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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Writing Tip — Favorite Story: “Over Seventy” by P.G. Wodehouse

over 70The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Even in this digital age, when writers can access the world from their couch, we still experience a lot of the problems and pleasures that writers did in the past . Whenever I get down about the pursuit of publishing, I turn to P.G. Wodehouse’s semi-autobiographical book, Over Seventy. It’s semi-autobiographical because Mr, Wodehouse was a humor writer and wasn’t about to let the truth interfere with a good story. From what I’ve learned about him, the basic facts in this book are true — where he went to school, how he got his first job writing, and so on. But the details may be highly fictionalized, such as the reason he was fired from a job in a bank.

Mr. Wodehouse was born in 1882, and his only ambition was to be a writer. So when he began to make a living as a writer in 1900, he did what writers do now. He tried to establish a platform. It wasn’t called that back then, but that’s what his efforts amounted to. He got a job writing articles in a newspaper while trying to sell short stories to pulp magazines. He added to this by writing occasionally for a humor column at the newspaper. Then he was selling humorous stories to well-known magazines. After he moved to New York City around 1909, he became a dramatic critic for Vanity Fair and wrote plays and lyrics for songs in musical comedies.

After all these years of work, he finally sold his first novel, in serialized form, to Saturday Evening Post. The Post was a huge step up because it was a “slick” magazine as opposed to a pulp one. I assume the word means it had shiny pages. Slick magazines were also more prestigious and paid better. When he died in 1975, he had published over ninety books and was working on a manuscript in his hospital bed.

Over Seventy has a lot of funny digressions, running from butlers to manners and the state of American TV in the 1950’s. But I especially like the chapter “My Methods, Such as They Are.” I am fascinated by an artistic person’s creative process, regardless of the art. Mr. Wodehouse wrote that the amount of work he got done in a day hung on “whether or not I put my feet up on” his desk. If he did, then he drifted off into the past. If he didn’t, he settled down to work.

Mr. Wodehouse was definitely a plotter. He always worked from a detailed scenario. This makes sense because his madcap plots were so complicated that I can see how he would have to work it all out before he started on the first draft. I love his quote about characters.

“Some writers will tell you that they just sit down and take pen in hand and let their characters carry on as they see fit. Not for me any procedure like that. I wouldn’t trust my characters an inch. If I sat back and let them take charge, heaven knows what the result would be.”

What stories have you read about writers or any artist and his or her creative process?

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blog

desertw-2561150_1280Today I am guest blogging on the America Christian Fiction Writers’ site. If you don’t know where Harran is or why it’s important to leave it, stop by and read my blog!

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: June as Writing Inspiration

hikingw-3402199_1280Where I live, there are not a lot of holidays in June. But that doesn’t mean June as writing inspiration isn’t overflowing with possibilities. Some of the ideas below I mentioned last June and others I have expanded on.

Father’s Day: It can be a setting for exploring male relationships within a family. Like I wrote in May for Mother’s Day, you can write a story, only set on Father’s Day over a number years, to show how the male characters change.

Summer Solstice: This year summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere on June 21. Last year, I wrote about some of the folklore associated with this day. These stories can also inspire speculative fiction.

Or you could use the length of day as a key plot point in your fantasy. Certain people are born with special powers, perhaps commanding the four elements, and these powers increase with the amount of daylight. The power itself is neutral, so during the summer solstice, the good and evil characters can have a day-long battle at the peak of their powers.

Adventure: For some reason, June seems to me to be the perfect month to set an adventure story, or at least start one. The month is especially appropriate if your characters are young enough to have a summer vacation, which would allow you to stretch the adventure over the whole break.

Possible settings for contemporary adventures:

  • Ocean: I love the sea, swimming in it or sailing on it. I’ve visited the eastern coast of America each summer for several years now, so the sea and the history attached to this area is ripe for adventure. Your main characters could own a sail boat and investigate whether a local legend about buried pirate treasure is true. The eastern coast is dotted with islands, both inhabited and not, so there are plenty of places for your characters to explore.
  • Mountains: I am most familiar with the Appalachians, so I might set family camping trip there, one that Goes Horribly Wrong. The characters have to fight the elements, or perhaps a human threat, without any outside help due to being cut off from technology.
  • Road trip: America is a wonderful setting for a road trip. Give your characters some reason to drive from coast to coast or some other great distance. A road trip presents almost limitless possibilities for introducing conflict, characters, and plot twists.

How would you use June as writing inspiration?

Writing Tip — Guest Blog

blogging-1168076_1280Today I am a guest blogger on American Christian Fiction Writers.  I was inspired by one of my favorite authors, Patrick F. McManus. Check out my post “Writers and People Who Write.”

Writing Tip — Researching Local History

libraryw-2824901_1280Not everything about history can be found online. If you are interested in historical fiction set in America, researching local history at a library where your historical fiction is set will produce resources you can’t find anywhere else.

As a test, I visited a local history room of library near where I live. I’d still be there, trawling through the trove information like each piece was a jewel from a treasure, but I had a blog to type up. Here are some of the resources I discovered.

  • City directories — From 2000 back to 1859
  • Yearbooks of the local college — Going back to 1909. The college library is another place to check for local history
  • Genealogical indexes — These covered two counties
  • Books of the census — Covering one county, these went back to 1835. I also found it a great source for unusual names, such as Justice T. Calhoun, Zelotes Jones, and Ev Narden.
  • Histories of local churches
  • Book published in 1891 — Portraits and biographies of “prominent persons” from the county up to that time.
  • Spooky tales of a neighboring county
  • Index to Common Please Court — These were arranged both by plaintiff and defendent
  • State phone books on microfiche
  • Fiction and nonfiction by local authors
  • Family histories
  • Card catalog with obituaries — How many of you know what a card catalog is? It’s the paper way libraries indexed their collection. This one had cards arranged alphabetically by the last name of a deceased person, often with a newspaper obituary cut out and taped to the card.

The library had another room, locked, run by the county genealogical society, with hours listed when volunteers are available to help researchers.

Researching  local history may also take you to old newspapers. The library I visited in Parsons, West Virginia, last summer had the local newspaper on microfilm. While scrolling through an edition from the late 1940’s, I discovered why the bridge I drove across was a memorial bridge. It was dedicated to a sheriff who was murdered on duty.

The microfilm was difficult to use and make copies of, so I asked the librarian if any of these newspapers were online. She said they weren’t. My only option was visiting the library.

What kind of resources have you found helpful when doing research?

 

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