2007 Books Eligible for Whitney Awards


A Few Observations and Comments

All contests on this blog are mostly for fun. They are also a learning experience for you.

So. Here are some mistakes that were made by the authors submitting to this contest. Funny thing (or not so funny, depending on how you look at it), NONE of these items were singular events. More than one person made each of the mistakes listed below.

1. Submitting after deadline has passed. Deadlines were clearly stated in large, bold, colorful type. Submissions received after the deadline were excluded from the contest.

2. Word count too high. Before you submit, make sure you check your word count. Most software will do this for you. If your's won't, invest in new software. Most contests/magazines don't give you a chance to fix and resubmit.

3. No title on your story. I didn't explicitly state that each story needed a title, but these are short stories. Short stories need titles.

4. Additional submissions did not contain contact info. Your name, contact info, word count and, for this contest, whether you were a published or unpublished author, needs to be included in every submission. Treat each submission as if it was your only submission. Don't assume the editor will know and/or remember that you're the same John Doe who submitted a story a week before.

5. No title in Subject line. I didn't specify that you include the title in the subject line of your e-mail, but it helps. Especially when an editor is looking for a specific story but can't remember the author's name, and 80% of the submissions say "Christmas Story" in the subject line.

6. Authors did not know if they were published/unpublished author. I thought the guidelines were clear on this. There was one person who had a situation that did need clarification from me, but the others should have been able to figure it out by reading the submission guidelines carefully.

7. Authors sent published stories. Again, I thought it was clear what was to be considered published and what was not. And again, there was only one request that really needed my clarification.

8. Authors asked where to send the submission/Authors asked where their stories would be posted. ??? I'm guessing someone told them about the contest, gave them my e-mail, but didn't send them to my website. But still. All of that is covered in the submission guidelines for the contest. The funny thing is, the second question was asked several days after the story was submitted. Never submit your story anywhere if you don't know the details of the contest.

9. Adding me to your joke list. You don't know the editor. The editor is not your friend. The editor gets enough e-mail already. Do NOT send the editor jokes or sentimental e-mail spam. Don't send them to me either.

10. Did not vote for yourself. The whole reason I gave you TWO votes in each category was so you could vote for yourself, and then vote for someone else. Okay, in real life, you rarely get the chance to vote on whether or not your story gets accepted for publication. But it's the attitude of not voting that's going to work against you. If you don't believe in your story enough to "vote" for it, why should the editor?

I am now heading off for my Christmas vacation. I will be back after New Year's.

Happy Holidays to each of you.


2007 Christmas Contest Winners

Thanks again to all of you for participating in this contest. I hope you feel you've received some helpful feedback—either confirmation that you're on the right track or some tips and pointers on where you need to improve.

I decided to pretend that I was looking for stories for an imaginary Christmas magazine. As I evaluated each piece, foremost in my mind was the question, Would I accept this story, as is, for publication in my magazine? I've included my answer in my commentary. If the answer was yes, that doesn't mean the piece was perfect. It means it was close enough and would only need a slight bit of editing before publication. If the answer was no, I've tried to indicate what you'd need to do to fix it.

I also included what I liked best about your story, it's strengths. As you consider rewriting your story for an actual submission, build on those strengths.

Although the majority of my comments are critical—pointing out what you did wrong—please know that I believe every single submission could be publishable with time and work. All of your stories touched me in some way. I hope each of you will come away from this contest feeling that you have learned something and with a renewed determination to continue writing.

With every contest, it gets harder and harder for me to choose a winner. Rarely is there a submission that stands out as a clear winner, without first having some debate with myself on the merits of the competition. This contest provided lots of debate.

For the first time in the history of this blog, the readers (you) and the publisher (me) actually agreed on who should be a winner in the Published Author category. Since Reader's Choice takes precedence, that left me having to narrow down down my winner from six* very good stories. I liked each of them for different reasons. I finally chose by asking myself which one I would buy.

In the Unpublished Author category, I couldn't make up my mind between two of them. I argued with myself all night and finally decided to make it a tie. (I'll provide the extra prize.)

With all that said, let's see who the winners are:

Readers Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #10—Arrows to Heaven by Tristi Pinkston

Publisher's Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #21—The Crooked Christmas Tree by Roger Bonner

Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category: Christmas Story #14—A Dark and Cold Miracle by John Parmley

Publisher's Choice Unpublished Author Category (tie):
Christmas Story #19—Believe Mr. Thomas by Don Carey
Christmas Story #11—Walking in a Weevil Wonderland by Melanie Goldmund

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.

*#4, #6, #7, #20, #21, #26


Voting Has Ended

Voting has ended for the 2007 Christmas Story Contest.

Thank you to everyone who participated. I will tally up the votes and post the winners tomorrow.


Scheduling Dilemma

There were 27 entries to our Christmas story contest. 27! That is just amazing and I'm very happy that so many of you decided to participate.

However, it does create a bit of a scheduling dilemma for me. Since it will take quite some time for me to give each of these entries a serious read and to prepare my comments on each one, I will not be answering any questions here until after the contest is over and I've commented on each post.

Also, there's my "day job" and that whole Christmas thing which seems to be taking up a bit of my time...

But please, keep coming back to read the comments of others. And just because you've cast your vote, that doesn't mean you can't comment on the other stories. Tell us what worked for you, what didn't work, what you might have done differently. (But be nice.) Remember, each comment gives you an entry into the December book contest.


Voting Starts December 16th!

All stories have now been posted. Voting is open.

Voting Rules:

VOTE between 12:01 a.m. December 16th and midnight December 19th.

  • You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished. You may only vote once per story. We're on the honor system here.

  • I suggest you click on the Submissions by Published Authors link (here or in the sidebar), read those stories and vote for two. Then click on the Submissions by Unpublished Authors, read those and vote twice more.

  • 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...)

  • You MAY vote for yourself.

  • You may vote anonymously or using your Google ID. Just remember to be fair and follow the rules. (Anonymous comments are not eligible for the December Comment Contest.)

  • I will use the date/time stamp on your comment to determine if your vote is eligible.

  • You may tell everyone you know about this contest and invite them to vote, but please do not tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win based on their merit and appeal, not on how much your friends and family like you.

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, uniqueness of story, and whether or not I liked it. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don't make it a popularity contest.

I will announce the winners on Friday, December 21st. I will make comments on each of the stories some time during Christmas week.

This contest is sponsored by and prizes provided by:
  • Publisher's Choice, Published Author: Sorry, the Stork Takes No Returns by Claire Bowen

  • Reader's Choice, Published Author: The Man from Shenandoah by Marsha Ward

  • Publisher's Choice, Unpublished Author: Kindred Spirits by Christopher Bigelow

  • Reader's Choice, Unpublished Author: Grasshopper Pie by Rebecca Talley

Please visit our sponsor bio page to learn more about the sponsoring books and authors.


Christmas 27: The Christmas Stocking

She had pretty much given up on Christmas. Sure, she liked all the trappings that came with the season – the trees, the ornaments, the lights. But it was all too...commercial, too fake. No one really meant any of the things they said when they wished you a Merry Christmas. It was just like someone saying hello or goodbye. It didn’t mean anything.

