Conference Decompression

That was fast.

The 2013 ACFW Conference in Indianapolis has come and gone like a blur. It seems only a few days ago I was talking about the 2012 conference in Dallas. Sheesh.

The Northwest writers. 

You might wonder what happens when 580+ writer types gather in one place like that. Being a guy who likes speculative fiction, I could say that it tears into the space/time continuum, but that might be a little exaggeration.

If you are serious about writing, going to a conference is a great thing to do. You are around other creative types that understand the process, the joys and battles of it all. There are great opportunities to learn the craft and meet people to encourage and help you along the way.

For those who have gone to ACFW and couldn’t make it this year, you were missed. The conference filled up due to a lower capacity at this hotel. It was nicer than Dallas in that we were downtown, so it was possible to get out and about.

I’m proud to belong to a group like ACFW because of the fellowship in Christ we also share. It isn’t every conference where you find a couple of writers huddled in a corner discussing plots or future plans and then bowing heads to pray about the things shared. That is a special part of ACFW that is a real benefit to Christian writers.

I have some friends that want more details. Here’s a running list, and feel free to contact me if you have questions about anything here.

*I didn’t know much about Robin Jones Gunn, the keynote speaker, but she was a joy and such an encouragement. She spoke like a true storyteller and helped put things in perspective for all of us. I think she was exactly the person needed there.

*If you can go to a James Scott Bell lecture or workshop, do it. There’s a reason he is spoken of so highly in writer circles for the craft. He presents so well and lays out the tricks and tips he’s learned in such an entertaining and helpful way. I’ve read his book Plot & Structure, but this brought it home even more. The only downside is that it was a full-day workshop, so I had to miss out on some other interesting possibilities.

*I need therapy now thanks to Tosca Lee. She presented a class on making unsympathetic characters sympathetic. She had us write about betrayals, loss, fears. I thought I had dealt with those issues, but she dredged them all up. Actually, this was quite helpful in making my bad guy better.

*Storytelling games with speculative fiction writers beats all. Just sayin’.

*Leave it to Peter Leavell to get one hooked up with the cool crowd.

*The costume night was a big hit and a very smart, diplomatic move by the conference organizers. No one got kicked out this year! Good job Robin and company.

*Pitching to agents and editors was much easier the second time around. Though I still wish I would have brought chocolate as a bribe. Just in case.

*I would like to see some way to gather and encourage the men at ACFW. We are outnumbered by far and I think it would be a boost to have some fellowship in some way.

*There is still a lot of talk about traditional publishing vs. small press vs. self-publishing electronically. The issue is big and is still in a lot of flux. Check out Rachelle Gardner’s ebook for the same content she shared in a class there.

*There are a lot of creative people out there who love the Lord. I pray we all look to see how best we can serve Him and others with our gifts. Perhaps some of us should be broader in scope – finding ways to reach out to the general market or provide quality stories with heart that prepares the way for their readers to be more open to the spiritual.

*The elevators were a great place to meet and greet. Sometimes we got really close on the elevators. Seeing as there were only four and the stairs weren’t handy.

“Are you my mummy?”

It was a great time, and despite some last minute doubts, this conference turned out better than last year for me at least.

And yes, I’m wearing a fez. Fezzes are cool. (Bonus points for the reference there).

Gleanings From A Potato Head

Bronco Nation

Idahoans are used to being fodder when someone needs to reference a place in the U.S. that’s way out there. “They even know about this in Boise, Idaho!”

The Boise State Broncos and their blue football turf has helped change some of that (Go Broncos!) and given us more recognition. For writers, I have another reason why we’re not the remote, end-of-the-world place we may seem.

I just returned from the Idahope Writers Conference in Boise – the Idaho chapter of the ACFW. It was a great one day conference, and we didn’t lack for being potato heads.

