The Write2Ignite Team is thrilled to welcome Jean Matthew Hall back to the Team as the Write2Ignite Director.
Jean was one of the original founders of Write2Ignite back in 2008. We thank the Lord that she is able to rejoin us.
Jean will spearhead our next big event in September 2020. YA-HOOO!
We asked her a few questions to give you the 4-1-1 on her. Keep reading!
What was the impetus for beginning W2I? What was your vision and work in those beginning years? How did you see it unfold?
In 2007 several of us got together for lunch at an SCBWI Conference in Charlotte, NC. We each expressed how we would love to have a similar gathering focused on our Christian faith and worldview. That conversation led to a brainstorming and prayer meeting. Thus, Write2Ignite was born.
Why did you step away from the leadership?
I led the Write2Ignite Conferences until 2014. At that time my personal life became very complicated. My husband was critically ill, my mother with dementia lived with us, and my daughter needed a full-time caregiver for her four children while she worked. The Lord told me it was time to step down from Write2Ignite and minister to my family.
What is bringing you back now? Please share your new vision for W2I and how the Lord led you to this new vision.
In 2016 my husband passed away. In 2017 my mother did, too. God told me it was time to relocate and give my daughter and her children some space. So, I relocated to Louisville, KY, to be near my son and his family. A few months ago, the Write2Ignite Team contacted me about returning to “duty!” After prayer and consideration, I agreed. And I’m glad I did. It’s great to be working with my old writing and conference buddies again.
I can hardly wait to show all of you what’s coming for Write2Ignite in September 2020.
We’re planning a BIG announcement on Friday, March 13. Be sure to check in with our website. You are going to LOVE it, I know.
Thanks, everyone, for making me feel right at home at Write2Ignite.
Please leave me a little message in the comments. I’d love to say “Hi” to you individually.
Jean is the author of the picture book Bountiful Blessings series published by Little Lamb Books. The first book, God’s Blessings of Fall, debuted in September 2019.
Learn more about Jean on her website , on FB at Jean Matthew Hall Author, and at SCBWI .
This past year was a difficult one for me. Due to our financial situation, we have not been able to travel, which has always been my go-to for inspiration. A new destination has the ability to shake up my brain cells and send them in a new direction, but this year, they stopped. Cold.
It’s as if I had a brick in my hand, and couldn’t lift my pen. My creativity was on lock-down. My mind was a blank. Oh, I could compose an email, and even write blog posts. But a story? Nope.
Have you ever had that feeling? Not comforting, is it?
What’s more, I felt jealousy rising within me whenever an author friend signed a new contract or received a raving review from Kirkus or Horn Book. It hurt when fellow authors posted about their school visits or bookstore signings.
It’s not that I hadn’t put forth the effort. Not at all. I had been contacting local bookstores and schools daily during the Fall, dutifully sending my one page of info immediately after I hung up the phone. I even kept a spreadsheet of the contact info and details of the email or phone call.
I felt like quitting Facebook and Instagram. Twitter, especially, was the worst. A knife went through me each time I witnessed someone’s successes as I scrolled. It’s not that I wanted to steal their joy or take away their accomplishments. Of course not. But I wanted it to happen to me as well.
It was then God brought the word CONTENTMENT to my heart and mind. If God has gifted me as a writer, then He knows what I need, right? And He has perfect timing. If He can move mountains and calm the sea, He certainly can remind my contacts to call and arrange a school visit. Or not. And, He can spark my creative muse in an instant. Or not. My part? To be CONTENT with what the Lord brings into my writing life.
My Word last year was PERSEVERANCE, and boy, did I persevere. I contacted over 30 schools, bookshops and conferences asking if I could share my author’s journey or teach a writing course. But in 2019, I had five events to attend where I could introduce my debut MG historical fiction, The Heart Changer.
This year, I want to rest in God’s plan for me. I have classes to take, and blog posts to write, and short trips to take as I search for ways to be inspired. And as I rest, do you know what is happening? Little by little, I see the Lord, my Master Designer, taking control and connecting me in almost imperceptible ways with my readers. What a freeing experience! I am released from my duty of cold-calling and reminders. CONTENTMENT is coming into focus as worry and doubt are banished.
