11-09 – Sue Moorcroft

Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Great Holiday Read by Lynn Lovegreen

It’s the time of year when people are looking for holiday romances. My friend Mercy Zephyr has written a sweet contemporary transgender romance that I really enjoyed reading. Here’s my interview with Mercy:

How did you come to write this book?

This is the first book I wrote. It was coming up on the holidays, and I felt left out of the festivities; transgender women don't exactly get written into Hallmark specials. Every Thanksgiving, there's a Thanksgiving dinner me and my husband go to for all the people in the community whose family have rejected them, so that feeling is there; Plus, a lot of us feel like we're not going to find love, and I touch on that in the book, but it's important to have hope, so I wanted to give some of that hope away to people who needed it. Not only that, but a lot of cisgender people who read it found it to be a great read and learned a lot, too.

I agree, I had fun reading it and learned a lot myself! I know you published this book, and some of our readers are interested in that process. How did that happen for you?

The story popped into my head, and I wrote it out, self-edited it, studied how to create a cover and designed it myself, then set up my web presence and published it late on Christmas Eve last year. That's a pretty terrible time to publish a Christmas story, since nobody will really notice it until after Christmas, but it took longer than I thought it would at first.

These things always do! What are your plans for future novels?

Unveiling Ms. Claus has a bit of tasteful heat in it, since so much of the book is about Amber's relationship with herself and her own body, and she just couldn't show that without taking her bits out for a spin.
Since then, I've moved to writing low heat. I've seen queer authors be stigmatized for the intensively sexualized content in their books, even when they are writing in ways that are really very tame. An M/F story with very mild sex in it, nothing graphic at all, is totally acceptable. Change the couple to two women or another LGBTQIA identity and without a single word changing, people start treating it as high heat or erotica. My next books don't even have a sex scene to be misinterpreted like that. 
I might write some more holiday pieces in the future as I get more comfortable with my production schedules, but right now, I'm working on three more books; one of them should be on Amazon by November 15th or so, give or take. That's Transpire Together, a sweet small town second chance in the shadow of the 2018 bathroom bill fight, with a trans man and a cis woman. The next one... February, I think. Also small town, friends to lovers, with a twist on a fake relationship. It is going to bring in Alaska Native representation and asexual spectrum topics, and it's a lesbian story. I want to mix things up there. 

Unveiling Ms. Claus

Doctors cannot be in relationships with their patients. Who knew how much that would hurt?
Rejected by her parents as an adult, Amber Claus is starting life anew from nothing, as a woman. When she meets a man who feels like he could be The One, things feel hopeful...until she meets him as the doctor helping her to transition. And doctors can't date patients.
But she won't need help forever, and she's earned some Christmas cheer…

Mercy Zephyr (she/her) was born and raised in the Mat-Su Valley, where her and her husband of eleven years live today. Together, they enjoy bicycling, spending time with her supportive parents, and spoiling their grandchild and each other. She is an asexual transgender woman of Athabaskan descent who transitioned alongside her husband. She writes sweet, optimistic #ownvoices romance with a spoonful of humor and a dash of grit, centering transgender and sometimes asexual characters. 

Website and Newsletter:

Lynn Lovegreen grew up in Alaska, and still lives there. Her young adult historical romances are set in the Alaska Gold Rush, a great time for drama, romance, and independent characters. See her website at

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Receiving Critiques

Hi everyone! 

I am Young Adult and Middle Grade author Barbara Binns, writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for adolescents and teens. As my tagline says, I write Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them.  

Critiquing another writer's work can be a thankless task. Too often, writers are seeking praise. Maybe a few spelling or grammar corrections, but not a deep uncovering of plot issues and a lack of character development. Sometimes, when you point out actual problems with their writing, they get upset. That's one reason critiquing is not a job fro family or friends.  Bot the giving and the receiving can be painful.

Praise is a wonderful thing. In fact, let me admit, I like -- no, I love -- praise as much as anyone. But praise along does not move me any closer to my goal of becoming a better writer. That sometimes requires cold, hard truth.

I recently sent off a manuscript to my agent. A month later I received back a six page, single spaced letter. SIX pages. I can almost visualize my agent and the reader she engaged bending over trying to craft the right words to use in their criticism. They did not want to hurt my feelings.

