Just out:  a pack of devotionals and a Christmas story!

A couple of months ago I crafted a Christmas short story. The parameters were: contemporary (as opposed to my usual historical bent), minimum of 10,000 words. The outcome is called The Christmas Sweater, available now on amazon and soon on kobo and B&N.

The Christmas Sweater (a short story)

The Christmas Sweater
(a short story)

I loved writing this little story, once I got into it. Actually, once Debbie entered stage left! Two friends reunite after thirty years amid sad circumstances. How will they face Christmas this year when everything has changed?

The second publication I’ve been working on is a collaboration between six Canadian authors, a devotional volume titled Uplifting Devotionals III (the first two are from other authors). My contributions are ten reflections on portions of Scripture. I chose not to follow a defined devotional format, rather offering my perspectives on the passages. 51U3uoxkStL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-27,22_AA300_SH20_OU15_

I hope you enjoy these volumes. Merry Christmas to you all.

Janice L. Dick

Song of SpringhillSong of Springhill is a historical romance, a work of fiction built around a true story that will touch your heart and soul. In 1956, in the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada, an explosion killed 39 coal miners. One man in particular, Charles Hugh McKay, survived because he had changed shifts with another miner. Author Cheryl McKay is the granddaughter of this man, who also survived the Bump (underground earthquake) of 1958, which killed 75 men. With her connections and encouragement from her father, Cheryl researched the Springhill Mining Disasters and wrote this novel. An accomplished author, screenwriter and producer (see my interview with Cheryl on last week’s blog), Cheryl brought together the details and formed them into a beautiful love story.

Being Canadian, I had heard of the Springhill Mining Disasters, but reading this fictionalized account brought the events close to my heart. These were real people who learned to love their work and the camaraderie it inspired in spite of the dangers and fears tied to it.

Song of Springhill is a story of fear, courage and trust.

Lead character Hannah Wright flees her claustrophobic past and an unbearable future, and returns to Springhill, the place of her birth, in search of her Aunt Abigail. She needs to understand why her mother wouldn’t ever bring her back, why her father worked beneath the earth in such a dangerous job and died there, and how she can come to terms with the losses in her life.

In Springhill, Hannah meets handsome Josh Winslow, who fancies her. But Hannah keeps him at arm’s length, afraid to become attached. After all, he works in the mines and might die like so many others, including her father.

Tensions rise when Hannah disguises herself and lands a job in the mine to help support herself and her newfound relations.  Known as “Mel” to the other miners, Hannah is assigned to Josh’s crew. Will Josh allow her to continue to work in the mines once he discovers her disguise? Will Hannah learn to risk, to give and accept love, in spite of the possibility of losing it again?

Hannah arrives in time to experience the mine explosion of 1956, as well as the Main Street Fire the following year. In order to help her aunt survive, Hannah poses as a man and works in the mine for two years, which also makes her a witness to the Bump of 1958.

This is the essence of Song of Springhill, but the emotional impact is unforgettable.

Spirit of Springhill
Cheryl McKay has also released a non-fiction companion volume, Spirit of Springhill, a book of interviews with people associated with the Springhill Disasters—survivors, rescuers, and families of the victims.





Biography for Cheryl McKay:


Cheryl McKay

Cheryl McKay

Cheryl McKay has been professionally writing since 1997. Cheryl wrote the screenplay for The Ultimate Gift, based on Jim Stovall’s novel. The award-winning film stars James Garner, Brian Dennehy, and Abigail Breslin and was released in theaters by Fox in 2007. The Ultimate Gift won a Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival, received three Movieguide Nominations, winning one of the Ten Best Family Films of 2007, and won a CAMIE Award, for one of the Top Ten Films of the year. Cheryl also wrote the DVD for Gigi: God’s Little Princess, another book adaptation based on the book by Sheila Walsh, as well as the Wild and Wacky, Totally True Bible Stories audio series and books with Frank Peretti. She wrote a half-hour drama for teenagers about high school violence, called Taylor’s Wall. It was produced in Los Angeles by Family Theater Productions. She wrote a script called Greetings from the Flipsidecommissioned by Art Within, after winning a year-long fellowship. It’s currently being adapted into a novel for B&H Publishing (with Rene Gutteridge). Her screenplay, Never the Bride, has been adapted into a novel for Random House Publishers and was released in June 2009. The film version is in development. She also wrote the screenplay for A Friend for Maddie. Cheryl lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Chris, who is a photographer and a musician.