So I’d like to share some gleanings I got from our author panel, which included:

These fine wordsmiths were asked several questions. One that interests all writers is, “How do you overcome writer’s block?”
Ellis: Finish your writing day with a scene hanging. When you come back, you have something to return to.
Hatcher: You need to know your characters better, or you’re trying to force them to do things that goes against their nature.
Collins: Kicking cabinets always helps!
Leavell: Read authors you hate. Then you’ll say, “I’m better than them!” Voila, instant motivation.
Williamson: Sometimes you have to make yourself. If you’re really stuck, skip to a fun scene or something you know is needed to keep you going.
Hatcher: Sometimes the blech, the garbage just has to come out, in order to let the good stuff start flowing. 
There’s a sampling of what our day was like. Thanks to all who made the Idahope Conference such a success. And here’s to writers and blue Smurf turf!

The Ol’ Conference Round-Up

Back to real life.

That’s the reality as I sit at my computer and type out another blog post. But during four days in September, reality seemed different – like an alternate dimension. It was a place where one could discuss romance, murder, angels, dragons, superheroes, slaves, plucky Amish girls, and the occasional odd character.

That was the 2012 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas.

It was my first conference. With 700 attendees it seemed daunting at times to this new author with a baby-fresh manuscript clutched in his trembling hands (it was more a leg that trembled, but that’s for another time). Facebook makes it seem we’re all friends, but even though I recognized many people thanks to social media, I didn’t really know anyone there.

Thankfully that changed.

The great thing about this conference is that it is rooted in the Christian part of its name. There are worship times, devotions, a prayer room, and most importantly there are Christians. It seems obvious, but the people there demonstrated Christ-like behavior in welcoming everyone. From the first-timers orientation to sitting at a meal with total strangers and leaving as friends at the end, people usually gave a lot of grace to each other. There was always an easy way to do introductions if you were stuck: Where are you from and what do you write?

The emcee, Brandilyn Collins, did a great job making people feel engaged in the meals and main sessions. She let us all know that it was okay to argue with your characters because we had the whole hotel floor to ourselves, without any Normals around to wonder what is wrong with you. We were advised to not plot murders in the elevator or main lobby, but otherwise you were with people who got you. People who understood your imagination, your fascination with stories, and the need to go hide as an introvert every so often.

I’ve seen other conference attendees post their take-away points from Dallas, and writers are nothing if not imitators. What are things that struck me?

1. There are a lot of people with similar dreams. Seven hundred might not seem like a lot, but to gather that many like-minded folks to focus on writing was way cool. As a writer I’m not alone in my aspirations. Many others are walking a similar path, treading behind people who are ahead in the journey but are willing to give back. One great point is all the effort made by volunteers to staff workshops, mentoring visits, and just giving to the newbie writers walking around awestruck.

2. There are lot of different people in the ACFW… but there could be a lot more diversity too. There is a wide variety of writers there, but the majority wrote women’s fiction, Amish or historical fiction, or romance. Nothing wrong with that – I’ll read any of those if they’re well written (disclaimer: I haven’t read an Amish novel, not because I haven’t found a well-written one, I just haven’t looked). There’s obviously a huge market for those books. The ACFW started as the American Christian Romance Writers after all.

The guys were outnumbered 80% to 20% probably, but men who had been in the past said this was a huge difference to prior conferences when the males could fill 1-2 tables. We held our own though ;). There were even fewer minorities. The speculative fiction writers would glom on to each other for support. Horror? Yeah, I didn’t meet anyone who wrote that (maybe Mike Duran counts).

I’m not saying this to criticize the ACFW. It is an organization representative of its market – the people who frequent Christian bookstores. In other words, white middle-class evangelicals. The larger problem is that those churches don’t always reach out of their demographic, but that’s a much larger issue. I hope the ACFW can be a champion for diversity in the stories they tell to nudge the evangelical camp toward a larger acceptance.

