Christmas 03: Victoria Scarlett Jones and the Big Black Bear

“Hurry. Come see.” yelled Victoria Scarlett Jones as she ran up the sidewalk toward her house. Gasping for breath, she yelled as loud as her six year-old voice could on this chilly Christmas Eve. Although the Joneses lived in Florida and the only white in White Christmas was the silky smooth sand at the beach, this Christmas Eve had dawned crisp and quite cool. Victoria Scarlett had spent most of the afternoon playing outdoors.

“Mama, come on out here. There’s something you’ve just got to see. Come now, will you, please?” Victoria Scarlett puffed hard as she skipped up the front doorsteps.

Bursting into the front door and racing straight into the kitchen, Victoria Scarlett saw Mama frying bacon and boiling grits for supper. Victoria Scarlett was breathless as she skidded to a halt next to the kitchen table.

Catching her breath, Victoria Scarlett seemed to burst with pride as she smiled sweetly and said, “Mama, I’m begging you to come with me.”

“Child, please,” said Mama. “What is so important that I have to stop making supper and go this instant to see about it? Aren’t you about ready to put icing on the Christmas cookies we baked this morning?”

“Mama, cookies can wait. Right now, there is a BIG BLACK BEAR IN OUR BACKYARD.”

“What’s that you say?” Mama looked surprised; like she did the first time she saw two alligators crawl up onto the banks of Watermelon Pond.

Patiently, Victoria Scarlett repeated herself. “There’s a big black bear in our backyard. A VERY BIG BLACK BEAR and I want you to come see it NOW! I want you to be the very first person to lay eyes on it, Mama.”

Victoria Scarlett smiled as she grabbed Mama’s apron. Then, she put her arm around Mama’s waist and gave her a little hug. Mama grabbed Victoria Scarlett and gave her a big hug. Then, a frown crossed Mama’s face. “A bear? In our backyard? Victoria Scarlett Jones, you know I have told you since you were a tiny tot, to never tell a lie. I especially don’t want you to do it on Christmas—when we’re celebrating Jesus’ birthday. [make this more active: VSJ, don’t be telling me a lie—especially on Christmas!] A big black bear, indeed.”

“But, Mama, that’s why you need to come see for yourself. You’ll see I’m not fibbing. I tell you what, Mama, I will hold your hand and then you won’t have anything to worry about,” said Victoria Scarlett with a knowing grin.

The frown was leaving Mama’s face. “Well, I guess it would help if you held my hand,” Mama said as she turned off the stove. She gave the gravel-ly grits one last stir and forked the bacon onto a paper towel to drain. Then, Mama wiped her hands on her big, red Christmas apron and Victoria Scarlett took Mama’s hand in hers.

Without words, only smiles between them, they left the kitchen. Victoria Scarlett led Mama. They tip-toed out the back door. “Wait Honey,” said Mama. “Go back and close the door. But, be as quiet as a mouse. We don’t want that big black bear in our backyard to hear us coming to spy on him.” Victoria Scarlett obeyed Mama and closed the door without making a sound. [there’s no reason for this; keep the first sentence, delete the rest.]

Next, Mama and Victoria Scarlett tiptoed in the soft, green grass around the corner of the house. When they arrived in the backyard Mama began to frown again. She said, “Victoria Scarlett Jones, I do not see a big black bear in our backyard at all. Are you trying to pull an April Fool’s joke on me?”

“Mama, we are not THERE yet. But, there really is one. You can count on it, just as sure as you can count on Christmas. I’m not fooling you.” Victoria Scarlett picked up a twig and pointed it toward the biggest tree in the yard. “You see that big old oak tree over there?”

Mama said, “Sure, I see it, but I didn’t think we were looking for oak trees. I thought we were coming to see a big black bear in our backyard.” Mama grinned and all frowns left her face.

“Oh, Mama,” said Victoria Scarlett, “THE BIG BLACK BEAR IN OUR BACKYARD IS BEHIND THAT BIG OLD OAK TREE. So, you’d better get ready.”

Mama started shaking and acted like she was truly scared. “Victoria Scarlett, I…, uh…don’t want to go around behind that tree alone. Are you coming with me?”

Feeling quite important at this moment, Victoria Scarlett straightened her shoulders, held her head high and said, “Certainly I will. I’m not afraid.”

“Oh, thank you, Honey,” Mama said. “I’m sure glad my big girl is with me.”

Victoria Scarlett took Mama’s hand once again and they bravely walked around the tree. And what do you think they saw?

