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This is the second installment of my short story, The Christmas Sweater. Look for it every Thursday right here on my blog. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One—Scene Two

I wished I could stop the time from passing. I didn’t want to have to face the anniversary of Sam’s death. And yet, I didn’t want to forget. I hugged the plaid shirt around me and let melancholia take over.

Mornings were bad enough, with the whole empty day ahead, but I could pretend Sam was at work. Evenings were always the worst. I was alone and he wasn’t coming back. Working in the house helped, reading distracted me for a while, TV rescued me from my circling thoughts and memories, but I kept coming back to my loneliness without Sam.

There’s a difference between loneliness and aloneness. I’d often been alone in my life, all the days Sam was at work and I wasn’t. I’d only ever worked a few days a week at the library because I liked being at home. But I was never lonely. Sam always came home at the end of the day happy to see me. I loved the evenings with him, watching TV or going for a drive or working on another of his household projects together. Sometimes we even entertained a few people, but he knew I didn’t like a lot of company.

I looked around me at the finely crafted cabinets, the dining table, the desk in the den, the arched doorway from dining to living room, all work of his hands. I wanted to smile but all that came were tears.

Why did he leave me so soon? Why just before Christmas? It had always been my favourite time of year: the decorating, small dinner parties, music.

The music was unbearable now. I couldn’t risk listening to the radio because of the songs of the season. Debbie’s words crept back into my mind. Are you coping or content?How about neither of the above?

A sharp barking jolted me from my doldrums. A dog? Here? Whose dog? Oh please, not the McCormick’s. No way was I going to put up with incessant barking at all hours. On my way to the door to make this clear I saw Debbie approaching, followed by a light brown, curly-haired mutt.

I opened the door before she could attack the bell, intent on making my feelings known, but she was already talking.

“Don’t worry, Jeannie, I won’t bring him inside. Just wanted you to meet him.” She picked up the fluffy creature and it grunted and snuffled at me. I backed up but they followed. “This is Steena,” she said. “She used to belong to my mom but she had to give her up when they moved into the condo in Regina. Say hello, Steena.”

No way was I touching the animal. And I don’t believe in talking to anything non-human. I opted for focusing on her owner. “How long have you had it?”

“Just picked her up a few days ago when we got here,” said Debbie, shifting the dog to one side and scratching her ears. “We adore her already. She’s a Doodle, you know.”

“A Doodle?”

“Yeah, a cross between a poodle and a retriever.”’

When there was no further comment from me, Debbie seemed to realize introductions were over. “Plug in the kettle, honey, while I take Steena home. I’ll be right back.”

It irritated me that Debbie never asked if it was convenient for her to invade my home. “I have an appointment this morning,” I said before she was out of earshot.

“What time?”

Nosy parker. “Ten-thirty.”

She grinned. “Lots of time for tea, and you look ready to go.”

I’m glad I don’t rely on her for fashion tips. I was wearing my housecleaning clothes and, of course, Sam’s shirt. She turned to take the dog home and I grumbled into the kitchen to fill the kettle. Was this my life from now on? Every day with Debbie?

“I’m ba-ack!” she called, before the water had even boiled. I quickly pulled out the Earl Grey, the sugar and cream and set them on the table. She probably wouldn’t have washed her hands after scratching the dog, and I wouldn’t have her thumbing through my cabinets with doggie hands.

“So you don’t like dogs?” she asked.

Congratulations, Debbie! You’ve guessed my secret.

“I don’t mind dogs, but not in the house and not yapping all hours of the day and night,” I said.

She looked hurt and I felt a twinge of guilt. It wasn’t personal, just a dislike for dirty animals in my home. Sam had wanted a dog early on in our marriage, but I’d refused. When Emily came along, I allowed her to keep a budgie, but it died before I could kill it myself. Messy creature scattered birdseed all over the floor, and the cage had to be cleaned more often than Emily did it. She also had a small aquarium for a while, but when the fish started swimming upside down we opted for a kitten, which had to live in the garage. Now she had a house full of cats, well, three of them, in downtown Vancouver, and I never went there. She came to visit us—me—occasionally, sans cats.

“Nothing personal, Debbie, I just don’t approve of animals in my house.”

I poured the hot water and we dipped our tea bags. Well, I dipped mine and she poked and prodded and squeezed hers, while she told me about their moving-in progress.

“We have the kitchen table and chairs set up and the barbecue on the deck. How about joining us for supper?”

“But it’s too cold to barbecue.” I shivered just imagining it.

“Nah! Mickey doesn’t mind. We have steaks and I’ll open a bag of potato chips and I saw a few jars of my pickles too.” She laughed. “Stop shivering, Kiddo. We’ll eat inside.”

