Tag Archives: Christmas

Thoughts from Debut Author JPC Allen and a Giveaway!

It’s my pleasure to host Jennifer Allen (JPC Allen) on my blog today. I’ve watch her grow as a writer in my local ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) group and I can tell you she’s one to watch!

A lot has happened to me in the last fourteen months as a writer. I’ve had two short stories published. Since I’m getting paid for those stories, I am officially an author. But becoming an author of Christian fiction has meant so much more than getting a paycheck.

I’ve been writing stories since second grade. As I entered my college years, I began a novel and had always thought of myself as a novelist. After my kids entered school, I wrote a YA Christian crime novel and spent years improving it because it was the kind of story I like to read. But I got nowhere seeking an agent for it. I’ve had many agents ask to see sample chapters and my business plan only to have them to turn it down for various reasons, usually because the YA Christian fiction market is so tough to publish in.

Then I had the opportunity to write a short story for Mt. Zion Ridge Press. The only constraint was that it had to be set in Ohio. Although I am a huge fan of mystery short stories and have read hundreds of them, I’d never thought about writing one. My first crime short story, “Debt to Pay”, appeared in the anthology From the Lake to the River, last September. I was now an author. But that word took on a whole new meaning three months later.

Last December, Mt. Zion Ridge Press was accepting submissions for Christmas short stories. I had two weeks to come up with 5,000-word story that actually made sense. Since it had taken me years to get my novel in shape, 5,000 words in two weeks seemed as unconquerable as climbing a 5,000-foot peak in my bare feet. But I decided to go for it.

As I worked on my YA mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I became more concerned with writing the story the way God wanted me to rather than taking it over and writing it to please myself. I didn’t think of it as my story. For some reason, God wanted to filter this story through me. I was very aware that it was finely balanced, and I didn’t want to wreck it.

And something funny happened. As I wrote and revised and sweated, the story became exactly the kind of story I’ve always wanted to write. Christmas is my favorite holiday, and some of my favorite mysteries are set at Christmas. Here I had the chance to write one. I’m a country girl at heart, and the story is set in a rural county in Ohio. The mystery hinges on mercy and forgiveness, two qualities I focus on as I grow as a Christian.

Getting paid for my art and having the owners of Mr. Zion Ridge Press accept my stories was a wonderful validation of my hard work. But I think I truly became an author when I collaborated with my heavenly Father as a junior partner and began thinking of the stories as His.  I can’t wait to see what other projects He has in mind.

I’m holding a book giveaway on my site! Click here for details.

 

Christmas fiction off the beaten path 

Not your Granny’s Christmas stories …

Step off the beaten path and enjoy six stories that look beyond the expected, the traditional, the tried-and-true.

Inspired by the song, “Mary Did You Know?” – a mother’s memories of events leading up to and following that one holy night. MARY DID YOU KNOW? By Patricia Meredith

A young woman seeking her own identity searches for the man who tried to kill her and her mother on Christmas Eve twenty years before. A ROSE FROM THE ASHES. By JPC Allen

Princess, tower, sorceress, dragon, brave knight, clever peasant – combine these ingredients into a Christmas-time story that isn’t quite what you’d expect. RETURN TO CALLIDORA. By Laurie Lucking

Anticipating tough financial times, the decision not to buy or exchanged presents leads to some painful and surprising revelations for a hardworking man and his family. NOT THIS YEAR. By Sandra Merville Hart

Years ago, a gunman and a store full of hostages learned some important lessons about faith and pain and what really matters in life – and the echoes from that day continued to the present. THOSE WHO STAYED. By Ronnell Kay Gibson

A community of refugees, a brutal winter, a doorway to another world – a touch of magic creating holiday joy for others leads to a Christmas wish fulfilled. CRYSTAL CHRISTMAS. By Michelle L. Levigne

Purchase links: Amazon,Barnes and Noble, 24SymbolsKobo

JPC Allen started her writing career in second grade with an homage to Scooby Doo. She’s been tracking down mysteries ever since. A former children’s librarian, she is a member of ACFW and has written mystery short stories for Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Online, she offers writing tips and prompts to beginning writers. She also leads writing workshops for tweens, teens, and adults, encouraging them to discover the adventure of writing. A lifelong Buckeye, she has deep roots in the Mountain State. Join the adventure on her blog, Facebook,Instagram, or Goodreads.

