I am thankful for Jot


jot_4_andrew_livestreamThis past weekend, my writers’ group put on the 4th Semi-Annual Jot Writers’ Conference. It was a great time of encouragement, interaction, and learning. If you didn’t get a chance to attend in person, you can still watch the Livestream video here.

Or I could just give you incredibly brief synopses of each presentation:

  • Alison Hodgson – Getting started is hard. It is easier to keep going than to start again. One day you’ll be able to shove your success in the faces of naysayers (but, you know, in a professional and nice way), but only if you keep going.
  • Andrew Rogers – Rejection can be as hard for the publisher as it is for the writer. Don’t be discouraged.
  • Ellen Stumbo – Write the truth, even (maybe especially) when it is hard. You will be more helpful to those people who are going through where you have been than if you pretend you’ve never been there yourself. The truth is worth it, even it some people dislike you for telling it.
  • Sam Carbaugh – Writers get residuals where illustrators do not. Keep your priorities straight. Your book may be a flash in the pan, but your family will be with you for the long run.

One thing we did differently for Jot 4 was the addition of concurrent workshops following the main presentations. I led one on blogging (I’ll post on this tomorrow). Matthew Landrum led one on poetry. Jeff Chapman led one on fiction. I would have loved to sit in on these, but I couldn’t (since I was leading one at the same time), but I’d love to hear some feedback from those of you who did attend them. We’ll probably do them again anyway, but feedback is always helpful.

Speaking of feedback, I’d love to hear any and all of your thoughts regarding Jot.

  • Did you attend?
  • What was your favorite part of Jot?
  • How could we improve the next event?
  • Would you buy a Jot t-shirt or button?

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen | My New Favorite Kids’ Book

9780061953385While at our last visit to the library, my wife happened upon a book with a familiar look to it. We own a couple of Jon Klassen’s books and were surprised to see the bunny from I Want My Hat Back on the cover of another book. That other book was Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

The synopsis is this:

This looks like an ordinary box full of ordinary yarn.

But it turns out it isn’t.

This is one of those books that is great because it hits on multiple levels. Sure, it is about a special girl with some extra yarn, but it is also an encouragement for people of all ages to use their gifts well.

Run, don’t walk, to your local bookstore and loudly demand it from the humble staff today.

Seriously. I don’t even want to say too much about it, because I really want you to discover its beauty for yourself.

Remember to Breathe

I had two exciting messages via email and Facebook the other day.

Breathe Christian Writer's ConferenceIn the first, I was invited to be a speaker at the Breathe Writers Conference in October. My topic will be Flash Fiction. The organizers reached out to me because of my presentation on that topic at Jot, the mini-conference that my writer’s group put together. I’ve been a speaker at Breathe before, but my topic then was on how bookstores can help writers (checkout my Bookstore Symbiosis series here on my blog for the gist of my talk).

I’m pretty excited about getting my talk together and differentiating it from what I used at Jot. Also, I’m hoping to have some flash fiction publishing credits to my name by then so I can feel qualified to speak on the topic.

The other message I got the other day was from the film maker I mentioned a while back who was looking for some material to turn into short movies. He had a friend write an adaptation of one of my 100 word stories and asked me to look it over. The adaptation is amazing! I can’t wait for you all to see it!

He mentioned that they are hoping to film it sometime this summer, so there’s a chance that I’ll be able to show it at my talk in October at Breathe.

In any case, be sure to check out the Breathe website for more details. Having been there as both a speaker and an attendee, I can honestly tell you that it is a writer’s conference like no other. The speakers they choose always have time to talk to the attendees, the other attendees are always kind, and the general feel of the conference is always supportive.

The keynote speaker this year is Latayne C. Scott. Here’s her bio from the Breathe site:

Latayne C. Scott is the award-winning author of over a dozen books, published by major Christian publishers such as Zondervan, Moody, Baker, Word and others. In addition, she has published poems, radio plays, and hundreds of articles in magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman, Guideposts, Writer’s Digest, The Upper Room, Christian Research Journal, Christian Retailing, and Military Officer. A full-time writer, she also speaks at seminars, retreats, and on television and radio programs. She is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for Creative Christian Writing, and makes her home in her native New Mexico.

