Turn Another World Upside Down with Andrew Rogers | A Breathe Conference Retrospective

andrew-at-jot2There are a few reasons why I attended Andrew Rogers‘ session at the Breathe Conference. First, I found the topic interesting. Second, I regularly write slipstream flash fiction and have a few science fiction/fantasy pieces in the works. Third, Andrew is my friend and fellow weakling, and I wanted him to feel my support. But whatever my reasons for attending, I am really glad I did.

Here’s the description:

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Slipstream. Mystery and Crime. In this workshop, we’ll discuss this question and learn how to start writing meaningful genre fiction.

Andrew opened his session with a question–the question, perhaps–which haunts every Christian writer. How “Christian” do I need to make my book?

It is a question that I have wrestled time and again, as a writer, as a reader, and as an employee of a Christian bookstore. Does every book written by a Christian need to adhere to some redemptive guideline? Does it need a three-point sermon and a hymn? Can is have cuss words? What if my characters don’t behave themselves?

Andrew asked us to write some questions in response to the main one. As writers of genre fiction, how do we approach the religiosity of our books? Are we hesitant to publish–or even tell our friends–about our work for fear of what they might say?

WriteMichigan-cover2-1_0A few years ago, Andrew won the Reader’s Choice in the Write Michigan contest. His story revolved around a mentally handicapped man living in a world where every aspect of life is recorded digitally. And though that is the way things seem to be now, the tale is set in the near future where it is even more the case. The thing about the story was that it didn’t have a hint of Christian message. The main character did not pray, did not worship, did not get resurrected on the third day. It was simply a story about a man dealing with issues of death and legacy.

As such, Andrew was afraid to tell certain friends and family members that he was in the running for the reader’s choice portion of the writing contest. What if they read it and asked him why his story did not share the gospel message? The fear of that question kept Andrew silent until about a week before the end of the voting deadline. With time running out, he decided to share in spite of his fears, and he braced himself for the question.

But he did not get negative feedback from anyone. Not even from the sweet little old granny that he was sure would question his faith upon realizing that his story omitted God.

Andrew realized something; books and stories written by Christians do not need slather the gospel on like a topping. In fact, those that do are worse because of it. Rather, our faith is baked into our work as an ingredient, and made evident by our writing. After all, we are made in the image of a creative God. Writing is simply the form of creativity which allows us special insight into who God is. Our stories are reflections of that creative nature.

As to the question of how much violence or cussing or whatever our books should have, that is something that the author must answer. Sometimes, publishers will ask the author to change this or that aspect of the story, but this is less of a reflection on the author’s state of faith than a consideration of the publisher’s buying community. And cleaning up the cuss words is just the cost of doing business with Christian publishers.

If this post seems a bit scattered, there was a lot to discuss in the workshop and my notes are about as organized as I am. But it was a great session and one that left me thinking long after about the intersection of my faith and my writing.

What do you think about “Christian” books? Should publishers be able to dictate how clean a character’s language should be? Have you ever not shared your work with others for fear of being labeled a heretic?

Writing for the spike.

reddit_spike

There are probably many approaches to blogging, but there are specifically two with which I struggle.

The first is the steady, themed blog that consistently offers interesting posts that are linked by a common theme. The guys in my writers’ group, The Weaklings, are great examples of this style of blogging. Bob Evenhouse regularly publishes encouraging posts for fellow writers who are shooting for their dreams while still paying the bills. And Andrew Rogers publishes posts from the perspective of a publishing industry insider who also writes.

The second style of blogger is the one who offers quality content that follows no theme, but is usually worth reading. It has no clear audience, so it is probably mostly read by strangers. In case you couldn’t tell. The example for this style is my blog.

The reason that I struggle with these two is because, ideally, I’d like to emulate the first style, but in reality, I just spout off on whatever enters my head. Why do I do this when what I admire is the consistency of message and tone offered by my fellow Weaklings?

'Murica!!!

‘Murica!!!