Today’s author interview takes us to Los Angeles, California to speak with Cheryl McKay, author and screenwriter, as well as producer. Hello, Cheryl and thanks for taking time to share with my blog readers and me.

Cheryl McKay

Cheryl McKay

Janice: How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

CHERYL:  It started around the time I was 5 years old. I wrote a play based on my Winnie the Pooh lunch box and we acted it out for neighborhood kids. I was always writing plays and short stories. I wrote about 10 plays the year I was fifteen. Well, that’s what I called them. I didn’t realize they were actually screenplays. (Too many locations to be on a stage.) I’d write them on loose paper and then recopy neatly into a notebook, and that was my idea of “rewriting.” I began to study screenwriting in college and then went to grad school specifically for that.

Janice: Where do you get the ideas for your stories and screenplays?

CHERYL:  A lot of times, they come from my life: experiences, challenges, painful times, or questions I have about the world that I want to wrestle with. Never the Bride is lifted straight from my life. I wrote it as a script first then it was sold to Random House to be done as a novel with Rene Gutteridge. Most of it was similar to the heart of my journey as a single person, except the happy ending. I had to write that first, publish it, and still had to wait another year and a half to see the fulfillment of that in my own life. It’s not often that I write something that has nothing to do with me or something I’ve been through. Writing from personal experience connects me in a deeper way to what I’m writing.

One of my current projects I’m brainstorming, though, is inspired by a small town my husband and I have visited about five times now, Solvang, CA, a Danish-American town that makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into another era or country. I’m working on a series about four sisters. It’s called Windmill Falls. It could be a movie or novel series. Maybe both. We shall see. But just going to that town inspired me to write the story.Santa Barbara-Solvang-6058

The magic of Solvang, CA at night.

The magic of Solvang, CA at night.

Janice: I’ve been there, Cheryl, and it is enchanting. You’ve mentioned several genres that you work in. Is any one your favorite?

CHERYL:  My two favorites are family dramas and romantic comedies. I love a good love story. But I also like family stories with a heart, like my film The Ultimate Gift (which was based on a novel that I adapted). One day, I’d love to write Young Adult fiction too.

Janice: What do you like most / least about writing, and how do you manage these challenges?

CHERYL:  Most: it can really redeem some of the difficult things you have been through in life. I love how even the process of writing can be healing. And if it does that for me, maybe it can help someone else who’s had similar experiences or even current struggles. I hear from a lot of readers who are single and waiting and appreciate hearing my story because I really did wait a long time to get married. Least: marketing. I would love to just write, write, write and ignore the whole marketing side of things.

Janice: Wouldn’t we all?! Do you edit your own work or do you hire a professional editor? Why or why not?

CHERYL:  When I publish with a traditional publisher, of course they take care of that for us. But when I self-publish, I’ve done it both ways. In the beginning, I hired a professional editor (who also worked on Never the Bride) on Finally the Bride: Finding Hope While Waiting. Watching how she worked taught me a lot about editing. So I was able to use that with the next book, Finally Fearless, on my own. Now, I have a stable of writers who also self publish and we all swap books every time we publish. We work on one at a time, which means one will read a current draft. We make those changes before sending it on to the next proofer /editor. This way, if we accidentally added errors while fixing the others, the next person may catch it. I have at least 5-6 of these people so there are more than just my eyes on a project. When self publishing, I do like to keep my costs as low as possible so that once the book is on sale, I’m into profits within the first couple of days of release. I couldn’t do that if I hired an editor on each book. So this exchange of services works out great for all of us.

Never the Bride

Never the Bride

Janice: Sounds like a great idea. Everyone benefits. How much are you involved in social media, and what do you find to be the most effective?

