Somewhere between turkey and Black Friday sales, A Very Bookish Christmas released! ❤ I’m so excited to be sharing this anthology with some of my favorite authors, and I can’t wait for you all to read it. ❤ (I think I’ve said all that before, but it’s true. XD)
But first, introductions.
The first story in the anthology is by Rebekah Jones. It’s called “Gingerbread Treasures”, and it’s inspired by the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s pretty brilliant fun. Here’s a quote I like…
Next is “Molly and Anna” by Sarah Holman (inspired by Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter). I read an early version of the story, and I loooooved the theme of reconciliation. It was also super Christmas-y and adorable. ❤
I haven’t gotten to read J. Grace Pennington‘s story “Sylvie of Amber Apartments” yet, but that it’s inspired by Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and this quote below makes me want to read it. 😉
Last in the anthology is my story “Sincerely, Jem”, inspired by Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, chock full of cheesecake, and a little bit quirky with a theme that is close to my heart.
In honor of our anthology release, here is Chapter One of “Sincerely, Jem”! Enjoy! 😉
Chapter One: Christmas Dresses
The only problem with Christmas dresses, Jessie decided, was that they didn’t have pockets. How was she supposed to carry her inspiration book with her? She spun in a circle, admiring the sparkly plaid skirt again, then leaned on the edge of the dresser and stared down at her little book.
It was perfectly pocket-sized, barely larger than her hand, and the hardbound red cover would be sturdy enough for all the weird places she intended to take it. Only a few pages had been filled so far, but she was sure a party like tonight would be the perfect place to collect more inspiration.
She traced the word “Inspire” splashed across the cover in gold, then opened it. There were still a few minutes until it was time to leave, and she was proud of the way she’d lettered a favorite quote from Daddy-Long-Legs on the first page. “I saw a street car conductor today with one brown eye and one blue. Wouldn’t he make a nice villain for a detective story?”
She felt as if Judy, the character who had penned these words, might have been the only person who could understand exactly how satisfying it was to walk through life seeing a story in every face. If she were going to be an author someday, she had to find inspiration somewhere. With such an excitingly varied thing as a Christmas party that evening, it felt wrong to leave the book home.
She would bring it. Maybe it would fit into her coat pocket or her older sister, Ember, would have room in her clutch.
“Mom just sounded the five-minute warning,” Ember said from behind her and stabbed one last bobby pin into her hair.
Jessie jumped and moved aside to share the mirror with her sister. “Thanks. Did Ben say he was coming?”
“Yeah, he texted me a minute ago to say he was.”
Jessie smirked at her in the mirror and fluttered her eyelashes.
Ember laughed and swatted at her. “I’ll remember this when it’s your turn.”
“Well, you better have a good memory because I have the tail end of high school and six billion books to write before then,” Jessie declared, smoothing a dark strand of hair back from her face. Her half-updo had become the unfortunate casualty of taking off her apron and searching under the couch for shoes. It remained to be seen what cramming into the minivan in snow gear would do to it.
Ember noticed her frowning and jumped into action. “Let me help you with that,” she said, quickly pushing her in front of the mirror and releasing her bobby pins.
“Two minutes!” Mom called from the kitchen and the hall light shut off.
Ember’s hands moved quickly over Jessie’s hair, transforming it into a pollyanna that twisted slightly back from her ears. She nodded at their reflections in satisfaction, and the girls ducked from the room together.
“Right on time,” Mom said, holding out plastic-wrapped plates of cheesecake to them. “Dad’s warming up the van, and Amy and Owen are already out there with him.”
They stepped out into the snow-adorned world and shuffled their way across the driveway. Jessie’s nose and cheeks were flushed with cold by the time Owen slid open the side door and vaulted to the back seat to make room for them.
“Thanks, bro,” Jessie said, setting her plate down on the seat and hoisting herself up into the van. Sitting down between her younger siblings, she strapped in and set both plates of cheesecake on her lap so Ember could climb in.
“Now all we need are Mom and Baby Noel,” Amy said, tracing a smiley face on the foggy window. She added pigtails to match her own.
Jessie smiled to herself and wondered why fog plus waiting always equaled pictures. It almost sounded like the perfect subject for a poem. She hadn’t officially started a poetry section in her inspiration book yet, but now was as good a time as any. Reaching into her coat pocket, she came up empty except for an ancient library receipt.