Andrea had felt this way since she could remember. Since her father had gone away and left her and her brother to fend for themselves. That had been the worse year in memory, and she often over did during the Christmas season just so she would be too tired to remember it. This year was going to be even better. [Better than what?]

Tonight her work was throwing a company party. ["work" is a verb. Her company was throwing a Christmas party.] Being the Friday before Christmas, it made things cramped for time, but she’d already packed most of what she’d need. She looked forward to the party – lots of noise, music, food and the yearly bonus the boss handed out.

She needed the bonus to finish paying for her trip, booked for Christmas Eve. Her brother was going to be out of town, and she didn’t want to spend it with any of her married-with-children friends who’s [whose] happy holidays brought nagging memories. This year she was going to be gone on a cruise ship known for it’s partying atmosphere. Despite having saved all year for it, her bank account was still on the red side – needing that bonus money to cover stuff till payday. It was her present to herself.

Looking around the apartment, satisfied with it’s clean condition, [tell us what she saw; what was the "proof" of its clean condition?] she glanced again at her own appearance before picking up her wrap, purse and keys. Her red satin dress with the slit up the side, her high heels and fake stole were all stunning; her hair had been worth the cost, laying in wild dark curls around her shoulders. Satisfied, she stepped out and locked the door, passing the apartment next door with a twinge of guilt that she firmly pushed aside. Everyone at work would be bringing a friend – but she hadn’t invited anyone. Jared was the only one she talked to with any regularity, but she wasn’t sure he was someone she wanted to take to a social function, he always seemed so laid back. What if he didn’t have a suit? [Who is Jared? Need more here.]

The clouds were heavy and hung low in the sky, a sure sigh snow was on it’s way. She flagged down a taxi and told him the address where the party was being held. This was going to be the kick off night – she could hardly wait.


Packages were mis-delivered to his apartment all the time. Jared was used to telling people that he had their stuff. In fact, the postman regularly left them with him now, figuring it was sure to get to the right people that way. When the package came for his neighbor, his heart skipped a beat.

Not one to push his company on anyone, he hadn’t seen her very much, exchanging even fewer words. But he thought she was gorgeous, and he definitely wanted to get to know her. He day dreamed about her all the time – having her over for dinner, showing her his collection of Victorian Christmas cards... [use real punctuation]

But he hardly ever saw her, and they had been neighbors for almost 5 years now. Perhaps now...now she would have to see him, and he wondered if it would make any difference.

[We need some stronger indication that he's thinking of Andrea. Give us a description.]

It wasn’t until two in the morning that Andrea stumbled up the stairs, so tired she couldn’t see straight as she tried to find her door key. The party had been even better than last year, the bonus had been exactly as expected, and she could hardly wait for Christmas Eve. Stopping in front of her door, she focused on a post-it note stuck there, and frowned. A package?

Squinting at the note, she shrugged. It would have to wait till tomorrow – there was no way she was going to knock on someone’s door this time of night.

[Need a break here, not below.]

The sound of someone knocking worked it’s way through her sleep numbed brain, and Andrea pried one eye open to focus on the clock by her bed. 11:30 am...most normal people would be up. What in the world?


Jared stood outside her door, nervous and excited at the same time. When she answered, disheveled and wrapped in a robe, he became embarrassed.

“Yes?” she mumbled, eyeing him warily.

“Um, you got this package,” he said, feeling like a fool. What was he thinking? She wasn’t even going to remember him later.

“Oh yeah.” She stared at it and him blankly, before opening the door. “Come on in.”

He gulped and entered, afraid she would change her mind. “Uh, did you get the note?”

“Yeah, but I got in real late,” she said, sitting down on her couch with her feet tucked under. [under what? her? the couch? a pillow?]

She didn’t seem eager to take the package, which puzzled him and he placed it on the low coffee table.

“Does it say who it’s from?” she asked, looking at him tiredly.

Surprised, he looked at the return address. “It says Morgan Waterson, LA.” [Who is Morgan Waterson?]

“Oh.” She reached out and picked it up, suddenly interested in the contents. In no time she had cut open the tape with scissors and pulled out a thin felt stocking, the kind kids used to hang for Christmas years ago.

There was no sound – she stared at it with her mouth hanging open as she held it from her fingertips as if afraid to hold it tightly.

“That’s...um, that’s cool,” Jared said, feeling awkward. “Is it yours?”

She nodded, her eyes looking suspiciously moist. “I - I didn’t know it was still around.” There was a small note tucked in the top, and she pulled it out, wiping at her face. “Mom found these before she died,” she read out loud. “I forgot to send it on to you. Merry Christmas, Morgan.”

Sighing, it seemed as if she deflated with the air leaving her body, the stocking falling to her lap with her limp hand. She looked so forlorn, Jared wanted to pull her into his arms.

“I haven’t seen this stocking since I was a girl,” she told him, absently stroking the faded felt. “Not since my dad left us.” As she rubbed her fingers over the fabric, there was a crinkle of paper, and she felt inside to discover an envelope, yellowed a little with time, her name written on it.

“What in the world...” she slipped a finger under the flap and ripped it open to read it through before looking up at Jared, her face draining of color. “It’s – my dad – I,”

Jared reached over and gently pulled the paper from her fingers, since she wasn’t going to be able to say it out loud and read it for himself.

“Dear Andrea: Never doubt that I love you. Leaving you this Christmas was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’m going away to battle, and it’s likely I won’t come home, so I didn’t want you to have to deal with that. Its probably the coward way out, but I wanted you to remember me here, and not think of me wounded or dying half the world away. Take care of your mother, she needs you, and remember your brother loves you too. You will always be my little sprite, Love, Dad.”

Tears were running down her cheeks when he looked back up, feeling a catch in his throat and an ache in his heart. “I –,”

She shook her head, wiping now at the tears. “I know, you don’t even know me, but you see, I thought he’d just left us. Mom never explained, only that he was gone. We never knew...or at least I didn’t.” She took the letter back and pressed it with shaking fingers. “I always hoped he come walking back someday.”

Jared wished now that he’d never come. What a terrible thing to have during the Christmas season! It was like getting a telegram from the past that someone had died.

“I’m glad you’re here, Jared,” she said softly, still looking down at the paper and touching it softly. “You understand.” [we need more clues earlier in the story that they are close friends.]

He stared at her in surprise. “What?”

She smiled through her tears, as if her heart wasn’t breaking. “You have always understood – you see – you know everything that goes on.” She tilted her head to one side as she regarded him. “Why haven’t you ever asked me out?”

He gulped, feeling his palms start to sweat. “I – I was afraid you would say no.”

Her giggle surprised him and she looked up, her face still wet with tears, her eyes sparkling with a light that captivated him. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to ask you. How do you feel about cruising?”

Watch your grammar, sentence structure, spelling. There are a couple of places where you use two words when it should be one word or hyphenated. Use words to create scene breaks, not ***. Ellipses almost never work. Use real punctuation.

Show us more, don’t tell. Give us some inner dialogue, more description of setting, physical appearance. Identify your characters better. You throw out names and the connection is not always clear. Unless it's a mystery, the reader wants to know the connections right off.