The tea soothed my senses. “I’ll bring a salad,” I said. I had to make an effort to balance the meal.

Debbie’s eyebrows shot up. “Sure, if you want. I like salad but Mickey will probably skip it, so don’t make much.”

A picture of Mickey was forming in my mind, a huge hulk of a man with neither manners nor tact, snarly and unkempt. Someone resembling Daisy’s Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances. Poor Debbie. She deserved better.

“What time?”

She pursed her lips. “Six-ish. Whenever you smell grilling steaks.”

Their deck was on the opposite side of the house from mine, thank heavens, so I wouldn’t have to witness every barbecue.

About 5:45 p.m. my doorbell rang and a large but fit man of about sixty stood waiting outside.

“May I help you?” I asked.

He grinned widely. “I believe you can!” I was sure his broad Texan accent could be heard around the block. “Name’s Mickey McCormick and I came to escort you to my house to help me and the wife polish off a few fine steaks.”

I’m afraid I stared. “You’re Mickey?”

If possible, his grin widened. “Guilty! You were expecting the Incredible Hulk? What did Debbie tell you about me, anyway?”

I could feel the heat climbing into my face in spite of the cold air sweeping into my house from the open door. Better not to comment than to sputter and back peddle. “I’ll grab my salad and a jacket,” I said, as I shrugged out of Sam’s shirt. “Come in if you’d like.”

He entered and stood on the doormat. “Nice place you have here, Ma’am. Debbie’s been so excited about living next door to you. It’s been hard for her to leave the kids and grandkids, but we needed to come help look after her parents. So you being here is a lifesaver for her.”

I almost dropped the bowl of salad. Had to go back for the dressing. Debbie was having a hard time? I hadn’t entertained the possibility. She seemed so happy. And me, her saving grace? That was a stretch.

Supper turned out much better than I had anticipated. Yes, the house was cluttered and chaotic, but I was so entertained by the two of them, three if you included the dog, and by the perfectly grilled steaks, that time flew. Conversation too. I found Mickey very polite, even when I insisted he not call me Ma’am. Debbie obviously adored him and he her. He let her talk, helped her serve the food (or we wouldn’t have ever got at it) and looked after the details, even as far as shutting the dog away till we finished eating.

My house felt empty and too quiet when I returned from the McCormick’s. Theirs was a collection of mismatched furniture and goods, all needing order and decisiveness. I could have had it ship-shape in a few days, since the house had all been freshly painted by the VanWoordens and new flooring installed, but they had their own way of living and I didn’t intend to interfere.

Next day Debbie had an appointment so I got my house cleaned on time and things fell back into routine, but subconsciously I kept listening for the doorbell or the dog—Snoopy—or whatever its name was.

 

**Please come back for the third installment next Thursday, October 25th!

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October 2018 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

A Christmas to Remember by Julie Arduini, Valerie Comer, Janet W. Ferguson, Kimberly Rose Johnson, Deb Kastner, Elizabeth Maddrey, Lindi Peterson, and Ginger Solomon — Eight authors from the popular blog Inspy Romance each share a Christmas-themed novella to put you in the mood for the season. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Their Family Legacy by Lorraine Beatty — Annie’s inheritance will provide a home for her twins and all she had to do is keep a man paying for his mistake forever. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

The Return by Marianne Evans — A prodigal who never wanted to return home must repair his family farm and rush back to the big city before an old love convinces him to stay. (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

A Harvest of Blessings by June Foster — When Nadia accidentally sits on a stranger’s lap in the graveyard where her late husband is buried, she’s horrified to learn the good-looking guy with salt and pepper hair is her new boss. Jared is intrigued by this beautiful woman who puts God first in her life, but his daughter isn’t ready for him to move on after his wife’s death. As Nadia and Jared try to cultivate a relationship, will they reap a Harvest of Blessings, or a season of drought? (Contemporary Romance from Forget Me Not Romance [Winged Publication])

