I am going to the bar with my Christian bookstore.

When you hear “an Australian, beer, and ______”, you may not assume that the last part of the triad would be “the Bible”, but it totally is. At least, it will be next Sunday (February 15th from 7-9pm) at Founder’s Brewery in Grand Rapids, MI.

Baker Book House and Harper Collins Christian Publishing are partnering to host “Skeptics Night” at Founder’s with John Dickson, author of the book “A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible.”

When the posters first went up in the bookstore, I think we shocked a few of our patrons. After all, the primary feature of the advertising is a pint of beer, which is not what you expect to see next to posters for southern gospel singers.


When I first previewed the posters with the management, I asked, “Is this too much?” My manager replied, “I welcome the fights this will bring. People need to understand that you aren’t going to find many skeptics willing to attend an event at a Christian bookstore. So we’re bringing the Bible to the bar.”

I’ve overheard a number of customers who agree with this sentiment. But I’ve also heard the opposite; i.e. people who can’t imagine why a Christian would step foot in an establishment that serves alcohol. I mean, it isn’t like Jesus ever had anything to do with beer or wine or the type of people who drank such things. Right?

Anyway, if you are in the Grand Rapids area next Sunday night, you should check it out. Just be warned that seating is limited, so it would be a good idea to let us know on the Facebook event page if you are planning to attend.

Jot 5 | Save the Date

jot_logoThe Jot Writers’ Conference always seems to sneak up on me. And that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if I wasn’t one of the main organizers of the event. But thanks to my skills in last-minute, procrastination-honed organization, I have exciting news.

Jot 5 is Friday, March 13th from 7-11pm at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI.

We even have speakers lined up. Good ones, too. I’ll be posting their topics soon on the main Jot website, but for now here’s the list:

Jot will also have some workshops, but those aren’t ready to announce yet. Just forget I said anything about the workshops.

Stay tuned to our main Jot website for all of the upcoming news about Jot 5!

Learn to Draw Comics with Sam Carbaugh

There’s something you should know. Sam Carbaugh is going to have an event at Baker Book House this Saturday at 10am. He’s going to teach kids (and adults) how to draw comics. Then, he’s going to sign copies of his new book. I think it would be best if you came.

sam_carbaugh_eventHere are 4 reasons why:

  1. Sam Carbaugh is a cool guy. I’ve never regretted time spent with Sam, whether it was when he spoke at the Jot Conference or when I had lunch with him that one time.
  2. Sam Carbaugh knows what he’s talking about. How many people do you know who have a Master’s degree in comics? I know one. Sam Carbaugh.
  3. You’ve always wanted to know how to draw comics. Don’t pretend that you don’t. What’s the first thing you do when you open a newspaper? You look at the comics. And somewhere deep down inside, you wish you could do what the comic artists are doing.
  4. The event is free. All it takes is a bit of time on your part. Oh, and a phone call to reserve your spot in the class. How many things in this life are free AND cool? Take advantage of this one.

In order to attend, you need to RSVP to Baker Book House at 616.957.3110. After pleasantly greeting the Baker Book House staff member, kindly inform them that you would like to put your name on the signup for Sam Carbaugh’s event this Saturday.

And whether you come to Sam’s event or not, you should probably buy his new book, Comics: Investigate the History and Technology of American Cartooning (Build It Yourself Series). It’s a quality book that covers all the things you should know about the world of comics, and it is understandable on a kid’s level. Give it to your kids for Christmas or keep it for yourself. Whatever you want, just go get it.

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?

Jot IV – Mark Your Calendars


My writers group, The Weaklings, met recently to discuss the next Jot Writers Mini-Conference. I thought I’d tell you what we know so far.

Jot IV or Jot 4 (which one do you like better?) will take place on Friday, September 12th at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI from 7pm – 11pm. The price, as it has always been, will be nothing. The value will be considerably more (hopefully).

At the moment, only a few of our speakers have been confirmed. We’ll have veteran Jot speaker and editor at Discovery House Publishers, Andrew Rogers, and we just signed on blogger and Houzz.com writer, Alison Hodgson. We have two more speakers that we’re still bullying into agreements, so stay tuned for those.

For past attendees, we’re excited to announce that Baker Book House has agreed to expand the stage area of the store to accommodate our ever-growing audience. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with parking. I know that a few people couldn’t find spots at Jot 3 so they turned around. Maybe it would be good for a few of you to carpool. Make a writing friend and come together.

Last, we are excited to announce that we are expanding our workshops. Matthew Landrum, poetry editor for Structo Magazine, will again lead a workshop on poetry. I’ll be leading a blogging workshop. And we have a third workshop that I’ll announce at a later date. All the workshops will run simultaneously after the main presentations.

