Today I am interviewing JPC Allen, author of YA Christian suspense. JPC’s novella, A Rose from the Ashes, is included in an anthology which won the Selah award.
JPC Allen started her writing career in second grade with an homage to Scooby Doo. She’s been tracking down mysteries ever since and written mystery short stories for Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Her Christmas mystery “A Rose from the Ashes” was a Selah-finalist at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in 2020. Her first novel, a YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow, released in 2021. Online, she offers tips and prompts to ignite the creative spark in every kind of writer . She also leads workshops for tweens, teens, and adults, encouraging them to discover the adventure of writing. Coming from a long line of Mountaineers, she is a life-long Buckeye. Follow her to the next mystery at Facebook, Instagram, Bookbub, Goodreads, and Amazon.
A Shadow on the Snow— https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Snow-Rae-Riley-Mystery-ebook/dp/B09GXGR28M/
“A Rose from the Ashes” in Christmas fiction off the beaten path — https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Fiction-Beaten-Path-inspirational/dp/194956472X/
Thank you so much for joining me, JPC. Let’s begin with an oft-asked question of most writers–what is your favorite genre to read?
Mysteries. I grew up on Scooby Doo, then moved on to the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Three Investigators. In high school, I devoured Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I discovered Nero Wolfe in college. In my 40’s, I couldn’t get enough of the mystery short stories featuring Father Brown and Uncle Abner. So I’m still a mystery fan, always on the lookout for the next great series.
What is your least favorite part of the writing process?
Writing the first draft is nothing less than agony for me. I’m in the middle of that trial right now. While the story holds together in my imagination, I feel like when I first put words on paper, I’ve botched it. The characters all sound the same, the mystery is too obvious or too complicated, the settings have no color. I question everything I’m writing to the point that I wonder if this is the book the Lord wants me to write.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
Editing. That’s when I can tell if I have a decent scene or not. I think author Jill Williamson said it’s like working the magic, and I really like that description. I worked on a short story over the summer, polished it as best I could, and then didn’t read it for two months until I thought of a better second-to-last line. As I reread through the story, I was amazed at how smooth it was. The editing process had worked its magic to the point where I almost felt I hadn’t written it. I didn’t see all the problems I’d encountered with the earlier drafts.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I’m working on the second novel in my YA mystery series featuring Rae Riley. The working title is A Storm in Summer – by the way, I’m terrible at titles.
Here’s the blurb so far: Memorial Day brings trouble to twenty-year-old Rae Riley when the ex-wife of family friend Jason Carlisle claims their youngest child isn’t his and Rae’s con man uncle Troy, who had her father ambushed a few years ago, returns to Marlin County, Ohio.
Then the ex-wife, Ashley, disappears, and Rae’s father, Sheriff Walter “Mal” Malinowski, sees Jason and his brother Rick as prime suspects. As Rae and her Aunt Carrie, a private investigator hired to protect Jason’s kids, work to discover what really happened to Ashley, Uncle Troy turns up everywhere Rae goes, hinting that she may be calling the wrong Malinowski “Dad.”
How do you select the names of your characters?
Picking the right names for characters is a huge deal for me. I probably spend more time on them than I did for my kids. Sometimes if a character isn’t working for me, it’s because I don’t have the right name.
Naming the main character for my teen mystery series proved tough. I didn’t want an overly feminine name, but I also didn’t want a truly weird one like Hortense or Integrity—I didn’t want her to sound like the daughter of a celebrity. Alliterative names are memorable—Clark Kent, Bruce Banner—so I chose Rae Riley. Rae is unusual for a girl but not weird.
When inventing the name for Rae’s dad, I wanted everyone in town to call him by his nickname Mal—that added to the small town atmosphere I was trying to create. But then I started asking myself questions. Why did he prefer Mal? Well, he probably had a given name he hated. What given name would a guy born in the 80’s hate? Walter seemed like a good choice. But why would his mother, whom readers meet and is a kind person, name him that? It had to be a family name. So Walter R. “Mal” Malinowski IV was born.
Then that led me to wonder who was the Third. And the Second. And two more characters were created.
Tea or coffee?
Tea. I can’t drink coffee, although I love the smell. I made my teen detective Rae a tea drinker too.
