The Jot Writers’ Conference Returns! 9.9.16

Friday, September 9th, 2016

FREE Admission – Event begins at 7pm

Open to all writers. Rookies. Veterans. And everyone in between.
Open to writers of any genre.

The Jot Writers’ Conference is a biannual, one-night event for writers held each spring and fall in West Michigan. It features short, TED-style talks on various aspects of writing and publishing. Admission is free. Come for the inspiring speakers. Stay for the coffee and the chance to meet other writers.

Or just find a nook in the bookstore and write all evening. Don’t worry. We totally get it. 🙂


Baker Book House
2768 East Paris Avenue
Grand Rapids, MI 49546


Aric DavisARIC DAVIS is the author of seven books: From Ashes Rise: A Novel of Michigan, Nickel Plated, A Good and Useful Hurt, The Black Death: A Dead Man Novella, Rough Men, Breaking Point, The Fort and Tunnel Vision. He is married with one daughter and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he worked for sixteen years as a body piercer; he now writes full time. A punk rock aficionado, Davis does anything he can to increase awareness of a good band. He likes weather cold enough to need a sweatshirt but not a coat, and friends who wear their hearts on their sleeves. In addition to reading and writing, he also enjoys roller coasters, hockey, and a good cigar.


Sarah Grimm

S. D. GRIMM’S first love in writing is young adult speculative fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and her debut novel, Scarlet Moon, is slated to be published in October 2016. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), making clay dragons for her Grimmlies store on Etsy, practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and doing anything outdoorsy with the family. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog.




Tom Springer 2015 300dpiTOM SPRINGER is an essayist, journalist, and environmentalist. He has written about nature and outdoor travel for newspapers and magazines such as Backpacker, Michigan Out-of-Doors, and Notre Dame, and his nature-themed commentaries have aired on several National Public Radio programs. His collection of essays, Looking For Hickories: The Forgotten Wildness of the Rural Midwest (University of Michigan Press), was named a Michigan Notable Book in 2009. Springer holds a master’s degree in environmental journalism from Michigan State University. He lives near Three Rivers, Michigan.



It happens often. Mostly when I am struggling with my novel and I read a magnificent work of fiction. I drop the book, my arms fall to my sides, and I stare at the ceiling knowing for certain that I will never lossy-page1-1024px-Moods,_President_Lyndon_B._Johnson,_Secretary_of_Defense_Robert_McNamara_in_Cabinet_Room_meeting_-_NARA_-_192612.tifbe that good.

Many of my writer friends have shared this same thought. We compare ourselves daily and when we read a gold trimmed version of our favorite classic we are overcome. I get the feeling you, dear writer, may also struggle with this.

Part of the problem is what I bring to the table. I was not educated in Oxford nor was I a war correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Spanish Civil War. My life experiences are dull in comparison. But this is not the problem. The problem is that I consider even for a moment that someone else’s life is better than the one I am living now. I forget that everyone has a tale, whether tragic or otherwise, to tell.

C.S. Lewis wrote C.S. Lewis Stories. Hemingway wrote the way only Hemingway could. I bring my own experiences and thus tell a story the only way I know how. This is what I must remember. I must reach into myself and write out of who I am. You must do the same.

The world of literature would be boring if bookshelves were stuffed only with novels about Harry Potter or Baker Street.

Write your story.

3 Questions with Amelia Rhodes

Amelia Rhodes-speakingAmelia Rhodes is an author, speaker, blogger, journalist, wife, mom, and probably don’s a cape a cowl each night to defend the innocent of Grand Rapids against ne’er-do-wells. She’ll be speaking at JOT 5 about making time to write. Here are three quick questions with Amelia. See you on Friday, March 13th!

Give us a teaser of your Jot presentation. What can attendees expect?

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, said, “There’s a secret real writers know that wanna be writers don’t. And the secret is this: it’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” I’ll be discussing making time to write, how to make the most of your writing time, and offering practical tips for both areas.

What’s a good habit or pattern for writers to start?

Shauna Niequist once said, “The first part of writing is noticing.” I think one of the best habits a writer can develop is to become the best possible “noticer.” Pay attention to life around you. Notice the people. Ask about their stories. Listen. Notice the colors, emotions, smells, and sounds that surround you every day. There’s always something to write about if you are paying attention. The second great practice is to collect those things you’ve noticed in a system that works for you, so when you sit down to write, you aren’t starting from zero. Instead, you’ll already have hundreds of ideas just waiting to be crafted into a great piece of writing.

Just for fun: If you could have lunch with any three authors – alive or dead – who would they be and why?


  1. Lucy Maud Montgomery. Anne of Green Gables is my favorite novel. I’d love the chance to thank her for this wonderful story that I now have the privilege of sharing with my own daughter.


  1. C.S. Lewis. I’d love to chat about his writing process, especially because he wrote such varied pieces from deep theology for adults to beautiful literature for children.


  1. J.K. Rowling. Professor Snape might be my favorite villian/non-villian. From his first appearance, he intrigued me. I’d love to hear how she came up with him, and if she knew from the start who he was and all he had done.

