That said, I am going to answer what I *think* is the short question from my story meme first - nothing about Denethor is ever short with me (though I am often short with him)
Telling the Bees was for one of the very much missed on-line challenges at HASA where Dwim would post a subject, a word limit (generally 500, but I think 1,000 was the biggest ever) and a time limit of approximately 48 hours. These almost always got my heart racing right away, and in fact, I generally tried to enter them more than once in the time allowed if I could manage it.
Bees was for the "superstition" challenge and had a 500 word limit. The premise was to take a real superstition or invent a new, culturally specific one and adapt it to middle earth. I have never once sat down to this sort of challenge and written the story I intended to write. (at least, not first) For this one, I was hip deep in the starlight challenge and the Anduin, and I thought I was going to write Faramir making a wish on a star. (yes, you know too much) Jim and i went out to breakfast at the diner and I came home with Bees scrawled on a napkin. (he wrote whistling past the graveyard)
What happened was, I started to make a list of real celtic superstitions, thinking I might include Rohan. I never got past the first one. Telling the bees is a real celtic rite, one I had often performed with my grandmother when I was small. (It is a scarier rite for me, since I have a terrible phobia of insects and am allergic to bee venom) But it is so little known these days, it allowed me to do what I think it is I do best - write about my own childhood in Middle-earth.
When I knew it was going to be about the bees, I knew it had to be Sam, and there was such an obvious moment that that was it - all it took was trying to write in Sam's voice. (I had one decline on this story - and it was for the decline I most dreaded - bad characterization for Sam.)
What I was most unsure of was if I had made Sam's voice unique enough. I had never written a hobbit before, except that little bit of Pippin with Faramir in River, which is a very different thing for me) What I liked best was that I tied each one of Sam's memories of Frodo to a spot in the garden.
Gifts of Life was also for a HASA challenge- the dreaded crossover challenge. There had been a lot of discussion about how certain people only write one race or character. I was guilty of this, though not the most guilty, as I had done Pip, Sam and Fastred, Beruthiel's cats, Elrond as well as the dreaded Anglachel/Turin. We had to declare ourselves as to what race we wrote and what we did not, and specify a story in our favored genera that we would like to see. When the list came up, Dwarves and Orcs were the two available races for me. I did not think I could do an orc, so I chose "Gimli without Legolas." there was a slightly longer time on this - I think it was two weeks - and a limit of 750 words.
I love creation stories, and I had just been reading the Silm for the first time in years, and I had the idea that the dwarves might perform a little sympathetic magic by making a manniken when they wanted a child. Then I was stuck, because there were no readily available dwarf women to work with. The idea that it was a charm for a wedding came to me in the car after too many carbs, and since Gimli was on my mind, I had the picture of sharing your traditions with another race, the very thing Aragorn wants so much. Merry and his genealogies gave me the other part of the story, and it also let me make those few oblique comments about Faramir and the time Merry had spent with him while they were healing. It was tiny, but I felt a joy in the moment, I felt them helping each other feel busy and useful, and sharing a secret. Obviously, Merry will enter into the Anduin stories eventually, and I liked the placement - nearly everything I write is connected in some way. I thought Pip would come back in time for a drink, but in the writing,that seemed to me to violate the 'No Legolas' clause - Merry should also be without Pip. I like the idea of the family relationship between the fellowship members, and I like to write them two at a time in not the most expected pairings for conversation.
My Gimli is based on my friend Christopher Quinn (a red bearded celt, historical gamer and weapons aficionado - shown kneeling in a kilt in this photo - yes that does mean accidental full frontal, so be warned...)
It ran over the word count, and I could not cut it back, so I found that I had to write the orc story after all. It was Jim who got me around my stumbling block, by reading to me about the metal constructs that are the dragons of Gondolin in the BoLT2. First Age Orcs -- that was much more to my taste!
In the big sense, all my Tolkien stories are interrelated. But if anything does stand outside, It would have to be Slouching Toward Gondolin. It is just so far removed in time and space from the rest of what I write - except Tuor, who I have shown a couple of drabbles for and who I write in the Theatrical Muse as ulmos_own. But now that you have made me think about it - I do think it might be one of the stories about Gondolin that has so taken hold of young Faramir in All These. Though it is pretty AU, I have always thought there are books and scrolls that tells the many alternate possibilities - just like our own history, depending on who and where it comes from. My version of young Faramir would respect my AU-canon first age orcs as sentient, and he is just the right age for his innate respect for life to be coming head to head with the idea of what being a soldier will really mean. But then again, it doesn't have any Tuor, and perhaps more to the point, no Idril... so perhaps he skipped that one.....
If that was the short answer, I will have to tie Denethor to his chair and gag him.