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Christmas fiction: off the beaten path

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Ronnell Kay Gibson

GIBSONTo wrap up the month, I have author Ronnell Kay Gibson visiting for the first time. Although she has published many devotionals and short stories, “Those Who Stay” is her first story to appear in an anthology. Glad to have you here, Ronnell!

What inspired you to write “Those Who Stayed”, a drama set during a hostage crisis in a store?

“Those Who Stayed” was based on a dream I about just that, a gunman who walked into my local Christian bookstore and posed the same ultimatum, deny Jesus and you can live, but those who stay will be shot. In the dream, I was the 17-year-old boy frozen in place watching the events unfold. All the other details and characters were created as I wrote the story.

 Why did you choose a teenage boy as your main character?

I write a lot of young adult fiction and as I was writing, it just felt the most natural.

 Did you find any special challenges when you wrote your story?

The biggest challenge was trying to keep it real and not preachy. What would a person do if this were a real situation? Would a mother really let her young son stay behind? Most moms wouldn’t, so why does this one? I didn’t want to have trite or pat answers.

 What excited you the most about this story?

Each of the character’s unique voices came easily, and that almost never happens when I’m writing.

Since we’re in a holiday mood, what’s your favorite Christmas tradition? And/Or what’s your favorite Christmas story?

One of my favorite Christmas stories is the children’s book, Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect. Just a sweet story about compassion and selfless giving.

My favorite Christmas tradition is our “Tree Trimming Night.” A night where our family gets together to put up and decorate our tree. Afterward we have pizza and everyone gets to open one present (wrapped in wrapping paper with Christmas trees on it, of course). As my kids have gotten older, we haven’t always been able to have our special night, but this year I’m hoping to bribe my daughter and her friends to come help.

I love trimming our tree, too, with my kids. Thanks for stopping by!

*****

From Christmas fiction off the beaten path:

“Those Who Stayed” by Ronnell Kay Gibson. Years ago, a gunman and a store full of hostages learned some important lessons about faith and pain and what really matters in life — and the echoes from that day continue to the present. 

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 24Symbols, Kobo

*****

Ronnell surrounds herself with words and teenagers. She specializes in young adult contemporary with a sprinkling of the mysterious. She also writes youth and adult devotions and is one of the editors for HAVOK Publishing. Self-proclaimed coffee snob and Marvel movie addict, Ronnell has also titled herself a macaroon padawan and a cupcake Jedi. High on her bucket list is to attend San Diego Comic Con. Ronnell lives in central Wisconsin, with her husband, two teenagers, and two Pomeranian puppies. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and on her website, ronnellkeygibson.com.

 

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: What’s the Story?

drownw-3690715_1280My featured author this week is Ronnel Kay Gibson, whose short story “Those Who Stayed” in Christmas fiction off the beaten path, is a drama centered around a life-changing question.

My prompt isn’t the same question, but I thought I’d choose one that had similar consequences. Your main characters is alone by a body of water and sees someone who looks like he’s drowning. What does she do?

If she’s a strong swimmer, does she try to rescue him? What if she isn’t? Does she still try? Should she try to get help? Or risk her life? The answers depend on your character, whether the incident is at the beginning, middle, or end of your plot, and what theme you are trying to explore. If the drowning or near-drowning kicks off a story, I’ll treat it differently than if it was the climax.

So what’s the story you imagine from this photo?

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Sandra Merville Hart

SandraMervilleHart_Headshot2Sandra Merville Hart has visited me before but as an author of historical fiction novels. But her short story, “Not This Year'”, is a real change of pace for her. Welcome back, Sandy!

You write historical fiction, stories usually set during the Civil War. What inspired you to write “Not This Year”, a story set in the 1980’s?

That’s a great question, Jennifer.

I’ve always loved reading stories and novels set during Christmas. It’s been a dream of mine to either write a Christmas novel or be part of a Christmas collection, so I jumped at the opportunity to write a story for Mt. Zion Ridge Press’s “Christmas Fiction Off the Beaten Path”.

“Not This Year” is inspired by a person who is very dear to my heart. I couldn’t talk to him to check every detail, but it’s based on a true story. I selected the 1980s setting because that is the timeframe of the events.

Did you find any special challenges to writing a story set in more contemporary times?

Since I write fiction set in the 1800s, I often use language of that time period to lend authenticity. I noticed myself using words a couple of times that would have been considered “old-fashioned” even in the eighties when the story was set. Of course, I changed them.

Though my first love is writing historical novels, this contemporary setting was a refreshing change.

Why did you write from the point of view of Ed, the father of the family?

This story was inspired by the character of a hard-working husband and father doing his best to support his family in difficult circumstances so it had to be Ed’s story. Telling it from another perspective might have lessened its impact.

