How Does This Story End?

Calling all YA writers, especially fantasy writers. I’ve started my Rock and Roll Life story (see below), but how do you think it should end? I’d like to challenge you to finish it.

~~~~~

There are some basic rules:

  1. No profanity or explicit sex. Hinted at is fine, but no details please. Remember this is God-honoring fiction. I will delete any comments that break this rule.
  2. It must keep in line and make sense with the first 3 parts of the story and the title, in that Zane’s life is affected by/lived out through well known classic rock and roll songs from the 70’s and 80’s.
  3. It must be under 1500 words.
  4. You may post your ending to the story in the comments or email it to me at miamanumit@gmail.com.
  5. Extra points 💯 for incorporating a Christian theme or twist into the ending.
  6. Readers will vote on their favorite ending.

Have fun!

~~~~~

Rock and Roll Life

Letting the rain drip from his nose, Zane Driggers leaned against the backstage door of the sold-out stadium in L.A, still bummed he couldn’t get a ticket. He tugged his hood further over his eyes, and buried his hands in his pockets. The bass drum pounded against his back, resonating deep inside him. 

An electric guitar screamed, sending chills down his spine. The crowd roared. He pictured himself up on stage, sweat dripping off him instead of rain, his fans singing along, jumping and clapping, then surging forward, arms outstretched to him, the star. 

On his way home, he spotted a well-used guitar in a pawn shop’s window spotlight a few miles out on Route 66 in Newberry Springs, and knew he had to have it. It thrummed to the beat of a hopeful heart filled with big dreams.

The next day, Zane exited the school bus early and purchased the old six-string. This guitar was going to be his one-way ticket to a rock and roll future. He could feel it in his bones. He slung it over his free shoulder, inserted his earpieces, and smiled at Foreigner’s Jukebox Hero thumping in his ears. He had stars in his eyes alright. 

Filled with a renewed energy, he headed to the Traveler’s Oasis, ready to endure another tedious afternoon bussing tables, washing dishes, and listening to Mr. Peterson drone on about his younger days as a navy cook on the USS Midway. Daydreaming about rocking out on his guitar, imitating the 70’s and 80’s rock legends he admired, made the evening fly by. 

Before he left, Zane slipped the gun Mr Peterson had tucked under the counter at the cafe ‘in case of an emergency’ into his backpack. 

The screen door squealed its usual protest as Zane entered the sweltering interior of the trailer house. Mama busied herself in the kitchen, dish towel slung over her shoulder. 

“Hey, Mama.” The plastic covering on the kitchen chair squeaked as Zane slumped into it and slid his backpack off his shoulder, leaning it against one of the metal legs. 

“Hey yourself,” she said, eyeing the guitar he’d propped against the wall. Smiling, she singled out a white envelope from the stack of mail on the end of the counter. “Look what came today.” 

She thrust it in his direction. Her eyes sparkled for the first time in as long as he could remember. The bruise and swelling under her left eye was barely noticeable now but he could tell she still favored her right arm a little whenever she moved.

Zane’s high school graduation ceremony wasn’t until next week, but when he accepted the crisp business envelope, Mama beamed at him as if he’d just been awarded his doctorate. He walked his fingers around the edge of the envelope, past the UCLA return address, finally breaking the seal. He flattened the letter out on the formica-topped table where they could both see it. He’d only read as far as “Congratulations!” when Mama gripped his bicep.

“I’m so proud of you!” she said, her eyes glistening. “This is your chance to get out of here and make something of yourself!” 

Without thinking, Zane pulled Mama into a bear hug but quickly released her when she winced from the pressure around her ribs. Hate for that boyfriend of hers boiled up inside him again. 

“Mama, let’s both get outta here,” Zane said.

“You know I can’t…” she said, kicking at a corner of curled up linoleum.

They both jumped when Cal jerked the metal screen door open with such force that it slammed against the weathered exterior paneling. Muttering a string of curse words, the brute strode across the uneven floor in his heavy work boots, snatched up the letter and tore it into several pieces. Cal backhanded Zane, whiplashing his head to the side, then shoved him down into the corner. The guitar slid to the floor. His head sounded like a ripe watermelon as it thudded against the wall. Mama screamed. 

“Woman, how dare you—!” Cal grabbed Mama by the hair, flung her onto the stained couch, straddled her and slapped her several times. Mama cried out in pain. 

The hatred clawing at Zane’s insides cleared away the fuzzy-headedness. His hands balled into fists and his jaw clenched so tight his teeth hurt. He inched his backpack closer, trying not to draw Cal’s attention, and slid the gun out.

This was just such an emergency.

“Get up!” All of Zane’s pent-up loathing raged within him as he pointed the gun at Cal’s head. “I said, get up!”

Cal scowled at Zane. “You think I’m afraid of you, boy?” His face still red from his tantrum, Cal pulled himself to his full height, and puffed out his chest. He towered over Zane by several inches and outweighed him by fifty pounds.

“Move out of the way, Mama.”

“No, Zane! Please don’t do this! Don’t throw away your future! Please…” As she spoke, Mama scrambled off the couch and backed away.

