Help for novel construction

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Image from Pixabay

A request to beta-read an as-yet-unpublished novel recently brought to mind again the challenges of writing a novel-length story. Two books that were a lifeline for me when I was writing my two Bible fiction novels were How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson and The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction by C. S. Lakin.

In the Snowflake Method, Ingermanson starts writers off by planning from their main concept to ever more detailed aspects of the book. The genius of his method is that you assemble the bones (setting and characters) and construction plan (plot) in its entirety before you ever begin writing. You won’t spend weeks at the computer just to discover that your story comes to a dead end.

He describes his method in detail in the book but he also describes it in short on this page of his website: The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel.

I used his method to do the groundwork when planning both Destiny’s Hands and Under the Cloud.

I purchased the C. S. Lakin book, (The 12 Pillars) while working on Under the Cloud and spent several months making sure my story had each pillar in place. Here again the focus begins with story basics. Lakin identifies four main pillars as the basis for a good story: 1] Concept with a Kicker; 2] Protagonist with a Goal; 3] Conflict with High Stakes; and 4] Theme with Heart. With these established, she goes on to talk about eight additional pillar: 5] Plot and Subplots; 6] Secondary Characters; 7] Setting; 3] Tension; 9] Dialogue; 10] Voice; 11] Writing Style; and 12] Motifs. A downloadable checklist/worksheet (link provided in the book) is available for each of these pillars.

For myself, making sure that I had considered my story in the light of each of these pillars gave me confidence that I hadn’t missed anything major.

So if you’re writing a novel and struggling with any aspect of it, either or both of these books, along with books by James Scott Bell (especially Plot and Structure and Revision and Self-Editing) will prove helpful… or they sure were to me!

Powerful Thinking – review

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Powerful Thinking by Joyce Meyer


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In Powerful Thinking, popular Christian author and speaker Joyce Meyer challenges readers to take a deep look at twelve mindsets. Each mindset titles a chapter and is expressed as an affirmation (e.g. ”Mindset One: Because I Am in Christ I Can Do Everything I Need to Do in Life”). Meyer uses personal stories, scripture passages, and explanation of those passages to detail what each mindset involves and why it’s important. The chapters end with a “Think, Then Act” section made up of questions to use in journaling or group discussion to help the reader apply what they have read to life.

I did not find this book all that different from other books on the thought life that I have read by the same author. However, familiar truth is still truth and a good reminder. The chapter in Powerful Thinking that really struck me, judging by the number of highlights I saved, was the mindset “Because I Am in Christ I Am Difficult to Offend.” Notable quotes from that chapter:

“As human beings, we tend to be suspicious of others, and we get hurt due to our own imaginations… I encourage you to believe the best about others. Resist the temptation to question their motives or to think they hurt you deliberately. Believing the best about people will keep offense and bitterness out of your life and help you stay peaceful and joyful” – Kindle Location 397.

This compact volume is a great introduction to, or review of thought life hygiene for a Christian. It is inspiring, challenging, and a quick read. Powerful Thinking will be available for purchase on June 15, 2021.

I received Powerful Thinking as a gift from the publisher in return for writing a review.

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The Watercolor Flower Artist’s Bible – Review

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The Watercolor Flower Artist’s Bible: An Essential Reference for the Practicing Artist by Claire Waite Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


My newest art book is the gorgeous Watercolor Flower Artist’s Bible: An Essential Reference for the Practicing Artist, edited by Claire Waite Brown.

This is quite a comprehensive volume. It starts out with a section on watercolor supplies and explains the most common techniques watercolorists use. Several tutorials encourage practice with these, e.g. “Combining wet-in-wet and wet-on-dry,” “Using Masking Fluid” and more.

An analysis of flower shapes follows. Here the text explains the look and structure of the various flower shapes (like bell, trumpet, cup and bowl, etc.—eight in all), delving into how they appear foreshortened and reflect light from different angles. Of course a real flower example is used in each case. (For example, in the trumpet section, a Daffodil is the example).

A Directory of Flowers section follows that. In this part you find a picture of each flower and a link to the instructions on how to paint.

You can also find flowers by color in the colored garden section that follows the directory (“The Red Garden,” “The Pink Garden,” “The Yellow Garden,” etc.) that ends with “Berries and Leaves.” Each garden color chapter is introduced with watercolor paintings by accomplished artists. These are followed by details of specific flowers in the color family and include color swatches of the particular flower’s blooms and instructions on how to draw and paint one example.

To help you even further in finding the flower you want to attempt, you can go to the comprehensive Index at the back, where each flower is listed (alphabetically) and linked (in the Kindle edition) to its page in the book.

