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Dallas Debriefing

I’d been planning on flying to Dallas, to the American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference, for about a year. So when I woke up last Tuesday, two days before the event, with a fever and a hellacious sore throat, I was worried. By the time I flew out of California, it was official: I was sick.

I wheezed, croaked and mimed my way through greetings and pitches, hellos and how-are-ya’s, consumed large quantities of throat lozenges and water. But it didn’t lull the laryngitis or stifle the proceedings.

God showed up in spite of me.

It’s an odd thing meeting cyber friends. In person, we’re so much different — bigger, smaller, shorter, thicker, greyer, more nasally, squinty, wiry, sullen, placid or jovial –  than we are electronically. But I believe my theories about e-fellowship were dented. Most of the encounters I had with other writers seemed like part of an extended conversation . . . like we really were friends.

At the top of my list were the Penwrights — the online critique group that has flogged me into shape. Ane, Gina, Janet, Terri, Kelly, Michelle, Reni, Sandra, Vicki and Lisa. What a gorgeous, fun-loving, deep-thinking, prank-pulling, genuinely terrific bunch they were. You gals are the best! But there was more. I got to schmooze with Mark Bertrand, warm myself in Jeanne Damoff’s glow, ruminate with Deb Gyapong and Becky Miller, and compare flip-flops with Mike Snyder. Then there were memorbale exchanges with cool folks like Suzan Robertson, Meg Mosley, Michelle Pendergrass (black market supplier of FiF frog stickers) and Shannon Macnear. Needless to say, the group was large, ecclectic and way more than I could handle in a weekend. Frankly, all the cheer and good will made wonder whether the well-worn “writers are weird” adage, isn’t a bit off. Not saying we ain’t a little off kilter, but that my overall impression was of a group of deeply thoughtful, friendly people, rather than a bunch of cold, aloof nutcases.

Each attendee was given a name tag about the size of an interstate billboard that proclaimed their name and what genre they wrote, in bold block letters. So I was: MIKE DURAN, SUPERNATURAL SUSPENSE. The delegates were then forced to travel the corridors of this swank hotel, donning the obnoxious placards. It had this discomforting effect: Whenever you passed other conferees, they’d be staring at your name tag trying to figure out if you were “somebody.” Suggestion for the ACFW braintrust: Shrink the name tags next year.

Maybe my biggest “praise report” regards an agent.

I’ve been looking for a literary agent since the beginning of the year. It’s been quite a roller coaster of possibility and rejection. I’m unsure how the Lord orchestrated it but, I have come away from Texas with one of the best, most well-respected agents in the Christian publishing industry. I’ll spare you the details (though they’re laden with excitement and intrigue!) to say that Janet Grant of Books and Such is now representing me. Yikes! I am humbled, nervous, antsy and, well, rather bubbly. Maybe God is behind this after all, huh?

My one editor appointment did not go so well, probably because I started sweating like a pig at the slaughterhouse. I knew I was in trouble when he stopped me mid-pitch and offered to get me a towel and a change of clothes. Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, it just felt like it. At these conferences, most of the interaction with editors occurs apart from appointments. The protocol is, have a pitch ready, stalk the victim (good timing and location are optional), and share your book idea. While most of these professionals are very accessible, I must say, I scored a big fat zero in this category. I do fine in casual conversation with industry luminaries. It’s just when I start pitching that I feel like a buffoon. Memo to Mike: You’re a lousy salesman. . . perhaps coward is more fitting.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience, one I’ll look back on for a long time. My first writers’ conference has left me feeling inspired and anxious to attempt another rung on this crazy career ladder. I often wonder where this writing thing will take me. Well, last week, it took me to Texas. There, I met some talented, thoughtful, gracious, like-minded folks. But really, they were more than that. They were my friends.


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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Ame September 25, 2006, 3:22 PM

    I’ve been eagerly awaiting news from the weekend! This is AWESOME, Mike! You don’t have to be a salesman if God didn’t make you one ~ He can overcome our weaknesses to accomplish His purposes in our lives. (Now Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Clifton)

    VERY glad to hear that your theories about e-frienships were “dented.” I’ve become amazed at the friendships God is giving me thru the cyber world … absolutely amazed. Hummmm … so I’m amazed the The Creator of all of us, who inhabits all of us with the same Holy Spirit, is capable of forming beautiful friendships through space? Kinda funny when I put it that way!

    Woo Hoo on the agent and hob-nobbing with all those “big name” folks! Chill on the editor ~ God really is in control. And, yep ~ we are so human and need encouragement often that yes, this is what God wants me to do ~ glad you found it this weekend!

  • janet September 25, 2006, 3:28 PM

    You’re right, Mike: we’re not “like friends.” We are friends, and I’m honored. We’re bound together by more than the mysterious, invisible cyber-web. We’re bound by a passion for words and books and more than that, by the blood of Christ. Thank you for your encouragement! And once more, congratulations!