“I can’t go on with my life and leave you here with this scum!” Zane thrust the gun’s muzzle hard against Cal’s temple, making his head tilt. He knew this was the only way, even as Mama sobbed. 

The shot boomed in the confined space. Cal’s body crumpled to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Mama screamed again. 

Zane dropped the gun onto the dingy carpet next to the body. Relief and fear roiled inside him, each one fighting for dominance. 

Even without any close neighbors, Zane knew he couldn’t stay. He gathered up his backpack, strode down the hall to his bedroom, and stuffed some clothes in it. He headed back to the living room and grabbed his guitar.

Dishtowel in one hand and gun in the other, Mama stared teary-eyed at the body lying face down on the mud-brown carpet with a dark pool of blood for a pillow.

“I love you, Mama.” 

“Oh, Zane!” Her words came out as a moan. She finished wiping off the gun and positioned Cal’s hand around it. 

In a daze, Zane headed back toward the diner, guitar slung over one shoulder, backpack over the other, earbuds in place. His boots kicked up a spray of ochre dust that glowed in the blinding evening sun. He lowered his dollar-store sunglasses and let the words of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody sink in as they belted out the story of his life. 

He sang along. “Mama, I just killed a man 🎶.”

Oh God, what have I done? I saved Mama, that’s what. There was no turning back now. 

He was in luck. Two cars were parked on the gravel-spattered dirt outside the Traveler’s Oasis Cafe. One he recognized as the owner’s jeep, the other must belong to an unsuspecting customer, whom Zane hoped would be entertained by Mr. Peterson’s idle chitchat for at least another hour while he enjoyed a leisurely home-cooked meal.

Zane fiddled with the wires under the dash and the Corvette roared to life. His mouth curled at the irony of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell playing on the radio. He probably hadn’t paid Satan’s dues yet, and wished he was headed to some party, but he figured hell was exactly where he’d end up. His fingers tapped on the steering wheel in time to the pulsing beat as the convertible sped toward the state line. 

Maybe I’ll join the other lost souls haunting the ghost town of Nothing, Arizona. That sounds like a good place for a nobody like me to go.

The wind whistled past his ears, ruffling his thick hair, as he pushed the car past 90 mph on Hwy 40. In the rearview mirror, the sun nestled down for the night in a fluffy bed of lilac and tangerine clouds. The classic Eagles’ song, Hotel California, came on the radio. His head bobbed in time to the music as he hummed along.

He pulled a hand-rolled joint from his shirt pocket. Holding the steering wheel with his knee, he cupped his hand around the lighter and flicked it to life. He took a long drag, holding each smoky inhalation as long as he could. Zane sunk deeper in the leather bucket seat and relaxed against the headrest. He smiled. Maybe life’s not so bad after all.

Time stood still as the world zipped by heavy-lidded eyes. He yawned. Mile after mile of desolate scenery passed by until the car hiccuped and sputtered to a stop.

Zane cursed under his breath at the empty gas gauge and slammed the heel of his hand on the steering wheel. Khaki grit and stunted shrubs stretched as far as he could see in all directions.

And here I am, stranded in the middle of God knows where. 

Since going back wasn’t an option, Zane threw his guitar over his shoulder and continued along the deserted highway. Occasionally, a distant object seemed to reflect the last vestiges of diminishing sunlight. He headed toward it for what seemed like hours. It was cool enough he didn’t break a sweat, but he soon felt covered with the same earthen film that caked his boots and the sparse foliage.

Zane flinched when a raindrop slapped him on the cheek. A showy flash of lightning snaked in the distance, followed by a growing rumble. Within minutes, a heavy downpour plastered his hair to his head. Since none of the scraggly bushes would provide any cover, he ducked his head and trudged on. He pulled his collar tight around his neck but not before the rain found its way in and ran down his back, spreading a wave of goosebumps in its wake. He pushed on toward the dim glow in the distance.

 As crimson and turquoise splashed over the horizon, Zane noticed the shimmering light he’d sought all night was not just one light, but several. A stone wall dotted with lit windows towered three stories high and stretched the length of a football field to either side. Surrounded by landscaped gardens, lush grass, and solar lights, the building looked out of place in the barren landscape.

Feeling like a drowned rat in a maze with only one direction open, Zane traipsed up steps framed on either side by concrete pillars studded with shiny pebbles. He raised his fist to knock, but jerked back when the dark double doors swung open before he touched them. 

Inside, reflections of a multitude of lively yellow flames danced on large black and white tiles arranged like a life-size chess board. He paused, not wanting to mar the shiny floor with his muddy boots. The spacious foyer sported a glass elevator straight ahead with mahogany reception desks either side, all cradled between twin curving staircases leading to a row of closed doors on the second floor. A lion stood guard at the base of each staircase and hallways extended in each direction. 

Squelching as he tiptoed across the polished marble, Zane headed to the old-fashioned bell perched on the desk to the right of the elevator and jiggled it. Before the chime finished sounding, a young woman in a floor-length black gown appeared in a doorway behind the elevator. Radiant raven hair flowed over each breast. Luminescent blue eyes bore into his soul. 

