were hyphenated: were-weevil.] True wereweevils take advantage of the full moon to open a transdimensional gate from the Wereworld and cross over to ours, to destroy Christmas and the entire Christmas spirit. They chew anything that looks or smells or sounds like Christmas, and bite anyone who tries to stop them. You can guess by the word “were-” what happens to those who are bitten. Within two heartbeats, humans turn into six-legged creatures with long snouts and teeth capable of biting through almost anything. And if they can’t chew it – Christmas lights, for example – they drool on it, so that the acid in their saliva burns through and destroys it just the same.

Transformed wereweevils chew until the sun came up and they turn back into humans, at least until the next holiday season. True wereweevils, on the other hand, chew until they’ve absorbed enough Christmas spirit that they can sprout wings. Not only can they then fly to any other source of Christmas spirit that they fancy, they‘re also capable of breeding, they can move independently of the moon phases, and worst of all, they’re almost impossible to catch. We make sure they don’t get to that point.

To-night’s wereweevil had been detected less than an hour ago, but Pest-Ex had worked fast. The barricades were already in place to keep the citizens of Thornton from leaving their village, and now the soldiers were rounding up everybody who’d been bitten and forcing them into decontamination. Human wereweevils are notoriously easy to catch. All you have to do is put a Christmas tree or a brightly lit Nativity set in a cage and they’ll run straight into the trap, so intent on destroying everything Christmas that they never notice the door lock shut behind them. True wereweevils are a bit more difficult.

The Pest-Ex helicopter set me down outside the village, where I had a good view of the decontamination center, where the wereweevils are sprayed with GFaM. This mixture of gold, frankincense and myrrh kills true wereweevils and forces the others to return permanently to their human form. I carried a cannister of it in my pack.

“Merry Christmas, Haley,” the ground commander boomed, opening the door of the helicopter for me. “Bruce isn’t here yet.”

“Merry Christmas,” I replied, settling my helmet and pulling my pack on as we walked to the command post. “I’m getting a new partner to-day, from Armitage. Bruce retired and went to Australia.”


“Yeah, he said he wanted to get used to hot places because he didn’t know how much time he had left on Earth.”

The commander stared at me, obviously not amused, until the moment was interrupted by the sound of a second helicopter landing. A young man wearing the same issue of helmet got out, then heaved a familiar-looking pack onto his back and strolled towards us.

“Walker,” he said. “Luke Walker. And no Star Wars jokes, I’ve heard them all.”

“Moss,” I said. “Haley Moss. And no hailing frequency or rolling stone jokes, I’ve heard them all, too.”

Luke nodded. “Right. No rest for the weevil. Let’s go!”

Once we were inside the barricades, I led Luke west, to Zeppelin Square. This was where the temple zeppelin docked every eight weeks on its eternal round through the different stakes in our district. In between the huge hangar and the smaller stake center, there was a miniature version of Temple Square, right down to the lights, chock full of Christmas spirit. Scanning the area with my binoculars, I marked the lines of dead lights and the pile of chewed rubble that had once been a full size Nativity set. Finally, however, I spotted the small, dark wereweevil working his way up one corner of the hangar.

“If that weevil gets to the temple inside, he’ll have enough Christmas spirit to clone himself twice, wings and all,” Luke breathed. We both dropped our binoculars simultaneously and sprinted towards the gate.

I wanted to explain that we wouldn’t need to climb over the tall fence that separated the hangar from the gardens because I had a card that would let us in. Before I could, however, Luke pulled something from his own pocket and swiped it. The gate clicked open.

“You’re a member!” I exclaimed.

Luke looked down at the identical card in my hand and laughed. Then he said, “Guess what? I’m single, too!”

“What a coincidence.” I showed him my unadorned fingers.

Grinning, we shut the gate behind us and approached the hangar. The wereweevil had reached the roof now, which was used as a parking lot for temple patrons, and as I looked up, a section of the lights that ran around the top edge went dark.

“I’ll take the outside stairs, you take the ramp, and we’ll meet on top,” Luke decided. “You distract, I’ll attack.”

He started up the stairs before I could protest that I wanted to do the attacking. Oh, well, I could straighten him out later. I jogged up the ramp, slowing down as I got closer to the top, and peered around the corner. The wereweevil was walking along the waist-high wall that ran around the roof of the hangar, drooling over the next string of lights. Luke was closer to him than I was, but he had hidden himself from the wereweevil’s sight behind the little building that housed the inside stairs.