Perhaps, I’m more of a ‘Murican than I like to admit, because I love the freedom of being able to write whatever I want. And sometimes, writing along a theme can be hard, so it is easier not to worry if my content follows no discernible pattern.

Also, I’m far too motivated by the spikes in traffic offered by my hit-or-miss posts. For instance, thanks to Reddit.com, last week my blog had its best day ever. I wrote about the woman who married the Eiffel tower, put a link on Reddit’s “Today I Learned” page and next thing I know, I topped my previous best day by 2,819 hits.

But will any of the people who visited on that day be back to my blog? Probably not. Why should they come back if I’m so inconsistent about the type of content that I offer? Hmm.

Maybe I should work the fix for this into my goals for the upcoming year. But how do I decide where to focus? What is of the greatest value to you, the reader? I know that I shouldn’t be writing for the spike, but past that, I’m at a bit of a loss.

In case you can’t tell, feedback is very welcome.

I am Proud to be a Weakling

I am a Weakling.Great things have been happening in my writers group, The Weaklings.

One of our members, Andrew Rogers, has been named as a finalist in a Michigan writing contest. Andrew and I met quite a while ago (see the full story here), and have been encouraging each other to write ever since. His story, Archived, is available to be read via this link. Be sure to vote for him (you can vote once a week per computer).

In other Weaklings news, we are moving forward in planning Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference. It’s a one-night writers conference that is free to attend. It’s being held at Baker Book House at 2768 East Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546 on Friday, February 8th. As one of the presenters, I’ll be speaking on the topic of flash fiction. Be sure to follow our Jot blog for all the latest posts and news. I recently wrote a post over there about what people can expect from Jot. I hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to vote for Andrew!

Breathe Conference Keynote with Terry Whalin

Last Friday evening, my wife graciously encouraged me to attend the Breathe Writers’ Conference Keynote Address with my writing pal, Bob Evenhouse. She did this even though it meant that I wasn’t around to help with putting the girls down, finishing the housework, or taking the dog for a walk. That shows two things in itself: I am loved by a wonderful woman, and she believes in my writing dreams.

Oh, so tasty!

And so, Bob and I met at my house and went on a man-date. We hit up Wendy’s for dinner, where we were given some lovely coupons by an even lovelier little, old lady. After dinner, we made our way over to the church where the Breathe Conference was being held.

One really nice thing about having been to Breathe before is that I recognize so many of the attendees. It wasn’t a full minute after I had walked in before I was greeted warmly by someone I knew. After a few minutes of chit-chat, Bob and I found our seats in the auditorium and waited.

Our friend, Andrew Rogers, got up and introduced the evening’s speakers. Before Terry Whalin spoke, we were blessed to hear Alison Hodgson, member of the Writer’s Guild and speaker extraordinaire. Alison meant to speak on how the publishing process is like a courtship, where each contact is like a date and we endlessly primp ourselves and our manuscripts in order to be loveable by that special publishing house. But she ended up speaking more about how our lives and our writings don’t always go according to our plans. She spoke about the fire that consumed her home. She spoke about the opportunities that are borne out of hardships. She spoke eloquently about poignant matters in a funny way. It was quite a thing.

After Alison’s opening, Andrew popped back up to introduce Terry Whalin. As I mentioned previously, Terry has written and published a number of books and has held many positions within the industry. Now, he is an acquisitions editor for Morgan James Publishing. His talk was an encouragement for writers to “never give up”, and his points were practical and thought-inspiring. Included below are the points that I found it helpful to jot down.

  • Figure out your goal. What is your plan to get there?
  • What is blocking you from achieving your goals?
  • Take control of the things that distract you.
  • Overcome the Catch-22 of publishing (only published writers get published) by starting small. Write for magazines.
  • Seek out apprenticeships and critique groups to hone your craft.
  • Read. Read your genre. Know your readers. Make sure that reading is part of your plan.
  • Join an organization of the type in which you write. (e.g. Fiction writers should join a Fiction Writing Professionals organization)
  • Build your platform. Work at it consistently. For a free e-book on how to do this, visit terrylinks.com/pb
  • Engage your marketplace by blogging, etc.