If you have any inkling of becoming a writer, be sure to check it out.

Baker’s Summer Reading Program is a Mystery

We had spring in Michigan for a few days before the snow came back. Birds were singing, the sun was out, I didn’t need to bundle up to get the mail. But then the snow came back. And so I am thinking about warm thoughts.

One of my favorite job-related tasks is creating the bookstore’s summer reading program. When I first came to Baker, the bookstore used a packaged ready-to-go summer reading program made available by our marketing group. After a year or two of that, the marketing group discontinued the program, but we saw value in summer reading programs, so we started doing them ourselves.

That first year, we chose to do a detective theme. We designed our own guide books, bought our own prizes, came up with our own activities. And it was a blast. The following year, I was asked to head up the group that put on the program. The year after that, I was the group. I didn’t mind doing all the set-up work though. For some reason, I absolutely love doing the summer reading program stuff.

2011_summer_reading_program_advance_adAs I got more years under my belt, I started ramping the program up, getting support from publishers, and doing more in-depth events. A couple of years ago, we did a program with a Berenstain Bears theme called “Character Counts,” complete with Brother & Sister Bear costumes, a visit from Mike Berenstain, and a giveaway of one of Mike’s original drawings. It was incredible.

This year, we’ve come full-circle. Our theme is “Mystery” and features the Mysterious Benedict Society series from Trenton Lee Stewart. I’m working with his publisher and publicist to create special pieces for the program. We’re trying to get him to do a Skype event for the store. And we’re doing some crossover promotion with the Tommy & Brook Book Club (from local pop radio station Star 105.7). I think it has potential to be one of the best programs yet. But what should we call it?

Here’s a few names that I’m throwing around: The Mysterious Reading Society, Sleuth: A Summer Reading Program,  and The Case of the Missing Summer Reading Program. What do you like? Do you have any suggestions of your own?

We’ll be having an illustrator integrate the name into the cover of the program guide in the style of the illustrations from the Mysterious Benedict Society books, so we’ll need to decide soon.

And while I’m asking for input, what about some games/activities that have a mystery/detective theme? Any ideas?

I am bad at first impressions.

Rogers-Will-LOCYou never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

— Will Rogers,
American cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor.

While this may well be true, I find myself unable to make a good first impression. Possibly, this has always been the case. But surely since I met my wife.

In fact, I don’t even remember the first time I met her, possibly this was for the best, as it allowed me to feel like I got that elusive second chance at a first impression. But more on that in another post.

Today, I want to share about the first time I met my wife’s cousin, Allison.

DeAnne and I were still dating, and I was invited to her extended family get-together over the 4th of July. It was a good time with lots of food and I got to learn a bit more about the family that I was hoping to be part of someday. On the way down, DeAnne was telling me about some of the family members that we would meet, but I think she talked most about her cousin Allison.

Allison, or Ali, had grown up near my wife’s family when they were both young. Being the cousin nearest in age, they were good friends, but sometime in there, Ali and her family moved to North Carolina. They stayed close though, seeing each other at family gatherings like the one to which we were headed.

I don’t remember if we were instantly beset by the excited shrieks of long overdue, cousinly hellos, or if that came later, but I remember the introductory conversation that I had with Allison.

“It’s so good to meet you,” said Ali. “DeAnne says that you are a really good boyfriend.”

“I try,” I said. “She has a lot of nice things to say about you too.”

“Of course,” said Ali, “if you want to be with my cousin, you’ll have to get my approval first. What do you do?”

“I work at a bookstore, running the music department,” I said. “It’s a good job and I like the people that I work with. How about you? What do you do?”

“I’m thinking about going into Nucular Medicine,” she said.

“Oh, do you mean Nu-cle-ar Medicine? I’ve never head of that, but I’m pretty sure that it is pronounced Nu-cle-ar, not Nuke-U-Ler. Maybe if you can’t pronounce it, you should look at a different field of study.”