Which Story Are You Telling This Christmas?

Cyber Monday Shop for books

photo by Mike McCune

Truth

I’m reading a book right now (listening to it, actually) titled The Truth According to Us. This post has nothing to do with that novel, however. Just the title. It intrigues me.  From what I’ve observed, we may uphold truth, but only the truth as we understand it. And when you think about it, that makes some sense. We are leaning on our own understanding. But, as sometimes happens in the aging process,  the time comes when you realize you might not have an open mind when you lean on your own understanding. If you look, observe, take plenty of time, you might just see something you hadn’t seen before.

The Christmas Story

Take the Christmas story for example. The birth of Jesus.  I’ve been seeing some posts on social media claiming that we’ve gotten it all wrong our whole lives. Jesus was not born in a stable. Houses had a level where they kept the animals, and it’s likely Joseph and Mary stayed with one of his relatives on the bottom level of the house. There was no inn nor any innkeeper to turn them away, not according to the Bible.

What's True About the Christmas story? #whatsimportant Click To Tweet

When I was teaching kindergarten, and in charge of the Christmas pageant, I needed an innkeeper. There were not enough parts for all the children, and there was always one child who wanted a speaking part, but didn’t want to be an angel. And if we did not have the drama of Mary and Joseph being turned away on that cold night, with the birth of the baby drawing near, there wouldn’t be enough drama for the play. I’m sure the innkeeper was invented by a bedraggled Kindergarten teacher probably sometime in the 2nd century.

photo: Crosswinds Community

photo: Crosswinds Community

Wherever they stayed, it was probably awkward, and not Mary’s first choice of birthing locations. We are given the story of a homeless family, although temporarily homeless. We are given a story that tugs at our hearts. The son of God coming without any earthly fan fare. If it weren’t for the angels speaking to the shepherds, or the star leading the wise men from the East, no one would have noticed, save for Mary and Joseph. The lack of the people’s understanding of what had happened could make a series of sermons, and probably has now that I think about it.

The Truth According to God

But that’s not the whole story. When I took the time to step away from the pageant (I haven’t taught Kindergarten for many years now) I began to see another story entirely. The one I think is the point of the whole thing. In the Book of Matthew 1:23, during the dream that Joseph had where an angel told him what was about to happen, lies a phrase that is so miraculous, so incredible and difficult to understand that it is sometimes washed over.

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

I’m not talking about the fact that a virgin was going to give birth, which of course is miraculous, incredible, and difficult to understand. That is part of the Christmas story that we are very familiar with. I’m focused on the second part of that verse: Emmanuel, which means God with us. It’s incredible when you look at history. God had been silent for hundreds of years. And then….with us, in the flesh, to walk with people, eat with them, teach them, heal them, die, and rise from the grave. That is God being personal and intimate with his creation in a way he had not been for many generations.

What I Try to Remember

God is with us. We are his beloved children, members of his family. I ask myself if I have prepared my heart for his arrival. The people of his day had not. But I have the advantage of knowing the story. But then again, they had the prophecy.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.~Isaiah 7:14

They were still not ready. I’m not sure I am either, not the way I should be. But I try. I try to remember all these things like Mary did.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. ~Luke 2:19

Mary and Jesus

photo by PROWaiting For The Word

Merry Christmas!

Christmas at Hawkins House (Ellis Island Series)

Creative Commons, Paul Townsend

Creative Commons, Paul Townsend

Christmas Past

As most people who enjoy learning about the past, I am intrigued by past Christmas traditions.  The Christmases of our ancestors were varied depending on the culture they came from. In book one of my Ellis Island series, Grace McCaffery, a recent immigrant from Ireland, must learn to prepare Christmas dinner for her American employees. Here is a excerpt from the book:

Grace muttered under her breath later in the day as she polished crystal glasses and placed them back in the dining room sideboard. Christmas Eve and she was expected to create such fancy dishes as she’d never seen before. “Spiced chutney and turtle soup and butter crème pie. How am I supposed to make those things? And why would anyone want to eat them?”

Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 165). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Turtle soup BBC photo

Turtle soup BBC photo

Grace grew up in a poor house in Ireland. Her experience with Christmas traditions was limited.

“…We didn’t much celebrate Christmas in Ireland.” She stretched the truth a bit. Some Irish folks would expect visits from Father Christmas, but Grace held few memories of holiday traditions herself. Even before the workhouse, they’d had no time for it. They went to church and roasted whatever portion of lamb their neighbors could spare. Nothing more.

Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 204). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

“Nothing more.” Observing Christmas was simpler in the olden days.

Is Christmas Different Today?

Christmas is certainly commercialized today, but even back in the early 1900s, people complained. They thought too much emphasis was put on toys, too many of them in store windows. Too many? Still to come was the Christmas catalogue and lines to sit on Santa’s lap and give him our wish list. But even so, those complaints seemed to sense what was to come. It’s easy to romanticize the past, but despite how different our versions of Christmas might be, people are not all that different. We still want peace–on earth and in our homes. All the rest is just glitter and wrapping.

Christmas Lights

Families still gather together. People go to church for candlelight services. Most people who don’t work in service essential jobs like fire fighting or nursing still have the day off because it is a special day, a sacred day. That was true back in the early 1900s. It is still true today.

Mary and Jesus

photo by PROWaiting For The Word

Grace, like the characters that follow in the next books of the series, learns that although people are different in their customs, their economic status, and social interactions, everyone wants the same thing: to be loved. As the Grinch learned in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps Christmas is about something more–something more than we tend to think it is. Perhaps, after all, it is about love.

It’s Advent, Not Christmas

The Lost Season

Christmas Carolers

photo by wolfgangfoto


There’s Christmas, and then there’s the Twelve Days of Christmas, and then Epiphany. But, not yet. First, it’s Advent. The meaning of that season seems to be getting buried. Anyone else feel that way?

We once had a pastor who insisted that the music in the service be Advent music. No Away in a Manager or Joy to the World, because Advent leads up to that. Don’t get ahead of things. The hymns that we should be singing are O Come O Come Emanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. And the Baby Jesus in the manager? Nope. Not until Christmas Eve.

Who Likes to Wait?

I understand that patience is a virtue. It’s hard to wait, especially for Christmas. After all, I know what’s coming. I know the story. It’s no surprise. Let’s just celebrate! Many people are complaining about how early Christmas is observed these days. When I was a kid, we put up our Christmas tree the week before Christmas. Who does that now? No one I know, including me.

The Gift of Preparation

Christmas cookiesMost people do, however, feel a need to prepare when an event is coming up. That includes Christmas, at least the way most people usually prepare: shopping, wrapping gifts, baking cookies, planning meals, inviting guests…

But that’s not the kind of preparation I’m talking about. Advent is a season the church recognizes as a time to prepare our hearts for Jesus. True, he has already been born, died, crucified, buried,  risen, and ascended into heaven. And yet by observing the religious tradition of remembrance, I find I am able to receive him anew in my heart each Christmas, IF I observe Advent and don’t rush right to the prize. By taking the time to reflect, pray, and ask myself if I were one of the people in the Biblical Christmas story, how would I respond, I am preparing myself. I think that’s a gift.

Mary and Jesus

photo by PROWaiting For The Word

“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”
― Mother TeresaLove: A Fruit Always in Season

Slow Down

What’s the hurry? Maybe I’m just getting old, but the pace that life seems to want to push everyone along on bothers me. I’m going to make an effort to slow down, listen, watch, and enjoy more.

silent night

What about you? Do you feel that the season rushes by faster than you’d like? What will you do differently this year?

“God is here. This truth should fill our lives, and every Christmas should be for us a new and special meeting with God, when we allow his light and grace to enter deep into our soul.”
― Josemaría EscriváChrist Is Passing by