The relationship moves a little too fast to be believable and the characters need to be developed more. The biggest problem you'll have to deal with is that I don’t believe for one second that her mother never told her about her dad. It doesn't make sense—unless her mother is long dead or mentally ill.

What I liked best: Your description of the main character in paragraph 5.

Magazine ready?
No. This is not really short story material. You've got the beginnings of a holiday romance story. It would take some work, but I could see you expanding this into a novel or a Lifetime Christmas movie.

Christmas 26: Anthropomorph

Wolf Man lay on his bed at 11:00 [p.m.], Christmas Eve. What if no one came? He could make a lot of noise and make sure someone came... [don't use ellipses] but by the time he got their attention, it wouldn’t be quiet. It had to be quiet on Christmas Eve, for the change to come.

So he waited, quietly. At last, an orderly poked his head through the doorway. Wolf Man groaned aloud. He could read the kid’s name badge tonight: “Scott.” [wouldn't he recognize him without having to read the name badge?] Scott, with the spindly goatee and the derisive sneer. Scott, the leader of the crowd of techs who liked to taunt the mute dog-man when they thought no one who could understand was listening. Who knew if anyone else would come around before dawn? And it was only 11:30: late enough that the curtains were opening, early enough that he couldn’t do much about it. [awkward]

So he groaned, again. Scott, about to close the door, sighed audibly and edged back in, still holding the doorknob. “What’s wrong, Dogbreath?” Wolf Man’s official records named him John Wilson, a dignified, humanizing name—even though it certainly wasn’t his name. The staff called him Wolf Man when the administrators weren’t around. He had left names behind long ago. [Why do they call him Wolf Man? Does he look like a wolf? Sound like a wolf? Act like a wolf?]

He stalked toward the boy-nurse, who shrank back against the door. He met the kid’s eye. Some staff would have known. Wolf Man made eye contact! Something’s up! [awkward]

But the kid averted his eyes like a pup under the alpha male’s paw. “I’ll check your medication!” he yelped, then slammed and locked the door. Wolf Man was classified non-violent, but he had a room to himself because he made patients nervous. The facility’s policies aimed to keep patients calm.

Midnight. The curtains lifted. The kid came back in, with a small paper cup. He glanced toward Wolf Man. “Brought more medication. The doctor said OK.”

“Put it down,” growled Wolf Man.

Scott started violently, and the pill went skittering across the floor, under the wardrobe. [good]

“Tell them I took it.” Words felt rough and unfamiliar, like they always did on Christmas Eve.

Scott’s eyes were as big as a cornered deer’s. “You—you talked.”

Wolf Man nodded, once. “Yeah. So talk to me.” He had to look on the bright side. At least tonight he could swear at the kid—quietly. It would feel good. Wolf Man sat in the desk chair and rubbed his face with his hairy hands. [what desk chair? we need a description of the room]

The kid gripped the doorknob tighter. “I’ve got to go find someone!”

Wolf Man surged out of the chair and grabbed the kid’s shoulder. “No!” The kid let go of the doorknob instantly, but Wolf Man kept his grip, so his hand wouldn’t shake. “You want to bring down a pack of shrinks on me?”

“W-well, yeah. They’re qualified to—” The kid’s eyes rolled around, looking for crutches. [awkward] “—to help. I’m just a tech, and—”

Wolf Man tossed the kid in the desk chair. “I’ve only got till dawn.”

“Dawn?” echoed the kid, curiosity joining the fear in his face.

“Dawn. And I can only talk to one person.” He reached for words that the shrink pack could understand. “Too stressful with more than one person around.” He jabbed his horn-nailed finger at the kid’s nose. “And you’re it. So talk.”

“The charge nurse is going to wonder where I went. They might be wondering already.” The kid’s eyes flitted to the tiny camera in the corner of the ceiling.

Wolf Man let out his breath in a rush, defeated. “Fine. But come back when you can.” He tried to meet the kid’s terrified eyes.

“Tracy’s on duty. She’d do better...”

“No!” His own vehemence surprised him. Scott and his gang of friends treated Wolf like—well, like a wolf. A wild dog, untamable, but good for baiting from a safe distance. Stacy [huh?] treated him like a pet dog. “You shouldn’t treat him like that! He’s a man with feelings, just like the rest of you!” But her eyes reflected the same fear of his implacable muteness. At least Scott was an honest jerk.

“OK, then. I’ll come back.”

Wolf paced until the door opened again and Scott slid back into the desk chair.

He raised a bushy eyebrow at the kid. “I’ve been talking to myself,” he said. “Dogbreath bet you’d run away.” The kid winced. “Wolf thought you’d come back. Dogbreath owes Wolf five bucks.” [good]

The kid met his eye with an obvious act of will. “I’m on break,” he said, “so we have to talk fast.”

Wolf motioned at the camera. “What about...?”

“Tracy said she’d cover for us as long as she could. She wanted to come in here herself.”

“How’d you keep her out?”

The kid’s ears turned pink. “Told her it might be dangerous, with you unstable like this.”

Wolf nodded. Mostly his mind had taken his reason without giving him a dog’s senses or power. But he knew Tracy smelled like fear.

“So, why’d you choose Christmas Eve?”

Wolf sat on the bed. “I didn’t choose it. It chooses me, every year. It’s like the old story. The animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. I can talk until dawn—if I’m careful, and quiet.” He pushed his hands slowly toward each other, until they met with a clap. “Then the curtains close again.”

“But that’s...” The kid’s voice trailed off.

Wolf leaned back on his pillow. “Ridiculous, yeah. Or magical, or blessed. Probably delusional. It might go away with the right medication.” [good]

Scott leaned forward, some untapped germ of empathy itching at him, Wolf guessed. “Do you remember your name, or where you came from?”

Wolf shook his head. “Sometimes names come to me on Christmas Eve.” He pointed at the desk. “See? I’ve got paper and a pencil all ready.”

“You can write?”

Wolf sighed. This was going to be a long night. “So, talk.”


“Yeah, and I’ll answer, and sometimes you’ll ask questions and I’ll answer, [awkward] and we’ll just sit here and be human together.” [good] Wolf folded his arms and waited.

“OK...” Scott’s gaze landed on the bridge of Wolf’s nose. “How about Christmas?”

Wolf nodded.

“I didn’t want to work tonight, but they pay double time if you work on Christmas. Before I left for work, my little sisters sprinkled oatmeal and glitter on the lawn for the reindeer.”

“Oatmeal? How do you sprinkle that?”

“Dry oatmeal. And we always got Pop-tarts in our stockings. They took up a lot of room, so my mom didn’t have to put a lot of other crap in there...”

By Stacy’s Christmas magic, no one came nosing in to find Scott. So when Scott finished, Wolf picked up. His sentences came out broken, incomplete, like his memories. “A trail in a forest. Or a park, maybe. And a stream—or a spring. Except the spring was in a different place. Rushing past me, too fast to hold. And a girl—a grown-up, beautiful girl. Reaching out to me, but the curtains were closing. ‘I can’t find you,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry.’ And the water again, carrying me away...” Scott somehow knew not to say anything. “Karen.” Scott sat up straight, his hand inching toward the pencil. “Karen...Foresman. Or Fordham...” The swirling black at the edges of his mind threatened to snap closed, but the sky outside was still dark. Wolf willed back the chaos, clenching his whole face with the effort. “Tell me some more about the Pop-tarts.”

