June 2008 Sponsors

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Delicious Conversation
by Jennifer Stewart Griffith

Susannah Hapsburg is totally ready for Plan C. Plan A was to get married at 22 and have a passel of kids. Still unmarried and 31, that option is out. Plan B was to work her way up the corporate ladder. However, the company she devoted eight years to just went bankrupt, giving her a bad taste for the corporate world. Which leaves her with Plan C.

Plan C involves chocolate.

With the support of friends, Susannah puts her future on the line to open up downtown Salt Lake City’s first all-chocolate cafĂ©, The Chocolate Bar, a place where scrumptious conversations and delectable desserts abound.

In the midst of all this, social turmoil hits Susannah when she catches the interest of the city’s most eligible bachelor just as her long-lost love returns to town—with intentions of marrying anyone but Susannah.

Can Plan C offer Susannah her just desserts?

Jennifer Stewart Griffith
was born in Logan, Utah and raised on a dairy farm in Cache Valley. She studied English at Utah State University. During that time she also traveled through Europe with her roommates, spent a year on two U.S. Senate campaigns, and served as a missionary in the Japan Tokyo North mission.

After graduation she worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where she met Gary Griffith, her own Mr. Right. They now live in Arizona, where Gary is a judge and they are raising their four young children.

You can contact her at public_relations@springcreekbooks.com

Brother Brigham by D. Michael Martindale

Like many young boys, C.H. Young grew up with an imaginary friend. In C.H.'s case, it was his ancestor Brigham Young--or rather, "Brother Brigham," as C.H. knew him. During C.H.'s formative years, Brother Brigham filled the boy's head with grand expectations of an important mission in life.

Now grown up with a wife and two young sons, C.H. has sacrificed his dreams to earn a living for his family. Brother Brigham is just a distant memory--until one day he returns in a most unexpected way. As Brother Brigham's appearances and instructions grow increasingly bold, C.H. struggles to hold together his faith, his marriage, and his sanity.

D. Michael Martindale was born in Minnesota, where he developed a taste for science fiction and a love for telling speculative stories. After serving an LDS mission in Frankfurt, Germany, he settled in Utah.

D.Michael has served on the board of the Association for Mormon Letters and has written a number of articles and book and film reviews for the literary journal Irreantum. He worked as a staff writer for The Sugar Beet, a publication of LDS satire, and he composed the contemporary opera General Prophet Joseph Smith, which he produced on CDs. He has written several science fiction short stories and the novel Brother Brigham, which he categorizes as "LDS speculative fiction."

He has several other novels in the works, but his true love is film. He is currently composing the screenplays Quantum Love and Mary and Joseph, and is adapting his opera General Prophet Joseph Smith to the screen.

D.Michael currently resides in Sandy, Utah, and is the father of three children.

Ride to Raton
by Marsha Ward

Will a journey to Santa Fe for a young man and his unintended bride end in marital bliss or disaster?

Estranged from his family, James Owen leaves home to make a new life for himself. The turbulent world of post-Civil War Colorado Territory is fraught with danger and prejudice that increase his bitter loneliness as personal setbacks threaten to break him. Then James's journey brings him into contact with another wayfarer, beautiful young Amparo Garces, who has come from Santa Fe to Colorado to marry a stranger. Through a twist of fate, their futures are changed forever when their lives are merged in a marriage of convenience. James and Amparo undertake a hazardous horseback trek over Raton Pass to Santa Fe, battling their personal demons, a challenging language barrier, and winter's raging storms. Will their journey end in life or death?

Marsha Ward was born in the sleepy little town of Phoenix, Arizona, and grew up with chickens, citrus trees, and lots of room to roam. An avowed "tomboy," Marsha began telling stories at a very early age, regaling her neighborhood chums with her tales over homemade sugar cookies. Visits to her cousins on their ranch and listening to her father's stories of homesteading in Old Mexico and in the Tucson area reinforced Marsha's love of 19th Century Western history.

After fifty+ years in the city, Marsha now makes her home in a tiny hamlet under Central Arizona's magnificent Mogollon Rim. When she is not writing, she loves to spoil her grandchildren, travel, give talks, meet readers, and sign books. You can find Marsha at http://marshaward.blogspot.com.

Click here for details on sponsoring this LDSP blog.


Need Questions

I'm out of questions. Please, send more. I'm also willing to critique query letters. (Click here for tips.)

Newly Released

This week's new titles over on the LDS Fiction blog:

With Every Breath by Lynn Kurland

Did we miss any? If we did, let me know.

We've also posted the next contest and the winner of last week's contest.


Fluff and Sap

Can you define "fluffy" or "sappy" LDS fiction? Is there a market for this kind of fiction?

Like beauty, fluffy and sappy are found in the eyes of the beholder.

I define fluffy as a pleasant story with no real meat. The opposite of fluffy would be what we call literary fiction, which is intended to change the life of the reader, or at the very least, make the reader think. Fluffy fiction is usually a fast read, intended as entertainment and generally quickly forgotten. Fluff occurs on a sliding scale, with a sweet romance being on one end and a fast-paced thriller on the other. Most currently published LDS fiction is fluffy. Yes, there's a market for it. Fluffy fiction is not a derogatory term in my vocabulary. It fills a need for many readers.

Sappy, however, is a negative (imho). Sappy fiction manipulates the emotions of the reader in a heavy-handed way. It tells us how we're supposed to feel, when we're supposed to cry, rather than letting us find our on way through the story. It feels contrived. Is there a market for sap? There shouldn't be, but apparently there is because I still find it more often than I'd like to in this market.


Name the Challenge—PLEASE!!

Have you seen those reading challenges that are popping up all over the blogosphere? (See examples here, here and here.)

We want to do a summer reading challenge over on the LDS fiction blog and we need a fun and catchy name for it—something that captures the feeling of summer fun reading and LDS authors/fiction.

Post ideas in the comments section.

There will be a prize for the winner.

What are LDS Standards?

Can you define LDS-standards as it relates to writing for the LDS market?

?? What??

If you're LDS, you should have no problem figuring this out. If you're not LDS, you should probably write for another market. (If you really need details, you can find a list of taboo topics here.)

Clarification to yesterday's post about the protagonist needing to live by LDS standards: I'm talking mainstream LDS fiction, not edgy LDS fiction. There are a few places willing to look at edgier stuff but most LDS publishers are looking to sell to the mainstream LDS reader.

Now, your protagonist does not have to start out living by LDS standards. Recent case in point, Stephanie Black's Fool Me Twice. Her main character is not LDS. When we meet her, she is a willing participant in a scam to inherit money from a distant relative. However, by the end of the book, she feels incredibly guilty about this and has changed to live a more honest and ethical life.


Should Characters Live by LDS Standards?

Do you expect LDS-standards in submissions that are not LDS-related (for example in a fantasy submission, would you expect the characters to live LDS-standards)?

I am an LDS publisher, so yes, I do. Obviously your antagonist would be exempt from moral behavior, but your protagonist should be someone the LDS reader would respect and respond to in a positive way.

If you intend to publish nationally, then no, I would not expect the characters to live LDS standards—but I would hope that your main character would still be moral and ethical.

(See more here.)

Unclaimed Prizes Update

Annette Lyon won Bound on Earth by Angela Halstrom.

Marny Parkin won Heaven Scent by Rebecca Talley.

Over on the LDS Fiction blog, Carrie Lambertsen won The Emerald by Jennie Hansen.

You winners don't need to do anything more. I've forwarded your addresses to the authors and they will be shipping your books directly to you.


Newly Released LDS Fiction

This week's new titles over on the LDS Fiction blog:

Jee's Bones by W. Dave Free

United We Stand by Wendie L. Edwards

His Second-Chance Family by RaeAnne Thayne

The Vow by Rebecca Winters

Did we miss any? If we did, let me know.

We've also posted the next contest and the winner of last week's contest.


Judging LDS Authors by LDS Standards

Do you judge LDS authors by LDS standards even when they are writing for the national market?
I'm LDS. That is part of what defines me as an individual. As such, I judge everything by LDS standards. There are certain standards I expect in the books that I read, as well as in books that I publish. Those standards are strongly influenced by my religious beliefs. There are lines that I cannot cross. Regardless of the author's religious beliefs, or lack of them, I have serious issues with pornography, graphic violence, and situations where behaviors condemned by my religion are promoted and upheld as the ideal. My line in the sand is drawn in the same spot for all authors, regardless of the market for which they are writing.

That said, the intended readership influences what is acceptable in an LDS book versus what is acceptable in the national market. For example, in my opinion, frequent and vile profanity is inappropriate regardless of the market. However, in the national market, an occasional h** and d** is tolerable for me, as well as for most readers in that market, including readers who also happen to be LDS. I would not have a problem if an LDS author included some light swearing in their national books, although, personally, I don't think it's necessary. In the LDS market, any amount of swearing can be a problem because it will offend the majority of the intended readership.