If you’ve never been to a Jot Mini-Conference before, here’s what you need to know. We’ve tried to condense the writers conference experience into one night. We make it short because we know that writers have full-time jobs and families and that time is a limited resource. And we make it free because we know how expensive most writers conferences are. And if those things aren’t unique enough, we also incorporate some writing time into the evening so you can practice what you’ve learned right away.

The goals of Jot and the motto are the same: Meet. Write. Learn.

Mark your calendars now and we’ll see you on September 12th!

PS – I’ve decided that the Jot logo is in sore need of an update. Would you like a chance to vote on designs or submit your own? Tell me in the comments below.

Eating the Not-So-Fine Print

charlies_bar_and_grilleA while back, I wrote about how I mistakenly bought a Groupon deal from Charlie’s Bar and Grille (not Charley’s Pub & Grill like I intended). I know that you have been on tenterhooks ever since to find out how we fared. And so, I shall tell you.

My wife and I took the day off recently to run some errands and figured that we would finally use our Groupon so as not to waste $15 of our precious entertainment fund. We showed up at Charlie’s just after noon to eat some lunch. Here’s the breakdown:


  • Delightful Wait Staff – The crowd was pretty sparse, and it seemed like everyone knew everyone else except for us. But that didn’t stop our waitress from welcoming us in and making us feel comfortable right away.
  • Delicious Appetizers, Main Courses, and Dessert – We started our meal with some super cheesy fried potato skins (probably not safe on dieter’s menu), picked a couple of the house specials (the Chicken Wrapper and the Wet Burrito), and finished by splitting a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. The portions of the main courses were so big, we’re going to have it for lunch again tomorrow, and both of us would order them again. And that cheesecake, well, it’s probably a good thing that it wasn’t too big, lest we be reduced to rolling out of the restaurant.


  • Distance – This place is all the way on the other end of town, making it difficult to visit when my wife and I are bound by our normal schedule.
  • Deceptive Marketing Practices – How dare they have almost the same name as another restaurant and advertise a similar deal on a similar advertising channel! Don’t they know that I don’t read things closely?!

But in all seriousness, my wife and I had a good time. We were forced to try something new, which for two people who have their favorite places and are pretty set in their ways as far as food goes, it is a good thing. Now we know that if we are ever on the other side of town and need a place to eat, we can go to Charlie’s and have some good grub.


Another Free Event for Writers

If you attended the first Jot Conference, you may recognize Chad Allen. Chad is the editorial director for Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Chad was kind enough to join us and talk about what editors wish writers knew about the publishing process. It was a great interview and if you have a spare half-hour, it’s worth watching.

Anyway, Chad will be doing another free presentation on writing next week at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids. So, if you live within driving distance and have ever doubted your abilities as a writer, you should attend this event.

Baker_Chad-6Here’s the snippet that Chad sent me:

The road to getting published can be tough. How can you improve your writing, build your platform, hold down a day job, and still have a life? What practices can writers use to find their voice and produce their best work? In this presentation Baker Books editor Chad Allen shares strategies to help writers be successful over the long run.

The title of his new talk is “You Can Do This, An Editor’s Manifesto: How Writers Can Stay Motivated and Keep Moving on the Road to Publication.” It’s happening next Tuesday, October 15th at 7:00 PM at Baker Book House (2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546).

And if you are eager for the next Jot Mini-Conference, stay tuned. I’m hoping to pin the rest of the Weaklings down to discuss it soon.

Reading the Not-So-Fine Print

I have trouble reading things thoroughly. Unless I’m getting paid to read, I think I get about halfway through a sentence before I decide that I know where it’s headed and move on to the next sentence.

I once made a super spicy version of Meatball & Pineapple Hoagies because I didn’t take the extra time needed to realize that the recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper and not 1/4 cup. Whew! That was a spicy meatball hoagie!

charlies_bar_and_grilleBut most recently, I spent my family’s hard-earned money on a Groupon for a restaurant called Charlie’s Bar and Grille. It seemed like too good a deal to pass up. And when my wife and I couldn’t decide what to make for dinner the other night, I made the executive decision that we needn’t make dinner at all. We would use our Groupon and someone else would cook. But when I went to print the deal out, I noticed the address of the restaurant was different from what I remembered. Was it possible that there were two Charlie’s Bar and Grilles in town?

charleysA quick Google search later and I had discovered my mistake. I purchased a Groupon for Charlie’s Bar & Grille, but what I wanted was a Groupon from Charley’s Pub & Grill. You see, Charley’s is a little bar and billiards place near our house that serves up locally grown food for great prices. We’ve never had a bad experience and we’ve been there more than a few times. But Charlie’s is an unknown entity. Plus, it’s all the way across town. And since my wife doesn’t get home until dinner time already and my girls go down for bedtime shortly thereafter, I have no idea when we’ll be able to use the Groupons that I mistakenly bought.

