I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Unexpected

They were talking about drag racing. About souped-up cars, low-riders, and all that fun stuff.

“My first car was a low-rider,” I said.

They didn’t believe me. Especially when I produced a picture of that particular vehicle—the Suzuki Sidekick I bought off eBay when I was in college. The one with ground effects, big rims, skinny tires, and a custom paint job. (And a whole lot of issues, but that’s beside the point.)

Fun times.

A few weeks after my new friends found out this little tidbit, they were still shaking their heads in disbelief. Besides hearing the roar of the engine and bouncing along as I shifted gears, the unexpectedness was half the fun of my little tin can. People didn’t expect someone like me to step out of that car. Without even meaning to, they imagined who would be sitting behind the wheel, and I didn’t fit the stereotype. Which just made life a little more fun.

Another friend is a musician—very talented. She’s a petite young woman who can talk faster than anyone I know, plays the organ and piano, loves classical music and old architecture and reading and discovering a good restaurant. Also, she loves to shoot and has a growing gun collection.

That last bit, to me, didn’t fit the mold. It was unexpected, and makes getting to know her that much more delightful.

In my current WIP, I’m really enjoying working with one of my characters. She’s loud and gets into people’s business, wears a bandana and has a few blue hair extensions mixed in with her dark locks. And she has a soft spot for old-fashioned Sunday dinner, complete with embroidered linens—not an interest you would expect her to have if you met her. (Which I hope you will at some point.) She’s lace and rough-hewn wood, and the hero can’t help being fascinated by her.

For you writers, what about your current story—do any of your characters have an unexpected hobby, collection, quirk, etc.? And what’s something people might find unexpected about you?
I love how God created each of us unique. No carbon copies, no copy and paste. We’re each wonderfully and remarkably made. So learn something new about someone around you today, and see if you can find a way to add new dimensions to your characters.

~ Jenness
(Stay tuned -- A brand new website is coming SOON!)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Do you run from? Or toward your enemies? Our choice determines the outcome.

Delores E. Topliff
     Friends who live in northern British Columbia, Canada, tell me when you surprise bears in the forest (unless they have young with them) your best bet is to make lots of noise and run toward them—like God had David run toward Goliath. My friends use this technique, and it works.
     The closest I got to that situation was while working in an even more remote area doing forestry vegetation surveys when a large unhappy moose made increasingly threatening sounds near me. 
     On foot and armed with only a notebook and a small bell, I feebly sang, “No weapon formed against me will prosper,” and prayed like mad. Soon the thunderstorm that had been playing hide and seek overhead for hours boomed and headed our way. Aware of the storm but not of the L-A-R-G-E moose near me, my boss called it a day and came from a distant point on his quad to take me back to civilization.
     Julius Caesar knew this principle, too. After giving his troops their battle strategies, he had his joke writers deliver the week’s most hilarious story just before he lowered a lance and send his men RUNNING into battle roaring with laughter. History says that on more than half of those occasions, as enemies saw robust well-armed soldiers running toward them laughing like maniacs, the enemies turned tail and FLED rather than staying to fight.
     What about you? Whether writing a book or facing life, how we face our enemies has LOTS to do with what happens next. Instead of cowering, change the situation. Turn the tables on enemies by doing what they don’t expect, and make them so afraid THEY run.
     Actually little in life deserves fear. An adage says that dogs only bite victims if they sense we’re afraid. Long ago I (mostly) chose the habit of not yielding to fear by not giving negative issues recognition or spending much energy on them. Most times, they shrink away to nothing anyway. Or flee as we celebrate their departure. 
     Therefore, live, laugh, TERRIFY the enemyand enjoy happy days.
     Now, tell us about a time when this has worked for you, or how you're going to face fear next time.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What Makes a Page-Turner?

Let's talk about what makes us keep turning the pages of a book. When a thousand things call to us, why is it that we can't put the book down?

I think we'd all agree that it's a character we begin to care about on page one. We care because she's likable, and she's got trouble. Or, as writers call it, conflict. 

But what exactly does that involve? In the overall story, it means the difficulty the main character has in reaching her goals and the uncertainty of the outcome. We're not sure if she'll get what she desires so badly, so we read on.

