Remembering the Year

Remembering the Year

A Guest-Post by Scott Burtness, author of the horror-comedy novel, “Wisconsin Vamp.”

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays, but I also think it loses something when you turn twenty-one. While it can be a helluva good time, New Year’s Eve after turning 21 tends to be pretty myopic in focus. Forgotten are the experiences of the past year and the hopes and plans for the new one. Suddenly, it’s all about the amount of alcohol you can pack away in one night to justify the exorbitant cover charge you paid to get in the door and, if you stay just the right amount of not-too-drunk, that midnight kiss from a pretty (you hope) stranger. As goals go, those two aren’t particularly lofty and really do a disservice to what celebrating the new year should be about. What good is a New Year’s celebration if all you think about is that one single, solitary night?

After college, I moved from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL. My first New Year’s in Chicago was about what you’d expect. I drank, danced, laughed, spent way too much money, cavorted on the train, threw up in an alley, and woke up with a massive hangover and cheap champagne stains on my shirt. The next year, I had landed a gig tending bar at a trendy joint in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and was more than happy to work on New Year’s Eve. It kept me on the sane side of the bar, away from the craziness happening just a few feet away. For the next four consecutive New Year’s Eves, I watched people party 1999 style, kicked them out at bar close, cleaned up, restocked, counted my tips, grabbed a late-night gyro or burrito, headed home and passed out on my futon. I never spent much time thinking about the night itself. Rather, the thought that would go through my mind before slipping into sleep was, “I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

See, growing up, my family had a tradition. On the first day of the new year, we’d go out for dinner as a family. My parents were, um… Hmmm. I think ‘frugal’ is the polite way of stating it. We didn’t eat out much, but January 1st merited a meal on the town. That alone made January 1st a noteworthy occurrence. Some years, it was pure Americana – a Perkins or Denny’s or Embers. Other years, we’d go crazy-exotic like La Casita Mexican or the Dragon House for Chinese. Hey, cut us some slack. We’re talking about suburban Minnesota in the eighties and early-nineties, not the East Village in New York or San Fran’s Mission District. We did the best we could with the tools at hand.

We would enjoy a good meal, but any conversation was restricted to the meal at hand. There was no discussion of the previous night, the previous week, or any time prior to arriving at the restaurant. Only after we’d packed away our dinner would my dad let the real event begin.

“So…,” he’d say. “What happened this year?”

And that was all it took. My sister and I would climb all over each other trying to see who could remember more things – what grade we’d received in what class, the best school event or some particularly spectacular shenanigans with the neighborhood kids the previous summer. Meanwhile, my parents would chime in with memories of grown-up things. My dad starting his own business, my mom getting a job at the local elementary school. One year, it was the new car. Another year (the one in which I’d turned sixteen), it was the car I had crashed. If it was one of the rare years that’d we’d been able to take a family vacation, memories and stories from the trip would dominate the conversation. Yellowstone the year it was on fire. St. Petersburg, FL when I was thirteen. Tucson, AZ one Christmas when I was in high school and my parents were fed up with winter.

We’d go around the table, sharing memories, some big, some small, but all important or meaningful in their own way. If someone remembered something that the others had forgotten, the rest would oooh and aaah and then start to pepper in their own recollections as they came back. One-upping was highly encouraged and richly rewarded with approving nods and smiles, or even an, “I’m impressed you remembered that!” golf clap. Those New Year’s Day dinners and remembrances are some of my fondest memories from my childhood.

Years later in Chicago, I’d kick-out the drunks, close down the bar, grab my late night dinner, head back to my crummy little studio apartment, collapse onto my futon, and think, “I can’t wait until tomorrow.” See, I usually didn’t have enough money to travel home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years. There were more than a few years when I could barely afford to make it down the street on a city bus, much less make it back home, even for a holiday. But on January 1st, I’d call home. Dad would answer, we’d trade pleasantries about how crummy winter was, how my jobs were going. Mom would usually chime in from the background, asking if I was getting enough to eat. And then my dad would say,

“So, what happened this year?”

And that was all it took.


Wisconsin VampScott Burtness lives in Minneapolis, MN with his wife, Liz and their boxer-pitt, Frank. When he isn’t writing horror-comedy novels about a vampire that likes to drink beer, bowl and sing karaoke, Scott enjoys drinking beer, bowling and singing karaoke.

His novel, “Wisconsin Vamp” is available on

For random randomness and updates on the soon-to-be-release second book in the Monsters in the Midwest series,

Follow Scott on Twitter: @SWBauthor
Find Scott on Facebook:
Read his “Not Even Remotely Helpful for Authors” blog on Goodreads: www.goodreads.coom/SWBauthor

… or drop by some bowling alleys or karaoke bars in the Midwest.


Scott is going to be the final participant in series of Winter Holiday-themed guest posts I’m sharing on my blog this year… not just because the year is up at midnight, but that’s a pretty good reason all by itself 🙂

Happy New Year everyone!

So, what happened this year?

A Very Virna Christmas

A Very Virna Christmas

By Virginia Carraway Stark

This short story is from my universe of Carnival Fun. Virna Grant is my alter ego, who I feel I would be if I gave into my every weakness and flaw. The Novel Carnival Fun has also been performed as a play and has received attention to be made into a movie as well.

It’s always hard to say what will happen in Virna’s world though and everything is seen through the twisted spectre of funhouse mirrors.

You can find out more about this and other worlds at and as well as finding Starklight Press on Facebook and at


The cookies were definitely a little burned around the edges, especially the Christmas trees.

This was a consequence of trying to do things myself.

I had let the help off for Christmas this year. Well, Bruce had let them off. The truth wasn’t that he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart (although the bonus he gave them made up for his self-serving motives in my opinion), but that he wanted to have a party with Eric and their ‘alternative’ friends and didn’t want too much gossip to get around town after the brandy and eggnog started to flow and people forgot that they weren’t supposed to be couples.

