My wife is my St. Hilda.

Yesterday, on Sheridan Voysey’s blog, I read this story about St. Hilda, an English saint from the 7th century. In the story, a farmer named Caedmon had a dream that a man told him to sing a song about Creation, but since he was a farmer and not a singer, he refused. But upon further prompting, Caedmon did write a song.

St. Hilda with Caedmon

St. Hilda with Caedmon

When he woke up, he remembered the song and told his foreman about the dream. The foreman took him to St. Hilda, who treated Caedmon with respect, tested his calling toward song-writing, and became his patron, enabling him to pursue his calling.

The thrust of Voysey’s post was that each of us have a calling to use our talents for God, but sometimes we need a St. Hilda in our life in order to help us see that.

When I began writing, my wife was my biggest champion. I am, at best, an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to the written word. But when I told my wife that I wanted to write, she didn’t laugh; she offered to read my stuff.

I started writing quirky stories about a squirrel and his invisible roommate. She encouraged me to continue. I joined a writer’s group. She gave me the time I needed. I participated in a 3-day novel-writing contest, and she helped me develop ideas for my book.

DeAnne has been with me and my writing career from the beginning. She has helped make my dreams into realities. My wife is my St. Hilda.

On the Making of Children’s Books with Kenneth Kraegel | A Breathe Conference Retrospective

Let’s continue the Breathe Conference experience together.

9780763653118On Friday, I spent my first two sessions with Candlewick Press author, Kenneth Kraegel. Kenneth wrote King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson, as well as the soon-to-be-published The Song of Delphine. Both sessions were (very) great and gave me plenty of ideas for publishing my long-awaited, barely anticipated Thom and Tom series.

The first session was titled “Children’s Books 1: Nuts and Bolts of Picture Books.” This was the description:

Discuss the many elements involved in making a picture book—writing the text, finding a publisher, working with an editor, understanding how an illustrator fits into the process, promoting your book.

That was a lot to tackle in an hour, but Kraegel rose to the task. Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • There are two main types of picture book authors.
    • Authors who are not illustrators
      • These folks start with the story
      • The publisher chooses the illustrator (It is frowned upon for the author to suggest an illustrator unless there is a compelling reason (like marriage) to do so)
      • Advances and royalties are split between the author and the illustrator
      • Manuscripts are submitted with the words only, images suggestions are sparing and indicated by brackets within the text
      • Examples – The Relatives Came & Button Up
    • Authors who are also the illustrator
      • These folks can start with either story or images
      • Advances and royalties go to just one person
      • Manuscripts are submitted as a “book dummy” – a black & white sketch book with typed text, either physical or in pdf format
      • Examples – Dr. Seuss & Mo Willems
  • Children’s books are typically 32 or 40 pages (or rarely larger by 8 pages at a time), though with endpapers and paste down pages, the copyright info, title page, and story only take up 26 or 34 pages
  • Most children’s books are 1000 words or less
  • Current trends lean toward very sparse sentences
  • There is no standard page size for children’s books (each publisher sets their own rules)

748879The rest of Kenneth’s presentation was practical across the publishing world. Things like: do your research on a publisher before submitting your manuscript to them, develop a routine for your writing/illustration, treat writing like a job to get into the habit once it actually is one, and make friends with your local indie bookstore in order to have an idea of what is published and what is needed in the marketplace.

After such great information from the first session, I couldn’t help but stick around for the second, “Children’s Books 2: Using a Storyboard to Write Picture Books”

After a demonstration of how storyboards are used, we will create our own and discuss the experience. Artistic ability is not required. Bring a work-in-progress or create a new story in the session.

My work-in-progress was a Thom and Tom story (“The Breadbox of Doom”) that I had in my notebook. Surprisingly, the story came out to the exact length of a 32 page picture book. But now I’m wondering how lucky I’ll be with the rest of the stories in that universe.

With one storyboard under my belt, I’m getting excited about the new publishing possibilities before me. I’ve got plenty of work yet to do in order to get my writing off the ground, but Kenneth Kraegel’s class gave me a kick in the right direction.

Thanks Kenneth!

Now, everyone do yourself a favor and go buy some of his books from an indie bookstore near you!

I am a Breathe Conference speaker.

blogging_101_with_josh_moseyThis past weekend, I had the honor of attending and speaking at the Breathe Writers Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I spoke on Saturday about blogging basics to a wonderful, if somewhat larger than anticipated, crowd of writers. As a result, I’m attaching the handout I used here (Blogging 101 with Josh Mosey) for anyone who didn’t get a copy on Saturday.

And since I believe that most of the value of writers’ conferences is in being face-to-face with other writers, I’m going to share a bit of the content that I taught in my class here on my blog for free. Not all of it, of course. But some.

