DSC_6334_smallWelcome to my writing pages!  The main focus of this page is to explore ways beginning writers can find inspiration.  You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:

Monday Sparks: Writing ideas to fan your creative flame

Tuesdays and Thursdays – Writing Tips

You may also find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Featured post

Interview Yourself

In Gail Johnson’s post on nonfiction writing, she recommended turning what you already know a lot about into nonfiction articles. This approach also works for inspiring fiction. Interview yourself to discover ideas for both your fiction and nonfiction.

For example, I love horses. It’s easy for me to create characters who work with horses. It’s a subject I’m already interested in.

Schedule an interview with yourself, which shouldn’t be hard these days. Below is an interview Me did with Myself. You can borrow my questions or come up with ones of your own. Once you complete your interview, I’d love to see your answers in the comments.

Me: So glad you could work me into your schedule.

Myself: I will always make time for such a close friend. What do you want to know?

Me: What topics do you think you are an expert in?

Myself: First of all, writing, especially how to write a short story. Next, I have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood movies from the Golden Age. Right now, my focus has been watching film noir. I’ve also read hundreds of mystery short stories, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. I’d feel comfortable writing about those topics.

Me: What topics would you like to learn more about?

Myself: Nature. So that when I go for a walk, I know what I’m looking at. I’ve been learning over the years because my kids are interested in it, and I’ve given them books on the subject. I’m also fascinated by police and how they works. It’s a life very different from anything I’ve known. I’ve been doing research in this area for my WIP novel.

Me: What are your hobbies?

Myself: Hiking or just walking. I try to walk every day. Biking. I like to bake but don’t do it enough. I love to sled in the winter. Photography, usually taking pictures of nature.

Me: What do you like to read?

Myself: Mysteries, any kind, adult or YA, 19th, 20th or 21st centuries, short stories or novels, contemporary or historical. As along as it’s a good mystery, I’ll read it. I like to read fantasy and science fiction short stories. In nonfiction, I’ll read anything that I’m interested in. I’ve read a lot about classic movies and theology. I also love humor, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

Me: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me.

Myself: No problem. Come back any time.

Turning Points in Our Lives

Turning points in our lives. We’ve all had them. Often we don’t realize what they are until a lot of time has passed. At other times, we recognize turning points in the moment we make a decision and/or take an action. Considering turning points in our own lives can prompt us to create turning points for our characters.

I had two in quick succession as a new mother and realized what they were as they were happening. During the first week with my first child, I became very anxious about his health — I can’t remember specifically what I was worried about. But I told myself if I started worrying now, I’d never stop. So I had to stamp out my worries.

The second turning point came as I tried to soothe my fussy baby, and it hit me that I was IT. The mother. The only one who could help my child. Nobody could do it but me. I had to figure how to comfort my child, or he would remain upset. That realization was as startling as getting smacked upside the head with mallet. But it made me truly a mother.

What turning points have you faced? Have you tried to work them into a story?

Telling the Story

Super-excited to have as guest blogger, Chris Pepple! She writes just about any form you can name–poetry, podcasts, novels, and more. Today she explains how she determines the most appropriate genre for telling the story. Welcome, Chris!

When I speak to writing groups, I am often asked why I choose to write both nonfiction and fiction books. Writing for me is a way to start conversations with others. My writings also open doors for my readers to join in discussion on various topics that they may have never addressed before reading one of my books. Both my nonfiction and fiction pieces give me the opportunity to introduce readers to the stories of people that I have met in my community and in my travels.

I write poems, novels, short stories, blog posts, podcast episodes, and devotionals. Through all of these genres, I invite readers into my conversations on healing, on change, on hope, on courage, on determination, on love, and on self-discovery. Sometimes fiction provides a way to share a story of one person or group of people in a more expansive format than a biography, allowing me to generalize some parts of the story so a broader audience can relate and come to understand more about the journey of people in their communities. There are times, however, when a specific person or organization needs to be highlighted in a nonfiction piece so people can put a specific face to a particular cause.

Both nonfiction and fiction can be used to capture moments in life that are touching and honest. For example, my fictional ‘slice of life’ short stories, my poetry, my blog posts, and my nonfiction podcast transcripts give my readers a glimpse into lives of ordinary people who walk through life with an extraordinary determination. The people in each story, poem, or podcast may seem familiar, but they will also surprise us with something that had been kept hidden or had gone unnoticed.

Writers can stay true to our voice across multiple genres. Each story that needs to be told dictates which genre best helps the reader identify with the life being portrayed or the thought being conveyed. A well-written short story or a poem can carry as powerful a message as a biography or a devotional. Give readers and book clubs a list of questions to ponder, and all genres can be used to start conversations.

