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If you’ve tracked along with me since October 4th, you will have read the entirety of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. I really hope you enjoyed it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janice L. Dick, Author

Photo Credit: Glenda Siemens

Janice was born and raised on a farm in southern Alberta, Canada, and currently lives on a farm in central Saskatchewan with her husband. She has loved the written word all her life, and began writing purposefully in 1989. Since then she has traditionally published three historical novels and independently published two more (a third to be released shortly).

Besides historical and contemporary novels, Janice also writes short stories, blogs, articles and book reviews.

Blog/website:  www.janicedick.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/janicedick

If you enjoyed this story, please leave a review on Amazon. Thank you.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I write mostly historical fiction, novel length, third person. This story was a divergence from my norm, and once I met Debbie, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I would identify more with Jeanne, and finding Debbie was, for me, an encouragement to live life more fully and to embrace each day with faith and joy. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I want to acknowledge G.G. for encouraging me to write not only a short story, but to write it in contemporary genre. I changed it up a bit more and used the first person point of view.

Thanks to Deanna Robertson and Jeanne Heal for reading my manuscript and giving me their honest suggestions about writing what I had not personally experienced.

Thanks also to Gwen Hernandez, who offers excellent courses in Scrivener, so I could figure out how to format this story and set the template for future independent publishing ventures.  Also to Susan Russo Anderson for her helpful how-to article on compiling Scrivener for .mobi.

 

BOOKS BY JANICE L. DICK

STORM SERIES

(these three titles are temporarily out-of-print, but will be re-released soon)

Calm Before the Storm

Eye of the Storm

Out of the Storm

 

IN SEARCH OF FREEDOM SERIES

Other Side of the River

In a Foreign Land

Far Side of the Sea (to be released shortly)

 

SHORT STORIES

The Christmas Sweater

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS! May the reason for the season be JESUS!

 

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Below, see the seventh installment of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and Christmas music in the background.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Seven

With the date of our trip coming up quickly, I spent a lot of time packing and making lists. I used the spare bedroom to lay everything out so I could see it at a glance and have a better idea if I’d missed anything. I even googled Paris and “what to take.”

I couldn’t remember being this excited in years and I knew I had no one to blame but myself. The more I thought about it, the more I felt badly for Sam and how I had kept him from doing some of the things he had really wanted to do. But I knew where he was now and that no earthly regrets bothered him.

I’d been living on the sidelines for so long I felt like a completely different person. I think my renewed excitement for life surprised even Debbie, which is a stretch. We’d been walking every day and as I grabbed my gear and headed out the door to pick her up, I thought of some things I needed to discuss with her about my trip.

It took several minutes for Mickey to answer the door, and when he did, I was stunned by his expression. His face was pale and pinched, his smile non-existent, and his manner subdued.

“Mickey, what’s the matter,” I asked as he stepped back to let me in. “Are you unwell? I just came by to pick up Debbie for our walk.”

He ran one of his large hands over his stubbly jaw and blinked rapidly a few times. “Listen, Jeannie,” he said. “Debbie isn’t feeling too well today, so you’ll have to excuse her. Sorry, I should have called and let you know.”

“Not well? How so? She looked fine yesterday. Maybe it’s a bug she’ll be able to shake in a day or so.” But in my heart I knew it could be something worse. When I stopped to think about it, Debbie had been quieter the past few days, and we had strolled more than hiked. Dread crept into my mind as I considered the possibilities.

“Can I see her?”

Mickey bunched his lips. “Can you give her a few hours? She didn’t sleep well and it’s taking her a while to pull herself together.”

I put a hand on his arm, aware that all the physical strength in the world couldn’t withstand emotional strain. “Of course. And count on my prayers in the meanwhile.” I paused, wondering if I should voice my worst guess, then thought of Debbie and plunged ahead. “Is it the cancer again?”

Tears formed in Mickey’s eyes. He turned his face away and shrugged. “Don’t know for sure. Going for more tests tomorrow, so we’ll see.”

“I’m so sorry. Please tell Debbie I love her.”

His grief kicked me in the gut and I turned to go. “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do.” An idea came to me. “Let me take Scruffy out. She’d love a walk.”

So I walked, more out of routine than anything else, but knowing the brisk air would clear my head. The silly mutt trotted along on her leash, as happy as if I’d given her a new chew toy. I’d done it again. First the endless months of grieving—not so much for Sam as for me I now knew, with my focus no more than six inches around me—then thinking of nothing but my upcoming trip. It was always about me, while Debbie spent her time counseling and encouraging me, even when she probably had a good idea her health was failing.

