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Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Jen here: My best Christmas memory doesn’t have much to do with writing or editing. But it has a lot to do with a few people who reached out to a struggling single mom and her two kids to make Christmas special and to show them the love of Jesus. And it is that mom and her struggles that I keep in mind when I’m writing, hoping that my words carry her away for just a few minutes—because that’s all she has for herself—to a place where she can join someone else’s world and forget about hers for a moment. Here’s her story.  It had been a hard year. She had told the kids not to expect much for Christmas. She hadn’t been getting any child support. One of her clients and gone under and hadn’t paid her. A significant amount of money that was not only supposed to go towards Christmas, but December and January bills as well. She could get her kids one gift each and the bills still wouldn’t be paid.

She got a call from the church secretary saying someone wanted to adopt a family for Christmas and would they be willing to be adopted. She was a bit surprised because she hadn’t shared much of her story with anyone, but a few people knew they’d had a hard year. So she agreed, but she didn’t tell the kids. She didn’t want to get their hopes up in case it fell through.

The church secretary called back a couple weeks later to ask when she wanted to pick up the gifts. There were eight boxes.

“Oh, that’s nice,” she thought. “The kids will get four presents each. That’s really sweet.”

“Eight boxes two feet by two feet,” the secretary continued. “The pile is up to my shoulders. Plus they’re bringing you food for Christmas dinner.”

She was so stunned she couldn’t speak.

She finally told her kids that someone had adopted them for Christmas and that they were going to pick up the gifts at church. When they walked into the room, Sissy’s face lit up. “Mom, this is exactly what we prayed for! God took care of us!”

The mom started to cry.

It took two trips with a hand truck plus several more trips carrying food and their little Jetta was overflowing. Food sat on the back window and under the kids’ feet. They couldn’t have gotten one more thing in that car.

When they unloaded the presents and put them around the tree, they had to be stuffed into every nook and cranny. She’d never seen so many presents in all her life.What was amazing was how much time and thought was put into the gifts. It wasn’t just a matter of spending money. Clearly whoever bought the gifts knew her kids enough to know their tastes. Plus, there were homemade cookies and hand-knitted afghans for each of them. They even got gifts for the mom.

We always hear how it’s more blessed to give than receive. But in Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller makes the observation that it can be hard to receive because it implies need, and we don’t like to be needy people. We like to be the ones who have the surplus to give from. It’s hard to accept other people’s help. But the Bible says to tell of the Lord’s wonders and faithfulness. Psalm 78:4 says, “We will not hide these truths from our children but will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord. We will tell of his power and the mighty miracles he did.”

Because bottom line, this is about God and His faithfulness. He provided. Not just for their needs, like He’s promised to do. But for some of their wants as well. And abundantly. What a wonderful lesson for those children.

And me too. Because I was that mom.

It’s humbling to receive generosity, even when you need it. I’d like to think that with every book I write, I’m giving a little bit of that back to every mom out there who is where I was, to anyone alone and struggling and hurting. Especially this time of year.Take a moment to give someone a hug, a plate of cookies, a warm drink. Look around to see if you can meet a need. Or accept a bit of generosity. Take a sacred pause in the middle of this busy season to give, to receive, to bless, and be blessed.

I don’t know who adopted us for Christmas. I do know they will be rewarded in heaven, but I also hope they’ll get some little reward here on earth too. 

Jennifer and the other Pencildancers have just released Worthy to Write: Blank Page Tying Your Stomach in Knots? 30 Prayers to Tackle That Fear. Jennifer's latest books~ Protective Custody: A cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town’s rich and powerful.  Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequelBe Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more? Get the first chapter of Coming Home and Protective Custody at www.JenniferVanderklipp.com

Christmas time-can you write?

Diana here:

This month the Pencildancers are sharing some things about their Christmas’s in the past, it might be a favorite gift, memory or a recipe. Be sure to check back every week or sign up to have the posts delivered to your inbox.

One thing that all of us here at Pencildancers.com agree on is that maintaining a writing schedule during the holidays is difficult.