This book is chock-full of information and tips. However, my favorite aspect of it so far is the artists’ paintings that begin each colored garden and are sprinkled in other spots throughout. Talk about eye candy and inspiration to improve!

I purchased the Kindle edition of the book, which I read on my iPad. It’s easy to use propped on my desk during painting sessions with no need to fight stubborn book binding. Also I can enlarge the images to my heart’s content.

I’m sure this book will be one of my most used painting references in the months ahead.






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Created to Thrive – review

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Created to Thrive: An Artist’s Guide To Living In Divine Abundance by Matt Tommey



My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A few weeks ago I took part in a three-session masterclass hosted by artist and mentor to artists Matt Tommey. The class was called “Artist Mindset Makeover.” In it, Tommey stated that one’s mindset is the greatest factor in an artist’s success or failure.

In the lectures he defined what a mindset is and identified potential internal roadblocks to experiencing success as an artist. He named roadblocks like memories of put-down words from teachers, parents and friends in childhood and past failures, of fears that we’re too old, too young, or not educated enough to be successful at this activity we love. Even the fear of success could be a roadblock. He also suggested how these roadblocks can be overcome by aligning our thoughts and mindset with what the Bible says about our identity and purpose.

Because the course was based on Tommey’s book Created to Thrive, I re-read it in the past weeks and was encouraged and inspired anew.

In the book Tommey goes into the idea of mindset in greater depth in chapters with names like “As a Man Thinks…” and “Be Transformed.” He casts a vision for Christian artists that inspires them to respect and honor the aspects of imagination and creativity put within us all as part of our creation in the image of God.

Using stories and parables from the Bible as his basis, he challenges Christian artists to use and develop their talents to be salt and light in their time, place, and sphere of influence. Rather than say more, I’ll let the book speak for itself. Here are some bits that I highlighted.

From the chapter “As a Man Thinks”:

“The power of agreement is a core principle in the Kingdom of God. Whatever you agree with, you welcome into your life” (Kindle Location 665).

From the chapter “Be Fruitful and Multiply”:

“I know all too well what we start in our own strength, we have to maintain in our own strength” – (KL 1144).

From the chapter “Faithful with Little, Ruler over Much”:

“Just realize when God invests something in you, or when the Holy Spirit brings an idea to you and puts something in your hand, it’s serious because it’s not just about you. It’s about His Kingdom going forth. You’re His ambassador in the earth within your circle of influence” – (KL 1351).

From the chapter “For Such a Time As This”:

“I believe when God said, ‘Let there be light’ in Genesis, He was saying something deeper like, ‘Let there be a release of My nature,’ or ‘Let the light of My nature invade this environment that is dark, chaotic, and void.’ When God declared the light of His very nature to be released, all of a sudden everything was transformed! My friend, when God shows up, life as we know it is transformed” (KL 1599)

“As a child of God, you are already commissioned as His ambassador on the earth to release His power and His nature for such as time as this. You have a divine purpose and the divine provision you need to pursue your divine assignment with divine authority. Realize, ambassadors have the authority to make a change in the name of the one who sent them” (KL 1660).

“It’s the habits of your life that create space for God to move, and it’s the habits you create which will enlarge your capacity to be used by Him” (KL 1673).

Finally, from the chapter “Moving from Hobby to Pro”:

“Creating with the Holy Spirit is about process, not product. It’s about continually cultivating ears to hear, eyes to see, and senses to feel what God is saying and doing within your world and then responding through your chosen creative process. For some people, that’s a very intentional process where their art speaks specific messages for specific situations, and for others, like me, it’s a much more fluid approach.

For example, as a natural materials sculptor, I create pieces that reflect the beauty of the natural world as I interpret it through my relationship with God. I simply create what I love as I’m inspired, because I believe God put those desires in me, and I sense His pleasure when I’m involved in the creative process” (KL 1883).

And a last one that I believe is so true:

“Realize people don’t buy art because they need it, they buy because of connection. That connection might be with the artist, the process, the medium, the experience, the subject matter, or any combination of these factors, but there has to be a connection” (KL 1902).

If you’re Christian artist (whatever your art form), struggling with your calling or with how to make progress towards goals and dreams that seem unattainable, Tommey’s book Created to Thrive will definitely put you on a positive path toward thriving, even flourishing as a Christian creative.

Tommey is also a mentor to artists and hosts a regular artist podcast. Find out more about these aspects of his work at MattTommeyMentoring.com

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The Minister’s Wife – review

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The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More by Karen Stiller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I first discovered this book when I attended a webinar on writing spiritual memoir hosted by an Ottawa writing group, where the author, Karen Stiller, was the presenter. I was intrigued. Watching a later interview of Karen by Patricia Paddey on YouTube had me downloading a Kindle edition of the book, and I’m so glad I did.

