Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
I am the Special Education Coordinator for Denton County Juvenile Justice Alternative Program. I work with at risk teens from fifth grade through high school. My husband and I have been married for thirty-one years and we have two grown children. The first two years of marriage, Rick and I traveled overseas as missionaries. Afterwards we served as pastors of a church in Illinois. Presently we live near Dallas, Texas. He is in business and I work for the school system. (My husband still makes yearly mission trips to India.)
To date, my literary works include approximately two hundred articles in magazines such as: Guideposts, Live, Lookout, Mennonite, Christian Reader, Decision, Breakthrough and Christianity Today. Other short stories appear in the books: A Match Made in Heaven, Stories from the Heart, The Evolving Woman, and the New York Times bestseller, In The Arms of Angels by Joan Wester-Anderson. Ann Spangler also used one of my stories in her book, Help! I Canâ€™t Stop Laughing. Another two-dozen stories have been published in the Chicken Soup books. One story, Momâ€™s Last Laugh, was re-enacted for a PAX-TV program: Itâ€™s a Miracle. I co-authored a thriller, The Chase, for Revell. My second book, The Replacement, was released in June 2006. The Candidate was released July, 2007. I continue to publish short stories in magazines. Wildcard, a mystery, will be a spring 2009 release. The Christmas Edition releases Nov. 20. The Valentine Edition releases in January 2009.
(ISBN#9781601543301, 236pp, $11.99)
The usual winter blizzard blew into southern Wisconsin.
Lucy Collins carefully maneuvered her car through the snow that grew deeper with every gust of wind. She parked directly in front of her family owned business, The Turtle Creek Newspaper, just as her brother, Mike, was making his second pass at
clearing away the snow from the drive with the snow blower.
â€œHey, Mike! Help me carry these inside, will you?â€ Lucy called to him as she got out of her heated car. A sharp wind sucked up her words and nearly knocked her off balance.
Mike turned off the blower and cupped his hand around his ear. â€œWhat did you say?â€ His breath circled around his face in the frigid air.
â€œHelp!â€ Lucy hollered. She popped the trunk and pivoted her body in an exaggerated fashion-the way models do when showcasing prizes on a game show. She stepped to the other side and waved her hands, palms up, along the food trays and her motherâ€™s
crystal punch bowl set. Then she flashed her younger brother her biggest smile.
Mike galloped up to the car just as another gust of wind, hammered snow at them. â€œItâ€™s freezing out here! Even my nose hairs are frozen solid. You go on
in. Iâ€™ll get these as soon as Iâ€™m finished shoveling the walk.â€
â€œThanks.â€ Lucy gave him a kiss on the cheek. To keep her balance, she gingerly walked across the crunchy ice crystals and into the warm building. Once inside, she tugged off one boot and then the other, dropping them under her desk. She hung her
coat and scarf on the back of her swivel chair as she looked around at the decorations of wreaths and holly. A sprig of mistletoe hung over the empty desk
at the back. That would surely go to waste. Music played loudly from her dadâ€™s old stereo inside his office.
Christmas used to be her favorite holiday, but after a disastrous end to her engagement, a couple of years ago, this particular holiday now only served as
a dark reminder of broken promises. With prayer and a loving family, Lucy was ready to start her life again, which meant buying her own place right after the first of the year. Working and living with the same people was often stifling, especially when
theyâ€™re her parents.
Lucyâ€™s mom was the cheerleader as well as the gopher, making sure everyone had what they needed, whereas Lucyâ€™s father focused persistently on getting the next edition out and on time. Each year at Christmastime, however, Harold Collins took off his publisher hat and donned something completely different. The weeks wedged between Thanksgiving and Christmas became about assisting others. She loved it all and nothing could ever take her away from this life.
The employees had finished packing up the last of the boxes from the food drive which were now stacked neatly, ready to be dropped off at area shelters. Lucy wanted to acknowledge all the work theyâ€™d done. â€œFor a small cluster of people, we sure
accomplish a truckload of work, fast! These donations will help many people down and out this holiday season. Like all the other years weâ€™ve worked closely together and done a great job.â€ Christmas was about unbridled joy but today, try as she may, she still wasnâ€™t feeling it. Maybe she could fake it for everyoneâ€™s sake. Lucy lowered her head in modesty and stated, â€œThis is going to be a Christmas of miracles.â€
As if releasing faith into the air, everyone began to punctuate her words with applause. Right on cue, Harold Collins stepped out of his office wearing a hat
something like one of the elves might wear. He even bobbed his head up and down to show off the cluster of bells that dangled at the tip of the loopy crown. Lucy couldnâ€™t help but have her first laugh of the day, along with the other employees.