I reached behind me and fumbled for the smaller cannister in my pack, pulled it free, flipped the face-plate of my helmet down, and began to advance. When I was about halfway across the roof, I pointed the nozzle of the cannister at my own chest and sprayed, trying not to gag on the scent of wereweevil musk, then clicked it back into place. The wind wasn’t blowing the right way, so I pulled a tiny fan from my belt and held it to my chest as well, pointing it towards the wereweevil and switching it on. It took ages for the scent to waft over and alert the wereweevil to a rival, but then he jumped, intent on eliminating any threat to his authority. When it comes to hunting grounds, there can be only one true wereweevil.

I dropped to my knee to brace for the attack and grabbed the hose of my GFaM tank. The wereweevil hit my shoulders with its front legs, its snout open to bite my head off, but finding only my titanium helmet instead. The force of its jump knocked me backwards, but my nozzle was already in place and I sprayed automatically as I fell. At the same time, Luke leaped out from behind the building, pointing his own nozzle with deadly aim. The wereweevil’s jaws sagged and fell away from my helmet, and its body relaxed into dead weight on top of me.

Alive with adrenaline and satisfaction, I sat up, pushing the wereweevil to one side. Luke reached down, grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet, then inhaled deeply. “I love the smell of dead weevil in the morning.”

I stared proudly down at the dark body, now sporting golden streaks from the particles in the spray, and exhaled a heartfelt, “Yeah!”

Luke heaved the corpse over his shoulders and we walked back to the command post to hand it over before being flown to our next assignment. Halfway there, Luke asked, “So, what are you doing on Christmas Eve? It’s new moon, and nothing will be stirring, not even a weremouse.”

“Watching action films, or maybe science fiction,” I replied. “Want to come?”

“Action and science fiction?” Luke asked. “I’ll be there.”

We walked in companionable silence for a moment, and then Luke said, “Tell me, Haley, when you see humans transforming into wereweevils, do you ever think of missionaries?”

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“Because humans only have two legs, and wereweevils have six?” he prompted.

I waited patiently for the explanation, and Luke started to sing. “I hope they call me on a mission, when I have grown a foot or two …”

Suddenly, I knew there was no point in making a list and checking it twice. Christmas had come early, and I’d gotten exactly what I’d wanted. He was a member, and single, he’d have no problems with my career or with the fact that I might come home reeking of wereweevil musk, and he had the same sense of humour that I did! I began to hum to myself. Walking in a weevil wonderland …

This is great. Except for a few typos and a bit too much of an info dump at the beginning, this is a good story.

What I liked best: I can’t decide. I like the non-traditional take on a Christmas story. I like the mix of LDS culture—it rarely works to do that, but I like it here. It’s clever. I enjoyed the puns. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.

Magazine ready? Definitely!

Christmas 10: Arrows to Heaven

I’ve been the owner of the O Tannenbaum Christmas Tree Lot for twenty years, the only lot in the valley that doesn’t cut their trees weeks in advance, expecting them to last through the holiday season without losing their needles. We take pride in the fact that our trees are cut the week before the lot opens and that we cut fresh as needed. In fact, the majority of our trees come in buckets, so the environmentally conscious can plant the tree after they’re done with it.
Ironic — people can be so worried about the environment but pay so little attention to why they’re buying the tree in the first place.

A lot of things struck me as ironic a year ago. I was turning into a cynic, barely able to stand the holiday. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a Christian to the core. But I’m getting older, and my tolerance for certain things isn’t what it used to be. Take, for instance, the woman who came to the lot and stood for twenty minutes debating whether or not a certain blue spruce was taller than the one Nancy Englebrecht had in her foyer (she pronounced it “foy-yay” – I guess no
one ever told her we don’t have those in Utah) as if I should have known who Nancy Englebrecht even was. I was on the verge of telling her I had been to Nancy’s house, with a tape measure, and the blue spruce in question topped Nancy’s by a whopping six inches, when the lady in question turned, sighed, and told her husband that they had better keep looking. It just wouldn’t do.

It was a tree, for crying out loud, and a right pretty one, too. I had cut that one myself and felt a sense of pride whenever I looked at it. But for some reason, if it couldn’t compete with Nancy What’s-Her-Name’s tree, it wasn’t good enough. After all that, I’m not sure I would have sold it to her anyway.

