The Transformation-Deadline Resolution

By Julie Arduini

butterfly-1518060_960_720Resolutions. Honestly, the word conjures up the image of a few years ago when I tried to find a parking spot the first Monday in January for my YMCA swim class. The lot was full with new members with their resolutions. By the third week, the parking lot was back to the regulars.

It’s probably apples and oranges, but I use the new year to have a theme. It’s often a word, sometimes two, that I am constantly on the lookout to see how it applies to my life. Previous words have been activation, chosen, preposterous, fierce, and perspective. This year?

Transformation.

My problem is I always try to define what the word will mean before the ball drops. I knew going into 2017 I was growing my hair out and using a deeper shade of red hair color. I’m hoping to use contacts and be done with glasses. We will become grandparents this year. But I know as true as these things are, God’s got something more for me with this theme.

As an author, I know I have my work cut out for me no matter how I look at the new year. Resolution or word of the year, I want to improve my craft. Find more dedicated readers who can spread the word about my books. Meet and pray with other women who have been impacted. Already I’ve come across readers who are transforming as they find freedom through surrender in Christ. How do I keep that momentum going? What are ways I can bring goals and transformation to my laptop?

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The biggest thing I’ve done is take my *iBloom planner and set some specific deadlines. I realized I didn’t pencil in previous years when a certain chapter should be written, or when I should revise something that was sent back by critique partners. With that kind of vague plan, I can see how I got sidetracked. I had written in goals for other aspects like answering emails and marketing. And before I knew it, those things bled into my writing time.

Will I perfect the process? Probably not. I missed a couple writing goals for one project as I shuffled kids to medical appointments. I need to give myself grace. However, I also need to keep the YMCA emptier-lot-in-late-January visual close in mind. I don’t want to let go of my self-imposed deadlines. The transformation I want to see at the end of 2017 should be a positive one. I really believe creating deadlines for my writing will help me get there.

Do you keep deadlines for yourself? Do you have a difficult time meeting them?

Writing Prompt:  Chelsea had the mall’s gate nearly closed for the tween store called The Jewelry Box when she heard heavy breathing and footsteps coming in her direction. Chelsea turned and saw a woman with a stroller blazing toward her. The stranger stopped short of the gate, panting. “Please, I need your help. Let me inside the store before…”

*The iBloom link is an affiliated one where I receive a small royalty off any purchase.


december2016daycareJulie Arduini loves to encourage readers to surrender the good, the bad, and —maybe one day—chocolate. She’s the author of the re-release, ENTRUSTED: Surrendering the Present, as well as the sequel, ENTANGLED: Surrendering the Past. She also shared her story in the infertility devotional, A WALK IN THE VALLEY. She blogs every other Wednesday for Christians Read. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. Learn more by visiting her at http://juliearduini.com, where she invites readers to subscribe to her monthly newsletter full of resources and giveaway opportunities at JULIE ARDUINI: SURRENDER ISSUES AND CHOCOLATE and the weekly e mail. SUNDAY’S SURRENDER AND CHOCOLATE.

Connect with Julie on Facebook, Twitter, G+, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Goodreads, and Amazon. Check out her monthly newsletter here.


Entangled: Surrendering the Past

Book #2, Surrendering Time Series

entangledfinal“You need to leave me alone. It’s the least you can do.”

Carla Rowling has been given her dream of attending cosmetology school. The gift is so generous she feels unworthy because of choices she made as a teen. The pressure mounts as Carla juggles school, is a single mom, helps her best friend Jenna plan her wedding, spends time with boyfriend Will Marshall, and deals with the fact that her son’s father is back in their lives. 

Will Marshall is the one Speculator Falls resident everyone can count on. His truck deliveries are reliable. He’s the first to help friends like Ben Regan with boat work or be a card partner with Bart Davis. Will’s ready to settle down with Carla, loving her is natural. He’s bonded with her son, Noah. But when Carla starts cosmetology school, she puts emotional distance between her and Will.