Well, six pages was enough of a "cut direct" as they say in Regency novels. At first glance I wanted to cry. There was no way to make that kind, I should tell them not to bother. Like any other piece of
writing, too many words can obscure the real meaning, hide the gem of information inside. And they do not need to worry, there is nothing they could say that would make me ever decide to stop writing.

They had some real points. I do have multiple main characters, one with no arc to speak of.  The chit-chat between the characters is sometimes just that, idle talk that, while fun and realistic, does nothing to move the story forward. Ditto for my villain, he's just there, not really being as bad as he could be.

All that, and more, could have been shared in far fewer pages.  In fact, I got an excellent reader report from a 7th grader who read the manuscript and told me, in a terse but perfect fashion, which of my chapter had no real reason for existing.  It happens, even to \multi-published writers, we can get long-winded, and enjoy writing a section so much that we forget to murder our darlings. it's nice that the 7th grader was able to express things better than the industry professional adults.

I am currently mentoring two aspiring authors, one as a part of a formal mentorship program from KidLitNation The organization sponsored a 6 month mentorship, and I was paired with one of the aspiring authors. My other mentorship is informal, I am working with someone from my home town.

There are five primary things I tell them:

  1. Multiple criticizers can overwhelm you with contradictory advice
  2. Always remember, it is your work and your voice
  3. No one likes everything
  4. Someone will hate even the best work out there
  5. Take your time before deciding how to respond.  Lots and lots of time.

Number 1 is often the easiest to handle. I always look first at places where those giving me feedback agree. I remember back when a group was critiquing the opening chapter of my first YA novel, Pull.  There was a passage in there that brought out the big difference in opinion. 1/3 of the group felt that passage took them out of the story. 1/3 felt that passage was well written and they enjoyed having it. The final third barely noticed it, they didn't care one way or another.  My first thought was simple, only a third were bothered by it, so it was going to stay in. Then I slept on it. A few days later I had a different realization. I was taking one third of my audience out of the story. Was that really a good move? The rest of the audience might like it, but would never notice if it weren't there.  The passage of time made it simple, as much as I loved my great turn of phrase, I was not going to take people out of the story. Now, years later, I barely remember the passage at all, just that it was once in the first chapter and I once considered it essential.

Number 2 was taught to me by my first editor, who handled Pull as a matter of fact. I was looking at her changes to the manuscript and came across something that altered the meaning significantly. With great trepidation I called her to explain why that part could not be changed. She said fine, agreeing so easily I was stunned. Then she reminded me, in the end, this was my work, my voice. And my name would be listed as author. I therefore needed to either agree on any proposed changed, or push back as I had done. Hearing that from the woman who sent me a check in exchange for the right to publish my book made a big difference in how I handled editorial and review comments from then on.

Number 3 and 4 go together. No one likes every book, motion picture, poem, piece of art, etc. I have a friend who writes poetry and keeps asking me to review her stuff. We have a running joke, because I admit I don't get poetry. My comments are always surface level comments, because I wouldn't know good from bad, and I really only ever read hers. There are best-sellers that I still have no idea how anyone enjoyed them and think the writer needs to go back to school. And books that barely made a splash that I found unforgettable and that hit all the right marks. In other words, many critiques are  personal opinion.

Number 5 is the most important. If you are in a critique session, smile and say absolutely nothing unless asked a direct question.  Never try to tell the person they are wrong. First, because that will only discourage them from being honest. And second, if your mind is busy coming up with a response, it can't also be listening for the real issues that may exist. Just listen. You do not have to agree. Then sleep on the problem. For a day, two days, even a week. Then, relook at the issues raised without anger or judgement. Look for anything that makes sense. Only act on things that make sense to you and that fit within your voice.

As I said, I look for multiple critiques. When I entered contests, I never did one unless there were three judges, I needed that best two out of three opinions. I also divide comments into three types:

  • first - things I totally agree with. I often have a subliminal feeling something is not right. If the comments hit that bell, I accept there is a problem immediately.

  • second - things I totally disagree with. Especially ones where a "solution" has been included. These I usually reject right away. Too often these are from writers saying, "I wouldn't do it that way" and their solutions are, in fact, their voice, not mine.

  • third - things that make me think. These are the ones I put away for a day or two, then look at again. That 6-page letter had a number of these, some I am still digesting. The good news is they did not waste time trying to tell me how to fix the problems, they simply pointed out the weak areas. By taking time, in this case a week, before trying to attack anything, I've given my own subconscious time to examine these issues. There are significant weaknesses. I'm glad they, and my 7th grader, pointed out the problems to me.

