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, July 19, 2016

Why We Write

A dear friend asked me two weeks ago to help two young homeschool girls with their composition. They had written a thank you note to my friend, and she panicked when she saw a sample of their writing. It matters because she loves their family.

In seeking to prepare a class, I wondered how to impress upon them the importance of this part of their education. I asked them, "Why do we write?" I wanted them to consider the possibilities in life when they might need to this skill.

Perhaps all of us need to consider it. In this season of elections, we might need to convince our friends how important certain issues are. (I promise not to make our blog political by giving my opinion, but I confess--I'm tempted!)

Consider this. Many folks go from week to week, seldom hearing from a friend. Why not make their day by penning a letter? Or maybe we need to persuade a discouraged relative to read the Bible or go to church. A little consolation in difficult times can go a long way. Spread a little encouragement around your sphere of acquaintances--by writing!

Someday you may need to request an item from a company. Or you might want to inform some folks about a great opportunity. What about letters or articles for a newspaper?  We all know the cliche how the pen triumphs over the sword! Who knows? You could be the person to make a difference in your community.

Then the rest of us turn up. We can't not write. Ok, I know that's a double negative. But in this case, nothing else says it. I think God put an urge to write into our DNA! We write something--all the time. Stories swirl in our heads, and we cannot make them go away! Nor should we.

What have I left out? Why do you write? Why should our kids learn to write? What are you working on right now?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What's In A Name?

Delores E. Topliff

Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name will smell as sweet.” But will it?
Names are designating words by which we know and identify people, places, and things. John the son of John becomes John Johnson (I had an uncle by marriage named that). Names can indicate professions, like Carpenter, Baker, Smith, or Shepherd.

Some places are named for famous people, like the real towns of George, Washington, or Astoria, Oregon, for famous German-American founding entrepreneur, John Jacob Astor.

Since Norman French times in England My last name, Topliff, indicated a family living at the top of a Yorkshire cliff. I tease that it’s spelled more simply now because there erosion made the “c” fall over the edge.

Alexander the Great named thirteen cities for himself, though the one we know best today is Alexandria, Egypt.

Companies can be named for inventors, like the Ford Motor Company, or Smith and Wesson. Ships are sometimes named to honor people like the Queen Elizabeth the II, or the Santa Maria.

We may buy real estate and christen it Happy Acres or Retirement Bliss. People get inventive with pleasure craft names like Lazy Days, or Our Children’s Inheritance.

It’s a travesty that the name of Bethlehem Hospital in London long ago got contracted to “Bedlam” and now stands for the mentally ill people treated there. Similarly the word “gossip” came from “Gospel,” meaning “Good news,” though that's seldom the case now.

There are real towns with names I’d love to explore, like Nowthen or Embarrass, MN, Coffee, MS, Chicken, AK, and many more. It’s a privilege to choose perfect names for children or pets. It’s even fun inventing names for characters and places in stories or books we write.

A friend once overhauled my car and warned me not to drive far because he couldn’t vouch for its reliability. It safely drive a thousand miles each way to a church convention and back, but I pranked him by phoning and saying I’d broken down in fictional, “Houndstooth, Kentucky.”

The names of people dearest to us often end up being our favorite names of all. Rose? Maybe no contest. Thorn? Probably a far different association.

Which names mean the most to you? What would you name your future vacation getaway or retirement haven?

“A rose by any other name will smell as sweet” . . . but I’m not sure it always 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When You're Running on Empty

by Teri Smith

Face it. Sometimes we get depleted. We'd like to put on a front that says "all is well", but life sometimes has a way of sapping our strength. The Bible says we're created with a spirit, soul, and body. Any of these can end up drained.

But we don't have to stay that way! We can replenish, and here's a few suggestions.

If your spirit needs refreshing, make sure you're at church! Worshiping with other believers does wonders to lift that part of us that connects with God. Or sign up for a Bible conference. I've enjoyed several of Beth Moore's conferences. Sign up for a Bible study. Bible Study Fellowship and Precepts are both great places to start. And don't forget your own personal quiet time. God's Word has it's own power to renew our spirits.

But maybe your soul needs revival. The soul is that part of our being that has affections. Sometimes we refer to it as our "heart". I suggest maintaining friendships. Invite a friend to go on a walk with you. I have a walking buddy who often phones and asks if I'd like to walk. It helps that I've known her since childhood, but don't be afraid to make a new friend. Probably there's someone close by who would treasure a new friend. Ask her to join you at a restaurant. God made us to enjoy companionship.

But I also find that sometimes, it's really my body that needs refueled. This is when that "walking with a friend" has a duel purpose. Or join a gym. Take up a new sport like tennis or swimming. And don't forget healthy eating. Binge eating or too much sugar never picks us up in the long run.

Now about that writing. What can you do if you're out of inspiration? That's part of what we Ponderers are all about. We'd love to encourage you or help you brainstorm. Just let us know how we can help! I also suggest My Book Therapy with Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. It's an amazing community of writers to teach and inspire. American Christian Fiction Writers also has a yearly conference with amazing teachers, appointments with agents and editors. It pretty much has to be experienced to fully understand.

What about you? What do you do to keep vibrant in your spirit, soul, and body? Share, please!

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