CHERYL:  I use Facebook the most, but really more so on my personal page than my author page. I have trouble keeping up with blogging on a regular basis, posting status updates and especially Twitter. I am not a fan of Twitter at all and just don’t get the point unless you really want to follow what a particular celebrity is doing. I do, however, love Pinterest.

Janice: In your opinion, what are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

CHERYL:  One is Pinterest. Ironically, my most popular pin I ever designed is tied to a blog I wrote. It’s called “16 Ways to Pray for Your Future Husband.” It’s an excerpt from my book Finally the Bride. I get about 100 hits a day just to that blog alone, many of them generating from other people’s repins, not even my own original pin.

I also like to do website interviews to share about books and about myself personally, like this one. Since I always have a personal story behind what I write, I like readers to know that. For example, with Song of Springhill, my new novel, is based on actual disasters that happened in the 1950s in Springhill, Nova Scotia. My grandfather survived the big Bump of 1958. Some of his experiences inspired this book / screenplay. (I ended up releasing a second companion book to the novel, Spirit of Springhill, of all the interviews with the real live people of the town, which shares the behind-the-scenes stories.)

The Ultimate Gift

The Ultimate Gift

Janice: You’ve worked on a number of screenplays that have become or are becoming novels. That must be a very rewarding feeling. You’ve also worked with some well-known writers and actors. Do you have any favorite stories to share about that?

CHERYL:  Rene Gutteridge and I met after she adapted my screenplay for The Ultimate Gift into the novelization. We didn’t work together while she did that, but once I saw what she did (and loved it) I tracked her down. We talked about collaborating on other scripts of mine, to turn them into novels. Two of those have been done: Never the Bride and Greetings from the Flipside. We are currently working on a new one titled Love’s a Stage. The highlight was seeing how deeply she got inside my thought processes as she wrote Jessie’s internal monologue for Never the Bride. I couldn’t believe how perceptive she was. I was like, “Rene, did you read my journal?” That was such a fun process to see unfold.

Song of Springhill

Song of Springhill

Janice: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

CHERYL:  When I wrote Song of Springhill, I interviewed about 15 survivors, widows, orphans, rescuers and people affiliated with the town of Springhill and mining. Nothing like going straight to that source for information! I also hired a museum and a newspaper to find back issues of all 1950s newspapers that reported on the mining disasters. I consider those pretty accurate. I used internet searches to research the time period of the 1950s, so I could describe clothing, styles, music, dances etc. of the era. Pinterest and what people are selling on ebay can be great resources for this. I usually build a Pinterest board for any new setting I’m taking on so I can get more visually into the time period or setting. I actually wrote a blog about how to use Pinterest when writing:


When working on research for a story about a 911 operator, I got to sit in at a police station and watch them work! Nothing like getting that up close and personal view of what the real world setting is like. (I could never do that job!)

Janice: One of my favorite questions: I believe that although all readers are not writers, all writers must be readers. On that assumption, what are you reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

CHERYL:  Currently I’m reading a few of the new release books that were “competitors” on the top lists on Amazon when I first released my book. I never would have heard of these love stories had I not been so closely watching the new releases as we’d hop back and forth with each other over who got the top three slots. I’m enjoying the work of others who write in my genre.

If it’s fiction I prefer digital. Since most fiction books are only read once, there’s no need to take up additional space. But if I’m reading something for the sake of spiritual growth or writing how-to’s, I tend to prefer the print books so I can highlight and refer back a little easier than having to flip through kindle bookmarks. (One exception would be reference books, like The Emotion Thesaurus, I love having on a kindle.) I use that a lot while writing novels.

Janice: Tell us a bit about yourself. What are some of your favorite things?

CHERYL:  My husband. I waited forever for him, so I have a deep appreciation for his presence in my life. Taking daytrips or weekend trips to new places with him. We love taking fun photographs everywhere; it’s like the world is our playground. Our favorite places are just about anywhere off California’s Highway 1. Gorgeous scenery and fun small towns. I love small towns that have character. I also love scrapbooking with my mom and sister, either in person over holidays or over Skype if I have to miss a family trip. I’m also a Christmas fanatic!