A good critique, done by someone who has no axe to grind or no intent on changing your style, can be worth its weight in anything, including gold. But it depends on what you do with the information. Like a shopkeeper whose customers want different items and brands, you have to decide which fits your journey, your goal. That's what I'm trying to work on with my mentees, to help them use critiques to their greater benefit.

I would also love to hear any additional tips on how you deal with receiving critiques to your writing. It always helps to share.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

I’ll be Home for Christmas By Eleri Grace

Many classic Christmas songs, stories, and films date to the 1940s, to WWII in particular, and with good reason. Almost half the popular Christmas tunes performed and played today were written and originally recorded in the 1930s-40s, with the majority of the remainder dating to the 1950s-1960s.

Why such an outpouring of creativity in celebration of Christmas? Homesick American soldiers, together with their lonely sweethearts, wives and mothers on the home front, spurred a nostalgic idealization of the holiday. These Christmas tributes sound universal themes of love, fellowship, hope and resurgence, presenting a stark contrast with the harsh realities of war. Through the vehicle of popular culture, artists united Americans in common purpose and camaraderie. 

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love-light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.
Kim Gannon, Walter Kent, and Buck Ram (1943)

This beautiful Library of Congress compilation of photographs, essays, magazine articles, journal entries and other reminiscences is the perfect way to step back in time to the bygone era of WWII this holiday season. It captures the spirit of the men and women serving overseas, as well as the hopes and fears of those who kept the home fires burning, who longed for the safe return of their loved ones.

The heroines of my Clubmobile Girls novels helped alleviate the acute homesickness experienced by so many young soldiers as Christmas neared. Suppressing their own longing for the comforts of home, the Red Cross Girls threw themselves into creating innovative holiday decorations, procuring gifts, and hosting holiday parties. Wherever possible, American soldiers were anxious to spread Christmas cheer to locals, particularly to area children. Red Cross Girls worked with the military to plan and pull off these festive celebrations that brought so much joy to the young men fighting the war so far from home.

In my debut novel Courage to be Counted, my heroine Vivian experiences an intense longing for her sweetheart and for home while singing “Silent Night” at a party the Red Cross and men of the 305th Bomb Group hosted for village children in England. The party she and her friend Mabs plan would have looked something like this photograph from the 379th Bomb Group in Kimbolton, England.
379th Bomb Group (National Archives)

Photo ID: 342-FH-3A-14449-65542AC.

Meanwhile, her hero Jack wishes desperately that he could introduce her to his family as he shares what he knows will be his last Christmas dinner at home for a long while. Two years later in 1944, huddled under blankets in a freezing billet in Belgium with the Battle of the Bulge raging all around her, Vivian recalls with a pang of nostalgia the previous Christmas, when she and Jack spent holiday leave in London.

Making Christmas cards from Chinese currency in December 1944 (National Archives)
Inventive Christmas tree near Buna, Papua New Guinea, 1942
As you can see from the photos I’ve included here, the Red Cross Girls called on no small amount of ingenuity to replicate Christmas traditions for American soldiers serving all over the world. They made paper chains, used aluminum cans, cigarette cartons, and the metal strips known as chaff that the air forces released from their planes to jam radar defenses, strung popcorn, and made use of recycled Christmas cards.

The subtitle of I'll be Home for Christmas is The Library of Congress Revisits the Spirit of Christmas During World War II. The spirit of Christmas was especially strong in these tumultuous years, leaving us all with a lasting legacy of treasured Christmas music, stories and films. 

Learn more about me and my writing on my website, and you can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram

You can purchase my debut novel through the links below.
Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon CA  ~  Amazon AU  Google ~ Nook  ~ Kobo

Monday, November 11, 2019

Here's to those Holly, Jolly, Holiday Reads!

By: Marcia King-Gamble

Dear Readers:

Don’t you just love this time of year?  I know I do. There’s something about the holidays that puts me in a good mood, and makes me hopeful that the upcoming year will be even better.

When the shopping, baking (not that I bake,) and festivities are all over, there is nothing like curling up at the end of the day with a good holiday romance. As a reader, and a romance writer, I am a sucker for a good love story where love survives despite all odds.