“Welcome to The Hotel, Zane!” Her voice sounded like the words had been played on a harp. Her bronze skin seemed to make her straight white teeth gleam even brighter between full, dark lips. Mesmerized, his eyes scanned her slender form for several long moments before he noticed her smiling at him. He looked down as warmth flooded his cheeks. 

Then it hit him. He frowned.

“How…how do you know my name?”

“Oh, we know everyone who’s expected here.” 

“But I didn’t plan on stopping here…I ran out of gas. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is!”

“You’re in California, of course.” She winked at him. “And don’t worry—you don’t need a reservation.” She lit a candle cradled in an old-fashioned candlestick and curled her bony finger through the loop of metal at the base. “I’m sorry, but the storm knocked out our power. Not to worry, though, I can still show you to your room.” 

She swayed up the stairs ahead of him, the open back of her silky gown accentuating her curves. She turned right at the top of the stairs and pushed open the second door. She lit the three candles in the room with hers—one on the bedside table, one on the desk, and one on top of the dresser. He stood in the doorway, admiring her graceful movements in the ceiling mirrors as she moved from candle to candle. She seemed almost translucent.

She brushed by him as she left, close enough for him to feel the contours of her warm body against his cold wet clothes. 

“Don’t miss dinner at six in the master’s chamber,” she said, smiling, and winked at him again. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled. Wonder if they serve breakfast here, too. Her lithe form merged with the dimly lit hallway and she floated back down the stairs. Her fragrance lingered. He breathed in deeply.

He turned back and studied the room. It was an upscale and larger replica of his bedroom at home, except for the mirrors. The bed was made and the room was spotless. In the open closet, several shirts, a couple pairs of jeans, and a suit hung in orderly fashion. On the floor, three pairs of shoes in his size sat neatly lined up next to each other. The chest of drawers contained clothes that reminded him of his own, although they all appeared to be new and there were way more here than he’d ever owned. His few articles of old and well-worn clothing still sat in his backpack, no doubt soaked by the heavy rain, since he’d forgotten to get it out of the stolen convertible. He sighed. All that seemed like a lifetime away now.  

He leaned his guitar against the desk, where a bottle of champagne chilled in a metal ice bucket. Tiny rivulets of condensation trickled down the sides making the metal look like it was undulating. Pools of iridescent water beaded up on the glass desktop.

Muted singing drew Zane back to the door. The empty corridors echoed with the chorus from one of his favorite Eagles songs. It was the same song he last remembered playing on the car radio.

“Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face…”

It’s Not About You — And Yet, It’s All About You

In our culture of social media popularity, where filtered selfies, making a name for yourself, building your platform, becoming a worldwide phenomenon, putting your best foot (or picture) forward, going viral (internet, not Covid-19😉), and getting the most likes, followers, and subscribers you can are so important, it’s hard to believe it’s not about us. 

But it’s not. 

With Easter weekend upon us, the focus needs to be on Jesus and what He did — not the Easter bunny, Easter egg hunts, fancy Easter baskets, the new spring outfit we bought to wear to church on Easter Sunday, or how much candy our kids can accumulate.  

No matter how popular we are, we can never be ‘good’ enough to get into heaven. No matter how much we accomplish, we can never do enough to earn our salvation. On our own, we can never be holy enough, pure enough, or righteous enough to enter into the presence of a perfect God. 

Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast.  Eph 2:9

As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous — not even one.”  Rom 3:10

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Rom 3:23

Enter Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God. 

On that first Easter almost 2000 years ago, Jesus sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins — willingly, out of love for The Father and for us, He chose to pay our debt. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, who we’ve done it with, how long we’ve done it, or what we’re likely to do in the future, Jesus paid for it all.

Jesus did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He made a way, through His torturous death on the cross, for us to enter into God’s presence, through prayer in this life, but also for all eternity in heaven. 

It’s our belief in Jesus as the sinless Son of God that determines where we go after we depart from this life. When we accept His gift of salvation, given freely to all, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Jesus enables us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to have a relationship with Him and model our life after His example, making life not about ourselves but about loving and serving others.

So, you see, it’s not about us. 

It’s all about Jesus, the One and Only Son of God, sacrificing Himself to save us. 

It’s about Jesus shedding His blood so we can enter into God’s presence because we’re covered by the righteousness of Christ. 

It’s about Jesus rising from the dead on the third day, conquering death and foiling Satan’s plan.

It’s about God’s love for us, His grace, His mercy, and His plan to redeem us from the very beginning.

And yet, it is about us.

It’s about the fact that we can’t save ourselves, no matter how ‘good’ we are.

It’s about the decision we make to believe in Jesus, or not.

It’s about whether we accept or reject the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus.

It’s about us being covered by the sanctifying blood of Christ so we can enter into the presence of a holy God.

What decision will you make this Easter? Where will your focus be?