Interview With Christy Award Winning Author & Jot Keynote Tracy Groot

jotJot is ONE day away! The Weaklings are excited. The presenters are as well. I hope you are giddy with excitement too. Where else can you rub shoulders with other writers, drink copious amounts of great coffee in an amazing bookstore, and get spectacular advice from publishing professionals all for FREE?!?! (There should be about a billion more exclamation points).

Christy Award winning author Tracy Groot is our keynote speaker for this installment of Jot. The Weaklings are thrilled that she agreed to join us. She wants to share on the topic of pop lit, but more than that, she wants to have a discussion and throw around ideas on what makes a great pop-lit book. I hope you come ready to join in the discussion. Below, I’ve asked her a few questions to help Jot attendees get to know her a little better.

1. Tracy, tell a little bit about yourself and what authors or subjects influence your writing.

Part One: I’m a mom, a writer, and a coffee shop owner. My first paid writing gig was radio commercials. Then I wrote a few YA mystery adventure novels, published in the mid-nineties. I’ve done some ghost writing and some screenplay work and some historical fiction. Latest book is The Sentinels of Andersonville, a Civil War novel about the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Currently working on a WWII historical fiction novel about the rescue of the entire British Army at Dunkirk. Part Two: The current author I happen to be reading usually influences my writing. But my faves include Dickens, Steinbeck, Patrick O’Brian, oh, don’t get me started. Any subject at all can influence my writing: I’m pretty eclectic in my interests. 

2. Pop lit can be a slippery term. How would you define it?

I have to tell you that I think I see my session as more of an exploration of pop lit, then a exposition of it, since it was a subject that intrigued me; I plan to start off with only rudimentary ideas that I think a pop-lit book would possess, and then open it up for discussion

3. What are a few practical techniques a pre-published writer could practice to make their writing more literary?

Here are some springboard elements I think a pop-lit book would have: 

  • A killer first line
  • A killer first page
  • Action, action, action
  • But not TOO much action
  • Lovely little details
  • Stuff to think about

4.What are a few practical techniques a pre-published writer could practice to make their writing more literary?

This is a long-haul answer, but I think the most important thing a writer can do to write literary is to read literary. “Tis the good reader that makes the good book.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson. And read poetry. 

5. There are a lot of books that offer advice on how to write a book. What book or books do you suggest the growing novelist should read to help them become a well-rounded writer?

My favorite writing books so far: The Art of War for Writers, by James Scott Bell. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. On Writing, by Stephen King. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Write Tight, by William Brohaugh. Plot, by Ansen Dibell. I’m currently reading The Art of Spiritual Writing, by Vinita Hampton-Wright, and I’m enjoying it. I’d say my two faves are the first two mentioned. 

Thank you Tracy!

You can learn more about Tracy and her journey into the world of words HERE

You can see all of her books (and buy some!) HERE

Jotters, be sure to thank our excellent presenters. They gave this time and energy for free. Not one asked for any form of compensation. Each person was thrilled to be a part of this experience and I hope you learn a lot, meet a lot of writers, and get some time to put words on the page.

See you all tomorrow!

Writer, Have You Lost Your Motivation? Chad Allen Is Here To Help!

Jot the GR Writers Mini-Conference is THIS Friday. Have you called that writer friend you know to invite them? You’ve got a sitter for the kids, right? You’ve remembered to request the night off of work? Good. Well done. It is going to be amazing.

Since we’re talking about amazing, Chad Allen, Editorial Director at Baker Books, is speaking at Jot. He’s here to encourage us as we chase our writing dreams.

Chad’s topic in a nutshell:

You Can Do This: An Editor’s Manifesto: How to Stay Motivated and Keep Moving toward Publication

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 editor Chad R. Allen shares strategies to help writers be successful over the long run.

I’ve asked Chad a little bit about himself and what advice he might have for the budding author.


1. Chad, I’ve read your book and follow your website. Explain why you decided to take up blogging and speaking. Where does that passion come from and how do you keep that energy every day?

I started the blog because I feel a deep calling to this work of helping creatives do their best work. This call is both the source and the sustenance for the whole shebang. Of course I’m as much the audience for the blog as I am the blogger! In so many ways I’m just a fellow beggar looking for bread. The blog at its best is a place where creatives can walk with and learn from each other.

2. I assume most of the attendees at Jot are serious about writing. It is more than a hobby and there is a desire to turn it into a career. What actions should the pre-published author be doing right now that would help them get noticed by an agent or publishing house?

Three things: Build your platform. Get better and better at writing. And stay on the lookout for a great book concept. The good news is that you can do all three at the same time by blogging.

3. Every writer has their unique style. It can be difficult to find your own voice. What are some practical ways a young writer can begin to draw that out?

Such a good question. I tend to think finding one’s voice starts with finding one’s muses—models out there whom we want to emulate in some way. Austin Kleon has this great two-column list that spells out the difference between good creative theft and bad creative theft. It’s worth Googling. One of his ideas is that good theft is stealing from many whereas bad theft is stealing from one. The more we expose ourselves to and learn from work we love, the more we’ll be able to riff off it and do our own thing.