[Now, if you're asking if I think Stephenie Meyer should have kept the boyfriend (vampire or otherwise) out of her main character's bedroom at night or if I think the fact that the girl is silly, immature, manipulative and lies to her father shows a disloyalty to Meyer's LDS values, my answer is, give it a rest! I am so tired of hearing about this. First, spend your energy talking to your children about what types of behaviors are and are not appropriate, and worry about keeping the boyfriends out of your own daughter's bedroom rather than worrying about whether or not Meyer is a good enough Mormon. And second, if your daughter is reading Twilight (which is incredibly tame by national standards and not too far off base for LDS standards—aside from the whole vampires don't exist thing), be grateful she's not reading others in the same genre (such as Sunshine by Robin McKinley.)]

Would you publish an LDS author in the LDS market after that author had written national books that didn't support LDS standards?
It depends on how offensive I found their national books. (Read here.)


And Speaking of Prizes . . .

Unclaimed prizes have been awarded.

I was reminded by our April sponsors that two of last month's prize winners did not claim their prizes. Therefore, Heaven Scent by Rebecca Talley and Bound on Earth by Angela Halstrom are now up for grabs.

The first two people who e-mail their mailing address to me will win those books.


Hi there,

I have a few questions I'm hoping you might feel inclined to answer. I've put together a group of popular LDS mommy bloggers who would like to create a humorous, uplifting book for LDS women. Each of our blogs have relatively high traffic (in the realm of 1,000 - 10,000 hits per day, per blogger), and between the ten of us we have thousands and thousands of dedicated readers. The women we've assembled are funny, touching and very talented.

Is the query process different for an anthology than it would be for a work of fiction?
No, not really. If the publisher asks for sample chapters or pages, send several of the essays.

Do we need to have the book one hundred percent completed before we shop it around?
No, but you should have a very clear idea of theme, topics, contributors, AND marketing plan because anthologies are harder to sell.

My understanding is that anthologies are typically more like non-fiction books— you prepare a proposal and then write the book. Is that correct?
Yes, but you'll want some sample chapters/essays and you'd need to be able to complete the book quickly.

With Mommy blogs becoming so popular, I think an anthology has potential. One of the most popular Mommy bloggers, Heather Armstrong at dooce.com, just released an anthology of blogger essays. I'm not sure how it's doing but it got a lot of buzz. Bloggers have a pre-existing audience which could potentially generate more sales right off the bat than would an unknown author.


2008 Celebrating Summer Short Story Contest

Before I announce the winners of this contest, I need to make a statement about potential conflict of interest that can occur in a contest of this type. Although most of you do not know who I am, I know who many of you are. When I open a contest of this type, I have no idea who will enter it. I cannot run a disclaimer saying that my friends and family are not eligible because most of them do not know who I am and would not know they should exclude themselves. Also because if I excluded everyone I was friendly with, we'd end up with very few submissions.

In the past, I have had close friends submit their stories to my contests but things have always worked out in a way where I did not feel conflicted about judging their stories. This time, however, a conflict presented itself due to the very few number of submissions in the Published Author category. I did not feel I could be unbiased in this area. Therefore, I had an editor friend of mine select the Publisher's Choice winner in the Published Author category. She did not know the identity of any of the authors.

That said, it's time to announce the winners!

Readers Choice Published Author Category: Gracie's Blueberries by Trisa Martin

Publisher's Choice Published Author Category: Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails by Karlene Browning

Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category: A Fine Night for a Swim by Weston Elliot

Publisher's Choice Unpublished Author Category: When Life Hands Out Lemons by Melanie Jacobson

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

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

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


Newly Released LDS Fiction

This week's new titles over on the LDS Fiction blog:

Journey of the Heart by W. Dave Free

Freshman for President by Ally Condie

A Modest Proposal by Michele Ashman Bell

Did we miss any? If we did, let me know.

We've also posted the next contest and the winner of last week's contest.


Changes for the Whitney Awards

I received an e-mail this morning about changes to the Whitney Awards, judging committees, etc. I think this is a great step and the changes will make some needed improvements to the process.

Which is not to say that I think the Whitneys were defective before. No! They were/are wonderful and I whole-heartedly support the Whitney committees and their efforts to acknowledge and reward top notch LDS fiction.

Go, Whitneys!

Oh, sorry. Got carried away there. Go HERE to read the changes.

More on Author Promotion

If an author wanted to get word of mouth out about their book, like you mentioned, what are some ways they can do that, without reflecting negatively on their publisher, who may or may not have tried to promote the book?
Although it may be more difficult for you, as the author, you can do pretty much the same type of marketing and promotion that a publisher can do—depending on how much time and money you want to put into it. I have lots of posts that deal with this. Click on the labels "Marketing" and "Promotion" to read what I've said about it in the past. But here's a quick list (in no particular order):

Virtual book tours—find bloggers you like/know and ask if they'll participate. This will cost you a copy of your book per blogger.

Brick and mortar book tours/signings/launch parties—get to know your local bookstore managers and see if they'll allow you to do this. If they're not interested, contact your local library. When you travel for personal reasons, call the bookstores in the area, see if they carry your book, ask if they'd like to do a signing. Or do a drive-by, go in and ask if they'd like you to just quickly sign the copies of your books on their shelves. (Take stickers that say "Autographed Copy" and put them on the books.)

TV, Radio, Newspaper interviews—contact your local places, send press releases, see if you can get on the local interest shows.

Get your book on Amazon, even if you have to list it and sell it yourself.

Establish an Internet presence with website(s) and/or blog(s), join reader forums, hold contests to give away copies of your book, etc.

Keep in contact with your publisher to let them know what you're doing. Hopefully they will be positive and supportive.

And for all of those who insist a publisher should be doing all of this—well, yes, in a perfect world. But we're talking about a less than perfect situation here. Yes, you will have to promote your on book aggressively and yes, you will have to spend your own money doing so. This is a pain but if it's your current reality, you either bite the bullet and do it or you let your book fail. Your call.


When a Good Book Doesn't Sell

If you publish a book, you obviously believe it will sell. If a book doesn't sell well, what do you think are some of the causes?

Assuming the book is, indeed, a well-written book, in the LDS market the main reasons a good book doesn't sell well are:
  1. Deseret Book didn't pick it up so it's not in their stores or on their website, therefore most of the LDS book buying public don't know the book exists.

  2. It wasn't marketed/promoted correctly—either not enough promo (so readers didn't know it was there), or the promo wasn't targeted to the right reader, or the promo was lame, or the book cover was unappealing.

  3. I guessed wrong. The book appealed to me/my staff but didn't have that same appeal to the general LDS readership.

All of these reasons are issues with the publisher, not the author. Unfortunately, it reflects on the author, making it more difficult for them to find another publisher willing to take a chance on them. If an author finds themselves in this situation, they need to double their efforts at getting the word out about their book and encouraging positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

Another issue occurs when a poorly written book is published. It gets negative buzz from readers and doesn't sell well. This is the publisher's fault because it shouldn't have been published in the first place—or it should have been cleaned up first. Some publishers put very little effort into editing and clean up work. Their "bad" books tarnish the reputation of their "good" books. (There is one publisher whose titles I will not buy because so many of them are poorly written. If I think I might like one of their books, I check it out from the library or buy it at D.I.)


Upgrading Publishers

I have a publisher who wants me to write faster and says they want my future books. Is there any value in me trying to "upgrade" or should I just be grateful that someone wants to publish me?
If you have a publisher who loves you and wants more of you, why in the world would you want to leave them?

The only reason to even consider switching publishers is if they're not doing a good job for you—or if they're a small niche publisher and you want to go national.

Are they targeting your maket? Do they pay you a fair royalty? Are they promoting your books? Are your books selling well? If so, stay where you are.


Summer Story Contest Voting Rules

Voting Rules:

VOTE between May 12th and May 16th.

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

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

You MAY vote for yourself.

You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished.

Click HERE to read all stories by Published Authors. Vote for two.

Click HERE to read all stories by Unpublished Authors. Vote for two.

You may only vote a particular story once. We're on the honor system here.

You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I'm voting for this one...)

I'll announce the winners on Monday, May 19th.

[P.S. Voting and other comments on the stories will also enter you in the Monthly Comment Contest.]

Summer Story: An Unexpected Summer Gift

"So you think this will really work?" Marie asked fancifully. She flopped her blond, lemon-pulp filled hair over to look at me, a sticky frosted donut in her hand.

"The Internet article said it should" I replied confidently.

Marie and I were lounged out in my backyard on two rickety beach chairs, the kind that recline all the way back to laying down. My backyard was the ideal location, not because of the random rooster casually strutting by, but because of the privacy from many curious and or judgmental eyes. My six younger siblings didn't care what strange girlie rituals Marie and I were up to. They were most likely too busy disputing who was supposed to do dishes that night, if dad would come home angry, or other monotonous struggles in our family dynamics. Even my mom was sure not to even take a glance out at us. Finishing off my donut, I shrugged, grinning.