So Scott talked about Pop-tarts, and sports cars, and the other techs and aides, and the girl he was dating, and the one he wanted to date. And then it was Wolf’s turn again. “Fordham. Yes. And Springdale.”

Scott frowned. “Springdale? Is that around here?”

Wolf shook his head. “No. But it’s...somewhere.” He could see the silhouette of the tree outside his window. The curtains shuddered, preparing to close. He turned his back to the window and crossed the room to where Scott sat, scribbling the important words. Wolf didn’t know if those names were right—or if they would be of any use if they were right. But now the kid’s eyes—Scott’s eyes—met his, human to human. He knelt down so their eyes were level.

The curtains were closing fast, with the morning light. Scott looked panicked. “What should I tell them? What can I do?”

“That fairytale?” Wolf grunted around his closing throat. “About the talking animals?” Scott nodded. Wolf gripped his right hand. “Some say the animals can talk on Christmas. Others say that people learn how to talk...to...animals...” [use dashes] They were still shaking hands when the words became growls, then a howl of anguish.

Someone squeezed his hand and rustled a piece of paper. Slowly, his eyes focused on the face in front of him—and met other eyes. Eyes that saw him. “I’ve got the names,” Scott said slowly. “I’ll do what I can—everything I can.”

With an effort, Wolf Man held his gaze, and, very slowly, nodded.

Work on punctuation and sentence structure. There are a few unanswered questions: How long has he been in here? If longer than a year, wouldn't the staff know this had happened in previous years and be expecting it?

You've got some typos and you mixed up Tracy/Stacy. I'd suggest dropping her altogether. She's really not needed for the story. Have Scott come in and stay in. It's night, there's not that much activity. Or make him be a janitor—no one would miss him if he was in a patient's room for a few hours. I want more detail to their conversation. And you need a better title.

What I liked best: Your unique
twist on the myth that animals can talk on Christmas Eve. You've got some good phrases.

Magazine ready? Not quite
. But I'd ask you to rewrite and resubmit next year because the concept is very good.

Christmas 25: Stella Gratiae:* A Christmas Parable

Andrew sneaked into the living room before dawn Christmas morning and found it empty. Nothing. Only the tree, and even that looked dull and useless [lifeless?], its bottom half exposed, with cranberry strands and ribbons dangling off.

Andrew went over to his limp stocking and fished around inside. Was anything there? Had he really been left without any gifts at all? [awkward] Finally his fingers closed around something hard and smooth. He pulled it out and held it: a small yellow stone, with one word etched into it. GRATIAS.** [huh?]

What kind of a gift was that?

He rubbed and rubbed it, thinking that maybe it was some sort of genie-like magic, that if he wished on it enough all the gifts would appear. Nothing happened. Then Lydia ran into the room with his mom and dad. “We beat you!” she yelled. “You didn’t get to open anything yet!”

“That’s because there’s nothing to–“ Andrew began and then stopped as he watched Lydia. She ran towards the tree, made grabbing motions, and then acted as though she were tearing wrapping paper off a gift. “My new Nikki doll!” she said, cradling it.

“But there’s nothing there!” Andrew said. “Look!” He walked over to the tree, through the place where Lydia stood.

“Stop it!” she said. “You’re, you’re walking on top of the presents. No--you’re walking through the presents!”

“Andrew!” his mother said. “Hold still. You’re turning into a ghost!”

Andrew stopped.

“Here, open something,” his father said, handing him a box. [If my child were turning into a ghost, I wouldn't give him a present to open. I'd be totally freaking out.]

As Andrew reached for the gift his hands passed through. He felt a cold whoosh of air, but nothing solid. [why can he see this one but not the others?]

“That’s the strangest thing I ever saw,” said his father. He looked puzzled, not angry. Andrew was relieved. He did not want to be blamed for making all his presents disappear. “Try this one instead.”

So Andrew tried the next present. And the next, and the next. As his sister Lydia opened gifts and squealed, he tried to touch present after present. Finally his parents decided to open his gifts for him, and tell him about them. [now he can see them? need some transition]

“Here’s your new Lego set! The Imperial Destroyer!” his father said. He gave Andrew an uncertain smile.

“Wow, thanks.” Andrew said. If he could have seen [awkward] the Imperial Destroyer, he would have whooped and torn it open and started to build it right then. But now, with the gift his and not-his at the same time, he felt both grateful and angry. But he said nothing. Lydia was squealing over another present, and although Andrew felt like throwing a tantrum, he did not want to spoil Christmas morning anymore than it already was. [This is his first generous thought. Some change needs to happen here.]

His mom opening his presents for him. [awkward] “This one’s from Auntie Erin, and let me see, it’s a new sweater. It matches those pants Grandma sent you. I think it fits you pretty well.” [Mom won't know if it fits until after she puts it on him.] She pulled it over his head for him. Andrew looked down. If he wore all his new Christmas clothes he would be the opposite of the Emperor in that fairy tale: naked to himself but clothed to everyone else. [good]

“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked. He tried to keep his voice nice; he tried not to show how upset he was. [another thoughtful act; he wants to spare their feelings] “Are there really presents for me, and I just can’t see them? Did I do something wrong?” He did not mean to cry, but his chin quivered anyway.

“Sweetheart, no!” his mother said. “Oh no, we would never do anything so mean!”

Andrew sniffled a little and managed to keep calm. But only just barely. He sat in his invisible sweater and watched as his parents and sister pantomimed their way through Christmas morning. They glanced over at him, eyes sympathetic, and he tried to smile back. He stuffed his fists in the pockets of his robe and felt the stone. He fingered it, brought it out, looked at it again. Bright yellow, smooth and shining. [see note at bottom]

“What’s that, Andrew?” his mother asked.

“Just a rock,” he told her. For some reason, he did not want her to inspect it.

“Boring old gray rock,” Lydia said, coming over to look at it. “What did you pick it up for?”

“It’s not–“ Andrew began, but then he stopped. “I just liked it, that’s all,” he said. [I like that they can't see its color.]

Lydia and his mother returned to their gifts. Did they care about him? Were they just writing off the disappearance of his gifts as something odd, instead of devastating? [He's being selfish again.]

Andrew smoothed the stone. His mother admired a new serving dish, his sister dressed her new doll. Andrew curled his fingers around the stone’s edges, hefted its weight. As he played with the stone, he began to calm down, to feel a little less angry. It was true that he couldn’t see his presents. But he had been given good ones. [gratitude moment] And even with his own presents unseen, the room held an abundance of gifts. [I thought he couldn't see their gifts either.]

Still holding the stone, Andrew went into his bedroom and looked at all his old toys. His box full of Legos, organized by size and color. His matchbox cars, lined up on their shelf. The electric train tracks, the talking globe, the transformers.

They were pretty good toys. Not new, not wrapped in paper and different and exciting. But pretty good. [awkward] He pulled out the trains and began to play with them, winding the track in crosses and circles around his bedroom. He stuck the yellow stone in the engine and watched it scoot down the track. Gold mist trailed behind. He watched the mist as it swirled in little puffs behind the train cars. He breathed deeply. It smelled like the air just before it rains, damp and clean.