I’m coasting down a gently flowing river on a raft, letting the current take me wherever it will. I lift my face to the sun, feeling its warm glow. I don’t need to worry about the destination, God has it all under control. I only need to rest.
Although I want to be content with my writing life and schedule, I am still open to connecting with the public in any region of the US. If you know of a church, school, bookstore or conference looking for a middle-grade author to participate in a bookish event, check out my Visit page. I love to share my passion for the Bible, history and the writing life with my readers!
Jarm (‘J’ pronounced as a ‘Y’) Del Boccio finds her inspiration in everyday life, but in particular, when she travels the globe, observing the quirky things that happen along the way. Focusing on the lives of characters from the past, Jarm is devoted to breathing new life into the pages of history.
Now that we’re ready to dig into our various writing projects and (gulp!) even think about submitting a few…we face a common enemy: Fear of Rejection. To encourage your hearts, our faculty shared some of their rejection stories. Now you can say to yourself, “If they were rejected and look how far they’ve come… I can submit my work too.”
“My first rejection letter said my picture book didn’t meet the editorial needs of Peachtree Publishing.Poof…my great idea didn’t turn into a children’s book that kids adored, parents raved over, and teachers chose for story time. Instead of giving in, I geared up. Within a year, I attended my first writing conference where I learned all writers experience rejection. Eleven years later I don’t send out a manuscript until I’m confident the writing is my personal best. Yes, I’m cautious, but I’d rather take my time than send a weak manuscript. Before submitting, I share my manuscript with a writer’s group for critique, hire writing coaches to work with me one-on-one, and read, read, read. Don’t concede when rejections come. Gear up to learn how to write for the market, the publisher, and the reader.”
“As I look back on the book proposals I’ve had rejected, they were rejected because something wasn’t quite right. Maybe the focus wasn’t strong enough, the concept wasn’t fresh, or the writing was mediocre. But every rejection has made me refine my concept, polish my writing, or scrap the whole thing altogether and start over. Then, when the acceptances come, it’s a glorious thing—a book I can be proud of and one that would represent the Lord in the best way possible. I’ve learned to receive acceptances and rejections as divine redirection that pushes me further into God’s will.”
Rejection can be brutal. At my very first writing conference I took a Bible study I’d written to pitch. It was the late 90s and no one but Kaye Arthur and Beth Moore were publishing Bible studies. Even though this was a huge Christian Conference, no publishers were taking pitches for them. But the conference staff suggested I talk to a nonfiction editor and take his continuing class. I met with him in a 15-minute appointment and it was tough. He suggested I take my in-depth Bible study and rework it into a cross-stitch or quilting gift book.[spacer height=”20px”]
I wasn’t rude and thanked him for his time, but I was so upset I left my proposal on the table. When I got to his class the next day, he proceeded to use my proposal (with my name blacked out) as an example of how not to write and not to follow God in publishing.[spacer height=”20px”]
I was devastated and when I got back home, I locked away my writing. I was certain I’d heard from God and that dream was dead. Then the next year a got an anonymous scholarship to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Since it was anonymous, I had to go or risk wasting someone else’s money. Once there, God showed up in a big way and I sold my very first article to Focus on the Family.[spacer height=”20px”]
God resurrected the dream I thought was dead. But God did more than that. He also birthed a passion to shepherd other writers as they try on the dream God has given them. As much as the enemy meant this for evil, God has used this for good in my life and in the lives of others. I praise Him for all He’s done and continues to do.[spacer height=”20px”]
I wrote my first book back in the 1980s, and pitched it far and wide to dozens of publishers. Much to my dismay, fewer than half of them responded (and all rejections). No one gave a reason why.
When I started working as an agent almost nine years ago, I decided that I would be the nice guy. I would always give a reason for my rejections. Within a week, I discovered that most writers don’t REALLY want to know. They just want to argue with me.
Writers, if you should ever receive actionable feedback from an editor or agent, thank them for it and consider it gold. Even if you disagree. These are the people who could make all the difference in your career.