"Your hair sure looks nasty."

"Thanks, you don't look so hot yourself." She replied sarcastically, a wry grin on her face.

"Nasty hair or not, that was good!" Marie exclaimed, licking the last bits of frosting from her fingers, "I haven't had one of those in like a year."

"That's why you should come to my house more often." I said back, checking my watch.

"Dang, its only been ten minutes. The sun is supposed to react with the acid or something, it takes like half an hour I think."

"Do you really want to stay out here that long?" She asked.

"No, not really." I said, uncomfortably adjusting the shoulder of my Speedo.

"Me either." She admitted. She brushed little pulp pieces off her own suit.

Raking my fingers through my hair, humid from the sticky juice, I imagined what it would look like to be blond. It wouldn't get that light, right? I glanced at a strand to check. I frowned. Nope, still brown.

"Well, what else should we do then?

"Hmm..." She pondered. "OH! Lets go to my place, Matt just got a new hockey set we could play with!?"

I thought a moment. The humidity caused my face to sweat, which was even more bothersome after the long hot bike ride to the grocery store this morning that had led to an embarrassing incident counting out my money in change. I pondered if playing hockey was a more comfortable option than laying out here sweating, when a low quacking noise alerted me that we were not alone. A stray duck had come to taste my hair. I giggled as he tugged pieces of lemon pulp off my hair.

"Yeah lets go, I'm being eaten alive!" I exclaimed laughing.

I scrambled awkwardly across Marie's driveway to stop the black plastic puck hurdling toward me and wondered if hockey had been a good idea after all. Luckily, I caught the puck just in time.

"Marie what did you think of me when we first met?" I said leaning on the hockey stick. "After all, we only met eight months ago." I didn't wait for her to answer though, realizing that this question was a great ruse. I ran the puck back, looking for an opening in her defense.

"I thought you were weird." She said in amused honestly, jumping side to side, anticipating my poorly concocted attempts to score.

I stopped a second then gave the puck a furious swat that glanced sidelong off her stick and into the gravel. Marie laughed loudly and ran to grab it.

"Oooh! Dang it, I thought that was in for sure!"

"Right Andrea, for sure." She said sarcastically.

"So what did you think of me when we first met?"

"I thought you didn't like me, and that you were stuck up and...of course you were weird too." I thought back to the day an unfamiliar blond girl walked onto the neighborhood playground who by rare chance seemed my own age, and later found out that our birthdays were about 2 weeks apart.

The sound of Marie striking the puck startled me from my reverie. I frantically swung my hockey stick in an effort to intercept the now flying puck, unintentionally exposing my fingers. The puck met the last two fingers of my right hand with a hard thwack.

Pain exploded in my fingers, and for some reason not consciously recognizable to me, I burst into tears. I knew it wasn't the pain, though. When you are twelve you don't cry about things like that. In fact, for a second, I wasn't even aware of where I was or what was going on. This injury was not the reason I was crying. The reason came from a deep sense of sadness that had suddenly welled up and burst to the surface. This sadness was so apparently harsh that I hadn't realized Marie standing next to me studying my swelling fingers.

"Oh Andrea, I'm sorry. I should have warned you. Really, I'm sorry..."

But I just stood there shaking with wrenching sobs. My new friend, whom I had spent many days similar to today, excluding this incident, came over and put her arms around me. I peered up through tear flooded eyes. When someone hugs you, it's typical to hug them back, everyone knows this. I knew this...but what I didn't know was what that really felt like...to be hugged as a true expression of emotion. I cried even harder. Knowing the type of cavalier friend I thought she was I hadn't expected this gesture from her, especially when I didn't recognize when the real emotional need for a hug actually was. Then she did something even more unthinkable. Gently she put her arm around me, taking my injured hand in the other and led me into her house. She called out for her mom, even though there was no obvious need for serious medical attention.

Even though I stood there bewildered in the middle of the house filled with little kids who'd all been running around but now stared at the strange bawling girl, I felt alone. Alone. Standing, sobbing, feeling no one was there for me, Alone. I don't know how Marie's mom knew this, but she did. She was with me in what seemed like an instant-- the woman that we had clearly avoided eating our donuts in front of, or laying out half naked in our swimsuits, while the sun bleached our hair. My shoulders shook continuously and uncontrollably still . My heart wrenched and heaved with the sadness. The situation before me held a strange disconnect. The day had started out so normal and all of the sudden--never ending sorrow. What was going on? But I couldn't really consciously ponder this, I was too entrenched in the mysterious inner pain I was feeling. As quickly as the situation had begun, my emotions subsided in several chest compressing sobs and the tears stopped running. My mature twelve year old self opened my eyes in disbelief as I realized the tender embrace of Marie's mother's arms around me. She gently smoothed my hair as I rested softly on her tear soaked shoulder. Marie stood watching sympathetically. I had never experienced that kind of pathos in my entire life. It made me wonder why I had never experienced this before. I hesitantly withdrew from her embrace, unsure of the affection being shown me. Composing myself I whispered, "Thank you sister Neil." and quietly walked out of the house with Marie. After closing the door behind us, I sniffled and took a deep breath, wiping my eyes. Marie gave me another hug and said, "Its okay Andy." I meekly said thank you, and I meant it.

Eleven years later, now my 23 year old self, I realized something from that day. Her mother may not have wanted Marie to sit around eating junk, or waste the day bleaching her hair with lemons. This woman may have a peculiar way that she'd wanted her family to live but I knew one thing. She'd taught her daughter to share something that I hadn't known I'd never felt before, nor did I even recognize. Our friendship dwindled away over time, as many childhood friendships do. But one thing that will never leave, is what she shared that hot Arizona summer of 1996, she shared love.

Watch out for grammar, punctuation, sentence structure.

This begins as a fun summer story about two friends and ends as a difficult to follow, life-changing experience. You need to blend the two together so the reader is not thrown off. You need to tie the blond hair experience in to the cathartic experience somehow. It's a little hard to follow at the end. We need to know why she's crying and there needs to be a more immediate resolution or recognition—not one years later.

What I liked best: I liked the beginning of the story. I think if you divided this story in half and created two—one about the innocence of summer friendship and one about learning about love—you'd be much better off.

Magazine ready? No. It needs work.


Summer Story: Hand of Sorrow

The summer night gripped him and he trusted it to conceal him. Anger it was that drove him on, fueling him to ignore the sweat that burned his eyes and the myriad cuts across his naked calves. Armor would not do on this night of stealth. Sometimes you need to sacrifice what you hold dear for the greater good.

Have faith. Faith moves all things, doubt moves nothing.

His clothing hung upon him like leeches drawing out sustenance. Feet were raw, blistered from marching all day with the army and now alone on into the deep night. Traveling light, he carried only a twenty foot cord knotted every two feet in his left hand and a four foot javelin in the right. Moving with the grace of a stalking cat he slipped between thick trees and sparse underbrush. There were guards in the woods tonight. Many men desperate and vicious as himself, but he was not afraid.

I have done this before, I can do it again.

He kept his breathing under control and never once looked at the moon nor the torches of guards round about the city. He would not compromise his night vision. Fighting the invaders for so long, you learn all the tricks of the deadly trade. Stepping heel to toe, he could test the ground before putting his weight down. The deer stalker step had been learned the hard way. Too many times as a boy, the family had gone hungry when he had not brought home a four legged friend. Now instead of his mother and siblings going hungry it was his own wife and children.

The invaders, it is all their fault. They are responsible for the famine in the land. They steal everything, not just our food but our lives and liberties if they can. They have stolen our peace for more than ten years. How I hate them. It ends tonight. The general says to be a forgiving man and love our enemies in spite of what they do.

I can't. The world has need of willing men to do what I can do. I have done this before, I can do it again.

He averts his eyes as a trio of copper skinned warriors pass by, their torches futilely fighting the gloom. Waiting another few minutes until they are beyond the edge of the wall he races out, casting the cord over the top. The walls here are old and made of upright palisades logs. The outside is covered with a stucco of lime, sand and crushed seashells but the tops are exposed irregular logs with pointed ends. They pierce the night skyline like the under bite of that old dragon, the devil.

The heavy knot in the cord easily catches between the teeth. Tugging thrice, he then climbs up to the narrow parapet that runs inside the wall. The invaders bodies are strewn about the inner city as if the battle avoided today were already done and lost. The heat of the day's march having affected them just as deeply as anyone else. He dropped down the parapet swinging his knotted cord back the other way. No time to find the ladders or steps.

If I do my job this will be done. Better for one man to perish than for the many to continue slaughtering each other. I am a gardener. I am pruning the evil tree at its very root, from whence all the bitter fruits have poured forth. I can end this.