They looked at the ground and there in the black dirt, Victoria Scarlett had smoothed a big area with her hand. Then, with a small stick, she had drawn the OUTLINE OF A BIG BLACK BEAR.

With a deep breath and a big bear-grin on her face Mama said, “Oh, I do see now. I see the big black bear in our backyard.”

“Merry Christmas, Mama. I drew him just for you.”

Mama grabbed Victoria Scarlett up in her arms and said, “Do you know what I do to little ladies who take me on bear hunts in the backyard—little girls who make my Christmas happy? I give them BEAR HUGS!”

Victoria Scarlett squealed. Mama chuckled. Hugging each other tightly, the two of them plopped down in the dirt and laughed and laughed and laughed. [cut this]

Do not use capitalization for emphasis. Use your words. The girl’s name is a bit difficult to say. It doesn’t flow out of your mouth. If you’re seeing this as a possible picture book (which it could be with some work), you need everything easy to say aloud.

Aside from you telling us the setting is Christmas, there is nothing in this story that makes it a Christmas story. I’d drop the whole Christmas angle.

What I liked best: The relationship between the mother and daughter.

Magazine ready? Almost. But I’d suggest working it into a picture book.

Christmas 02: My Christmas Story

Perhaps this is way to simple to be called a story, it may be an event a happening, a moment in time, something to treasure in my book of memories, but I decided to tell this as a cherished Christmas story because it happened to me. [Delete]

The year had not been a particularly good one and if I mentioned divorce that would fill in all the necessary questions, possibly the answers as well, lets say I found myself single, not of my choice and with the responsibility of the task of finishing the raising the last two of my four daughters. [punctuation; sentence structure]

The Christmas season was approaching and since this was my first without a real strong financial support besides myself things were looking pretty gloomy. Even though I was working two jobs I really did not have the means or the nature to have a lot of Christmas spirit. The girls and I had moved into a very small home in a kinda medium neighborhood, not fancy, but workable. The kids were both in very early teens and did not say to much about how things were, they just knew it was a rough time.

One particular night I had an occasion to go to a church house for Relief Society board meeting. I was picked up by the President and left my daughter Angie at home with her friend Jeff, our Bishop’s son.

Those two had adventure written all over them and mostly during that period of time in their lives it was watching scary movies, making munchies, eating an incredible amount of sunflower seeds and just hanging out. I had left without any particular chores left to be done just that I would be back in an hour or so.

Like all women that I know, I took the opportunity to visit while going to my meeting and as I recall, had even talked about the lack of Christmas Spirit being a part of my home that year. I had always decorated a Christmas tree and we had never went without. However some years were better than others. There was always something under the tree. This was really not a test year to see how we were going to do as a family, just a year when I did not have a lot of hope or warm fuzzies about the meaning of the Christmas Season and what it meant for me. [Show, don’t tell.]

Anyho as my daughter Angie like to say, I was chatting and feeling down as we drove home from the meeting and knowing my house was around the corner I looked ahead as we turned down the street to a sight that to this day brings tears to my eyes when I recall the next precious moments where like I said, time stood still.

Ablaze in all of the possible glory that could be had, one house on our block was newly decorated with multi colored Christmas lites outlining the roof. There was no Santa or dancing reindeer, Angels were not singing in a heavenly choir, just a beautiful simple strand of lights declaring to the world that Christmas was coming.

A hush fell over me as I marveled at the sight. My tears freely flowed trying to exclaim to my driver, joy of joys, wonder of wonders, that it was my house that was decorated. There was more excitement that I could express that night when I realized it was the two kids I had left watching movies who had dug out our Christmas lights, climbed up on the roof and stung them along the edge. How they every did it without ladders and in the dark of night I will never know.

They gave to me that night the knowledge and hope that life goes on even during trials and tribulations. It was a message of the Christmas Spirit. Giving of ones self and time not necessarily material things but something else that can make a huge difference. It brought peace and comfort and assurance that life does go on.

Like the Babe in the Manger whose love brought awareness to the world, this also gave to me the knowledge that I was loved and someone cared enough to do a simple gift for me. I began traditions that I have loved and kept every Christmas since, Some decorations simple as they might be, and putting Christmas lights on the “outside”of my home. Finding homes and places that display the lights all season long. Listening to music that portrays the feelings of our Savior’s great love, and ours for him. Singing along when possible and enjoying the songs which tell of hope and the happiness that can be found.

Christmas had become a joy and not a burden to me.