A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson — Ninety years ago, Millie Sullivan’s great-grandmother was a guest at banker Howard Dawkins’ palatial estate on the shore of St. Simons Island, Georgia. Now, Millie plays a 1920s-era guest during tours of the same manor. But when her grandmother suggests that there is a lost diary containing the location of a hidden treasure on the estate, along with the true identity of Millie’s great-grandfather, Millie sets out to find the truth of her heritage–and the fortune that might be hers. When security guard Ben Thornton discovers her snooping in the estate’s private library, he threatens to have her fired. But her story seems almost too ludicrous to be fiction, and her offer to split the treasure is too tempting to pass up . . . (Contemporary Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Reason to Breathe by Deborah Raney — At twenty-nine, Phylicia Chandler put her life on hold to care for her dying mother with her sisters, Joanna and Britt. Now Mom is gone and their father has run off with a woman young enough to be their sister. Phylicia feels stuck–until her father’s protégé, Quinn Mitchell, presents her and her two sisters with an intriguing business opportunity to purchase a trio of cottages just outside of Langhorne, Missouri. But Phylicia is skeptical. Quinn soon finds himself falling hard for Phylicia. But how can he pursue this beautiful, talented woman twelve years his junior when she’s still reeling over her father’s hasty engagement to a younger woman? Quinn is determined to give Phylicia her happily-ever-after. But first, he must help her come to terms with her discovery of long-held family secrets and persuade her that true love can transcend their differences. (Contemporary Romance from Gilead Publishing)

General/Women’s Fiction

An Amish Homecoming by Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller , Shelley Shepard Gray, and Beth Wiseman — A collection of four new Amish stories of coming home. (General from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Miles from Where We Started by Cynthia Ruchti — These no-longer-newlyweds want out of this road trip–and their marriage. Too bad they can’t find the off-ramp. (General Contemporary from Gilead Publishing)

Historical:

When the Heart Sings by Liz Tolsma — In 1943 Poland, the Nazis have forced Natia and Teodor from their peaceful farm to the harsh confines of a labor camp. When the couple is separated, Natia risks everything to send him messages through song as she passes Teodor’s dormitory. The stakes get higher when Natia finds a Jewish orphan on the doorstep where she works. She is determined to protect the boy and raise him as the child she and her husband were unable to bear—but if her German captors discover how much she’s hiding, both she and Teodor may pay the ultimate price. (Historical from Gilead Publishing)

Historical Romance:

This Courageous Journey by Misty M. Beller — When Noelle Grant sets off to visit her brother in the Canadian Rockies, the prospect of making a name for herself as a news correspondent finally seems within reach. But when the dangers become more than she bargained for, she finds herself—and the mountain man she’s come to love—in a situation more hazardous than any story her imagination could conjure. (Historical Romance, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])

The Reluctant Warrior by Mary Connealy — Union army officer Cameron Scott is used to being obeyed, but nothing about this journey to Lake Tahoe has gone as expected. He’s come to Lake Tahoe to fetch his daughter and nephew, and seek revenge on the people who killed his brother. Instead he finds himself trapped by a blizzard with two children who are terrified of him and stubborn but beautiful Gwen Harkness, who he worries may be trying to keep the children. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

Enchanting Nicholette by Dawn Crandall — As she acclimates to life in Back Bay again, Nicholette Everstone meets someone she can’t help but fall for. But when she learns of the danger and sacrifices Cal Hawthorne takes on for the safety of others, will her heart be strong enough to keep her fears of “what if” at bay? (Historical Romance from Whitaker House)

The Christmas Heirloom by Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, Becky Wade, and Karen Witemeyer — A family heirloom brings true love to its bearers through the generations as it is handed down from mother to daughter. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker] Publishing)

A Heart for Freedom by Janet Grunst — Life was better than she dreamed, now the conflict between the British and the colonists threatened the loss of everything dear, even her husband. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Romancing the Bride by Melissa Jagears — Marrying a stranger to save a ranch is one thing; losing the land on their wedding day is another. Desperate to keep the ranch where three of her children and a husband lie buried, Annie Gephart must marry or sell. Which of the few bachelors in town would consider a surprise proposal to wed a plain widow with a rebellious daughter, a spirited boy, and unpaid taxes—without laughing in her face? (Historical Romance, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])

The Cumberland Bride by Shannon McNear — Thomas Bledsoe and Kate Gruener are traveling the Wilderness Road when conflicts between natives and settlers reach a peak that will require each of them to tap into a well of courage. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Mist O’er the Voyageur by Naomi Musch — Desperate to flee a cruel suitor, Metis woman Brigitte Marchal flees into the wilderness to find her long-lost, fur-trader father, but who will save her from the dangers of being a woman among a voyageurs’ brigade? (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Romantic Suspense:

Five Years In Yemen by Luana Ehrlich — When the President issues a memorandum to bring home a military scientist who went missing in Iraq, CIA operative Titus Ray has been given the assignment. However, when the mission takes an unexpected turn after his contact is murdered in Riyadh, Titus is forced to make changes in the mission’s protocols, changes that endanger his operational team and have lasting consequences for his future. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])

Hidden Peril by Irene Hannon — A woman who owns a fair trade shop and a police detective find themselves plunged into international intrigue—and danger—when people connected with her shop begin dying. (Romantic Suspense from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Burden of Proof by DiAnn Mills — A hostage negotiator is thrust into danger and betrayal when a frazzled young woman shoves a crying baby into her arms, then disappears. (Romantic Suspense from Tyndale House)

