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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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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

 

 

 

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Let’s begin our interview with Marcia’s photo and bio:

Unknown

I was raised on an island off the north shore of Lake Huron, ran away to Alaska and then the Yukon, had a “road to Mayo” conversion in 1982, leaped by faith into Briercrest Bible College with my husband in 1985 and landed in the “promised land” of central Alberta in 1988.

I’ve also had the privilege of living a few miles south of the Arctic Circle (Dawson City Yukon) and a couple of degrees south of the equator (Papua New Guinea).

I suppose that’s why my writing is steeped in the imagery of winter with the odd palm tree thrown in.

For the past thirty some years, I’ve been a pastor’s wife, mother of three girls, caretaker of two dogs, two cats and sundry fish, and oh, yes, a freelance writer.

The writing began in the attic of my parent’s house where I wrote stories for my dolls. None of them complained, so I kept it up. The Lord has abundantly blessed, challenged, rebuked, healed and restored me through the process of writing and being involved with writers. I now have two award-winning novels in print as well as three devotional books. My ebooks are available on www.smashwords.com and some on Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.

I am honored to have served on the executive of Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship, been a long-time member of The Word Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers, and been privileged to teach for some of these groups.

I am also a sought-after speaker for women’s retreats and one day events. I have spoken widely for Stonecroft Ministries.

Janice: Hi Marcia. Welcome to my blog. Glad you could stop by today. Marcia (pronounced Mar-SEE-ah), you are a multi-genre writer, as well as being very involved in Christian ministry. Tell us a little about your various involvements and how they came to be.

MARCIA: Well, it seems that the Lord often just drops things into my lap. I began writing for publication when we first moved to Alberta. My husband took over as the senior pastor of a good-sized church and one of the things he was told he had to do was write a faith column for the local newspaper. He was already overwhelmed with everything else on his “to do” list so asked if I would do it. I put together a short piece and took it to the editor. He was happy with it and that was the beginning of writing for local and provincial papers for more than 20 years. About that same time I sent off my first short story to a magazine and received a cheque in the mail. Then began writing short stories for Sunday school publications and my hobby became a career.

I have always been very involved in women’s ministries since becoming a believer at the age of 32, so when I heard about Stonecroft’s Christian Women’s Clubs it seemed a good fit. I took their speaker training and began travelling around Alberta and Saskatchewan, speaking to women. That has led to invitations to speak at retreats and other events. I’ve since had further training under Carol Kent. I love speaking and teaching and God has blessed me abundantly with this ministry.

Janice: How do you balance your writing and personal life?

MARCIA: It’s not always easy. When my kids were young I spent mornings doing housework etc and most afternoons at my keyboard at a small desk in our living room, until the girls came home from school. As they grew that time increased and now that they are grown I am able to spend as much time as I like writing. My husband has become very supportive over the years. I’m blessed to have family who understand and support my ministry. I am quite active in our small church as well, so there are days when there aren’t enough hours, but I love being busy. My challenge sometimes is learning when to say no, when to take time to just be with the Lord. In 2011 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the next two years in treatment and recovery, a time that was a blessing in many ways as the Lord taught me to draw close to Him. That time changed my perspective on many things and helped me to see the importance of being still and focusing on Jesus.

Janice: When did you first take an interest in writing and what sparked that interest?

MARCIA: I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I was always scribbling something or other, leading my mom to say she thought I was born with a pencil in my hand. But at the age of eleven an aunt gave me a copy of Emily of New Moon, by Lucy Maude Montgomery. As I read it I was thrilled to discover that you could actually call yourself a writer and determined at that time that’s what I would be. I was blessed to have some wonderful teachers who encouraged me in that pursuit. When I became a believer it was another blessing to realize that I could write for the kingdom of God.

Janice: What prompted you to branch out from non-fiction to fiction?

MARCIA: I had always written fiction – mostly short stories and poetry when I was young, but I knew you couldn’t make a living doing that, especially in Canada, so I decided to go to Carleton University to study journalism. I discovered fairly quickly that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, but I received some good training there that has come in handy over the years. I did a fair bit of journalistic writing for local newspapers when we first came out to Alberta, while still writing fiction on the side – mostly children’s short stories. Fiction really was my “first love” as far as writing was concerned, so it was a dream come true when I won the Best New Canadian Christian Author Award and One Smooth Stone was published.