The summer night burned but he moved silent as new fallen snow. Invaders snored and even those on guard duty dozed leaning upon their brazen spears. Moving from place to place he searched for where he thought the king might be found. Some grand homes atop earthen mounds, temples to dark gods, but he was not there. Only dog soldiers slept here, content to dream of the conquest that would be denied them with one well aimed spear.

Racing against the approaching dawn, he found a great tent in the cities courtyard. Guardsmen were arrayed about it in a zodiac of pagan superstition. Still they slept like dominos. Each man within a few paces of the next. Dead to the world, alive to the dreamtime.

How can I not be blessed, the way is open.

He stuck the javelin in the hardpacked earth and wiped the sweat from his brow and hands. Whispering a silent prayer of thanks, he crept toward the tent. Somewhere someone strummed a lyre and the haunting melody made him pause. Swallowing hard he came on, right between the sleeping guardsmen. None stirred.

He used the tip of the javelin to pry back the tent flap. A man lay sprawled out asleep amidst incredible finery. Silken pillows and ornate rugs littered the ground about him as did wine bottles upright like trophies. Incense from distant lands burned a putrid reek filling the tent with its foul odor like a demons breath.

The king lay with his exposed chest moving rythmically up and down. A golden chain around his neck slid to the side as he twitched. A whimper came and I hesitated. Was he having a bad dream? Ours will end with him if I do this. Anger turns to sorrow, but I must do this. He brought this war here and I will end it. I have done it before, I will do it again.

I took aim and let fly.

The kings eyes flew open in disbelief. He cried out once as a black wind came and carried his life breath far away.

I run, the servants and guardsmen shout and scramble. One casts a well aimed spear. I feel the heat but no fear.

This story, while containing some good sensory imagery, has some problems. Watch for spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure.

Switching POV doesn't work here. Pick one and stay with it. Same with the "voice"—you use scriptural cadence in places and more modern phrases in other places. Example: dog soldier is a relatively recent term and would not be used by Teancum.

I think the story would be better served to know the identity of the character. There's no reason to keep it a secret. In fact, knowing that up front would make the story richer for most readers.

What I liked best: In the Book of Mormon, we have no insight into Teancum's thoughts and feelings as he does this. I like that the author has provided some, turning one of our heroes into flesh and blood, making him real.

Magazine ready? No. It needs quite a bit of work—but I'd like to see a more polished, finished version of this story.

Summer Story: A Fine Night for a Swim

Hot summer rain came down like the sky was sweating. I swear there hadn’t been a breeze for days.

“I don’t think I can stand another minute,” I groaned. “I’m going to melt into a puddle of goo.”

“Aw, Maddy,” said my best friend, Ardith, “you won’t be the only one.”

“They’ll have to mop us up tomorrow,” Georgina chuckled. “Just imagine the police report. Elderly ladies disappear, house flooded.”

It was, quite literally, too hot to laugh.

It was hotter that year than ever before. Although, I do believe we said that every year. The three of us, each with a fan in hand, had given up sleeping and gathered on the wide porch, hoping for a breath of wind. Everything you could see was indigo in the moonlight. I couldn’t even remember how many nights I’d looked out over that same blue scene. The three of us had all grown up, countless years ago, on this estate—two tenant farm girls, and the estate owner’s daughter—best friends practically from birth. We’d raised our families, sent our children on their ways, and each bid our husbands farewell from this life. Somehow, through all that, we’d stayed the same friends we’d always been. Some way, we’d all come back to the estate no matter where else life took us.

“How did we ever manage this when we were young?” Ardie shook her head. “Why didn’t we ever move up north, where it’s cool?”

“And do what?” I asked, a bit more snappishly than I meant to. “All we ever been is southern women. What would any of us do in the big city?”

“Get an air conditioner,” Georgina answered. I smacked her with my fan.

“Hey,” Ardie said, but then didn’t say anything else.

“What?” Georgina asked.

“Ya’ll remember that old swimmin’ hole,” Ardie asked, “Down behind the old mill-house?”

“Oh, sure.” My mind wandered a bit as I answered. “I haven’t been down there since the rooster knows when.”

“We never needed an air conditioner,” Ardie went on, grinning like a Cheshire cat, “when we used to run down there on a hot night.”

“Ardith!” Georgina suddenly, remembered exactly what her sister meant. So did I, and I couldn’t help laughing.

“I’d almost be willing to head down there right this minute,” I admitted. “I wonder if it’s still down there.”

“Of course it is,” Ardie said, getting out of her chair, slowly and painfully. I remembered watching her as a young woman get up from sitting cross-legged on the floor just as quick and easy as anything; seeing her have to work so hard to get out of the porch swing hurt my soul. Where had that youth gone? “And I am going to head down there, right this minute.”

I groaned my way out of my rocking chair. I sure wasn’t going let her go alone. Or so I would say, so I could blame her later for the whole thing being her idea.

“We used to be so scared we’d get caught doing this,” Ardie said with a giggle as we put our nightclothes back on after our swim. “Now, I’m sure we’d scare anyone who caught us!”

On the way back up the trail, we stumbled across a young, newly married,couple sneaking down to the river.

“Fine night for a swim!” Georgina called out loudly, startling them both. I could tell they thought they were the only ones in the world who knew about that old swimming hole. They let us pass on the narrow path, then watched after us in amazement—three nutty old ladies in sopping wet nightgowns and soggy slippers, who’d obviously been for a midnight dip.

Somehow it had been more than that. For a moment, we’d had our youthful joy again. The river was cool, reviving. In the dark, you couldn’t see the wrinkles, the liver spots, or the limps. Bare skin shone bright blue against the black water as we swam, and laughed, and forgot how ancient we were, if only for a moment.

“Fine night, indeed,” I agreed.

I loved this! I can just picture these three old ladies sneaking out for a swim.

What I liked best: Your dialogue. You get the southern accent without it being obnoxious. That's hard to do, and you did it well.

Magazine ready? Yes. Had the readers not chosen this as their winner, it would have received the Publisher's Choice award.


Summer Story Deadline Extension

We've got a few short story entries, but not quite enough for a full-blown contest.

I'm extending the contest submission deadline through the weekend.

You have until midnight, Sunday, May 11th, to e-mail your story to me.

I'll post all submissions on Monday, along with instructions on how to vote.

Submission Guidelines/Contest Rules

Contest Sponsors/Prizes

Newly Released LDS Fiction

This week's new titles over on the LDS Fiction blog:

Free Men and Dreamers (vol. 2): Twilight's Last Gleaming by L.C. Lewis

Finding Dad by Alma J. Yates

Waiting for the Light to Change by Annette Haws

The Great and Terrible (vol. 5): From the End of Heaven
by Chris Stewart

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Did we miss any? If we did, let me know.

We've also posted the next contest and the winner of last week's contest.

Summer Story: The Butterfly

I was lying in bed this morning pondering the vagaries of memory. Most things that happened to me in the first ten years of my life are very hazy, yet certain things I remember, a Christmas present; a fight with my brother; a crash on my bicycle. These incidents take place in a disconnected way, surrounded by periods of fog.

As I lay their pondering my mind alighted on a long forgotten incident something that must have happened when I was about eight years old.

It was one of those beautiful summer days that only exist in childhood. I was playing on the field opposite my house; well we children called it 'the field'. I used to wonder why the adults called it 'the tip'. Looking back I can now see it was because of the old washing machines, prams and other rubbish that was dumped there. To us children it just added to the excitement of the place. In the morning when we went out, to play, we wondered what treasures had been dumped there overnight. The only reason why the 'field' was there at all was because the land was too boggy to build on.

We children thought it was great though and would give exotic names to all the landmarks in our communal garden. The Sand Hills, a place where the soil was so poor even the weeds refused to grow. The Rolls Canardly, which was a car that had been dumped there so long ago that it had decomposed and become part of the landscape. Then there was the Silver Stream, which sprang up so mysteriously from the ground, it had to be magical. We would drink from it, reverently, as if it was some wonderful potion or elixir. When I think about it now, it's a wonder we weren't poisoned!

On this particular day I was wandering 'the field' lost in a reverie when I saw a piece of paper blowing about in the wind. From time to time I would forget about it but my eyes kept on being drawn back to the paper as it danced in the breeze. It was certainly an odd-looking piece of paper, very colourful, was it a toffee wrapper? The more I looked, the more puzzled I became. It appeared to have a life of its own, then I realised that it did have a life of its own it was a butterfly. As I looked I sometimes thought I must be mistaken, but yes, it was a butterfly, and what a beautiful butterfly. I'd never seen one like it before, and I've never seen a one like it since.

For a while I watched as it played happily in the sun, then I got to thinking. I was on my own, how could I ever describe to my friends how beautiful it was? How would they ever believe that I had seen such a wondrous thing? I couldn't ask the butterfly to remain still while I found a few mates. I had a problem what should I do?

