For others who have posted about the conference: start at the excellent blog of J. Mark Bertrand (I really need to add this guy to my links). He includes a list of others who have blogged, most of which I’ve read, but I’m still slowly working my way not only through my own reflections, but others’ accounts, and that’s a good place to start.
Becky Miller and Stuart Stockton have also included their musings on our team blog, Speculative Faith (link in the sidebar), and Becky has a couple of entries on her personal blog as well.
So–lest anyone think that the list I offered yesterday of those I met at the conference is anything like comprehensive … it isn’t. I was just hitting the highlights of those who comprise the spec fiction crowd.
Two that I deliberately did not mention were my roommates and crit partners, Michelle Griep and Terri Thompson. I should probably mention Terri first because I’ve known her longer–she and I first critiqued for each other about three years ago, and I credit her with pushing me to really know the hero of my first novel, to discover his hidden passion. Terri is a pastor’s wife and also had the distinction of being Kathy Tyers’ roommate at ACFW in Denver two years ago, and came back into my life soon after as part of the critique group under Donita Paul.
I’ve spoken before of this group–Michelle and I were original members, with Donita. Michelle’s heart is with a trio of time-travel tales that have garnered her an agent and getting all the way to the publishing board at not one but two houses–but she isn’t yet published because her first novel is set mainly in a medieval period, which is currently rather out of favor in the CBA. (Too much complexity and confusion in the church at the time.) She’s been writing a second, set during the time of the Vikings, and which absolutely leaves me hanging at the end of every chapter. I have threatened on a regular basis to boycott reading the thing until she’s done and I can devour it as a whole, but somehow I can’t resist opening each chapter as she sends it through the group for critique. Michelle is also rather fond of a character that appeared in my first novel–which will probably not be published for at least another twenty years, if then–and we bicker regularly over who gets to be queen of this character’s fan club. (Of course, I’m beyond flattered … this particular character is compelling to me as well … he’s the one who never quite shuts up, even when I’m deep into another story.) Michelle is trying her hand at a different genre, however, in an attempt to break into print, and so with a critique partner from another group, Kelly Klepfer, she’s writing a light cozy mystery.
If you go to Beth Goddard’s blog and look at the pic from the SF/F party, Michelle is the one with the sassy grin, right in the middle. Terri is the one with the sweet smile right behind her. (HINT: if you click on the picture, you get a version large enough to actually see people’s faces.) Michelle, Terri, and Kelly were my roommates. Kelly I had met last year, but not talked to at length … but after this weekend, I feel a bond with her as sure, if not yet as deep, as that with Terri and Michelle.
To fully explain, I now need to attempt to give a chronological account …
After the elation of the first evening (which I’ll actually go back to cover when I talk more in detail about the market and what actually happened during my editor appointments), I was yanked back to real life by an email late that night. The husband of a woman on one of my e-lists had just been killed in action in Iraq. I bowed in my seat, unable to breathe, stunned by the news. This was the husband’s third tour overseas–by his choice; he had a strong sense of duty and had been involved in training the Iraqi soldiers–and though the wife understood and appreciated his commitment to this cause, she struggled with the reality of life as the spouse of a deployed soldier. Two grown children, one a single mother who lives at home, a difficult job and all the uncertainty of a husband in a war zone … and now he was gone. I have lived the feeling of a loved one in danger–of hearing the news of casualties and not knowing just who. My husband spent a mere three months in Baghdad, early on … and then my brother led a group of 300 Marines in Afghanistan for seven months, and had his first and only casualties on Mother’s Day, 2005 … for ten awful minutes we didn’t know whether he himself was alive or dead.
The next morning began the first full day of the conference. I went about it with a heavy heart, tearing up every time I thought of Cait and her beloved Robb. Still, somehow in the prayers and grief for her, God still spoke to me about my writing. The conference Scripture was Isaiah 43:19–“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” My heart leaped at those words–I hadn’t realized that was the theme of the conference! After a beautiful time of worship and the devotional, I slipped away from the crowd and sought a quiet corner to call my husband. But rather than dial the number right away, I found myself tugged to the prayer room, and blessedly alone for a few minutes.
I wept again for Cait, and in the same tears, with gratitude for the personal reassurance in the Scripture and the worship. Why have You brought me here, Lord? I stood and went to get a Kleenex from a small table in the middle of the room. Next to the boxes of Kleenex lay a Bible, open to Philippians. One sentence was underlined: “He who has begun a good work in you shall complete it.”
I sat down and sobbed, overwhelmed at the utter affirmation and love I felt from Him in that moment. He! He who has begun! He who has begun a GOOD work in you–WILL complete it!
I flitted through the day, trying to sit in on one workshop, only to have the overwhelming feeling that I was in the wrong place. I think this is when I wound up on the Mezzanine floor, outside the rooms where people had their agent and editor appointments, hoping to meet with Beth Goddard so I could pray with her before her appointment, but missing her and deciding to sit down and pray anyway till she appeared. There I had the curious experience of having someone with WAY more visibility in writing circles walk past me and exclaim with delight that she’d wanted to find me. We spoke for a bit, then one of the agents came out for her and I wandered away, where I ran into Becky Miller and started talking to her. Beth came out of her appointment very soon after, and the three of us went back downstairs for complimentary Starbucks coffee and the start of another workshop. This time I went with Becky into part 2 of the Mary DeMuth talk on the spiritual aspect of writing–and it was just what I needed. But one of the neatest moments was when, after I’d handed Becky a piece of the chocolate I’d shared around at the party the night before, and was nibbling on my own, she leaned over and whispered, “This coffee tastes ever so much better with the chocolate!” I nearly giggled. Here we were doing the same thing: bite of dark chocolate, sip of coffee as a chaser. MmmmMMMmmmmm!!
Mary ended her workshop with a Steven Curtis Chapman song about living each day as if it was our last. Once again I dissolved into tears, thinking of Cait and Robb …
Tomorrow: Day 1, Part 2 …