Can Carla release her past and create a future full of highlights, or, will she burn her options worse than a bad perm?

Purchase Link:  Amazon (Kindle and Print):  http://www.amazon.com/Entangled-Surrendering-Past-Time/dp/0692713476/

Entangled is book #2. Although it can standalone, if you’d like to read Entrusted: Surrendering the Present first, click here: https://www.amazon.com/Entrusted-Surrendering-Present-Time/dp/0692709177/

My One Word for 2017: Persevere

By Cynthia Herroncynthia-herron

Welcome!

I’m so glad you stopped by.

Now that another year’s behind us, I’ve reflected on past goals mastered and met, and a few things I didn’t accomplish. I’ve set new goals for the coming year and I’ve realigned priorities.

As I mentioned in my recent newsletter, I rarely (if ever) make New Year’s resolutions, which are too easily broken, forgotten, or made in haste. I opt for “goals” instead.

Goals force us to examine our dreams and desires, usually through a step-by-step process. We might organize a plan to attain our goals and then enlist mentors to keep us focused and on track.

Last year, along with new goals—for the first time ever, I chose one word to ground me and center my thinking. That word was encourage. It fit me. It’s my life philosophy.

This year, as I contemplated my word, the choice seemed obvious. It’s a tough one—a word writers know well.

dont-give-up

My one word for 2017 is PERSEVERE.

As some dreams withered and died, others have been resurrected. Still, this writing journey isn’t easy.

The writing life takes tenacity, focus, and flexibility.

It demands work, self-direction, and wit.

It requires courage.

Balance.

Shoe-leather skin.

Transparency.

Good judgment.

The high road.

A sensitive heart.

An intuitive spirit.

A listening ear.

Drive.

Determination.

Sometimes, tears.

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As one year melds into the next, defeat would seem the saner option.

However, I’m a writer.

Sanity is overrated.

And you know what they say about insanity.

However—I would add this caveat.

We persevere until we get it right.

As we learn, grow, and try new things—while testing what works and discarding what doesn’t—while envisioning success.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…” (James 1:2-4 NIV)


cynthia-herronCynthia Herron writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains.

A hopeless romantic at heart, Cynthia enjoys penning stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. She has a degree in psychology and a background in social work. She is a member of ACFW, ACFW MozArks, and RWA.

Cynthia is a 2016 ACFW Genesis (Double) Finalist and a 2015 ACFW First Impressions Winner. Her short story Words from the Heart appears in The Story Anthology (Karen Kingsbury/Family Fiction) via Salem Publications, 2014.

Besides writing, Cynthia delights in serving the Lord and spending time with her family and friends. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple. Join her at: http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com/ for weekly encouragement.

A Long Ago Christmas

By Jacqueline Kimball

turkeyIt’s December, 1850, in a small pioneer settlement in Oregon. A yearling boy’s dream is a hunt with his father, and he hopes to be the one to kill a beautiful turkey for Christmas dinner. Mama will be thrilled, and everyone will say it was the biggest turkey ever caught in these here parts.

But wait! (Cue the sound of a record scratching on a turn table…) Ahem…did I say turkey? I did, didn’t I?  Did you know that there were no turkeys in Oregon in 1850? Neither did I, and when I found out, I had major revisions to do on my manuscript for CHRISTMAS IN BEAVER CREEK. My character, Jimmy, couldn’t shoot a turkey. No wonder Mama wanted to kill his goose. Well, Jimmy couldn’t have that, now could he? So Jimmy then went after a coveted deer, so that Mama could have a beautiful venison roast.

After I realized that I didn’t know an 1850 pioneer Christmas if it hit me over the head, I dug deep into researching, and I was quite surprised.  Take Christmas trees, for instance. Despite what you see on television, it is doubtful that there were Christmas trees in most pioneer homes in 1850, even if trees were available.