Janice: I have a daughter who is a Christmas fanatic too. Her husband draws the line at putting up the tree before November!

Sometimes writing and meeting deadlines can become overwhelming. How do you balance your professional life with your personal one?

CHERYL:  I’m extremely disciplined. Since I don’t have to hold a full time job, I do have enough hours to work with to keep writing in a normal place and timeframe. There were times during heavy deadlines on films, I’ve had to put in 13 hour days. But that is a rarity and a season that will pass. For the most part, I write from 9-6 with breaks or time to do some household things. But I have evenings free to keep my personal life going.

Janice: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

CHERYL:  Write, write, write. Get feedback either from friends or professional critique services. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in your writing. And write what you’re passionate about, not what you think you should write because of trends. If you only write, like say in a particular genre, because people are buying it right now, by the time you’re done people will have moved on. But if you are passionate about what you’re writing, you can find an audience.

Janice: Thanks so much for sharing your life with us today. God bless you in your writing career as well as in your personal life.


Cheryl McKay has been professionally writing since 1997. Cheryl wrote the screenplay for The Ultimate Gift, based on Jim Stovall’s novel. The award-winning film stars James Garner, Brian Dennehy, and Abigail Breslin and was released in theaters by Fox in 2007. The Ultimate Gift won a Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival, received three Movieguide Nominations, winning one of the Ten Best Family Films of 2007, and won a CAMIE Award, for one of the Top Ten Films of the year. Cheryl also wrote the DVD for Gigi: God’s Little Princess, another book adaptation based on the book by Sheila Walsh, as well as the Wild and Wacky, Totally True Bible Stories audio series and books with Frank Peretti. She wrote a half-hour drama for teenagers about high school violence, called Taylor’s Wall. It was produced in Los Angeles by Family Theater Productions. She wrote a script called Greetings from the Flipside, commissioned by Art Within, after winning a year-long fellowship. It’s currently being adapted into a novel for B&H Publishing (with Rene Gutteridge). Her screenplay, Never the Bride, has been adapted into a novel for Random House Publishers and was released in June 2009. The film version is in development. She also wrote the screenplay for A Friend for Maddie. Cheryl lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Chris, who is a photographer and a musician.

Check out this list of Cheryl’s social media sites:







The other night I lay awake thinking of all the things I had to do before Christmas. The worrying didn’t help, but I did it anyway.

You may be one of the many even-tempered, well-organized folks who complete their Christmas shopping in August, who decorate their homes with homemade ornaments in November, who bake and cook until every available space in freezer and cabinet is full of delectable goodies from Pinterest. Who never find themselves backed into a corner created by their own neglected duties. You may well be one of those.

On the other hand, you may be one of “the others,” people like me who never seem to get everything done, who forget to send birthday cards until the day before (why do people insist on having birthdays in December?), who make a hasty stop at the grocery store to buy mass-produced cookies, who mutter as they try to dress the house for Christmas. People like me who feel frustrated every December with all that waits to be done to comply with the status quo.file3341326331749

As I lay awake the other night, I thought of another individual who also must have lain awake those weeks before Christmas. She was very young, in the midst of an engagement grown difficult because of her unexplained pregnancy. Her family and friends, if there were any friends left, regarded her with accusatory glances. Her betrothed tried to understand, tried to walk in faith. And then, a final inconceivable obstacle: an unexpected journey. In those last weeks when she was tired and felt like a plodding camel, she and her fiancé had to travel a great distance to comply with the orders of the Department of Family Status to confirm their pedigrees. Add to this the fact that they were poor. No money for a wagon or even a cart. Just a bony donkey. No reservations to confirm a room at the end of the journey.file000450585184


Yet this young woman endured all this because she believed it to be God’s will. She still suffered swollen ankles, possibly dread of what lay ahead, a hard labor in the corner of a warm but smelly barn with only her fiancé as midwife, and unanswered questions about her future. But God was there. In the midst of the chaos, squalor, pain and fear, He entrusted His only Son to that young, very possibly worried young woman we know as Mary.