This was the description for my class:

Blogging 101: Why to do it, How to do it, and How to keep it from killing your other writing—Josh Mosey
You’ve heard from countless publishing experts that you should be blogging as part of your platform (expand your online footprint!), but you want to do it right. Don’t waste your writing time making blogging mistakes. Figure out how to do it effectively, how to engage readers, and how to make blogging fit into your life without upsetting your other writing projects.

After a brief introduction to yours truly (readers of my blog should need no introduction as I’ve poured more of my secrets into this website than Tom Riddle poured into his horcrux of a diary),  I launched into the reasons why writers should be blogging:

  • Get an audience/community for your writing
  • Writing more will lead to better writing
    • “You should be practicing your craft.” – Judy Markham, Discovery House Publishers
  • Develop and show off your voice
  • Publishers need to see examples of how you attract and interact with your community

As to how to blog, I encouraged everyone to set one up soon. As there was another seminar following mine on the process of setting up a blog at WordPress.com, I didn’t go into detail about such things. My advice regarding blogging was more about the routine and scope of the craft than the minutia of posting etiquette.

Basically, I believe that blogs should be consistent in their focus (so readers will know what to expect), their voice (so readers will know your writing), and their schedule (so readers will know when to expect a new post).

We then turned to perhaps the most difficult bit: how to keep your blog from killing your other writing.

My first point was that a blogger needn’t blog everyday, but however they decide to divide their writing time between projects, they must be consistent in how often they post content to their blog.

With regard to the length of blog posts, I discussed the two schools of thought. Short posts of 200 or fewer words take less time to write, are easier for readers to digest, and can be best for bloggers who decide to tackle daily posts. Long posts of 1500+ words often get better interaction from readers and are easier to find by web-crawlers based on their content.

As another effort to protect a writer’s time for their projects, I suggested that the blog needn’t live in a separate world from their main focus. If they could find a way to incorporate their ideas, voices, and subject matter into their blog, then readers might be more motivated to buy their writing when it comes out (since they’ve already sampled and enjoyed it in blog form). The big warning for this, however, is that you must not publish the exact content on your blog that you are hoping to get published in book form. Once a blog is posted, it is published and no one will touch it in the publishing world.

Lastly, I encouraged the writers to be accountable to a writers group in order to stay on track with both blogs and book-writing.I then gave them some ideas on how to get new readers and followers to their blogs as well as some links to other resources. I’m not going to give them to you here, because you didn’t pay to be at the conference (but if you click around my site a bit, you may find them anyway).

I’ll be writing through some of the sessions that I attended this week, so if you aren’t into writing, you may want to check in next week for normal content. I’m just kidding. Visit everyday and send links to all of your friends whether you like my content or not. Thanks!

I Am Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter

EngineofaMillionPlotsFor those of you unfamiliar with Five Iron Frenzy, do yourself a favor and pick up their latest album, “Engine of a Million Plots”. It is an awesome record and I will think more highly of you for owning it.

I’d like to talk about the eighth track for a moment. Indulge me.

The title is “Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter” and these are the lyrics:

Shut your face /  high school jerks /  We’re about to show you how this works
Are we cool? /  Laser beams /  We’re about to awesome all your dreams
And you’ll say, “What are you, some kind of computer?”
and we’ll say, “A cyborg pimp from the future.”
And I’m going def for sheezy /  I’m feeling a bit uneasy.

Let’s get this straight: /  oh yeah, we are the champions
We’ll be battle dancing unicorns /  oh yes /  Battle dancing unicorns
It’s not too late /  you could gamble on the heavy hitters
while we’re battle dancing unicorns /  with glitter

Twelve-o-clock? /  Party rock /  We’re hip- hoppin’ and we can’t quite stop
Aggro hair /  Grizzly Bear /  Bet you’ve never met a thousand-aire
Then you’ll say, “Whatever, I think you’re moronic.”
And we’ll say, “Not really, we’re only bionic.”
And you’re still in high school /  but have to acknowledge
that we are professors at Robot Spy College.

To be what I just can’t /  impale myself upon the horns
I’m fighting just to be relevant /  I’ll battle dance some unicorns

I’m battle dancing unicorns /  with glitter.

I love this song. It is everything I’ve come to expect from Five Iron Frenzy. It is clever, sarcastic, and steeped in emotion.

To give you some background about the band and this album in particular, Five Iron Frenzy, or FIF, rode into popularity (at least in Christian circles) on a (short-lived)wave of ska enthusiasm in the late 1990’s. With passionate messages dipped in acerbic wit, they’re songs inspired a dedicated fan base that stayed loyal, even when the band disbanded in 2003.

Then in 2011, a miracle happened. When a countdown to a new website design was misinterpreted as a countdown to a band reunion, the former members of FIF began to discuss seriously the possibility of a comeback tour. And when they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 in order to record a new album, their fans met that goal within the first hour of launching and raised over $200,000 by the end of the 30-day campaign. Thus was the new album born.