But who knows? Maybe they have fantastic food. Maybe they too value locally grown produce and meats. Maybe they will be our new favorite restaurant.

At the very least, their food has to be better than my Meatball & Pineapple Hoagie Massacre.

Moral: Read thoroughly.

Requiem for a Stay-cation

Vacations are over too soon.

Last week, I got to spend the entire week with my family. It was beautiful.

We cleaned the house better than it has been cleaned in a while. I power mopped our faux-wood floors while my wife scrubbed dog drool off the baseboards. We rented a carpet cleaner and went to town on our carpets and furniture. We daily cursed our dog’s habit of shedding and flinging drool everywhere. But in the end, our house was good enough to show professionally.

And we had fun. We took the girls to storytime at the library. My oldest got some great exposure to other kids her age (which she doesn’t normally get) and my youngest grooved along to the singing and dancing. We went to the zoo instead of the children’s museum (because it was about half the price), and we petted some goats and saw the bears being fed (the bears were not fed goats though, they keep most of the animals separate). My wife and I saw Iron Man 3 at the cheap theater. And we went to the mall for jeans and a carousel ride.

And now we are back to work. But that isn’t really a bad thing. My wife and I enjoy our jobs, and there is something to be said for going to bed earlier than 10:30pm, especially when the reason you are staying up late is to clean dog drool off of stuff.

But just for a minute, let us remember the stay-cation as it was, with a series of photos from the zoo.


Some kids get their photos taken with John Ball by sitting on the lap of statue, but that seemed like a lot of work when they are already happily buckled into their double stroller.


Here is my beautiful wife making a “why are you taking my picture?” face.


Said my daughter of this cat, “That kitty is bigger than Aunt Dawn’s kitty.” Knowing the cat she is talking about, this cat is certainly taller, but I bet they weight about the same.


This isn’t a great shot due to the reflection, but you can tell that my girls are pretty fearless when it comes to 800 lb bears within inches of their faces.


My oldest dutifully looking my direction, even though there are cool wallabies to see behind her.


I believe she is happy about playing on the train, but it is possible she’s just bearing her teeth to passersby as a way of claiming the train as her own.


Does any child glow quite as bright as a red-haired child?


Here I am with my youngest, picking up some neat goat diseases. Just kidding, there’s hand sanitizer posted just outside the petting area.


You may notice a mark on my youngest’s cheek. She was recently in an off-off-broadway run of the toddler edition of Scarface. She played the title character.


And back to the train for a 3/4 family photo. Also, what was my oldest’s favorite thing at the zoo? The animals? No. It was this train.


I’m pretty sure that she is considering moving in.


After a brief close encounter in the aviary, we beat a hasty retreat, which is good, because I am no fan of birds. They might as well have called this part of the zoo the “Get pooped on” room.


High-Fiving a Gorilla.


Here I am with my oldest. We just told the goat that the tree was made of candy. Silly goat.


And finally, as we left the zoo, we encountered a sea monster in the pond by the parking lot. It seems peaceful enough, until you get too close.

The Art of Stay-cationing

My wife and I are on vacation this week. We aren’t camping, or traveling, or anything like that. We are, in fact, staying home. In common parlance, we are having a “stay-cation”.

There is an art to the stay-cation. The art is in the balance. If you work the entire time, you do not feel like you are on vacation at all. If you try to spend all of your time outside of the home, you might as well have gone on an actual vacation. And if you fill every day with day trips, you will run out of resources quicker than you can say “I just spent too much at the zoo!”

Thankfully, my wife and I are great balances for each other. We began the week by writing a list. Okay, to be honest, my wife started the list, because that’s the type of person that she is. She filled the list with all of the projects around the house that we have been putting off for lack of time. She wrote down things like scrubbing the floorboards and power mopping the hardwood, renting a carpet cleaner and fixing our bathroom sink drain, and so on. Good things all, but fun? Not so much.

grand_rapids_childrens_museumBut that’s okay, because we have fun planned in as well. We are going to story time at the library, taking the girls to the carousel at the mall, visiting the children’s museum downtown, and celebrating eight years of marriage with dinner and a movie (in an actual theater!).

The to-do list is a balanced approach of the things that need to be done with the things we want to do, and the really beautiful thing is that no matter what category (fun vs. work) an activity falls into, we will be happier once that activity is completed.

Sometimes, I have trouble seeing the happy part of doing back-breaking labor. That’s when I am happiest that my wife sees it there for me. And sometimes, my wife has trouble seeing an activity as worth the money it costs to do, which is where I step in and encourage us to do it anyway.

Yes, the stay-cation is an art, but once learned, can be applied to all areas of life. Even after you return to work.