#50 Precious Words

This is my entry (#739 out of 763 entries) into the #50 Precious Words contest put on by Vivian Kirkfield. There’s a lot of great stories submitted and some awesome prizes to be won! I hope you enjoy reading everyone’s entries!

Goofalotopuss

Silly Goofalotopuss!
Chasing bugs,
Big eyes, slitted pupils.
Tail flicks, she pounces.
Buzz, off it flies.
Running circles till dizzy,
Tap-dancing across tile,
Distracted by flickering sunlight,
Climbing curtains,
Jumping on cabinets,
twirling on the ceiling fan. Whee!
Snap! Yum!
Curled on my lap,
My crazy kitty catches some zzz’s.

Fiction — Rock and Roll Life — Part 3


To read the previous part of this story, go here

~~~~~

Inside, reflections of a multitude of lively yellow flames danced on large black and white tiles arranged like a life-size chess board. He paused, not wanting to mar the shiny floor with his muddy boots. The spacious foyer sported a glass elevator straight ahead with mahogany reception desks either side, all cradled between twin curving staircases leading to a row of closed doors on the second floor. A lion stood guard at the base of each staircase and hallways extended in each direction. 

Squelching as he tiptoed across the polished marble, Zane headed to the old-fashioned bell perched on the desk to the right of the elevator and jiggled it. Before the chime finished sounding, a young woman in a floor-length black gown appeared in a doorway behind the elevator. Radiant raven hair flowed over each breast. Luminescent blue eyes bore into his soul. 

“Welcome to The Hotel, Zane!” Her voice sounded like the words had been played on a harp. Her bronze skin seemed to make her straight white teeth gleam even brighter between full, dark lips. Mesmerized, his eyes scanned her slender form for several long moments before he noticed her smiling at him. He looked down as warmth flooded his cheeks. 

Then it hit him. He frowned.

“How…how do you know my name?”

“Oh, we know everyone who’s expected here.” 

“But I didn’t plan on stopping here…I ran out of gas. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is!”

“You’re in California, of course.” She winked at him. “And don’t worry—you don’t need a reservation.” She lit a candle cradled in an old-fashioned candlestick and curled her bony finger through the loop of metal at the base. “I’m sorry, but the storm knocked out our power. Not to worry, though, I can still show you to your room.” 

She swayed up the stairs ahead of him, the open back of her silky gown accentuating her curves. She turned right at the top of the stairs and pushed open the second door. She lit the three candles in the room with hers—one on the bedside table, one on the desk, and one on top of the dresser. He stood in the doorway, admiring her graceful movements in the ceiling mirrors as she moved from candle to candle. She seemed almost translucent.

She brushed by him as she left, close enough for him to feel the contours of her warm body against his cold wet clothes. 

“Don’t miss dinner at six in the master’s chamber,” she said, smiling, and winked at him again. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled. Wonder if they serve breakfast here, too. Her lithe form merged with the dimly lit hallway and she floated back down the stairs. Her fragrance lingered. He breathed in deeply.

He turned back and studied the room. It was an upscale and larger replica of his bedroom at home, except for the mirrors. The bed was made and the room was spotless. In the open closet, several shirts, a couple pairs of jeans, and a suit hung in orderly fashion. On the floor, three pairs of shoes in his size sat neatly lined up next to each other. The chest of drawers contained clothes that reminded him of his own, although they all appeared to be new and there were way more here than he’d ever owned. His few articles of old and well-worn clothing still sat in his backpack, no doubt soaked by the heavy rain, since he’d forgotten to get it out of the stolen convertible. He sighed. All that seemed like a lifetime away now.  

He leaned his guitar against the desk, where a bottle of champagne chilled in a metal ice bucket. Tiny rivulets of condensation trickled down the sides making the metal look like it was undulating. Pools of iridescent water beaded up on the glass desktop.

Muted singing drew Zane back to the door. The empty corridors echoed with the chorus from one of his favorite Eagles songs. It was the same song he last remembered playing on the car radio.

“Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face…”

~~~~~

Fiction — Rock and Roll Life — Part 2

To read the first part of this story, go here: Fiction — Rock and Roll Life — Part 1

In a daze, Zane headed back toward the diner, guitar slung over one shoulder, backpack over the other, earbuds in place. His boots kicked up a spray of ochre dust that glowed in the blinding evening sun. He lowered his dollar-store sunglasses and let the words of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody sink in as they belted out the story of his life. 

He sang along. “Mama, I just killed a man 🎶.”

Oh God, what have I done? I saved Mama, that’s what. There was no turning back now. 

He was in luck. Two cars were parked on the gravel-spattered dirt outside the Traveler’s Oasis Cafe. One he recognized as the owner’s jeep, the other must belong to an unsuspecting customer, whom Zane hoped would be entertained by Mr. Peterson’s idle chitchat for at least another hour while he enjoyed a leisurely home-cooked meal.

Zane fiddled with the wires under the dash and the Corvette roared to life. His mouth curled at the irony of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell playing on the radio. He probably hadn’t paid Satan’s dues yet, and wished he was headed to some party, but he figured hell was exactly where he’d end up. His fingers tapped on the steering wheel in time to the pulsing beat as the convertible sped toward the state line. 