Suddenly all became clear there was only one thing for it I would catch it and show it to them. I took off my shirt and pursued it with all my energy. The butterfly proved to be very illusive and it soon became obvious that it would be no easy task catching it, but I was determined that it wouldn't get away. Sometimes I'd lose sight of it altogether, but it was so distinctive I would always find it again. After much trying I at last managed to throw my shirt over it. I remember the feeling of triumph when this happened, I'd got it, I'd finally got it. Then ever so carefully so as not to let it escape, I moved the shirt so I could gaze upon the beautiful butterfly that had been the object of my attention for so long. It didn't escape, it couldn't. It was dead. In my stupid attempt to possess this magical creature I had killed it.

I've been trying hard to think of some positive moral to this story. It hasn't been easy but now I think I've found one. Don't lie in bed dwelling on past events what has happened has happened. You should get up and create some new experiences in your life and make sure they're good ones.

Anyway everybody shouldn't feel so upset it was fifty years ago so I think it would have probably died by now anyway!

Watch your sentence and story structure, grammar, punctuation.

You've told us a story, like something you might relate to a friend or a family member. Rather than have the narrator remember back to this story, have the narrator be that child—show us the story in real time, as it's happening. Involve all our senses.

The moral of the story should be obvious in the telling of it. You don't need to tell us the moral after the story is finished.

What I liked best: You have a wonderful setting in this field that can provide a very rich backdrop to your story.

Magazine ready: No. Needs more work.


Summer Story: The Summer Afternoon

"Can I go, Mom? Please?" I danced from foot to foot in excited anticipation. "Please?" I said again, thinking being extra polite wouldn’t hurt any.

My mother glanced up at me from the pile of mail she was going through, then looked over at Niki, already in her swimsuit with her face pressed up against the screen door. Mom closed her eyes for a moment, then sighed. "All right."

I whooped and had already started for my room to change when she said, "But don’t track water into the house. Make sure you’re completely dry."

"Okay!" I called through the mess of clothes going over my head.

"And put your things in the hamper!"

I quickly scooped my discarded shirt and shorts off the floor and slammed them into the laundry basket with one hand while I slid the strap of my suit over my shoulder with the other. I grabbed the first towel I could find and was headed out the door when my mother’s voice stopped me. "Anna."

My back tensed. Was she going to change her mind? "What, Mom?"

She gave me a sort of pained smile. "Have fun."

I grinned. "Thanks."

"And be careful–"

The screen door banged, cutting off her words as I launched myself off the front porch. Niki and I wahooed with glee as we cut through the hedge to her house.

After spreading our towels on the driveway, we thumped the oscillating sprinkler down right in the middle of the yard.

Niki grunted as she wrenched the spigot. With a squeak and a high-pitched scree! the water raced to the end of the hose. We watched, excitedly dancing on the grass in our bathing suits, as the slow trickle strengthened into a rainbow of spray.

The sprinkler slowly moved back and forth, zinging against the fence post on one side.

"Ready?" Niki said.

I nodded. "Let’s go together!"

We grabbed hands. "One. Two. Three!" in unison, squealing as the water sliced through our bodies and shocked us breathless.

"Watch this!" Niki ran back in, standing directly over the spray as it moved.

I laughed and stood next to her, the water sluicing the remaining dust off my legs.

We ran back again and again, hurdling over the spray when it was low and breaking through like Olympic runners when it was upright.

Teeth chattering, we pattered over to the driveway (the warmest spot available), our footprints following us on the walkway then fading to nothing.

Niki watched the footprints for a couple of seconds, then smiled hugely. She sat on the driveway in her wet swimsuit, the hot, dusty smell of wet concrete filling the air. "Look!" she said. "Bum prints!"

We made bum tracks all the way down the driveway, watching to see which lasted the longest. Then we lay face down on our towels, the hard cement offering little cushion to our cheeks. We closed our eyes, shivering slightly in the cold as the gentle breeze licked off the last of the moisture, leaving our limbs goose-pimpled until the sun baked them smooth again.

A minute passed, or maybe two. I was completely dry now, except for my hair.

I opened one eye. "Nik?"

"Yeah?" she said.

"Let’s do it again."

We ran back, squealing and giggling as the water soaked us once more.

I saw my mom standing by the mailbox, watching us. I waved, hoping it wasn’t time to go in yet.

She waved back and smiled. Phew.

Niki and I continued bursting through the spray and shivering off to the side while we waited for our next turn. Niki noticed my mom, too. "Hey, Miz Green!" Mom smiled and slowly walked down the sidewalk until she was standing just outside the yard. "This sure is fun," Niki said. "You should try it."

I looked at Niki in disbelief. Was she kidding? I couldn’t imagine my mother running through the sprinkler. Not in a million years.

My mom didn’t say anything, just studied the water for a moment. Then she looked over at us, dripping on the grass with giant grins and chattering teeth. A half smile appeared, and she took off her shoes and watch, setting them neatly on the edge of the sidewalk.

I still wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Was my mom going to run through the sprinkler? My mom? In her clothes?

She stepped between Niki and me, picking up a hand from each of us and holding them firmly. "You’ll have to show me how," she said.

Niki grinned up at her. "On the count of three, run!"

And we did.

Five times we ran through the sprinkler together, laughing–at first in shock, and then in joy. My mom hugged me tightly before leaving and I could smell her hair spray, released into the air when the water hit it. "Thanks, girls," she said. "That was fun."

"It sure was, Miz Green."

As she picked up her things and headed back toward our house, I called out to her, "Don’t track the water inside!"

She laughed and waved, then Niki and I turned to make more bum prints on the drive.

In the beginning, Mom is looking through the mail. Then later she's at the mailbox. A little confusing. Otherwise, I liked the fun and enthusiasm of this story. I could picture it perfectly, since my own children have done that exact same thing, complete with bum prints.

What I liked best: The thrill of that first summer run through the sprinklers is captured well.

Magazine ready? Yes.

Summer Story: Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

On the last day of school, I watch him jump from the top step of the canary yellow bus and land, both feet flat and dust flying, in the gravel road in front of our house. He stays with his knees bent for a moment, concentrating hard on something in the rocks beside his feet. No doubt a dead bug or snake or something equally unappealing. He picks it up, whatever it is, and still stooping slightly, he examines it, one hand cradling his treasure in his palm, the index finger of the other hand poking and prodding.

He slowly straightens, his head tilting back to peruse the summer sky, then nodding forward again to the thing in his hand. While he stands there bobbing between earth and sky, I ponder this boy of mine.

Royal blue baseball cap pushed back on caramel brown hair so short you can see bits of pinky white scalp peeking through. He can’t stand the feel of hair on his neck, especially in warm weather. Although I can’t see them, I know his eyes are warm and chocolate-brown. The olive skin on his round face provides more safety from the sun than the cap on his head.

The bottom hem of the ocean blue and emerald green striped polo shirt that had been neatly tucked when he left this morning, now hangs over the waist of his pants—the right side fully escaped, the left side still trapped but sagging. It looks like the right side has been pulled and twisted. I wonder, did someone grab his shirt while they were playing tag? Or did he do it himself, forgetting that shirttails were not designed to be hand towels?

His jeans hang loose and baggy. Worse than hair on his neck, he can’t abide the rubbing of fabric against his legs. It’s only in the last year that he’s been willing to wear jeans at all. Before then, it was shorts or sweats. Nothing else.

His sneakers are untied. Of course they are. Why would I have imagined they might not be? I can’t see it from here, but I know that there are holes in the heels and the toes flap open. It’s not that we can’t afford new shoes. These are only a month old. There isn’t a shoe on earth that can stand up for long when used as a brake for a skateboard.

He hadn’t seen me standing there in the doorway watching him as he watched his treasure. But he looks up now and his cheeks bunch up in a smile. He shoves the whatever-it-was into the front pocket of his jeans, and runs, full speed, across the lawn toward me, backpack bumping and jumping against his shoulders. I brace myself for impact.

He throws his arms around my waist and buries his head in my tummy. I can smell the wet puppy dog sweat of little boys, feel his arms embrace me tighter than you would imagine possible by looking at him. He pulls his face away and smiles up at me—there are smudges of dirt and mud around the edges, but a clean spot right in the middle. I know there will be a corresponding not-so-clean spot on my shirt, just his height. It will match the not-so-clean smudges just his height on my walls and light switches and countertops.

I put my hand on his shoulder and we walk to the kitchen as he babbles on about the events of his day. It turns out it was a dead snail, after all. He pulls it out of his pocket and shows it to me. He offers to polish it up and give it to me as a gift. I accept that offer.

Later, after he’s tucked away in dreams of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, I tuck my polished snail shell into a box on my dresser. Little boy treasures, like memories, are precious. I hold onto them as long as I can.

