One kind deed after another. Yes, it’s a sappy holiday post

I was bumming.
Big time.
The memorial ornament I had ordered for my aunt had finally arrived late last week, too late for me to make the hour’s drive to the mall to have it engraved. I would have to wait until Monday and then mail it Tuesday, risking that it would arrive after the holiday.
Then I remembered the local contractor who does engraving on the side.
I called him that evening and left a message, telling him how important this was to me.
I held out little hope.
Why should he care? He didn’t know me and it was almost Christmas. Most everyone is overwhelmed during the Christmas season and this guy had a contracting business to worry about as well.
So I was thrilled when he returned the call at 7 a.m. the next day, telling me to leave it in his drop box as soon as possible.
And I was stunned when the ornament was finished by 2 p.m.
But that’s how this holiday season has gone.
It’s been amazing really.
In this time of high unemployment, nationwide protests and political childishness and I would expect … well … depression. I would expect people to be less kind than usual, more bitter, less generous with their time, energy and good will.
Grumpy.
Yet I look at my Facebook page and see links to articles about someone who paid off gifts people put on layaway. A friend posted that someone ahead of her in a drive-thru paid for her meal. She was so tickled that she planned to do the same for someone else.
Her story inspired others to follow suit.
The holiday basket drive in my kids’ school raised so much money this year they were able to buy staples to fill voids in recipients’ pantries. A woman ahead of me at the Post Office gave another woman the extra change she needed for postage, saving her a trip to her car.
It’s just been one kind deed after another.
I first became aware of it — really aware — when I left a toy for my son on the bottom rack of my cart in the parking lot at Target. I didn’t remember until the next day when I was sorting gifts. I didn’t dare even dream I’d ever get it back.
Someone could easily have swiped it.
Even if it had been found, what were the chances Target employees would have held onto it for me? Why bother? It would have been easier to put it back on the shelf. Besides, I couldn’t find the receipt. I wouldn’t be able to prove anything without the receipt.
I called anyway.
It was waiting for me at customer service.
No hassles.
No suspicions.
Just smiles and holiday wishes.
A few days later, I finally came up with a decent gift idea for my father.
I’d been struggling for a while.
He is in a nursing home down south in the late stages of MS. His memory is failing him, especially his short-term memory. He loves literature, but novels are not easy for him these days because he can’t remember what he read the day before, or even minutes before.
The editor of Short Story America had sent an email. He offered a reduced rate and free shipping to me and all other writers whose stories were part of the debut anthology. I replied, telling him I would like to get one for my father as a Christmas gift.
They are my father’s kind of short stories, my kind.
The good, old traditional kind.
They are short enough that he might be able to get from beginning to end in one session, I explained.
The editor, Tim Johnson, wrote back quickly.
He told me he would mail the anthology out immediately to ensure it arrived before Christmas if I would just send him the address. He knew I was good for the money, he said.
Tim has a family — a wife and twin girls. He was leaving soon to spend Christmas with even more family. He had other things to think about. Yet he took the time to do this favor for me, someone he knows only through a phone call, Facebook and a story.
It’s affected me, all this good cheer.
I find myself leaving the packaging tape at the Post Office for others to use, being more gracious to other shoppers and drivers who seem to be in a hurry, dropping bills instead of coins into tip containers and charity boxes.
I’m itching to pay for a drive-thru meal, but there aren’t many opportunities in the middle of Amish country.
It’s not enough.
I know that.
I have not repaid the kindnesses that others have shown me this Christmas, not yet.
These kindnesses, this unexpected generosity, have helped me to put my writing aside, even my running aside, and most definitely my aspirations of a clean house aside as we prepare to celebrate this day of giving and sharing and loving.
This day of hope.
It has helped me to concentrate on what is important this season — people.
The rest can wait.

Short Story America: the future of short fiction?

A cool thing happened today.
I got a call from Tim Johnston, publisher and co-editor of Short Story America. I had submitted a short story to his site less than a month ago and he wanted to publish it.
Even cooler is the site itself.
Short Story America is a start-up with a unique business model. My story, “Balance,” will appear as the Story of the Week beginning Friday. When its run is over, it will be moved to the Contemporary Library with all the other formerly featured stories. At the end of the year, Tim and his co-editor, Sarah Turocy, will compile those stories into an anthology, which will be sold in book format. At some later point, all the short stories will be available as audio downloads.
I get $100 for the story plus 15 percent of royalties on all audio downloads. I will share 15 percent royalties with the other authors in the anthology. All royalties will be calculated after publication and marketing expenses. A little different, but I’m okay with that since all the start-up money is coming out of Tim’s pocket.
That’s not a lot money as far as royalties are concerned, but I can’t think of many other short stories publishers who offer royalties at all. In fact, I can’t think of any.
Short Story America keeps permanent nonexclusive rights, which might be a dilemma for career short story writers who plan to publish collections on down the line. But not for me.
I am primarily a novelist. If publishers so desperately want to compile my short stories into a collection, they are still welcome to use “Balance.” If they don’t like the deal with Tim, I’ll write another one to fill the slot.
Coolest yet is the look and feel of the site.
Short Story America uses flash technology to make the stories look like real books with illustrated covers, bios and all. Readers click and drag, or just click on the page corners to turn them and it makes a sound like a real page flipping.
My kids had a blast tonight just playing with the pages.
Readers must be members to access the stories, but membership is free.
Personally, I’m thrilled just to be part of this new venture. Some folks are critical, of course, but the short story market must evolve somehow and this seems to me a different and interesting way to do it.
I wish Tim, a short story author himself, and Sarah the greatest of success, not just for my sake, but for the art of short stories and its the survival in this ever-evolving technological world.
They might just have something here.