What excited you the most about this story while you were writing it?

This story flowed out of me. It was easy to write. Because I write Civil War novels, research before I ever begin writing can take months. And then there’s constant research and fact-checking while writing.

This story was a nice change of pace for that reason.

Since we’re in a holiday mood, what’s your favorite Christmas tradition? Or what’s your favorite Christmas story?

 I love so many traditions at Christmas that it’s difficult to choose!

However, since we are talking about a Christmas book today, I have to admit that I look forward to reading Christmas novels and collections every year. I read old favorites and find new treasures. Reading holiday stories begins for me in November—if I can wait that long. 😊

I also love watching all the Christmas movies and listening to Christmas songs. All of these put me in the holiday mood.

Great to have you stop by again, Sandy! 

*****

From Christmas fiction off the beaten path:

“Not This Year” by Sandra Merville Hart. Anticipating tough financial times, the decision not to buy or exchanged presents leads to some painful and surprising revelations for a hardworking man and his family.

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 24Symbols, Kobo

*****

About Sandra Merville Hart

Award-winning and Amazon bestselling author Sandra Merville Hart loves to uncover little-known yet fascinating facts about our American history to include in her stories. A Musket in My Hands, a Civil War romance where two sisters join the Confederate army with the men they love, is 2019 Serious Writer Medal Fiction Winner and a 2019 Selah Award Finalist. A Rebel in My House, set during the historic Battle of Gettysburg, won the 2018 Silver Illumination Award and second place in 2018 Faith, Hope and Love Readers’ Choice Award. Her debut Civil War Romance, A Stranger on My Land, was IRCA Finalist 2015. Her novella, Surprised by Love in “From the Lake to the River” is set during the 1913 flood in Troy, Ohio. Trail’s End, in “Smitten Novella Collection: The Cowboys” is set in the wild cattle town of Abilene, Kansas. Not This Year, her story in the “Christmas Fiction Off the Beaten Path,” released in the fall of 2019.

Find her on her blog, https://sandramervillehart.wordpress.com/.

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Patricia Meredith

image0Please welcome Patricia Meredith! She is a brand-new author, and  her short story, “Mary, Did You Know?”, in Christmas fiction off the beaten path is her first published piece. So glad you could join us today!

What inspired you to write “Mary, Did You Know?”, a story about Mary’s first year as a mother.

 As a young mother with a baby it often comforted me during those difficult moments to think that even Mary, mother of Jesus, must have experienced the same. The same poopy diapers, the same cries in the middle of chores, the same moments when her infant child taught her something about God’s love. One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary, Did You Know” for that very reason, and I realized I could consider those similarities through the lens of that song. The rest was all God. Every time I read my short story I cry, because I swear most of it wasn’t written by me, just through me.

 Did you find any special challenges about writing a story set in Biblical times?

 I made the decision to purposely avoid details that made the setting concretely in Bible times, even down to the speech. I wanted to focus on the similarities between modern mothers and Mary, not the differences, and I felt stressing the Biblical time period would pull readers out of the story. By removing any details about how they dressed, ate, or slept I was able to turn attention simply to the fact that they did those things that make us human, helping the reader to feel contemporary to Mary, rather than distanced by time.

What excited you the most about this story?

 Finding those similarities. I had actually jotted down a few of the scenes in a journal while I still had an infant in arms. They were reminders of moments that are difficult one second, yet fondly remembered the next, during that first pregnancy, and then the first year or two of having a child. I came across those scenes and the rest of the story fell into place.

What did you learn about yourself as a writer as you worked on your story?

That my best writing happens when I trust God with the words, and don’t try to force it. This story is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and I hope readers can feel that.

Since we’re in a holiday mood, what’s your favorite Christmas tradition? Or what’s your favorite Christmas story?

My favorite Christmas story (and tradition in a way) is A Christmas Carol. I love hearing and seeing new renditions of the story every year, and I think it’s so important how timeless a tale it really is. Second chances, redemption, these are themes that never grow old.

You’re right. Those themes never do grow old. Thanks so much stopping by!

Christmas fiction off the beaten path: Amazon,Barnes and Noble,24Symbols, Kobo

*****

Patricia Meredith is the author of historical fiction mysteries. She currently lives just outside Spokane, Washington on a farm with peacocks, ducks, guinea fowl, chickens, and sheep. When she’s not writing, she’s playing board games with her husband, creating imaginary worlds with her two kids, or out in the garden reading a good book with a cup of tea.