I hadn’t thought twice about the idea when my husband had first brought up the idea and I was happy to brush off my dusty home maker skills to have a Christmas dinner and all the goodies made by myself. Eric had offered to help me with the baking but then he and Bruce had gone to decorate the sitting room and decorate the tree. The servants had brought the large Donner pine in before being dismissed for the holiday. They would return New Year’s Eve when they would orchestrate a more traditional and public party- and of course help us clean up from Christmas. By my calculations we should all be recovered from Bruce’s party but the house would doubtless still be a disaster.

Disaster wasn’t quite the word for my gingerbread cookies. They weren’t firm at the edges like how I thought they should be and they kind of trailed off in a vague way. The word ‘puddle’ stirred distressingly in my mind. The were Christmas tree puddles, and they looked like they had only barely survived a forest fire from the singes. Icing would cover it up and Bruce and Eric and their friends probably wouldn’t notice that they weren’t perfect if I brought them out later in the night…

Then it occurred to me.

I would be spending the entire party fetching trays, getting hot and sweaty and being utterly ignored by almost everyone. It was too much to bear and I felt my skin prickling with anger and my lips purse.

I stormed out of the kitchen and then remembered I didn’t have anything to drink and so I stormed back in and poured myself a small glass of cherry brandy and drank it. My skin prickling faded as the healthier flush of the booze took over. I steadied myself by pouring another glass. I searched through some drawers for some pills to take as a chaser.

I felt better as the warmth of the pills spread through me with the brandy and I stormed out of the kitchen with a clearer idea of how I would distribute my frustration at being so insultingly put into the role of servant to my husband and his gay lover. What was I thinking?

I hadn’t been thinking and neither had been Bruce and Eric. W were all just feeling frustrated by being so inhibited and wanted to be with some of the people who also hid their lifestyle choices to please their parents, get inheritances or just fit in with society. None of us had been thinking and now I was stuck with being the Martha of the Christmas party. I found Bruce and Eric adjusting a garland in the living room and I threw myself down on the divan with my drink, glowering at them while Bruce hopped down from the ladder and came over to give me a kiss on the cheek.

“Whatever you’re doing in the kitchen, it smells delicious, my dear.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing in the kitchen, I haven’t done anything except heat up soup in the kitchen or make some toast for about a year.”

“Well, it must be a nice change then to have the place to yourself.”

I pouted but I wasn’t quite up to throwing a full tantrum yet. Eric finished what he was doing and took my glass from my hand, sniffed it and then refilled it with more cherry brandy and kissed my forehead as he gave it to me. His eyes were filled with the knowledge of why I was upset even though Bruce was still happily oblivious to my potential tantrum.

That was part of the problem. I liked Eric. In some ways I liked him even more than I liked Bruce. We had conversations that would last all night sometimes while Bruce would be more interested in going out for a jog or playing sports or doing his own researches. Bruce was happy being Bruce and I was not happy being me and only Eric seemed to see anything of how I was feeling in all this.

How wonderful it had seemed to be given so much freedom in a marriage, to be able to give my affections to anyone I wanted, so long as we kept the gossip down to a minimum of course, to not have a husband who was interested in me physically but only in my intellect and my company and my presence on his arm. It was hard not to have someone look at me the way Bruce and Eric looked at each other. This soiree of their was making me even more of the third wheel that I really and truly was in this ridiculous parody of a marriage.

“The servants already gossip, who cares what they say. Call them back and make them do this. I don’t want to.”

Bruce looked at me in bewilderment and Eric studiously adjusted some ornaments in a box.

“Virna, you aren’t making any sense. We can’t have this sort of gossip going around town. The firm would be sure to hear about it and they might even take it seriously.”

I folded my arms. “Well, then call the party off. I don’t want a party.”

“Well, I do want a party and the invitations have gone out and the R.S.V.P’s returned.”

His tenderness had turned off like a switch and he was irritated with me. His mouth was doing that pouting thing that some days made me feel like holding him like he was my own small child and other times made me feel like punishing him into a less self-indulgent man.

Today was the a case of the latter.

Eric turned back to us. He opened his mouth and closed it. I wished he would just talk. He was often so shy and I knew that he was in an even worse position in many ways than I was.

Eric was a lawyer with another firm and while Bruce was secure as a married man, Eric was still a bachelor and older than Bruce. With his gentle manners and quiet voice he had only his dignity to stave off the gossip that inevitably circulated about unmarried men who weren’t frequently seen with pretty young things dangling off of their arms. He maintained an apartment where he ‘lived’ separately but he only used the place when he was forced to entertain. Eric didn’t really have a life of his own, he was more like me in that way, just a satellite orbiting Bruce’s life. Wee both only influencing the tides while he held us in his gravity.

I drank my cherry brandy and wondered how much I was willing to fight with Bruce about the party.

“It’s not really fair to expect Virna to handle all of the catering, Bruce. There were a lot more RSVPs than any of us expected. Perhaps we could ask Brian and Jeffrey to help out. They are more than sympathetic and they both love to cook.”

Bruce was annoyed with me and I could see that he had a moment of sheer rejection of the idea and then Eric put a gently hand on Bruce’s shoulder, one finger gently tracing along his hairline. I watched the tension drain from Bruce and he smiled and nodded.

“Sure, sure, give them a call, there’s no reason not to,” Bruce kissed my cheek and went back to his garland. Eric gave me a wink and returned to helping Bruce.

I finished my brandy in a swig and decided that I could still feel up to decorating the cookies when they cooled. I thought it would be a long stretch to see that I felt included but at least I didn’t feel ostracized.

I would call Brian and see if he and Jeffrey could help out. They were nice and I got along with Brian’s wife who was in a similar position to me but had been doing it for much longer. Anna had a stream of seemingly younger and younger men on her arm every time I saw her. I thought I’d be up to making some eggnog too- my own Mother’s recipe- she had had her cross to bear in life as well although it was much different from my own. I could still recall her serenely drinking it with pale hands that trembled even though her lips smiled.

Bruce and Eric were my family and it was Christmas. My own pale fingers trembled withn the cherry brandy and its small yellow chasers and the pent up tears that I had no right to shed. There were beautiful presents for me under the tree and my husband loved me, even if he had never loved me. Really, I had nothing to complain about as I made my face serene and stirred the nutmeg into the eggnog.