That first Christmas did not follow the expected script, but it was the perfect one. Which helps me to understand several things:

  1. We can’t expect our lives to follow our preconceived plans
  2. God often surprises but never forsakes
  3. Often the things we think are so important…are not

I pray that as we prepare for this Christmas season, we will concentrate on people and God’s gift to us. Let’s not let those niggling duties interfere with the greatest gift ever given to our world:  Jesus.

God bless, and have a very Merry Christmas!



Point of View can be a tricky subject. Basically, it refers to how we decide to relate our story, the perspective from which we see it. Which character(s) will communicate the story most effectively? Do we want to tell the story from one person’s perspective?

many people




A short story is often told from one perspective because of the limited length of time to develop characters. A novel, on the other hand, may use several perspectives to relate the story.  many people




Will we choose first person or third for this narrator?

This is first person: “I can still feel the heat of the fire.”

Consider the story To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, told in first person through the eyes of a young girl called Scout. Her every observation, every judgment, is sifted through her limited experience and perception, but it’s enough for the reader to grasp the greater significance.

And this is third person: “She could still feel the heat of the fire.”

Lord of the Rings uses this perspective.

The first person approach is the most intimate, but is also limiting as to how much the first person character can know and observe. The third person is less intimate, but allows for more than one character to share the point of view focus.

Besides that choice, we must decide whether the point of view character(s) will be limited to what they alone can perceive or will be privy to other characters’ thoughts and feelings? This latter POV is known as omniscient, for obvious reasons.

An example of omniscient POV:

“Alice saw the woman duck behind the counter when she entered the store, so she decided to investigate. Meanwhile, the woman crouched in fear, wondering where to hide.” Here we see from Alice’s point of view as well as the crouching woman’s. It’s like a bird’s eye view narrative.

Currently, the omniscient viewpoint is not commonly used in fiction, as it distances the reader from the characters and fragments the focus.

If we’re unsure of what point of view will best suit our story, we are free to try several options to see which works best. The experiment take time and effort, but is worthwhile.

A good tip: once we decide which perspective to use, we must be consistent. If, for example, we choose third person for a longer story, we have the option of seeing the story through the eyes of several characters, thus giving us a broader vision, but we must be clear in each instance which character is “seeing.”

The rule of thumb, at least for novice and intermediate writers, is that only one point of view should be employed in any given scene. The late Ron Benrey, agent/editor/author, suggested envisioning a camera on the head of the point of view character to help us remember that he or she can only see what the camera sees.camera

If we are writing about what Alice saw, then for that entire scene (one place or time in the story—think of a scene in a movie) we should only record what Alice senses or knows. If we wish to portray the story from another character’s point of view, we must create a new scene and maintain that character’s perspective throughout that scene.

Jumping from one character to another within a scene is known as head-hopping, and is generally frowned upon because it makes the story difficult to follow.

Another tip gained from Ron Benrey’s workshop is to make sure the reader is well aware of who the point of view character is. Mention the name at or very near the beginning of each scene so the reader isn’t left wondering.

Lack of understanding regarding point of view is one of the most telling signs of amateur writing. There are many books available that clarify this crucial element. Check out Writer’s Digest Books, specifically Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

For a more in-depth look at the various point of view options and how they work, check out this site.


Practice by Practice

See my interview with Kathleen Gibson on my blog for November 11.

Practice by Practice is one of the best inspirational books I’ve read in a very long time. The subtitle is “the art of everyday faith,” and it lives up to that designation. Readings are titled appropriately (here are a few examples):

“Keep Your Life Debts Short”

“Shine On, No Matter the Weather”

“Stake Your Reputation on Love”

“Help Someone Find Their Song”

“Practice Hospitality (Avoid Homicide)”

Here’s a quote from that last one: “Practicing hospitality is tiring. It punches holes in one’s privacy. It messes with one’s schedule…But ignoring hospitality’s responsibilities robs us of hospitality’s rewards” page 49.

Besides the beauty of the book itself—a hardcover attractively bound and covered in Canada by Word Alive Press—Practice by Practice is a treasury of observation and encouragement, a gift to the reader. I rationed the readings to stretch the experience over a longer period of time. This is truly a gem of a book, a collection of snapshots of life that focus on faith.