“Here, take these. I forgot something.” She shoved the plates of cheesecake toward her siblings and rocketed out of the van.
Walking as quickly as possible across the driveway, she passed Mom coming out of the house with the baby bundled up in her carseat.
“Forgot something. Be back in just a sec,” Jessie called over her shoulder as she slipped off her snow boots and wove her way down the dark hallway to her room.
She ran her hand along the top of the dresser, feeling the hairbrush, a random necklace, and nearly knocking over a decorative candle before finding the small flat book. She picked it up and shoved it into her coat pocket, then ran back down the hall and took her place in the van moments later.
“Sorry about that,” she said, breathlessly, as Dad backed the van out of the driveway.
“What did you forget?” he asked, looking at her in the rearview mirror.
Jessie held up her red notebook with a sheepish grin.
“What are you bringing that for?” Ember asked, turning slightly in her seat. Her light-brown curls smushed against the seat, and she gently moved them over her shoulder to protect their shape.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe there will be interesting people there.”
Ember grinned and shook her head, turning back around. She held out a finger to the baby in the seat next to her, and Noel closed her little fist around it.
It was times like these, Jessie decided, that she really wished she could draw. Words and doodles came more easily to her than lifelike pictures. She twisted a curl that had escaped her half-updo and tried to remember the all-important reason she’d run inside for her book. Ah, yes, window fog and waiting.
In her scrawly mixture of print and cursive, Jessie wrote the title to a new poem: “Window Fog and Waiting Wanderings”. Hmmm… maybe the alliteration was cheesy. She crossed it out and tried again. “Foggy Wanderings”?
Amy leaned against her shoulder and watched as words formed from the tip of her pen. “Did I inspire that?”
Jessie nodded, her thoughts worlds away. She didn’t usually write poetry, but something about the sparkly winter scenery sliding past them and the excitement of the coming party felt particularly inspiring.
“Somewhere between the window and the world, warmth and cold meet, to form a wintery canvas there, and pictures bright and sweet.”
She began to murmur the next verse. “Waiting opens up our hearts, and our imaginations, to share the images inside our minds, in the form of…” She couldn’t think of a word that fit.
Owen read over her shoulder and made a suggestion. “In the form of goofy faces.” He turned away and swiped his finger across the window. “Like this one.”
His sisters leaned around him to look and burst into giggles.
Ember put her free finger to her lips and nodded toward the baby. She had fallen asleep, sunny curls against the side of her carseat. Jessie smiled and turned back to her poem. How did one fit in a goofy face and still keep a peaceful, poetic tone? That was definitely something to think about.
The poem morphed and changed, restarted and morphed again as the trees grew thinner and the houses grew thicker as they drove further into town.
“I think it’s perfect, Jesster,” Owen said when Jessie showed him the fresh page and tidy verses she’d copied over. He nodded with conviction and pulled shyly at his curly hair.
“Thanks, bro. I might change the last line sometime, but I think it’s done enough for now.” She grinned at Amy. “Now will you two sign it as my helpers and inspiration?”
Owen held out his hands for the book, and she bit back a smile as he carved his name with his best attempt at tidy handwriting. Amy’s turn was next, and she added a little heart after her name.
The rest of the ride passed in the quiet stillness of daydreams and keeping the baby asleep. Jessie glanced at her fondly and reached out to tweak her little sock. The age gap between Amy and Noel was over seven years long, so she’d been a nice, big surprise just in time for Christmas last year.
Maybe she would write a poem, or at least a poetic essay, about that sometime.
“We’re there!” Dad announced, and she shut her book quickly, slipping it into her coat pocket and sitting up to see their surroundings.
Her jaw dropped.
The house was saltbox style with a red door and more strands of Christmas lights than Jessie had seen in her life. Wreaths decorated every window and the posts of the porch were wrapped with red ribbon. A shimmering Christmas tree filled an entire downstairs window, and she secretly hoped she’d be allowed to inspect it.
“It’s like something from a storybook!” she breathed, stepping out of the van behind Ember.
The cold air of winter filled her lungs and her whole body with excitement, and it was all she could do to not rush toward the door. This was going to be a beautiful and inspiring party.
Copyright 2019 Kate Willis
Merry Christmas season! ❤
(Cover by Jessica Greyson, graphics by Rebekah Jones.)