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Need help with your writing? Or looking for a guest speaker? Click here to learn about the services Chris offers.

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Chris Pepple is an award-winning author with six published books. She is also a freelance writer, manuscript consultant, and editor. Her articles have appeared in many local and national publications. She is a guest speaker for nonprofit groups and writing groups, leading seminars and retreats throughout the nation. You can follow Chris on her website www.chrispepple.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Nonfiction That Complements the Novel

Cindy Thomson returns to my site today, and just in time for St. Patrick’s Day! Cindy has written three novels set in Ireland during the Dark Ages as well as nonfiction that complements those novels. Click here to read her previous guest blog. Glad to have you back, Cindy!

Before I published a novel, I dreamed of not being called an author, but a novelist. I’d written some magazine articles and was in the process of having a baseball biography, Three Finger: the Mordecai Brown Story, I co-wrote published so I could rightly be referred to as an author, but novelist was my ultimate goal. Then after my first novel, Brigid of Ireland, was published, I realized that I had done a lot of research on the history of ancient Ireland that I thought readers might be interested in. And so I returned to nonfiction with a book titled Celtic Wisdom, published by an imprint of the same publisher. That book went out of print and having the rights returned to me, I re-published it under the title The Roots of Irish Wisdom, Learning From Ancient Voices. As I continued to write novels in that ancient time period, I followed Roots up with a book titled Celtic Song, From the Traditions of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.

You might wonder if I was enjoying nonfiction after professing my love for fiction or if it had been a simple business decision. There was a time when I told the agent I was with back then that I was afraid I might be better at nonfiction than fiction. That was a reluctant confession because as I said, fiction was my dream. Readers are the final judge, but that no longer concerns me. I enjoy writing both and can foresee doing so in the future especially when the nonfiction has a connection to the fiction.

I write historicals. As a reader, I’m interested in the background history of a novel. Had an English king actually relinquished his crown to marry a divorcee? Were American-Italians actually sent to internment camps along with the Japanese during WWII? A really good story will often send me off to look up more information. Many of the readers of my books tell me they are the same way so this is an instance where nonfiction and fiction can marry happily. But I also write some baseball pieces. A biography on a little-known player that I wrote about will soon appear in a book on the Federal League. I haven’t written any genealogy articles lately, but I hope to return to that one day. These are nonfiction projects that I enjoy and I’ve done these types of articles and essays for many years, long before my fiction was published. I think it’s okay to have many interests as an author. But the idea that nonfiction can pair with fiction only came to me after my first novel came out. And it took me awhile to write the second book, but I would like to continue if I can. I’m curious about things so my readers will likely see me put that curiosity into research that will eventually come out in a book somewhere.

What about you? Do you follow up novels with some nonfiction reading?

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I thoroughly enjoyed Celtic Song. So much interesting information. In Celtic Song, I learned that my favorite hymn “Be Thou My Vision” might have originated in the eighth century, and it is written in the poetic form called a lorica. I’d never heard of that kind of poetry before I read Cindy’s book.

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Known for the inspirational Celtic theme employed in most of her books, Cindy Thomson is the author of six novels and four nonfiction books, including her newest, Finding Your Irish Roots. A genealogy enthusiast, she writes from her home in Ohio where she lives with her husband Tom near their three grown sons and their families. Visit her online at CindysWriting.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest: @cindyswriting and Book Bub: @cindyswriting.

Turning People into Characters

Have you ever tried turning people into characters?

At a writing conference, author James Rubart talked about how he had a friend, whom he turned into a character for a novel. He didn’t adapt his friend’s personality or made any other adjustments. He just plunked him in as is.

I don’t have the courage to do that. I figure I’d describe a friend in some way he or she didn’t like and I’d offend them. But most of the characters we writers create contain some aspect we’ve seen in real people.

Such as my oldest’s kindergarten teacher. This woman personified patience and even temperament. She seemed more than able to handle any crisis her students could concoct.

Kindergarten Teacher, speaking in a completely bland voice:

“Now, Aiden, you shouldn’t set fire to the classroom. You’ll get a demerit for it. Children, Aiden has set fire to the room. Please line up at the door so we can leave quickly.”

I’ve been working with a character who has that kind of calm, unflappable personality, although she isn’t a kindergarten teacher. For this character, I’m mixing the kindergarten teacher with a woman from my church.

Who are some people who would work as prompts for characters?

Guest Blogger Maryruth Dilling

My guest blogger Maryruth Dilling, is new to JPC Allen Writes. She kindly volunteered to do this post when I was looking for guest bloggers who write both nonfiction and fiction. Welcome, Maryruth!