Supernatural Thriller:

Surrounded by Darkness by Rachel Dylan — When attorney Olivia Murray opens a legal clinic for victims of domestic violence in Windy Ridge, she knows she will face legal and spiritual opposition. The New Age presence has grown stronger as alliances form between groups hoping to spread their destructive way of life and gain a stronghold in the community. While the forces of evil target Olivia’s new clinic, her legal partner Grant Baxter, and her relationships, she refuses to let them stop her quest for justice. Will Olivia’s and Grant’s faith be strong enough—in God and each other—to prevail in the battle that threatens to bring darkness to the entire town? (Supernatural Thriller, Independently Published [ACFW QIP])

Speculative:

A Dance of Shadows by Erica Marie Hogan — Ten days have passed since Sundragon blood was shed for a sacrifice by Raphaela Kael. Ten days since Lathan and Maxx Jandry fled the city in search of Princess Damari Kael and their niece, Noelle. Brecken Jandry, Brae’s loyal husband, remains a tortured prisoner in the Kael dungeons and no one in Sunkai is safe from Roderick and Raphaela’s wrath. Damari Kael flees Sunkai with little Noelle Jandry, determined to deliver the child to the safety of the Shadow Lands, even as her own power emerges within her. The Eventide Sisters embark on a mission to join the Winter Queen. Across the land, Clea Jandry arrives in her birthplace of Molderëin where she is met with a savagery she thought long dead. Afra Malaki seeks the Creator’s will and the Queen of the Woodlands prepares for battle. In the peaceful city of Quintaria, the Winter Queen grieves. But the shadows are coming for her. They carry a message for Adlae Sundragon, and they will not rest until all is revealed. (Fantasy from Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.)

Body By Blood by Dr. Patrick Johnston — In the not-too-distant future, where cloned bodies are marketable commodities among the super-rich, leaving graveyards of trampled dehumanized classes in science’s wake, the richest man in the world who pioneered the breakthrough technologies learns the meaning of true love from a disabled granddaughter. (Speculative Action Adventure from Ambassador International)

Mercury Rising by Tim and Gail Sattler — Four ordinary people are thrown into an extraordinary situation when they are thrown into a diabolical plot hidden under the guise of global warming. (Contemporary Fantasy from Mantle Rock Publishing)

The Awakened by Richard Spillman — If Lazarus didn’t die a second time what would he be up to today? (Speculative from Mountain Brook Ink)

 

As stated last Thursday on my blog, I will be releasing my Christmas-themed short story scene by scene through the rest of October and November. Stay tuned each Thursday for the next installment, and enjoy!

 

Chapter One—Scene One

I wrapped Sam’s ratty red-plaid shirt around me more securely as I sat on the couch and watched the snow pelt down from a leaden sky, indiscriminately covering both the immaculate lawn in front of my house and the mess my new neighbors had created while moving in. The mess didn’t surprise me. Debbie had always been surrounded by mess and half-completed projects back when I knew her as a kid growing up. Apparently, she hadn’t changed.

I still couldn’t believe that spunky little Debbie Doram, now McCorkmick, had moved back to Moffat’s Landing. The biggest shock came when she and Mickey bought the house next door to mine.

I’d always liked my former neighbours, the VanWoordens. They were friendly but discreet. We had coffee back and forth several times a year, but they never intruded into our lives, although Jerry and my Sam did collaborate on a few yard projects. I hated to see them leave, but Mrs. V was beginning to show signs of Alzheimers and her husband needed a low maintenance home where he’d be able to care for her.

I couldn’t have been more surprised when Debbie and Mickey bought the house. They were anything but discreet, as far as I had observed. As if to prove the fact, my doorbell rang—not once but three times—and, if my door hadn’t been locked, Debbie would have burst right in. As it was, she called to me through the door while I set aside my photo albums and carried my tea to the kitchen table. She was bouncing up and down by the time I unlocked the door.

“Jeannie!” she squealed as she wrapped me in a hug. “I can’t believe we’re next door neighbors.”

I extricated myself from her smothering hug and stepped back. “I go by Jeanne now,” I said, as she brushed past me.

“You got the coffee on, Jeannie?” she asked.

“It’s Jeanne,” I insisted, but I don’t think she heard me.

“So? Coffee?” Her brown eyes danced in her round face, surrounded by the bobbing auburn curls I remembered from high school, now streaked faintly with gray.

I took a steadying breath. “I don’t drink coffee.”

She shrugged. “Tea? Water?” She grinned widely, showing her beautiful teeth. “I bet you drink water.”

