Story Excerpt From “Second Helpings” ~ The Gift by Pat Bertram

Second Helpings
An Anthology of Holiday Recipes and Short Stories
From Authors of  Second Wind Publishing

Second Helpings

A perfect gift for short story lovers and food connoisseurs!

From sweet childhood remembrances to fanciful solutions of family dramas to romantic relationships that begin–or end–during the holidays, Second Helpings is an anthology of stories and memories, but most especially of recipes. Our end-of-year celebrations are occasions that bring reunions with unforgettable feasts and that one special, treasured dish. At the end of each story, vignette, reminiscence, you’ll find a recipe or collection of recipes that will make your next holiday memorable as well.


The Gift
Pat Bertram

Monica Dryden hummed along with the Christmas carols on the radio as she pulled the chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. They were David’s favorite, and she’d baked them for him every Christmas Eve for as long as they’d been together—five years now—continuing a tradition his mother started when he was a boy.

Still humming, Monica transferred the baked goods from the cookie sheet to a plate she’d purchased for the occasion—white china with a cheerful holly border. Her family had been too poor and too indolent to do much for Christmas, so making the holidays special for David brought her extra joy.

David Hollister. Even his name seemed to promise holiday cheer.

She put the plate of cookies and a glass of milk on a tray, added a sprig of holly from the bowl in the center of the table, and bore her offerings to the living room where David watched television.

He didn’t take his eyes from the screen when she nestled against him, but he didn’t pull away either, as he sometimes did. She smiled to herself, thinking how pleased he would be with the burgundy sweater and pinstriped shirt she’d bought him.

“Do you have to do that?” David asked.

“Do what?”

“You’re humming.”

She clapped a hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—”

“Are those chocolate chip cookies?”

“Of course.”

He clicked off the television and turned to face her. “We have to talk.” He spoke the words softly, almost kindly, but still they chilled her.

“Talk about what?” she asked warily.

“It’s not working out.”

“What’s not working out?”

“Us. We’re not right for each other. You’re too . . . predictable.”

She stared at him as if he’d spoken in an alien tongue. “Predictable? Me? You’re the one who insists on my doing the same things the same way. Remember those throw pillows I bought? You said—”

“That’s the old me. The new me wants . . . change.”

Her head snapped back as if she’d been hit. David wanted change? Since when? She opened her mouth and said the only thing that came to her stupefied mind. “Do you want me to make you a different kind of cookie?”

“This isn’t about cookies. It’s about . . .” He looked at her, expecting her to supply the words as she often did. She usually knew what he was thinking and could easily fill in his missing words, but now she couldn’t even hazard a guess.

David’s eyes shifted from side to side as if he were searching frantically for a way out of the conversation. Finally his gaze settled on his hands. “I want a divorce.”

Monica froze, then, getting control of herself, she pulled her shoulders back and lifted her chin. “You can’t have a divorce.”

He jumped to his feet and all but screamed, “I knew you’d be difficult about this. Why can’t I have a divorce?”

“We’re not married,” Monica said evenly.

He gaped at her for a moment, then a grin that broke her heart spread across his face. “That’s right. I forgot.”

Monica slumped forward, elbows on knees, head in her hands. He forgot? How was that possible? Just last week they’d talked about getting married. No . . . wait. She’d talked about getting married. He’d nodded with a faraway look in his eyes that made her think he’d been seeing their future together but apparently only meant he hadn’t been listening.

David’s voice seemed to come from a long way off. “I’ll guess I’ll be leaving.”

Monica jerked upright. “You’re leaving? But this is your apartment.” And then, all in an instant, she understood. “Who is she?”


Second Helpings is available in print and all ebook formats from Second Wind Publishing.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Ah, the Sacrifices We Make for the Sake of Art!

I am writing a short story to be included in the next Second Wind anthology, which is a combination of holiday short stories and recipes. At the end of my story, the wife decides to stop poisoning her husband because she realizes that even though he is not giving her what she wants, he is giving her what she needs. This change in attitude is shown by her change of cookie recipes, from an unhealthy cookie to a healthy one.

The recipes we use are supposed to be uncopyrighted, which means that to be safe, they have to be old family recipes or something we created. Oh, the pressure!!

Well, today, I finally got down to the dirty job of creating my recipe. I dragged out oatmeal, honey, applesauce, walnuts, raisins, chocolate chips, coconut, and a few spices, mixed it all together, spooned the concoction out on a cookie sheet, stuck it in the oven, and waited.

When I took the cookies out twelve minutes later, I let them cool and then . . . drum roll, please . . . I took a bite.

Ah, the sacrifices we make for the sake of art!

As it turns out, it wasn’t such a sacrifice. I got the recipe right on the first try. The cookies actually taste great and the texture isn’t bad.

Now I have an even harder job — not eating all the cookies at once. Maybe I’ll save a few for you.

(Second Wind is running a short story contest, and the winner will be included in the anthology with me and other Second Wind authors. Please click here to Vote For Your Favorite Story!)

It Makes It Seem as if It has too Many Its

“It” is an invisible word. We use it so frequently and are so used to seeing it, that we barely notice its use when we read it or write it. It takes a good editor to look beyond the expected to what is and find the “it”s that make our writing so hazy. See all my “it”s? Makes me seem like a lazy writer, and normally that would be true, but it was very difficult using so many “it”s in such a short time, but I needed all these “it”s to make a point. “It” has its place, but most often, a more specific word would make the writing come alive.