Conflict is not just disagreement or argument. In fact, that can be annoying. But a character torn in two directions, makes us want to read on. 

So if you're writing a story, force your character into something she'd never do. Make him say something he'd never say. 

Write so that there's macro tension--the goal that she can't reach, and micro tension--the concern about what's said or done in the next sentence.

What do you think? What makes you keep turning the pages of a book? And what annoys you in a book? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to solve problems--or fill a hole in the ground

Delores E. Topliff
How can we redeem a problem? What can be made of scarred earth or a 135-acre hole in the ground? Convert it into something beautiful.

In 1904 Richard Butchart moved from Ontario, Canada to Vancouver Island to get rich limestone deposits for his cement production. Five years later with the limestone excavated, his wife created a sunken garden. The next year she converted their vegetable garden and tennis courts into lavish rose and Italian gardens enjoyed today by one million paying visitors yearly from all over the world.

Vancouver, B.C.’s 500’ Little Mountain was quarried for rock for city roadways until 1930. When those quarries were depleted, the British Columbia Tulip Association suggested transforming that 130 acre hole into a well-planned sunken garden. One of the city’s greatest beauty spots today, the Queen Elizabeth Garden is a world-class floral park with six million paying guests per year. 

Consider the before and after. What if both problems had been neglected? View the post-card lovely photos and think what both would be like if no beauty had been added?

Our lives and writing or artistic projects may have holes, or occasional scars, but all devastation that can be transformed into beauty. Ask God for His inspiring grand design to make your problem area so attractive that many come to be refreshed, create memories, and take pictures for family albums.

Tell us about a hole or scar you’ve seen or redeemed, that is now a work of beauty with wisdom gleaned to bless others. And when you see something magnificent, look for the story behind the project to learn the often amazing process for how it got that way. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Write it, and they will read it - Write it well, and they will even buy it

Delores E. Topliff

This blog post demonstrates the importance of perfect word choices When authors discover a great title, they should stick with it! They should not publish until their title is the perfect giftwrap inviting readers to open and explore the contents of their book.

For example, greatly loved titles would be very different and might not draw crowds of adoring readers, if even one vital word were changed . . . Below are examples, 
(My apologies in advance--occasionally after too much college grading, book editing, or grandmothering (well, not too much, but a heavy flurry of challenges), my mind frays these directions for recovery. Your comments are appreciated. Create your own hit titles (or near hits) and send helpful comments (or convalescent bouquets) toward my therapeutic recovery.
And at the end, I give an affectionate nod to two of my favorite author friends.

Graves of Wrath
A Snail of Two Cities: A slow and Moving Tale
A Fail of Two Cities: Current U.S. Utilities Reports from Flint, MI and . . .
The Agony and the Eggstacy -- An Egg Production Manual
Nothing Grows in Brooklyn - An Analysis of Failed Parks and Recreation Policies
How Brown is My Valley - Welsh Environmental Applications of the Above
Mutiny in the County - When Suburban Living Pressures Build to the Levels of Crowded City Populations, People Snap
Great Exhalations - Studies in Deep Breathing
Found with the Wind - The Benefits of Offshore Wind Patterns in Delivering Flotsam, Jetsam, and Other Marine Debris to Public Beaches
Tom Slow - Self-explanatory
Big Women - A Subject Increasing in Popularity

The Over-Eating Games
And below, an affectionate nod to two of my favorite author friends:
Noise in the Dark
Wish You Weren’t Here

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It's Not The End

It looked like another one of those underdog, feel-good sports movie. But hey, it had a woman hero this time, along with Morgan Freeman. Who doesn't like Morgan Freeman? That’s all I really saw before I checked out Million Dollar Baby from the library. I missed any hype there might have been when it was first released. I was just ready for a movie night, and it looked interesting. 

Instead, it was infuriating. So infuriating that, though it’s been years since I saw it, I’m still ready and more than willing to climb high on a soap box about it. (If you don’t know the story, you can find a summary here.)

Hilary Swank’s character was a fighter. They built that up throughout the movie. She worked hard. She overcame hurdles. She fought her way to what she wanted to accomplish…until an unexpected blow turned her life upside down, paralyzing her.