Technically, you need to be more careful with your spell checking and proofreading, punctuation and grammar. But the heart of the story is touching. Rewrite it with more showing, rather than telling. Instead of telling us what her situation is, show us by her actions, what she sees, smells, hears. Give us some dialog. This could be a real tear-jerker, in a good way, if you tightened up the writing.

What I liked best: The surprise of the teenagers.

Magazine ready? Not yet. Make it more active, occurring in real time.

Christmas 01: Christmas in a Tent

[Give it an active start.] Caroline had dreaded Christmas before, but not as much as this year. Since the divorce it had become increasingly difficult to make sure her three children had a nice Christmas. That didn’t mean that they got four wheelers every year, or new bikes even. It meant that they each received a few nicer gifts, and a new book since they all had their favorites. She drove home from class a little slower today because it was December 15, leaving her little time to come up with anything. It wasn’t going to be easy looking at those little faces and their lists for Santa Clause, and she knew that likely nothing on the list was going to be delivered.

She had taken a new job, and the partners in the company she had gone to work for had a falling out, leaving no work for anyone they had hired. Only one paycheck for the past two and a half months had been received from them as their times had been hard too. She had taken odd jobs here and there, some paying $25 or $50 for sometimes a whole day’s work. It was hard to find something that worked with her full-time school schedule. It was finals week [what does that have to do with it?], so she hoped that an opportunity to work at least a whole week before would present itself. So far nothing.

Caroline wondered how the Lord felt about being on speed dial, it seemed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. [Good] Then she remembered promises that she would be able to somehow provide if she were faithful.

“Mom, know what I want?” said Joey, her oldest at 12 years of age, the second she opened the door?”

“You want a robot to clean your room so Santa will come visit, right?” she smiled and hugged him tight so he wouldn’t see the tears welling up in her eyes. A deep breath followed as she let go and winked at him.

“Mooommmm! Santa doesn’t have those!” grinned Joey. [He’s 12. Does he really believe in Santa?]

“Ah, well, you definitely want to take care of that room then before he sees it. Or you know what you’ll get…the dreaded lump of coal.” she said.

Joey laughed and went back to writing his list.

“I’ll just give you the list when I’m finished.” he said.

She toussled his hair as she walked by him at the table.

The younger two, Robbie now 10 and Tyler now 8, were playing trucks in the living room.

“Vroom, crash, oh no Tyler , you ran into me….vrooooooooom, vrooom, vrooooooooooooom!” said Robbie with his best motor imitation.

“Hey, you ran into me!” said Tyler .

“Now I have to get a new truck for Christmas!” he half cried.

“Boys, it’s time to put the trucks up for now so we can have dinner.” said Caroline.

“Do you want my list mom? I know what I want for Christmas.” said Robbie

“Sure Robbie, but a little later, ok?” she said as she sat down on the floor beside him and hugged him.

About that time Tyler took full advantage of the dog pile opportunity and threw his arms around his mom and Robbie’s necks tipping everyone over.

“I want lots of new trucks for Christmas, Mom, and a BB gun.” Tyler said.

They all laughed and wrestled for a minute. She felt the tears welling up again though, so she cut the dog pile short and went in to the kitchen to make dinner.

She went through the mail and found a bill from the dentist. They were sending her to collections if she didn’t pay $25 on it before December 20th. She had $25 dollars, three kids to buy Christmas for, and no prospect of making money before then. She would have to deal with collections she thought.

This didn’t seem like it was going as promised. She was taking her children to church, fulfilling her calling, teaching them at home, and the world was still falling apart.

The very second she opened her eyes in the mornings, she prayed to find a way to take care of her obligations and provide for her family. The $25 dollars wasn’t going to cover any type of Christmas. What if they needed a gallon of milk sooner than she planned? She had gone without eating much for quite a while to make sure her children had food. They didn’t know that. They needed to know they were loved and that life is good. Days filled with worry went by.

On December 21st, her friend called. She had confided most things in her over the years, but this particular thing she hadn’t.

“Caroline, it’s me, how are you? I have been trying to reach you for days.” said Rebecca.

“Oh, I’ve been very busy with the kids and school. How are you?” she asked.

“Doing well. I went to my company Christmas party last night, and I won a tent as a door prize. Can you imagine me using a tent?” Rebecca laughed.

They bothed laughed for a moment, and Caroline said, “Now that you mention it, no.”

“So I was wondering if you could use it. Maybe you could give it to the boys for Christmas. It seems like you said they didn’t have one last summer when you went camping.” Rebecca added.