Virginia Carraway Stark is a Canadian author and screenwriter who lives in British Columbia, Canada. Her scripts have been made into movies (BlindEYE and Truth and Wine) and online podcasts (Candid Shots of the VPD). Virginia has written several dozen well-researched blog articles about cutting edge biochemistry and health topics for wellness websites and In addition, she promotes the remarkable turnaround of the African country Rwanda with My Rwandaful Blog, where she educates readers about everything from mountain gorillas to murderous lakes.

Currently, Virginia is editor in chief at StarkLight Press, a leading Canadian publishing house devoted to science and speculative fiction. She promoted her new novel, Dalton’s Daughter, as well as her short story anthology Tales from Space, at VCON (Vancouver Science Fiction Convention) this year to great acclaim. In addition to introducing VCON audiences to her alien race the Gendlers, Virginia also picked up her Aurora Award Nominee Pin.

Both aforementioned works center around the Galactic Armed Forces Science Fiction Universe, the immersive and open-ended worldscape loved by fans all over the world. Virginia Carraway Stark is co- creator of this universe, and co-editor of its online incarnation the GAF Mainframe.

Virginia has also written stories for StarkLight Volumes 1, 2 and 3. These fascinating anthologies compile the winners of StarkLight Press’ short story contests, which are open to first time, fresh authors from all over the world.

In between writing projects, Virginia finds time to record excerpts from StarkLight Press’ catalogue on YouTube and runs online writing and poetry workshops. She resides with her husband in the country, where they are surrounded by several dogs, waterfowl and a small herd of goats.


Published: A Chance to be Heard / In The Valley

Page and Spine

I’m going to briefly interrupt the holiday-themed posts to share the fact two of my poems were published at Page and Spine last week. The two pieces are really very different from one another, so it tickles me to see them right beside each other on the page. The first, A Chance to be Heard, is a sci-fi poem inspired by robocaller/dialers and the second, In the Valley, is nature-tastic.

Our Annual Christmas Movie

This week for Fae-tastic Friday we’re going to do something a little different. For the month of December I invited friends and readers to share their favourite winter holiday traditions here on my blog. Fae contributor, Laura VanArendonk Baugh is one of the people who took me up on that offer. For Fae-tastic Friday this week, let’s learn a little bit about how she celebrates Christmas:

Our Annual Christmas Movie

by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Photo credit: Wikipedia -->
Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every year of my life, my immediate family has gathered on Christmas Eve, invited friends and pseudo-adopted family, eaten ourselves silly on shrimp and brownies and cheese balls and red and green M&Ms, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.

“That old hack of a film? Really?” you ask.

If you asked it silently to yourself, read on, and I’ll explain. If you asked aloud, there’s the door over there. We don’t argue about It’s a Wonderful Life.

No, it’s not a perfect film, and yes, it’s been parodied so often that many people can’t see the original story for itself any more. That doesn’t matter. If you need a fresh perspective, go look at the complete miniature village of Bedford Falls all lit and sparkling near the tree. “Merry Christmas, movie house!”

It’s a story about a man enslaved to duty, bound to his family by love and his job by honor, feeling trapped and resenting not the people but the circumstances. It’s about finding the delightful and unexpected in the commonplace, where the girl you ignore on the street everyday can be the gorgeous girl of your dreams when you finally notice. It’s about giving up your youthful dreams and yet finding joy in the life you’ve made.

It's a Wonderful Life
On my mother’s Chistmas tree. (Photo credit: Melissa Heigl)

And it was allegedly Jimmy Stewart’s favorite film, too, and who can argue with that?

It was a relative flop, fairly unknown until its copyright expired and it became cheap fodder for television stations seeking seasonal filler — a miracle both in script and real life. The film slipped around the contemporary Hays Code (that #*&%@! Potter never gets punished), provided the names of friends Bert and Ernie for generations of happy Sesame Street fans, and managed to make a hero of a man who screamed at his children while smashing the house.

It's a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s good for writers, that way — we see George Bailey save his brother’s life (losing his hearing) and the life of an unknown boy (taking a beating in front of the girl who likes him), give his college funds away, give his honeymoon funds away, and save the town’s only independent financial institution at the cost of his own dreams, so by the time he’s breaking stuff and shouting, we’re on his side, because we know what it costs him.

But who cares about story technique? We’re watching the movie. And it means Christmas lights and carols and food and friends and family, and while I’m not usually bound to tradition, this is one tradition I refuse to give up.

And if any philistines watch the colorized version, I shall banish them to Potter’s Field (the best-named housing development ever, I suspect).

There are other Christmas and seasonal movies I love, too, but It’s a Wonderful Life is our family’s signature film.

What’s yours?


Laura was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth or developed motor skills, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a popular costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer. Find her at

Merry Giftmas!

December 2014 issue of Niteblade. Art by Marge Simon, cover design by Jonathan Parrish.

Merry Giftmas!

I wanted to offer all my blog readers a gift of some sort today but I couldn’t decide what, then it came to me, the perfect solution. Niteblade!

Niteblade is only partway to our sales/donation goal. Once we reached that goal we would release the web-based version of the latest issue free for everyone to read… but if I were to release it early, well, that would be a gift for all my readers, all Niteblade’s readers and all the contributors to Niteblade whose work will be readily available to be read. Win/win/win!

So Merry Giftmas. On behalf of myself and everyone at Niteblade, I’m pleased to announce the latest issue is available to read online now. Enjoy! (Or, since it’s Christmas, maybe bookmark it to enjoy later!


This year I’m sharing some of my own winter holiday traditions on the blog, so I opened it up to anyone else who wanted to share too. My intention had been to post something special today because it’s Christmas Eve. I had fully expected to write that *something* myself, but then Leslie sent me her guest blog and I thought it was perfect for the job. I admire the honesty of Leslie’s story and her bravery in sharing something so personal with a lot of strangers. Thank you Leslie. You’re awesome.


My trek down from Mount Crumpit


Leslie Van ZwolWhen Rhonda Parrish posted on her blog the idea of people sending in Christmas traditions I thought it was a very nice idea. Then, I started thinking: “I guess I have traditions? What the heck are they? Why do I do them? How did they come to be?” I wanted to know how I grew from a child that despised Christmas into and an adult who loves it. So I had to go back, a very long way, to figure it out.