Her effervescent grin gave me a dull pain at the base of my neck. I glanced at the hall clock. Ten a.m. Time to dust and vacuum through the house. I doubted Debbie would understand. If I made her a cup of tea, maybe she’d go home and leave me to my work.

“What about this weather, eh?” she commented. “I haven’t seen a lot of snow these past thirty years. Texas doesn’t get much. I can hardly wait to go sledding and skating and make snowmen when the grandkids come. You have grandkids, Jeannie?”

I opened my mouth to answer but she was talking again. “We have eight now, mostly in Texas, a few in California. Have you been to California? Great place to visit but way too ‘out there’ for me.”

I couldn’t imagine. I led the way to the kitchen and plugged in the kettle.

“Whoa! Nice place you got here. Bet I could eat off the floor! My place is still in shambles, but I’m hoping to at least have the kitchen straightened up by Christmas.”

“Christmas!” I couldn’t help but comment. “That’s a whole month away.”

“Yeah.” She grinned and winked. “But I can do it.”

I was about to ask Debbie what kind of tea she wanted, but she beat me to it.

“Just don’t give me any of that herbal junk.” She pronounced the “h” in herbal. “Makes me gag. If I’ve gotta have tea, then give me the strongest you got.”

She reached past me into the tea cabinet and rummaged through it, knocking several boxes out of place.

“Hmm. Guess I’ll risk Earl Grey. Where’s the sugar?”

She pulled open the next cabinet, stepped back and shot me a look of disgust. “Has someone been filming a kitchen organization show from your home? Geez, Louise! You scare me.”

Frowning, I pulled out the seldom-used sugar bowl and handed it to her, then took the cream carton from the fridge and reached for the cream pitcher.

“Whoa, girl!” Debbie said. “Don’t fuss over me. If you make a big production of it every time I drop in for coffee—I mean tea—you’ll wear yourself out.”

My headache had crept forward to my temples.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Debbie as she settled her rounded frame into Sam’s kitchen chair. I sat across from her, picking up my morning tea to finish it. She propped her elbows on the table, hands wrapped around her cup, and smiled at me with sadness in her eyes. Here goes, I thought.

“So how have you been doing these thirty years since I left you for life’s adventures?”

This time she waited for me to answer but I needed time to come up with something acceptable. I took a sip of my lukewarm peppermint tea, hoping it would calm the sudden sharp pain in my chest, and rubbed the rim of my cup with my thumb as I fumbled for words.

“Well, it’s…I’ve been…” I looked into her eyes, now soft with compassion. “It was a good life till Sam left me.”

“Left you?” Two deep ridges formed between Debbie’s eyebrows. “I thought he died.”

I didn’t look away. “Yes. He died and left me alone.”

She stared a moment longer, then smoothed out her features and reached across the table to lay a hand on my arm. There were tears in her eyes.

“I know, Honey. I always got Moffat’s Musings, even when we were in Texas. I read Sam’s obituary and my heart broke for you.”

Her words, meant to comfort, only pinched the nerve of grief that pulsed constantly within my chest. But Debbie, who had rarely been comfortable with silence when I knew her, carried on.

“What happened anyway? The paper said it was sudden.”

The pain in my chest spread to my gut and I set down my cup to hug myself. It was so difficult to put into words.

“He, ah, he was working in the driveway clearing snow. We had an early winter last year and he didn’t want it to pile up on the driveway and get icy, so he tried to keep it cleared.”

I could still see Sam attacking the heavy snow with his new yellow snow shovel from Canadian Tire, his green knit toque pulled down over his ears, breath coming out in white puffs.  A former farmer, he dubbed the backyard and driveway his “back forty,” and claimed it as his own turf.

“Sam always whistled while he worked. It didn’t register with me right away, but suddenly I realized he had stopped whistling. I looked out and there he was, lying in a heap in the driveway.”

On edge with the telling, I stood and moved to the kitchen window where I’d been that terrible day almost a year ago. “I heard a shout and saw our neighbour, Mr. VanWoorden, running toward him.”

I grasped the countertop with both hands to still their shaking. “I ran out the door and Mr. V yelled at me to call 911, so I did. The ambulance only had to come from the hospital two blocks away, and it probably only took five minutes, but it seemed like hours.” I leaned against the counter, remembering.

“I held Sam, begged him to stay with me, begged God not to let him die, but somehow I knew he wouldn’t make it. The EMTs tried their best, but they couldn’t bring him back. Massive heart attack.”

I turned to look at Debbie and was surprised to see tears running down her face. I picked up the Kleenex box and took it to the table for her. My own eyes were dry. Maybe I’d cried out all my tears through the months of being without Sam. She grabbed a couple of tissues, wiped her eyes and blew her nose. Then she jumped up.