In the Bible, even for the prophets, God sent them human teachers. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
On Thursday we’ll share more rejection stories from our faculty to encourage you to keep on, keeping on! Do you have a rejection story (or two) that you would like to share to encourage other writers? We want to hear them! Please leave your contact information in the comments, or send Carol Federlin Baldwin a private message on Facebook.
Today’s guest blogger, Celeste Hawkins, shares her first experience attending a Write2Ignite Conference.
As I opened the doors to check into my first writers’ conference, I held a print-out of my book draft in one arm and the parking-line-yellow purse that makes me feel more optimistic in the other. I pulled it closer to my side as I searched the crowd of faces.
I spotted her and let out the breath I’d been holding in, then sifted my way off to the quiet side of the chattering writers, editors, and publishers. Everyone seemed to be pulling out their schedules and looking over the first session options:
Tessa Emily Hall – “Common Mistakes Newbie Writers Make in Their Manuscripts”
Kim Peterson – “Is My Manuscript Ready for an Agent?”
Jean Matthew Hall – “Children’s Book Categories”
Lori Hatcher – “The Day I Wanted to Quit: Tackling the Mind Games That Discourage and Defeat Writers”
When I reached my friend, Leah and I hugged and caught up on life since we’d last seen each other at a birthday party over the summer. That’s when we’d discovered we were both working on our first books.
We looked at our schedules. It felt like trying to order ice cream: you know you can pick any one and be happy, but you kind of wish you could have all of them.
Later, Leah and I sat together again at our first keynote with Jenny Cote, award-winning author of the popular children’s fantasy series The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz and Epic Order of the Seven.
As she took the stage, I noticed her springy blonde hair that matched her personality inch for inch. She presented like the Energizer Bunny, clicking through slide after slide of quirky quotes and reviewing the pros and cons of each option in the publishing world in detail — in a talk she’d titled “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Deadlines.”
It’s the question every writer must grapple with: do you want to call the shots, or let someone else? I’d been grappling with that myself.
Instinctively, I began to reflect on the answer I’d reached. Originally, I’d considered co-publishing my book. Next, I’d staunchly decided on self-publishing. As Jenny went on, the realization sank in like a rock to the bottom of a lake: I’d defaulted to those options because, deep down, I didn’t believe a “real publisher” would ever publish my book.
The familiar fear remained as I drove off at the end of that first day, curving around the dark rural back roads to home.
But the next day, I couldn’t help feeling renewed hope as I walked into a session with my former classmate Daniel Blackaby, who had published eight books since I saw him last in Shakespearean Tragedies.
If he did it, why can’t I?
The chairs were filled, and we had to bring in more from next door to seat the group consisting of teenagers up to 60-somethings. Daniel encouraged us to write even when we didn’t feel inspired. He gave us silly prompts and the results were side-hurting laughs at soon-to-be stories by creative writers.
You’re the coach of a basketball team that’s about to lose. Write the worst pep talk ever.
You just woke up, looked in the mirror, and screamed. Write what you saw.
Write a back-of-the-book description for this picture. (It was an old-timey ship, a long tentacle rising up out of the surrounding tempestuous waves.)
After the session, Daniel and I talked for a minute about our current projects. To my surprise, he even offered to read my book and provide feedback.
I’ll never forget the next session with Jenny.
She took us step by step through her writing process — from jotting down initial concepts on an idea page, outlining, and planning out chapters to finding a critique team, knowing when to stop editing, and even soliciting endorsements for your book cover.
She reminded us that we do everything first for God and the results are ultimately up to Him.
“My book will get rejected by publishers. But if I give God 100 percent of the steps, then when my book gets rejected, they’ve rejected God’s plan,” I scribbled down in big letters.
The words entered my soul as if they’d been meant only for me.
I rehearsed those words as I waited at the large conference table, pulling out my binder and re-reading the title on the front.
Then he came in, the quiet man with the blue eyes and a tie. I stood, and we introduced ourselves.
“Hey, I’m Celeste,” I said, sure to give what one of our family friends used to call “the famous Hawkins handshake” — the one I’d practiced as a girl when people greeted us at church doors. “Good to meet you, Dr. Lowry.”
