JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

Halloween storiesLike I said on Tuesday, I don’t like the horror associated with Halloween. But I do enjoy a supernatural story that is spooky or creepy, where the unearthly happenings are suggested rather than thrown in your face. If the main character tackles the supernatural like a detective, even better. And the ending must have some hope.

Here are several short stories I enjoy revisiting every October. I discovered these in the children’s section of the first library I worked in. I’m not sure why these stories were in the children’s section. Most of the authors were writers well-known for writing fantasy and science fiction for adults.

“The House Surgeon” by Rudyard Kipling in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts selected by Helen Hoke.

  • A new friend of the M’Leod family attempts to discover why their home plagues everyone with depression. And why everyone feels “someone” is desperate to tell them something.
  • Think “Downton Abbey” with an amateur detective. I like this story because the haunting is so unusual.

“The Monster of Poot Holler” by Ida Chittum in Spirits, Spooks, and Other Sinister Creatures selected by Helen Hoke

  • In the Ozarks, two cousins dare to enter Poot Holler to find out what lives there.
  • I love the voice of this story, told in dialect. The build-up to the revelation of the monster is terrific.

“The Whistling Room” by William Hope Hodgson in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts 

  • Carnacki, the Ghost Finder, investigates a room in an Irish castle, haunted by a monstrous whistling.
  • Think Sherlock Holmes taking on X-Files cases. The supernatural detective is intriguing as well as the peculiar haunting.

“The Cloak” by Robert Bloch in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts

  • Henderson gets a lot more than he bargains for when he buys a cloak for a Halloween costume party from a mysterious shop clerk who claims it’s “authentic”.
  • This has the best description of the modern perception of Halloween I’ve ever read, starting with the opening lines:

“The sun was dying, and its blood splattered the sky as it crept into a sepulcher behind the hills. The keening wind sent dry , fallen leaves scurrying towards the west, as though hastening them to the funeral of the sun … Either that, or tonight was just another rotten cold fall day.”

  • The is the one story with a downer ending. But it doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. If you don’t like downer endings, just reading the first half. The beginning and Henderson’s visit to the costume shop set the perfect Halloween mood.



Writing Tip — Writing in Time

October wordsLike I said last month, September and October are two of my favorite months during my favorite season. So I find it easy for Octobe to inspire me.


I live in a rural area, and the harvest of corn and soybeans is in full swing. If I wanted a story to follow the cycle of farming, I could start it in the spring with planting and end it with harvesting. The characters’ story arc could mimic the growing season.


Of course, in the U.S., many people spend October gearing up for Halloween. I have never liked the horror aspects of Halloween, but because I have kids, the holiday is a lot of fun. Selecting costumes, participating in school parties, trick-or-treating with friends in our small town where just about everybody comes out for the evening makes Halloween a great holiday for kids.

It’s the perfect setting for the adventures or misadventures in a picture book, chapter, or middle grade fiction.


I like the mysterious quality of October and Halloween.  When I host my annual Halloween party for my family, I emphasize mystery, rather than horror.

I have been working on-and-off for a couple years on a murder mystery that climaxes on Halloween night. I don’t have a title yet but here’s a summary:

“When members of the Stowecroft family, the leading family in Willet County, West Virginia, are being murdered one by one, Junior Lody notices a connection between the current crimes and ones involving the Stowecrofts fifty and seventy years ago. Following the techniques he’s read about in books investigating Richard III and the disapearance of his nephews, Junior realizes the truth behind all the crimes and races on Halloween night to stop the killer from striking again.”

The murders swirl around an empty house the Stowecrofts own on the edge of town. I like adding a haunted house to an October mystery. The colors of fall and the decreasing daylight enhance the air of mystery. The death and decay of nature mirror the murders and old family secrets buried deep.

I have always liked climaxes that occur during a big social event. A strong contrast can be drawn between most of the people enjoying the event, like trick-or-treating in a small town, while the real drama with the main characters goes on behind the scenes. Two examples like this are the main characters searching for assassins during a political convention in The Manchurian Candidate or during a symphony concert in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

How does October inspire you?


Monday Sparks — Writing prompts

Dome wordsThe weekend before last I went to a writers’ conference in Dallas. It was held at the all-inclusive Gaylord Texan resort. I had never been to one, where everything was under one roof, including an enormous atrium with all kind of trees and plants growing under it, as you can see from the model below.