These don’t cover everything he said, just the bits that I thought to jot down. And while many of these may seem obvious, they probably should. These are the tactics that have worked for many successful writers.

And above all else, Terry said, never give up. The forward for his book Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams is from Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Time and again, Terry mentioned how Mark Victor Hansen was rejected by publisher after publisher for a total of 140 rejections before finding one who would publish his book. And the publisher that did take a chance on Hansen has sold millions of copies of his books. As for how Terry got the forward from Hansen, it was eerily reminiscent of how I got into Honors College at WMU. He wrote it himself and then had Hansen look it over and sign off on it. Terry said that the key to getting endorsements like that is by asking. I agree.

And after the keynote speech, I got to mingle with my fellow writers. It was like walking into the cafeteria in high school and every table is saving a spot for you and the jock table is nowhere to be seen. I even set up a meeting with an agent to discuss some of my projects and talked to a published author about submitting a chapter for one of their upcoming books. It was a really good time.

If you are a writer, or if you are afraid to call yourself a writer, or if you are thinking about becoming afraid to call yourself a writer, the Breathe Conference is a great place to mix and learn. I’m already looking forward to next year.

The Medium is the Message

Last week, I mentioned the phrase “The medium is the message” in a post on the future of books and why the introduction of e-books doesn’t frighten me as an employee of a brick and mortar bookstore (in response to Andrew Roger’s post on the a new e-book technology here). The phrase was coined by Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist, media analyst, and professor of English. I used this phrase to refer to the idea that the way a message is presented changes the way the message is interpreted or received.

I was surprised when I got a comment on my blog from Andrew McLuhan, blogger at Inscriptorium and expert on all things Marshall McLuhan. Here’s what Andrew said:

Respectfully, that’s not at all what Marshall McLuhan meant with the phrase ‘the medium is the message’. What he meant has more to do with how a new medium changes society and people with its introduction – the reorganization of sense ratios, the new ways of life and living. And it’s not all about communications media either. Think about how the world changed with the introduction of trains, of the automobile. He explains it in the first chapter of his book ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’. It’s worth a read, and will give you much more to think about!

Now, I am always willing to admit when I am wrong, and I was wrong in the way that I used “the medium is the message.”

To borrow a McLuhanism:

“You mean my whole fallacy’s wrong?”

According to the biography on the official Marshall McLuhan website:

Understanding Media, first published in 1964, focuses on the media effects that permeate society and culture, but McLuhan’s starting point is always the individual, because he defines media as technological extensions of the body. As a result, McLuhan often puts his inquiry and his conclusions in terms of the ratio between the physical senses (the extent to which we depend on them relative to each other) and the consequences of modifications to that ratio. This invariably entails a psychological dimension. Thus, the invention of the alphabet and the resulting intensification of the visual sense in the communication process gave sight priority over hearing, but the effect was so powerful that it went beyond communication through language to reshape literate society’s conception and use of space.

“The medium is the message” then is a statement on how the form of communication changes communication as well as communicators, as in the example of the invention of the alphabet given above.

So there you have it, my original interpretation was wrong. I stand by the sentiment of how I used the phrase, though perhaps I should have used a different phrase to express my idea that physical books will not be replaced by e-books. Though, I found it interesting that, according to Andrew McLuhan’s blog, Marshall McLuhan:

“1st used this phrase in June (?) 1958 at Radio broadcasters conference in Vancouver. Was reassuring them that TV could not end radio”

Anyway, I hope to have cleared up my mistake. Please take a moment to drop over to Andrew’s Inscriptorium blog or the Marshall McLuhan website to learn more about Marshall and his ideas. And perhaps you’ll join me in picking up a copy of Understanding Media next time you are in an indie bookstore. I’m sure that we all have a lot to learn about language, media, and ourselves.

