Iâ€™d been planning on flying to Dallas, to the American Christian Fiction Writerâ€™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-yaâ€™s, consumed large quantities of throat lozenges and water. But it didnâ€™t lull the laryngitis or stifle the proceedings.
God showed up in spite of me.
Itâ€™s an odd thing meeting cyber friends. In person, weâ€™re so much different — bigger, smaller, shorter, thicker, greyer, more nasally, squinty, wiry, sullen, placid or jovial –Â 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 PenwrightsÂ — 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 terrificÂ bunch they were. You gals are the best! But there was more. I got to schmooze with Mark Bertrand, warm myself in Jeanne Damoffâ€™s glow, ruminate with Deb Gyapong and Becky Miller, and compare flip-flops with Mike Snyder. Then there were memorbaleÂ exchanges with cool folks like Suzan Robertson, Meg Mosley, MichelleÂ PendergrassÂ (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 theÂ 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.
Iâ€™ve been looking for a literary agent since the beginning of the year. Itâ€™s been quite a roller coaster of possibility and rejection. Iâ€™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. Iâ€™ll spare you the details (though theyâ€™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 wasnâ€™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’reÂ a lousy salesman. . . perhaps coward is more fitting.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience, one Iâ€™ll look back on for a long time. My first writersâ€™ 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 wereÂ my friends.