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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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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?

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories — The Daughter of Time

daughter of timeAs a fan of mysteries, I had come across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey on lists of the best mysteries ever written. When I finally settled down to read it, I found it to be one of the most engrossing stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to discover. It expertly combines two of my passions: history and mystery.

nypl-digitalcollections-99a6ed7e-0d3c-0e0d-e040-e00a18061e25-001-rWritten in England in the 1950’s, the novel features Inspector Alan Grant, laid up in the hospital with a broken leg and bored out of his mind. His actress girlfriend knows his fascination with faces and brings him copies of photos and portraits to study. When he find the portrait of Richard III, he can’t reconcile the face with the man’s reputation as the murderer of his tween age nephews. The girlfriend contacts Brent Carradine, young man doing historical research, and he and Grant begin to believe that the story handed down for 500 years about Richard III being a merrily murdering monster is false.

Although the characters and setting are fictitious, the mystery is not. Edward V and his younger brother Richard did disappear sometime after June 1483. Their uncle Richard, who became king when the boys were declared illegitimate, is the most likely culprit. But Henry Tudor, who killed Richard III in battle and took the throne, also had a motive.

Even more involving than this mystery is the one of how people interpret history. In the novel, Grant and Carradine stick to contemporary sources and must examine the motives of the authors. Was he a sympathizer of the York family, the branch of the royal house Richard III belonged to? Or did the author favor the Lancaster side, of which Henry Tudor was a member?

The two characters also discuss how people lie about events to further their own agenda. I found all this analysis of history so inspiring that I want to use the novel in my own murder mystery. My main character use the techniques of research outlined in the book to investigate a 70-year-old mystery in his rural West Virginia county.

If you want to learn more about Richard III and his nephews, click here for the Wikipedia article. Many books have been written about the mystery, and it’s difficult to find ones that are biased. As I stated in one of my earliest blog posts, the authors tend to be either ardent Richard III supporters or detractors. Very much like the people who wrote about Richard in 1483.

What other novels have you read that blend unsolved real-life mysteries with fiction?

 

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