Traveling to New Places Through Setting

“Traveling to New Places Through Setting” comes to JPC Allen Writes from a new author to my site, Judith McNees. Judith uses her own backyard as the setting for her novels and describes her approach to transport readers there. Welcome, Judith!

One of my favorite parts about reading and writing fiction is getting to experience the beauty of nature through the written word. When I began plotting my first series, I had abundant experiences with which to choose a setting. I knew I wanted to take my readers somewhere beautiful. Fortunately, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Tranquil Shores, Michigan, is a fictional town, but the descriptions of nature throughout the series are primarily drawn from my own experiences while living in Michigan my entire life.

With five of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, which create about 3,200 miles of coastline, over three hundred waterfalls, about five hundred islands, six state forests, four seasons, and more, Michigan has an overwhelming amount of nature to write about.

Part of writing nature is allowing readers to experience the different kinds of weather of each season. For example, my debut novel, A Heart to Cherish, takes place over summer. One scene from that novel describes the heat and humidity of July in vivid detail. If you’ve ever stepped outside your home and experienced humidity that felt like a solid wall, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I also described the beauty of a Lake Michigan sunrise, the scent of water, sand, and dune grass, and even the breeze carrying the hum of crickets as fireflies blink through flowers and trees during twilight.

In book two of the series, A Heart to Trust, the story picks up in late fall and transitions to winter as the story goes on. My readers experience the cold winds of late fall, the enchantment of the first snow flurries of the season, and the beauty of the first blanket of snow accumulation. Here, when it gets cold enough, we can “see” our breath, and any exposed skin, such as on cheeks and noses, turns red.

I’ve found that engaging as many of the senses as possible makes the setting come alive for readers. They may never come to Michigan, but through my stories, they can experience what it’s like to stroll along Lake Michigan or take a horseback ride through the snow. When you’re in nature, there are always smells, such as the scent of drying leaves in autumn or the earthy smell that comes just after rainfall. There are sounds like the wind sighing through the trees, waves gently crashing along the shore of Lake Michigan, or feet crunching through newly fallen snow. You can feel the heat of the sun or the cold chill of wind whipping through your hair.

I’ve even used beautiful landmarks to acquaint my readers with different feelings my characters might experience. For example, one of my characters describes the feeling of infatuation as similar to standing at the top of a fifty-foot waterfall and looking over. Another character describes the experience of falling in love as similar to standing atop Castle Rock in early spring and watching the large chunks of ice floating along the shore of Lake Superior. Breathtaking but potentially deadly.

Little details like these bring our readers to places they’ve never been to experience the beauty and wonder for themselves. It is always a joy to have readers from Michigan tell other readers that the descriptions of my lovely home state are spot on. If a reader has been bit by the travel bug as I have, it’s one great way to travel without leaving home!

For more guest posts, click here.

*****

Can two broken hearts learn to trust each other…and God?

Grace Morgan has a closely guarded secret. One that also makes her good at guarding her heart. After all, she has what she needs to be content. She won’t make the mistake of falling for another man at work…until the hunky new guy she’s trying not to notice moves in across the hall.

Tyler Danby has a secret, too. Left by his wife, who takes away everything he cares about, he’s nursing his wounds and starting over. When he strikes up a friendship with his quirky neighbor, he wonders whether God might be giving him a second chance at love.

Secrets have a way of coming out. And broken trust is hard to restore.

*****

Contemporary Christian romance author Judith McNees lives in southwestern Michigan with her husband and four of their seven children, along with their three dogs. Her family loves to travel together, but she still believes that her home state is one of the most beautiful states there is. She is a proud stay-at-home mom, stepmom, foster mom, adoptive mom, and grandma, which gives her plenty of fodder for her writing. She holds a B.A. in English from Western Michigan University and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. You can connect with her on her websiteFacebookInstagramGoodreads, and Amazon.

Seasons of Color

Welcome to Kristena Mears, a new guest blogger here at JPC Allen Writes! With fall just around the corner, Kristena writes about the seasons of color and encourages writers to take advantage of colors in their writings.

September is here and with it comes the changing of the seasons. I was never an autumn lover as a child. It signaled the end of summer and the end of fun. Summer had passed and school was back in session. 

I grew up in Northern California. The change of season from summer to autumn didn’t have the beauty I see now in the Mid-West. There are so many colors here in just one leaf. Both areas had the autumn season, both had leaves that turned brown and fall off. In both, flowers die away with the frost. But the colors were different, and this changed the whole flavor of the season.

In the Mid-West, the leaves don’t just turn brown; they turn to crimson, then maroon, then turn into caramel. The dying flowers turn from hot pink to fandango before turning to russet, then ash.