“That would be so great. They will love it.” Caroline said.

“Oh, and it’s not from me to them, it’s from you or Santa, or however you want to do that.” said Rebecca.

At that point she knew she thought maybe she had been a little more transparent than she thought about their situation. [awkward] Rebecca would drop the tent off the next day.

Caroline knew that the tent was going to be the main gift at that point, and that it could come from Santa, and all would be well. She began searching for things that went with a tent that she could add to it to make Christmas a little more complete.

She noticed advertisements for fly tying classes at a local sporting good shop. She could make certificates for a class for each of the boys, and did so. They could officially sign up after the first of January, but the certificates could be part of Christmas under the tree.

She went shopping the next day at the sporting goods store and found some inexpensive camping gear the boys would enjoy.

Christmas Eve came, and her parents had asked if they would spend the night and have Christmas morning there. [Where? It’s not clear who’s staying at whose house.] Reluctantly she agreed. The tree wasn’t going to be very full this year, and she really didn’t want everyone else to know that.

After the boys were tucked into bed, and her parents went to bed, she sat out in the living room and cried. There just wasn’t much under there. There was a tent and three little presents each, including the gift certificates for the classes. Then she had an idea. She got the tent out of the case and set it up in the living room. It filled the area in front of the tree up nicely, looking like there were more presents. Then she decided she would make a treasure hunt for the boys from the bedroom to the tent.

It’s about 3 a.m. at this point, but she got on her mom’s computer and made paper fish, printed them out, colored them green and wrote clues on them to help the boys find Christmas. All of the presents would be hidden inside the zipped-up tent.

She made the trail, left flashlights by the first fish and went to bed. At about 6:00 a.m. she awoke to delighted squeals. The boys had found the flashlights and were on the hunt for Christmas. She hoped they would stay excited through the end of the trail. They had a great time, and when it was time to open the tent to find the other presents, they were ecstatic to end up in a tent in the living room!

This was a great Christmas after all. Caroline cried a little as she watched the boys have so much fun with not much under the tree. They then read the Christmas story and talked about the true meaning of Christmas. The boys thought they had the best one ever–especially since they could all stay in the tent all day. After all, the baby Jesus was born in a stable. They could spend Christmas in a tent.

She remembered how she had been promised that she would be able to take care of her family if she was faithful, and it didn’t necessarily mean she would have more money to help. She came to realize that it could mean receiving blessings through other people to help her do this, and to help her find the true meaning of Christmas for her family in a very unexpected way. That it’s about love and being together. Even if it’s in a tent.

Watch out for typos, sentence structure. You change tenses a few times. Parts of the story are not really clear and you dropped a few things. Is she in school? Robbie keeps asking about the list, but Mom never follows up with that. Are her parents at her house or is she at their house? Where are her parents on Christmas morning? They went to bed and disappeared from the story. Do more showing of the events. Get the senses involved. Tighten up the writing, cutting the unnecessary and repetitive parts. Play up the miracle of her friend calling with the tent and how that was an answer to her prayers. I like the idea of the treasure hunt, but you need a reason for why the clues were on fish. I also like the tent inside the house idea.

What I liked best: Setting up the tent in the living room.

Magazine ready? Not yet.

2007 Christmas Story Contest Sponsors

A huge thank you to the following authors whose books are sponsoring the 2007 Christmas Story Contest.

Publisher’s Choice, Published Author Category Prize: Sorry, the Stork Takes No Returns by Claire Bowen

Welcome to the slightly off–kilter world of Claire Bowen and family. A world someone once called “gently insane.” Or perhaps he said the Bowen world was ordinary and the people were insane. In any case, he’s no longer invited to dinner. But draw your own conclusions. From adventures with Scouting and Girls Camp, to self–service tooth fairies, to reflections on becoming a grandmother, Claire’s unique sense of humor will leave you laughing. And whatever else this book does, it makes you feel better about raising your own kids. It’s humor with a literary sense and humor with common sense. It’s humor with teenagers! What more could you ask? You’re likely to recognize your own family, because you know they’re nuts, too; and you’re sure to be comforted, because they’re not as nutty as some we could name. You’ll come away feeling you’ve made new, albeit somewhat unstable, friends.

Claire Bowen is a freelance writer in North Georgia and a mother of five. Her work has appeared in national publications, and her award-winning newspaper columns inspired this first in a series of “Family-Challenged” books.