One particularly bright and clear night midway through December my cynicism vanished, the kind of night where the air is so cold you can feel your nostrils freezing from the inside out. I sat on the stool I always sit on, overseeing the place and listening to Harvey, my eager assistant, point out the merits of a fir tree to a young couple, celebrating their first Christmas together. I had been thinking of selling the lot and doing something downright self-indulgent with the money when a family drove up in a sad brown station wagon and tumbled out
like puppies. Three children and a mother, a blonde with a pony tail. She was too tired to be pretty, but the potential was there. Give her a nap and she would have sparkled.

The children ranged in age from about five, up to around ten. I’m a terrible judge of age but that’s my best guess. The woman, I estimated to be younger than she looked. Lines of care touched her eyes where they had no right to be, this early in the game. They stood near the entrance, staring up at all the garish lights I strung along the fence for the purpose of attracting passing motorists, their eyes reflecting the colors in a way the bulbs themselves could only aspire to.

“Let’s walk around,” I heard her say, and the children reached out and took each other’s hands. They went from tree to tree, admiring, standing back to see the tops. I had arranged the trees from largest to smallest, but this family didn’t seem to have a target in mind. They looked at every tree on the lot.

Finally they reached the back corner, where I stack the dead branches. One of the small trees cut way back when the lot first opened had lost some limbs on one side and looked as though the others were in danger too, and I couldn’t have it out on the lot. I take pride in my quality and selection. I heard a squeal as the family rounded the corner and saw the trash heap, and the next thing I knew, the oldest, a boy, was standing in front of me, holding that tree like a trophy, asking how much it was.

“Well, now, that tree has seen better days. Are you sure it’s the one you want?”

“Yes, sir,” he said. “This one is perfect.”

I nearly fell off my stool when he said “sir.” I haven’t heard that since I was too young to be addressed that way.

“This tree is straight out of Charlie Brown,” I told him. “There are much nicer trees out there.”

“We really like this one,” he insisted.

“Well, I can’t see myself taking any money for that old thing,” I began, but the mother interrupted me.

“Go look at the lights,” she told her children, and they walked off. She kept an eye on them as she turned back to me.

“I appreciate what you were about to do,” she said. “But please don’t. The children have been saving their money for months to buy a tree. If you were to give it to them, it would be kind, but it wouldn’t mean quite the same thing, you know?”

I looked at her for a long moment. I did know. I remembered the first thing I ever saved my money to buy. It was a Secret Spy Decoder Ring, a piece of junk that was created for the purpose of luring young innocents like myself into forking over their hard-earned allowance, but I treasured that ring like almost nothing else.

She misunderstood my silence. “It’s not that I’m ungrateful, really, I’m not. But you should have seen them, all summer long, gathering up loose change from the parking lot at the store and taking out trash for the neighbors. They kept the money in a can on Peter’s dresser. This means so much to them.”

“Why a tree?” I found my voice at last. “Why have they been working so hard to get money for a tree? Why not candy, or toys?”

“Peter says a Christmas tree looks just like an arrow, pointing up to Heaven,” she said. “With all we’ve been through this year, we need every reminder of Heaven we can get.” I must have looked as lost as I felt, for she continued, “Oh, I see the rumor mill hasn’t made it this far. I’m Margaret Keith. You know, of the ‘her husband was an alcoholic and left her for another woman and hasn’t been seen in six months’ Keiths.” Her tone was light and I could tell that she
wanted to inject some humor into her admission.

“I only know the Albuquerque Keiths,” I told her. “Your bunch must have immigrated later.”

She smiled in acknowledgement as the children returned. The boy I took to be Peter was all business. “We’re ready to buy our tree,” he said, holding up a tin can. “How much is it?”

I looked to the mother for some kind of sign, and bless her heart, she held up five fingers, giving me the answer I needed.

“That tree is four dollars,” I said, wanting to leave them something to rattle in the bottom of their can. “And you are in luck. For the next ten minutes, all trees sold come with a string of lights, free.”

They chose white lights, “like the stars,” the youngest said, and the transaction was completed. I have never in my life seen so much joy on the faces of three young children as I did that night after helping them put the tree in the car. It was so small, it fit in the front seat next to Margaret. They thanked me and drove away, full of excitement.

I stood there for a long time, watching their taillights disappear. People came and went, ably assisted by Harvey, barely noticed by me. At last I turned and went back to my stool, looking at the trees as I did so. Each and every one of them was an arrow, pointing to Heaven, just like Peter said.

About an hour later my wife brought me a thermos of hot chocolate. She set it down on the table and began tidying up the receipts, her back to me. I slid my arms around her waist.

“Merry Christmas,” I said in her ear, and she laughed.

“What happened to you tonight?”