Childhood expectations:

For the first seven years of my life I think I had enjoyable Christmases. I say, I think because I don’t remember them one way or another – I remember being infatuated with the bubble-lights that decorated my grandmother’s Christmas tree, but other than that I don’t have any clear memories.

Adult Leslie knows there was a lot of tension from my family during the holidays, but Little Leslie was completely oblivious to this. It was always grandma, grandpa, dad and I

You see, I was raised by my paternal grandmother (Grandma Jean) and spent very little time getting to know my mother, sister, or her side of the family during this time. I knew who they were, but Little Leslie didn’t understand who they really were. All of the tension soared over my three-foot-something head, and I had a jolly time during the holidays.

Rise to Grinchdom:

As I mentioned above, I was a person who hated Christmas. The first Christmas that sticks out in my mind was the very first one after my Grandma Jean passed away. I was seven. Living with mom and dad who were trying to make a difficult situation work and I was introduced to my older sibling as a living companion.

Everything was going wrong. Struggles for power, affection and independence were everywhere. I remember going to my mother’s parents’ house for Christmas. They were delighted to have me, and I was content as a seven-year-old to see them. Which really meant I was ambivalent about the whole thing. I remember walking over to their Christmas tree, looking for the bubble-lights and after finding none deciding something was wrong.

The whole visit caused me anxiety. I got presents from people who loved me, ate a nice dinner, slept in a new bed – but everything was foreign. None of the traditions I was used to were there. Dad didn’t come. Grandpa wasn’t there. And Grandma was gone forever.

They did a wonderful job at trying to make me feel comfortable. We even opened a few presents on Christmas Eve (which is one of my favorite traditions to this day) but something felt different.

Adult Leslie would tell Little Leslie (if she could) that it was okay it felt different. Of course it would. Things couldn’t be the way they were, we had to make new things. But no one told Little Leslie this in a way she could understand.

I started to hate the holidays.

And at the ripe age of seven school was starting to become particularly confusing. I had switched schools three times by the time I was eight. I am a pretty logical thinker, so when I started asking, “What is the meaning of Christmas?” I just wanted a straight answer. Maybe I was looking for what people expected of me. But everyone had a different answer, which just confused me and made me bitter.

Some people told me about religion, baking, family, turkey and anything else you can imagine. Add on the responses from my classmates that tended to value gifts over all things, and I got extremely confused. Some of the adults regurgitated the heartfelt and meaningful answers they felt they were supposed to, but then their actions showed me that Christmas meant something different to them entirely. And television was teaching me there was a whole different meaning to Christmas. And I wasn’t experiencing any of these things.

We never had much money, and my parents weren’t the most adept and at understanding what I was interested in. So when other kids my age measured their parents’ love in the gifts they got for Christmas, I was left at a loss. How do my own parents not know me? Why do these kids get this and I get that? I don’t want dolls, I want LEGO!

By the age of ten my paternal grandpa was entirely out of the picture and had turned to the bottle. He didn’t come around anymore and I felt as though another lifeline to the past Christmases with Grandma Jean was were gone.

Christmas became a time of argument and unrealistic expectations. After dad and mom split, dad was only too content to let us go with mom’s family. This made me feel like he didn’t want me around. My sister and I built a comfortable niche with mom’s family – where we could leave the chaos behind and just enjoy the holidays, but this didn’t sink in until my early twenties. And I always felt torn between the two worlds of my mom and dad.

Change of heart:

I started a new relationship when I was 19. The first Christmas we shared was with his family, and for the first time I felt as though I’d fallen into the television and was experiencing Christmas. Logically there wasn’t much of a difference, but what I saw changed my perspective.

They had steadfast traditions, a giant tree filled with presents, and so much love between them. Every present they opened was something the person wanted/needed. Then one present came around the bend and it was for me. I was shocked. I expected nothing that day. The gift was small but the meaning behind the gift was that “we want you to feel welcome.” And that was the important part.

The next year when I saw my father for Christmas I demanded we start a tradition. I was starving for tradition, any consistency and to feel like my family could have a normal holiday. We bought the movie the Grinch with Jim Carrey, and I said, “Dad, we are going to watch this every year we get together.” And we did.

When I was 18 I got my own independent source of income (i.e. a job), this opened the door of buying the gifts I wanted to for people. Apparently I was a natural gift buyer, and I found it gratifying when they opened it and realized I remembered something they had said a few years back.

A gradual shift began around that time. I moved seven hours north of home. The first year I didn’t make it back for Christmas. But the second year I found myself wanting to come back and spend the holidays with my family. I needed those subtle connections.

I started staying with my sister over the holidays, and she made sure to decorate her house for me when I was coming. She decorated because she knew a part of me wanted more than anything to feel the love of Christmas. My sister stepped outside of herself and defied her own hatred for the holiday, deciding as long as we were together it would work out.

When I came down for the holidays we started inviting our close friends over and having a post-Christmas get together that is now dubbed “Friend Christmas.” This was when I first felt the pull I had been wanting to feel since I was seven years old. It was a simple concept: friends spending time together because they love each other. Everyone brings a dish so there is not a ton of work placed on one person, we drink and we just have fun with zero expectation. The gift exchange during Friend Christmas is my favorite part, not because of the gifts, but because I know the person who bought me the gift knows me and understands me. Even if they buy me a bag of chips – it will be my favourite flavour.

In 2008 I bought and decorated my own tree. I made the decision that Christmas was going to mean to me whatever I wanted it to mean. It didn’t have to be about gifts, family, religion – it just had to something to me. That was all. I put on my green Christmas hat and decorated my tree! And for the first time I realized it was the expectations of the world around me that was making me hate Christmas. Not my own ideals, but the idea Christmas had to mean what they said it did.

I love the holidays. I love watching people do good things for each other. I had to decide that I wanted Christmas to mean something positive for me and go and chase that. It took a long time for me to figure out what that meant, but now that I have I am glad I did.