Maybe I’ll join the other lost souls haunting the ghost town of Nothing, Arizona. That sounds like a good place for a nobody like me to go.

The wind whistled past his ears, ruffling his thick hair, as he pushed the car past 90 mph on Hwy 40. In the rearview mirror, the sun nestled down for the night in a fluffy bed of lilac and tangerine clouds. The classic Eagles’ song, Hotel California, came on the radio. His head bobbed in time to the music as he hummed along.

He pulled a hand-rolled joint from his shirt pocket. Holding the steering wheel with his knee, he cupped his hand around the lighter and flicked it to life. He took a long drag, holding each smoky inhalation as long as he could. Zane sunk deeper in the leather bucket seat and relaxed against the headrest. He smiled. Maybe life’s not so bad after all.

Time stood still as the world zipped by heavy-lidded eyes. He yawned. Mile after mile of desolate scenery passed by until the car hiccuped and sputtered to a stop.

Zane cursed under his breath at the empty gas gauge and slammed the heel of his hand on the steering wheel. Khaki grit and stunted shrubs stretched as far as he could see in all directions.

And here I am, stranded in the middle of God knows where. 

Since going back wasn’t an option, Zane threw his guitar over his shoulder and continued along the deserted highway. Occasionally, a distant object seemed to reflect the last vestiges of diminishing sunlight. He headed toward it for what seemed like hours. It was cool enough he didn’t break a sweat, but he soon felt covered with the same earthen film that caked his boots and the sparse foliage.

Zane flinched when a raindrop slapped him on the cheek. A showy flash of lightning snaked in the distance, followed by a growing rumble. Within minutes, a heavy downpour plastered his hair to his head. Since none of the scraggly bushes would provide any cover, he ducked his head and trudged on. He pulled his collar tight around his neck but not before the rain found its way in and ran down his back, spreading a wave of goosebumps in its wake. He pushed on toward the dim glow in the distance.

 As crimson and turquoise splashed over the horizon, Zane noticed the shimmering light he’d sought all night was not just one light, but several. A stone wall dotted with lit windows towered three stories high and stretched the length of a football field to either side. Surrounded by landscaped gardens, lush grass, and solar lights, the building looked out of place in the barren landscape.