In late December of last year, I released one those feel-good stories. It was novella 1 of The Ring Series.  This novella was titled Ring in the Holidays and of course it came with a festive cover. Do you think my cover artist did the holidays justice?  

Here’s a soundbyte of Ring in the Holiday:

It's the holiday season and Rianna Brown's friends are all 'booed up.' Rianna, a flight attendant, is the only single one left of her crowd. A long, dreary holiday season lies ahead; a season with no man. Then along comes childhood nemesis, bad boy, Stefie Davis, Stefan has grown into a knee-buckling kinda guy; the kind that would make a woman lose her panties He's an investment banker with a continental lifestyle and he's bound and determined to win Rianna' s heart if she'll let him.

But is Rianna willing to let bygones be bygones and go for it? In three weeks, Stefan will be heading out of town, and she'll be left working for an ailing airline, and single again.

Earlier this year, and intended to be another holiday romance, (meant to be released for Valentine’s, but didn’t happen,) was Ring in the Moment. This story is about a couple already in love but torn apart by a perceived betrayal.  Readers seem to love this cover. What do you think?

Here’s the soundbyte of Ring in the Moment:

Keisha Wilson gets the surprise of her life when her boyfriend, Brian O'Connor dumps her, and right before one of the biggest holidays of the year. Brian gives no explanation, and although Keisha is hurt, she has no choice but to move on. What else can she do?

Brian has never stopped loving Keisha, but he's reluctant to drag her into a mess. A past indiscretion has come back to haunt him, and until he can get that situation handled, he's in no position to make a commitment. But when Brian realizes that Keisha isn't going to sit home and mope, and he may lose her, he decides it's time to take action. 

This holiday season you’ll be able to read these two novellas, bound as one, and both for a bargain price.   Continue to check Amazon or Barnes and Noble, as it should be released Mid-November, or you can purchase them separately now at the below links:

And don’t forget to Ring in the Holidays, this weekend with talented, UK Author Sue Moorcroft. Please be sure to logon to and read what she has to say. I thoroughly enjoy her humor and her books. You will too.

Have a Magical Holiday Season! Make the Ring  Series your gift to you!

Romantically Yours,

About Marcia King-Gamble
Romance writer, Marcia King-Gamble originally hails from a sunny Caribbean island where the sky and ocean are the same mesmerizing shade of blue. This travel industry executive and current world traveler has spent most of life in the United States. A National Bestselling author, Marcia has penned over 34 books and 8 novellas. Her free time is spent at the gym, traveling to exotic locales, and caring for her animal family.
Visit Marcia at or “friend” her on Facebook:
Be sure to join her mailing list.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Sue Moorcroft's The Christmas Promise

The Christmas Promise is my winter release in Canada this year, both in ebook and print (look out for it in paperback in your local Costco store). The US liked the Canadian cover so much that they’re bringing it out too - this year as an ebook and next in paperback.

The Christmas Promise came out in the UK in 2016 and the ebook went to #1 in the Kindle UK charts. It stayed there for about five days, during which I felt as if I were living in a dream.

The ebook and paperback UK cover are quite different to the North American cover and even have different colour values to each other. The paperback had plenty of ‘bling’ and the ebook the kind of contrast that works well on screen.

Paper Back Cover
Ebook Cover

It has since come out in German.
Germany 1st Edition

Germany 2nd Edition

In Italian. First as a beautiful hardback.
Italian cover HB
Then as a pocket-sized version.
TCP Italy Pocket-size
And in Danish.

In Germany it was a bestseller in 2016 and has been reprinted at least five times in paperback. You can see that after the first printing the title font colour was changed to stand out more. This year, it’s out in a pocket-sized version. This is seriously cute yet isn’t abridged at all.

So why such a variety of covers? Covers are incredibly valuable when it comes to marketing novels. They play a great part in getting a book noticed and to its ‘pickupability’. Covers also say something about a book’s genre - but the genres are perceived differently in different cultures and the audiences are not precisely the same.

‘Christmas’ has been omitted from the Danish title because it’s not such a big thing there and the cover isn’t festive. The pocket-edition in Italy is markedly different to the hardback because it was part of a range made up of many authors and all the covers were created in the same style. In short, each publisher is an expert in its own market and chooses what will give its edition the widest appeal.