Unimaginable. Heartbreaking. Life-altering. I get that. I truly do.

But what happened to the fight in her? Wasn’t that part of her more than just physical? Wasn’t it something deep down inside the character they’d worked so hard to develop? And what happened to the coach who pushed her to be the best she could be? Giving up was not the brave thing to do. It wasn’t. 

Her story didn't have to end there.   

I have a paralyzed friend, a quadriplegic who has been through so very much. But through it all, she’s been such an amazing influence on so many people. Her life isn’t easy, but she fought hard for it. A car accident changed the course of her life, but it didn’t make her worthless. Far from it. Instead, it put her in a position to reach people she normally might not have had much time for.

She is loved. She is adored. She is special.

Her life is worth living.

I know of a family who lost a son, Aaron, in Afghanistan. It devastated them. Even now, over four years later, the fact that he’s gone breaks their hearts as well as all those of everyone who hears their story. A horrible blow, one they’ll never totally recover from. But they’re fighting, and they’re making a huge difference. For example, in an effort to reach kids like Aaron's, his sister founded an organization called Operation 300, which puts on adventure camps for kids whose fathers have been killed in the line of duty. It’s an amazing program, putting strong Christian men in these kids’ lives as mentors and teaching them about the heart of a warrior. It's making a difference in the lives of other families like Aaron's, bringing hope and healing. 

And then there were the Twelve, or eleven really. Three years they dedicated to Him—left their families and homes, their lives to become disciples, to be mentored by this new teacher. Only to see Him die—tortured and murdered before their eyes. Everything they believed in, the core of who they’d become—it was all gone. Talk about a horrific blow.

But their story was not over. 

Sunday was a’comin’. The stone was rolled away. The tomb stood empty. And their lives got harder. Oh yes. Much harder. But they fought the good fight. They did the work God had for them. And they ended up making an impact on the world around them and countless generations to come.

You’ve probably been dealt some blows of your own. They may have left you reeling, hurt, damaged, unsure of the future. But your story isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Don’t give up. Keep fighting. Look up. Have faith. There is a plan for your life--a plan for good. Don't give up too soon

You're worth fighting for, worth dying for. There is HOPE! 

His name is Jesus.

*I drafted this blog post last week, and ironically enough, author Katie Ganshert just blogged about something similar with a slightly different perspective. You can check it out here, but keep your eyes sharp for the spoiler alert.

What did you think about the movie, if you saw it? What kind of stories get you up on your soapbox?

~ Jenness Walker

Monday, March 21, 2016

Are We Snobs...or Unique?

Just give me mine black.

Oh no, I want mine with a touch of honey.

Yuck! No sweet things, but give me a bit of cream.

Well, not just any cream, I’ll take mine with hazelnut. No, no, no. Vanilla cream.

Seriously folks. Doctor it up any way you wish, but make sure it’s Gevalia.

Gevalia? No, thanks, I drink Keurig with a different flavor every morning, depending on my mood.

Oh, just let me grab a Starbucks on my way.

 Nope, no way. If you want coffee, invest in a Williams-Sonoma machine. (And yes, between the Smith family members, we have all of these.)

So what’s the deal with Americans and their coffee? Are we just a bunch of spoiled folks who have to have it our way?

Or could it be that God Himself made us with different tastes, and personal experiences that influenced us?

After all we don’t have the same preferences in clothes. Some like flamboyant styles, some more sedate.

And books, yes, let’s go there.  Sweet romances only? No, a romantic suspense, please. Don’t think so. Let’s go thriller!

 Are you kidding me? None of that fiction stuff, I want only non-fiction. Oh, are we going there? Well, then give me science books. Nope, at least give me a story of history if it has to be non-fiction. Come on. Serious times mean serious reading: we need to delve into books about the Bible.

Wait. Hold on. Time out.

Is it possible that God intended all of the above? If every snowflake viewed under the microscope is different, then maybe the Lord meant each of us to be different too. We’re not carbon copies. Even our very DNA is individual. Special. Distinct.

And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. So grab your very own variety of coffee and pick up that book no one else in your family cares to read.  Have at it. God planned it this way.

So what's your preference in coffee? How about books? Let's discuss!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

True Confession Time--if you weren’t you, who would you be?