I discovered that the Christmas tree was a German tradition, and rarely was seen in America except in German homes. This slowly changed when a picture was published in a London magazine in 1848, showing German-born Prince Albert and Queen Victoria with their Christmas tree. The Christmas tree was at first mostly seen in upper-class homes in America.

wreathPioneers decorated their homes with what they could find. On the prairie, this might have been corn husks, bits of ribbon, and painted wooden items on the mantle. Oregon was abundant with trees. The home would have been decorated with greenery, berries, pine cones, wooden carvings, and, perhaps, festive fabric.

Wreaths were made of greenery, pine cones, nuts, berries and even colorful bird feathers. Socks were often hung by the fireplace, and excited children might find a few items in the stocking, usually a piece or two of candy, and homemade treats such as cookies.

Santa Claus was alive and well long before 1850. In 1822 Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas, for his children, and it was published anonymously in 1823. There is controversy over his authorship, though he publicly acknowledged that it was his work in 1837. Regardless, the book is hugely responsible for the Santa Claus that children love to this day.  The story spread quickly. Jolly Santa Claus, and yes, even his reindeer, became part of Christmas traditions in America.santa

But gifts in Santa’s sack have certainly changed from the simple gifts of the nineteenth century. Back then, most were handcrafted, and the family worked on them for weeks or even months ahead.

 Pa might build a doll house for his daughters, while mama made dolls from old rags. Pa might pass down a knife or gun to an older son, or build a rocking horse for a younger child. Mother often knitted woolen scarves, and made warm clothing as gifts.

rocky-horseOranges and candy were expensive, and a child who got an orange in their stocking might scream with excitement. Children often made a pincushion, painted a pine cone, or gathered a bucket of nuts for gifts to their parents. Older children made carvings, stools, aprons, handkerchiefs and such for their parents and siblings.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her Christmas on the Kansas prairie. “That very Christmas, Laura Ingalls was delighted to find a shiny new tin cup, a peppermint candy, a heart shaped cake, and a brand new penny in her stocking. For in those days, these four small gifts in her stocking were a wealth of gifts to the young girl.”

bread Pioneer meals for the special day were not nearly as elaborate as today’s heavily laden table of main dishes, sides, and desserts. Since there was no refrigeration, women used seasonal items and preserved foods. Sugar was expensive, so there would have been only a few sweet items.

Men took to the woods and brought back fresh meat for the table. Some families had smoke houses, and cured their own hams. Though the fare was simple, cooking the holiday meal involved hours of preparation and cooking. Cook stoves, if the lady of the house even owned one, were primitive, and food was easily burned. Much care had to be taken to ensure a fine feast.

Consider this menu from The Lady’s Receipt Book by Eliza Leslie, published in 1847: Roast turkey, (not that my Jimmy could find one ) cranberry sauce, boiled ham, turnips, beets, winter squash, bread, and mince meat pies. Not very interesting, is it? Other popular items were baked potatoes lavish with butter, candied sweet potatoes, baked beans, fish, and pickles.

nativity-1The real Christmas story, the birth of Jesus, was a huge part of Christmas traditions in most pioneer homes. Almost every home had a Bible, or knew the story of the Lord’s birth by heart. Usually the Christmas story would be read or told on Christmas Eve. Some homes even had carved nativity scenes.

**All pics are from Pixabay free images.

WRITING PROMPT: Study the picture below of a modern family Christmas. Think about how Christmas today is much different in some ways, and the same in others. If you could go back in time, and sit beside a person your own age, what would you tell them about Christmas today? Do you think that a long ago Christmas, or today’s Christmas is the most satisfying? Why?

modern-christmas


mejan2016Jacqueline Kimball is a writer and Louisiana native who received her degree in elementary education from Northeast Louisiana University (now named University of Louisiana at Monroe), graduating magna cum laude. In 2006, she was honored Teacher of the Year at her school, Rayville Elementary. She retired from teaching in 2010, and though she misses her time in the classroom, she is happy to finally have time to pursue her passion for writing.