The Christmas Promise was my first book with HarperCollins and, having since written two a year, all these books are now moving across the pond. The next in Canada was Just for the Holidays in the UK but because of the different way the word ‘holidays’ is used in North America it will be Just for the Summer.

Meantime, back in the UK, Let it Snow is my winter release.

I’ve already accepted offers from my German publisher and my Italian one. It will probably come out in those countries in 2020. The US Team loved the UK cover so much they adopted it straight away and have brought it out already. My new release in Germany was my UK release last year but came out in Italy the year before. 
Are you confused yet? I hope not too much and that the examples of The Christmas Promise and Let it Snow give you some idea of the depth and richness of the art - and business - of publishing novels.

Buy link: Let it Snow paperback in the UK or at your favourite bookshop or supermarket

Sue Moorcroft is an award-winning and internationally bestselling author and has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle UK. 

Her novels, short stories, serials, columns, writing ‘how to’ and courses have appeared around the world. If you’d like to see more of her covers go to and click on ‘Gallery’.

Blog []
Facebook profile [Sue.Moorcroft.3]
Twitter  [@suemoorcroft]
Instagram [] @SueMoorcroftAuthor
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Friday, November 8, 2019

"Let It Snow"

by Diana McCollum

This year for November Romancing the Genres are reviewing Christmas books. I chose “Let It Snow”, by Nancy Thayer. I had never read anything by Nancy Thayer, so she was a new author for me.

It’s a sweet Christmas story which takes place on Nantucket Island. The heroine Christina Antonioni is a gift shop owner in one of the ‘sheds’ on the wharf. The other shop owners are her friends and they are an eclectic bunch.
Christina befriends a ten year old girl who had tried to shoplift from her store. She hires the young girl and becomes her friend. Wink, the young girl, helps with unpacking the Christmas shipments and decorating the store. 

Wink lives with her Grandfather while her mother is going through a divorce on the mainland. Turns out the wealthy Grandfather, Mr. Bittlesman, is the new landlord to the shops on the wharf. Mr. Bittlesman is a Scrooge, and plans on raising the rents the first of the year. This would put all the shop owners out of business.

Wink introduces Christina to her Uncle Andy who has recently moved to the island. With the  help of Wink’s Uncle who is not only a handsome, but charming bachelor, Christina feels this will be the best Christmas ever. The only hitch to their budding romance is Andy’s father Mr. Bittlesman. 

Christina hosts a tree decoration party for her friends. Her parents passed and she doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. Her shop and her friends and Nantucket are the most important things in her life.

Mimi, Jacob and Harriet, the other shop owners, along with Christina try various ways to soften up Mr. Bittlesman to no avail. Finally, they dress in Victorian clothes and go Christmas caroling at Mr. Bittleman’s mansion. Unbeknownst to them, his wife who had passed was a wonderful soprano singer. This touched his heart and he sends a Christmas letter to the shop owners reducing their rent by twenty-percent!

This story gives the reader a real feel for living on Nantucket Island, especially during the winter and holidays.

Andy is such a kind and considerate boyfriend. He gets the shop owners together with his own family to have a surprise Christmas Eve party for Christina at her house.  He doesn’t want her first Christmas Eve without her mom or aunt to be spent alone. This was a very touching scene. 
She is invited to Christmas dinner the next day at Mr. Bittlesman’s house with Andy, Wink and the rest of the family.

Andy and Christina’s relationship develops over the first couple weeks leading up to Christmas Day. A sweet slow romance, with of course, a happily ever after! 

The themes of friendship, love, family and self-discovery in “Let It Snow”, keeps the plot moving and insures it is a holiday story to remember.

My Christmas I remember fondly is when my family lived on Guam. We got to go swimming in the ocean which was amazing.

The other Christmas was when I was first married and lived in MI across the street from a family with seven children. 3 foot of snow and no one could get to town to see Santa. I dressed in my Husband's red hunting suit, pillow stuffed inside, black boots and red hat, makeshift white beard, and I was Santa for a night! The wonder on their little faces made me feel so good. I had fun!

Will you share a Christmas memory with us?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What We Found On Lipari Island, Italy.

I met Sam's mum not long after I started dating him. He's the kind of guy that takes you into his warm heart and so is his mum. I hadn't known her long before she started sharing her memories of growing up on Lipari before she emigrated to Australia. She loved the outdoor life on Lipari, playing sport and swimming were her loves. Family was very important to her and she would embark on a long walk from where she lived on the coast up into the hills to visit her grandmother.