“Oh Jeannie, I’m so sorry. You’ve lost the love of your life and I’m sitting here bawling my eyes out. I’ll get us some fresh tea.”

She plugged in the kettle again and fished around in my cabinet for whatever kind she thought I liked. “Here you go,” she said. “Chamomile. That’s relaxing, isn’t it? Oh girl, you’ve gotta learn to make coffee. This Earl Grey just isn’t cutting it.”

She refilled my cup with hot water, then added some to her own, along with two spoons of sugar and a generous splash of cream straight from the carton. Then she sat down across from me at the table again.

“So how have you been managing everything this past year? Did you have family here to help?”

“Emily—that’s our daughter—came out to stay with me for a couple of weeks, but she has a life out in Vancouver, and a job she apparently likes, so that was that. I had to pull up my socks and deal with reality.”

“What does that mean?”

Her question stumped me. Most people are content with stock answers because they really don’t want to delve into personal pain. But Debbie had never been most people. I rubbed my forehead to ease the ache. My fingers were cold. I was always cold.

“It means I’ve done what I had to do, asked for help when I needed it, hired a few people when I couldn’t do something myself. I’ve adjusted.”

Debbie frowned. “You’ve adjusted. Does that mean you’re coping or you’re content?”

I remembered Debbie being nosy and it irked me now.

“Yes.”

Her eyes narrowed and then she snorted. “You and your dry humour. At least you didn’t lose that.”

I couldn’t work up a smile for the life of me. Even when she was young she could move from caring to crass in very short order. I’d have to learn how to handle her if we were going to live in such close proximity. Set a few guidelines. Be upfront with her.

Suddenly she stood, carried her cup to the sink and set it down. “Well, Honey, I gotta go. Poor Mickey is up to his eyeballs moving furniture so I’d better tell him where to put it. He hates moving stuff too many times, poor guy, but I’m not sure myself where I want it all.”

She opened the door to leave, then turned back. “Too bad it snowed again. Makes everything wet and messy. Well girl, keep your chins up and I’ll see you later. Drop by for coffee if you can handle the mess. I’d love for you to meet Mickey. By the way, I love your shirt.”

I sensed sarcasm in her comment because the shirt, with its tattered tails, didn’t suit my image, not even at home, even though it was clean. Debbie came back over and hugged me, then walked out the door hollering “bye” as she went.

I sank into my chair, rested my head on my arms on the table and sighed deeply.

 

** Come back for the second scene next Thursday, October 18th.

“This book is about a girl who was raised by monkeys,” a friend said recently. She had the book in hand, and I was interested. Thinking The Jungle Book. She lent me her copy and I read it in a couple of days.

The Girl with No Name is the fascinating account of the life of Marina Chapman, kidnapped from her home in Colombia in the early 1950s at the age of almost-five, and growing up in two of the country’s most frightening jungles: the rainforest and the city.

This is, according to an afterward by the ghostwriter, Lynne Barrett-Lee, the first of two novels, as Marina’s life is filled with more fascinating detail than can be told easily in one volume. I haven’t been able to find the second installment, but there is apparently a documentary about Marina on the National Geographic channel, so I’ll take a look there.

According to the story, Marina was picked up and drugged by kidnappers, then dropped off in the jungle as they ran for their lives, and subsequently cared for by capuchin monkeys for about five years. Marina’s memories of her monkey family are detailed and sweet. I think the specific word picture that sticks with me most, clean-freak that I am, is how she remembers being groomed by the capuchins and all the bugs and insects they found in her hair and ears. I shudder. But, if her story is true, and I tend to believe it is, she displays an amazing ability to adapt and survive.

As difficult as Marina’s rainforest survival was, the memories are sweet compared to the abuse she suffered at the hands of well-meaning or outright evil people in the city.

This book is penned by a ghostwriter, since Marina’s language skills were somewhat compromised by the years she didn’t speak. I found the story flowed with lovely descriptive phrases and color that delighted me and suited the character. I read mostly fiction, so this was a departure from my normal reading patterns, but I enjoyed it. Thanks, Kathy W. for lending it to me.

To delve more deeply into Marina’s story, check out these sites:

It’s your choice to believe it or not, but either way, this story is a captivating.

Hi! October is moving along quickly, we’ve had a couple of snowfalls—although the wet stuff has disappeared—and I’m thinking about Christmas.

I have a Christmas-themed short story I’d like to share with all of you who take the time to read my blogs. It consists of eight scenes, so beginning next Thursday, October 11th, I will be releasing one scene each Thursday.