“I’ll have to tell you about it sometime,” I told her, and gave her a little squeeze. I had made a decision. I wasn’t going to sell the lot after all. Those precious moments of joy, as rare and fleeting as they were becoming, were strong enough and powerful enough to overshadow all the commercialism I’d grown to detest so badly. Yes, I was a walking, talking Christmas cliché, and I couldn’t have been more delighted about it.

Uhmm, I can’t find anything to pick apart.

What I liked best: I love the tone. This story is clever. The dialog between the man and the woman is great. Your last sentence is wonderful.

Magazine ready? Yes, yes, yes!

Christmas 09: Christmas Alive

A long time ago when I was a boy Christmas was a time of candies and toys.

Then came the Christmas when all things would change, right then and there I knew I would never be the same.

It was cold, it was blowing, as the snow piled up outside, my father winked and said lets go for a ride. [Just noticed the rhyme. It’s a little distracting.]

My brothers and I knew not the destination, but grabbed our coats and gloves without hesitation. [The rhyme is forcing you into really awkward sentence structures.]

As we climbed in the car vying for our positions my father was smiling with sweet disposition, kids we are going to spread Christmas cheer, to those where loneliness is felt most the year.

We are heading to a home where Grampa had stayed, where there are others who are also dismayed, we will learn what’s most important about living, for kids you will see, time is a present, and therefore, for giving. [Watch your punctuation.]

My brother yelled out I don’t want to go, I don’t want to show up just to put on a show. I don’t know these people and they don’t know me, what benefit can this trip possibly be. As we all piped up about not wanting to go, I noticed something my father would not like to show, it was tear in his eye as he stared at the snow. I touched his shoulder, and said, we are happy to go.

My father spoke up and said, boys, with a smile, we wont stay for long, but a short while. I brought and wrapped these presents for you to give away, so pay close attention to the smiles today.

Ohhh we still wanted to go home and play with our toy’s, doesn’t seem like Christmas for us three misfortunate boys. My father had turned said ok, that’s enough, we are almost there, this isn’t that hard for you three boys to bear.

As the car pulled to the one story building with a smiling father and three uncooperative children. I looked at my brothers in complete disbelief all of the ribbons, lights and the wreaths. We never saw this place [What place? Tell us.] in such a festive manner with Merry Christmas above the door in a red banner. Our feelings softened as my father told us of fables of many great people who share no families table, these are good people and some are very alone, but with your help maybe it will feel more like a home.

We walked in the door with so many people around, so many kind faces made it impossible to frown. My father said boys your now on your own You each find someone that you feel is down and give them a present and lend them your ear, tell them what you have been doing all this past year. Give them a smile, and a hug if so heeded, listen and let them know they are needed. For all of these people were once your age. They have Christmas in their hearts, and were all on the same page.

As we trotted around saying, hi how are you, something inside our young hearts told us just what to do. As my youngest brother was sitting playing cards with a small group of folks, my older was in the corner telling his jokes. I felt alone, but just for a bit when I had noticed a man with a limp and a stick. It seemed he so tall standing straight up, and, standing out from them all, I stared as he stood by the door, as if he was looking for something more. Being so nervous to walk over and say hi, my father just whispered, go on give it a try.

So I walked over and tugged on his coat, with a nervous smile and a lump in my throat. Would you like to play cards or hear one of jokes?

He just turned and leaned on his stick. That’s ok son, my boy will be here quite quick, he told me he would able to make it this year. With the roads being so icy, he is late it appears. I cannot miss him its been more than a year. So I simply nodded and went on my way, and down to room, which was crowded, looking for others to play.

I walked around chatting, With what it seemed like a hundred people in that short time. but I couldn’t get that man off my mind. So I walked back down that long corridor, to see this man still staring, out that frosty door. In that moment I realized just what to do, I walked up to him, and asked how do you do? I like playing games but there is no way I will until I know your name. He just smiled and stated, my name is Alfred, and how are you, I said I am fine, but I am going to be here for such a short time. He said lets sit down and chat or play a game, but son he stated, not until you tell me your name. My name is Bruce, I said with a smile, have you lived here for quite awhile? I have lived here for many a years, since I first felt ill, I decided to come here at my own will.