I wrote a short story for Change is in the Wind, the Second Wind Publishing anthology that will be released this spring. I write so little fiction now that I expected red marks to litter the pages when I got the draft back from my editor, but surprisingly, the story worked. Or the piece would have worked except for those annoying “it”s.

For example, I wrote, Unshed tears filled her chest and lungs. For a few seconds she thought she’d die, right there in her kitchen, leaning against the granite counter. She finally managed to draw first one breath, then another, but it hurt so horribly it didn’t seem worth the effort. And Scott wasn’t there to comfort her.

These sentences show a grieving woman, and there is nothing wrong with them, but the description of her pain is so much better when detailed words replace the “it”s. Unshed tears filled her chest and lungs. For a few seconds she thought she’d die, right there in her kitchen, leaning against the granite counter. She finally managed to draw first one breath, then another, but her chest hurt so horribly, the inhalations didn’t seem worth the effort. And Scott wasn’t there to comfort her.

There’s not a lot of difference between the two examples, but in a short story, where every word counts, precise words are better than place-holding pronouns such as “it.”

On another page I wrote: A touch of green against the dry brown of the tree trunk caught her attention. She went still. Could that really be what it looked like? She leaned closer to the tree and studied the willow shoot sprouting out of the base of the trunk.

And this is the final version: A touch of green against the dry brown of the tree trunk caught her attention. She went still. Could she really be seeing a renewal? She leaned closer to the tree and studied the willow shoot sprouting out of the base of the trunk.

A single word-change made this climactic scene pop. And that’s the point of paying attention to vague words like “it” and replacing them with more exacting words. Details make good writing burst into life.

Short Story Contest. No Entry Fee!

Now that you’ve blogged about what you are thankful for and stuffed yourself with Thanksgiving goodies, now that you have finished your NaNoWriMo entry and celebrated your success, now that you have survived your Black Friday shopping and have not yet gotten into the Christmas mood (or have already gotten out of it)…

Think Spring!!

Second Wind Publishing is sponsoring a short story contest. The theme is . . . you guessed it! Spring. Spring and renewal to be exact. Your stories do not have to be light and uplifting (which should be welcome news for all of you writers who pen dark fiction), but they do have to fit the theme. The story should be your own work, no more than 5,000 words, and must not have been published anywhere, not even on your own blog.

There is no entry fee.

The contest is open to anyone in the world, 18 or older, though the entry must be written in English. The deadline is December 31, 2011. The best entries will be posted on the Second Wind Contest Blog for everyone to read and comment.

The winning entry will be published in the upcoming Second Wind anthology, Change is in the Wind. This anthology is a collection of stories by the authors of Second Wind, so the winner will be in good company. (Since I’m a Second Wind author, I will be writing a story for the anthology. Well, I will as soon as I figure out what I want to write.) The winner will also receive a coupon from for an unlimited number of free downloads of the anthology for one month. The coupon can be sent to as many people as you wish during that month. The winner will also be able to purchase an unlimited number of print copies of the anthology at half price plus shipping costs. And the winner will receive a one year free VIP account from Angie’s Diary, the online writing magazine to help you get even more exposure for your writing. ($99.95 value).

So what are you waiting for? Encouragement? Then here it is: you can write a wonderful short story! I know you can! So please send your story as a Word .doc or .docx to

For more information, click here: Second Wind Contest Blog.

Tips For Writing a Short Story

Second Wind Publishing is putting together an anthology of mystery/crime stories, and my publisher told me that my fans expect a story from me. My fans? All two of them? I doubt they’d care. Still, I considered writing a handful of 100-word stories, but to be honest, it’s hard to write a mystery in so few words. By the time I kill someone off, drop some clues, create a dectective to figure out who did the dastardly deed and why, I’ll have used up 100 words several times over.

Thinking perhaps it’s time to expand my literary horizons — all I’ve been writing lately are blogs, comments, and emails — I decided to give a short story some thought. But how does one write a short story? I went looking for tips, and found this great list at Happy Woman Magazine:

Never write about what you know, that would be boring. Instead think of an interesting skinny person that you know and try to imagine their life.

Use the word therefore a lot. It gives the impression that you have thought things through and therefore gives you an air of authority. (See what we mean?)

If you have trouble coming up with an ending or tying up loose ends pretend it was all a dream.

Your hero (or heroine) should have an interesting quirk or a dark mysterious past. They should also have blazing eyes when they are angry.

Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, that is what an editor is paid to do. You are an artist.

Though these suggestions are supposed to be funny, it did help me. I don’t want to write a mystery story, but I could write a spoof of one, or if not a spoof, something silly. Should be fun. Still, I’d have to follow the real tips for writing a short story, which are:

Have a clear theme.

Use only a few characters, and give them the characteristics they need to help develop the theme.

Make sure you have an arresting beginning, a solid middle that builds to a crisis, and a plot twist at the end.

Keep focused within a narrow time span, and make every word count.

You can find a good study on how to write short stories here: Short Stories: Ten Tips for Novice Creative Writers.

Now that you know how to write a short story, why don’t you write one and submit it to the Second Wind Publishing Mystery Contest? It could be your chance to get published!

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