I really enjoyed writing this story for several reasons:

— I usually write historical fiction, and sometimes I need a break from the past

— I was challenged to write something beyond my usual genre

– this story has a contemporary setting (instead of historical)

– it is written in first person (instead of third)

– it’s located in North America (not Russia or China)

— Without giving anything away, the story really took off when I “met” Debbie. She’s many things I’m not, and she gives life to the story.

So…stay tuned for October 11thfor the first installment.

Thanks for being there. Feel free to sign up for my infrequent newsletters on my website opening page for further news.

Jan

Janice L. Dick, Author

 

 

 

By the time this blog appears live, I will have been and gone to my favourite annual writer’s conference: InScribe. It’s a treat I look forward to every year, and this one’s accessible; I can drive there or ride with a friend.

Conferences are superb confidence boosters, in that our association with other writers helps us to believe we really are writers too.

Conferences are comfortable places for introverts to network! We’re most of us—but certainly not all—introverted types that gather at writing conferences. We spend a lot of our time in solitary, with only our computers as companions, and mostly, we’re okay with that. But from time to time we need more than virtual input. A conference is a time when we can reach out to others who understand our boundaries. Maybe we can find someone who can fill a gap in our writing life: a story editor, a cover designer, a formatter. And just maybe we can fill a gap in someone else’s writing needs as well.

Conferences are memory makers. We meet people we’ve met before and renew our acquaintance. We meet people we’ve never met before, and often our personalities will click. Or we meet people we’ve heard of but never met, and find out they are accessible and normal folks. We feel surrounded by friends of like mind.

If there’s a conference in your area, save up your bucks through the year and take advantage of it. You won’t regret it.

JAN: How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

EMILY: I’ve been writing since I was five years old. My first piece of work was a short play that I made my grandma act out with me over and over until we both had the lines memorized. I think only a grandma could have been that patient.

JAN: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

EMILY: I don’t know that I exactly decided to write so much as being a writer is who I was. But I have had some major cheerleaders who kept me from giving up. I already told you about the early support from one of my grandmas, but my other grandma always loved my writing and told me how I made pictures with my words. Even once she was declared legally blind, she used her electronic reader to read the books in my Maple Syrup Mysteries. My parents paid for probably my first five writer’s conferences when I couldn’t afford to send myself, and my husband now copy edits all my books for me.

 

 

JAN: Sounds like a lot of great support. What’s your preferred genre?

EMILY: I love mysteries because of the puzzle to solve. When I’m reading a mystery or watching one on TV, I’m always trying to figure it out before the reveal. As a writer, I want to play fair—so the reader could figure it out—and yet keep everyone guessing until the end with interesting twists and reveals.

JAN: Why do you write?

EMILY: I like to joke that I write because I didn’t want to stop playing make-believe when I grew up. The truth is more that I feel God gave me the ability to write, and I want to use the talents He gave me to serve Him.

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

EMILY: Where I write depends on the season. Canadian winters aren’t conducive to writing outside, so I write at the kitchen table. (We’re moving soon and then I’ll have a dedicated office!) In the summers, though, we have a screened-in area where I can write in the fresh air and breeze without fighting off mosquitos or flies. That’s my favorite spot to write.

I’ve also spent a lot of time writing in hospitals and doctor’s offices. People looked at me sideways, but if I hadn’t been willing to work in the time I had, I wouldn’t have been able to put out the number of books I’ve put out in the last two years.

I write my first draft on an AlphaSmart Neo because it’s a dedicated word processor that keeps me away from distractions. I’m also learning Dragon dictation, and I hope that’ll speed things up for me.

I’m a hardcore plotter. I tried pantsing a novel (I won’t reveal which one in my series), and not only did it take me three times as long to write, but it was my least popular book. Not fun.

JAN: Been there, done that! I need to plot too. Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

EMILY: A lot of my story ideas start with the murder situation or motive. In my book Tapped Out, for example, I wanted to do a locked-room style mystery where the murderer would have had to walk by my main character’s client and kill his wife within earshot of him. It added two levels—was her client being honest and how was this possible? The book I’m working on right now, Sugar and Vice, started with the question “Why would someone want to kill a hundred-year-old man at his own birthday party?” Those sorts of naturally-intriguing ideas make it fun for me to write the books.

My inspiration comes from all over—things I see in the news, something I’ve read when I’m studying murder methods (yeah, weird, but a hazard of the trade), or something that’s actually happened. In all those situations, real life is only a jumping off point. From there, I start asking “But what if?” Sugar and Viceis a good example again. My grandpa recently turned 90. Leading up to his birthday, he always talks about how old he’ll be and how he’s lived the longest of anyone in his family. That started me wondering.