The Future of Books | A Response

I recently attended the Baker Book House Youth Pastors’ Breakfast. I’m not a youth pastor; I was there because I work for Baker Book House. But I still got to eat a delicious breakfast (catered by the coffee shop that will be in our store when the renovation is complete, Icons Coffee) and listen to the guest speaker, Thomas Bergler.

Bergler is associate professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University and the author of The Juvenilization of American Christianity (read the article that preceded the book here). His presentation at the breakfast was great if a little heady for eight o’clock in the morning. He went through the history of youth ministry and touched on the reasons why modern American Christianity resembles the youth rallies of yesteryear much more than the traditional models which had served for many hundreds of years. But the most interesting thing that he said, the thing that stuck in my mind, he mentioned in passing.

Photo Credit – John Reeves

Bergler quoted the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan when he mentioned that “the medium is the message”. What that means is that the way that we experience a message becomes part of the message and interprets how we receive that message. A message may be something you listen to, something you read, something you watch on the big screen, the small screen, or the stage, and in each instance, though the message is the same, the reception of the message will be different. The medium leaks in.

Think of any book that has been made into a movie. When you are reading the book, your mind is free to imagine the distinct facial characteristics of the characters. When you see the movie that was based on that book, this power has been taken away from you, but you may be better able to understand another aspect of the story that wasn’t readily apparent in the book.

Recently, Andrew Rogers, an employee at a major Christian publishing house and a friend of mine, posted a video on his blog introducing some up-and-coming developments in the e-book industry by a company called IDEO. Take a minute and go watch the video. It’s pretty cool. After the video, Rogers asked the question, “Does the future of books presented here by IDEO excite you? Or not? Why?”

Since the “media is the message” concept was still fresh in my mind when I watched the video, I couldn’t help but see that this turn in the publishing industry will help users experience content in a new and entertaining way, just like the television introduced a dimension to a radio world. But just like the television and the radio, I believe that there is room in the world for both forms of publishing.

E-books in general and IDEO’s presentation in specific present us with a brand new medium for messages. This medium is more interactive than the traditional book, it’s true. But saying that one model is better than the other, placing expectations on them to perform in a certain way, is like comparing apples and oranges, and then complaining that a caramel dipped orange tastes gross.

The printed word has been around for a very long time, and I am confident that it will be long after e-books have planted the seed for the next major innovation in new mediums comes to fruition.

I am not frightened by the e-book. I am excited to see how the medium enhances the message. I would love to write a book for an interactive medium like this, but it would need to be intentional. A screenwriter for a television show writes television screenplays, he doesn’t write 800 page novels for each episode. Writers hoping to succeed in the IDEO e-book world will need to write with their medium in mind, lest their message fall flat because it could have been better as a non-gimmicky traditional book.

In conclusion, the loud voices that herald the downfall of the traditional book model in favor of the e-book remind me of the first video that MTV ever played. Sure we have music videos, but we still have radio too.

I humbly accept…

Jodi Picoult

There’s that unwritten schism that literary writers get all the awards and commercial writers get all the success.

– Jodi Picoult, Author of 18 novels

According to this quote by Jodi Picoult, I have become a literary blogger as of late. In the last few weeks, I’ve been nominated for a few blogging awards, which I think is just wonderful, because I’m a person who appreciates appreciation.

Also, it is nice to know that I’m not simply writing into the void.

My thanks go to the people who nominated me:

According to the rules of these awards, I’m supposed to say 7 things about myself and then nominate 15 other people for each award. I’ll give you the 7 things, but the 15 other blogs seems a bit chain-letter-y, so I’ll just list some awesome blogs without keeping too close a track on numbers. For the people who do find their links here, take your pick of these awards and tell your friends that you got it here.