Janice: You’ve had interesting experiences with regard to publication. What have you learned on the journey?

MARCIA: A great deal! Some of the highlights:

1 – the industry is always changing and you have to try to keep up by following blogs and staying in touch with other writers, editors and publishers.

2 – when you view publication as a ministry as well as a business, you begin to realize that it’s not all about selling books. It’s about relationships. I’ve been blessed to have developed some wonderful relationships that have made the journey a joy.

3 – you never know when a door may open so you need to be ready and willing to jump through it. For instance, when the Sunday devotional columnist at Novel Rocket.com had to quit, I emailed the woman who owned the blog and offered my services (with fear and trembling I might add!). I’ve been writing for them for several years now and that has opened doors for me with people in the industry. The blog has been on Writers’ Digest’s list of best 100 blogs for writers for some time.

4 – never “despise the day of small things.”(Zech. 4:10). A small thing in God’s hand is a mighty sword.

Janice: What social media do you use and which do you find most effective?

MARCIA: I love Facebook and have made some good connections there. I use twitter a bit, but probably not as much as I should and am now investigating Google + and Goodreads. I think as far as marketing goes it has really helped to do a lot of guest posts on other blogs besides my own. It’s been a thrill to see some of my posts picked up by people in the industry who have huge followings. I try to keep in touch with members of writers’ groups, comment in forums etc.

Janice: When you begin a novel project, what comes first: characters, theme, plot?

MARCIA: Usually the characters and often one or two single scenes will spark a project. The theme emerges as I write, as does the plot.

Janice: What prompted you to write One Smooth Stone and A Tumbled Stone? One Smooth Stone A Tumbled Stone

MARCIA: A woman from a local crisis pregnancy centre was speaking at our church. I chatted with her afterwards and she said something that stuck in my mind: “Can you imagine what it would be like for someone to discover his mother had tried to abort him?” I did imagine, and the character of Alex Donnelly in One Smooth Stone emerged.  When I came to the end of that book I wasn’t ready to let go of the characters so talked with my publisher about a second book and wrote an epilogue that led into it. The character of Andrea, Alex’s sister, formed quite quickly. A Tumbled Stone had a rather drawn out journey to publication and there were many times when I thought it would not happen, but the Lord had a plan and it was an exciting day when that book arrived on my doorstep.

Janice: I have to tell you, I loved your Christmas short story, An Unexpected Glory. It’s such a “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” kind of tale. How did you come up with the idea?

MARCIA: I’ve always had a soft spot for Christmas pageants (you can read a bit about that here) and I like playing with the idea that God’s “economy” is so very different from ours, so when Kathi Macias asked me to write the novella, I jumped at the chance, even though I had a few other things on the burner at the time. That story seemed to almost download itself into my brain. I had a lot of fun writing it and have been really thrilled that so many people have referred to it as a “Christmas classic.” Many have mentioned the Best Christmas Pageant Ever when they refer to An Unexpected Glory and I’m kind of ashamed to say I’ve never read that story – but I plan to! 🙂

Janice: What kinds of books do you most enjoy reading? What format do you read in most?

MARCIA: I love a good story, no matter the genre and I tend to read quite widely across genres. I tend to like books that are more ‘literary’ in style, with strong characterization and setting. If I had to pick, I might say the mystery and fantasy genres are my favourites.

I won a Kindle a few years ago and got to really like it, especially for travelling. I now own an ipad mini so use it for reading at times, using a Kindle app, but I love the feel of a real book in my hands and do most of my reading in a comfortable corner of our living room.

Janice: What hobbies or special interests do you have and how do they affect (or not affect) your writing?

MARCIA: I’m intrigued by technology and science, but that doesn’t seem to have affected what I write – though I love sci-fi and may write a novel in that genre someday. I also love horses but have never written much about them, other than a few children’s short stories for Scripture Press that were set in cowboy country. My main hobby is reading and I do enjoy watching some TV, which I think has made my writing more visual and fast-paced.

Janice: How important are writing conferences, in your opinion? Writers’ groups?