I didn’t appreciate it, but even the slow fade of the seasons in California has worked its way into my writing. Not every scene I write needs these multi-colored descriptions. But it is those that need them I want to focus on today.

When we write, we want to draw our readers in. We want to make them feel the brush of wind blowing through their hair, and feel the need to scratch their arm as we describe the ant crawling its way up over each tiny hair. To do this, we need to draw from each experience and infuse that knowledge into our work. What we see around us, what we feel and experience, these are the images that we put to paper. Both the beauty and the shriveling ugliness.

Then again, is it really ugly? Even the dull and ugly can become beautiful in our words.

Have you ever asked yourself how many colors there are? There are over 18 decillion. Decillion! I didn’t even know that was a number! That’s a one with thirty-three zeros after it.

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Scientists have determined that we can see about one thousand different levels of just dark and light and one-hundred levels each of green and red. That’s about ten-million colors just with those two spectrums.

Are we using this kind of description in our writing? When we talk about the evening sky, do we take advantage of all the colors available to us? We can say, 
“The reds and golds blended together and slowly faded to black.” 
Or we can say, 
“Crimson swirled with ruby and violet, painting the sky in beauty, before fading into a smoky gray that was swallowed into charcoal.”

When we write, we have many colors to choose from. We don’t need to go overboard and use a distinct color for everything. Sometimes a red gingham dress, or a faded pair of blue jeans, is just a red gingham dress, and a faded pair of blue jean. But variation of color seems to be especially necessary when we are describing nature and seasons. When we describe the colors in the sky, the mountains or forest, we need to convey the beauty of what we want to reveal to our readers, tingle their senses and transport them into the pages.

I know it takes extra effort for me and it never seems to make it into my first draft. But the effort is worth the outcome. Using descriptive wording is the difference between good writing and great writing. God created amazing splendor for us to enjoy. Each season and each part of the world has its own unique magnificence. There are days and places that seem dull. But even the rainy, overcast days and the bleak wastelands have their own distinctive colors. The words we choose can make them extraordinary and leave our readers hungering for more. 

For more posts on writing about nature, click here.

*****

Today it happened. Keturah became a woman. Her plan to escape an arranged marriage worked. She’s now free to find her brother and live as she chooses. But the lies and deceit catch up with her. If she confesses, will it lead to her death? Is there a path to forgiveness? 
Justus’ devotion to Yeshua results in Abba proclaiming him dead to the family. When Justus rescues a child from slavery, Keturah falls in love with the toddler. But the child’s mother returns, and Justus falls in love. Will Keturah’s jealousy destroy all bonds with her brother? Can they save their relationship?Onesimus, a runaway slave, has a secret. Befriending Keturah, he finds she has a secret of her own. Will the two friends be destroyed by what they hide, or can they learn to give everything to God?
Will running set them free or sentence them to death?

*****

Kristena Mears is an award-winning author, blogger and wife of a C&MA minister. She is an inspirational speaker for both small and large groups of all ages. Kristena is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur. She loves history, art, travel, and even research. Out of these, her vivid imagination and inspiring stories flow.
When Kristena’s not busy writing or working her full-time job, you’ll probably find her nose in a book or spending time with her husband and best friend, Mark. She takes frequent trips to the zoo. enjoys cooking and dabbling in photography. Kristena lives in the Cincinnati, OH area with her hubby of 40 years. She has three grown children and three grandchildren.
You can find her books on Amazon or wherever books are sold. 
For more information on Kristena Mears, check out her website, kristenamears.com .

God’s Nature in Our Writing

Kicking off a new month with a new theme and a new author. Please welcome Penny Frost McGinnis, a who published her first novel with Mt. Zion Ridge Press this year. My theme this month is nature, and Penny gets us rolling with this lovely article about including God’s nature in our writing.

“To the attentive eye, each season of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which will never be seen again.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Growing up, I spent my time wandering through the woods and fields that surrounded our home. In the pond, I discovered frogs who plopped in the water, dragonflies which glided like kites, and red-winged blackbirds who hid among the cattails. We snatched heads of clover and sucked the sweetness from the tiny blooms and rolled down hills of grass. In the woods, I found toadstools and jack-in-the-pulpit. To me, nature came to life, as if another character inhabited the world I lived in.

As I grew older and learned more about God’s glorious creation, I embraced nature as a way to honor the Lord. When my husband and I visit Lake Erie, I like nothing better than to sit on a rock and hear the waves lap the shore. The mountains of South Carolina take my breath away, when the fog rises and reveals a sunrise displayed in yellow, red, and pink. Standing on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean as the chilled water washes over my feet reminds me of the power and beauty God has gifted us.