Feeling like a drowned rat in a maze with only one direction open, Zane traipsed up steps framed on either side by concrete pillars studded with shiny pebbles. He raised his fist to knock, but jerked back when the dark double doors swung open before he touched them. 

~~~~~

The First Christmas

Mary grabbed her belly and winced, but didn’t break step with her fiancé. For the last couple of miles, he’d led the donkey in silence, no doubt deep in thought and burdened by the gravity of their situation. Taking a rest from riding, she trudged alongside, lost in her own thoughts.

She remembered the day clearly, just nine short months ago, when the oversized man in glowing robes had startled her while she fed the goats, enough to make her drop the bucket. He called her blessed and favored among women, yet there she was, smelly and dirty and doing any menial chore necessary to help her family have enough food on the table. 

The news he delivered overwhelmed her with a flood of conflicting emotions. She was honored, humbled, terrified, and excited all at once. He told her she was to have a baby. Normally, this would be good news if she were already married, but she and Joseph were only betrothed. Since she was still a virgin and their wedding wasn’t for several months, she asked the angel how she could possibly get pregnant. When he’d told her the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, she wondered what that meant. It sounded a little scary. Even though she had no idea what to expect, she resolved to trust the Lord.

All Mary knew was that if God had sent an angel to tell her she was highly favored and He had chosen her for this mission in life, then she would gladly do it, whatever uncertain path that took her on. 

“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”¹

But she still didn’t understand why He picked her. He could have picked any number of women of privilege, who had the means to provide the Son of God with the luxury He deserved. He could have picked someone more beautiful, someone older, more educated, wiser, someone who’d proven herself capable of raising children. Yet He picked her—a very ordinary, and young, teenager with no experience and of low social standing and limited means.

How was she going to break the news to Joseph that she was pregnant? And her parents? Mama would be heartbroken and Papa would be furious! Why would anyone believe God was the Father of this baby? She’d be a disgrace to her family and the whole village! She may even be stoned to death!

Trying to put those thoughts out of her mind, she’d run off to visit her Aunt Elizabeth, whom the angel had told her was also pregnant, even in her old age. Mary was excited for her. Finally, her aunt’s shame over being barren would be gone. She could hold her head up along with the other mothers. Her aunt and uncle had never stopped praying for a child, and their persistence had been rewarded. God is so good! 

She journeyed for several days to get to Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s home, and when she arrived, Elizabeth greeted her as “the mother of my Lord” and called her blessed because she believed the Lord would do what He said.

Elizabeth’s greeting confirmed what the angel had said and how the Lord God had chosen lowly, ordinary her to bring their people’s Messiah into the world. From now on, all generations would call her blessed. So many praises burst forth inside her in that moment, she couldn’t help but sing them out. She was overwhelmed with gratitude and amazement, and scared to death! How was she supposed to raise the Son of God?

“—Mary?” Joseph’s wrinkled brow showed his concern. “Are you well?”

“I will be soon,” she said, hunching over, clutching her belly, and wincing as the pains sharpened. As they eased, she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Here,” he said, “let me help you back up on the donkey. We don’t have very far now. We’ll be there before the sun sets.” He helped her get settled and they set off again. In the distance, the little town of Bethlehem came into view.

She smiled at Joseph. He was such a good man and she was thankful their parents had paired them to be married. Their families had been friends for many years, so they had grown up around each other. He was twelve when she was born and had always looked after her and protected her like a little sister. He was so polite and never degraded her like other men did. 

When she broke the news to Joseph that she was pregnant and how it happened, of course he was very hurt and struggled to believe her. How could he? She couldn’t blame him. She could hardly believe it herself! 

He decided to quietly break their engagement, so as not to disgrace her any further, until an angel came to visit him in a dream and confirmed Mary’s story. So Joseph took her as his wife, just as the angel commanded.

They endured months of humiliating name-calling, demeaning looks, and rejection as her belly grew, until Emperor Augustus called for a census and they started their journey to Bethlehem, since Joseph was from King David’s lineage.

Beautiful swaths of lavender and orange spread across the sky as they entered the busy town. Others whose ancestral roots brought them to Bethlehem crowded the streets. 

Mary moaned and clutched her swollen belly as it tightened.

“Sit and I’ll go find us a place to spend the night,” Joseph said, patting the rock for her to rest on. He turned and a shepherd carrying a lamb for sacrifice bumped into him.

“My apologies,” said the shepherd. Noticing Mary, he furrowed his brow. “Here, have some water.” He thrust the skin toward her and she gladly accepted.

“We’re looking for accommodation,” Joseph said. “Any recommendations?”

“I doubt you’ll find any. The city is already full of travelers,” said the shepherd. “May God guide you and bless you.”  He merged into the crowd and disappeared.

“I’ll be back soon. Rest here,” Joseph said, and he too vanished into the throng of people passing by.

Time crawled by, marked only by her contractions, which were getting closer together. As the last vestiges of sun sank below the horizon, Joseph stepped back into view.

“The shepherd was right. There are no rooms available, but a kind innkeeper offered us his stable for no fee. It’s not far and it’s better than sleeping on the street,” he said, stretching a hand out to help her to her feet. She grunted with the effort, then groaned and grabbed her belly again.

Mary’s contractions were barely minutes apart as Joseph helped her get settled in the hay, the air thick with the smell of animal dung. 

“Oh, Lord God,” Mary whispered in between birthing pains. “Your Son deserves so much better than this, but I know You’re in control and You could have provided Him with a palace if that was Your will. I trust You and love You, Lord.”

They were about to be parents to the Son of God! 

The gravity of that thought weighed heavy until the angel’s words came back to her. Do not be afraid, Mary. She repeated them to herself over and over as she focused on pushing, until with one final push and scream she delivered the most perfect, beautiful baby boy.

The Savior for all people. The answer to Israel’s prayers. The fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s prophecies. Immanuel, God with us.