Is your son not showing up I asked, then I felt sad. It appears that the roads must be too bad. My son is very busy this time of season, but deep in my heart I knew that wasn’t the reason. I felt so bad like never before its like loneliness had opened a door, and taken things from this kind man, the things that mean so much more. So there’s something I would like to be done, I call you grampa and pretend I’m your grandson. I told him my grandfather once lived here but he has been gone for almost five years. I really miss him this time of year, then down his cheek ran big tear. He said son, he’s not really gone, he is up there, watching, and caring he is always near. See all people must go at sometime or another but what you do, when you’re here, for yourself and for others is truly what matters. Christmas is a time of sharing and caring for those time to time, who have lost their bearings. Its like being on a ship, deep at rough seas, without a course plotted, where would you be. So follow the teachings and plot yourself a great course, and always live life without any remorse. Help while you can, try if you should, and keep Christmas alive, in your heart, for always, for good.

We talked for so long as hours passed by, he told me of days when men could not fly. He told me of hardships and of great times, he was interesting, funny and passionately kind, I looked at the clock and I was dreading the time. I knew my father would come for me soon, but I didn’t want to go, I loved being with Al in that big room. And at this time when my dad had found me, he said its time to go, I shrugged my shoulders, and told Al, I would miss him so. He gave me smile a hug and a kiss, then smiled and said Bruce do you know what I wish? You would come to see me when you have some time, I looked to my father, grinning with pride. Absolutely I will see you again, and you can finish your story of the wise men.

As we walked to the door, a man stepped through. He hugged Alfred, at that time I knew, this young man was his son, who told him he missed him, and he had brought everyone. I said with great cheer, Alfred, Alfred, Christmas is here!!! And for the second time, I saw his eyes swell with tears. With a smile I remember all through the years. My dad said lets go, and I grabbed my gloves knowing I had been touched by Christmas love. Alfred became a great friend to me…I suppose you already know….we shared so many stories for a decade or so. I can never forget the laughter we shared, all from a stranger who truly cared. On every Christmas. I can feel his caring touch, from a great man who taught me so much. So on this day let us all do what we can, to help and to comfort our fellow man. For Christmas isn’t boxes and gifts, its sharing and caring……..And we all can grant that wish.

This story does not lend itself to the internal rhyme you’ve attempted. It’s a touching and serious story and the rhyme makes it seem sing-song and trivial. Drop the rhyme. There are quite a few technical mistakes, especially with punctuation and sentence structure. I also don’t think the title is a good one for this story.

What I liked best: The concept. Dad takes boys to nursing home(?) to teach them the spirit of Christmas and giving.

Magazine ready? It would take some work, but if you did more showing of the events, rather than a straight telling of the story, gave us more description and detail, this could make a nice Christmas story.

Christmas 08: The Story

It was Christmas Eve. Last minute travelers lounged in plastic chairs, waiting for the weather to clear. Flights were either cancelled or late.

A young girl approaching puberty [say teen, or give an exact age] sat beside an old woman with a furrowed brow.

“Are you excited about Christmas?” she asked.

“I hate the holidays. “Crowds, long lines– this,” the old woman said, pointing to the fog. [if they’re inside, could she point to the fog? If they’re looking out windows, we need to know that.]

“I love Christmas!” The girl’s smile, ordinarily infectious, had no effect on the woman’s mood.

“What’s so good about it?” she asked. “I could be home with my feet up right now, if it wasn’t for this stupid holiday.”

“Are you visiting someone special?

“Humph, not exactly what I would call a visit.”

“Why don’t you like Christmas?” the girl persisted.

“It’s a lot of hoopla over nothing.”

“What do you mean nothing?”

“It’s a lie,” she said tersely. “There was no miraculous birth,”

“For arguments sake, I would say that even if it wasn’t a virgin birth, it was still a miracle,” the girl replied. [vocab is too mature; sounds like two adults talking]

“How could it be a miracle if it wasn’t an immaculate conception?” [Who is your target reader? If your going for children, this won’t work.]

“I think it’s a miracle that people traveled from far and wide, just to honor the baby, Jesus.”

“To me there is nothing so miraculous about traveling,” the old woman mumbled under her breath.

“How did they know when the baby would be born? How did they know where to go? It’s not like Joseph and Mary had access to the Internet,” the girl chuckled.

“That’s the way the story goes, it doesn’t mean it’s true,” the old woman’s tone laced with sarcasm.

“So what you’re saying is that we celebrate a story?”

“Essentially, yes. That’s okay, kid, we’ve all been fed the same story.”

“That’s very possible.” She gave the woman’s comment consideration.

“Sure it is––like Santa Claus, he’s not real.” The old woman stared into large eyes, feeling slightly cruel. “Ah, don’t mind an old lady. Christmas is for kids.”

“I agree, Christmas is for kids,” the girl retorted. “And what better way to celebrate than with a story.”