Each of author Kathleen Gibson’s wise and often witty anecdotes touched my heart. Some made me laugh out loud, others made me stop and think about what I believe and how I live, others made me weep with realization or compassion or fresh commitment. See what you think:

“…make a practice of never criticizing a mourner—at least, not till you’ve cried with him beside an open coffin” page 31.

“…the image of God never goes into hiding, even in people who have little time for him” page 43.

Gibson’s giftedness as a writer is obvious in quotes such as the following:

“Prairie farm fields in winter shades were spread tidily below like a grandmother’s guest room coverlet, waiting to be turned back by the warm hand of visiting spring” page 57.

“…the sun had finished its evening painting and slipped between the covers of horizon and cloud” page 102.

Her wit is apparent in many quotes, but here’s my favourite example:

“I am a numeric paranoiac: I hate numbers in any form—avoid them like dieters avoid all foods creamy, sweet, or slippery” page 143.

I love the way Gibson describes herself as a “rich little poor girl” (page 164), in the section titled “Cultivate the Truest Riches.”

The author’s unique perspective on life shows through:

“…above the clammy, heaving cloud waits blue and gold, so blue and gold that the looking is difficult. And that should not be surprising, because therein can be found the face of God” page 58.

“…that even if I never publish another article, I’m no less important in the grand scheme of life than the latest multiple bestselling author…because within us resides the image of a God who loves us, not matter who rejects us” page 93.

“Coincidence? There is no such word in God’s dictionary. Only perfect, divine timing” page 151.

I recommend this little book to anyone who longs to draw closer to Christ in everyday faith. And remember, in Kathleen’s words, “No amount of practicing can initiate salvation … protection … love. Those things come to us not because we deserve them but because God is in the business of flagrant outrageous grace” page 168.

Check out Kathleen’s website at http://kathleengibson.ca

Kathleen Gibson

Kathleen Gibson

Secrets-and-Lies-web-258x400When Carol Daniels can’t sleep at night, which is often, she tunes in to her favorite oldies station to request songs and talk off-air with deejay, Joey Hill. Carol has reasons for insomnia. Her estranged brother is in prison for multiple brutal murders, and his former associates think Carol knows where he hid his stash of takings.

Carol and her sixteen year-old son, Paul, have recently moved from Calgary to Toronto in an attempt to stay ahead of the thugs. She works at the Sticky Fingers Café, waitressing and baking delectable desserts for customers, trying to create a normal life for her son. However, Paul defies her wishes and clings to his dream of becoming a musician, just like his deadbeat father, Carol’s ex. She’s afraid he’ll end up involved in drugs like her other son Keith, who died of an overdose two years ago.

Joey Hill offers Carol encouragement and hope from a Christian worldview, but when Carol finds out about his past drug connections, she decides she can’t trust him either. Can she trust a frequent customer, Patrick Stairs, who seems to like her? She needs someone to talk to besides the police investigators. Considering the state of affairs in her life, Carol wonders if there can be any good outcome for her and Paul.

Tension and conflict place high in this tightly woven suspense novel. Author Janet Sketchley is a top-notch plotter. Many questions arise at the beginning of the story that are gradually revealed, creating an intensity that holds the reader, and Sketchley knows how to draw them out for greatest effect.

All the characters in this book are distinct and have a purpose for their existence. They deal with anxiety, false conclusions and fears while facing frightening and dangerous situations. Motivated by their circumstances, the characters are ordinary people facing extraordinary trials, fighting seemingly insurmountable odds. Lead character Carol clings tenuously to her faith, grown thin with worry and trouble and unanswered pleas for resolution.

As well as great plotting and character development, Sketchley uses “place” to enhance the mood to the story.

The character Carol Daniels in Secrets & Lies is the connection to Sketchley’s previous book, Heaven’s Prey, the story of Carol’s brother. A great connection but a whole new story. I recommend both books to all readers who love clean suspense fiction.

Author Janet Sketchley

Author Janet Sketchley

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