In the past, writing comes second to my family during the holidays. There is just too much to do. The shopping, wrapping, along with the special events we are invited to take a tole on the day to day of an authors life. I used to grumble about losing the time to work, because not working means less money. Then I had an attitude shift. Christmas is once a year, and it’s not about me at all. It’s about the coming of Christ, and I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t think money was involved. It even took the wise men with their gifts two years to get to Christ.

So, I’m now doing what I can to advance my career but at a pace that lets me enjoy Christmas, make new memories, and spend time worshiping.  So what does that look like?

Dictating on my phone snippets of dialogue that I think of while shopping, dropping into my facebook page (marketing) when I have time, and writing ad copy while I’m riding in the car, though I can’t do much of that since it makes me sick. But I can think about what to say and revise in my head, then write it down when we stop for gas or peanut m&ms--I mean food. Taking the time to enjoy the season leaves me refreshed instead of frustrated.

I’d give you my favorite Christmas cookie recipe but you probably already have it. Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookies are my favorite, even if I have to tweak them to make them gluten-free and now sugar-free. When I smell warm vanilla, mixed with butter and chocolate melting in the oven,  I know Christmas is upon us.

Do you have traditions that you’ve carried over from your childhood? Have you kept them the same or modified them?

So whatever you do for the holidays be sure to take time for family and friends, listen to the stories told, hug the little children and you never know, you might be rewarded with a burst in creativity.
Merry Christmas!


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Making Setting Interactive

Years ago, it was appropriate to have long chunks of description about the setting. These could go on for several pages. No one thought twice about it. That’s changed in today’s publishing world. One of the biggest problems I see on this front in my editing is the information dump. The setting may be beautifully described and very vivid, but it goes on too long. And it’s static. 

Here’s an example from one of my editing clients (used with her permission).
We stepped off this elevator to navy and gold marble floors. A seating of two boxy and uncomfortable looking cream leather couches, two matching low coffee tables and two leather chairs with crazy pear shaped high backs in a golden color. The floor looked like it went up the walls with the glass marble effect on the two walls to the left and right of me. The office smelled strongly of chai.

Mulder pulled a gold key ring from his pocket and unlocked his office. The door opened into a long narrow hallway, with bright sunshine shinning at the other end. Both the floor and the walls were made of real wood, an oak or pine – I didn’t know. Every couple of feet glass light fixtures mounted on the walls reflected light onto the glossy floor. Even with the lights and the promise of morning light at the other end, the trek down the hall was dark and mysterious. 

It’s a list of what the room is like. If you have the characters interact with the setting, it brings it alive and makes it more real. In a movie, the camera doesn’t pan the room so you can get an idea of what it looks like. Instead, the characters move around the set. You know there is a comfy couch when the character kicks off his shoes and curls up on it.  You see the big screen TV when he picks up the remote and clicks it on.

I cut this down quite a bit in the example. It went on a good deal longer. And it wasn’t necessary. She could get the idea of wealth and opulence across in fewer words, and by having the characters interact with the setting. That makes it come alive and be real.  

Here is what it’s like with the characters interacting with the setting.
Stepping off this elevator, the odor of chai greeted us. My tennis shoes squeaked on the mirror-smooth navy and gold floors as we walked past a seating area with crazy, pear-shaped, high back, golden chairs. I saw my reflection in the walls with the same glass-marble effect. 

Mulder pulled a gold key ring from his pocket and unlocked his office. The door opened into a long narrow hallway. The floorboards creaked under our feet as we walked down the dark tunnel, only sunshine from up ahead lighting our way. Silly, I know, but the passage reminded me of ones leading to the dungeons in ancient castles. 

See the difference? In the first, there’s the smell of chai, but in the second, the character smells the chai. In the first, the floors are blue and gold, but in the second, his tennies come in contact with the floor and squeak. In the first, the hallway is long and dark with wood floors, but in the second, the floors creak and the passage sparks a thought. 

The setting is still described, but it doesn’t interfere with the action of the story. It comes alive when it’s treated as a character interacting with another character. It adds to the story, rather than detracting from it. It’s vibrant. And nothing is lost because of this. The point is to give the flavor of the place without dumping all the information in. And readers like to imagine places in their own minds.

Pick a scene from your WIP and make the setting more interactive. Have fun!