Fifth-Tuesday Rant

NOTE: This post was mis-scheduled earlier in the month, so if it sounds like you’ve read it before, you probably have. I fixed the posting time, so here it is again. 

It’s always fun to veer off the beaten path every fifth-Tuesday and opinionate. I think the word is actually opine, but that sounds like something you might do in the forest, and I’m nowhere near a wooded area right now.

Today, I will opine on what may be a rather unimportant issue, but still one that has me stewing: GRAY


I strongly dislike gray. I don’t say “the colour gray” because I don’t think of it as a colour as much as a lack of colour. I think it comes to mind at this time of year because I have a certain degree of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). This means the lack of sunlight hours causes me to have trouble, even more than usual, getting out of bed in the morning and working at anything after supper. It means I have to ward off discouragement and depressing thoughts more than usual.

With that in mind, consider the “colour of the times.” Gray. We went furniture shopping recently. The couches and chairs are gray. The cushions are gray. My sister was looking for a new comforter for her king bed, and all she could find was shades of gray. People paint their walls one of the myriad shades of gray. *Note: Please, if you are a friend of mine and have gray walls, that’s your choice, and your house looks lovely, but I could not live healthily surrounded by gray.

We are all somewhat influenced by social pressures, and I believe we are being told that gray is the style colour to use these days. Another example of this social pressure is the plethora of Amish books that have glutted the reading market for the past decade. I read a few. That was all I needed. So, who is telling us that we want Amish fiction? Who is telling us that we want to surround ourselves with gray?

This world is a palette of colour.

The orange and pink and red of the sunset

The pink of my roses

The violets and yellows of my violas

The luscious reds or our apples

The unnumbered variety of greens in spring trees and grasses.

The rich earthy brown and the gold  of autumn leaves.

As my son said so eloquently when he visited Lima, Peru some years ago,

“It’s like a kid gone crazy with a huge box of crayons.”

Why in the world would I settle for gray in this wide world of colour? So I won’t.

I wish you all a year of brilliant colour in your life and work. May you be blessed.

NOTE: All photos in this blog are my own except for the first. I do not have a picture of gray. That one is from pixabay.com.


Today, I’d like to introduce you to a writing friend who also lives in Saskatchewan, Canada. We haven’t known each other long, but I’ve already come to appreciate her enthusiasm and encouraging attitude. Say hello to Donna Gartshore, who writes for Love Inspired, the faith branch of Harlequin.

Donna Gartshore

JAN: Welcome, Donna. Tell us, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

DONNA: I honestly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I was about five or six when I proudly gave my dad, a journalist, a story I’d written about two girls on a picnic who saw a squirrel. I’m sure it had no punctuation! But the thing that stands out for me was how seriously Dad took my efforts. He didn’t just say, “Oh that’s so cute.” He read it carefully and told me what he liked about it, but also how to improve it. I’ve never forgotten that. So, I’ve believed I could be a writer ever since then.

JAN: Who are some people who influenced your decision to be a writer?

DONNA: I guess I partly answered this in the previous question. My dad always treated my writing goals seriously. I have a lot of creative people in my family – playwrights, marketing experts, etc.; books and words are important to us. I also had elementary school teachers who liked my stories and encouraged me. And every time I read a book that contains a descriptive phrase or a moment of revelation that takes my breath away, I think THIS is what I want to do.

JAN: What’s your preferred genre?

DONNA: It might be faster to talk about what I don’t read! I don’t like horror or true crime. I worry enough without bringing that into my life. I read Christian fiction and romance (obviously!). I love Alice Munro’s and Mavis Gallant’s short stories. I love mysteries—Gail Bowen’s are favourites of mine. In general, whatever the genre, I don’t like things that are too preachy or overly sweet. I like to see characters with genuine struggles, so when they find their answers, it’s that much more rewarding. I’ve gained some of my greatest inspiration from the strength of characters in books that aren’t traditionally inspirational.

JAN: Why do you write?

DONNA: I believe in using the talents we are blessed with. I want to show my thanks to God, share ideas, inspire people, help myself understand my views on the world … mostly it feels impossible to imagine not writing.

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

DONNA: I like to say that I’m a plotser. I use chapter beats a lot. I have to get down some kind of outline as far as what I hope to accomplish in each chapter and what needs to happen to each character to move forward. But, it’s very fluid and exactly HOW things happen can change a lot as I’m writing. I write at the kitchen table.

