For Christmas, I Made My Mother Cry

When I was eight years old, my brother and I were trying to figure out what we were going to get for our mother for Christmas. I had already made a crude bookmark out of yarn in my second-grade art class, but it wasn’t good enough in my opinion. Gilbert and I thought about it for days, although most of the time we drifted off-topic and started wondering what Santa was going to bring us. Christmas was fast approaching, and we couldn’t find that “perfect” gift for her.

I came up with the notion that we could buy her something. My brother had a whopping five dollars, which was only five dollars more than I had. I had to find a way to earn some money, but people were not hiring little kids in Far Rockaway, New York back then. While walking home from school, I struck upon the idea of collecting Coca Cola bottles and returning them for a nickel each. I hit up every neighbor for their bottles, and when I told them what I was doing it for, they gave me all they had. One nice elderly woman paid me a whole dollar to “help her out by taking those nasty old bottles off of her back porch”.

I made a little over seven dollars this way. This was more money than I had ever had at one time.

On December 23rd, my brother and I walked from our second-floor apartment on Beach 19th Street to Central Avenue, our pockets filled with coins and a couple of dollar bills. We strolled up and down several blocks window shopping, occasionally getting in some additional ideas for ourselves at the toy shops. After over two hours of wandering, we came upon a jewelry store. Not just any jewelry store, mind you, but one of the most expensive ones in the area. I was convinced Mom would love some jewelry!

We went in and started looking at the diamonds. The saleswoman eyed us for a bit, and went in the back to get the owner. He was a kindly old gent, and he treated us like important customers.

“What can I get you two fine gentlemen this afternoon?” he asked with a smile.

“We’re looking to buy our Mommy some jewelry for Christmas,” I replied. Shopping was fun!

“Hmmm,” he mumbled. “What price range are you looking at?”

I pulled the dollar bill and a few handfuls of nickels out of my pocket. My brother pulled out his cash, and we placed all of it on the counter.

“Wow, that is a lot of money,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. The saleswoman and the two older ladies she was helping had stopped their transaction to watch us. The owner poked through my nickels. “I may have just the thing for you two gentlemen. Please wait here while I go to the vault.”

My brother and I started grinning. We were going to buy our Mom some expensive jewelry! We felt so grown up.

The owner came back with two items. One was a large pin with a bunch of red stones, and the other item was a green and gold bracelet. I picked up the “ruby-encrusted” treasure in awe. I was sure Mom would love it. My brother gravitated more towards the bracelet.

“How much, Sir?” I asked. The owner poked through the nickels again, and took exactly three dollars. He charged my brother three as well. The saleswoman and her customers came over and began to ooh and ahh, saying we got a good deal and that they were sure our mother would be pleased. The owner wrapped our gifts in shiny metallic paper with bows and ribbons. We thanked them all for helping us pick out the perfect present.

When Christmas came, we first tore through most of our presents under the tree. We then decided to give Mom her gifts. She was very pleased with my bookmark (“What a wonderful job you did!”). When she opened my ruby pin, however, she began to cry.

I was very confused. “I can take it back if you don’t like it,” I said.

She choked back her tears, and told me that it was the first time we had actually gone out and bought her a gift. When we told her of our shopping adventure, she cried even more.

“I’m crying because this is the sweetest thing you two have ever done,” she finally blurted. She gave us both a big hug.

So that Christmas, I gave her a ruby treasure, and a treasure from my heart she always remembered.

When my mother passed away twenty years later, I found the pin in her jewelry box. She had kept it all those years.


I originally started writing this story as an entry for one of Glimmer Train’s contests. It was one of the toughest ones to finish. My mother never had the chance to read any of my published work, although she used to play Dungeons & Dragons with us when we were still in our teens, so she did get to experience some of the modules I wrote.