3. I really need to write speculative fiction. Not for great sales numbers, but for the cool company. My book is suspense. I felt more kinship with the spec fic crowd. Everything I love to read or watch is led by spec fic, so I am surprised I don’t have inspiration to write it. Maybe someday.

4. There’s a lot to learn. I’ve been in intense programs before. A physician assistant program is like drinking from a fire hose. The writing program isn’t that overwhelming. Still, applying technical information in an artistic way is crossing the left brain with the right brain. That creates eddies in brain waves. I want to take what I gleaned and polish my novel up as much as I can. It all can’t go into it though. There was too much to use it all. I have to make choices.

I don’t like these kind of choices.

5. ACFW is working very hard. The conference was a huge success. I can’t imagine pulling together all of the logistics for this. There were leaders and there were a ton of volunteers helping things come off. There were a couple of little snafus. Probably more behind the scenes got missed than most people would see but on the outside it came off great. I know the timing was right for me to go this year. I wish I had gone earlier though.

I met online friends such as John Otte and Mike Duran and enjoyed getting to know them personally. I made new friends like Morgan Busse and Joe Courtemanche that made the weekend enjoyable and thought-provoking. And I got double-crossed in a mean game of Fiasco.

I’m ready for next year in Indianapolis.

Taking The Next Step

Here we go.

I’ve been on this writing adventure for a long time now. I started back into it as an adult writing fan fiction (shout out to KFF, yo!). I had forgotten how much I liked telling the stories that popped into my head.

I came up with an idea for a novel. My writing friend Athena Grayson helpfully shot the sick goose dead before it got very far off the ground.

Then I had another idea. This one had some promise.

I started writing.

That was…a while ago.

We won’t go into detail how long ago *cough*2005*cough*.

I followed writers, read blogs, hung out at writing forums, and started writing about writing myself. I read a lot of books. Read books on craft. Read suspense, mystery, crime, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, YA, and even a romance or two.

Very slowly, I wrote.

I kept waiting for the muse to hit to really write. I learned the muse sucks.

Then something changed. I learned to write no matter what. I set my mind to it and plugged away at it. In the last year I wrote twice as much as I had the previous six years.

Suddenly I had a first draft of a novel done.

Well shoot, now what do I do with it?

So here I sit in the airport terminal. Ready to fly off to Dallas to meet with a few other writers (about 700 or so, not many). I’ve made the commitment. I’m not doing this lightly. It is time to go for it.

Here I go. And if I have any advice to give, it would be this: go for it.

See you on the other side.

Taking The Next Step

Here we go.

I’ve been on this writing adventure for a long time now. I started back into it as an adult writing fan fiction (shout out to KFF, yo!). I had forgotten how much I liked telling the stories that popped into my head.

I came up with an idea for a novel. My writing friend Athena Grayson helpfully shot the sick goose dead before it got very far off the ground.

Then I had another idea. This one had some promise.

I started writing.

That was…a while ago.

We won’t go into detail how long ago *cough*2005*cough*.

I followed writers, read blogs, hung out at writing forums, and started writing about writing myself. I read a lot of books. Read books on craft. Read suspense, mystery, crime, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, YA, and even a romance or two.

Very slowly, I wrote.

I kept waiting for the muse to hit to really write. I learned the muse sucks.

Then something changed. I learned to write no matter what. I set my mind to it and plugged away at it. In the last year I wrote twice as much as I had the previous six years.

Suddenly I had a first draft of a novel done.

Well shoot, now what do I do with it?

So here I sit in the airport terminal. Ready to fly off to Dallas to meet with a few other writers (about 700 or so, not many). I’ve made the commitment. I’m not doing this lightly. It is time to go for it.

Here I go. And if I have any advice to give, it would be this: go for it.

See you on the other side.

Pre-Conference Jitters

In one week I’ll be at the airport.

It’s time for the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas. This is my first writing conference, and I’ve already shared some resources I’ve found while preparing.