JAN: Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

DONNA: I think I’m inspired by what I don’t know and by what troubles or challenges me. Writing about those things is a way of making peace with myself and with God about things that I don’t understand.

JAN: That makes sense. What do you like most/least about writing?

DONNA: I like most being able to express myself and the feeling of fulfillment it gives me. What I like least are the self-doubts. I was telling my writing group that I’ve actually been experiencing more of those since I got published and I don’t know if anyone but other writers would understand that. I want to try to focus on the joys of the process, rather than being overly worried about when I’m going to get published again.

JAN: Yeah, we think we will have arrived when publication comes, but actually, it means we have lots of work to do, and we’re not always sure we’re up to it. What are some the best methods of promoting your work?

DONNA: I use Facebook and Twitter a lot. The authors with Love Inspired are very good at promoting one another’s work. I was also fortunate to do TV interviews with CTV Noon and Global Morning shows.

JAN: That’s excellent. How do you balance your professional time with personal time?

DONNA: I don’t get enough sleep! I try to do writing early in the mornings. It’s never easy to get out of bed but I know myself well enough to know that I feel less motivated after work than I do before. Right now, I am writing mornings and evenings because I’m trying to get a project done by the end of the month. But I still try to wrap up by 9 pm so I have time for other things before bed.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

DONNA: I just finished an oldie but a goodie: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. I prefer print; no contest.

JAN: What are some of your favourite things? What makes you unique?

DONNA: Hmm, I don’t know about the unique part. I love family time, especially hanging out with my daughter. I like church, I enjoy doing personal Bible study. I like to visit with friends and share chat and laughs. I probably watch too much TV.

JAN: Yes, me too. What keeps you going in your writing career?

DONNA: Probably coming to understand and accept that it’s not always going to be a straight road, that there will be a lot of bumps and ups and downs. I personally like to keep focused on writing because I love to write and not getting bogged down with the career aspects of it. It also helps to share honestly with other writers and to benefit from their experience. We all look “perfect” on Facebook but I know that we all experience challenges in writing and I like to be honest about that.

JAN: That is so true. How is your faith reflected in your writing?

DONNA: As I said earlier, I don’t like things that are too preachy or make faith look like it’s a magic solution to everything. In my books, I try to show how having faith can help people through difficulties and challenging times but they still having to go through the process of getting through and the pain in doing that is still very real.

JAN: What is your ultimate writing goal?

DONNA: I truly just want to keep writing, and keep learning and growing as a writer. If I can do that and show my faith in God in the process, that would be great. On a more secular level, of course I do hope to continue to publish with Love Inspired and also hope to find other avenues to share my work because I also like to write short stories, poetry and devotionals.

JAN: Advice for beginning writer?

DONNA: WRITE! I know so many say that but it’s so true. It always amazes me how many people say they want to write but also say they don’t have time. I will insist that we always make time for the people and things that are truly important to us. Also, I would say, trust yourself, enjoy the process and be true to your own voice.

JAN: Donna, thanks so much for taking time to answer these questions and let us know more about you. Blessings as you continue in your writing career.

DONNA: Thank you, Jan! I had a great time doing this and really appreciate the opportunity.




Oh yay! Another cozy mystery series.

I purchased this book because of a review by fellow author, Janet Sketchley, and I’m glad I did. It’s the story of Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes who finds herself in a quaint Northern Michigan town as new owner of a maple syrup business. Nicole is a lawyer, but she’s not happy about it. Her parents, also lawyers, demand perfection, and she is far from perfect. In fact, she’s klutzy. I love that about her. She’s a big city girl in a small town, trying to figure out who murdered her favorite uncle, the only one who ever understood her or took time for her.

The mood of the book is lightened by humor, but the plot is intense, as cozy mysteries go, and carries the reader on to the very end when the mystery is finally solved.

One of the best things about this book/series is that it’s a clean read. Thanks, Emily James. I look forward to the next books in this series.