“Oh Lord,” I prayed as I walked. “Forgive me for my selfishness. I can’t believe what I’ve turned into this past year.” No, it had taken much more than a year to create the self-absorbed woman I’d become. Well, I had asked for forgiveness, and believed it granted, so now I had to do something about it. Walking Scooby was my first effort, and I’d continue to do so up until I left for Paris.

I stopped in my tracks, surprising the dog, and suddenly I knew what I had to do. Debbie had been there for me since she and Mickey had moved back. Now, when she really needed me, I was not going to take off on her.

 

**Only one more scene to go! Please come back next Thursday for the final installment!

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Here we are for the sixth scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Six

Debbie stuck her head in the door about suppertime and asked, “Have you called Emily yet?” Snuffles wagged behind her.

“No,” I admitted. “I will.”

I’d been thinking of Emily’s invitation all day, as well as Debbie’s counsel that I’d be sorry if I didn’t go but never sorry if I did. Wouldn’t they both be surprised if I accepted.

She glanced at her wristwatch. “You have an hour to call before I get back and call her myself.” She seemed a bit nervous, which was out of character. I waited.

“Listen, Oh Friend of Mine. Mickey’s at work and I have to go to an Alzheimers meeting at the  Seniors’ Centre and they won’t let me take Steena inside. I know you don’t like animals in your house, but could she stay right here in the entry? Just for an hour or so? I’d leave her at home but she’s been really scared of being left lately. I think she’s going through separation anxiety. We took her to Regina with us last time and it seemed to throw her to see my folks again but in a new place.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Not only was she commanding me to phone my daughter, she was requesting that I babysit her dog. In my home.

“Or you could come to my place and sit with her,” she said, as if reading my mind, “but I know you want to call Emily so I thought this made more sense.”

Well, I was tired of everyone thinking I was a wimp. I’d show them all, shut them up for good. The thought took root so quickly it shocked even me, spontaneity not being my forte.

“Go ahead. I’ll look after Stumpy,” I said, and tried to keep from laughing at her incredulous expression.

“Thanks…I think,” she said, and told the dog to stay put. I doubted the mutt understood, but it sat and wagged as Debbie backed out quickly, probably expecting me to change my mind.

When she’d gone, I sat down on the entry steps and spoke to my guest. “Well hello, Stinky. Nice of you to come by. I have nothing to offer you but my presence.” Tentatively, I reached out and patted her head. Her hair felt so soft and silky to my touch that I couldn’t help scratching her ears. She leaned her head on my knees and closed her eyes, and I had to chuckle. That launched a bout of tail wagging that made me laugh for real.

“You are a strange little creature,” I said. “Now I have to clear up my supper and make an important phone call. You remember what Debbie said: stay put right here while I call. The rug is quite comfortable enough for you.” I gave her one more pat on the head and went back into the kitchen.

I forgot all about the dog while I washed my few dishes and considered what I’d say to Emily. I hung the dishtowel under the sink and rubbed lotion onto my hands. Sam used to joke about the amount of lotion I rubbed into my skin, but he liked the resulting softness.

The phone sat mocking me from its cradle near the table, and I decided there was no time like the present. I had Em on speed dial, I’m not sure why since I rarely initiated the calls, so I hit the button and waited, wandering back and forth through the house just like Sam used to do when he spoke on the phone. Emily answered after three rings.

“Hello? Mom?” She sounded surprised I was calling and I guess I couldn’t blame her since it didn’t happen often.

“Hi, honey. How was your day?”

“Good, yours?”

Enough small talk. I was on a mission here. “Listen, about your invitation to Paris, you know how I feel about the timing and all, but I’ve decided, after a good deal of interference and coercion from an unnamed source, that I’ll take you up on it.”

Her silence lasted so long I thought the line had gone dead. “What did you say?”

“I said I’ll come. Have you changed your mind? You said you needed to know by today.”

The silence stretched between us, and a giggle escaped me at the incongruity of the situation.

“Are you jerking my chain, Mom? Because I was serious about the offer. I mean, if you don’t want to come, just say so.”

“After all this emotional upheaval, you want me to change my mind again? Sorry, Em, but the decision is final. I’m going—we’re going—to Paris. In two weeks.” I must be crazy.

I wasn’t prepared for her scream, but it ripped through the phone lines and into my house with such clarity that Stocky came running and buried her head in my lap. I started to chuckle and then the situation overcame me and I was laughing. In the background I heard Emily say, “Mom, are you all right? Have you started drinking?”

Her words made me laugh harder and that’s how Debbie found us, Spookie and me, when she returned from her meeting. She looked as troubled as Emily sounded. I knew I was on an adrenaline high, but I hadn’t had this much fun since…since Sam died. My laughter faded, but the bubble of joy inside didn’t go away.

