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.