You can focus on the negative: crazy line ups, huge commercialization, religious pressures, higher grocery prices, heavy traffic, and a hundred other things. Or you can simplify: let Christmas be to you what you want it to be. You don’t have to stand in a five hour lineup to buy your kid the newest thing, get the biggest turkey, deal with an unbearable mother-in-law, wear the nicest clothes to the party, have the biggest tree, have a party for one hundred guests when you really only like five of them, or decorate your house with so many lights you can see it from space. You just have to be you, and be around people that love you for who you are. It’s that simple.

My traditions are simple: A person always has to wear a Christmas hat when they help decorate the tree, anyone can come decorate the tree, the Grinch is playing in the background while the house gets decorated, and we always have Friend Christmas.

These things have brought meaning to a holiday I used to find so loathsome. It’s about what it means to you – not what it means to your neighbor or to a celebrity or to your mother. To you. And only you.


Leslie Van Zwol is a writer who enjoys adding a dash of grit into her mystical worlds. Currently she lives and works in Lethbridge, Alberta – where the Christmases tend to be brown, to her chagrin. When she is not dabbling in dystopian realms you will generally find her hiking, travelling or dancing. For a daily dose of snark and occasional fun science facts you can find her on Facebook at and Twitter: @bobbistylz.

Learning and Sharing Compassion

This year I invited people to share their Christmas traditions on my blog. Virginia is one of the contributors to this effort who went above and beyond in her sharing. What follows is an extremely personal story that may just touch your heart. I know it touched mine. Thank you for sharing it with us, Virginia!

My Christmas Tradition: Learning and Sharing Compassion

By Virginia Carraway Stark

Every holiday season I am very aware of the expectation of the holidays. Whether I am having a large Christmas or a small one, if I am on the road travelling, in a foreign country or in my own home, I am aware that it is the expectation that I have of compassion and sharing and togetherness that is of the prime import.

This is my own Christmas miracle that happened when I was a child. I try to pay it forward anytime I can to people I see struggling during the holidays. I’m not a saint but the belief in the kindness of our fellow humans is what we all really want to be at the heart of our holiday season.

I learned to have compassion for my mother’s failings during the events of one Christmas family dinner and I’ve tried my whole life to be aware that everyone has a story that explains their failings ever since. It’s become the heart of not only my holiday season but my approach to dealing with real life people and the people I write into reality as well. This is from my memoirs: ‘I Have Memory’ that is slowly being published on my blogspot:

There were a lot of things like that with my mother but the hard thing was the big incident that taught me how arms’ length I would have to be with her. It was only after I understood how she felt about her own abuse and her mother that I forgave her for that Incident. It’s easy to get confused with abuse and easier still to lash out at others and she didn’t have my ability to focus on the positive. She was the opposite of me in that way… to her the world was darkness and despair.

She had a good heart though, she had a wonderful openness to her and it was mischance and ill fortune that every choice she made with love in her heart went badly for her.

You see, she had wanted to get away from her dad more than anything else in life when she was a girl.

He wasn’t like my Dad- her father was unpredictable. My Dad had rules and if you obeyed the rules you wouldn’t be disciplined. There were a lot of rules but I took it as a challenge and I regarded it as a deep failure on my part if I was unable to remember them all or was physically unable to meet up with them. I would push myself to the point of unconsciousness rather than fail my dad while I had a drop of strength left in me.

Her dad, Dennis, was like a pot that’s on the back of the stove of life and is constantly boiling over. You could try to keep the burner set to low but the least little thing would set him off. I recall one family Christmas Eve going to his house, the table was set with margarine and butter. Dennis asked for the butter and someone (I think it was my brother) passed him the margarine instead.

I feel I should also mention at this point that both butter and margarine were unlabelled and were little squares of nearly identical yellow grease.

They were slightly different yellows and that was the only difference as they each sat on little cut crystal plates. Of course, for a normal person, getting the margarine instead of the butter would be the smallest of incidents, but not for my grandad.

He took the saucer, started to slice of a wafer of margarine and, muttering something that I think was, ‘that’s not butter’.

He picked up the outed margarine and threw it across the dining room and then threw the crystal plate behind him like a discus as he stood to his feet and hit the table with his rising lap and knocked over his chair behind him. He started to roar and rage. He ranted about ‘idiots’ who couldn’t tell the difference between margarine and butter while throwing plates and turkey around the dining room.

My Dad scooped me up in his arms and my mom grabbed my brother by the shoulders and they evacuated us as quickly as they could to the truck. My mom held onto my brother and my brother clutched me while our brave dad went back into the house amidst the sound of breaking china and incoherent ragings and extricated all of our presents.

The truck was full of presents and it was Christmas. We weren’t going to enjoy the tree, we weren’t going to have the rest of our dinner. Dad drove us to a motel and held my mom while she cried. I remember the two of them, sitting in the window of a cheap motel, him perched on the arm of the chair while my mom wept exhausted and ashamed tears. Dad helped her to the bed where she passed out and then he left without barely a word to my brother or me.

Leonard and I sat together in the window. He was kind to me that day, he was very impressionable and I noticed that he usually treated me as an exact replica of how he saw my dad treat my mom on a moment by moment basis. We talked a bit about what had happened but mostly we thought about all the presents in the back of the truck getting covered by snow. He held me the way he saw dad hold mom and we sat in the window watching the growing snowflakes until we fell asleep in the chair.

I’m not sure of when my dad returned, but when we woke up we saw a Christmas miracle.

There was a little scrawny Christmas tree on the coffee table in front of the window and the presents from the truck were mounded up around us to nearly fill the hotel room. Some of them were damp from snow but we didn’t mind. There was a little tinsel on the tree even though there weren’t any other decorations and there as the smell of fried chicken and cranberry sauce in the hotel room.

It wasn’t an ideal Christmas but it was the sort of magic that my dad could make happen when he wanted to. Sitting on the hotel bed as a family and eating take out food we all laughed at grandpa the way people always laugh at the monsters that scare them. Leonard had a bruise on his face where something grandpa had thrown had hit him and he imitated grandpa’s anger after seeing Dad do it. Mom and I laughed as the two of them mugged angry faces and stormed around the room, throwing the wrapping paper that we had left all over the room as though it were crystal plates.

We never went back to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas dinner ever again after that. It was a relief because you never knew what would happen.