What I liked best: It evokes a perfect picture of a little boy, complete with smells and textures. I like the way the author incorporated her feelings about the boy in with her visual senses. I also liked the literary tone. I came away from it feeling a little sniffy about my own boys.

Magazine ready: Yes. I think it would be better in a Mother's Day issue, rather than a summer issue, but it works.

Summer Story: Bus Tickets and Blood Tests

June 1984—Truth can be stranger than fiction. [What does this have to do with the story? A lead-in like this builds an expectation of huge coincidence or something really eerie. There's nothing really strange about this story.]

“Excuse me, Sir. Where can we get a marriage license in Salt Lake?” Tom Springer asked, hesitantly.

The Greyhound ticket agent snapped the cash drawer shut and glanced up to see a teenage couple, dressed in jeans and casual shirts.

“Marriage license?” he asked, surprised, looking at the gangly dark-haired boy with legs like telephone poles.

“Yes, Sir. Becky and I just came on the bus from Minnesota, and we want to get married. So where do we go?”

The agent paused, scratching his balding head. “I think it’s still in the county clerk’s office. Hold on and I’ll look it up.”

Squinting behind his bifocals, he scanned the telephone book. “Yes, here it is, in the Hall of Justice.”

“Is that very far from here?”

“Yes. About eight blocks. Why don’t you take a taxi?”

“We don’t have much money,” Tom replied. “But we can walk, if you’ll tell us how to get there.”

Tom listened carefully to the agent’s directions. Then grabbing his duffel bag, he turned and smiled at the slight girl beside him, with hair the color of Minnesota wheat and eyes as blue as a robin’s egg. “Come on, Becky. Let’s go.”

He grasped her hand, and they walked outside. The warm dry air wrapped around him like a blanket. Feels like home, he thought, only lots warmer for June.

“Are you doing okay, Becky?” he asked, squeezing her hand three times. That was their secret signal for “I love you.”

“I’m fine,” Becky smiled. “Just a little tired. Hey, Tom. What’s that across the street with all the glass windows?”

“The agent said it’s Symphony Hall and up ahead is Temple Square. Temple Square is supposed to be pretty now with lots of flowers.”

“You know I love flowers. That’s the best part of summer. Maybe we could walk around Temple Square before we catch the bus this afternoon,” Becky suggested. “We should do something special on our wedding day.”

“Are you sorry, Becky?”


“About getting married when you’re seventeen?”

“Oh, no, Tom. I love you and my folks are happy for us. Dad even offered to help build our house. It’s just too bad Minnesota has such dumb marriage laws so we have to come to Utah.”

“Yea, but at least we’ll get to see something bigger than Pine City,” Tom said, laughing. “It’s warmer too. Wonder how people celebrate summer. They seem to be friendly here.”

They walked briskly, stopping occasionally to window shop. But at a jewelry store, Becky lingered, her blue eyes gazing at the sparkling diamonds.

“Wish I could afford a diamond for you, Becky,” Tom said, softly.

“It’s okay, Tom. Just being with you makes me happy.”

“Thanks, Becky,” Tom hugged her. “Maybe you can get a ring for Christmas. My boss promised me a raise, now that I’ve graduated from high school.”

A short time later they paused before a concrete sign embossed with bold black words: Metropolitan Hall of Justice.

“We’re here, Becky!” Tom cheered, squeezing her hand three times. “Let’s go find the marriage office.”

They wandered inside, searching until they discovered the right room. Tom picked up the license forms and scrawled in the necessary information. Finished, he walked to the counter and handed them to a smiling, gray-haired woman.

“So you’re from Minnesota,” she said, glancing at the forms. “Since your bride’s seventeen, do you have notarized parental consent?”

“Yes, Ma’m. Right here,” Tom answered proudly, pulling out a carefully folded paper.

“What about your blood tests?”

“Blood tests?” Tom gasped. “I forgot about those.”

“Don’t worry. There’s a clinic nearby.”

Tom gulped. Blood tests cost money, he thought. And we only have return bus tickets and money for hamburgers. Swallowing his pride he explained their situation to the marriage clerk.

“Maybe I can help,” she offered. “Wait here while I make some phone calls.”

Tom grabbed Becky’s hand and they settled down near an elderly couple and a pile of magazines. After what seemed like hours the marriage clerk returned. “I’ve got good news,” she said, smiling. “The clinic can do your tests, if you go right now.”

Just then the elderly man sitting nearby spoke up. “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing. Rachel and I can take you to the clinic. And we’ll even pay for your blood tests as a wedding present.”

“You will!” Tom exclaimed. “Gosh, thanks.”

“No problem. We just came from there. This is our wedding day too.”

Quickly they drove to the clinic where a nurse tested their blood. “You’re finished,” she said, sticking on a bandaid. “Good luck.”

“Are you nervous, Becky?” Tom asked as they walked back into the marriage office.

“A little.”

Clasping hands they followed the clerk to the marriage room. Inside, Becky stood calm and radiant, but Tom’s head whirled and his heart thundered. He barely heard the clerk say, “You may now kiss the bride.”

Tenderly he kissed Becky, suspended in ecstasy until the marriage clerk’s voice jolted him back to reality. “Congratulations. Can I treat you to lunch?”

“Lunch,” Tom gasped. “What time is it?”


“Oh, no. Our bus leaves at 1:00.”

“Wait, I’ve got a surprise for you. While you were gone we took up a collection from people working in our office and couples waiting for marriage licenses. How would you like to spend you wedding day in Salt Lake instead of on the bus?”

“Oh, Tom, could we?” Becky pleaded. “It’d be fun. We could call our folks collect.”

“Okay, Becky. You convinced me.”

“Great!” said the clerk, handing Tom an envelope. “Here’s your second wedding present—a nice room at Howard Johnson’s and dinner for two. Come on. I’ll give you a ride.”

Tom and Becky snuggled together in the back seat, watching downtown Salt Lake speed by until suddenly Tom recognized a familiar landmark.

“Could you stop for a minute?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“I’ll be right back, Becky,” he called, jumping out of the car.

He rushed into the gray building directly to the ticket window. “Excuse me, Sir,” he said boldly. “I need to exchange some bus tickets.”

Watch your punctuation—especially the commas. Also some structural problems.

There's not enough tension in the story to make it captivating. We don't really know the characters on a deep level; we don't get much of a peek into their personalities. Why are they getting married so young? Why are they so poor?

I can't quite believe this is 1984. It doesn't feel right. Feels more like something from the 40s or 50s.

Why come to Salt Lake? Minnesota is three states away. Surely there is some state closer than UT that allows underage marriages. Also, why mention the temple if it's not going to be part of the story?

What I liked best: I liked the idea of the story, that here's this couple in need and strangers come to their rescue.

Magazine ready: No. It needs more umph.

Summer Story: Gracie's Blueberries

Gracie plopped down in a lawn chair in the backyard. She felt a little tired after her flight, but too excited to rest. Her teenage grandson Josh sat nearby.

“Have a good trip, Gram?”

“Yes, but when do we start picking? If I knew where the patch was, I’d skedaddle down there right now.”

“It’s too late.” Josh yawned. “We’ll go first thing in the morning.”

“Good. I came to pick, not to sleep.”

Josh grinned. “I know, Gram. You’re amazing. You’re like the energizer bunny [capitalize proper nouns] and you’re eighty-two. What’s your secret?”

“Keeping busy. You’re only as old as you feel.” Gracie didn’t feel eighty-two. She still felt like a girl was hiding inside until she looked at a picture of herself. Then she knew the years had passed. Yet when she was picking berries the memories flooded back. Maybe that’s why she loved doing it.

The morning dawned perfect for picking blueberries. Gracie dressed in a long sleeve striped shirt, baggy jeans, and wide brimmed hat. Josh put on his old soccer jersey, shorts, and sandals. They bounced along the gravel road in his red pickup toward the farm. A rustic sign announced the patch didn’t open until nine.

“Why isn’t that farmer up yet?” Gracie sounded amazed. “We’ve got work to do!”

“It’s only a half hour,” [grammar] Josh said. He stretched his legs, clasped his hands behind his head, and leaned back. “Let’s listen to the radio.”

“I’ve got a better idea.” Gracie opened the door and climbed out. “I haven’t done my four miles yet. Let’s find that farmer and wake him up.”

“All right, Gram,” Josh groaned. “I’m coming. I don’t want you to get lost.”

They returned [from where? Did they get the farmer?] exactly at nine, but the patch was terrible. They found only a few bushes with small berries. It took a long time to fill their shiny pails.

“I’m done,” Josh announced. “This is boring. Wish I’d brought my IPod.“ [When you use brand names, make sure you get them right — iPod.]

“Keep picking,” Gracie prodded him. “Still berries on those bushes over there. We don’t want them to go to waste.”