Jacqueline (Jackie) is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and her local group, Alabama Mountain Writers. She loves history, and is particularly drawn to the mid 1800s. She enjoys writing historical fiction, and four of her five books are historical.  Her newest book, book one of her Beaver Creek Series (Love Comes to Beaver Creek) was just released on Dec 4th. She also write children’s stories, including the book Houston the Cleft Palate Puppy, her personal favorite. Additionally, she has written for church publications, Hub Pages, Infobarrel, MSNBC, and various publications. She is currently writing a Christmas novella, A Very Doggie Christmas.

She is the mother of three grown children; Lisa, Kimberli, and Michael, and a proud nana to eight beautiful grandchildren and one great grandchild. She currently lives in Northeastern Alabama, near her younger daughter Kimberli and family. She shares her home with her older daughter Lisa, and two spoiled little house dogs who don’t know that they are…ahem…canines.


Love Comes to Beaver Creek

lindylovecomesseriesSummer 1851, Beaver Creek, Oregon. Lindy Sanders is in love with her childhood friend, Jack Matthews. But she, and she alone, was at the creek when his sister drowned, and she feels that he blames her. When another person drowns, the community realizes that this is no coincidence. Who killed Sissy Matthews, and why? Can Lindy and Jack find true love despite the tragic events, or will a love from the past change everything?

Ben Dorsey’s wife died, leaving him with two babies under a year old. Ben vows never to love again, but he needs a wife, and quick. Mary Grace vows that she will marry a complete stranger, rather than live with her father and step mother any longer.

 And finally, Carlton has returned from California with enough money to take a wife. But the one he loves, loves another.

This is book one of The Beaver Creek Series. Each book is a stand-alone book, with familiar characters from The Oregon Series, and new ones as well.

Natural Wonders: A “Mammoth” Good Time

By Sandra Ardoin

With over 400 miles of explored tunnels, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, one of our national treasures, is the largest cave system in the world. Its environment changes with the rainwater dripping through the sandstone layers to the underlying limestone, to underground rivers and eventually into the Green River.

The park was established in 1941, but two hundred years after the first formal tour in 1816, hubby and I approached the kiosk outside the Visitor’s Center. No spelunker, it was my first experience in a cavern. I walked up to the counter and asked the ranger on duty, “What tours do you have for old people?” (Okay, we’re not old old, but we get closer with each new ache.)

dscn1605-copyI’m sure the polite man gave me a mental eye roll before telling us about the one-eighth-mile Frozen Niagara tour to see the stalactites and stalagmites. Then he mentioned the Domes and Dripstones Tour, which encompassed more territory, plus the Frozen Niagara. We’d driven a long way to see a bunch of underground rock, so it was the Domes and Dripstones or bust.

Before the tour began, we were told that those who were claustrophobic (check mark), afraid of heights (check mark), and had knee issues (well, on occasion—see above paragraph) might want to reconsider. Really? Did they think they were dealing with a couple of wimps? Bring on the bus to the cavern!

dscn1603-copyAs we approached the cement, bunker-type entrance at the bottom of a sink hole, I thought of the TV show Lost and that underground bunker. I didn’t relish being part of a resurrection of the show and hoped we’d eventually “find” the exit.

Over a hundred people took our tour, with hubby and me almost bringing up the rear, so it was slow going as we descended into the abyss. I’ll admit, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if there was an earthquake. Nope. No wimp in that bunny-hop line.

The way was well-lit and the path relatively smooth. No problem, except when we were forced to pause in a tight, low-ceilinged spot. (One of us found out the hard way that you need to watch your head. I won’t say which one, but for once, it wasn’t me.) Occasionally, it seemed the whole ceiling was propped up by one small, well-placed rock.

dscn1591-copyWe spent two hours going down, around, and up, exploring the limestone caverns with their sometimes wet, but mostly, dry walls. I’d come prepared to freeze in what the website said was a constant 54 degrees. About halfway through, I removed my sweater.

Twice, we stopped in large “rooms” with rows of benches to listen to the tour ranger provide more information about the caves. Once, we were in a “dome” room. Unlike the walls with their jagged protrusions, the ceiling was smooth, looking somewhat like stucco with cracks running through it. To me, the dripstones resembled a hanging mud dauber’s nest.