Andrew felt someone watching him and turned around. It was Lydia. “I’m sorry about your presents,” she said. “I made this for you, just now, and I brought it straight to you so it wouldn’t disappear like the other ones.” She held it out to him: a wrapped square. He opened it and found a picture of himself, drawn by Lydia. Lydia was only seven, but it still looked a little like him, with his nose and his cowlick sticking up in back. [why can he see this one?]

“I’ll put it right on my desk,” he said. “Thanks, Lydia.” He was surprised at how grateful he felt. Lydia beamed. [gratitude moment]

“I’ve always wanted to make one for you,” she said, “but I just never did before.” [in their entire lifetime, she's never drawn a picture for him? Why not?]

“I’m glad you did today,” he told her. She knelt with him on the floor and together they watched the glowing train wind around its path. [contrast this with how he acted before]

Behind them, Andrew’s mother and father came in. Andrew smelled cinnamon. “I don’t know why your gifts disappeared,” his mother said, “but I made your favorite French toast for breakfast. It’s not like your other gifts, but you can eat as much as you want.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Andrew said. Suddenly he felt very thankful for French toast and all the times she had made it the way he liked it, out of raisin bread, with cinnamon-apple topping.

“I’ve been trying to think of something good to give you, too,” his dad said. “And I don’t have much at hand. I keep shaking your presents and wondering why you can’t see them or touch them.” He handed Andrew a piece of paper. “I O U a fishing trip,” it read. [he can see and touch this?]

“I’ve never taken you ice fishing before,” his dad said. “and I know someone who can let us borrow his ice shack.” He looked at Andrew and his face was anxious. Andrew could tell he really wanted it to be okay. “It’s got a heater,” his dad added.

“That would be great,” Andrew said. He’d never been fishing with his father before. “Thanks, Dad.”

He hugged them all. He still didn’t understand why his gifts had disappeared. And, in spite of the glowing stone, and its sweet-scented mist, he missed his new unseen presents. He wanted to keep the stone, and the gifts it had brought, and also have all the presents back. He wanted to play with the Legos and admire the careful brush strokes on Lydia’s picture. He wanted to see his new sweater and wear it ice fishing.

If all his presents had not disappeared, would he still be going ice fishing? Would he be eating French toast for breakfast? Would Lydia have worked so hard on a picture for him? Or maybe, Andrew thought, he would have had all those things, but he wouldn’t have appreciated them.

“Come to breakfast; it’s ready,” his mom said. His family left to go into the kitchen.

Andrew stayed back a minute and watched the train round the final bend. He pulled the stone out of the engine. It shone in his hand. The writing had changed. Instead of GRATIAS, it said JOY.

On his way into the kitchen for breakfast, he placed the glowing stone at the top of their Christmas tree, in the hollow between two branches.

*Star of Grace

Watch for punctuation, sentence structure. Make it flow a little more smoothly. Pump up the sensory items. I'm not sure why you use the two foreign words. There needs to be a clear reason, or it's just distracting.

You need to clue us in to his previous ingratitude or greed or something, so there's a reason why he'd only get that rock in his stocking. We need a Christmas Eve scene that shows Andrew as ungrateful, greedy, and mean to his sister, so that we understand why he needs to change.

The idea of the invisible gifts teaching the boy gratitude is a great one, but you've got some missing pieces that need to be addressed.
How old is Andrew? Why aren't his parents upset? Why can he see some gifts but not others? Does he ever see the gifts? The invisibility should only last until the child learns the lesson. You need a tighter resolution. We need to see more of a change in him.

What I liked best: The basic concept. It is intriguing and I think you can do a lot with it.

Magazine ready? No. But if you rewrote it to make a stronger story, I'd like to see it again.

Christmas 24: Lydia's Christmas Wish

The glow from the Christmas party filled her heart as Lydia entered her bedroom and twirled around, still hearing the music in her mind. What a wonderful evening, she thought, stopping and clasping her hands to her chest where she could feel her heart beating like a wild thing. Never had she enjoyed such company! [good opening paragraph for this genre]

The past year had been long and dreary as she’d mourned her father. Thankfully her aunt and uncle had taken her in, bringing some joy back to her life. While not destitute, she hadn’t been left with enough dowry to attract anyone of title – her father had left debts that made selling the estate imperative. Her hopes, therefore, had not been high as guests came to call on her aunt and uncle. They were popular and wealthy, so their guests were much the same, and wondrous to behold. [don't tell us they're popular and wealthy; show it to us by describing them in some way.]

But tonight! Oh, it had been glorious! She had met so many who were kind and fulsome [assuming this word is appropriate for your setting, but it's not clear what your setting is] in their compliments. She knew that she had looked her best in the new gown her aunt had given her. Royal blue in color, it brought out the sparkle in her eyes, and offset the fairness of her skin. Her long dark hair had stood out [awkward] against the many blondes in the room, and she had found herself the object of such attention that she’d been nervous.

Her aunt had waved most of them away, except for one gentleman whom she’d introduced with a small bow.

“This is the Earl of Whithersby,” she’d said in warm tones. “He is a dear family friend and neighbor, as his property is just over the hill. This is my niece, Lydia.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, my lord,” Lydia had curtsied gracefully, after which he bid her rise. [would she really need his permission to rise? There's not that much difference in their social class.]

“Please, call me Lawrence,” he’d insisted, his eyes warm and friendly in his face carved in handsome lines. [I'm imagining Pride and Prejudice here—and it would be inappropriate for him to ask her to call him by his first name so soon.]

They had danced several times, which seemed to set tongues wagging, [good] she could hear them as they passed. He ignored all of it, keeping her supplied with punch, and then insisted on taking her in to dinner. It had been an evening of dreams and she felt her heart beat quickly, thinking him very attractive. She felt as if she knew him already, as her aunt spoke of him any moment he was absent. Aunt Margaret held him in the greatest esteem, espousing nothing but praise for his management and appointment.

With a dreamy sigh, Lydia settled on the window seat, gazing out into the cold, crisp night. She watched the clouds drift past the moon which cast soft light on the snow covered ground. It was the Christmas she had always wished for. This evening...[don't use ellipses] this was the type to make memories from. Caroling with friends, sipping hot wassail, shopping in the stores along London’s busy streets. [she did all this, plus dinner and a dance in one evening?] The trip to London had taken quite a while to describe in the little notebook mother had given her upon her 12th birthday.

“Oh Mother,” she said, pulling a soft blanket around her shoulders and leaning back against the window frame. “I wish you could have been here, you and father.” [drop the journal; give us this info in some other way.] The ache she felt for her mother had been tempered by time – she’d died five years ago. The ache for her father, however, was fresh and seemed always with her. They had grown close the years before his death, spending many hours in front of the fire, reading to each other and conversing about what they read. If only she could find a someone to be with, like her father had found with her mother.

There was a light tap at her door, and she turned to see her maid, Gertrude, enter.

“Oh miss!” the girl exclaimed, seeing where she sat. “Tis late to be sitting in that cold drafty window, you’ll be catching your death, you will!”

Lydia sighed and submitted to Gertrude’s administrations. Soon she was under warm sheets and blankets, reviewing the evening once more. My only wish for Christmas, she thought drowsily, is to see the Earl – Lawrence, again.