January 2018 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Her Handyman Hero by Lorraine Beatty — Reid Blackthorn arrives in Dover on a personal mission—to make sure his terminally ill brother gets a chance to meet his daughter. Deceiving little Lily’s guardian isn’t his intention. Yet once Tori Montgomery mistakes Reid for her new handyman, he knows it’s the only way to be close to his niece. Tori is honoring her friend’s last wish by keeping Lily away from her father’s family. And once she learns who Reid truly is, she realizes there’s too much at stake—including custody of Lily—for her to fall for the former DEA agent. But in keeping a promise, is she losing out on her chance for a happily-ever-after? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Beneath the Summer Sun by Kelly Irvin — It’s been four years since Jennie’s husband died in a farming accident. Long enough that the elders in her Amish community think it’s time to marry again for the sake of her seven children. What they don’t know is that grief isn’t holding her back from a new relationship. Fear is. A terrible secret in her past keeps her from moving forward. Meanwhile, Leo Graber nurtures a decades-long love for Jennie, but guilt plagues him—guilt for letting Jennie marry someone else and guilt for his father’s death on a hunting trip many years ago. How could anyone love him again—and how could he ever take a chance to love in return? (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Ain’t Misbehaving by Marji Laine — True, Annalee’s crime amounted to very little, but not in terms of community service hours. Her probation officer encouraged her with a promise of an easy job in an air-conditioned downtown environment. She didn’t expect her role to be little better than a janitor at an after-school daycare in the worst area of town. Carlton Whelen hides behind the nickname of CJ so people won’t treat him like the wealthy son of the Whelen Foundation director. Working at the foundation’s after-school program delights him and annoys his business-oriented father. When a gorgeous prima donna is assigned to his team, he not only cringes at her mistakes but also has to avoid the attraction that builds from the first time he sees her. (Contemporary Romance from Write Integrity Press)

Finding Grace by Melanie D. Snitker — Single dad Tyler Martin can’t be more grateful to the woman who finds his missing daughter. Even though he feels a spark between them, falling in love is a risk he shouldn’t take. Too bad chance encounters and his stubborn heart keep trying to convince him otherwise. After escaping a nightmarish relationship, Beth Davenport is content with her safe and blessedly normal life. Yet something about Tyler and his adorable daughter makes her wish for more. With the walls around her heart finally starting to crumble, she’s afraid of a future she can’t predict. Can they let go of their fear and trust God to lead them to the love they desperately need? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Marrying Mandy by Melanie D. Snitker — Mandy Hudson swore she’d never marry. Abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandparents, she has a hard time trusting that real love will last. When her grandmother dies, Mandy’s shocked to discover a stipulation in the will. Considering marriage to her best friend may be the only way to keep her family’s beloved bed-and-breakfast. The loss of his job threatens Preston Yarrow’s shaky financial stability. Besides, he can’t watch his best friend give up the only real home she’s ever known. Frustrated by Mandy’s stubborn refusal to let him help, he’s certain they are stronger together than they are apart. A marriage of convenience might be crazy… or an answer to both their prayers. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)


Son of Promise by Caryl McAdoo — Can a wife find the grace to forgive when her husband’s withheld the truth? Travis Buckmeyer has a secret son, and the morning’s come to tell his sweet wife. He hates breaking Emma Lee’s heart. She promised him one ten years ago, but hasn’t been blessed to carry a baby to term. Every miscarriage made the telling harder, but now his clock’s run out. He’s going for his son, praying he won’t lose her.
Cody knows who his mother claims his father is, but he’s only interested in getting sprung from reform school then boosting enough from the do-gooder to bust out on his own.
Can Travis find redemption, Emma Lee forgiveness, or Cody the love he’s been longing for? (Historical, Independently Published)

Historical Romance:

Hearts Entwined by Mary Connealy, Melissa Jagears, Regina Jennings, and Karen Witemeyer — Four top historical romance novelists team up in this new collection to offer stories of love and romance with a twist of humor. In Karen Witemeyer’s “The Love Knot,” Claire Nevin gets the surprise of her life awaiting her sister’s arrival by train. Mary Connealy’s “The Tangled Ties That Bind” offers the story of two former best friends who are reunited while escaping a stampede. Regina Jennings offers “Bound and Determined,” where a most unusual trip across barren Oklahoma plains is filled with adventure, romance, and . . . camels? And Melissa Jagears’ “Tied and True” entertains with a tale of two hearts from different social classes who become entwined at a cotton thread factory. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Mary Davis, Kathleen E. Kovach, Paula Moldenhauer, Suzanne Norquist, Donita Kathleen Paul, Donna Schlachter, and Pegg Thomas — For seven bachelors, this bouquet of brides means a happily ever after. Meet seven American women who were named for various flowers but struggle to bloom where God planted them. Can love help them grow to their full potential? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Mother For His Family by Susanne Dietze
Lady Helena Stanhope’s reputation is in tatters…and she’s lost any hope for a “respectable” ton marriage. An arranged union is the only solution. But once Helena weds formidable Scottish widower John Gordon, Lord Ardoch, and encounters his four mischievous children, she’s determined to help her new, ever-surprising family. Even if she’s sure love is too much to ask for.
All John needs is someone to mother his admittedly unruly brood. He never imagined that beautiful Lady Helena would be a woman of irresistible spirit, caring and warmth. Or that facing down their pasts would give them so much in common. Now, as danger threatens, John will do whatever it takes to convince Helena their future together—and his love—are for always. (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

His Forgotten Fiancee by Evelyn M. Hill — Liza Fitzpatrick is stunned when her fiancé finally arrives in Oregon City — with amnesia. Matthew Dean refuses to honor a marriage proposal he doesn’t recall making, but Liza needs his help now to bring in the harvest, and maybe she can help him remember… Matthew is attracted to the spirited Liza, and as she tries to help him regain his old memories, the new ones they’re creating together start to make him feel whole. Even as he falls for her again, though, someone’s determined to keep them apart. Will his memory return in time to save their future? (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White — Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which makes her the perfect choice for a critical task at the outset of World War I–to secure a crucial cypher key from a famous violinist currently in Wales. Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he’s won–until now, when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father’s work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only distraction he finds from his worry is in meeting the intriguing and talented Willa Forsythe. But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn’t–that she must betray him and find that key, or her own family could pay the same price his surely has. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])


Surgeon’s Choice by Richard L. Mabry, MD — Dr. Ben Merrick thought his biggest problem was getting his fiancé’s divorced parents into the same room for the wedding–and then, people started dying. (Mystery, Independently Published through White Glove)

Romantic Suspense:

Innocent Lies by Robin Patchen — Desperate to be safe from the man who held her captive and ruined her life, Kelsey must ensure her child is protected before she can take her enemy on. But a string of bad luck gets her arrested and lands her face-to-face with the only man she’s ever loved—the only man who can destroy all her plans. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Cold Truth by Susan Sleeman — When research chemist Kiera Underwood receives the cryptic phone call about her twin brother, she tries to contact him to no avail. Her twin sense tingles, warning her that something is wrong. Kiera’s not prepared when an attempt is made on her life and Blackwell Tactical operative Cooper Ashcroft delivers her second shock of the day. Someone killed the supervisor at the research lab where her brother works and stole a deadly biotoxin. The main suspect? Her brother, and Blackwell Tactical has been hired to bring him in. If that wasn’t shocking enough, she’s suspected of colluding with him. Setting out to prove herself and her brother is innocent, she is almost abducted before Ashcroft rescues her. He’s faced with the reality that she’s telling the truth and someone has likely abducted her brother—perhaps killed him—and now Kiera’s very life is in danger, too. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Revisiting Christmas…

One of the highlights of our Christmas season is a visit to our kids in Gem, Alberta, in time for their school Christmas program. Over the years of our grandchildren’s attendance at the school, we’ve managed to take in several of these.

Gem School is a very small rural school, just over twenty students of varied backgrounds. They are divided into two classrooms: grades 1 – 3 with one teacher, and grades 4-6 with another. There is also an educational assistant employed a couple of days a week, and a half-time secretary who doubles as the music teacher. Parents are encouraged to volunteer for various events or to just help out in the classroom. Class pairing—matching students from the first class with students from the second for reading—has been a great success.

When we were at the Gem School program this year (December 2017), we met the new first-classroom teacher, as well as her husband. He told us that as a behavioral consultant for the district, he doesn’t get called to Gem because they don’t need his services. They handle their own issues as a community, as a family.


Beginning in November, teaching of regular curriculum in Gem School is set to simmer on a side-burner as practices begin for the Christmas program. Each classroom puts on a skit. For many years, these skits have been written by a now-retired teacher and her husband. Many of the jokes relate specifically to certain students or teachers, or even the director of education for the district. Everyone finds them very entertaining.