When we stopped in the second room, the ranger explained about the crickets in the cave, one of numerous species of insect and animal life that live there. These aren’t your typical crickets. They’re thin and lighter in color, and they don’t make noise. To show us why they’re silent, she turned the lights off. Yipes! You’ve heard the axiom about it being so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face? I could touch my nose and still not see my hand. I’ve never been in such pitch blackness. But crickets are a bat’s prey, and bats track by …? Yep, sonar. So, the insects don’t sing.

dscn1614-copyFinally, we reached the Frozen Niagra. Beautiful! Stalactites, stalagmites, and columns of limestone.

From there, we were given the option to take a shortcut to the exit and avoid nearly a hundred steps. Phfft! Didn’t I say we weren’t wimps?

Before leaving the underground, we passed walls populated by those crickets I mentioned, and then ducked beneath a bat hanging from the ceiling—the latter much smaller than I’d expected and seemingly unimpressed by a bunch of temporary explorers.

dscn1624-copyAt the end of the tour, they bused us back to the visitor’s center where we were required to walk over a bio mat with soapy water to clean our shoes. Unfortunately, a disease called White Nose Syndrome is killing the bats and, of course, they don’t want it spread from cave to cave.

We drove to the ferry that crosses the Green River. While the ferry is no longer made of wood and hauling animals and wagons across the strip of water, it can carry three vehicles and was so smooth I only knew we were moving by watching the scenery.

A little history about the river and the ferry from a park sign:

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There’s much more to do in the park than wander tunnels. You can camp or stay in the hotel, hike, bike, and horseback ride. But if being underground is your thing, there are numerous cave tour options, including one in which you can prove how adventurous you are when you “climb, crawl, squeeze, hike and canyon walk” for six hours. Crawl on, but you won’t see me on that one!

All right, maybe I can be a little wimpy, but I didn’t ache the next day nearly as much as I expected.

Writing Prompt: I bent almost double, hands on my knees, as ragged gasps erupted from deep inside. The darkness enveloped us, with only the small point of the flashlight to lead our way. How did I get trapped in Mammoth Caves with such an enthusiastic tour guide? Suddenly…


Sandra Ardoin_HeadshotSandra Ardoin writes inspirational historical romance. She’s the author of The Yuletide Angel and A Reluctant Melody. A wife and mom, she’s also a reader, football fan, NASCAR watcher, garden planter, country music listener, antique store prowler. Visit her at www.sandraardoin.com and on the Seriously Write blog. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Join her email community to receive occasional updates and a free short story.arm-cover

 

 

 

World Travel-Guatemala

Guatemala chicken_busBy Lisa Worthey Smith

The mountains, lakes, volcanoes, and Mayan ruins made for a spectacular visit when I traveled to Guatemala in the mid-1970’s with my high school Spanish class. The visit to this little country nestled alongside Belize and the southernmost border of Mexico, was eye-opening for this middle-class American girl.

The dichotomy of donkeys pulling carts alongside the cars in the middle of the capital city spoke to the vast, economically diverse culture I was about to experience. In Guatemala City we visited the National Palace (outstanding tile work) and an ornate church where the decaying bodies of their saints were displayed in clear glass caskets on a top shelf inside the sanctuary. In the park, ladies dressed in hand-woven clothing sold flowers to tourists. Children with big brown eyes begged for money or asked us to buy trinkets they had woven from grass.

We used public transportation (chicken buses) to reach the outlying cities. These recycled school buses were highly decorated and filled to the brim (plus whoever can hold on to a rail or balance on the roof) with two-legged passengers plus goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens. The pigs were none too happy about the crowding; the goats were somewhat more tolerant. I was able to manage an open-window seat with a breeze and a view. When we stopped at a dusty shack of a service station, ladies brought out fried chicken feet (not legs) in baskets on top of their heads to tempt us to buy lunch from them through the bus windows.