The Minster’s Wife is a beautifully written memoir of Stiller’s spiritual journey, from her introduction to faith in her youth to her current self-admittedly greying years as a still-learning believer and minister’s wife.


I love the humble, self-deprecating tone of Stiller’s faith pilgrimage stories, which are rich in detail and often humorous.

In fourteen chapters organized by topic rather than chronologically, Stiller relates tales of “Identity,” “Doubt,” “Community,” “Envy,” “Forgiveness,” “Holiness,” and more, Stiller gives us glimpses into her pastor’s wife role that is as satisfying and rewarding as it is sometimes frustrating and challenging. Her love for the church, her children, and her husband glows through her candidly confessed imperfections.


I so appreciated Stiller’s lack of bitterness and self-pity, as she described her experiences, both bad and good. Her stories gave me a new appreciation for the role of pastor’s wife. Her style of showing us what happened without over-explaining its significance left room for this reader to mull over the multi-layered learning that happens so often in real life.



The Minister’s Wife is recommended reading for lovers of memoir and for ministers, minister’s wives, and all of us parishioners who love them.




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Everyday Watercolor Flowers – review

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Everyday Watercolor Flowers – A modern guide to painting blooms, leaves and stems by Jenna Rainey © 2019.


One of my favourite art teachers, particularly of watercolor, is Jenna Rainey. A couple of years ago, her book Everyday Watercolor introduced me to the wonderful medium of watercolor (reviewed here). Her newest book Everyday Watercolor Flowers came out in 2019 and my Kindle edition is well used.

The book begins with an extensive introductory section on watercolor basics including materials, colors, color mixing, hue, and value. In this section Rainey also gives a brief explanation of flower anatomy, leaf types and shapes, and demonstrates brush strokes that make those shapes.

The main chapters describe flower painting projects and are organized by flower shapes (star, circle, bell, bowl, trumpet, and combination) with four projects in each.  That’s 24 projects plus a section on combining flowers into wreaths and borders…so lots to paint here. The projects in each category come in two types: loose and realistic (botanical). In the star-shaped chapter, for example, the cherry blossoms and anemone tutorials describe painting these flowers in a loose style (with little or no pencil drawing to guide the painting), while the clematis and orchid are painted more realistically (begin with a pencil drawing and adhere closely to the details of the plant and flower).

Loose Cherry Blossom flowers from the Star-shaped flower chapter.

The book is beautiful! Rainey’s skill with paint and brush shines through each illustration. The instructions are clear, easy to follow, and interspersed with pictures of the project’s steps. Though the text does feel wordy at times (it would be easier to follow if it were in point form), its tone is encouraging and laced with tips and hacks. If you’ve ever visited Rainey’s YouTube channel you’ll recognize her voice, which comes through here in her writing.

I think beginners and intermediate watercolorists would enjoy these projects. If you’re looking for a book that is designed to help you gain skill in analyzing flowers by shape and has projects that are both loose and realistic, Everyday Watercolor Flowers is a great choice.

Some projects from this book that I’ve done: loose Sunflower, realistic Clematis, loose Dahlia, realistic Ranunculus.

15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces – review

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If there was ever a great time to learn about art, this is it. Not only is the internet full of videos and online class possibilities, but books are easier than ever to purchase and use. For art instruction I love Kindle books. On my iPad they have a built-in stand (I don’t have to fight with stubborn pages to keep the book open while I’m using it) and the illustrations can be enlarged with a couple of finger swipes. One book I downloaded some months ago is Anna Koliadych’s 15-Minute Watercolor Masterpieces. It is full of simple and fun watercolor projects.

The book begins with a section on watercolor techniques and exercises, and then is divided into chapters that name various categories: “Beautiful Landscapes,” “Dreamy Galaxies,” “Elegant Plants and Foliage,” “Flowers,” “Fruits and Sweets,” “Adorable Animals,” and “Fashion.” There are six to nine projects (paintings) in each chapter so lots of possibilities.

The paintings are explained step-by-step and include a list of materials, swatches of the painting’s colors, how to mix them, and illustrations of the project as it progresses.

The book ends with a list of supplies and a few hacks from the author in chapters titled “Supplies” and “Tips and Advice.”