Here’s what readers say of Claire Bowen’s work:

“…writing that falls somewhere between Erma Bombeck and Bailey White. It’s what we’d all be doing if we were still a nation of storytellers.”

…she has mastered the art of making writing come to life…as if she just stopped by for a moment in her busy day to chat.”

Reader’s Choice, Published Author Category: The Man from Shenandoah by Marsha Ward

Carl Owen returns from the Civil War to find the family farm destroyed, his favorite brother dead, food scarce, and his father determined to leave the Shenandoah Valley to build a cattle empire in Colorado Territory. Crossing the continent, Carl falls in love with his brother’s fiancé while set to wed another girl. But he might lose everything if the murderous outlaw, Berto Acosta, has his way.

Carl battles a band of outlaws, a prairie fire, blizzards, a trackless waterless desert, and his own brother—all for the hand of feisty Ellen Bates. Carl Owen doesn’t intend to lose anything: not his land, not his cattle, and certainly not his girl ever again!

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

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

Publisher’s Choice, Unpublished Author Category: Kindred Spirits by Christopher Kimball Bigelow

Born and bred deep in Mormon Utah, thirty-something Eliza Spainhower has carved out an independent life for herself in Boston. While still believing in the faith of her childhood, she has recently been disfellowshipped from the LDS Church. Trying to repent, she connects with local native Eric Abercrombie on the subway, and soon she’s prodding him in a race against hormones as the couple navigates Mormon baptism-and-wedding hurdles.

Further complicating matters are Eric’s adopted daughter Manda, his bossy ex-wife Helen, and Manda’s Wiccan birth mother Kindra, all three of whom live together. As Eliza tries to establish her place in Eric’s improbable clan, she’s forced to reckon with her Mormon identity in unsettling new ways. Her journey of spiritual and physical passion is fraught with Mormon-style guilt, otherworldly visions, ministrations of evil spirits, and culture clashes between Mormonism and Wiccanism, all shot through with simmering intimations of polygamy that eventually reach a crisis point.

Christopher Kimball Bigelow is the great-great-great-grandson of a Mormon apostle who had more than 40 wives. He served an LDS mission in Melbourne, Australia, and worked as an editor at the LDS Church’s official Ensign magazine. A graduate of Emerson College and Brigham Young University, Bigelow cofounded and edited the Mormon literary magazine Irreantum and the satirical Mormon newspaper The Sugar Beet, and he’s working on a memoir and a novel. A Hodgkin’s disease survivor and the oldest of ten siblings, he lives with his wife and four children in Provo, Utah. You can reach him at

Reader’s Choice, Unpublished Author Category: Grasshopper Pie by Rebecca Talley

Have you wondered what happens when imaginative siblings start cooking imaginary food? Watch and see as the mother-daughter team of Rebecca and Angela Talley tell the adventures of Logan and Madolyn — two enterprising young children who whip up gastronomical delights for their mother, and then top them off with their pièce de rèsistance: Grasshopper Pie!

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, California and now lives on a ranch in Colorado with her amazing husband, 8 of her 10 creative children, horses, goats, and a llama named Tina. She is the author of a children’s picture book, Grasshopper Pie. Her stories have been published in Story Friends, Our Little Friend, The Friend, and Stories for Children. Cedar Fort will release her YA novel, Heaven Scent, in spring 2008.

Besides writing, Rebecca enjoys eating chocolate by the pound, dancing to disco music while she cleans all the messes that seem to multiply and replenish her house, and contemplating all the craft projects that still need to be completed. You can find Rebecca at

2007 Christmas Story Contest

Submission to contest is now closed.

Get ready for the holidays by entering the Christmas Story Contest

Submission Rules:
Write a Christmas story in any genre.

Maximum word count: 1500

Stories published anywhere other than your personal website or blog are ineligible. (That includes books, magazines, e-zines or other contests.)

Stories submitted for last year’s contest are also ineligible.

Paste entire story into an e-mail. NO ATTACHMENTS, please.

In your e-mail, indicate whether or not you are a published author. “Published” is defined as someone paid you money (or comp copies in the case of magazines) for your story or book. (So either a publisher paid you, or you self-published and people bought your book.)

You may submit more than one story. Send each submission in a separate e-mail.

SUBMIT your story any time between now and Saturday, December 15th.

I will post the stories starting December 1st, in the order that they arrive.

Voting Rules:

VOTE between December 16th and December 19th.

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

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

You MAY vote for yourself.

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

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

I will post comments on stories and announce the winners on Friday, December 21st.

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.