Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The Best Present Excerpt
I'm thrilled to be part of Sweetwater Springs Christmas: A Montana Sky Short Story Anthology (Montana Sky Series) by Debra Holland and Friends, namely E. Ayers, Linda Carroll-Bradd, MJ Fredrick, Paty Jager, Jill Marie Landis, Trish Milburn, Bev Pettersen, Tori Scott, Cynthia Woolf, and me, Linda McLaughlin. Most of the stories are sweet romance set in Montana in 1895.
Today I thought I'd share the blurb and a short excerpt from my short story, The Best Present.
Ten-year-old Allison Harcourt's life has been turned upside down since her father lost his job and her beloved grandmother died. She's not looking forward to Christmas, especially since she can't figure out how to finish the scarf she's making for her mother. An unexpected stop in Sweetwater Springs brings her and her parents to the boarding house of the widow Murphy.
Sometimes sweet things can be found in the most unexpected places.
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents."
Allison Harcourt stared at the opening lines of her favorite book, Little Women, until the words blurred. Unable to read, she closed the volume.
Christmas won't be Christmas without Grandma.
Sudden tears filled her eyes, and she turned her head to stare out the train window, blinking furiously to make the moisture go away. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry. The words pounded rhythmically in her head to the clack of the train over the tracks. Mama and Papa hated seeing her cry, but it was hard to hide the tears with Mama sitting across from her. If only her seat faced front. Then Mama wouldn't be able to see her.
Her mother heaved a sigh. "Why do you read that book when it makes you weep?"
Allison wiped her eyes and looked at her mother. For once Little Women wasn't the reason she was crying, but she gave the same answer she always did. "Because it's so good." It was a familiar refrain, one they had exchanged the second and fifth and tenth time she'd read the book. Usually, she only cried when Beth died, but now, with Christmas only a day away…
She slipped the book into her carpetbag and turned back to the window so Mama couldn't see her face. The scenery outside sped by as the train clattered along the track, clouds of black smoke billowing back from the locomotive. Allison could barely see through her tears, but it didn't matter. She was tired of looking at the prairie, so flat and boring, especially today with the sky a pale gray. There were supposed to be mountains ahead, but her seat faced the rear of the train. All she could see was what was behind her--not just miles of prairie, but her friends, her school, and her home back in Pittsburgh--before Grandma died and Papa said they were moving.
In writing about a ten-year-old girl having the worst Christmas of her young life. I drew on some personal experiences, including my memories of my tenth Christmas, which took place two weeks after the death of my grandmother. A year later, again at Christmas, we moved out of the house I'd lived in my whole life to move to another state. Allison's story has a different ending than mine did, but it's the most personal work I've ever written, and writing it was an emotional experience.
Like Allison, I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. which can be pretty cold and snowy in December. Whenever possible, my dad liked to take off for Miami during the holidays. One year, we left early on Christmas morning and drove to North Carolina that day. We found a motel, but there was nowhere to eat; everything was closed for the holiday. I remember my dad driving around and around town, when suddenly we saw some bright lights in the distance. It was a White Castle, all lit up and open for business. Christmas dinner consisted of burgers and fries at the counter!
If you enjoy Western romance and/or holiday romance, I think you'll enjoy this anthology.