â€œI know itâ€™s still over a month until Christmas but I thought you could use this now,â€ Harold said as he produced a fan of festive red and green envelopes.
Squeals of delight resonated as they opened the envelopes and saw the amount written on the checks but none was as loud as Ulilla Langston. Lucyâ€™s dad had inherited her along with the paper when her grandpa died. Ulilla was a beautiful, black woman
with hair swept close to her head in a French twist. She carried weight around the place both literally and figuratively.
â€œHarold and Margaret Collins,â€ she crowed, as her hand fluttered to her chest. â€œNo way can you afford to give us this.â€
â€œNonsense!â€ Harold blustered, and politely dismissed her words of protest with a wave. â€œIt should be three times this and you know it! You all have worked effortlessly and clocked in many overtime hours in order to get the newspaper out
each week. I am the one who is grateful. Merry Christmas!â€
The bell above the front door jingled as Mike walked in balancing the punch bowl along with the holiday trays. â€œWhere do you want these, sis?â€
â€œLet me help with that.â€ Lucy took the top two trays. â€œTake the rest into the break room. Iâ€™ll follow you in.â€
Margaret touched the sleeve of Lucyâ€™s cardigan. â€œHave you finished our Christmas cards yet?â€
â€œI started a month ago and finally finished them last night. Not only did I hand write each one, butthe envelopes are addressed and stamped.â€
â€œWhich of the photographs did you decide on?â€
â€œI thought I told you that all ready. Never mind, thereâ€™s one in my desk Iâ€™ll show you.â€ Lucy set down the trays. From the desk drawer, she took a single envelope and handed it to her mother. â€œHere, I was looking for something that would embody a perfect form of truth when it comes to Christianity.â€
Margaret stared at the card. A country church was nestled into a hillside surrounded on all sides by fresh snowfall. Above, the sky was brilliant blue. Lucy looked over her motherâ€™s shoulder. She scrunched her face, second-guessing her photographic choice. â€œDoes it look okay?â€
â€œItâ€™s a whole lot more than okay. This is simply breathtaking and looks professionally done. Lucy, you should have put your logo somewhere on this card so people would be aware that you are the one who took this photograph of our church.â€ Margaretâ€™s eyes glistened.
â€œNot this time. I want people to focus on the birth of our Savior and the hope He gives for our lives. Mom, in the past year, I have become more appreciative of the upbringing you and Dad gave Mike and me and how you shared your faith which has now become mine.â€ Lucy choked back her tears and touched the silver cross she always wore at her neckline.
â€œThose words are the best gift you could ever give to me.â€ Margaret hugged her daughter. â€œI want nothing more this season than to see you happy.â€
Lucy hugged back tightly. â€œIâ€™m working hard on that.â€
â€œLucy!â€ Mike called from the break room. â€œI thought you said you were following me in. Iâ€™m making a mess of things trying to get the food set up.â€
â€œAh, I better go rescue the food from Mike and start the punch.â€ Lucy picked up the trays. â€œBy the way, itâ€™s getting worse outside so could you suggest to Dad that we better let everyone go home early.â€
â€œI will, but right now, I want to lend you a hand.â€
Lucy and Mike uncovered the trays of fruit, cheese, and crackers. Margaret took her home baked pastries from the refrigerator and arranged them on top of doilies set on antique dessert plates. Mike dumped plastic forks from the box into a basket and
then tore open the plates while Lucy poured the punch into the bowl and added scoops of sherbet. â€œI think weâ€™re ready.â€
Once everyone had gathered in the break room, Harold asked one and all to join hands. Together they asked for the Lordâ€™s blessing. Then they dug in; plates were quickly filled with condiments, the routine appetizers, rolled pieces of meat, decorated sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls. That was just for starters. Margaret kept laying out more and more food.
Lucy sat at the edge of her chair and sipped her cup of punch. It was fun watching everyone enjoy themselves. She closed her eyes and drank in their laughter. This is what she needed, to be surrounded by such love and acceptance.
The employees had all worked for her father for years, so she not only knew their names but their spouses and children. This is what she loved about the business. It wasnâ€™t work. It was family. At times they even squabbled like it, too.