Don’t waste, Gracie heard her mother’s voice from somewhere long ago. Gracie’s fingers were still picking berries, but they were short and stubby. Her auburn hair was pulled back in two tight braids. The berries weren’t blue anymore, but dark purple, and she was picking huckleberries in the hills near her home with her mother. Gracie was trying to pick fast, but in her haste she bumped her pail and the berries scattered on the ground. She knelt down and tried to find them. Food was precious and those berries would taste wonderful next winter when fruit was scarce.

“Don’t you have enough?” Josh’s voice broke into her thoughts. “No more berries here. Let’s find a better patch.”

“You’re not looking hard enough.” Gracie pulled branches up to reveal hidden berries. “Search for the treasure.”

An hour later Gracie felt satisfied she had gleaned every precious berry from the patch. She laughed with delight when the farmer weighed the berries and announced they had picked fourteen pounds from bushes Josh thought were empty.

The next day she bribed Josh with a promise of a Big Mac so he drove her to another patch. Here they found a blueberry boulevard, with tons of empty bushes with sparse clusters of berries hidden on low branches. Bending down they filled their pails faster this time, but Josh hated kneeling in the dirt.

“This is hard,” he complained. “I liked the first patch better.”

“You’re doing great, “Gracie urged.

“What are you going to do with all these berries?” Josh asked, annoyed.

“Keep picking. I’ll use them all. I’ll make some pies. . .”

She leaned down to grab another bunch of berries. Her hair tumbled over her face. She noticed it wasn’t short and gray, but rather in long curls like when she was thirteen. Good job, Gracie girl, she heard her mother’s voice again. Your first blueberry pie. We’ll have some for supper. Gracie felt proud. Then a knock sounded on the door. A hobo stood outside, his hat in his hands. She wished her mother would send him away. They had a big family and didn’t have food to spare. Instead her mother invited him in, fed him some soup and a big piece of her pie. That night there was only a tiny piece left for her.

After a full day of picking they drove home. Gracie felt tired, but happy. Her body ached in a few new places, but she didn’t let that stop her. She immediately started sorting and washing berries. Her daughter urged her to relax after dinner, but she had a pie to make. She imagined how excited the family would be to taste one made from fresh picked blueberries, but they scattered in a thousand directions. By the time she finished, she ate her big piece alone.

“Wake up, Josh,” Gracie knocked on his bedroom door. “Time to go berrying. This is my last day. I’m flying back tomorrow.”

She heard some moans from behind the door, but within an hour Josh and Gracie were driving up a bumpy road toward another farm. Gracie became excited. “Oh, look!” She exclaimed and clapped her hands like a child. “Those bushes are loaded. We’ve found blueberry heaven.”

Moments after Josh stopped, Gracie jumped out and headed for the patch, her eyes shining. “Look at those big berries.” Her hands worked like a machine: picking furiously, filling the pail, dumping it in the bucket. She paused only a few seconds now and then to sample a fresh berry. She shut her eyes and chewed slowly, savoring the sweetness. It tasted so good she wanted another, but reminded herself to keep picking. No time to fritter, she thought. There’s work to be done.

She slipped into overdrive. Her hands grabbed bunches of berries and the pail filled rapidly. The sun blazed on her back, but she kept working. Suddenly she noticed a glittering on her ring finger . Sparkles like a diamond, she thought. But I don’t wear my ring anymore. She blinked and looked down at her finger. A diamond sparkled in the sun. She touched her face, her neck. They felt smooth and tight. She saw her husband Peter who had been gone for thirty years. He was working beside her as he had always done: weeding the garden, harvesting the potatoes, hauling the hay. Together again.

A gnat buzzed by her eyes. She stopped picking and swooshed it away. Now her ring finger looked bare. She glanced over her shoulder. Peter was gone. Instead she saw Josh. Funny, but she’d never noticed how much he looked like Peter with his curly black hair and legs like telephone poles.

“Are you okay, Gram?” He looked at her with a puzzled expression. “Do you think we have enough? We’ve filled six big buckets and it’s almost noon.”

“It is?” Gracie felt surprised. Where had the hours flown? Where had her life gone?

“Let me finish filling this pail and then I’ll be done,” she promised.

The young farmer scratched his head in amazement as he weighed the buckets. “You’ve got seventy pounds and you haven’t been here that long. You folks must pick fast.”

Josh shook his head. “Not me. My gram. She’s a machine.”

The farmer chuckled. “She’s one of those. . . I think they called them the greatest generation. Those folks who lived through the Depression and World War II.”

“Thanks.” Gracie smiled. “We just did what we had to do.” Then she patted Josh on the back. “Josh is from a great generation too. He’s picked berries with me for three days.”

Gracie sorted, cleaned, and packed her blueberries into cartons. She filled two suitcases and her carry-on and left a big container for Josh. [She flew in just to pick berries and then took them home in her suitcases?! Is this even allowed? I don't buy it. Have her drive in from out of town—maybe she lives a few hours away. Or have an aunt or grandchild drive her in. That's more believable.] “I’m going to miss you, Gram,” he said as he hugged her at the airport.

“Me too.” She squeezed him tight. “Don’t forget your promise.”

“I won’t. Mom’s going to help me make a pie tonight.

“That’s why I love the young people today. The boys make pies; the girls drive trucks.”

She watched him drive away and then walked into the airport, pulling her carry-on full of berries. She hoped they all arrived back home safely. Next winter when the winds howled and the snow drifted, she would eat blueberry pancake, muffins, and pies. In a burst of blue sweetness, the summer would come again.

Got a few grammar/structure issues, but not bad. When using brand names you need to include the ™ or the ® symbols. Some authors don't and their publishers let them get away with it, but it's the law.

Would have liked to see more interaction between her and the grandson, more comparison and contrast between them. I would also like to see him change something about himself due to her example.

What I liked best: I liked her remembering the past as she picked. Would have liked to see that in more detail.

Magazine ready? Almost. Needs just a bit more development and clean up.


Summer Story: Lock, Stock and Arrow

"Sherwood Forest," Edward said, looking out of the window of the coach. "We're almost at Nottingham, Marian."

Marian sighed with boredom. She was fourteen and used to being active all day, not shut up in a carriage that lumbered so slowly along the path that she could easily overtake it just by walking. At least it was cooler in the forest. It was a warm summer's day and the carriage had become quite heated while they were out in the open.

Seeing movement among the trees, Marian leaned out for a closer look, only to see someone flying towards her. She screamed and pulled back, but the young man's feet shot through the window, slamming into her shoulder and sending her crashing into her father. A moment later, the feet disappeared, and there was a solid thump from the road outside. The horses whinnied, and the driver brought them to such a abrupt stop that Marian and her father were flung forwards.

"What happened?" Edward gasped, regaining his seat. "Marian, are you all right?"

"Just startled, I think," she said. "And you, father?"

"Startled would be an understatement."

The carriage rocked as the driver jumped down, and Marian heard him shouting, "What on earth d'ya think yer doin', tryin' ta kill us all?"

"I do beg your pardon," came a young man's voice. Intrigued, Marian opened the door and got out. Standing a little farther down the road was the young man who had nearly flown directly through their carriage, holding a heavy rope attached to a tree branch high above the path. "I was … playing … and I didn't see that you were coming until it was too late."

"Playing?" Sir Edward demanded, exiting the carriage as well. "Have you no duties, no work to do, that you have time to swing through the forest on a rope?"

"I think you'll find –" the young man started to say, but Marian's father cut him off. " I think you will find that I am the new Sheriff of Nottingham, and you could have seriously injured my daughter with your playing! You will come to Nottingham with us and spend the night in the stocks!"

"My lord!" the young man cried as realization dawned in his face. "Yes, my lord, the stocks … I do beg your pardon, my lord. My lady!"

"My servant was only playing because I told him to," said a voice from behind them, and Marian spun around to see another young man coming out of the forest. He wore a bow and a quiver of arrows on his back. "If you have to punish someone, my lord, you should punish me, as he is my responsibility."

"And who are you?" Edward demanded.

"My lord, I am Robin of Locksley, the son of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon," he said, bowing. "And this is my servant Much. I apologize for our actions. I hope your daughter is all right?"

He smiled at her then, and Marian smiled back. "I am not hurt, my lord."

"Nonetheless, I will spend the night in the stocks in the place of my servant," Robin finished.

"Master, no!" Much protested, but Robin waved him to silence.

Edward glanced from Robin to Much and back again, frowning. "And what games were you playing in the forest, Robin of Locksley?"

"I was practicing my archery, my lord, and I bet Much a hot bath that I could shoot through a rope. We hung one up, and I told Much to swing on it, to make it more difficult." Robin smiled without embarrassment.

"I see you missed," Edward said.

"Yes, my lord." Robin's smile faded.

"Your servant must have a very high opinion of your ability with a bow, if he allows you to shoot in his direction," Edward commented.

Much straightened up. "My master is the best shot in Nottingham. He's never hit anybody he didn't mean to hit!"