  • Linda Gilmore September 25, 2006, 4:12 PM

    Huge congrats on the agent! Wow! It sounds like a great conference. I thought of all of you in Dallas and wished I was there. Maybe next year. (where is it next year?)

  • Shannon McNear September 25, 2006, 8:53 PM

    Dude! They don’t dare shrink the nametags because then you’d have everyone leaning *in* toward everyone else’s chests in order to read them! 😉 You sorta get used to the glance down after a while. 😀

    Seriously, it was great to meet YOU and discover the mutual connections! Congrats again … and I meant to snag you later and tell you how much I loved your f*i*f conversion story (after I’d had a chance to connect some of the ones I read with the faces there), but somehow never had a chance. It went by in such a blur! A divinely beautiful and heartbreaking blur, but a blur nevertheless.


  • Meg Moseley September 25, 2006, 9:50 PM

    Hey Mike, I enjoyed talking with you and hearing your great news. Janet’s a fabulous agent, so rejoice and don’t worry if you had a flop of a pitch. I think I had one of those, too. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

    Maybe next year’s nametags should go on headbands. More eye contact that way. Whaddya think? (This might be why I’ve never been invited to join the conference committee….)

  • Mir September 25, 2006, 11:43 PM


    Okay, got that out of my system.

    Happy for you, snooks. But still bummed I didn’t meet all you wonderful people. God willing, one day…


  • Michelle Pendergrass September 25, 2006, 11:51 PM

    Wow!!! I didn’t hear the great news about you getting an agent! I’m thrilled for you!

    It was so great to meet everyone. Tactically, I planned it perfect. I made sure I got to meet everyone since I was the frog handling fool. 😉
    I wish we would have had more time to get to talk. I just saw you in passing.

    If things go right, Suzan’s got her mind going about a FIF/Master’s Artist retreat. Now THAT would be way-cool! 🙂

  • Suzan Robertson September 26, 2006, 12:22 AM

    It was great to meet you too, Mike. Hope you’re feeling better. GREAT news on getting Janet Grant.

  • Gina Holmes September 26, 2006, 3:56 AM

    I’m glad you feel wrong on the cyber friendship thing. Our group is too cool. The love and laughter was overwhelming.

    Congrats again on getting a top notch agent like Janet. And she should be congratulated on getting the next Ted Dekker. The woman has an eye for talent that’s for sure.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller September 26, 2006, 5:25 PM


    It was a privilege meeting you.

    And I agree that Janet got a good one when she signed you.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where God will take you through this exciting opportunity. You have such honesty in your writing–blogs and stories. It’s a winsome quality.


  • michael snyder September 27, 2006, 4:16 AM


    You are even cooler in person (and I do mean cool) that I would have imagined. What an absolute pleasure meeting you at the big show. Can’t wait to do it again. Congrats on the agent. Now I guess we sit back and wait for the signal to grab your coattails, baby!

    The other, bespectacled, not-quite-as-cool-but-still-trying Mike

  • Kristy Dykes September 27, 2006, 1:38 PM

    I, too, came down with that awful flu bug, but it knocked me out flat, and at the last minute, I couldn’t go to the conf. Painful–to miss the conf.

    I enjoyed your blog post. I found you through Mark Bertrand’s links. God bless–

    Kristy Dykes

  • Ane Mulligan September 27, 2006, 11:30 PM

    I’m chiming in late, Mike. I’ve been trying to catch up on the sleep I lost at the conference. :o)

    We are indeed more than a crit group, and mroe than friends. We’re family, and I believe God brought this particular family together.

    One day, I’d love to be able to get all our families together – spouses included. I’d love for my husband to know these nutty people I love so much.

    I couldn’t be more thrilled with Janert signing you. The only thing that will thrill me more is when you get the conbtract for your book and I get to review it for Novel Reviews. That, my dear writer-son, will be a red-letter day. A day to record in my Bible.

    I love all you Penwrights!

  • Deborah October 1, 2006, 7:23 PM

    Great to meet you, Mike. Congratulations on Janet Grant. She’s wonderful.



  • Jeanne Damoff October 4, 2006, 8:16 PM

    Hi, Mike. I loved meeting you, and I’m so pleased that my glow managed to warm you! 🙂

    I had to leave the conference early (Sat. night) b/c we got word that George’s mom passed away. George, Jacob, and I flew to Florida Sunday morning and stayed a week, so it has taken me a while to catch up on everyone’s reports. I’m thrilled for you about signing with Janet. Books & Such is a class act.

    I mentioned to George that you are interested in dialoging with him about the flora and fauna (not to mention the colorful human element) in the New Mexican desert region. He’s excited about the prospect and welcomes your questions, so don’t be shy. 🙂

    I hope you’re feeling all better now.


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