When there were only a few squares of cantaloupe and crumbs of her motherâ€™s cake left, Lucy suggested, â€œBefore we go home for the weekend, letâ€™s go around the room and name one gift we want for Christmas. No limitations on the gift. Miss Ulilla, would you like to start?â€
The society column woman was clearly pleased to go first. In her world, this was the correct order of the universe and she didnâ€™t even try to suppress her smile. Instead she brushed crumbs from her bosom, cleared her throat and stood to her feet. â€œSince Lucy removed the limitations, what I really want for Christmas are tickets for a Caribbean cruise under my tree this year.â€
â€œThatâ€™s sounds exciting. I feel pretty confident you can talk Abe here into going along with you.â€ Lucy gave the elderly custodian a wink. It was no secret Abe had been after Ulilla for as long as she could remember, but Ulilla always put him off.
Abe stepped right in without being asked, â€œThe gift I am wishing for is that I can buy those tickets for Ulilla. One for her and one for me. Separate cabins, of course.â€ He turned beet red.
After the laughter died down, Lucy went on to ask her best friend, â€œWhat about you, Monica?â€
â€œIâ€™m hoping for money. Lots and lots of money.â€
â€œHere I thought youâ€™d ask for perfume. The French kind,â€ Mike said. His lips curled into a slow smile. For the first time, Lucy caught something in the air between her best friend and her brother and it wasnâ€™t perfume. French or otherwise.
Harold set down his plastic plate with a hollow thump. â€œThe gift I want this year cannot be found under my tree.â€
â€œHarold.â€ Margaret touched his arm. â€œThis isnâ€™t the time.â€
â€œI think it is, Maggie. After being a family owned business for the last fifty years, first with my Papa and now on my own, itâ€™s no secret I want to keep that other newspaper from coming here. Living in a small town like Turtle Creek, we canâ€™t
withstand the extra competition. Heck, we can barely make it as it is. We need to come up with some ideas of how weâ€™re going to generate more sales, increase our advertisers and get more subscribers.â€ He pulled off his elf hat and lowered
his eyes. His thumb rubbed a finger as he spoke â€œOr this might just be the last time we stand together like this for Christmas.â€ To everyoneâ€™s dismay, Harold had spit out his worrying words. They spread across the room.
Lucy frowned. Everything her dad said was the truth. They all knew it.
â€œMy turn!â€ Lucy picked up her fatherâ€™s hat and pulled it down over her ears. Everyone laughed. â€œMy Christmas gift is to hire a new editor who will knock the socks off our readers with his fresh ideas and perspective!â€
â€œAnd how will you know this editor when he comes through the front door?â€ Carol from
â€œBecauseâ€¦â€ Lucy tapped her chin in thought. â€œThe man I have prayed for will write with heart.â€ Unexpected tears gathered along the edges of her eyes. The end of her nose tingled. â€œAnyone who can move an audience with words is going to increase
circulation which will attract businesses to grab ad space and make readers buy our paper.â€ She touched her cross. I have my faith in you, Lord.
The front door jingled. Monica looked out into the office. â€œHey, guys, thereâ€™s an awesome looking guy standing at the front counter. I believe Lucyâ€™s gift just arrived. Quick Lucy, say another prayer while you have Godâ€™s attention.â€
Lucy walked out of the break room with shoulders squared, back straight. There he stood. Tall, with sandy brown hair and wickedly wonderful eyes. Cherry cheeks, too, thanks to the frosty weather. His gray eyes were unsettling. He stood on one foot and tapped one shoe against the other to knock off the snow. Then he repeated the process with the other shoe. Monica was right. He was a looker.
â€œHow may I help you?â€ Lucy folded her hands together and placed them on the counter.
â€œIâ€™m looking for Lucy Collins.â€ He stared her in the eyes.
â€œYouâ€™ve found her.â€ Lucy heard laughter. She turned around to see the doorway to the break room was crowded with faces. All eyes were pinned on them. Of course, she had to put on a good show for them. Lucy turned back around and faced him. Feeling cocky, she said, â€œI know why youâ€™re here.â€
â€œYou do?â€ he seemed startled.
“Yes, youâ€™re here about the ad I placed in this weekâ€™s paper for an editor.â€
His chin dropped and he was speechless for a moment. â€œYouâ€™reâ€¦absolutely right. I did see it advertised.â€ The man set his briefcase down and popped it open. He started shuffling around the inside of it. Papers rustled. Finally, he looked up sheepishly. He had worried eyes. â€œI seem to have forgotten my resume. Not a good way to start a job interview. By the way, Iâ€™m Joe McNamara.â€
Lucy shook his hand and then reached under the counter for an application. She clamped it down on a clipboard, slipped a pen underneath and handed it to him. â€œI donâ€™t need your resume but I do need to know if you can write. When youâ€™re done filling this out, I want you to write an editorial for me.â€ She slid a blank piece of paper toward him.