Mountains or ocean?
I have to say mountains. Although I love being on the ocean in a ship, I’m not a beach person. I grew up in the hills of Appalachian Ohio and both sides of my family come from West Virginia. So I don’t just like mountains—they’re in my blood.
How do you incorporate your faith into your writing?
In two ways. First, in my main character, who is a Christian. Rae’s core personality is to be merciful and that influences how she solves mysteries. Second, as I write, I see if some kind of faith message emerges, which I believe comes from trying to write with the Holy Spirit.
In “A Rose from the Ashes”, I thought the mystery’s theme was about forgiveness. About 18 months after it was published, I realized it could also be read as a variation of the Prodigal Son. Rae is nineteen and is looking for her father, based on three letters her mother wrote before she died of cancer. So Rae’s search, I believe, is similar to a lot of people’s, especially teens. They’ve heard rumors of a Heavenly Father, but they aren’t sure how to find Him. That hadn’t been my intention at all, but the Holy Spirit slipped that meaning in there.
Every writer has a message they want to impart to their readers. What is yours?
As I’ve worked on my Rae Riley series, I think the message the Lord wants me to convey is that not only is He the Creator of the universe, but he’s also our perfect Dad. The problems and doubts Rae has as she gets to know her newly-found father can also be applied to a Christian’s journey in his or her relationship with God. Not that I make Rae’s father perfect—that would make him soooooo boring. But Rae’s and Mal’s relationship is the core of the series, and I love writing stories to see how it develops and what I learn and what I hope others will learn about God through it.
What first inspired or gave you the “spark” to write? What books and/or authors have influenced your writing? I seem to have been born to write. As far as books and authors that have influenced my writing—wow, I could give you several blogs posts on that topic. Classic mystery authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and G.K. Chesterton showed me how they invented and reinvented the mystery genre. I’ve read hundreds of mystery short stories, always learning something about characters or plotting or setting. The most unusual influence was a series of long picture books I loved in elementary school.
The McBroom stories by Sid Fleischman are tall tales about Josh McBroom, his wife Melissa, and their eleven children who live on a magical one-acre farm. What I loved about them as a kid was the huge family and the voice of the narrator, Josh McBroom. He told the stories in a dialect similar to my West Virginian grandparents.
In my series, Rae not only has her father but an aunt who writes mysteries and another aunt who’s a private investigator. She has three half- brothers, two cousins, an uncle, and a grandmother. There’s also an outlaw branch of her late grandfather’s family, sort of overseen by her great-grandfather. All these characters are a ton of fun to work with, and it seems I owe a lot of their creation to my love of the McBrooms.
If you could tell your younger writing self one thing, what would it be?
Talent, real or imagined, is not enough. You can study writing fiction, just like you would sculpting, and improve upon any talent you might have. Also, writing and publishing are two very different things. Writing is an art; publishing is a business. A writer needs to understand both.
How did you come to be a writer? Was this something that you always knew you were destined to be or did you arrive at this point via another path?
I’ve been telling, acting out, and writing stories since I was a preschooler. When I was little, I would sometimes imitate a pastor and preach to my family. One time when I was preaching about Palm Sunday, I decided the part about the two disciples looking for a donkey for Jesus to ride needed some more tension. So I added a giant pig. It was blocking the road the disciples were walking on and they weren’t sure how to get around it. That addition made the whole scene more suspenseful.
I wrote my first story in second grade on the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper. It was a rip off of Scooby Doo, and the boy I selected for the Shaggy part did not appreciate using him as my inspiration. He threatened to tell our teacher. So, at seven, I learned about responsible writing, criticism, and censorship.
I may have been born with an interest in writing, but I didn’t understand that I had to study the craft until decades later. I thought innate talent was enough. I was so wrong. But now that I’ve dived into this study, I find it endlessly fascinating and always hope to improve my craft.
Thank you for joining me, JPC!
Readers, do you prefer mountains over the ocean? What about tea versus coffee? Which do you like best? (Or dislike, in some of our cases). Have you ever read one of JPC’s books? Who is your favorite old-time suspense/mystery author? I’ve been contemplating reading Agatha Christie.