Delores E. Topliff

I have a confession to make. And since we’re only two days past Valentine’s Day, I’ll present one of those, too.

The comedian I’ve always admired absolute tops is Carol Burnett
her inventiveness, spontaneity, ability to laugh at herself to make others laugh have gained her lifelong achievement awards AND established her in our hearts. Her pratfalls, sense of timing, facial expressions perfectly conveying the emotions going on inside emotionally represent any of us.

Spoiler Alertoften in life, I’ve pictured myself getting by waving my hands, managing cute dance steps, belting out a song or Tarzan cryand bringing down the house. MANY of our houses NEED to be brought down.

After reading her second memoir, Together Again, and loving and respecting what I read there, I tracked down her much earlier, more complete, raw, bootstrap-inspiring 1986 One More Time that she totally wrote herself. Wowser! Her writing is great, but her life tenacity and accomplishments revealed are incredible. Moral? Maybe the greater the challenges, the greater the jet propulsion when the runner commits himself/herself to the starter blocks determined to leave Point A and reach Point B or far-beyond, and breaking all known records along the way.

Though there’s little chance we’ll meet, I say hats off, Happy Valentine’s, endless respect, healing laughter, and enduring love.

In college psych when they administered vocational aptitude tests, mine came back pointing me toward forestry, education, or pastoral studies. I laughed, but my life combines all threeworking my way through college and many summers for the U.S. and Canadian Forest Services, racking up years of college teachings in many venues and loving it, PLUS enjoying mission trips and similar opportunities in far-flung places and benefiting from amazing relationships.

But if I were not I, I’d be Carol Burnett, making them laugh, connecting interesting oddball humans by portraying their entertaining eccentric sides but revealing how those distinctive individual traits survivable and lovable. Well-done, brave soldier, warmest thanks, and Happy Valentine's!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Parable of the Talents or What Are You Doing with Yours?

Patricia Bradley

Good morning! As Minnie Pearl used to say, "I'm so glad to be here!"  I've missed y'all, and one of the reasons I haven't been here is I've been on deadline. But the book is in, and I have a name for it: Justice Delayed, Book 1 in the Memphis Cold Case Series. Now I'm just waiting to see if my editor likes it.

digging a holeThis morning during my quiet time, I was in the different versions of the Parable of the Talents.  I'm reading through the New Testament in chronological order, so all three versions were there and they were basically the same. That's one thing I like about reading the Bible in chronological order--I get triple and sometimes quadrupled versions of the same subject, good for my ADHD mind.

For those not familiar with the parable, the master was going away, and he gave three of his servants talents (one talent was worth more than a thousand dollars). One received ten, one received five and the last received one. When he returned he summoned his servants and demanded an accounting. The first two had doubled their talents, but the last one had dug a hole and hidden his. His excuse was, he was afraid that if he invested and lost the money, the master would put him in prison. Well, it doesn't exactly say that, but close.

In the end, that servant's talent was taken from him and he was put out into the darkness. The other two were given more talents. As I thought about the takeaway of this parable, I thought of the talents (or gifts) God has given each of us. If we use them in the way the two servants who doubled their money, God will give increase. But so many of us are like the servant who dug a hole and buried his. We are afraid to put ourselves out there, so in a sense, we're burying the gift God gave us.

Why? Shyness, maybe, or low self-esteem...or maybe we don't recognize our talent. I've had people tell me they had no talent, but I know better. God gives each of us gifts or talents. One of those who told me they had no talent had overlooked her natural ability for taking a piece of clay and making a vase. But to be really good at it, she needed to practice. And she didn't, even though she loved working in the clay. For whatever reason, she buried that talent.

I've been told I have a talent for writing, and if I do, it's because God gave me that gift, but it was up to me to sit in front of a computer sometimes eight hours a day to develop it.
I cross stitched a saying once: Success is that place in the road where opportunity and preparation meet, but too few people recognize it because it comes disguised as hard work.

So what do you think? Leave me a comment, and I will enter you into a drawing for my novella The Gingerbread Pony, digital right away and for those living outside the Continental US, print copy as soon as Amazon approves my file. :-)
This post is running simultaneously on my blog: www.ptbradley.com