â€œOn what subject?â€ he scratched the end of his nose.
â€œYouâ€™re the editor so you get to decide.â€ She slapped her hand down on the paper.
Joe nodded and then looked around for a place to sit. He chose a chair from the waiting area. Lucy watched him as he read the application and then thoughtfully filled in the blanks. Every now and then he looked up and caught her staring at him. He smiled but she quickly looked away.
The Turtle Creek Newspaper employees began to quickly leave. â€œDonâ€™t stay too long, Lucy, or youâ€™ll be trapped in here for the weekend,â€ Abe warned her on the way out. For the first time ever, Ulilla was on his arm.
â€œI wonâ€™t be much longer. I am dreaming of a cozy fire with hot chocolate.â€
â€œThatâ€™s only one of the things Iâ€™m dreaming of!â€ Ulilla gushed as she plunged through the doorway. Shocked over Ulillaâ€™s sudden change of heart, Lucy couldnâ€™t help but stare.
Finally Joe stood to his feet and handed the clipboard back to her, the pen returned to the same position as when she had handed it to him. Now it was Joeâ€™s turn to slide the paper across the counter to her. Lucy looked at it. Maybe she missed something. She flipped it over. Both sides were blank. She looked at Joe quizzically.
â€œMay I?â€ he asked nodding toward one of the computers.
â€œBe my guest.â€ Lucy granted permission and then caught her reflection in a window. She quickly pulled off the Santa hat. Static electricity popped around her head like a lightening rod. She knew she was blushing and really hoped he wouldnâ€™t notice.
Lucy watched as his long fingers flew across the keyboard. Her keyboard. The tips of the fingers hit the center of the keys with great accuracy. Tap-tap tap the keys sank and rose again. She was close enough to see the words without her glasses and
didnâ€™t see any red squiggly lines. At least the fella could spell.
â€œPsst!â€ Monica called from the break room. Lucy turned around. â€œWhat?â€ she mouthed
With frantic movements, Monica motioned for Lucy to come talk to her. When Lucy walked into the room, everyone huddled around. â€œWe need details.â€
Lucy gave a deep sigh happy to oblige. â€œHis name is Joe McNamara. According to his
application, heâ€™s from Chicago, so I guess he must be relocating. Heâ€™s trying out for our paper by writing an editorial for me.â€
â€œGood idea,â€ Harold said while cramming the last sugar cookie into his mouth.
â€œWhy would he want to apply for a job with us?â€ Mike asked suspiciously as he tied the top of a plastic garbage bag closed.
â€œThatâ€™s easy to answer. We are the best newspaper in the entire southern lakes region,â€ Harold answered shooting bits of cookie from his mouth like falling stars.
â€œYea, right,â€ Mike panned as he tossed the bag on top of the other bags.
â€œYou have to start at a small paper and work your way up to get into a big city paper,â€ Monica explained as she slipped on her winter coat. Then she winked at Mike. â€œHeâ€™s getting his start right here with us.â€
â€œWhoa, first I have to hire him, and once he hears what the pay is, he may just hop back on the Interstate.â€
â€œFinished,â€ a male voice spoke.
Everyone turned to look. Joe stood just feet away, holding his paper out. Lucy hoped he hadnâ€™t heard everything. She snatched the paper from him and furrowed her brow.
â€œThat was fast.â€
â€œNot when you have something burning inside that you feel passionately about.â€
She held it between her fingers and read aloud.
by Joseph McNamara
What will I ever do without Cafe Books? Ever since the announcement that the
independent bookseller was going out of business, I’ve been a mess. The big chain stores serve a purpose, sure, but they don’t contain the atmosphere and warmth that emulates from the owners of Cafe Books. When I walk into their shop, it’s like visiting family. Mr. and Mrs. Myers always greet me and everyone, with a genuine smile, and when are they not armed with a recommendation for a new title they know I’ll enjoy? Just for me. They notice me. Me.