In “Battle Dancing Unicorns With Glitter”, we get to see the deep-seated insecurities of a band whose popularity is somewhat anachronistic. Is it possible for a band whose heyday was a decade ago to be relevant to its original target audience of high schoolers? In an age where fads pass faster than ever, FIF decides to give it a try, even if they get impaled.

Perhaps the reason this song speaks to me so strongly is because of my interest in writing Young Adult Fiction. Can I be relevant to kids whose language I struggle to understand (for sheezy?), much less speak? The only thing I can do is what Five Iron Frenzy did. Try.

I’ll just ignore the fact that there is no pent-up demand for the release of any books from me in the same way that there was a demand from FIF’s loyal fans. Because some times you just need to bluff it until you make it, right? I mean, am I cool enough to write in the first place?

“Laser beams.”

On the Origin of Jot

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “jot” stems from the Latin “jota” which is a derivation of the Greek “iota”, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. Thus, a jot is one of the smallest things you can write. And it has taken this meaning as both noun (the smallest letter) and verb (to write a small amount).

Jot is also the name that my writer’s group settled on when we came up with our free, one-night writer’s conference concept. As busy guys with full-time jobs and families, we don’t always have the time or money to attend big writers’ conferences, awesome though they be. So we decided to start one of our own targeting the needs of people like us.

So the Jot Conference, or mini-conference if you prefer, is one night only. It is free to attend. And it offers quality sessions on a variety of writing topics by amazing guest speakers who are presenting by the goodness of their hearts (we don’t actually pay any of the speakers, so if you come, be sure to buy their books and tell them that you appreciate their time).

The next Jot is happening on Friday, March 14th, from 7 – 11 pm, at Baker Book House, 2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.

tracy_groot

Tracy Groot

Our keynote speaker is the award-winning author of the newly-released The Sentinels of Andersonville, Tracy Groot.

Other speakers include the author Susie Finkbeiner, speaker and editorial director of Baker Books Chad Allen, and budding novelist Thomas McClurg. We even have a free poetry workshop (available to sign up for at registration) with poetry editor of Structo Magazine, Matthew Landrum.

Keep up to date by following the Jot blog. I hope to see you there!

Jot II: Revenge of the Jot

jot_poster2My writers group, The Weaklings, met this past week to discuss our upcoming writer’s mini-conference, Jot.

You may have seen some announcements go out on Facebook or maybe you noticed my re-blog of the event schedule. Or maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. In any case, you are reading this now and soon will have no excuses for ignorance. Sorry about that. Excuses for ignorance can be great things indeed.

Here’s the deal with Jot. It is a free writer’s mini-conference, which makes it considerably less expensive than every other writer’s conference out there. Heck, it’s even cheaper than the pony rides at the grocery store. Jot is a one-night event, featuring five short sessions of guidance and encouragement for writers of all kinds. Our speakers represent the gamut of writing genres. Matthew Landrum is a poetry editor. Bob Evenhouse writes long-form fantasy fiction. Jessie Clemence just published a non-fiction book on parenting. Sam Carbaugh is an accomplished illustrator and works with comic books. There’s even going to be a panel discussion on writer’s groups. And I get to emcee the whole evening.

It’s going to be a great time. If you are within driving distance of Grand Rapids, MI, you should come to Jot. It’s being held again at the beautifully renovated Baker Book House, 2768 E Paris Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546, on Friday, September 13th from 7 to 11pm.

I really hope to see you there. Also, you should consider signing up for the Jot blog. There may just be some advantageous coupons for coffee lovers featured there real soon.

The Weaklings Step Out

I am a Weakling.My writers’ group, The Weaklings, have decided to put on a free one-night writer’s conference.

Now, you may be thinking, “If it is a one-night event, can you really call it a conference?” Valid point, and one that we debated the other night. But when it came down to it, calling it a seminar sounded really boring. Plus, even though it is one night, it is going to have more in common with larger writers’ conferences than you might think. We are going to have multiple speakers speaking on multiple topics, a chance to mingle with other writers, and it is being held in a beautiful location (the new, improved Baker Book House). In fact, other than the amount of time it takes up, the only other difference is the cost. Most writer’s conferences are expensive and the one we are planning is free.

We have a venue (Baker Book House), a date (Feb. 8, 2013), and a time (7pm). The only thing that we do have is a good name for the conference. Once we have that, I’ll be able to make up the promotional materials and we can get the word out. We’re going back and forth between a few names now. As soon as we come to a consensus, I’ll share more. But for now, if you live or can travel to the West Michigan area for a one-night writer’s conference on February 8th, plan on it. We’ll all have a good time.

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.