7 Things about Josh Mosey

  1. I am happily married (sorry ladies!)to the most beautiful, smart, and hardworking woman in the world (sorry men!).
  2. I took a class in college where I learned how to tie knots and juggle.
  3. I am the founding president of the Valhalla Norwegian Society.
  4. I have more hair on the underside of my arms than most people.
  5. In high school, I helped a non-existent student run for class office, and though he did not win, he beat one of the more popular girls from school.
  6. I have never been afraid to make a fool of myself.
  7. I am afraid of fish.

There you go. The dirty truths come out.

Here are some links.

Some are writers, others are religiously themed. Be sure to visit them all, because they are all quite good.

As it turns out, I came up with 15 links after all, but that was only by happenstance. These are the blogs that I make it a point to read as often as they put new content up.

Thanks again to the folks who nominated me, and thanks to everyone who reads my blog. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to keep it going for this long.

A Monty Python Fan’s View of Writing in Groups

I’m a pretty big Monty Python fan. I wanted to share this because as a member of a writer’s group, I found insight in Eric’s experience of writing with others.

Now, I realize that Eric Idle was writing comedy sketches to be performed with other members of the Monty Python troupe, but the process of writing in the same room as someone else is the same.

My own writer’s group, the Weaklings, is made up of very different types of writers. I write flash fiction and YA fantasy and I work best in public settings while listening to music. My friend Bob writes epic fantasy tomes and can seemingly write anywhere with anything going on. Andrew writes in silence and preferably in seclusion. And Matt writes poetry, which is as far from my understanding as writing upside-down while wearing a pink tutu (I don’t actually know Matt’s process that well, so maybe he does this).

During the 3-day Novel Contest, however, we all write together in the same room. When we write communally, there is a synergy of ideas, a free-flowing exchange of new perspectives that brings out the best in our work. When I get stuck in my manuscript, I shout out the problem to the world at large and my writing friends shout ideas back to me. When they write themselves into a corner, they shout out and I shout back.

Those of us who need music use headphones. And when our eyes begin to melt from staring at the screen for too long, we stop and eat together, encouraging each other along the way.

I say all that to say this: a good writer’s group has been vital to my experience as a writer. There are some folks out there who say that writing is a solitary journey of hardship, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Sure, when you are putting pen to paper, it is your hands following the instructions from your brain and you have the ultimate freedom to make your story do what you want it to, but there is value in sharing the experience.

If I am allowed to give a little advice, write with someone else this week. Maybe you’ll be frustrated by how they plan out every little detail before figuring out the larger story. Maybe you’ll both have such a good time together you won’t get any writing done. Maybe you’ll write in silence and question why you invited the person along in the first place. And maybe you’ll find someone who you can bounce ideas off and it will make your writing come alive.

Why I Sold Half my Facebook Friends to Mere Inklings in the Waiting Room – or – Links

This is Frigg, the reason Friday is called Friday, as in "I'm so friggin glad it's Friday!"

Friday is named for the Norse goddess, Frigg, wife of Odin, step-mother of Thor. Now you’ve learned something you can share with your friends tonight when you go see the  Avengers movie. Just point to Thor and say, “His step-mom is why today is called Friday.”

I like the format of listing interesting links on Fridays for two reasons. One, the internet is a vast and potentially frightening place and it helps to have a guide. Two, it doesn’t require as much time, so I have more time for working on my novel.

That said, here are four links that I think you should click:

Why I Sold Half of my Comic Book Collection by Andrew Rogers | First, the disclaimer, Andrew is in my writers’ group and he’s a good friend of mine. Second, the pitch, this is a good post the helps us evaluate whether we are hoarding things that would be better sold in order to gain things that would be better applied. Be sure to leave him a comment if you visit.

Mere Inkling | This is a site dedicated to the writers’ group, The Inklings, of which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were members. The blogger, Rob Stroud, does a wonderful job in looking at life through the works of The Inklings. If you enjoy Narnia or Lord of the Rings, check out Rob’s blog.

The (Writer’s) Waiting Room | I stumbled across this blog this week and think it is a must-read for anyone with hopes of getting published. The blog is hosted by Hannah Karena Jones, an assistant editor at Transaction Publishers. She is insightful and encouraging as she guides would-be authors through the publishing process. I particularly enjoyed her post on query letters.