When it comes to your work, make sure your loved ones have the opportunity to read it. Don’t force it on them, and don’t ask for feedback unless you’re just looking for the obligatory, “Oh, it’s wonderful, honey.” Should you be lucky enough to have a family member who will give you constructive criticism, consider yourself blessed.

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award®; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and

On Motivation and the Quest for “It”

A Guest Post by Kary English

Somewhere between 25 and 30 years ago, I gave up on writing. I was fresh out of high school, and my dream career was to be a fantasy writer. I’d written two or three short stories, a play and the first pages of a few novels.

We didn’t have Duotrope or The Grinder back then, so I dutifully bought myself a copy of The Writer’s Market and sent off a few submissions–all of which were soundly rejected, though a particularly kind editor encouraged me to keep writing. My final submission was to a quarterly contest for new writers that I’d read about in the back of an anthology. Surely this would be the one.

Nope. Rejected.

Clearly, I didn’t have it, whatever “it” was, so I gave up. I stopped writing and focused on college and career, marriage and motherhood.

But the thing is, I never really stopped writing. Oh, sure, I stopped writing stories intended for publication, but I wrote lots of other things instead–academic papers, classroom handouts, book blurbs, textbook chapters and anti-bullying materials. And whenever my tabletop gaming group met, I wrote up our sessions as if they were stories.

Then the Great Recession hit, and I lost my job. To make ends meet, I started writing columns for Yahoo! in the areas of news, politics, travel and gossip. It didn’t pay well, but it was fun and it got me back into the habit of writing every day. Not long after, stories started pressing their noses against the glass again.

Maybe, I thought, I could give this writer thing another try. I checked out recent issues of Analog and Asimov’s to get a sense of the field, and I hit the internet to see if that contest was still running.

The contest was Writers of the Future, and not only was it still running, but it had become one of the best ways for a new writer to gain recognition in a crowded field.

So I sat down and wrote my first story in nearly three decades. When it was finished, I sent it to Writers of the Future.

A few months later, boom. Semi-finalist.

My placement earned me a few paragraphs of feedback, and that’s where I discovered that finalist selection had come down to my story and one other, and the judge had chosen the other story. It wasn’t a win. Heck, it wasn’t even a finalist, but it was close enough that I knew I was on the right track, that whatever “it” was, maybe I had a little of it after all. And maybe if I kept writing and worked on my craft, I could acquire more of it.

That semi, combined with contest’s quarterly structure, gave me the motivation I needed to write regularly. Over the next eighteen months, I attended several workshops and wrote six more stories. Every time I sat down to write, I mapped out the elements of craft that I’d be working on in that particular story. For one of them, it was fast pacing and a convincing male POV. For another it was a complex, non-linear structure and an ending that would make the reader cry.

Those six stories garnered four professional sales, a ghostwriting contract, a Hugo nomination and three finalist placements in WOTF, one of which went on to win. And this from a writer who thought she didn’t have it.

In the process, I also figured out what “it” is.

It’s all too easy to get discouraged in this business, and discouragement can strike at any level, from the newest aspirant to the seasoned bestseller. It–that thing you have to have to get anywhere in the writing world–isn’t talent or contacts or good ideas. It’s perseverance.

You write, and you keep on writing no matter what happens. Rejections, family obligations, your day job, moving, job loss, depression–keep writing. Take a break if you have to, but come back as soon as you can.

On the Writers of the Future Forum, we tell hopeful writers that there are only three ways out of the contest, but the advice applies to writing in general, too.

1) You win.

2) You pro out.

3) You stop entering.

Number three is entirely under the writer’s control, so don’t quit. As long as you don’t quit, you’ve narrowed the possibilities to #1 and #2, both of which lead to a career in the field. If you do quit, come back, even if it’s been decades since the last thing you wrote.

It worked for me, and that means it can work for you, too.

About the Author:Author
Kary English grew up in the snowy Midwest where she avoided siblings and frostbite by reading book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. To the great relief of her parents, she seems to be making a living at it.