“Listen, Em,” I said when I’d caught my breath. “I have to go. I’m babysitting Debbie’s dog and we’ve frightened her and Debbie’s here now. Just tell your friend I’m in and we can talk another day soon. Good night, my dear.”

“Goodnight, Mom.” I heard the uncertainty in her voice just before I disconnected.

“Hey, Debbie, how was your meeting?” The look on her face made me want to start laughing all over again, but I was too tired. It was exhausting being this happy.

 

**I hope you’re enjoying The Christmas Sweater. Only two more scenes to go. Join us next Thursday, November 22, for the seventh installment.

 

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This is the fifth scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Enjoy the story and the season.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Five

Monday morning came without me aware of the day or the time. Being so close to winter solstice, it seemed to be always semi-dark outside. The jangle of the doorbell and the dull pounding finally brought me out of my stupor. Was the world ending? No, but my world already had. It couldn’t get worse.

The pounding stopped and my phone rang. I reached for it reluctantly.

“Hello?”

“Oh, thank goodness you’re okay. Jeannie, what’s up? Are you sick or what?”

I shook my head to clear it. “No, I’m fine. Just slept in…So, you’re back. How was the weekend?”

She ignored my polite questions. “Jeannie, you’re always up at the same time every morning. Now tell me…no, just open the door. I’m coming over. I can’t believe we’re sitting here talking on the phone when we live next door. And if you don’t open up, I’m gonna get Mickey to pick the lock on your door. He knows how.” And she hung up.

I rolled out, threw the covers over the bed in a quick but completely unacceptable fashion, and pulled on a sweat suit and Sam’s shirt, realizing it needed washing again. I could hear my mother’s words in my mind: Jeannie,your first task upon rising is to make up your bed. AndA lady never, ever leaves the house in dirty clothes.Somehow the memory of her scolding was a link to sanity, albeit a flimsy link.

The doorbell rang as I was brushing my teeth. She’d have to wait. Pushy woman. I remembered her threat about Mickey picking the lock, and although I didn’t believe he’d ever agree to do it, the thought made me hurry.

When Debbie blew into my kitchen, she took a look at my puffy eyes and swollen face and wrapped me in a wordless hug. The only thing that can ever stop her tongue is compassion. She’s hard to resist. Like water eroding stone. Over time you succumb.

She pulled back and stared at me. “You haven’t been outside all weekend, have you?”

“Yes, I have,” I said in my defense. “I walked on Saturday.”

“It’s Monday. That’s two days ago. That’s a lot of alone time, Kiddo. So you sat here in the dark and brooded?”

I shrugged.

“No one came? No one called?”

“Well, it’s none of your business, but yes, someone did call.”

Her eyes looked a bit less severe and she turned to get the tea things. “Good. Who?”

Incredulous, I stared at her back.

“I know it’s not my business,” she answered with her head in the tea cabinet, “but I’m curious. Who called?”

Fighting Debbie was like trying to stop the wind. I sat in my chair at the table and accepted peppermint tea in my cup with the roses on it, while she sat in Sam’s chair with a double-double Earl Grey in a black mug. “My daughter Emily called from Vancouver. She’s planning to go to Paris for Christmas.” May as well get it all out right away instead of parrying the questions one by one.

Debbie’s eyes widened and she slapped the table so hard I spilled some of my tea. “Get outta town! Paris? Who’s she going with? Did she ask you?”

The questions kept coming until I held up my palm to stop them. “Yes, she asked. I declined.”

Her eyebrows disappeared under her curls. “What the heck? Are you crazy?”

I waited for her to understand. When her expression didn’t change, I leaned forward and explained. “Debbie, remember what time of year it is. It will soon be the anniversary of Sam’s death. I simply cannot go traipsing around that romantic city of Paris with my broken heart in full view of everyone.”

“No, of course not,” she said, and I leaned back in my chair, satisfied that I’d connected with her at last. But she had more to say. “No, you have no business going to Paris on the anniversary of your husband’s death. Your place is to sit here in the dark with no tangible sign of Christmas and weep. Or stay in bed till mid-morning because you spent all night feeling sorry for yourself.”

I stood up so fast I almost spilled the rest of our tea. “How dare you? You have no idea what I’ve experienced and yet you judge me!”

“Simmer down, Cinderella,” she said, as if the argument was over spilled tea instead of death and grieving. Her silly comment took the punch out of me and I sat while she grabbed a clean tea-towel and wiped up the tea.

“I’m not judging you, Jeannie, but I have to watch you suffer every day, and I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. If this is what you’ve been doing for a year, it’s time you changed your ways or one morning all I’ll find upon breaking into your tomb of a show home is a puddle of tears on the kitchen floor. How long do you have to make your decision?”