Sadly we lost her three years ago and it hit Sam very hard. He had always wanted to see the place that held such a special place in his mother's heart but it wasn't until we married that he decided the right time was right.

The hydrofoil took us from Sicily to Lipari and we were met by our hotel pickup. We'd opted to stay in Cannetto the town Sam's mum is from. We drove along the coast from the port of Lipari passing the beach where Sam's mum would have swum as a girl. Past houses and shops buildings that look as if they've been there for decades.

 Our B&B was a short walk from the street up this pretty laneway.

Having just finished a 13day Trafalgar tour of Italy we were pretty tired so opted for a rest but the next day we had a tour of the Island booked. We woke to a beautiful sunrise. This is the view from our balcony. 

The views of the neighboring islands were breathtaking. Sam and I had no idea how very beautiful Lipari would be. Our tour guide introduced us to some locals who said they would be related in someway having the same last name as Sam.

 We decided to see if the local council would be able to help us find where Sam's mum's house would have been.  

Our taxi dropped us in front of the council building which is attached to a church. With hope but no expectations we went inside.

In Italian, Sam told the clerk what he hoped to discover. He asked Sam for his mother's birthdate and her parent's names. Sam provided the necessary details and the clerk asked us to wait. He went into another room and quickly returned holding a very old, large book. He opened it and began to read the handwritten record of Sam's mum's birth. It was a very emotional moment that took us both back. 

We had expected to be told to fill out a form or that it would take a week to find. But here was this man reading out the time Sam's mum was born and where her parents lived. There was no street number in the record but we were staying just off the street where Sam's mum grew up. We'd been walking up and down that street for a couple of days.

We were so happy, Sam was beaming, and I had to wipe my eyes. We couldn't believe it had been so easy. The clerk created an official council excerpt for Sam and wouldn't take any money. We left with the precious document and kept looking at it over and over again.

We did lots of sightseeing on Lipari, visiting the Fort and Museum and took a hydrofoil to nearby Salina Island but nothing can beat the moment we stood in the council building listening to Sam's mum's birth record. The connection between the place we visited and the dear lady we loved became concrete. This was the land that shaped who she grew up to be. Sam had discovered something new about his mum and brought her close to him again.

It was a joy to share this special event with him.

Finding the Christmas Spirit

Hi Everyone,
I couldn’t find a Christmas book to review, so I wrote a quick Christmas story instead. Hope you enjoy. 