This past November during NaNoWriMo 2019, I took a giant leap at a writing project I had been percolating in my head for over a year. I’m a nonfiction writer who creates educational programs to help people move from barely surviving to abundantly thriving. For my first real attempt at NaNoWriMo, I wanted to try something different in the fiction realm, using the novel as a vehicle to educate. 

I didn’t meet my word goal, but I learned a great deal about the difference in writing a novel and writing a nonfiction, educational piece. 

When I develop a class, I may jot down ‘session’ divisions (similar to chapters), but it is mainly with the purpose of making sure I do not leave anything important out. If I find I have too much information for one class, I will develop a second class (similar to a second book in a fiction series). 

With my classes, I write from decades of knowledge. Organizing sections happens almost as easy as breathing to me. With the move toward the fiction genre, I had to learn some new skills. 

The first thing I realized was that I needed to flesh out my characters. This took time, but they soon took on a life of their own. I also needed some type of outline. Normally, a ‘pantser’ when I write, I learned that even though parts of the story could be done as such,  some type of loose outline was needed. 

Personally, I did not write a full outline. Since it is a dystopia book, I jotted down some scenes which were important to build suspense and lead the reader to where I wanted him to go, giving him a reason to want to learn what I wanted to teach. 

Other differences, outside of character development and outlining, I had to brush up on dialogue skills. With my usual nonfiction, I had no need of dialogue. The dialogue itself was not difficult. Remembering the bits and pieces of punctuation with dialogue required review. The challenge was that when I began writing, I wanted the main character to be the aunt who is the knowledgeable one teaching about herbals. Instead, after the first chapter, an original secondary character stole the main spot in the story. This led me to rewriting a few sections. I do believe with the new main character, the story will be stronger, leading to more lessens for both the characters and the reader to learn. 

Another new lesson for me to brush up on with fiction is writing the scenery. With program development, no scenery is required. Scenery development has been the biggest struggle to learn. Show, don’t tell, is a mantra writers often hear. Learning to combine enough detail to put the reader in the same time/place as the character, yet not become bogged down by details is a skill I’m still working on. 

With the scenery, I decided to write enough detail to remind me of where I want the characters to be in the rough draft and fine tune the scenery when I go back for my edits. In the meantime, I continue to learn about improving my craft as I move from only writing educational nonfiction to using the vehicle of fiction as a teaching tool. 

I hope my experience has motivated you to step out of the comfort zone of your current genre and step into a new world. 

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Maryruth Dilling, author/speaker/coach, describes her job as CEO/Founder of Kindling Dreams as one who educates, challenges, and encourages as she helps people through personal coaching and educational programs to achieve their potential. For more information on available services or products, contact Maryruth at kindlingdreamsllc@gmail.com or visit her website at kindlingdreams.com. You can also visit her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Favorite Books — Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This book changed my life. I can’t say that about a lot of books, but Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis did. No book, outside of the Bible, has had more impact on me. Through logic, Mr. Lewis reasons his way into why Christianity is true. He addresses many objections he had when he was an atheist.

My dad gave me a copy of Mere Christianity in college, but I didn’t read it until just after I was married. I’m sorry I didn’t read it earlier, since it was a gift, but I’m not sure if I could have handled the weight of the subject at a younger age.

I had never read such an intellectually challenging book. I loved it. My brain couldn’t get enough of it. Apart from the way it changed my life, this book also influenced how I write my fiction.

Creating Precise Images

Mr. Lewis writes about some extremely difficult theological concepts but makes them accessible through his use of precise analogies.

One of my favorites is comparing human society to a convoy of ships. The convoy is only a success if it reaches its destination. It can’t do that if the ships don’t watch each other to prevent collisions or if the crew of each ship doesn’t maintain its internal mechanisms.

Humans operate the same way. We can collide when we don’t care about other people or when we have so many internal problems that we can’t help but create conflict with others.

Such well-constructed, clear images inspire me to create metaphors and similes like that for my fiction. I want to describe people or settings or even explanations of a mystery so well that readers see it like a sharp-focused photo.

Building Better Villains

Mr. Lewis has many sections on the nature of evil. Although I know when I’ve done sinful things, it was helpful to learn the reasons why. Not only does this give me insight into my spiritual life, it also helped me build better villains.

In a passage, the author explains that one huge difference between good and evil is that people will do good even when they don’t feel like it, or when it won’t benefit them. They do good because they know they ought to.

No one ever did bad because they thought they ought to, when they didn’t feel like it. Every evil action benefits the person somehow. Even cruelty, which seems like evil for evil’s sake, provides satisfaction or pleasure to the person or else he wouldn’t bother.

Those explanations about evil have helped me climb into the skins of my villains and understand their motivations, helping me create believable characters.

What books have changed your life?

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