Because I experience deep joy when I commune with the natural world, I believe it’s essential to include the beauty God created in my writing. In my devotions, I often focus on one aspect, such as a flower garden and the process of growing from seed to bloom to emulate the growth in the Christian life. When I write fiction, I often set the scene with sights, sounds, smells, the taste, or touch of an element of nature. 

In my work-in-progress, the main character, Marigold, owns a kayak business, so many of the scenes are set on the beach. Rather than give a lengthy description, I sprinkle nature throughout the chapters. For instance: “The scent of spring rain refreshed the air. Most days, she loved when the skies opened and doused her flowers, but today she prayed the sun shined through the clouds so vacationers would paddle in Lake Erie on the sturdy plastic boats.” And “The trees along the campground waved, as the wind whipped. Waves rolled in to the shore, higher each time. ‘The way the water is acting tells me a storm is brewing. Did you see the red sky this morning?’” 

I enjoy reading books set on the east coast or in the Appalachian Mountains where the writer immerses the reader into the natural setting by description and through dialogue. As I write a scene, I picture where my character is, then I discover how I can add nature through the five senses. The character may smell the damp ground in the forest or the rose in the garden. They might taste the tomato they plucked from the vine, or hear the rushing water in the river. They might roll a snowball, rub their hand over the bark of a tree, or capture a handful of sand and let it flow from their fingers. Sight is the most used sense in writing, when the character witnesses a glorious sunset or hikes in the woods and discovers a baby barred owl on the ground. 

Readers of book one of the Abbott Island series, Home Where She Belongs, said: The details and descriptions made me feel like I was on the island. Use nature to immerse the reader in the setting by sprinkling description throughout the narrative and dialogue, and weave in all five senses so the reader experiences the nature in each scene. 

For more post on writing about nature, click here.

*****

Tired of being a pawn for her father and an emotional punching bag for her ex-boyfriend, Sadie Stewart escapes to Abbott Island where she spent summers with her grandparents. Would the love and faith she learned from them be enough to fuel her new life? She wants to believe God’s promises, yet broken trust holds her back. 

Joel Grayson left the island long enough to train at the Police Academy. The community trusts him, even though he’s failed. When he finds Sadie at her grandparents’ cottages, his heart skips a beat. He’d love to get to know her again, but no one needs to share the hurt he harbors. 

When Sadie discovers someone is sabotaging her future, she seeks Joel’s help. As they are drawn together, will Joel let down his guard and let her in? Will Sadie trust the man who loves her and the Father Who cares? 

*****

If Penny Frost McGinnis could live in a lighthouse or on an island, she would. Instead, she and her husband are content to live in southwest Ohio and visit Lake Erie every chance they get. She adores her family and dog, indulges in dark chocolate, enjoys creating fiber arts, and grows flowers and herbs in her tiny garden. She pens romance with a dash of mystery and the promise of hope. Her life’s goal is to encourage and uplift through her writing. Connect with her on website/blog, FB author page, Twitter, Pinterest, and Bookbub.

Creating Christian Characters

Along with my new theme for the month, I have a new author to introduce to you, Rocklyn Grace. Rocklyn has recently published her first Christian novel and writes about creating Christian characters. Welcome, Rocklyn!

I am a new author, and I am a Christian. I decided to enter the world of writing Christian Fiction because when I read that literature, I saw beautifully created characters. I also saw characters who did not strike me as “real” in the scheme of life and living in the world.

On the pendulum, some had the proverbial “thorn in the flesh”; some had other issues concerning prayer, understanding the Bible, or church attendance. On the opposing swing of characters, I saw characters so caught up in spiritual matters that the plot of the novel would be consumed by that which is “unseen”–angels, demons, and such interactions. 

Don’t get me wrong here: I loved reading those books. 

I noted, however, an opportunity for myself to create a Christian character that might reach a slightly wider audience — an audience that dips into both arenas of believers and unbelievers.

Thus, I crafted my goal: Create reality in my Christian characters. That is, they have the following characteristics:

  • They are believers who are highly flawed in some way — or many ways. 
  • They do not live easy lives. 
  • They struggle to read the bible sometimes. 
  • They question God even though they are convinced of His existence. 
  • They might struggle to pray or even utter a curse word in between a quick beseech of God for some much-needed grace and mercy.

In fact, one of my characters may outright sin and suffer consequences thereof, but the same character will also experience strength in weakness and the redemption, the table set before him/her found because of walking through death’s shadow.

How much greater the reconciliation when the reality of life is actively engaged by a character, and thereby, a reader. 

Here is my crafting process, or the questions I answer for him/her: 

  • What “flaw” will my character struggle with? 
  • How does that affect their actions? Their words?
  • Their laughter and joy? 
  • How does that affect their interactions with an antagonist? Another protagonist? A parent? A sibling? A husband/wife or fiancé?
  • How does it affect their reactions to types of trauma to themselves? Toward others? 
  • Ultimately: How does the flaw manifest in everyday situations? 