4. Editing and refining can be an arduous task. After finishing a draft, what steps do you suggest a writer should take to produce a more polished second draft?

Show your first draft to lots of people and ask for input. Pay them if you have to. That’s what I did with Do Your Art. Honestly some of the feedback wasn’t that helpful, but some of it was absolutely priceless. Some of that priceless input came from a friend who gave it to me freely. Other pieces of it came from a freelance editor I hired.

5. Writers can burn out easily. Either their support group dwindles or life gets in the way. What are some tips to help the pre-published writer to stay motivated and refill their creative well?

Come to the JOT conference! This is a subject about which I’m passionate because I hear from discouraged writers regularly. The creative road is a tough one, but we can navigate it with the right practices in place. We need to be in touch with the why behind what we’re doing. We need to fall in love with the process of our art (the one thing we can control). We must have the support of other people. And we need to get serious about our calendars. I’ll be talking more about these areas in my presentation. I really hope it’s helpful to people, and I’m grateful to you and Josh for inviting me.

If you’d like to know more about Chad visit his blog ( You can also connect with him on Facebook ChadRAllen or follow him on Twitter @ChadRAllen

Thank you Chad and see you all Friday!

Characters: How to Write Them & Why We Love Them

8 days until Jot. Excited yet? Thought so.

Today’s post highlights another presenter at Jot, Susie Finkbeiner. Susie has published two novels with WhiteFire Publishing the most recent being My Mothers Chamomile. Being something of a character aficionado, Susie will be share advice on how to create characters our readers may never forget.


susie head shotWe’ve all found characters who seemed so real to us that we loved them, mourned with them, maybe even prayed for them. How do writers create such authentic characters? Susie will offer practical ways for writers of both fiction and non-fiction to write true to live, flesh and blood characters.

It is obvious by your prose and the topic of your presentation that you love characters. Tell us, have you ever had a character speak so loudly that you had to create a story for them?

Really, that was how Paint Chips came into existence. I had a character who was deeply troubled, I just didn’t know why. She suffered extreme anxiety and a fierce fear that something terrible was going to happen to her daughter, the only person she had left. That character came with a name. It was Cora. To be honest, at first I didn’t like her at all. But the more I got to know her, the more I felt compassion for her. The more I realized that she’s a lot like me in some ways. I came to really love Cora. That’s why I gave her a whole novel.

Characters always seem to be hollering at me. If we weren’t all writers, I’m afraid you’d make assumptions about my mental health. However, as writers, we understand that hearing our characters is a good thing. A sign that things are working correctly.

Writing characters can be tough. Each one has their own motivation, history, and may even be from different parts of the world. What process do you use to keep them all straight?

I’m not sure if you know this, but I have twins. They’re five and look an awful lot alike. They aren’t identical, but they sure are close. I get the question all the time, “How do you tell them apart?”. My answer, “Because I’m their mom. I know.”

I think it’s the same for my characters. I’m their author. I know that one likes chocolate and the other doesn’t. I know their favorite songs and colors and animals. I know their deepest longings and worst fears.

I know because, well, I just do. When you spend a lot of time with someone, you learn these things. Authors spend an enormous amount of time with their characters.

A lot of the characters authors put into their stories have entirely different experiences than we do. What are practical ways that you have gotten to know your characters in order to write them?

Ah, yes. This is a great question. Writers live so many different lives, don’t we? We have to be observers of human behavior. People watching in the grocery store, eavesdropping at the coffee shop, getting to know a variety of folks who aren’t like us. I’ve also spent a good amount of time reading and researching different cultures and circumstances in which people find themselves. Sometimes it’s a lot like being a spy.

You’ve been reading a lot of books lately. Name one of the authors, that you’ve recently read, who writes unforgettable characters. Why are they so hard to forget?

One author? Goodness. This is a toughie, you know that, right?

I’m going to have to say that Kent Haruf has written some unforgettable characters. They are raw and rough around the edges. They suffer deeply and enjoy small joys. I think the reason they’re so memorable is the way Haruf causes the reader to really feel for the characters. You might hate them, you might love them. You might want to shake them or slap them. Maybe even hug them. But you feel for them. It’s hard to forget someone, even fictional, when you develop feelings for them.

You’ve been writing for several years. What are a few practical steps writers can take to create better characters?

-Read. Read. Read. Discover how other authors develop characters. Read the dialogue out loud so you can hear how they make them speak. Take notes on what you like/dislike about the characters. Read. And remember to read.

-Have a notebook with you at all times. When you see someone who might be a good character, write about them. Trust me, you’ll want that notebook. If you think you’ll remember, you deceive yourself. You’ll forget the way the person blinks four times fast in a row or snaps at their children in the olive aisle.

-The rest of the golden nuggets will be part of my talk on March 14. I hope to see a lot of writer friends there!

Thanks Susie!

If you’d like to connect with Susie you can –

If you have questions for Susie, please post them below or save them for when you see her at Jot next Friday March 14th at 7pm!