Kary is a Writers of the Future winner and Hugo nominee whose work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Grantville Gazette’s Universe Annex, Writers of the Future, Vol. 31 and Galaxy’s Edge.


SF&F Saved My Life

A Guest Post by Lissa Woodbury Jensen

Science Fiction/Fantasy saved my life. My first year in college was a disaster. I arrived at University with huge dreams and the belief that I mattered to the world. One month into classes, reality set in hard and fast. My rose-tinted glasses had been wiped clean and I suddenly had a startling view into what others were seeing, most notably, of me.

I was a big girl. The fact that I had weighed over 200 pounds in high school hadn’t stopped me. I was cocooned within protective friendships and loyal family. I was even the lead in our musical that year, Hello Dolly. I distinctly remember “dieting” (starving, eating only broiled hamburger) and losing ten pounds. I will never forget the morning of opening night, when I stepped onto the scale and it read one hundred and ninety pounds! My heart soared in ironic delight as I performed Dolly with the combined gusto of Ethel Merman and brash exaggeration of Carol Channing.

No one made fun of me. Everyone stood and cheered. I chalked it up to talent, ignoring the fact that perhaps they were cheering because I had walked a long road of recovery from teen-age drug and alcohol abuse.

The problem in college was that no one knew my background or history, nor did they care. The encouraging smiles were absent and the continual words of support ceased. I was a five foot, nine inches tall “lardo.” Oh, and I also had acne. Top that off with (then undiagnosed) ADHD and I became the proverbial bull in the china shop. I overcompensated, trying to be “the funny one.” I just got looks of pityo I withdrew into a different kind of cocoon. Night after night, I sat alone in my dorm room while others cavorted socially and worried about who their next date would be. Instead of cutting back on calories, food became my BFF. I tried out for plays but was never the right “type.”

Late one lonely evening, I ate a family sized bag of Nachos. After shoving the last chip into my mouth, I started licking the orange residue off my hands. As my tongue rolled off my pinkie finger, I glanced in the mirror. I was ashamed. Sad eyes looked back at me. Tiny orange crumbs caked the inside corners of my mouth and I hated myself. So much so that I decided I would rather be dead. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. I planned how I would do it and actually looked forward to the day of my mortal release.

A few days before my planned exit, I was walking through the dorm lobby and found a book that had fallen to the floor. It was a thick tome that piqued my curiosity. The title read “The Fellowship of the Ring” by J. R. R. Tolkien. Having nothing else to do, I took it to my room and began to read. I was captivated. I read on through the night and well into the next day. My death obsession was put on hold as I became Frodo struggling towards his epic destiny. I disappeared into my head and battled orcs, demons and evil wizards. Gandalf was my beloved mentor and I wept with abandon at his demise.

The day of my planned exit from this life came, yet I had begun reading “The Two Towers” and wanted to find out more about Gollum. I decided I could wait a while longer while I marched towards Mount Doom with Frodo and Sam. Setting sleep aside, I joined my comrades as we raced to our journey’s epic conclusion for “Return of the King.” My self-esteem soared and food was forgotten when, finally, the ring was destroyed and we crowned the true king of the land. I lay there, exhausted, and grieving for the loss of my newfound friends as the last few words of the book were seared into my brain. I surfaced back into the present and was reminded that the time for my deadly plan had come.

I balked. Had Frodo given up when in the dredges of Mordor? Had hefty Samwise Gamgee let the difficulty of his assignment stop him? When Frodo won the acclaim and adulation, did Sam think less of himself because he didn’t get the same recognition? I felt changed inside. I hadn’t just read the book; I had been part of the Fellowship.

And I couldn’t quit now. I contemplated my paradox. Perhaps I could prolong the day of my death a bit longer.