Guatemala at Esquintla lunch on bus

Guatemala at Esquintla/ lunch on bus

Most passengers, wearing serious expressions, were dressed in traditional hand-loomed fabrics. The children were clean and quiet. The drive to 6,400 feet in the mountains to reach Chichicastenango in a rickety bus was not for the faint of heart. Blind hairpin turns were common on the rough two-lane roads. As we traveled along the absolute edge of the mountains, the bus driver always stopped well before the turn, honked the horn and waited for any return honk. If none echoed, we challenged the turn-back on the tiny road with our big bus. No shoulder or railing was visible from my window seat–only the memorial crosses just below the edge of the road.

The country is rich in spirituality, any spirit or superstition. In Chichicastenango we saw a Roman Catholic church built on a Mayan temple mount. There was a man swinging an incense pot at the door, and a Shaman/Witch Doctor performing within a few feet of each other. This blending of religions extended to the cemetery behind the church where chickens were sacrificed to pagan Mayan gods.

The renowned open-air market was filled with fresh produce, hand-loomed fabrics, pigs and goats on leashes tugged by young boys and girls. There was always a scout to help you find (drag you to) just what you need. Weavers with simple looms deftly created masterpieces with thick rough yarn that was probably dyed with berries. The ladies used these sturdy and colorful pieces of fabric to carry young children on their back, and produce on their heads.

Guatemala washing

In each community wall-less buildings sheltered concrete sinks along the edge of the creek where women and children gathered to wash clothes. Creek water was used to wash and rinse the clothes that were laid out on flat rocks to dry in the sun, then packed back into bundles or baskets and balanced on steady heads for the walk home.

Guatemala today is only slightly different from the 1970’s. The national parks have seen some improvements.  Visitors to Mayan ruins now walk on pathways, and some of the stone carvings now are protected with little sheds over them. The city streets no longer have carts and donkeys and seem wider and safer.

The chicken buses are still busy, but much more road-worthy! Modern buildings have sprung up, yet poverty is still rampant. In Guatemala City the city dump is home–yes HOME–to many children found homeless after years of war. The abandoned or poverty-stricken residents still try to sell whatever they can, shine shoes, or find an illegal way to survive.

The market at Chichicastenango now has a few tin and wooden rooftops. The church still has both Catholic and pagan worship blended together and clothes are still washed in the creek.

This video shows a woman weaving.

Writing prompt – She had never seen anything like it before, so she watched them intently. It had to be the most beautiful sight in the world when the little girl reached out her hand to…


9781490882178_COVER.inddOscar the Extraordinary Hummingbird: And Other Tales From Life In My Fathers World

Oscar the Extraordinary Hummingbird is an inspirational nonfiction about a severely injured hummingbird and an unlikely friendship with his new best friend. Their adventures and the author’s own health issues speak to a loving God and His provision. Oscar was recently named in the top 100 indie books to read for 2016! 

You can read the first chapter at http://lifeinmyfathersworld.blogspot.com/2015/06/introducing-oscar-extraordinary.html

Oscar is available at

Amazon

Barnes and Noble  


headshotLong-time Bible student, Lisa Worthey Smith has been called the parable teacher. Finding truths in everyday events and nature itself, she uses those truths to point to the hand of God all around us. She, her husband, and their 21 pound of cuteness wrapped in a Schnauzer suit, live in north Alabama where she teaches an in-depth Bible study class and spends time in her garden.

Connect on Facebook     

Life in my Fathers World

Oscar the Extraordinary Hummingbird book

Lisa Worthey Smith

Twitter                        @LisaWSmith57

Blog                 LifeinmyFathersWorld.blogspot.com

More links:  https://about.me/lisawsmith57 (Pinterest, Google+…)

 

 

Genre: Is Fantasy Just an Escape?

By Jill Richardson
Jill1I admit it—I saw the Lord of the Rings movies before I read the books (now multiple times). In that theater, shortly after 9/11, when the pain was still raw, the fear still thick, the sense of shock that our familiar world was obliterated still overwhelming, I fell in love with the characters, the story, and the words such as Gandalf’s timely reminder:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Many people wonder, why read fantasy? Isn’t it just escapism? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with this world, rather than events that aren’t even real? Especially in times that seem to require a focus on grim reality.