Dad rescued us all from it by simply saying, ‘That’s not the sort of Christmas I want for my family’.

When I think about Mom and the fact that she grew up with that man and there was no escape for her, then I learned compassion.

You can find more of Virginia’s memoirs at


Virginia Carraway Stark is a Canadian author and screenwriter who lives in British Columbia, Canada. Her scripts have been made into movies (BlindEYE and Truth and Wine) and online podcasts (Candid Shots of the VPD). Virginia has written several dozen well-researched blog articles about cutting edge biochemistry and health topics for wellness websites and In addition, she promotes the remarkable turnaround of the African country Rwanda with My Rwandaful Blog, where she educates readers about everything from mountain gorillas to murderous lakes.

Currently, Virginia is editor in chief at StarkLight Press, a leading Canadian publishing house devoted to science and speculative fiction. She promoted her new novel, Dalton’s Daughter, as well as her short story anthology Tales from Space, at VCON (Vancouver Science Fiction Convention) this year to great acclaim. In addition to introducing VCON audiences to her alien race the Gendlers, Virginia also picked up her Aurora Award Nominee Pin.

Both aforementioned works center around the Galactic Armed Forces Science Fiction Universe, the immersive and open-ended worldscape loved by fans all over the world. Virginia Carraway Stark is co- creator of this universe, and co-editor of its online incarnation the GAF Mainframe.

Virginia has also written stories for StarkLight Volumes 1, 2 and 3. These fascinating anthologies compile the winners of StarkLight Press’ short story contests, which are open to first time, fresh authors from all over the world.

In between writing projects, Virginia finds time to record excerpts from StarkLight Press’ catalogue on YouTube and runs online writing and poetry workshops. She resides with her husband in the country, where they are surrounded by several dogs, waterfowl and a small herd of goats.


The Long Dark

This month I’m sharing holiday-themed guest posts. Today’s post is a bit of fiction courtesy of Vanessa Ricci-Thode. Thank you Vanessa! 🙂

The Long Dark

 by Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Shemmer awoke in the middle of the night, cold and shivering, and a little disgruntled about having been woken. At least when she was asleep she didn’t really feel the cold. She pulled the blankets tighter around her and pulled her hat more firmly over her head. She didn’t know how Summer did this for months on end with little reprieve. She almost understood why her friend was still dating a monster—at least she was warm around him.

Shemmer inched herself a little closer to Summer, huddling against her in the long dark—the longest dark of the year—and wondering if maybe it wasn’t cold she was feeling, but a physical manifestation of her friend’s misery.

Can telepaths project thoughts and feelings as well as pick up on them?

But she realized now what had broken her tenuous hold on sleep. Summer was whimpering in her sleep, and Shemmer wondered if she’d stopped crying at all this night. In the faint starlight, she could just make out the lump of her friend next to her, still clutching that damn stuffy she’d bought for Aurora, hoping for a Yule miracle.

Shemmer wrestled her hands out from under the blanket, and fumbled through her mitts to turn on the battery-powered lamp next to her. It was set to dim, but still pushed away the deepest of the night’s shadows so that Shemmer could see more than just a lump beside her.

Summer turned over, facing Shemmer and the light, and rolled right into Shemmer, bumping her.

“Aurora?” Summer asked, her voice thick with sleep and pitiful with hope. She squinted herself awake, the hope in her voice carrying into her waking expression, but when her shielded gaze found Shemmer, the light went out of her eyes. There was a beat so still it was like the whole of time had ceased, and then Summer began to sob.

“I’m sorry,” Shemmer whispered. “Just a dream.”

She slid her arms around Summer as best she could, all too aware that her small size only mimicked the child her friend missed so desperately. Part of her wondered if her presence wasn’t somehow worse. But she simply could not leave Summer to her despair.

“I don’t think this darkness will ever end,” Summer lamented.

Shemmer squeezed her tighter and wished there was something more she could do. She knew the little girl was the light of Summer’s life. She hadn’t seen the two of them together as much as she would have liked, but Summer always seemed to shine when she was with the girl. Losing her seemed to have snuffed out Summer’s very soul.

The cold night pressed in around them, and Summer finally stilled. Shemmer was certain her friend was simply too exhausted to cry anymore, and Shemmer settled in to sleep, just beginning to drift off again, when she felt Summer get up. She watched on as Summer walked out onto the balcony, still clutching that stuffy—the only gift the impoverished woman had been able to afford.

This could get interesting.

Shemmer climbed to her feet and crept out into the night to stand with her friend in the long dark.


Vanessa is an author and editor whose life seldom strays from the world of books, especially during winter hibernation. Even her volunteer work revolves around the literary world, with involvement in the Editors’ Association of Canada, Canadian Authors Association, and regionally for National Novel Writing Month. She’s the author of two fantasy novels: Dragon Whisperer and After the Dragon Raid, both released through Iguana Books.
When she’s not being bookish, she’s into astronomy, hiking, kickboxing, gardening, “collecting” stunning national parks across the continent, and being a massive geek. She loves Halloween and hates to be cold. Vanessa lives in Waterloo with her husband, daughter, and three crazy dogs. To learn more, visit

Fae Contributor Interview: Sidney Blaylock Jr.

For whatever reason out of the 17 stories included in Fae, only two were written by men. One of those dudes was Sidney Blaylock Jr. and it just so happens that for Fae-tastic Friday this week we’re going to hear from him 🙂


Sidney Blaylock Jr.’s Interview

Fae Cover

What was the inspiration for your Fae story?

Surprisingly enough, Faerie Knight started with an idea of gaining mystical powers from the names of full moons and using that power for the greater good. There are names for each of the full moons that vary depending on the source, but there were two constants: Hunter’s Moon and Harvest Moon. I wanted a character that received his power during the Hunter’s Moon and then lost it once the Hunter’s Moon was over. Tide played a huge role in the magical system, but I dialed that back in later drafters.

There was always a faerie element to the story—the original antagonist was a Redcap (a malevolent fae who dye their caps in their victim’s blood) along with two trolls. They had stolen a changeling for the Queen of the Fae. That story evolved after I rediscovered Spencer’s The Faerie Queene (which I had read excerpts from in a college class). Using Spencer’s work as inspiration, the story started to fall into place and it morphed into the story that is in Fae the moment I reimagined the Faerie Queen as a force for good in the world.