I went to the school’s library and left, clutching the librarian’s recommendation, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. If I thought I could never love another being like Frodo, I was wrong. Andrew Wiggins’ trouble fitting in at Battle School in space endeared me to him like no other. As he grew in experience, gaining the trust of his peers and overcoming those who would bring him down, I felt a new resolve blossom within my soul. My problems were still evident, but I knew now that I could find a sense of identity, companionship, and unlimited adventure in worlds beyond the one I currently inhabited.

This realization gave me hope and I devoured all the science fiction and fantasy I could lay my hands on. I no longer obsessed about which day I would end my mortal pain and threw away all the tools I had kept for such an event. I continued with the Ender universe and many others, eventually learning to construct my own worlds and the stories within them.

Science fiction and fantasy opened worlds without end, where anything was possible for an inexperienced and uncertain young woman teetering on the edge. Strong and creative characters taught me to persevere and believe in myself, despite all odds. I lost weight, gained focus and never looked back. Years later, I continue to write, imagine the impossible, and look for new worlds to explore.

About the Author:Author
Lissa Woodbury Jensen lives in Alaska and loves imagining the impossible. Her initial career was in theatre arts. She did some filming in Los Angeles, but her primary love was the stage. In addition to performing, Lissa directed and choreographed many Broadway hits. She began her writing career by authoring short plays, dramatic presentations and original musical productions. She now concentrates solely on fiction. She loves to write about flawed characters that redeem themselves. Her favorite quote is from the movie Chariots of Fire: “God made me fast; and when I run, I feel His Pleasure!”

Feeding the Foundation

As we grow not only in our craft but also as people, it’s important to establish or re-establish the foundation of why we write, what success means to us at this moment, and what fulfillment means across our lifetimes. And yes, those things can completely change in the span of a few years. Our perspectives shift, our goals change, our focus narrows. As that happens, it’s essential to revisit the foundations on which we built our dreams and goals in the first place.

Here are some general questions to help you consider the root of your inspiration for writing.

1. Why do you write?

This question gets passed around a lot, it seems. But dig deep. “Cause I’ve just gotta!” is a fine answer, but what compels you to do it? Dig deep. “Because I have unresolved issues,” is probably a more honest answer for all of us.

2. What do you want?

“Duh, to be famous.” Sure, that can be your answer. But consider the possibility you won’t be the next J.K. Rowling. Now, what do you want?

3. What is your writing routine?

Has it changed in the past few years. Does it need to change? What’s not working about it?

4. Are you still chasing dreams and goals that are rooted in a genre in which you no longer write?

For example, when I started writing, I wanted to write literary fiction. At this moment, I write mostly YA, which is a much faster market and demands faster manuscript turn-arounds. My goals need to change to fit the genre I’m writing, at least for now.

5. Do your short-term goals need re-evaluating to reflect where you are right now?

I had to re-evaluate my short-term goals when writing YA, as mentioned above, and those will constantly need to be reconsidered depending on the project.

6. Do your long-term goals need to change to reflect where you are right now?

For example, because I’m not writing literary fiction right now, and I had not considered I’d be writing YA, my long-term goals for my career need to adjust to include YA.

A Writer's Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld

A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

There are some great resources out there to help you reflect on these things while also help you build your craft and routine.

I highly recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for an all-out overhaul, but be warned, it takes a lot of commitment to finish. Finish it. Commit to it. It’s worth it.

A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld has been extremely valuable to me recently. I see it a lite version of The Artist’s Way. That’s not to demean it in any way; I simply mean it’s shorter and more compact.

Both books have been extremely valuable to me, and I hope they are for you as well.

About Kristin Luna:
Kristin Luna copyKristin Luna has been making up stories and getting in trouble for them since elementary school. She writes book reviews for Urban Fantasy Magazine and her short story “The Greggs Family Zoo of Odd and Marvelous Creatures” was featured in the anthology One Horn to Rule Them All alongside Peter S. Beagle and Todd McCaffrey. Her short story “Fog” recently appeared on Pseudopod. Kristin lives in San Diego with her husband Nic.