I rubbed my bleary eyes. “I’ve already made my decision. I told Emily to accept her friend’s offer and go.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said. “When’s the deadline?”

I blew out my breath forcefully. “Today. Debbie, I’m just not up to it.”

She sat back and pretended to write something on an imaginary paper with her finger. “Excuse number one: Jeannie’s not up to it. Next excuse?”

I rubbed at my forehead with my fingertips, trying to massage away the ache. “I can’t go so soon, It’s a bad time of year. I have to get through it.”

“What do you mean, a bad time of year? It’s the best time of year!”

“Used to be. Not anymore. Ever.”

“So you’re gonna let it spoil Christmas from now on?”

I felt a burning in the pit of my stomach as the words boiled up from deep inside. “It’s not my fault,” I shouted, my voice quavering like an old woman’s. “It’s Sam’s fault. He’s the one who up and died on me. At Christmas, for heaven’s sake! He ruined it all. My favourite time of year and now I’ll never be able to enjoy it again!” The sobs started their way up my throat. “I hate him for robbing me. For leaving me.”

I took my cup with the roses on it and threw it into the sink, shattering it. Grabbing the counter with both hands I wailed, loud and ugly and guttural, till I thought I’d turn inside out.

The whole time, Debbie stood behind me, running her hands up and down my arms, murmuring comforting words, praying out loud, waiting. When I’d used up all the tears and felt like an empty husk, she turned me around and hugged me and patted my back as if I were a child. Later, we sat side by side on the couch, fresh cups of tea on the coffee table in front of us, Debbie’s arm around my shoulder.

“You know he didn’t leave you on purpose, right?”

My voice came out in a squeak. “I didn’t know I was so angry.”

Debbie’s answering smile looked sad. “We never do. Anger is one of those emotions that evolves into a monster over time if we don’t face it. I could see it consuming you.”

I narrowed my swollen eyes at her. “You goaded me into this hysterical fit.”

“Goaded? No. I may have nudged a bit, but you were well on the way without me, honey. I knew you had to get it out.”

The tea felt like sweet healing going down. “How’d you know?” I asked.

“Been there.”

“What? When?” I stared at her now, focused for once on someone outside of myself.

She pursed her lips, set down her cup and pulled up her knees, hugging them. “I have cancer,” she said in a quiet voice. “It’s in remission now and hopefully it will stay that way. But one never knows.” She stared out through the frosted window in a more contemplative manner than I’d ever seen her.

“I was so angry at everyone and everything, but mostly at God. Mickey didn’t know what to do with me. He tried everything: counseling, pastoral visits, deacons, friends, but I pushed everyone away, groveling in my pain and fear…and anger.”

Tears slipped from my eyes. “As I’ve been doing.”

She shrugged and gave me a crooked grin.

I had to know. “What happened to change that?” I was holding onto the end of the rope she’d thrown me, hoping to be pulled out of the quagmire I’d been sinking in.

“I admitted the anger.” She looked at me again. “You can destroy yourself with anger. Pretending all’s well, or pretending you aren’t angry or afraid. When I finally admitted how I felt, it was like a dam burst and reality was released. I could name it and face it.”

I nodded, recalling the feeling of release after my outburst.

“And I knew it wasn’t God’s fault,” she continued. “He’d been there the whole time, arms reaching for me. I’d stepped out of his arms when my anger and fear took over. I’d avoided him.”

She cupped her hand on my cheek. “Honey, you gotta let him in. He’s the only one who can help you become whole again.”

On the tip of my tongue the words gathered. I’ll never be whole again.I bit them back and swallowed.

“Yes.”

Such a simple word, but the release overwhelmed me. Tears I’d thought spent poured down my cheeks, not the exhausting upheaval at the kitchen sink, but a sweet peace.

“Okay, listen up, sister.” Debbie leaned forward to look into my eyes and brought me back to reality in a hurry. “You have a decision to make sometime today. You may forfeit Paris and be sorry later, but if you go, you’ll never be sorry. And another thing. Maybe Emily needs you with her right now. She can’t bear to be here in this empty house with memories of her dad everywhere, but she doesn’t want to be alone either.”

I stared at her. She really was pushy.

On her way out the door, she looked back and said, “Promise me you’ll seriously consider this, for Emily’s sake as well as yours. I will follow up, you know.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I said, more to get her out of my house than anything. I appreciated that she cared, but she hadn’t lost her husband. I couldn’t suddenly change my feelings because I had faced the truth, and I needed time to adjust.

 

**Come back for the sixth installment of The Christmas Sweater next Thursday, November 15. Until then, enjoy the season.

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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:

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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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