IMG_7911It made me think of stories with sealed communities, like Stephen King’s Under the Dome and the movie Logan’s Run. Even more disturbing was Caves of Steel by Issac Asimov where people get so used to their sealed community that it never occurs to them to venture into the natural world.

If you wrote about a sealed community, why is it sealed? Are the inhabitants trapped? Or do they stay inside willingly.

Share if inspired!

Writing Tip — Perspective

new-york-927138_1280My oldest did a photography 4-H project this summer. One of the exercises was called “Bird’s Eye, Bugs Eye.” The point was to take photos from very high and very low perspectives, something different from human height.

IMG_7926IMG_8043When I saw the results, I was amazed at how fresh and interesting mundane objects became with a change in perspective.

I was reminded how important it is for writers to freshen their perspectives when I was attending the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Dallas last weekend. In a workshop led by authors James L. Rubart and Cara Putnam, they talked about how writers need to look at people, situations, and settings in unique ways to make their writing stand out.

I wrote about this last January in the post “Finding the Real in the Routine”. If you need to change your perspective, here are some suggestions:

  • Walk through a new neighborhood.
  • Walk as close as you can to a construction site. (I am a big fan of learning about an area by walking.)
  • Find a restaurant that serves a style of food you haven’t tried.
  • Read outside the genre you write.
  • Watch a movie or TV show that’s different from your usual favorites.
  • Sit in different places in your home and see if you spot something new. (Such as laying down on your kids’s beds.)
  • Find a plant and study it up close.
  • Go to a zoo and watch active animals.
  • Visit a library and browse the shelves.
  • Go through family albums and pick a few photos to study.
  • Pick an unfamiliar, busy location and people watch, without looking at your phone, for ten minutes.
  • Take photos of familiar objects from strange angles.

Recently I experienced the rewards of getting a fresh perspective when I changed my walking routine. After I finish the school drop-off, I usually walk around the little town where the school is located. Yesterday, I decided to wade the creek near our property. I found this:

IMG_9009It’s one of three dams we think beavers have built, and we are mounting an expedition to find the lodge.

What do you do to find a new perspective in your writing?


West Virginia Wednesday — From Davis to Parsons

IMG_8584When I was staying at Blackwater Falls State Park in Tucker County, West Virginia, I had to drive to the county seat of Parsons to do research. The 30-minute drive proved wild and wonderful and sometimes nerve-wracking for someone not used to driving through the mountains.

In Scenic Routes and Byways: West Virginia by Su Clauson-Wicker, the route I took is placed in the larger drive called the Canaan Valley Loop. I would love to go back and drive that entire route. All the quotes are from this book.

I drove out of the state park and onto Rt. 32. I skirted the tiny town of Davis, “the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi”, and follow 32 until I reached another very small town, Thomas. The layout of Thomas is very interesting. The town is mostly built on one side of the North Fork of the Blackwater River. The mountainside is so steep that the town is built in layer like on wedding cake, with the buildings above set back from those below.

I turned onto US 219 South. Descending Backbone Mountain, I came around a curve and found enormous wind tubines popping into view. What made it so surprising was that I hadn’t seem a glimpse of them until they loomed up, complete and colossal.

I turned right onto Sugarlands Road and then quickly found the service road that ran below the 345-foot turbines. The gate was unlocked, so I could have followed the service road as far as my car allowed. When I came back with my family, we did drive down it a short way to take pictures. 166 turbines stand long “the top of this north-south ridge for miles.”

IMG_8567Less than a mile from Sugarlands Road is a picnic area and observation parking lot. The top photo was taken there. It was my favorite view of the whole trip. The mountains rolled to the horizon like waves. The farm, a lighter green than the mountains, stood out like an island in the sea.

The finally six miles into Parsons is a six percent grade. It’s fun to drive, but I got nervous when tractor trailers suddenly roared around the curve. Tucker County High School is about half way down the stretch, and it made me wonder: how do the kids and buses get up and down this road when it snows? Slide? Glide? Collide? Maybe the county clears this first because it is US highway, but the writer and mom in me thought the school is located in a worrying place.

When I drove into Parsons, a town of over 1,000 situated in the a flat river valley by the Cheat River, I had descended 1,600 feet in a half hour.

If you are interested in taking scenic drives in West Virginia, check out Ms. Clauson-Wicker’s book. She lists many different routes and the chapter describing the road I drove is very helpful.

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