Patricia Meredith currently has two novels seeking publication. The first is The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Taker. Set in 1901 Spokane, Washington, the designer of the Great Northern Railroad depot clock tower is thrilled when his talent for creating unique clock chimes is recognized by a local patroness, until she is found beheaded in the workshop of his new colleague. Her second book, A Woman’s Intuitions, weaves The Leavenworth Case with Anna Katharine Green’s true history as she writes one of the first detective mystery novels, setting the stage for future writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Michelle L. Levigne

michelle-levigne-LR-2Michelle L. Levigne has returned to talk about her steampunk story in Christmas fiction off the beaten path. Welcome back, Michelle!

What inspired you to write “Crystal Christmas”, a steampunk story set in Cleveland, 1878?

Spend enough time with characters and they feel like friends. I want their story to keep going.  “Crystal Christmas” is the next step in the storyline. I want readers know that several relationships hinted at in the Guardians novel, “Music in the Night,” have progressed. Not going to say any more, because that would give away too much of the story!

You’ve written many novels. What are the challenges when writing a short story as compared to a novel?

Short stories have fewer plot threads and characters. They are usually harder for me to write because I have to weed out so many sub-plots and secondary characters and history and settings that are begging (sometimes nagging) to be told. Perhaps a better way of saying it is they are demanding their moment on the stage.

Think of short stories versus novels as half-hour TV episodes versus feature films. You still have to cram the storyline requirements of “send your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, get him out of the tree” into that limited number of minutes. Yet thousands of episodes are written every year that do just that. Same for short stories – without the benefit of all the character development that is done over the course of a season, like in TV shows

What excited you the most about this story?

Playing with my “dolls” again, and moving their story forward. And yes, I confess, this is a blatant attempt to get people interested in Guardians …

Tell us more about the series, The Guardians of the Timestream.

Guardians deals with a millennia-long contest between two groups of people, descendants of time travelers who went from our distant future into the distant past. One group went to stop certain historical events, and the other group followed them to protect the time stream. Set in Post-Civil War USA, the story starts with Ess Fremont, who escapes her stultifying boarding school to find her missing brother. Disguised as a boy, she has many adventures along the way. In the course of the four books she meets allies of her missing grandparents, learns her heritage, and reunites her family, while striking serious blows to the enemy’s cause. In the 4thbook, readers meet Carmen and Brogan, the main characters in “Crystal Christmas,” and learn about their underground community. If you see similarities to “Phantom of the Opera,” you wouldn’t be wrong!

Prequel: Odessa Fremont

#1: The Blue Lotus Society

#2: Sanctuary

#3: Music in the Night

Note: I’m playing with plans (someday, don’t ask when) to continue the storyline started with Guardians of the Time Stream, but focus on the underground community. The tentative title for the series is called Hidden Mountain.

Since we’re in a holiday mood, what’s your favorite Christmas tradition? Or what’s your favorite Christmas story?

Operation Christmas Child, which is part of Samaritan’s Purse. I really love putting together the boxes for kids in other countries – trying to fit as much into a shoe box-sized plastic box as possible. Hygiene supplies, school supplies, toys, socks and hats and gloves, whatever I can find.

My kids and I put together boxes with the other kids at church. It’s a wonderful tradition! Thanks again for stopping by.

 *****

Carmen and Brogan are still learning the possibilities and uses of crystal, the key to their ancestors’ time machines. As Christmas approaches, a brutal winter descends on Cleveland. Brogan is trying to help Mr. Wallace create the perfect Christmas gift for Ess Fremont – an engagement ring of crystal. Carmen helps, because her talent includes “singing” the crystal into pliability. She can’t help wishing for a ring of her own from Brogan. They have other concerns that take precedence, however. Illness brought on an airship threatens the city and reaches the underground community. They wait anxiously for the arrival of the Fremont family on the airship Golden Nile, and try to give the children a joyful Christmas.

Everything comes together at a snowy Christmas Eve service.

BUY LINKS: Amazon,Barnes and Noble,24Symbols, Kobo

*****

On the road to publication, Michelle fell into fandom in college (she is a recovering Trekker, and adores “Warehouse 13,” “Stargate SG-1,” “The Dresden Files,” and “The Librarians.”), and has 40+ stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a BA in theater/English from Northwestern College and a MA focused on film and writing from Regent University. She has published 80+ books and novellas with multiple small presses, in science fiction and fantasy, YA, and sub-genres of romance. Her official launch into publishing came with winning first place in the Writers of the Future contest in 1990. She has been a finalist in the EPIC Awards competition multiple times, winning with Lorien in 2006 and The Meruk Episodes, I-V, in 2010. Her most recent claim to fame is being named a finalist in the SF category of the 2018 Realm Award competition, in conjunction with the Realm Makers conference. Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She is a tea snob and freelance edits for a living (MichelleLevigne@gmail.com for info/rates), but only enough to give her time to write.

www.Mlevigne.com

www.michellelevigne.blogspot.com

@MichelleLevigne

 

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