“The Christmas spirit is gone.”
“What do you mean? Gone?” Merry Enbrite stared at her assistant, not really seeing any of the features on Elvina’s petite face. 
Elvina shrugged, examining her long red-and-white striped acrylic press-ons; the tiny rhinestones scattered over each fingernail twinkled like the Eastern Star, both dazzling and distracting. Didn't the tiny female understand they were so Scrooged?
“I mean Noelle hasn’t shown up for work all week.” Elvina gave her head a little nod, the non-verbal screaming: Duh.
“And you’re just now telling me this?”  Merry wondered why she had an assistant. Wasn’t like Elvina ever did any actual work. Everyone had a cellphone, so Elvina didn’t even screen calls.
More important, what in the name of Ebenezer were they going to do? Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Parade would be a real turkey without the Christmas Spirit.  
“Find her,” Merry ordered.
Elvina’s shiny, cherry lips curved into a magical smile. “I know you don’t think I do anything, but I’ve been on it since Monday afternoon.”  The smile faded. “If Noelle were around, I would’ve found her.”
A wave of guilt flooded Merry senses; perhaps she had been a bit harsh on her assistant. But hell. She'd been so busy she wouldn’t even know it was Thursday if tomorrow wasn't Thanksgiving.
Frankincense! She never said “hell.”  Not even in her thoughts. Merry supposed she hadn’t been much of a leader lately either. She’s been so focusing on making this one the best Thanksgiving parade ever she’d rather ignored her employees. 
She’d make it up to Elvina and Noelle later. Right now she had a spirit to find.
“You two talk, right? Merry asked.  Do you have any idea when she disappeared?”
“You mean this time?” Elvina flopped down onto the chair at the tiny conference table.  “Noelle was complaining about having to start work in July. I can kind of see her point.  Until recently, we never really needed her until the beginning of November – – at the earliest. Now, Christmas stuff start showing up in the stores before the Fourth of July fireworks stop booming.  Why do the department stores put Christmas trees for sale that early? By the time Christmas gets here, people are sick of the fa-la-la-la-la hoopla. I think Noelle was sick of that.”
So, no luck finding her?” Merry asked, her voice shrieking. 
Elvina shook her head. “Nope. Since she’s broken up with Jack, her behavior has been very unpredictable.   Noelle hasn’t been to any of her usual places.   She hasn’t shown up for CrossFit, neither her mom nor her little sister have seen her. She hasn’t even been spotted at Starbucks.”
Merry sank into her chair, her hopes sinking with her. Her career was over. She’d get the old heave-ho along with her lump of coal. 
She glanced at Elvina, a glimmer of an idea forming. Her assistant was always perky. And normal people seemed to love her.
“Elvina, I don’t suppose…”
"No way in hell!" Elvina took a step backward. Her assistant did say "hell." A lot. "There isn't enough milk and cookies in the whole universe to make me take that job."
Merry supposed she couldn't blame the girl. She walked to her window and widened the blinds to stare at the floats lined up for tomorrow’s event.
The Christmas trees were all silver, not a green one in sight.  There were more floats devoted to Frozen and Transformers than there were to the Christmas nativity. The main emphasis of the parade seemed to be promotion of products, to sell this, to sell that. Sell, sell, sell. 
Hell, the department store chain even wanted Santa to wear board shorts and flip-flops. We’re pushing South Beach fashion. 
The memory of that scene made Merry draw the blinds closed. Tight. 
No, she didn’t blame Noelle for abandoning the parade. Not at all.
And perhaps getting fired wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe she could open a florist. Maybe she’d start saying “hell” on a regular basis.
“I have an idea!” Elvina’s voice penetrated Mary’s gloom. 
For a moment, she wanted to hope, but dared not. “I’m all ears, Merry replied, instantly regretting her words. Elvina could be a bit sensitive about her ears.
“The assistant didn’t seem to notice. She looked almost... well, sheepish. “It’s going to cost you though, boss lady.”
Merry hated to be called boss lady. Maybe Elvina had noticed the ear comment. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’ll just bill it to the department store chain. Santa in Board shorts, my derrière.”
“That’s the spirit.” Elvina flashed her bright smile and pulled out her cell. 
After punching in a quick-dial number, Merry heard the call go to voice mail. Then, a jingle bell sounded in lieu of a beep. 
Elvina said, “I don’t know where you are, Noelle, but Merry says if you return by the end of the day, she’ll let you have your pick of the new Louboutin line. Before the shoes go on sale at this hotshot store.”
Merry blinked. “Shoes? You’re trying to lure her back with heels?” Then she laughed. “That’s so brilliant, Elvina.”
“I know,” Elvina replied. “Nothing raises the spirit like a new pair of designer shoes.”
* * *
The next day, the parade went off with only one tiny glitch. Santa, a man Merry feared would be like the drunk in Miracle on 34th Street, turned out to be a super-hot guy. And very buff. She and Elvina spent almost a quarter hour padding the man’s beach shirt. Touching his chiseled abs created sizzles in weird places. Not the sort of feeling Santa should evoke in women, even a fake Santa. 
Merry watched from her clandestine spot in the crowd. She like to observe the parade with the regular onlookers, no special booth for her. 
Everything flowed, but everything was missing. No matter that Noelle had arrived within an hour after Elvina’s call. The Christmas spirit was really working the crowd, but something just didn’t feel right to Merry. The procession was just flat.  Almost boring. 
Maybe her assistant was right about people being sick of the holidays, sick of the commercialism of a once-sacred family tradition. Maybe she had become one of those people.
Then, the miracle happened. A small girl, sitting on her father’s shoulder, screamed. “Daddy, look! Daddy! Daddy! It’s Santa!” She pointed. And smiled. 
That smile transformed everything. Joy grew and multiplied, spreading quickly over the crowd in the most remarkable way. 
All was right in the world. If only for a moment. In a moment was enough. 
Then Santa looked up and gave her a saucy wink. That just was not right. Nice, but not right. 

Wishing everyone the happiest of Thanksgivings. And lots of saucy winks.