Morning dawned snowy and cloudy, and Lydia gradually became aware of the lovely smell of hot chocolate and the sound of a fire crackling. She sniffed the air appreciatively before throwing back the bedding to grab her wrap, hoping Gertrude was lingering nearby. Sure enough, the minute she picked up her cup and saucer, there was a tap on the door.

Downstairs, the atmosphere was still festive, the decorations gleaming from last nights party. She hurried to the parlor, as Gertrude had informed her that’s where her aunt and uncle waited. [Did she get dressed first?]

“You have a guest, miss,” the butler said before she got to there. “He’s waiting in the Parlor.”

Lydia’s heart quickened its beat, nerves slowing her steps. She licked suddenly dry lips, and stopped at the doorway to the parlor, the lovely scene with the decorated tree and roaring fire losing any appeal once she realized who the visitor was. [awkward]

“My Lord!” she gasped, putting a hand to her throat. “What a surprise!”

The object of her cherished dreams stood, coming to her side where he bent over her hand, his warmth and distinguished good looks unchanged. “Good morning, Miss Lydia,” he said, his voice setting her stomach to butterflies. “Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas to you,” she replied, missing the warmth of his fingers when he released her hand. [good] “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

He smiled, waving her to a chair. “Please, sit down,” he entreated. “Would you like some hot cocoa or wassail?” [It's her home; he would not invite her to sit or drink, she would ask him.]

Lydia felt sure that her hands would tremble too much to hold anything without spilling. “Oh, no, I am fine, thank you.”

The Earl seemed ill at ease and paced a few steps as Lydia stared at him with wide bemused eyes, scarcely believing he was here to see her. Finally, he turned and knelt down before her chair.

[Up to this point, your story has the makings of a fine romance—great descriptions, the requisite attraction, a few stumbling block, lots of dreamy sighing and racing pulses. But this is where you lose my willingness to believe the story.]

“My dear Lydia,” he said, his voice low and tremulous, causing her pulse to quicken even further as he took one of her hands in his. “I know this must sound mad – I have deliberated all night, but have been unable to see any other solution. I realize I am a stranger to you, but could you...um, might you...consider marriage to me?”

She stared at him in confusion, her heart telling her that he’d felt the same as she had, yet her head refused to acknowledge it. He must have seen the signs of faintness because he was up and reaching for the bell pull, but she stopped him with a gasp; not wanting the whole house in an uproar.

“I am not certain I heard you correctly,” she managed to whisper, her eyes searching his face.

He knelt again, taking both hands in his and lightly rubbing them with his warm, strong ones. “My dearest, I fear that I’ve frightened you,” he admitted, his voice husky. “But I cannot think of life without you. Please tell me that you don’t despise me – that I have some worth in your eyes!”

Lydia shook her head, feeling as if she was still sleeping -- this had to be a wonderful dream from which she didn’t want to awake.

“I regard you with nothing but the highest respect,” she finally managed to say, looking into his handsome face which was flushed with emotion. “I could never despise you.”

“Then you might be persuaded to consider my offer?” His grip, while tightening, was still gentle as he held her hands, and Lydia felt it was a anchor for her heart.

“I would be pleased to accept,” she heard herself say, a song beginning in her heart. “I am stunned that you think so highly of me.” [No! It's too soon.]

He smiled and leaned closer to her, touching her face with feather lightness. “It would not surprise you, I think, to know your aunt has continually brought your virtues to light before your visit. I feel as if I’ve known you for ages, and have anticipated your arrival with much eagerness.” [huh? Need more set-up for this.]

Lydia gazed at his fine boned face, seeing the warmth and sincerity in his eyes. “You do me much honor,” she said softly. “You have already spoke with my Uncle, I presume. Does my aunt know?”

The Earl smiled. “I’m sure they are waiting to toast the occasion.”

“Then we should not keep them waiting,” Lydia said, letting him assist her up.

He paused before they reached the door, however, and pulled her into his arms as if unable to stop himself. “I never dreamed you would accept,” he murmured in her ear. [then why did he ask?] “You have made me incredibly happy, my darling. Happy Christmas,” he said in a soft whisper, pulling back to slip a delicate gold ring on her finger. [No ring.]

Lydia gazed at it in wonder before raising her face to meet his lips in their first kiss. She only wished her parents could have seen this day...the day her Christmas wish had come true.

You've got some run-on sentences and a few other technical mistakes. Don't use ellipses. Don't use *** to change scenes. Find the right words to do it for you.

The romance moves much too quickly. Even in the time period you've chosen, I do not believe he would ask her to marry him so soon. There needs to be some struggle, some possibility of it not working out to create the needed tension. Take it slowly, give us more depth. Perhaps have him ask if he may call on her.

What I liked best: your descriptions of Lydia, her surroundings, her thoughts and feelings, dialog that I assume is appropriate for the time period. You create a good sense of time and place. Good first paragraph for the genre.

Magazine ready? No. This is really not a short story. You have too much happening in too short a time period. Consider developing this into a novel, where you can take the time to develop the characters and their relationship.


Christmas 23: Christmas Once Again

The season is here,
I can’t wait to be free
From this stuffed cardboard box
Where she always stores me

Along with all the others [awkward]
Who can’t wait to get out
To decorate this home
Before the next Christmas sprouts [punctuation]

The ornaments are chatting
About where they’ll be on the tree [punctuation]
The star is bragging,
He’ll be on top, you see [punctuation]

That snowman she puts
On the same windowsill,
He complains all the time
About the persistent chill [punctuation]

And that ‘Santa in a Sleigh’
Who’s always happy and gay,
Is getting on everyone’s nerves
With his singing today [good image]

But like every other year
The time has finally come [for what?] [punctuation]
As soon as the children are in,
The excitement, the fun [punctuation]

We’ll scatter the home
Colours of green white and red [awkward] [punctuation]
The tree will be decorated
By tonight, it is said [punctuation]

I hear her footsteps
As she approaches the closet [punctuation]
My heart is pounding
And we all have gone quiet [punctuation]

When she opens the box
I take a deep breath [punctuation]
I couldn’t be more ecstatic
Yet I’m scared to death [punctuation]

I’m at the bottom of the box
So it’ll take a while [punctuation]
Those pretty snowflakes are first [punctuation]
Their sparkles make her smile [punctuation]

She’ll decide where to put us
Giving us all great fear [awkward]
But we end up in the same spot
Year after year [punctuation]

When it comes my turn
I’m ready to be hung [punctuation]
There’s a special hook for me [punctuation]
It’s always the same one [punctuation]

Next to the kitchen,
Close enough to the tree,
I have the most magical spot
In the whole house, you see [punctuation]

I smell the cookies being baked [punctuation]
I can watch the TV,
Best of all, people kiss
When they pass under me [punctuation]

My pretty gold ribbon
And lush green leaves,
Plenty white berries
And attractive prestige [what about them?]