MARCIA: Essential. If you are serious about a writing career I think it’s vital to join a writers’ group, connect with other writers and attend conferences whenever you can to meet editors and publishers. I have been an active member in InScribe for many years and have gotten to know many writers across Canada through The Word Guild as well. I attend both of their conferences each year.

Janice: From your perspective, what is the most difficult aspect of writing? And the best?

MARCIA: The most difficult for me has been the isolation and facing the lack of understanding from some Christians in our churches who don’t realize that writing is my ministry. I have faced a frustrating lack of support from some churches who seem to look on a writing career as something frivolous that has no value.

The best part is hearing from people whose lives have been changed in some way by what I’ve written. I’ve had some amazing emails, letters and phone calls from all over the world that tell me that God has a purpose for what I write and He often uses it in powerful ways. That keeps me going.

Janice: How do you write? Are you an outline person? Do you work better alone or in a busy place?

MARCIA: I’m in the ‘seat-of-the-pants’ category – I jump right in and then outline a bit as I go. At some point I’ll stop and do a bit of a time-line but that’s about it.

I know writers who do their best work in Starbucks, but I need a quiet place with little distraction. That’s been a challenge since we planted the church we are in now, because my husband and I share an office in our home. We are literally back to back so it can be interesting. 🙂

Janice: How do you research your books? What is the importance of research, in your opinion?

MARCIA: My two novels did not take a lot of research since they were set in places and dealt with things with which I was very familiar. But I do try to be careful to get the details right. I think it’s vital to the credibility of a story. For instance, when I was writing One Smooth Stone I woke in the middle of the night in a panic because I realized I had to check some details about the use of radio phones and cell phones in the Yukon. We had used a radio phone a lot when we lived there but I had to find out if they were still used and if it were possible to connect from that to a cell phone. I had no idea where to find that information so I simply called a telephone operator and asked to be connected to a Yukon operator. She was very helpful and gave me all the information I needed to know. I’ve read stories where those kinds of details are wrong and they really throw me off the story. I edited a romance once that was set in the north. The writer had the heroine walking along a sandy beach in the Yukon, staring at the stars with her romantic interest. The problem was that there are very few, if any, sandy beaches in the Yukon and it’s impossible to see the stars in the middle of the summer due to the twenty-four hour daylight. Those kinds of mistakes are deadly. Research is important.

Janice: If you were to give three writing tips, what would they be?

MARCIA:

1. Write every day, even if it’s just for a few moments squeezed into a busy schedule.

2. Read widely and read good writing.

3. Never quit, even in the face of discouragement. God has a purpose for your work.

Janice: Thanks so much, Marcia. I enjoyed visiting with you today, and I’m sure my readers will also. All the best in your future writing career.

MARCIA: Thanks for having me, Jan. It was fun. 🙂

Connect with Marcia at the following links:

Website & Blog – www.marcialeelaycock.com

Facebook – www.facebook.com/marcialeelaycock

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/MarciaLeeLaycock

Blog for Reviews – www.writer-lee.blogspot.ca

Twitter – @marcialaycock

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Kathi Macias’ 12 Days of Christmas – Volume 10 – Her Best Worst Christmas

by Anne Baxter Campbell

her best worst christmasAs Wendy waits for a bus after having been fired from her job just a few days before Christmas, she hears a noise in a nearby trashcan. When the noise turns out to be the weak cries of a newborn baby, Wendy’s focus turns from herself to the infant as she wonders what to do next.

This short story hooked me at the first paragraph and didn’t let go until the final sentence. The writing flows, allowing a conversational tale of trouble and hope to emerge. I was immediately drawn into the lives of the characters with their strengths as well as their weaknesses, the dialogue easy and natural.

Much thought has obviously gone into the plot as well. The inclusion of a romantic thread between Wendy and EMT Gabriel is a delightful counterpoint to the serious incident that prompted the initial action.

Although the story is brief, all the necessary information is woven in smoothly, and this backstory adds some of the constant tension that keeps us reading, along with the unanswered questions that pop up from the beginning. Why was Wendy fired? Who will stand by her as she works through this situation? Why was the child abandoned? Why is Wendy alone at this time of year?