This is a colorful, fun book. The instructions and illustrations are easy to follow. Though I wouldn’t call my projects “masterpieces” or art I would want to frame, they introduced me to a variety of techniques and subjects. They usually took me longer than 15 minutes because drying time was needed. But they were quick and a wonderful way to squeeze in a bit of art every day, even when I didn’t have much time for it.

Here are some of the projects I completed from Anna’s book.

“Mysterious Forest” and “Autumn in a Circle”  are projects from the “Beautiful Landscapes” chapter. “Leafy Branches with Berries” is from the “Elegant Plants and Foliage” chapter. “Wreath of Flowers” is from the “Flowers” chapter.

Author Anna Koliadych also teaches watercolor online offering courses on her website. She is @dearannart on Instagram and her feed is full of short instructional videos.

The Freedom of Dependency (review)

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Patricia Mussolum’s little book the Freedom of Dependency packs a big punch as it riffs on an apparent contradiction—how dependency on Jesus leads to a life of freedom.

Part testimony, part teaching, part a dare to greater faith and obedience, Mussolum covers a lot of territory. In fourteen brief chapters with intriguing names like “The Sorting Room,” “Friendship or Formality,” and “Getting Dressed,” she delves, in a personal and easy-to-understand way, into deep subjects like a Christian’s relationship to the sin nature (“The Sorting Room”), the place of the Bible in a Christian’s life (“Friendship or Formality”), and spiritual clothing options (“Getting Dressed”), and much more.

For a read that will lift, instruct, encourage, and challenge, The Freedom of Dependency won’t disappoint

Discover Your Hidden Self – review

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Discover Your Hidden Self: Opening the Door to Who You Really Are! by John Murray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It is for a time when crisis hits that John Murray has penned the helpful volume Discover Your Hidden Self: Opening the Door to Who You Really Are! In it he uncovers problem areas that may hinder us as we face life-altering challenges of health, relationships, and unpredictable turns of events that are inevitable. The goal is to help us gain calmness and serenity whatever comes our way.

In twelve chapters Murray tackles relevant subjects like grappling with suffering and unfairness, harnessing the power of thoughts and attitudes, extending forgiveness, finding significance and contentment, and being neighbourly. Throughout he sprinkles stories of people who have faced these issues and achieved success at overcoming them.

A penultimate chapter on life’s spiritual side lifts the reader from looking for help only within themselves to establishing a relationship with God—the God of the Bible–for wisdom, courage, strength, and support through life’s perplexities. Here’s a favourite quote from this section:

“Someone once said, ‘Adversity introduces a man to himself,’ which has an element of truth to it, but I think it should read, ‘Adversity introduces a man to his faith.’ In our adversity, in the midst of our emotional turmoil, our faith becomes real or it proves non-existent” – page 82 (Kindle edition).

Murray’s insights are wise and his tone is warm, sympathetic, and encouraging.

This book would be a great read for when you’re in the middle of a trial, or before, to be prepared for when that next challenge comes your way

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Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey (review)

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What strange days we’re living in! Here on Canada’s west coast signs of spring are poking out and blooming all over. The coming of spring usually buoys my spirits immensely and this year is no different—and yet it is. For the black Covid-19 cloud looms on the horizon and we’re all living in obeisance by “social distancing” and, if returning from abroad, living in actual isolation. Closeted in our houses, condos, or apartments, we go out only for necessities and short walks, avoiding each other like the plague (which, we fear, anyone can be carrying, unbeknownst to them). It all feels so bizarre and unreal.

It’s gratifying to see how the online world has stepped up to fill work and recreation gaps. Lately I’ve heard more than once that this is a great time to spend unexpectedly free hours learning something new. My interest in art has familiarized me with that sphere. There, artists are offering all manner of online courses and tutorials, many free.

Another option, if you’d like to try your hand at art, specifically learning to paint with watercolor, is books. One I worked through last year was Jenna Rainey’s Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days.

Everyday Watercolor – Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey

This is an excellent book for a beginning painter. Rainey starts with the basics in sections called “Techniques” and “Form, Perspective and Light.” Her explanations of theory are followed, at every step, by projects. These range from making color swatches to completing complex scenes. I worked through the whole book and along the way learned about wet on wet and wet on dry painting, value and tone, light to dark layering, light source, shadow, and much much more.

Bookstores in your area are probably closed but no problem. You can purchase this book online, in fact, have it on your device in minutes as an e-book. I bought it that way and viewed the book’s projects on my iPad as I worked on them.

As a teaser, here are some of the Everyday Watercolor projects I completed. (The ideas and designs are © Jenna Rainey.)

You can also follow Jenna Rainey on Instagram, where she posts painting instruction videos. Can you watch her work and not fall in love with watercolor? I doubt it!