Was this your first foray into writing fairy stories?

No, I’ve written other things dealing with fairies. I’ve written another short-story about an elven gunslinger called Knight of the Wylde West (tentatively coming out in November of this year). I’ve also written the script for the first issue of a (projected) four issue comic book series entitled, Faerie Fire, which I liken to The Lord of the Rings meets Roger Zelanzny’s Amber series featuring warring factions of Elves for the throne of the Faerielands. I’m hoping to find an artist for this project in the sometime soon, so I safely say that I don’t think the Fae are done with me yet.

I like the element of magic and it is the mystical nature of faeriekind that appeals to me. I’ve always been interested in the fantastical and this has translated into a love of science fiction and fantasy. Writing about the faerie allows me to create characters, plots, and settings that are far from ordinary, or like in Faerie Knight, have the mystical and fantastical hidden in our mundane world. It’s that potential that makes faerie stories (or speculative fiction, for that matter) so appealing for me to write.

Can you tell us a bit about the specific type of fairy creature in your story?

So, my story is a little different in that my protagonist is essentially a “changeling.” He was abandoned by his birth parents due to his disability and taken in to the Seelie Court by the Queen. The antagonist (which I call a Samhain) is not technically a faerie either, but the idea of Halloween. I’ve made it a faerie and not a very pleasant one at that. His description (a pumpkin-head and a scythe) recalls the idea of the Halloween which was a harvest festival. However, I tried very hard to ground my characters in a setting using traditional faerie tropes: the Seelie Court, trolls, a magical system based on Glamour (illusion vs reality), and elements of the good/bad elements of being a “changeling..”

My favorite type of fae would be elves. I was lucky enough to find Dungeons and Dragons early in its life-cycle (when TSR still published the system). I loved the way that they portrayed elves: lithe, quick, preternaturally gifted and able to master whatever they set their mind to do. Slight in build, but strong in heart and character, the elves in the D&D universe (which I later discovered was an evolution of Tolkien’s elves from his works) were the model to which I aspired.

Outside of your own writing, who is your favourite fairy character? (ie: Tinkerbell, Puck, etc.)

If I may be allowed to expand my definition of fairy characters, I really like the way Legolas was presented in The Lord of the Rings movies—Orlando Bloom’s interpretation of the character is pretty much exactly how I envisioned elves when I was a child in the eighties. Not only was the fighting style of Legolas and the other elves impressive (able to switch from bow to blade and back to bow seamlessly and effortlessly), but the etherealness and otherworldliness shown in the movies makes me wish that I was twelve years old again. The barrel scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug exemplifies the deadly grace of the elves while maintaining their aloofness and dashes of wry humor that makes them seem so alien.

Do you believe in fairies?

Not as creatures who are real. As a child, I loved mythology. I checked out any books on myths and legends that I could from my local library. It didn’t make any difference to me whether the myths were Greek/Roman, Norse, or even Egyptian—I pretty much read it all. However, I never believed those myths; my mind automatically categorized myths and legends as stories. When I read about faeries and the fae, my mind filed them into to the myths and legends category. So, to me, the Fae became stories that I can now draw upon as inspiration when I’m writing speculative fiction.


Excerpt from Faerie Knight by Sidney Blaylock Jr. (326 Words):


On any other day, he would not have dared draw Silverthorne in public, but this being Halloween. Thomas felt confident that the blade would simply seem like part of his costume. He was dressed in a flowing black coat that reached down to his ankles and wore a dark tri-cornered hat which gave him a decidedly seedy look. The long black cloth mask that covered his nose and mouth completed the costume and made him look thoroughly disreputable and menacing, as was his intent–his costume was that of a highwayman.

He stalked two trolls as they swaggered through the streets of suburbia. They had thick grayish skin and large unblinking eyes, like sharks. Their faces were thick and stone-like. They were not mortals in costumes, but fae, members of the Unseelie Court. Kids in costumes and their adult supervisors passed the trolls completely unaware.

Thomas followed the pair. He knew that his disguise and the fact it was Halloween would keep them from noticing him. He did have to be careful, however, as his fairy sight touched off a sense of unease in Fae. The last thing he wanted to do was spook these two. Thomas needed their leader.

“Hey, man, that’s a nice sword! Where’d you buy it?”

Thomas turned. A tall Chewbacca, escorting Princess Jasmine, pointed to Silverthorne.

He saluted Chewie with Silverthorne. “I made it myself. It’s one-of-a-kind.”

Chewbacca nodded. “I’ve got to get me one of those.”

Thomas turned back to the two trolls, but though his attention had only been diverted for a moment, they were nowhere in sight. He scanned the street, but he saw no Fae, only trick-or-treaters.

His heart sped. Too old and too slow, he berated himself. Lives depended on him and he just lost the trolls. They were his only lead to the fae that would probably try to abduct a child tonight and replace them with a changeling. He could not let that happen.


FAE quote - kate wolford

Available directly from the publisher:

Paperback $11.95
Ebook $6.99

Or find it online:

Barnes & Noble (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Advent Ghosts 2014 – A Million Pieces

Bowl of Ornaments

A Million Pieces

They say it’s the things which drove you crazy that you miss the most. I never much believed it myself. Not until I lost you.

It’s been a year now. And what a year. A year of rehab and therapy, lawyers and courtrooms. A year of firsts.

My first surgery. First steps without my walker. First birthday without you. First day back in our apartment, alone. First night—

So many things you could have counted. So. Many.

It used to frustrate me so much, your counting, but my love was deeper than my irritation so I stayed. Stayed though you counted every Cheerio in your bowl. All the bowls in the cupboard. Every spoon.

I loved you enough to stay though you counted your pills six times a day. And when you stopped taking them? I stayed then too.

I spent our last Valentine’s Day dressed up, crying and watching you crawl across the floor in your suit picking up each Q-tip from the Costco-sized box I’d spilled and counting, counting, counting.

I stayed through all that, yet you let a drunk driver tear you from me. One. One car. One driver. One crash.

