FHSU instructor's Christmas makes a story

HAYS, KS -- One Fort Hays State University instructor received a surprise Christmas gift this year, but it took a chance encounter with an old friend to discover what it was.

A short piece of fiction by Linn Ann Huntington, associate professor of communication, was selected for publication in Guideposts for the Spirit, a collection of Christmas stories published by Guideposts magazine. The hardback book, copyright 2001, was marketed to readers of the magazine this past fall and cost $12.95.

Huntington, a subscriber to Guideposts, said she received the mailed advertisement but, unaware that her story was included, she threw the advertisement away.

"The story was first published in 1982 in The Treasures of Christmas -- The Guideposts Family Christmas Book," Huntington said. "I've moved several times since then, so I guess Guideposts lost track of me as a writer."

Huntington, who has taught at FHSU for 11 years, also serves as the director of the journalism program and advises the University Leader campus newspaper. Prior to launching a career in teaching, she was a newspaper reporter and editor for six years. She also is a freelance writer and has published several short pieces of fiction in various magazines, in addition to this short story.

It wasn't until Huntington sent out her Christmas cards this year that she discovered her story had been republished in the new book.

"Over the years I had lost touch with this one particular friend. But for some reason this year when I printed out my Christmas card address list, there was her name, so I went ahead and sent her a card. I must have inadvertently printed out an old list of addresses. We probably hadn't corresponded in seven or eight years. I also included my e-mail address in my cards this year, which I normally don't do."

A few days later Huntington received an e-mail from her friend asking if it was her story in the new Guideposts Christmas book.

"At first I couldn't figure out what she was talking about, since it had been so many years since the story was first published. So I called her. We had the nicest visit, and that's when I discovered the story had been republished. It was quite a nice surprise." Huntington was a winner in the 1981 Guideposts national writing competition and received an all expense paid trip to Guideposts' weeklong writing workshop in New York that year. There she studied with several leading writers in the inspirational market including the late Catherine Marshall, the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Marjorie Holmes, John and Elizabeth Sherrill, and others.

"It was really a 'Who's Who' of people in the religious and inspirational writing field. I learned so much in just that one week. This short story grew out of that workshop."

Huntington said she uses many of the techniques she learned at that workshop in the feature writing class that she currently teaches at FHSU.

"Even though the feature writing class focuses on nonfiction as opposed to fiction, I believe that many of the same writing techniques still apply. Good writing is still good writing. You're still going to use character development, dialogue and drama, no matter what type of writing you do. A well-written personality profile for a magazine or a newspaper account of an actual event can still be exciting and compelling."

Huntington will teach the feature writing class from 12:30 to 1:20 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this semester and encourages interested individuals to enroll.

"The class also focuses on marketing one's work to the right publication. You have to tailor your writing to suit the needs of the publication, and you have to know how to put your work into a format that editors will want to buy," she said.

This short story, titled "The Fourth Wise Man," is written from the perspective of a teen-age boy and deals with a practical joke gone awry.

"I liked this story because it was the first time I had ever written a piece from a male protagonist's point of view. The story obviously has a Christmas setting, but it basically deals with human relationships. Those form the basis for most good storytelling."

According to the book's editors, Guideposts for the Spirit is a compilation of the 64 best Christmas stories the magazine has published over the years. The book includes works by the Rev. Billy Graham, Pearl S. Buck, Cecil B. DeMille, Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Evans Rogers, Taylor Caldwell and others.

"To have one of my pieces of fiction included in an anthology with the likes of Billy Graham, Catherine Marshall and Taylor Caldwell -- well, I think that's pretty good company to be in," Huntington said.

The book apparently has also been popular with readers. According to Ideals Publications, the division of Guideposts which published the book, the book has completely sold out of its first printing.

"When I called to order the book, they told me I was lucky," Huntington said. "I got the last three copies."

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