Cafe Books is where I first went whale hunting with Melville and frog collecting with Steinbeck. How can I forget all the murderous adventures I shared with my good friend, Mike Hammer, or faced a scary, yet Brave New World with Huxley? Iâ€™ve read more than books on the leather sofa at Cafe Books. I’ve made friends. Lived a million different lives. Cried countless tears. And have laughed out loud so often,
and so hard, that my stomach still aches from the memories alone. How does one say good bye to such a place?
I started patronizing CafÃ© Books just off Kenzie Avenue in Chicago about two years ago. And so when the owners announced suddenly it would be going out of business and closing its door yesterday, I made it a point to stop by. The room was busy with faithful shoppers who felt this place was a stabilizing source in their community.
Lexie Jacobson, a 28-year-old hairstylist scooped up discount novels and a couple of CDs. â€œIâ€™m sure going to miss this place,â€ she said with a shake of her head. She was not alone with this feeling.
â€œItâ€™s hard to find bookstores that are not part of a national chain,â€ 35-year-old school teacher Samantha Jones said with a sigh. The sentiment was expressed again and again by dozens of patrons. In the never ending search for bigger and better,
give me the small and unique. Meet me at CafÃ© Books. Help me say goodbye.
No one spoke. Lucy couldnâ€™t take her eyes from the page. The words evoked warmth and sentiment. It was more than she had hoped for. He was it. This was her Christmas gift.
It wasnâ€™t the first sight of him that did it. It wasnâ€™t the endearing way he drummed his thigh with the pen when he was nervously trying to figure out what to write down on his application that formed her opinion. Nor even his calm manner as he slid his fingers across her keyboard that made the difference. It was his words. These words. They were simple and brilliant. Words that had taken the breath from her soul. She looked up at him with new eyes. He got herâ€”yet how could that happen when they only met minutes ago.
â€œWow,â€ she gulped.
â€œWell, it was spontaneous.â€ Joe uneasily tugged at his collar. â€œIf I had more time, I could have done much better.â€
They smiled at each other as if there was more to the words that hung in the air. Her mind was wandering where it shouldnâ€™t. â€œI need to clarify something.â€
â€œClarify away, Ms. Collins.â€
â€œLucy,â€ he repeated in a sweet tone.
â€œUm, we canâ€™t afford to pay you much. Itâ€™s obvious youâ€™re quite gifted so Iâ€™m not sure weâ€™re what youâ€™re looking for in a newspaper.â€
â€œThe experience is what is valuable here.â€
â€œHow much notice do you need to give your old place?â€ Harold stepped forward to ask. â€œThe sooner you can start the better.â€
â€œDad!â€ Lucy cut in as blood rushed to her face.
â€œAh, my schedule is pretty well wide open, Sir. I can start as soon as Iâ€™m needed, that is if I am hired. I really donâ€™t need muchâ€”a roof over my head and…a new start.â€
Lucy saw it in his eyes. He wasnâ€™t kidding.
â€œYou know, Harold, there is the small apartment above our garage. Mr. McNamara could stay there until he finds another place,â€ Margaret reminded him.
â€œIâ€™ll take it,â€ Joe was quick to accept.
A gust of wind whipped through the building when Monica opened the door. â€œBetter get a move on, people. I just heard on the radio that the Interstate is closed down. The town is pretty well socked in. Itâ€™s time for us to lock up and head for our homes. I love you all but no way do I want to be stuck in here with you.â€ Everyone went for their coats.
â€œI better take you home, so I know you made it safely,â€ Mike told Monica.
â€œIf you shovel my walk too, there might be a reward in it for you,â€ Monica winked as she nudged his side with her elbow.
â€œI love rewards.â€
â€œMike, donâ€™t be long. There are Christmas boxes in the attic I need for you to get down for me,â€ Margaret said following her son out to the parking lot. â€œWeâ€™re decorating the tree tonight and you canâ€™t miss it.â€ She shut the door behind them.
â€œAh, is there something you want me to sign? A contract or something?â€ Joe asked, quickly looking from Harold to Lucy.
â€œI never thought about a contract,â€ Lucy said, wondering if they had anything the resembled a contract.
â€œWe donâ€™t do contracts here. A shake of my hand is how I operate.â€ Harold slid his arm down through his winter jacket and out the opening. â€œYou better come along with us. Youâ€™ll never get back to the city tonight.â€
With a simple handshake, Lucy Collinsâ€™ day took a new direction.
Click the bookcover or title for more info or to buy a copy. Look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions on this book in today’s blog postings. Click the author’s name or photo to visit her website. You can also visit her Shoutlife page. Review coming tomorrow.