JAN: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

EMILY: I use a combination of books and the internet to research. When I was writing my Maple Syrup Mysteries, I also talked to people who’d worked a maple syrup farm. I try to stick to scholarly or government sources whenever possible, or sources that have an acknowledged reputation for accuracy. If I’m not sure about the credibility of the source, then I try to make sure I can confirm the information from multiple sources.

This is less important in some genres than others, though. I have to do my best to get details right about causes of death, but my genre (cozy mystery) expects the sleuth to have a level of involvement within the case that a normal person wouldn’t ever be allowed to have. So I think it’s important to get right what you can, but to also understand where the tropes of your genre allow you some leeway.

JAN: What do you like most / least about writing?

EMILY: Often I like the actual writing part the least. I like coming up with ideas and characters, and I like having written, but I’m not sure I like the actual writing.

JAN: I understand completely! Writing takes so much determination and concentration. What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

EMILY: I’ve used advertising almost exclusively, particularly newsletters that advertise 99-cent sales and Amazon Marketing Services. I’ve also given away a lot of my free prequel novella through Instafreebie and multi-author events.

But here’s my philosophy about promoting. The best practices are always changing. What worked for me might not work for anyone else. The best thing to do is to experiment, and always work on building a list and then building relationships with the people on that list.

JAN: Thank you for that candid response. I agree it’s not a one-method-fits-all deal. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

EMILY: None. Social media isn’t a priority for me, and I don’t like it much. I do have a Facebook page, but I might post a couple of times a month.

JAN: That’s honest, and plays on your answer to my previous question. How do you balance professional time with personal time?

EMILY: Sunday is the Sabbath. I don’t work on Sunday. That time is set aside for church, and then for rest and spending time with my family or friends.

During the week, it’s always hard to find the balance. Because this is my full-time career, I try to make sure my days are spent on professional activities. My family needs my income to survive. My job isn’t a nice bonus income. It’s a necessity.

That said, life rarely runs smoothly. Over 2016, I missed over three months of work due to medical appointments/needs. I work at times when most people wouldn’t—like in ER waiting rooms—because sometimes I have to in order to both be there for the people I love and still earn a living.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

EMILY: I have about three books on the go right now—one writing business book (Newsletter Ninjaby Tammi Labrecque), a Christian theology book, and a not-yet-released cozy mystery by Heather Day Gilbert called Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass.

I’m definitely a digital girl. My Kindle fits so nicely in my purse, and it’s lighter in my hands than most books. I’ve been reading more since I got it than I did before because of the convenience.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

EMILY: My favorite activities are painting, board games, and walking. I also love to bake.

What makes me unique is probably my propensity to adopt stray cats. We have seven right now. Some people take vacations. My husband and I take in strays. We find a lot of joy in rescuing frightened, sickly creatures, nursing them back to health, and giving them a safe home.

JAN: What keeps you going in your writing career?

EMILY: I like to eat and pay my electricity bill so I can take hot showers—just kidding. A couple of things keep me going. The first is the knowledge that, even on the frustrating days, I’m blessed to have this job. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. The second is the emails from readers. Knowing how much people are enjoying the books and the characters makes me want to always improve and to keep putting out books.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

EMILY: This is a two-part answer as well. I feel it’s important to be able to provide clean entertainment for people, so my books have no swearing, no gore, and no sex scenes.

Beyond that, I write for the general market, so one of my readers has called my books “stealth evangelism.” I try to show Christians as they truly are, not as the media likes to portray them. I also try to show my Christian characters as people who still have struggles and challenges, but whose faith helps them deal with those.

My main character Nicole in my Maple Syrup Mysteriesstarts out the series as a non-Christian and then comes to faith. Her conversion happens off page, but I show her going to church, trying to understand what this means for her life, and using prayer and memorizing Bible verses to help deal with her anxiety problems.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

EMILY: My writing reminds me that each person I meet has their own private story. They have struggles and worries and fears that I know nothing about. I think it’s made me more compassionate to others.

JAN: What is your ultimate writing goal?

EMILY: Continue to grow, continue to be able to do this as a full-time job, and write 100 novels/novellas before I retire. (I’m currently working on number 11 in that last tally if anyone is keeping score.)

JAN: I wish you a long and healthy life! You’ll do it! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

EMILY: Take your time to get ready before you publish. I thought I was ready to be a published author long before I really was. When I look back now, I’m so grateful that self-publishing wasn’t an easy option because I would have put my writing out there before I was strong enough in the craft or knowledgeable enough about what it takes to run a business.

JAN: Thanks so much for your responses and a peek into your writing life. All the best in your future as you continue to learn, grow and put out great books.

If you want to know more about Emily and her books, go to her website.

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