My Facebook Profile | Are we friends on Facebook? If not, we probably should be. Here are a couple reasons why you might want to befriend me: if you are a writer hoping to be published, publishers like to see a big friend list because it says that you aren’t afraid to self-promote and you have a built-in network of people who might buy your book; if you are not a writer, it is still good to have friends; I’m quite nice. All potential stalkers please ignore the above reasons and stop being so weird and stalker-y.

But Josh, how did you do with your writing goals this week?

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Good question, faceless stranger! I did pretty well. Twice in the last week, I set aside a few hours at a time to work on my novel. I feel like the story is coming along nicely (probably about 1/3 of the way there) and my characters even gave me a plot surprise that was pretty good. After posting this week’s book review, I wrote to the author of the book and she wrote back, which was a lovely surprise. And last, but certainly not least, I posted something every weekday, which is my goal. I’m going to give myself and A- for the week.

Thanks for reading this week. If you’ve made it this far into the post, you are probably either related to me or genuinely interested in my blog. Either way, your thoughts matter to me. I would appreciate any feedback or post ideas that you would care to share in the comments below!

I am a Weakling.

It I am a Weakling.probably started at a baseball game. Now, I’m not a big baseball fan, but when my mom asked whether my wife and I would like to join her at a Whitecaps game with her work, Cornerstone College, we came along. It was a good family outing.

As it happened, we sat next to the then-president of the college and his wife, with whom I struck up a conversation. I told her that I worked in the music department at a bookstore and she told me that her son, Andrew, was a musician who was moving back to the area and that he’d be looking for a music-related job. I promised her that I’d give him a call and try to connect him with something.

As promised, I called him. But rather than be all that helpful, I told him that Grand Rapids didn’t have a big recording industry and he’d be better off moving to somewhere like Nashville, the hub of all things music. He didn’t listen and moved to Grand Rapids anyway.

A month or two later, Andrew applied at the bookstore where I work. Remembering his name, and the promise to his mom that I’d try to help him find a job, I encouraged the management to give him a chance. He would have gotten the job anyway, but I like to take as much credit for other people’s accomplishments as possible.

We hit it off. Two weeks after he was hired, I asked him to help my wife and I move out of our apartment. Here’s a bit of truth for you: There is no better way to cement a friendship than to ask them to help you move. Andrew and his wife, Kristen, came over as strangers, but within a couple hours of seeing and packing our belongings, lifting heavy boxes, and maneuvering awkward pieces of furniture up stairs backwards, they emerged as friends.

While moving, we talked about our interests, and one of them was writing. Andrew mentioned that he and a guy named Bob were meeting for Bible study once every couple weeks and that he enjoyed writing as well. I was invited to Bible study and the three of us agreed that we should meet again solely to talk about our writing. Along the way, Bob ran into a guy named Matt, a writer friend from college, and invited him to the meeting.

The night we met, the Weaklings were born. Taking inspiration from the famous writers’ group, the Inklings, which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, we formed our own writer’s group, the Weaklings. Matt had been part of the a few writers’ groups over the years and lent his experience and some structure to our meetings.

The early meeting ran along these lines: grab some refreshments – 5 minutes; chat about life – 10 minutes; read something we wrote since the last meeting – 5 minutes each; discuss what was read – 10 minutes each; discuss any writing challenges or goals – 10 minutes; schedule next meeting & leave.

We met at least once every two weeks, usually on the opposite week from Bible study. Inevitably, Andrew and I would discuss writing a lot at the bookstore where we worked (and continued to move furniture together). That encouragement and accountability helped make writing part of my routine.

Since those early days, Matt has  moved to the other side of the state, Bob has two kids, Andrew has one, and I have one with another on the way, but we all still make time for writing. And we all continue to encourage each other.

There is power in writers’ groups, and I am proud to say that I am a Weakling.