Those two little reindeer
Are next in line [punctuation]
Near the fire place they sit
Their red noses do shine [punctuation]

The young ones are talking [punctuation]
School is out for a week [punctuation]
They’ll go play outside
While she fixes them a treat [punctuation]

I see through the window,
The snow falling down
Silently, perfectly
Onto the barren white ground [punctuation]

I admire each snowflake
Perfect and unique [punctuation]
The icicles fall from the rooftop
Like a tiger’s angry teeth [good image] [punctuation]

While the children play
Their warm snowsuits on
Carols are heard in the kitchen
As she sings along [who is she?] [punctuation]

Finally Dad comes home [punctuation]
They run to say hi
They all come in together
For hot chocolate and pie [punctuation]

He brought home a tree
And some candy canes [punctuation]
The kids dance with excitement
Around the choo-choo train [punctuation]

Suppertime has come
Darkness takes over the sky [punctuation]
They thank God for the food
And a great holiday time [punctuation]

I watch as they all
Decorate the tree [punctuation]
Bright lights and balls
Strings of popcorn and cranberry [punctuation]

The smiles on their faces
Make me feel content
To be a part of Christmas,
A time so joyfully spent.

The tree stands up tall
Its radiance makes me high [punctuation]
They gaze at its beauty,
It’s so elegant, they just sigh [punctuation]

The kid’s eyes open wide
To a plate of shortbread cookies
Lightly coated with icing,
Green sprinkles and cherries [punctuation]

They fall asleep [who is they?]
Beside the warm blazing fire
Above which the stockings hang [punctuation]
Oh! they must be so tired

It’s now time for bed [I thought they were already asleep] [punctuation]
Dad reads them a story
About Jesus and the Angels
And Christmas Day’s glory [punctuation]

Soon tucked into bed
They dream about Christmas [punctuation]
Three carolers come,
Mom and Dad watch with bliss [punctuation]

Once the carolers have gone
They’re now all alone [punctuation]
Only a few candles burn
In the stillness of the home [punctuation]

They’ll go to bed too [punctuation]
Tomorrow will be another long day
But of course they stop
Under me along the way [punctuation]

When their lips meet
I feel such glee [punctuation]
A simple sweet kiss
Can bring such ecstasy [punctuation]

Now I hang here majestic
Waiting for another enchanted day [punctuation]
Christmas is the best time of year
And that is all I can say [punctuation]

It's very, very difficult to write in rhyme. Your sentence structure, rhyme pattern, and meter is often forced, awkward and stiff. In verse format, it's much harder to follow your story. I'm guessing this is mistletoe talking. You also need to put in some punctuation. It seems a few things are out of order. First you speak of some decorations that are already out of the box and in place. Then in the middle, you have the mother pulling the box of decorations out of the closet to be put up. Also, you have the children asleep before they're put to bed. You have some sweet scenes, but I'd like to see this done in standard story format, not poem, and have those scenes developed a little more. I would also give it a different title.

What I liked best: The concept of a story told from the point of view of the Christmas decorations. That is pretty unique and intriguing.

Magazine ready? No. It would need rewriting.

Christmas 22: The Little Mouse that Almost Ruined Christmas

This is a story about a little mouse [punctuation]
Oh, not an ordinary mouse,
That finds his shield [huh?]
in the woods or the field [punctuation]
Or maybe even in your house [punctuation]

Tom, Tom didn't just live anywhere, [don't repeat the name]
He chose his hiding place with much care [punctuation]
The Grand Central Restaurant,
Is the best any mouse could want,
And Tom sure liked living there.

Each and every eve,
Just after the cook took his leave,
Tom would come out
Eat cheese, potatous, [sp] trout
And just a little beef [punctuation; forced rhyme, doesn't work]

But Christmas, Tom held most dear, [punctuation]
There was a party every year, [punctuation]
The cook cooked his very best,
The waitress wore a flower on her chest,
And all of it happened right here [punctuation]

When Christmas was still a week, [huh?]
Tom was hungry, and food he wanted to seek [punctuation; awkward]
But the cook was still cooking
And the waitress could be looking, [punctuation]
If she saw him, she would surely shriek [punctuation]

The hunger he just couldn't stand
And food was oh so close at hand [punctuation]
Over the shelf, behind the dishes,
Down onto the table with the fishes
He followed his route as planned [punctuation]

Just when he was nibbling something off the plate
That thing happened, of which he was most afraid [forced; awkward; punctuation]
Tom, hungry as he had been,
Didn't see the waitress come in.
But she'd seen him and her reaction didn't wait [punctuation]

"MOUSE, MOUSE!" she screamed very loud [punctuation; does not rhyme with shout and out]
The guests in the restaurant heard her shout [punctuation]
Women climbing chairs, yelling terrified [punctuation]
Men picking up their knifes, looking petrified [punctuation]
Others were just running out.

"If only I had seen that mouse," the cook began. [punctuation]
"I would have chopped off his head and fried him in a pan."
"If only I had seen that mouse," said the head waiter. [punctuation]
"I would have taken my tray and smashed him little later."
But only the waitress had seen him before he ran.

Tom had gone back into his hiding hole, [doesn't rhyme]
Behind the fridge, in the wall
But the damage had been done.
After most of the panic was gone
The restaurant manager called them all [punctuation]

"This is very serious," the manager began.
"I know," grumped the cook with his frying pan [punctuation]
"I know," said the head waiter, with a dignified nod [punctuation]
"I know," peeped the waitress, still shaking on the spot [punctuation; doesn't rhyme]
"We can't stay open, there is no way we can." [good stanza]

Hearing this, Tom turned suddenly very cold, [punctuation]
No Christmas this year, and all his fault [punctuation; doesn't rhyme]
He would have to try his best,
To save Chrismas for every guest
And wat he did next was very bold [punctuation]

He stepped onto the middle of the table
And just before the cook was able
To smash him with his frying pan
As only very good cooks can
The manager screamed STOP, quite formidable [punctuation; doesn't rhyme]

Tom was still shaking slight, [punctuation]
The managers yell had given him quite a fright.
He thought of what best to do,
now that he wasn't smashed in two, [clever]
And found the following would be right.

Tom said: "I wonder why,
I cannot be your ally."
"That is a great idea,
It should have been made by me,"
The manager said in reply

So they started of with this idea
And you can take it from me
That there are only very few
That know more about food than Tom knew
What a Christmas this should be.

They put a Christmas tree in the hall,
And tinsels up on the wall,
They served the most delicious food
The guests couldn't remember it ever being this good
And Christmas at the restaurant was saved after all.

A simple rhyming Christmas story is very difficult; the rhyme structure and meter you've attempted here is not simple. In several places you force the rhyme or the meter and the continuity of the story suffers. It gets a little confusing toward the middle. I'm not sure why the manager is suddenly wanting the mouse to help. We need more motivation. Why do the people need the mouse to help them to decorate for Christmas? Also, it seems the few decorations would not be enough to get the customers to come back.

What I liked best: The mouse. You've got an okay story line—a mouse is hungry, scares the staff and customers, then saves Christmas.

Magazine ready? No. It needs quite a bit of work, but with time and effort I could see this idea being developed into a picture book.

Christmas 21: No Tree for Christmas

Poor! Too poor even to buy a Christmas tree. Mary sunk deeper into gloom as she heard a passing carriage outside the window of the small brick house she and her husband John had rented. She glanced up to see that the evening snow had begun falling. Mary felt guilty for the heaviness in her heart. Christmas is a time for joy, not sorrow and worry. It's a time to remember the birth of Christ, she reprimanded herself, and it can be done without a tree or gifts.