I especially like the curious names that add color to the story, a unique method of pacing and tension/relief to keep the horror of the baby’s situation from becoming overwhelming.

Even though the tale is told from a strong moral stance, it is not preachy, including the basics of the gospel with brevity and clear simplicity. The story ends on a note of hope that all things will work out for good in the lives of Wendy, Gabriel and little Merry. A most pleasant read, especially at Christmas time. Thank you, Anne Baxter Campbell.

Anne Baxter Campbell

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Before we begin talking about plot outlines, character development and setting, let’s discuss a little concept called genre. The word is pronounced john-ra or zhon-ra, and it simply means kind or variety. In our case, it refers to the kinds of stories we read and write.

There are as many kinds of stories out there as there are crayons in a box.photo Some of the basic genres are:  Mystery (Anne Perry’s William Monk or Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series), Thriller/Suspense (books by Brandilyn Collins), Horror (Ted Dekker), Sci-Fi (DragonKeeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul) , Fantasy (J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), Western (Louis L’Amour), Romance (Karen Kingsbury), Historical Fiction (Bodie Thoene’s Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicles), Children’s (classics like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle), Young Adult (excellent theme books by Melody Carlson), and Short Fiction. Each of these genres can be broken up into sub-genres, of which new ones are being developed every day. For example, some of the sub-genres in the Mystery theme are:  Amateur Investigator, Bumbling Detective, Cozy, Legal, Police Procedural, Whodunit, etc. See the following link for more information: http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/genres.html.

What’s your genre? The key question to help you discover this is usually: what kinds of stories do you most like to read? I say usually, because I love reading and listening to mysteries, but I haven’t figured out how to write a good one…yet. I also love reading historical fiction, and the more I read, the more I learn about how it’s done.

Based on your favourite genres of fiction, which would you most like to write? Why? I like Historical Fiction because it reminds me that every historical figure that inspires me to write about them has actually lived and died, loved and hated, succeeded and failed. Each is real and unique and deserves to be known and understood, at least to some degree. When I create characters in historical fiction, it is with the hope that they will become as real as if they had actually lived.

Perhaps you wish to write Children’s Fiction because you love to tell stories to the little people in your life. Maybe you want to try writing for teens in order to help them better understand themselves and their parents and life in general. The draw to Fantasy may be the opportunity to create a new world with its own set of rules and parameters. Of course, there’s always help on the web. Here’s just one site of many to check out:  http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/genrefiction/a/How-To-Choose-A-Genre-For-Your-Novels.htm

Although most of us know what kind of story we want to write, the conundrum that presents itself is whether to write what’s on our hearts or what will sell best. The answer depends on our goals. If our number one objective is to sell our story, then we must research and write what’s selling. My agent once suggested that anything with a buggy and bonnet on the cover would sell. (I can’t tell you why, after all this time, but that’s another issue.) We can still be creative when we write for the market, but we must make sure we’re okay with it.

Personally, I need to write from the heart, whether it sells immediately or not. Pair that with the premise of Kevin Costner’s movie, Field of Dreams:  “Build it and he will come.” Write it, and the readers will come, so we hope and pray. The choice is up to us as individuals.

For the Christian writer, published or not, the choice of genre is important. If we plan to build a platform (the genre and style of writing that people think of when they recognize our names, also referred to as our brand), we will need to concentrate on writing in one genre until we are known by our readers.

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Need an infusion of Christmas spirit? Join Pastor Steve, Stanley and the gang at New Life Shelter for Men as they band together to salvage the annual fundraiser Christmas pageant.

Marcia Lee Laycock’s delightful tale is a “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” scenario, with characters just as unlikely, just as quirky, and just as refreshing. In the short span of 28 pages, we become attached to the characters, cheering them on as they reach inside themselves to keep the show from being canceled. The sold-out crowd expects a professional pageant, but the cast and backdrops are as ordinary and yet as profound as they were that first Christmas night. Both cast and audience are blessed with an unexpected glory.

The story, told in readable, conversational style, is encouraging and uplifting, funny and poignant; a perfect early Christmas read.

Note: This short story by Marcia Lee Laycock is Volume 5 of Kathy Macias’ 12 Days of Christmas

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