She wrapped the Son of God in swaddling cloths, kissed His forehead, and lay Him down to sleep in the feeding trough in which Joseph had placed some hay. She smiled at Him and then up at Joseph.

“You did it!” he said, stroking the side of her face. “You brought our Messiah into the world.”

A ruckus outside drew Joseph to the door. When he opened it, a group of four shepherds crowded in, led by the one they had met as they entered town.

“Please excuse us, but I knew in my spirit that there was something special about you two when I met you. I didn’t know what it was until the angels appeared to us in the field. They told us of our Savior’s birth and that we would find Him here.” His words tumbled over one another in his excitement. He beamed at them.

Mary lifted the sleeping baby from the manger and offered Him to the shepherd. He held him tenderly and dropped to one knee. The other shepherds fell to their knees too.

“What is His name?” 

Mary and Joseph looked at each other and spoke simultaneously.

“Jesus.” 

*This is a fictional account of the birth of Jesus, based on Luke 1:1 – 2:16 and Matthew 1:18-25.

1Luke 1:38, NLT

Giving Thanks

“Lord, I will give thanks to you with all my heart. I will tell about all the wonderful things you have done. I will be glad and full of joy because of you. Most High God, I will sing the praises of your name.”  (Psalm 9:1-2, NIRV)

Thank You, Lord, for clothes to wear, a comfy bed to sleep in, and a roof over my head.

I pray for those who are homeless and destitute, that You would help them find warmth from the cold and shelter from the elements.

Thank You, Lord, for lots of yummy food to eat. 

I pray for those who go to sleep hungry most nights, that You would help them find sustenance. I pray you would send people into their lives who would bless them with a good meal during this season of giving and thankfulness.

Thank You, Lord, for loving family and friends to share life with. 

I pray for those who feel alone or unloved, for those who have no family to care for them, and for those who are alienated or torn from their families by crime, abuse, or discord. I pray they would come to know how much You love them. I ask that You comfort them and remind them You are always with them.

Thank You, Lord, for good health and the ability to take care of myself and others. 

I pray for those who are struggling with mental illness, poor health, chronic illness, or a debilitating condition that makes them unable to take care of themselves. I pray You would provide the care they need and help them in their infirmities.

Thank You, Lord, for a job I enjoy and for caring coworkers who share my love for You. 

I pray for those who are struggling financially or are unemployed for whatever reason, that You would help them find work and provide for their needs. I pray for those in unpleasant or hostile work situations, that You would give them the grace to handle it, the ability to forgive those who malign them, and the strength to be a godly example in their workplace so others will want the peace and inner joy You give them.

Thank You, Lord, for providing for my every need, even those I didn’t know I had. 

Thank You for choosing me to follow You, and for saving me through the blood of Your Son, Jesus, from a life of sin and separation from You. 

Thank You for Your grace and mercy, Your love and patience, Your provision and protection, and the gift of Your Holy Spirit. 

Lord, help me to never take what You have given me for granted, but to give out of the abundance You have provided, not expecting anything in return. Help me to show others the love You have shown me. Help me be a friend to those who feel alone and unlovable. Help me be a good listener so I can understand and empathize with others’ situations, and show them the grace and mercy You have shown me.

Fiction — Rock and Roll Life — Part 1

Letting the rain drip from his nose, Zane Driggers leaned against the backstage door of the sold-out stadium in L.A, still bummed he couldn’t get a ticket. He tugged his hood further over his eyes, and buried his hands in his pockets. The bass drum pounded against his back, resonating deep inside him. 

An electric guitar screamed, sending chills down his spine. The crowd roared. He pictured himself up on stage, sweat dripping off him instead of rain, his fans singing along, jumping and clapping, then surging forward, arms outstretched to him, the star. 

On his way home, he spotted a well-used guitar in a pawn shop’s window spotlight a few miles out on Route 66 in Newberry Springs, and knew he had to have it. It thrummed his name to the beat of a hopeful heart filled with big dreams.

The next day, Zane exited the school bus early and purchased the old six-string. This guitar was going to be his one-way ticket to a rock and roll future. He could feel it in his bones. He slung it over his free shoulder, inserted his earpieces, and smiled at Foreigner’s Jukebox Hero thumping in his ears. He had stars in his eyes alright. 

Filled with a renewed energy, he headed to the Traveler’s Oasis, ready to endure another tedious afternoon bussing tables, washing dishes, and listening to Mr. Peterson drone on about his younger days as a navy cook on the USS Midway. Daydreaming about rocking out on his guitar, imitating the 70’s and 80’s rock legends he admired, made the evening fly by. 

Before he left, Zane slipped the gun Mr Peterson had tucked under the counter at the cafe ‘in case of an emergency’ into his backpack. 

The screen door squealed its usual protest as Zane entered the sweltering interior of the trailer house. Mama busied herself in the kitchen, dish towel slung over her shoulder. 

“Hey, Mama.” The plastic covering on the kitchen chair squeaked as Zane slumped into it and slid his backpack off his shoulder, leaning it against one of the metal legs. 

“Hey yourself,” she said, eyeing the guitar he’d propped against the wall. Smiling, she singled out a white envelope from the stack of mail on the end of the counter. “Look what came today.” 

She thrust it in his direction. Her eyes sparkled for the first time in as long as he could remember. The bruise and swelling under her left eye was barely noticeable now but he could tell she still favored her right arm a little whenever she moved.

Zane’s high school graduation ceremony wasn’t until next week, but when he accepted the crisp business envelope, Mama beamed at him as if he’d just been awarded his doctorate. He walked his fingers around the edge of the envelope, past the UCLA return address, finally breaking the seal. He flattened the letter out on the formica-topped table where they could both see it. He’d only read as far as “Congratulations!” when Mama gripped his bicep.

“I’m so proud of you!” she said, her eyes glistening. “This is your chance to get out of here and make something of yourself!” 

Without thinking, Zane pulled Mama into a bear hug but quickly released her when she winced from the pressure around her ribs. Hate for that boyfriend of hers boiled up inside him again. 

“Mama, let’s both get outta here,” Zane said.

“You know I can’t…” she said, kicking at a corner of curled up linoleum.