Yet something deep stirs in you when you read about dragons and fairies and other worlds where battles are fought and wrongs are righted. Perhaps that “something deep” is a response to fantasy’s ability to tell a story that can be our own—a story that reflects serious beliefs and values in its pages of “escape.”

What is the purpose of reading (and writing) fantasy? Here are at least four.

To combat unbelief and cynicism

One hallmark of the Millennial generation is cynicism. Constantly courted by ads and pollsters, this generation is wary of being marketed to, and distrust is their default. This has its good and bad points.

Fantasy, with its emphasis on heroes and battles for good, enters that cynical atmosphere with a new conversation. Maybe, there is such a thing as a hero who isn’t self-serving. Maybe there is, as Sam argues, good in this world worth fighting for.

Even a lowly Hobbit can change the course of the world by destroying the Ring. That is the appeal of fantasy. In our modern world where politicians prove corrupt, large corporations rip off consumers, and terrorists kill ordinary people going about their daily lives, the traditional quest fantasy provides an antidote to cynicism.” (Rowena Cory Daniells)

To bring hope

Fantasy is hardly escapist, when you think about it. Awful stuff happens. Hundreds die on Pelennor Fields. Hermione must choose to lose her parents forever. Thorin and both his heirs die.

But in the end, life goes on. The hero wins. Though what has happened won’t be forgotten, there is a sense that it was not for nothing—good did triumph. Life will be better.

Fantasy does not deny or diminish the existence of sorrow and pain. The possibility of failure is absolutely necessary for the “piercing sense of joy” one feels when victory is finally won. Fairy tales all offer the hope that a happy ending is possible—and we need to believe this. Fantasy denies ultimate despair. It holds out the hope for a better world and signposts the way.” (Kate Forsyth)

To give us weapons for our own battles

Life is tough—but then we see the intelligence of Bilbo, the quickness of Pippin, the courage of tiny Merry, the loyalty of Sam, the calm wisdom of Hermione, the persistence of Harry. With that sight? We realize that those are tools accessible to us.

When a writer creates a hero who is afraid or feels unequipped, that hero looks a lot like me. To witness that hero’s struggle and the ultimate victory over not simply a tangible enemy but over oneself is to believe we can stoop down and pick up our own sword or bow and take on our own fears.

To show the world as it was/is meant to be

Tolkien famously defended fantasy by saying that there is nothing wrong with a prisoner who wishes to escape his prison. By that argument, this broken world is our prison, and looking elsewhere for a portrait of what our world was meant to be is the most normal, sane thing one can do.

“I coined the the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears. It is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole chained nature feels a sudden relief as if a limb out of joint has suddenly snapped back. It perceives that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature was made.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Against all odds, good, love, and peace win. The underdog triumphs. Is this escape? Or is it the world as it was intended? Good fantasy brings us back to the beginning and invites us to participate in the renewal of what was always meant to be.

Writing prompt: Dorothy knew she had been told to follow the yellow brick road. But the girl who had run away from her overprotective old aunt had no intention of listening to a woman who rode in a bubble. She looked at the red bricks intertwined with the yellow ones. They looked interesting . . .

Jill Richardson is a writer, speaker, pastor, mom of three, and author of five books. She likes to travel, grow flowers, cause trouble, and research her next project. Her somewhat unnatural love for hobbits and elves comes from her time as a literature teacher and as a lifelong reader of great stories. Her passion is partnering with the next generation of faith. She blogs at http://jillmrichardson.com/.

Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World9781938499913.jpg

Hobbits, elves, dwarves, dragons, and wizards? Are epic-sized adventures just for fantasy? Or can they happen to you, too? Tolkien’s famous and immortal characters of Middle Earth are great for film, but the surprising thing is, they’re more real than you think. Within every “average” teen there’s an epic adventure waiting to be discovered—and this book just might help you discover yours. Look at the lives of your favorite characters, compare them to how God sees their journey, and see how you, like Bilbo, might  find out, “There is a lot more in (you) than you guess.”