“You have a point.”

“Do you believe in God?” the girl asked.

“What’s God got to do with it?” the woman responded, clearly surprised by the question. [They’re talking about Christmas. Why would the woman be surprise by this question?]

“Do you believe in God?” the girl repeated.

“Yes, I suppose I do, but I don’t believe that He would’ve let his son be born in a barn on a cold winter’s night.”

“You have a point there.”

“I know I do, it’s a ridiculous story.”

“Still, don’t you think it’s rather interesting that the greatest story ever told is about a child?”

“What are you getting at?”

“Only that some think Christmas is for children, and the story is about a child.”

“Christmas is for children,” insisted the old woman.

“I feel like a child at Christmas. I love the pretty lights, giving gifts, being with family.”

“Honey, the retailers get rich, they love Christmas too.” [too many ping-pong sentences without speaker ID; their voices aren’t different enough and the reader could get lost.]

“The retailers remind us that Christmas is in the air,” the girl spoke in defense.

“More and more people object to celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday you know,” said the old woman. “So much for the story.”

“What if the purpose of the story is so that at this time of year, whether we like it or not, we all think about the child? Not only the Christ child, we have thoughts about all children, including the child within us. We think about the gifts bestowed upon the child to remind us of the gift of life. What if we are reminded to bring peace and goodwill to others by embracing the story about the child?”

“That’s a nice thought, but not everyone thinks like that. Some think it’s a time to be disappointed.”

“In what way?” the girl asked.

“Not everyone has family to share the holiday with.”

“Jesus was visited by strangers.” The girl said emphatically.

“So where does Santa Claus come into the picture?”

“What if God gave us Santa Claus so we could remember the joy of being a child? He’s a jolly old fellow. He makes us laugh. Laughing is very healthy you know, especially at this time of year when we embark upon the cold and flu season.”

“What about the children who don’t find gifts under the tree?” the old woman lamented. “Kids know about Santa, they know what he does, the seed has been planted, and just like the story of Jesus, truth be known–” The old woman paused. “It’s all about money, commercialism.”

“Lights and pretty things bring us joy. We loved these things as children. Why not love them as adults? Besides, all that commercial stuff comes to a halt on Christmas. Imagine– the whole world stops for one day while we celebrate a miracle, the birth of a child.”

“Too many disappointing Christmases I guess.” The old woman sighed reflectively.

“I’m sure there are many out there that feel the same way. Maybe that’s why the story is so important. Mary, Joseph, the three kings. The Sheppard’s, the angels and don’t forget the little drummer boy,” she added.

“How could I forget? The poor little boy had no gifts to bring.” the old woman said harshly.

“That’s not true, the little drummer boy brought music. Music brings us joy.”

“What about those who don’t have family? Those people who are lonely at Christmas?”

“I think they lost the child within. That’s why we have the story, and Santa Claus, pretty lights and give gifts. Maybe that’s why Mary and Joseph were turned away at the Inn in the story. To show us when we feel isolated, there is hope. If we remember the child within, we can find joy in the things the season offers. Animals bring joy, music brings joy, friends, family bring us joy. Joy to the world!” she laughed.

“My son is too busy for me. I go there because it’s Christmas, and then I sit alone.”

“Are there grandchildren?”

“Yes, three. They’re too busy too.”

“Read them the story of Christmas.”

“They’re too old for stories.”

“Everyone has a child within.”

“How do you find it?”

“Listen to your heart. Follow the star…” [ping-pong]

Just then an announcement came over the loudspeaker, the fog had lifted. Flights would resume shortly. When the old woman turned to thank the girl for her company, the girl was gone. On the seat was a package. The tag read “To Millie”. Her name was Millie. She never mentioned her name to the girl. How did she know? Maybe the girl’s name was Millie too? She wondered. It didn’t matter, the girl was gone. It was time to leave. When she picked up the package, the paper fell away, revealing a small book, “The Story of Christmas.” She turned to the first page, the inscription read:

To Millie,

I will remember you always…Merry Christmas!

The Child Within

The basic idea behind this story is warm and positive. We all sometimes need a reminder of what Christmas is about. I do agree with Rudolph the red-pen editor. Rudolph pretty much summed up the comments I was planning to make. Give the story more movement. Make the girl sound her age. Give us a more description and not so much back and forth in the conversation. I also liked her idea of meeting the girl various places, rather than it all taking place in the airport. It also needs a title.

What I liked best: The warm and positive feeling.

Magazine ready? Not yet, but keep working on it.