They both jumped when Cal jerked the metal screen door open with such force that it slammed against the weathered exterior paneling. Muttering a string of curse words, the brute strode across the uneven floor in his heavy work boots, snatched up the letter and tore it into several pieces. Cal backhanded Zane, whiplashing his head to the side, then shoved him down into the corner. The guitar slid to the floor. His head sounded like a ripe watermelon as it thudded against the wall. Mama screamed. 

“Woman, how dare you—!” Cal grabbed Mama by the hair, flung her onto the stained couch, straddled her and slapped her several times. Mama cried out in pain. 

The hatred clawing at Zane’s insides cleared away the fuzzy-headedness. His hands balled into fists and his jaw clenched so tight his teeth hurt. He inched his backpack closer, trying not to draw Cal’s attention, and slid the gun out.

This was just such an emergency.

“Get up!” All of Zane’s pent-up loathing raged within him as he pointed the gun at Cal’s head. “I said, get up!”

Cal scowled at Zane. “You think I’m afraid of you, boy?” His face still red from his tantrum, Cal pulled himself to his full height, and puffed out his chest. He towered over Zane by several inches and outweighed him by fifty pounds.

“Move out of the way, Mama.”

“No, Zane! Please don’t do this! Don’t throw away your future! Please…” As she spoke, Mama scrambled off the couch and backed away.

“I can’t go on with my life and leave you here with this scum!” Zane thrust the gun’s muzzle hard against Cal’s temple, making his head tilt. He knew this was the only way, even as Mama sobbed. 

The shot boomed in the confined space. Cal’s body crumpled to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Mama screamed again. 

Zane dropped the gun onto the dingy carpet next to the body. Relief and fear roiled inside him, each one fighting for dominance. 

Even without any close neighbors, Zane knew he couldn’t stay. He gathered up his backpack, strode down the hall to his bedroom, and stuffed some clothes in it. He headed back to the living room and grabbed his guitar.

Dishtowel in one hand and gun in the other, Mama stared teary-eyed at the body lying face down on the mud-brown carpet with a dark pool of blood for a pillow.

“I love you, Mama.” 

“Oh, Zane!” Her words came out as a moan. She finished wiping off the gun and positioned Cal’s hand around it. 

Zane turned and left. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody played his life story through his earbuds. 

Elements of Story

When my husband came up with an intriguing idea for a children’s book, I thought, “That’s a good place for me to start. How hard can it be?”

With most picture books being around 500 words or less and early readers up to about 800-1000 words, there’s no room for fluff or filler, backstory or flashbacks, or lengthy character or scenic descriptions. Fewer words means every word has to count. Of course, most picture books have the added benefit of illustrations, which are instrumental in bringing those words to life — unless it’s The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak 😉.

Just as with full length novels, a children’s story has to be a good story. So what exactly makes a story good?

All good stories have the following factors in common: 

  • a protagonist, or main character (MC), that is interesting enough to capture the attention of those with notoriously short attention spans (that includes most adults these days!). That character can be a human, a dinosaur, a robot, an animal, an inanimate object, or something else the reader is familiar with or can relate to. If the protagonist is not human, most often they will take on some human qualities like being able to talk. If the MC is a person, it’s best if they have some attribute that makes them distinctive, like Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy or Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man.
  • a problem that is age appropriate and relatable, which for kids might be the uncertainty of the first day of school, bullying, or fear of the dark. Whatever the problem is, it needs to be presented in an imaginative or unique way. Lectures, lessons, and adult problems, such as having financial woes or work stress, are of little interest. Most children do not read books to learn something — they get enough of that at school — they read to be entertained. Kids can still learn something from an entertaining book, but the lesson is incorporated into a well written story. Consider Ganit and Adir Levy’s series of books What Should Danny Do? and What Should Darla Do? that teach about the power to choose and the different outcomes from those choices.
  • a classic 3 act story structure with a beginning, middle, and end. That may sound simple enough, but you’d be surprised how many new writers make their story a series of events or actions, or an excerpt from real life, without a true beginning, middle, or end to it. The beginning, Act 1, needs to have a hook to pull the reader into the story, followed by an inciting incident that kicks off the story problem. The middle, that starts with Act 2, needs to show an escalation of the original problem, where things keep getting worse for the character, until it culminates in a satisfying resolution at the end of Act 3.
  • an It-Factor. By that, I mean something that makes it stand out from other stories or books. It can be a unique concept like the talking crayons in Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit, a fantastical creature (a unicorn, mermaid, leprechaun, etc) such as those featured in Adam Wallace’s How to Catch series, or the unforgettable wacky characters and rhyme of Dr. Seuss books. The It-Factor is something that gets the writer excited because they know they’re on to something special. It’s also what draws readers to the book and keeps them coming back because the story becomes a favorite. 

All that good stuff has to be contained in those limited word counts and be presented in such a way that adults will want to buy the book and kids will want to read the book or have it read to them. Titles and illustrations help make a book appealing too, since books really do get judged by their cover — more on that at a later date.

Every writer wants their book to stand out from the countless others, to be the next one a reader chooses to buy, to be wildly popular because it resonates with so many people, but it’s harder than you might think, especially when you’ve only got 500 words to make it happen.

Tell me: What makes you want to pick up a book you see at the store? What makes you decide to buy it?

Revamp

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have noticed several older posts have disappeared. I’m probably not done yet, either. I’ve decided to do a blog remodel.

I want to focus more on writerly subjects (or at least posts that can be applied to writing in some way), plus share some short stories and poetry.

I’ll also be writing on what I’m learning as I go through this journey to being a published author and maybe that’ll help other up and coming authors and author/illustrators as they travel that path.

I hope you’ll stick with me, especially if you’re planning to have kids or already have kids or grandkids. There’ll be some picture books coming out of all this eventually 😉.