Students who take music lessons play their instruments in between scenes, and smaller groups sing Christmas songs. The grand finale is a black-light show based on the song: Do You Hear What I Hear? The students do an excellent job of this wonderful production.

Why is this annual Christmas presentation so important? What do the kids learn that makes the time spent so valuable? Here are a few of my observations:

The children:

  1. learn to work together to put on the show
  2. develop self-esteem as they play their parts and sing their songs
  3. learn public speaking skills, including the use of clear and audible voice projection. I could hear every spoken word, even at the back of the long, narrow hall. After this year’s performance, I heard people talking about the boy who never speaks. But he did speak his one- or two-word parts loudly and clearly. Truly a success story.
  4. find out how to work the audience with in-house jokes, humour, and enthusiasm
  5. gain basic play production knowledge: acting skills, acceptable backstage behaviour, onstage movement, positioning of props, presentation of the black-light display
  6. learn to support and encourage each other
  7. strengthen their memorization skills, although it’s not the end of the world if someone forgets a line and needs a cue (this is rare)
  8. learn to adapt when things don’t go exactly as planned, and to enjoy themselves as they learn
  9. develop musical skills
  10. come to appreciate a sense of community within the group
  11. become involved in helping to build props and sew costumes
  12. get to earn a reward, besides the sense of accomplishment. (The day after the program, the Gem School has Pajama Day, where the students all come to school in pajamas, watch the recorded show, and play games.)

During the program, parents and community volunteers take care of lighting, recording, props, and student control. After the program, the students move through the audience talking with people and handing out Christmas oranges. They are obviously pleased with their accomplishments, as well they should be.

One of the welcome aspects of this small school program is the freedom to include a nativity scene in the black-light display. Even though an active debate continues to swirl around the place of religion in schools, I personally am thankful we can preserve the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—in the school in Gem. I know this may not be possible forever, but I hope and pray it will be sustained as long as possible.


I know this phrase has been used before, but I’ll borrow it for the Gem School: They truly have the best Christmas pageant ever! Kudos to all those involved in this production, especially the students.

I love to watch Hallmark movies at Christmastime, and they are numerous. I’ve noticed that many of them have a similar theme: single parent with cute young child returns to his/her hometown and meets a man/woman they used to know. Love grows, obstacles pile up, love overcomes.

The details differ, but the themes are similar. So why do I keep watching? I know the setup, I know the outcome.

For me, it’s the journey. Who are these people and what makes me care about them? What problems come into their lives? How do they overcome them? What tools do they use to do so? What are their values? What finally brings them together?

These are the same questions that apply to the books we read, and we usually invest more time reading (unless you read a lot faster than I do) than watching. Whether we are readers or writers, finding a connection between the main character at the very outset it enormously important, or I don’t care to read / watch. The more I care, the more I’m invested in the story.

One more thing: I also notice that the real meaning of Christmas—the birth of our Savior—is completely missing from many, if not most, of the stories. I wish that your journey to the manger this season doesn’t stop there. The reason for the season is Jesus, and his journey goes on to the cross. That’s our reason for joy and celebration.

Blessings to you on your particular path this Christmas.



I’ve long been a follower of C.S. Lakin’s excellent writing blog: livewritethrive.com, which includes tips, ideas and training pertaining to writing and the writing life.

This is where I heard about The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction. As a plotter, I love techniques that add framework to my writing process.

12 Key Pillars does just that. It helps the writer pre-think the most important facets/aspects of a novel before launching into the actual writing. The four main pillars—the four corners that hold it up—are as follows:

  1. concept with a kicker
  2. conflict with high stakes
  3. protagonist with a goal
  4. theme with a heart

Add to that keys 5 through 12, a downloadable worksheet for each chapter, and some time, and we have an exceptional resource for planning a novel. Lakin offers lots of examples of books and movies that use the concepts she outlines. She also uses analogies: just as we need a solid base on which to construct a house, so a novel requires structure and strength to ensure quality. As a visual learner, I found these word pictures very helpful.

Once we know the basics, have thought them through and dug deep to answer the questions C.S. Lakin sets out, we are free to write the first draft with a lot more purpose and direction than we may have had previous to reading this book.

I have read and studied this book, and filled out the worksheets, and I personally recommend it to anyone who is seeking excellence in novel structure.

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