One would think that with all the advice on the web that there wouldn’t be nerves. Ah, who am I fooling? We’re human, and anytime we do something wildly different it will create anxiety. I’ve been working on a novel for a long time. It’s finally to a point where I feel comfortable going and seeing what happens.

So, if you’re like me and worried about what to expect for your first conference, here’s a few more posts I’ve found circulating the net while procrastinating preparing for take-off.

Mike Duran says chuck the check list but pack the deodorant.

Agent Karen Ball gives her two B’s for the conference. Scroll to the bottom of her post, and you’ll find several other helpful links. One of them I’ll link specifically, from Tamela Hancock Murray for the ACFW 2011 Conference with the helpful title of Conquering Conference Jitters. So you can read that post, or jitter away. The choice is yours.

Maybe I’ll see you at the conference. If we’re lucky, we won’t end up like the unfortunate gentleman below.

True picture of a n00b at the ACFW conference last year

Revising Characters

It is time to revisit some old friends of mine.

You’d think after working on a novel for 7 years that I’d know these people pretty well by now. However, sometimes you don’t really ask the questions that get you deep into a relationship.

When I’ve had critiques done of my work so far, my main character Jenna usually comes across as well-rounded. She was a little too head-strong initially, but I think I’ve worked some of her rough edges down.
´╗┐

I think Tebow is more than just a cutout

´╗┐

Now the male lead and her romantic interest, Derek? He’s another story. I think I start off showing the differences he has compared to Jenna, but he later on blends into being whatever she needs him to be. I think I lost track of who he was. In doing so, I don’t think he is very three-dimensional.
I know I love it when a book has numerous 3-D characters, people who reflect reality and could be someone you know in real life. The cardboard cutouts in a book get boring fast.
This is the right time to recognize this. I’ve got the whole book in front of me to show who Derek is in more depth. Why does he accompany Jenna to Thailand? What does he want?
I’m not settling for two 3-D characters either. I want to evaluate my secondary characters and see what I can do for them. One or two of them are fairly well-rounded. I’ll have to evaluate that when I get to them.
I am finding that the first draft is hard to get down. The framework of the story needs a foundation, and that can be tricky for me at times. The revision seems to be going smoothly for me. Now that I see the outline, I can work on filling the meat out onto the bones. And mix my metaphors.
What do you do when it comes to creating depth in your characters? How do you beef them up in the revision process?

Continuing The Writing Adventure

On last week’s Writing Wednesday I talked about finally putting “The End” down on my longstanding first draft of a novel.

Revision is the next step in the process with the novel, but there’s another major step I’m taking this year.

I’m attending the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference in Dallas next month.

The ACFW is the largest organization that supports Christian fiction writers in the country. They hold this conference each year, and for several years I’ve had to deal with the sins of jealousy and covetousness when seeing other writers announce they are going. (Just kidding) (Sorta)

I’m excited to go. I’ve heard different opinions on when to go to your first conference. Some have said early on to go to the workshops and get training, others have suggested waiting until you’ve done something significant related to writing.

For a general writer, my advice would be to evaluate potential conferences and see if they offer courses or workshops for your level. If it seems geared to someone who is farther along the writing path, maybe that isn’t the best fit. If, like the ACFW conference, they have several levels of training offered, it would be a great start even if you’re pretty new.

For the Christian writer, there’s the added consideration of what the Lord is leading you to do. I wanted to have my first novel finished before I thought about it. I wasn’t finished when I signed up, but I have since then. However, I feel the doors have been opened for me this year that weren’t before, so I have a confidence that I’m making the right decision.

The cool thing about the ACFW folks is the length they go to in order to make us “first-timers” feel welcome and the support offered. There’s a email loop with advice for us covering various topics. The first day has a noob orientation. There is a lot of prayer that goes into everything that happens there. That is very encouraging.

The conference is September 20-23 and I head out the Wednesday night before. I’ll post more about this before I go.

Here goes nothing!