8 Questions | Meet Author Lisa Williams Kline

YA Author, Lisa Williams Kline

Last week, I posted a link to my review for Lisa Williams Kline’s book, The Summer of the Wolves. After reading the book and writing up my review, I wrote the author and asked if she would be willing to do an interview with me.

Long-story-short, she was. Though Lisa’s books are meant for a different audience than thirty-year-old guys like me, I enjoyed her portrayal of family, and the research that she conducted to prepare for her writing really comes through. I hope you’ll enjoy the interview and I hope you’ll go out and buy her books (at your local Christian bookstore, of course) and enjoy them as well.

The interview:

1. YA Fiction writer, Melissa Kantor, once said, “Writing about teenagers (for me), means not just remembering but being willing to dwell in that place where life felt like walking a tightrope without a net.” How do you get into the mindset of modern teenage girls?

That is a great quote! When people have asked me about writing for young people, I have jokingly told them that I am emotionally stuck at age thirteen. That’s just a joke, of course (I hope) but I will admit to being overly self-conscious and sensitive to criticism, which can be part of the teen mindset. There is a heightened awareness as a teen about being excluded socially and I still feel that, even as an adult. I also have two daughters – grown now – and raising them helped me reenter that space. I also taught a creative writing workshop for teens for several years, and so I got to be around them for a couple of hours a week. Teens can be vulnerable and carry their pain outside themselves and I can feel it and so deeply empathize with them.

2. Your book, Summer of the Wolves, includes a lot of descriptive information about animals. How did you do your research?

I have tried to find an expert to interview or meet with for each of my books. For example, for Wild Horse Spring I spent a day with the herd manager for the wild horses on the Outer Banks. And for Winter’s Tide, I did several telephone interviews with two professors from UNC Wilmington who are experts on whale strandings. For my current book, I have visited a wildlife rehabilitator. And of course I do research online.

3. Describe your writing space.

Wow, no one has ever asked me that! It’s such a mess. I have turned one of the bedrooms of our house into an office and I have an L-shaped desk against the window and one wall. Bookcases line the other two walls. On top of the bookcases are pictures of my family. All along the floor are piles of notes from classes, manuscripts, and so on. I keep research materials from each novel stacked in plastic bins beside my desk. And then there are two severely neglected hanging plants that have managed to survive for many years. Oh, and our Dachshund/Chihuahua mix, Calvin Kline, perpetually snores on the floor behind me.

4. After listing your many academic achievements, you mention in the biography on your website (http://lisawilliamskline.com) that you learned to drive a forklift for a recent job. What is the story there?

I had an administrative job several years ago working for a company that sold cleaning powder for printing presses. The powder came in gigantic bins that had to be moved by forklift, so I had to learn to drive one. I was pretty tentative about it, but my boss said at least I didn’t poke a hole in the wall, which some of the previous employees had done.

5. Though your books are available at all the major book chains and Amazon, you ask readers to support the independent booksellers. First, as an employee at one of those Indie bookstores, thank you. Second, why is it important to you to support the Indies?

Most writers I know love independent bookstores. Every independent bookstore has its own personality. The employees give customers personal attention, and they go out of their way to work with authors. Right now an independent bookstore near me has put up a display of my books since I’m a local author. I was so touched!

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?

Never underestimate the benefit of practice. People would never dream of trying to play basketball or a musical instrument without practicing, but they often think that writing doesn’t require practice. But it’s just like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. Also, be persistent. I have been in workshops and critique groups with so many people who were more talented than I am, but I was just more persistent. I kept at it after others gave up.

7. What book is on your nightstand?

Oh, gosh, I’m so flattered, this is the kind of question all those famous writers get asked and I am always intimidated by what they say. I have about twenty books on my nightstand! It drives my husband crazy because every week or so one of our cats walks on the stack and knocks them over. Okay, I just went and looked. State of Wonder and Run by Ann Patchett, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler, Traveling Mercies by Ann Lamott, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann. B. Ross, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, The Beginner’s Goodbye by Ann Tyler, Ask the Passengers by A. S. King, Georgie’s Moon by my friend Chris Woodworth and Madhattan Mystery by my friend John J. Bonk.

8. What do you want people to know aside from your writing?

Hmmm.  When I was young I made a silent movie with some of the other kids in the neighborhood that was called “A Railroad Tie” or “Marriage on the Tracks.” The movie was about a penniless young woman who couldn’t pay her rent and a mean landlord and a handsome hero who leaped on camera to say, “I’ll pay the rent!” and then married her. I didn’t write the screenplay – a very talented young man who lived down the street did that – but I did write the subtitles on cards. I held them up and instructed my dad, the photographer, only to shoot the cards and absolutely not to get me in the picture. Of course, like any doting dad, he did not follow my instructions, so we had these home movies of plump me, wearing my cat-eye glasses, holding the cards. I was mortified.

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Thanks Lisa! I wish you many successful books ahead!