“Wow, ouch,” she said. “Well, it was nice to finally meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said, and went off to make a bad impression on someone else.

Just recently, Ali told me that my comments that day struck home, and she stopped pursuing a career in Nuclear Medicine. She now works at a Dentist’s office and I’m pretty sure that she is happy with what she does. All the same, I feel a bit horrible for being so offensive to someone who my wife values so much, especially since I was horrible enough to change the trajectory of her life’s work.

468px-Gypsy_WomanA while back I mentioned that I keep a book where I write down ideas for characters. I realized this past week that one of those character ideas was much more autobiographical than I thought when I wrote it down. The character was a guy who was cursed by a gypsy to only make really bad first impressions. The gypsy saw herself as doing the guy a favor, because anyone who could be friends with him after such a bad first impression was likely to be a true friend. Anyway, I just realized that I was writing about myself. Unfortunately, I also appear to be the gypsy.

Anyway, sorry Ali. And thank you to all of my true friends who are able to look past the horrible first impression that I made.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States of America. It is a day of eating too much, watching sporting events, and saying what we are thankful for. And since I overeat regularly without need for special day and I don’t really pay attention to sporting events, I will focus my attention on the third item.

I am thankful for my wife. She is better than I deserve or could ever ask for. Her work ethic is beyond reproach. Her smile brightens the room. And her sense of humor is perfectly suited to the sick things that make me laugh.

I am thankful for my daughters. They are pure delight and so worth the effort and the sleepless nights. I love being their dad almost as much as I love being my wife’s husband.

I am thankful for my job. Baker Book House is not only the best indie bookstore in the world, it is the best place to work in the world. For being a retail store, I have a standard schedule, good pay, and am surrounded by people whose company I honestly enjoy. Thank you Herman Baker for starting your wonderful store so many years ago!

I am thankful for my pastor. Pastor Nelson Koon helps the Bible come alive through his preaching and his lifestyle. Though this is his first church after Bible school, our pastor has maturity beyond his years and a deep understanding of the needs of his flock.

I am thankful for new opportunities that find me. In the last year, I started this blog, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book, I am getting back to review books, I have a mutually beneficial advertising arrangement with a pizza shop in town, I got to be part of the committee that made decisions for the building project at my bookstore, and on and on. So many cool things have happened and I feel honored to be part of them all.

And I am thankful for you, my reader. I know that sounds cheesy but having people read what I write validates this crazy dream of mine to be a writer. Thank you and have a Happy Thanksgiving today!

The New, Improved Baker Book House

It is finally here. After many long months, phase 1 of the construction at Baker Book House is complete. We have occupancy of the new sales floor and our bookstore actually looks like a bookstore from the road. Here is a video collection of the changes at Baker Book House. You can tell when things really got busy because there is a large gap in the time between videos.

If you are in the West Michigan area, please stop by and check it out for yourself!

These videos make it seem like this was a speedy process. It wasn’t. And really, it isn’t over yet. We’ve still got phase 2 of the construction to get through before it is all said and done. And that is the part that I’m really looking forward to (since that is when my new office will be built!).

Anyway, this is a beautiful new building and we’ll be making the most of it. This was built with the mindset that we are here to serve our community. So if you are in our community, please come in so we can serve you!

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.

Bookstore Appreciation

Baker Book House under construction.

Today, the bookstore where I work is having a customer appreciation day. The book business is always a bit slower in the summer months, and around Baker Book House, construction hasn’t helped much. But we still have customers who come in nearly everyday, and we are very appreciative for them.

For anyone in driving distance, it’ll be a good day to stop in. The deals are listed below, plus we have a book signing with Peter Schriemer and coffee and frappe samples from Icons Coffee (the coffee shop that will take up residency when the remodel is finished).

I’m fairly certain that most of my readers here are book lovers. And being a book lover, you probably have a favorite bookstore. I know from personal experience what bookstores love about their patrons, but what makes your favorite bookstore your favorite bookstore? What makes you appreciate them?

Also, what would make you feel most appreciated by them?