Mary had grown up in a well-to-do family. Her father had emigrated from England and had quickly built up a mercantile business in Heber City, Utah, and the family had never lacked. She had fallen in love with her father's head clerk—handsome John. They married, and after a few children, found that the store couldn't support everyone on the payroll. So, young and hopeful, she and John moved their family to Salt Lake City in hopes of a bright future. So far, the only work John had found was carpentry. [delete]

She remembered back to a few nights before. After the children had gone to bed, she and John sat alone before the fireplace in the parlor. "To make ends meet," John said grimly, "we will forego buying a tree. We have no money to buy gifts for the children, let alone each other. I'm sorry, Mary. This Christmas won't be what you are used to. I feel I have let you and the children down. I would have never left Heber if I'd know it would be this hard." [delete]

[make this real time, not a memory] She could feel her husband's tenseness and worry. "It's alright, John," she said, rubbing his tired shoulders. "Christmas is all about Christ's birth, not about trees and presents. We will be happy, you'll see." She reminded him that there would be gifts, and they were ready for Christmas morning. She had stuffed and dressed rag dolls for their four daughters, and John had cut and sanded woodblocks for the two boys.

"It's not much," was his only answer. [then he leaves to go outside.]

[make real time; more active] She had promised to be happy, so why did she feel so disappointed? Every time she passed the empty spot in the parlor where an evergreen should stand, and where her younger children now quietly played, it shouted the absence of a tree and echoed the void in her heart. She said a silent prayer. "Please, Father, forgive me. Help me remember that Thy son's birth is the best gift of all."

Mary came out of her thoughts when John entered the yard, and seeing him made her heart lighten. He was a good, hardworking and devoted man. [why are they so poor. Good place to put a very short reason.] She loved him and tried hard to wisely budget his meager earnings. After paying the rent on the house, there was barely enough left for food, let alone anything else.

Through the window she watched John lean his homemade ladder against the tall evergreen in the yard. The sight of the ladder sinking [at first pictured sinking into the ground] and almost disappearing into the tree's glistening branches made her rise suddenly from her chair. "That's it!" she said.

"What, Mother? What?" asked the children from the parlor. [need some reference to the children in the parlor sooner; introduce them into the story with name and age]

"Tomorrow is Christmas Eve," Mary called happily. "We have a lot of work to do to be ready."

[writing improves starting here; rewrite the first part with the same liveliness]
The next day, Mary took the children out scavenging in the nearby hills. They gathered evergreen boughs, mistletoe and all the berries they could find. [develop this scene, add some description of what each child did, include some lively dialog] "It's all a surprise for Father," Mary explained to the children. Home again, Mary went to work as the children chattered happily and thawed their fingers by the wood stove. Then they strung the berries, hung mistletoe, and cleaned the evergreen branches.

After dark, John arrived home exhausted and dragging the ladder. Mary flung opened [open] the front door. "John, don't put up the ladder. Bring it into the parlor," she called.

"Into the parlor? Does something need fixing?" he asked. The children stood hidden, the smallest ones behind Mary's skirt, shushing one another.

"No, John." Mary laughed. "Just bring it in."

John brought the ladder to the porch, shook it off a bit, and carefully lifted it through the front door. "Why would you want this old, ugly thing in the parlor?"

"Now don't be asking questions. Set it up here in the corner," Mary directed. The children, smirking now, stood back while John steadied the ladder. He turned and eyed the children suspiciously. "What's going on here?"

Mary took his arm and pulled him toward the kitchen. "We have a surprise and you mustn't see until later."

"It's a conspiracy, I know," John said. The children squealed and giggled as they pushed the door closed behind him.

After only a few minutes, and back in the kitchen, they all sat around the table, eating dinner, the parlor door closed. "You all act as if St. Nicholas himself is in there," John said, taking a bite of home-preserved peaches.

"You found out our secret," Wallace, the oldest said, feigning disappointment.

"We will show you our surprise later," Mary said, handing John the bread bowl. "But not until the evening chores are done." She had directed the comment toward the children. They moaned.

Finally, with dishes done, floor swept, and the children dressed in nightgowns and pajamas, the anticipated moment arrived. Mary opened the door only wide enough to slip through. "Wait here a moment while I get everything ready," she whispered to the children. "And make sure
your father doesn't peek."

In great excitement, the children took hold of John's legs and hands, and chanted, "No peeking! No peeking!" In a moment, the door quietly opened and the mood of the little family changed. They stepped lightly into the room, wide eyed and in awe at the sight before them. Evergreen boughs and strung berries now graced the old ladder, and candles flickered, balancing delicately in the boughs.

John stood, stunned by the awesome scene. "Mary, you're a wonder," he finally managed to say. "This is the most beautiful sight."

"Don't give me all the credit. The children helped, too."

John pulled his little ones around him. "Go get your stockings and we will hang them on the hearth." The children cheered and scooted out of the room. John pulled Mary close to him and kissed her firmly. "That's for making it a wonderful Christmas."

[from here] "I wish I had a gift for you," she said.

"This is the best gift—turning what looked like a bleak Christmas into a magical one."

The children returned. John lifted the smallest child so that she could hang her stocking with the others. Wallace brought the Bible to John and he read the account of the Savior's birth. When finished, he closed the book. "This is the true meaning of Christmas: that Christ
came to the earth to save all mankind."

There was a moment of silence as John's words settled into their hearts. Then Wallace began to sing "Silent Night" and they all joined in. The simplicity of the moment struck Mary as nothing had before. Her thoughts turned to a stable, a young mother, and a baby. No pomp had attended them those many years ago. Shepherds came, and later, wise men would find Him, bringing gifts. She listened to the angelic voices of her children, their faces glowing, and to her they sounded as heavenly as any angelic choir could have. Her children would have gifts in the years to come, but this year, they received the best gift—of knowing the true spirit of Christmas. Her tears blurred the candlelight with the last strains of the carol… With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth! [to here, is another story. This story is about the ladder tree; this part dilutes the impact.]

After putting out the candles, Mary tucked the children into their beds, and John, exhausted from his day's work, gladly crawled into his own. Mary carried the oil lamp into the parlor to have one last look at the beautiful "tree." Hearing footsteps, she turned to find Wallace standing beside her. "Mama, can we have a ladder Christmas tree every year? I like it lots better than a plain old tree everybody else has."

Surprised at his words, a lump caught in her throat. She whispered, "Yes, we can—every year, if you wish." [end here]

He hugged her and pattered back to his bed. Alone in the parlor, she whispered, "Thank you, Father, for giving us this precious gift."

Welcome, Christmas! Just as every year, even without the evergreen, Christmas had come again.

There's too much of an info dump at the beginning. Cut the second and third paragraphs. They're not really needed. Make it more active in the beginning. After Mary has her idea, it moves at a good pace.

What I liked best: The unique idea of making a tree from the ladder.

Magazine ready? Not quite, but very close. Although I've indicated it needs reworking, the parts that work are very good. I have no doubt you will be able to rewrite and polish to get into next year's edition of my imaginary Christmas magazine.