Christmas was always your favourite holiday, and I’m celebrating in style in honour and remembrance of you. I’ve baskets full of Christmas balls scattered throughout the house, festive decorations, and the tree is up and decorated. I think you’d approve. The lights twinkling on it are reflected in the glass globes which adorn it and nearby the fireplace snaps and pops. Outside, snow is falling, piling up in the corners of our windows, and my want for you is so intense it’s nearly a physical thing.

I stare out at the city. From this high all I see is a sea of lights piecing the darkness. Like stars.

I look up, then, expecting to be disappointed; star-watching and snowfall so rarely go together, but through a clearing in the clouds, just to the left of the moon, one star gleams. It’s super bright and though I don’t know its name or if it’s a part of a constellation, I’d bet it’s one sailors use to navigate. To find their way back home.

I close my eyes.

I make a wish.

When I open them, something has changed. Not outside. The moon and star are still there, snow still falls and below steams of red taillights still move alongside the blue-white of halogen headlights.

I shift my focus from beyond the window, to its glass. The change is in here. With us. The window reflects the room back at me. Tree, fireplace, me…and you.

Your reflection is as solid as mine. Distorted ever so slightly by the flaws in the glass, but distinctly you. Your shaggy hair. Your hipster glasses. Your mouth which moves, your voice I hear.

“I missed you—” You reach for me. You reach for me and I panic and grab the basket of Christmas balls from the window ledge beside me. The wicker is hard against my fingers, unforgiving. I turn it upside down, pour out the balls which tumble over one another, and onto the floor.

You stop. Your graze drops to the floor, then back up to mine, reflected in the window.

“I—” you begin, then stop and chew on the corner of your pinky finger’s nail. My chest clenches at the sight, so familiar.

Your indecision is a vacuum sucking all the air from the room, slowing the tick-tock of the clock on the mantle until each sound is a long, drawn-out scream. I can’t move. Can’t breathe. My eyes burn, but I cannot cry.

“One,” you say, kneeling down and disappearing from my sight. “Two—”

I exhale. The grip on my chest loosens and the clock resumes its natural rhythm.

“Three, four…”

How many balls were there? A dozen? More?

Too few. Too few.

I step back and white heat rips through my heel as the ball crunches beneath it.

Blood stains the milky glass shards, drips from my foot to the hardwood. You reach for a piece, a shard, “Five, six, seven…”

A sob catches in my throat and I snatch a ball from the tree. It’s blue and glittery, the surface rough against my palm. I remember picking it out with you in the antique store we stopped at on our way home from the local theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol three years ago. You’d grinned at me then, so big I could see the gap between your bottom teeth, and your eyes shone with love. It was a perfect moment in a perfect day.

How many more of those days could we have had?

“Eighteen, nineteen, twenty—”

How many were stolen from me?

“Twenty-four, twenty-five—”

…from us?

“Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine—”

I hurl it with all my strength so it shatters. I rip the next from the fir’s branches and smash it too. And the next, and the next.

I scream out my anger. I sob out my sorrow. My blood mixes with the fragments of memory spreading across the floor and woven through it all, your voice. Implacable. Counting.

“Three thousand four hundred and two, three thousand four hundred and three—”



Last year I participated in Loren Eaton’s Advent Ghosts event where authors write spooky tales and share them and enjoyed the challenge enough I decided to make it a holiday tradition.

We’re actually supposed to write 100 word stories, but last year my story was just over 600 words and this year it’s just under 900 so apparently I suck at that part LOL Still, I hope you enjoyed it.

Loren will be linking to a lot of people’s Advent Ghost stories tomorrow from his blog and you should pop over and read some of the work by people who know how to follow the rules. I had to post this early because the 19th (when we were supposed to post) is a Fae-tastic Friday and I try not to have more than one blog entry per day.

TL;DR — Check out Loren Eaton’s Advent Ghosts

The Christmas Cat

Christmas Cat

Guest Post by Beth Cato

As I grew up, my dad set an absolute rule: no cats in the house. My parents were pretty consistent about rules and expectations, but on this point my mom disagreed. She let us bring our beloved cats into the house, and feed them, and let them generally have the run of the place. The vital thing was that all evidence—the cats included—be outside before Dad came home from work. Dad was very strict. There was a looming fear that he would take the cats to the pound if we broke his edict.

Our outdoor cats were extremely well-behaved in their brief time indoors, especially our cat Adventure. Adventure was more like a sibling than a cat. He was a gentlecat, the very definition of regal. He did not walk. He strolled. He welcomed us home from school and escorted us to the door. His purr could be heard from rooms away. He loved being carried like a baby, or perched on a shoulder, or cuddling in a lap for hours on end. In the summer time, with me and my brother home all day, Adventure truly ruled the roost.

Which leads me into my Christmas story.

I always set up our artificial tree the day after Thanksgiving. We were always excited for that Monday after, for the official “blessing of the tree.” Adventure would amble inside, sniff all the lower branches, perhaps attempt to gnaw on one or two. He would then make a perfect nest on the white cotton blanket beneath the tree. He was like a perfect tabby pillow, formed into a cozy circle. We took pictures of him like this some years, and always took care that we developed the film and Dad never saw it.

I have always loved Christmas. I often started making crafts and buying gifts early in the year, so once the tree was up, I had ready things to wrap and place beneath the tree. I made sure that there was a space for Adventure to make his nest right among the presents.

One day, Dad arrived home from work. I can’t recall if he was early, or if we had simply been doing other things. But right away, we realized we had a problem.

“Did you get the cat?” Mom whispered.

“Did you get the cat?” I asked my brother.

“No, did you?” he asked.

Dad had walked right in the front door, with the tree and sleeping cat not two feet away, and passed right on by!

Dad went to the bedroom to change out of his work clothes. My brother yanked a very surprised, sleepy cat from under the tree, and I held the garage door open so they could make a quick exit.

Our beloved cat, always a gift and blessing, had appeared as just another present beneath the tree. For us, that was very much a Christmas miracle.

Beth Cato is the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, a steampunk fantasy novel from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.


(The photo associated with this post on the front page of my blog is from