Robin grinned. "Either that, or he has a very high opinion of hot baths."

"Well, yes, that, too," Much added.

Robin tilted his head. "Much, fetch the horses."

"Master, no!" Much cried again. "Let them put me in the stocks! I should've let go of the rope the moment I saw the carriage, instead of trying to bounce off it! It's my fault!"

"Much," Robin warned, and Much nodded. "Yes, master."

He walked into the forest, and Robin turned back to Edward. "May I ride on my own, my lord, or would you rather tie my hands and lead my horse behind your carriage?"

"You may ride on your own," Edward said. When Much returned with the horses, Edward put a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Come, Marian."

Getting into the carriage, Marian cast a searching look back at Robin and wished she could ride alongside him. She wanted to talk to this handsome and strangely chivalrous young man who was so certain of his archery skills that he thought he could shoot an arrow through a swinging rope. But ever since her mother had died, Marian knew her place was at her father's side, and so she sank down onto the bench with only a wistful sigh.

They rode into Nottingham. Marian had expected Robin to keep his horse behind their carriage, but every so often he drew up alongside it and grinned down at her before falling back again. She smiled at him each time.

Sir Edward had already sent his servants ahead to prepare for their arrival, but they were not the only ones waiting on the steps of the castle when the carriage pulled into the couryard. A tall man with the dress and bearing of a noble stood there, too, watching patiently as the steward came forward to greet them.

"Welcome to Nottingham, my lord Sheriff," the steward said. "This is the Earl of Huntingdon, who has been administering the shire since Sheriff Thomas' untimely death."

"Huntingdon," Edward said, reaching out his hand. "I've heard that name already to-day."

Huntingdon took the hand and glanced sideways at Robin. "Sir Edward. No doubt you have been introduced to my son."

"He introduced himself to us," Edward said. "I'm afraid my first duty as Sheriff will not be to your liking, as I will have to put him in the stocks for the night."

Marian expected Huntingdon to be angry, but his eyes twinkled as he said, "Really?"

"He apparently wanted to fire his bow at a moving rope, and told his servant to swing on it, but instead of the arrow hitting the rope, the servant hit our carriage. Fortunately, my daughter and I escaped seriously injury."

Huntingdon stepped towards Marian and took her hands in his, bowing over them. "My lady. I am sorry that you were accosted by my son in such a manner. May I offer you the privilege of turning the key to lock him in the stocks?"

Marian gaped at him in surprise. "My lord? Oh, no, that won't be necessary."

"As you are the injured party, I insist," Huntingdon said. "Let us do this odious duty, my lady, and then we can return to pleasanter things. The servants have prepared a chamber for you, and the welcome feast will be ready soon."

Marian glanced to her father, who frowned, but nodded, and they all walked from the castle to the marketplace where the stocks were. Once there, Robin removed his bow and quiver and handed them to Much, then turned to Marian with a quick smile. Then he stooped over and placed his head and hands in the stocks. Huntingdon brought the top piece down, then took the ring of keys from his belt, found the right one, and handed it to Marian. Feeling awkward and conspicuous, she stepped forward and turned the key in the lock.

Huntingdon rattled the top piece to test it, then addressed Robin's servant. "Much, you will attend me at the castle."

"Yes, my lord," Much said, glancing from him to Robin and back again.

"You will not sneak out at any time between now and to-morrow morning. You will not bring Robin any food or water, or protect him from any rotten fruit that the villagers might throw at him."

From the guilty look on Much's face, Marian realized he'd been planning to do exactly that. Glancing apologetically at Robin, Much murmured, "Yes, my lord."

"Right, then," Huntingdon announced, reaching out for the keys again.. "Let's get back to welcoming our new Sheriff."

"My lord," Marian said, not handing them over. "Because it was my responsibility to lock him in, I assume it's also my responsibility to unlock him to-morrow?"

"Marian!" her father hissed, scandalized at her boldness. Huntingdon considered this for a moment, then said, "You are absolutely right, my lady. It is your responsibility, and I will accompany you here in the morning."

Relieved, Marian handed over the keys, then gave Robin one last look. He winked at her, and she smiled, then turned away.

I'm not that familiar with the Robin Hood story, so I'm assuming that every thing here is correct, or within the accepted scope of that story. It is a good beginning—but only a beginning to a longer story.

What I liked best: The characterization. We get a nice glimpse into the various personalities.

Magazine ready? Not for the purposes of this contest. There is no conclusion to the story arc, but a rather abrupt end. I would like to read the rest of this story.


Summer Story: When Life Hands Out Lemons….

The July sun was just reaching its zenith when Mrs. Langley appeared on the sidewalk and stared down at the top of Mark’s head. “What are you doing?” she asked politely.

Mark met her gaze square in the eye, his chin lifted proudly. “Sean and I are opening a lemonade stand.”

“I see that. Can I ask why?”

“I just want my own money besides my allowance,” he answered.

She bit back a smile and studied their carefully stenciled poster board announcing, “The Best Lemonade in Hawthorne Hights: $1.50.” After a moment, she said only, “You did a nice job with the sign.” She didn’t mention the smudges outside the lines or the slight misspelling of the neighborhood’s name. Or the fact that they had obviously borrowed the crayons for their project from Dylan, the littlest Langley, without asking. He protected his Crayolas [use generic name] fiercely from careless use and broken tips.

“You want to be our taste tester?” Mark offered. “You can have the first glass.” He felt pretty generous.

“Wow, you must really love me,” Mrs. Langley said. Sean poked his friend and made kissy lips in the air. Mark, embarrassed, just shrugged and held out a glass.

She took the plastic cup from his hand with great ceremony, waved it under her nose and inhaled the scent, then finally took a sip and thoughtfully swirled it around her mouth. The boys [see note] watched her, trying not to appear too anxious. Finally, she swallowed and smiled.

“Not bad.” She pronounced. When Mark’s face fell almost imperceptibly, she added, “Really, it’s pretty good. Maybe even pretty great. There’s something in there besides lemons and sugar, isn’t there?”

He nodded, happy. “Yeah, it’s from Sean’s Grandma Pearl’s recipe. We messed with it until it tasted perfect. It’s vanilla,” he said triumphantly.

“Well, I’m impressed,” Mrs. Langley told them. “Good luck this afternoon. Don’t stay out too late,” and with another kind smile, she headed back to the house.

The afternoon passed quickly. Business was brisk, with neighbors stopping to chat and ask about the littler Langleys at home. Mark suspected many of their customers were humoring them and thought he even caught a quickly smothered smile or two, but he just ignored that. As long as the neighbors kept up their steady stream, he would have enough money to buy a new game for his Wii by dinner. Old Mr. Stinson from three doors down even bought four glasses from them, one after the other, and drank them right there on the sidewalk. He’s probably just curious about our stand, thought Mark. But it didn’t matter. It got them six dollars closer to the goal.

Finally as dusk was settling in, he turned to find Dylan at his elbow.

“Dad! Mom says you have to come home for dinner,” the little boy announced solemnly through an overgrown fringe of bangs.

“Tell her I’ll be there in a little while. We only need to sell a few more lemonades,” Mark told him.

Dylan rolled his eyes. “She said enough is enough, you made your point, you can have your game, but you have to come home for dinner!”

Mark turned to his partner. “Well, I guess that’s it for me. The boss is calling.”

“Oh, yeah, Mr. Balling. Mrs. B said you have to go home, too,” Dylan informed Sean.

The two men smiled at each other and began gathering up their business, placing unused Dixie cups and sticky measuring spoons in a large red wagon. Finally, Mark counted out half of the bills to his neighbor. “Pleasure doing business with you, Sean. What are you going to do with your share?”

Sean thumbed it thoughtfully. “I don’t know. Maybe take Cheryl out for dinner and a movie so she doesn’t kill me for doing this. I figure my take ought to cover a babysitter.”

Dylan tugged on Mark’s shirt, trying to get his attention. “Dad, I don’t think Mom was kidding around. You better come on,’ he said. He scooped up their sign and was about to toss it in the wagon when he suddenly stopped and stared at it suspiciously. “Hey! Did you use my crayons without asking?” he demanded.

Mark grinned and waved a fistful of dollars. “Don’t worry, kid. You just got an upgrade to the deluxe box of 64.”

“With the built-in sharpener?”

“You drive a hard bargain, Dylan. Maybe you should have been out here with us today. We could have made even more money.”

“I’m pretty cute,” the little boy said solemnly.

His dad gave a shout of laughter and threw his arm around his shoulders. “You’ve got a future, son,” he said, and swung him up on his shoulders for a ride toward home and dinner.

Note: I didn't want to put this up in the story, in case someone was reading this for the first time. It would be fine to have Mrs. Langley call them "boys" but the narrator should avoid this. Too misleading.

What I liked best: I really liked the twist on this story. I thought it was clever.

Magazine ready? Yes. Good job.