The “Hunger Games” Genre

j andersenBy  J. Andersen

When I say I’ve written a dystopian novel, many times I get the funny looks. You know the one. It says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’ll just nod and smile to make it seem like I’m following our conversation.” Then I say, “You know, like The Hunger Games or Divergent.” Finally, the lights come on.

Basically, dystopian can be defined as the opposite of a utopia. Wikipedia defines it as, creation of an utterly horrible or degraded society that is generally headed to an irreversible oblivion, or dystopia.

I’ve loved dystopian literature since I first picked up Orwell’s 1984 in high school. There was something about a society that creates such an oppressive living place for its people that captured my attention. It’s still intriguing now because there is always the possibility of fiction coming to life. Every day we’re bombarded by these ethical dilemmas that could easily bring us into such a society. The possibility that it’s entirely possible to have a society like this is what draws so many to this genre.

I think there’s part of the writer (at least of me) that creates a fictional society that really wants to make things better for its people. But as perfect as we want our society to be, humans are fallible; therefore their creations are fallible. Perhaps not all dystopian writers would agree that the original intent of our fictional government is to create the perfect society, but I think it is human nature for us to always be searching for something better; therefore, striving for perfection is the underlying motivation.

We see such motivations in books like The Giver,the giver by Lois Lowry, one of my all-time favorite books. The characters want the best for the next generation. But the plan they use to carry that out is flawed.

Such is the case with my novel, The Breeding Tree. The goal of the society is to eradicate diseases such as cancer and heart disease. They breed out physical malformations as well. But in doing so, they touch on ethical topics such as manipulating DNA and disposing of fetuses who are not considered perfect.

So, we’ve discussed the atmosphere of a dystopian novel, but there’s something special about the characters in dystopian literature as well. There’s always a rebel. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good rebellion story? Who doesn’t love to read about the underdog who goes up against the big bad government? We cheer for characters like that. Characters in these situations need to be strong, smart, and resourceful. Imagining ourselves as these characters motivates us, especially in situations that feel helpless. After finishing The Hunger Games, I was practically cheering and thinking, “What would I have done in that situation?”

Our lives are filled with difficult, sometimes helpless situations, so we can identify with a character who overcomes adversity. I think this is the very reason this genre is so popular within the young adult population. This is also the reason I write in this genre. I want to give hope to young people who feel they’re in hopeless situations. If my writing can do that even a little bit, I’ll consider myself a successful author.

 

Writing Prompt: Now, it’s time for you to write: Write about a situation where you (or your character) feels helpless.

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The Breeding Tree

the breeding treeIs the opportunity to create the next generation of life a dream come true or a deadly nightmare? 

When seventeen year old Katherine Dennard is selected to become a “Creation Specialist” in Sector 4, the opportunity sounds like a dream come true. But Kate soon discovers the darker side of her profession – the disposal of fetal organs and destruction of human life. It makes sense, really. In a society where disease and malformations don t exist, human perfection demands that no genetic “mutants” be allowed to live. For Sector 4, “survival of the fittest” is not just a theory – it’s The Institute’s main mission. 

When Kate discovers that The Institute is using her DNA to create new life, her work gets personal. In order to save her unviable son, she’ll have to trust Micah and his band of underground Natural Born Rebels. The problem is, if The Institute discovers her betrayal, the next body being disposed of could be hers.

There’s not much to do growing up in a small town in Western, NY, so J. Andersen wrote stories and won high school writing contests. But in college her writing was limited to term papers. While teaching middle school she began to read young adult books and got serious about writing. She now writes full time, volunteers at the town library, helps to run a School of the Arts at her church, and sings in the church band. She enjoys good coffee—read: home roasted by her husband—crafts, baking, and chasing after her children. You’ll rarely see J. without a book in her hands, and that’s the way she’d like to keep it.

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