“You can call me Sam,” he said in his brilliant Irish accent.
I asked him why he first became interested in books, figuring that’s the only reason anyone becomes a publisher. He recounted how his father had built him a wooden shelf by hand. After that, he felt a sense of responsibility to fill it up with books. He couldn’t stop reading.
The conversation turned to me. I told him about my background as a writer, gave him the elevator pitch for my book, and slid over the three-ring binder containing my manuscript. My heart quickened as I felt powerless to keep it safe and un-rejected any longer.
“It’s short,” he said about the word count, listed on the cover page.
“Yeah,” I said, then gulped.
I studied his every reaction, as he began to thumb through the pages, flipping forward then backward.
“Oh, I’m glad you have questions. You need that,” he added, pointing to the end of a chapter.
“Hmm,” he continued.
Was that the good kind of “hmm” or the bad kind of “hmm”? I stretched my shoulders back, willing every muscle to stay calm.
We sat in a silence that felt like eternity.
Finally, he spoke.
“Well, it’s definitely a good book.” He looked up with a smile.
My heart exploded like fireworks and surprise birthday parties. It was one of the best strings of words I’ve ever heard, lined up together like that.
“Send me the manuscript,” he continued.
Did he really just say that? What is happening? My mind raced. Should I say something now?
“Okay. Of course,” I managed to answer, gathering my things and probably saying “thank you” a dozen times as his next appointment walked in and I left, bounding up the stairs to find someone to tell.
Even now, I hardly believe it. I shared my book with a publisher. Then, he actually read it. Then, he wrote back saying that they’d be pleased to publish it. Now I’ve signed a book contract with Ambassador International. And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be on the other side of the Write2Ignite Conference table at North Greenville University autographing my first book.
[This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of 1892, the alumni magazine of North Greenville University.]
Celeste Hawkins lived in the same red-shuttered house in North Carolina until she was 22. After studying English education, Celeste started her career in writing and editing. Her work has appeared online at USA Today 10Best.com, as well as in print in edible UPCOUNTRY and 1892 Magazine, among others. She also created the popular travel website Travelers Rest Here. Set to release within this decade (hopefully), Always Been Loved is her first book, a deeply personal discovery of God’s out-of-this-world love for us. Celeste also enjoys sharing amazing stories of what happens when we pray, listen for God’s voice, and then obey at StillGodSpeaks.com.
Last September, I made the drive to South Carolina full of anticipation. My first writers conference! Dreams swirled in my head. I would meet other writers…talk about books and characters…maybe catch the attention of a publisher…talk about writing and books some more…
I’ll admit, I was nervous. I’d probably say something stupid or spill a drink or get lost. Maybe someone would tell me point-blank that my story ideas were plain trash.
Well, let me be up front and say that I do not regret going. Write2Ignite challenged me to ask myself: Why do I write? What do I want to leave my readers with? Am I prepared to do the work that it takes to get my own writing published?
I learned a lot. I listened a lot. I talked a lot. Everyone I met with had a story. They told me about their own writing journey, their published works, their story ideas. And all our conversations were full of God–what He has done in our lives and in our writing.
I especially loved being told (in a writer’s conference!) to do my absolute best and leave the results to God; to seek Him first and bring all my writing concerns to Him in prayer. As the popular verse in 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” God has given us these gifts, these stories, and we must do our best to learn the craft and write them well and not for ourselves, but for His glory.
While I haven’t been to other writing conferences, I can still honestly say I would recommend going to Write2Ignite. It’s run well, and the staff and speakers are friendly and encouraging. I rarely was confused about where to go and what was going on, and my whole trip went smoothly. One of the highlights was the mealtimes–getting to sit and talk to other writers and readers while getting unlimited cookies from the cafeteria!
I look forward to returning to Write2Ignite!
Helena George grew up in a house with books in every room, and acquired a taste for reading at an early age. She is currently finishing up her YA fantasy trilogy and blogs under the pen name Julian Daventry at http://juliandaventrymemories.blogspot.com/ When she’s not busy working or crafting stories, Helena fixes pasture fencing, pretends to be a runner, and rides her three horses.