And finally, how does the redemptive power of Jesus rescue, heal, and help the character? How does that affect others around the character?

Once I have my character created — with those questions answered, it’s then a fantastic journey to write their story, let them face challenges, and always find Jesus.

*****

Soaring Eagle dreams of reuniting his family and his western rural tribe despite the dystopian government restrictions that have forced them apart. In his efforts to pursue his goals, his plans are thwarted by his capture and a young woman who saves him from certain execution in the only way the laws of her sector allow: marriage. His entire life is upended, his secrets exposed, and now Soaring Eagle must seek a new pathway to his dream. How can he unite his family without losing the woman he also desires?

*****

Rocklyn Grace lives in the beautiful mountains of Colorado where life is wildly free and beautifully peaceful. She raised two sons with her husband. Together, they fill the empty nest with rock music and loud praise. Rocklyn loves morning coffee, sunsets in the cool evenings, and the interruption of a moonbeam across the living room late at night. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Mapping the Middle

Once again this year, I have a new author to introduce to you! I met Alexandra Ely online and I’m so pleased to have her thoughts on mapping the middle. When Alexandra refers to the second act, she’s talking about using the three-act structure to craft a plot. If you’re unfamiliar with this kind of plotting, you can read this post which will give a basic description.

Writing a story is much like mapping a new territory and it’s just as easy to get lost in your own world as it is in the real one. It’s especially easy to get turned around in the middle section of your novel if you’re not prepared. In this post, I’d like to share with you some of the tools I have learned to bring with me when I venture into a new story. 

When you reach the beginning of act two, it’s as if you’re standing at a crossroad with multiple options. It can be overwhelming because many of them are plausible paths your characters can take to get them from act one to act three. This was an element of writing that surprised me when I first started. 

It was frustrating and slowed me down considerably. I was uncertain which was the “best way”. So many ideas could happen and many of them worked equally well. Often, writing can feel like a waste of time – something we all want to avoid – causing a sense of pressure to get it right the first time. However, I have found this feeling to not be true. The scenes you don’t use are the ones you learn from the most. Not just about the mechanics of writing, but of your characters and story’s world.

Navigating the Middle

Here are two things I have learned that help me navigate and map the vast middle portion. 

  1. Brainstorming and outlining: Enjoy the endless possibilities the middle has to offer instead of being overwhelmed. Start by choosing an idea, any one works for brainstorming. See where this path leads. Jot down big picture notes along the way in case you like something specific. Try this with each idea. Soon you will have a map of the many routes your characters could take from act one to act three. The choice then comes down to your favorite. I have found that embracing and exploring the options -instead of being locked into one immediately – makes writing the middle flow smoother.
  2. No scene is a waste of time: Some ideas will lead you to dead ends. I recently wrote such a scene and felt deflated and frustrated afterward. However, I realized that it was as if this idea led me to a vista. Here I could see where I had been and where I wanted to go. It was a vantage point! I was able to identify what didn’t work and why and was able to apply that to the next idea, which ended up working quite well.  

Even if an idea leads you down a dead-end path, sometimes we just have to write them for ourselves. This information will not go unused even if it doesn’t make it into the final cut. There is a depth of complexity that aids us as creative writers when we can see any scene from multiple angles. The more you write about your story’s world, whether it be a fantasy realm or not, the stronger your knowledge of it becomes and it will show in the final draft. 

While the middle is the largest chunk of your book, I encourage you to tackle all that it has to offer. I hope this helps you to face your current writing struggles and that soon you will find the best-suited path to get you going again. Writing a novel is a journey and adventure like hiking any trail. 

For more tips on writing the middle of stories, click here.

*****

Alexandra Ely grew up in the High Desert of California where she played outside, cultivating the imagination she uses for her creative writing to this day. In high school she studied under an old Russian playwright who taught her the delicacies of storytelling. She continued to pursue novel writing in college.

This September Alexandra and her husband will celebrate their ten year wedding anniversary and expect their second baby a few weeks after. Alexandra loves sewing historical fashion, baking sourdough bread, and would like to teach herself calligraphy someday so she can write epic Christmas cards. 

Much of her nonfiction writing has been published in both local and national magazines and a prologue to an anthology published internationally. Publication for her fiction work is close at hand. Currently, Alexandra and her writing partner are querying their manuscript and on her own she is editing a second book with intentions to publish as well. You can hear a sample of her novel, The Mermaid Bride, on the Happy London Press podcast and find her personal instagram account @ely_landing and her collaboration account @loftonauthors.

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