I arrived home from Saint Louis and the Realm Makers (RM) 2015 conference yesterday and promptly took a two-hour nap. Writers conferences are not the best place to catch up on rest, nor should they be! Better to burn the candle at both ends, meet people, grill industry insiders, hob-nob with “celebrities,” and take advantage of the numerous opportunities such events afford, than arrive home and wish you’d mingled more. Anyway, I’ve had a little time to ruminate on the conference and wanted to offer some brief, random observations.
- The Realm Makers team put on a very professional conference. Sure, there were some glitches here and there, some logistics that could have been re-worked. But all-in-all, I was impressed with Becky Minor’s team and how prompt, friendly, and committed to detail they were. Typically, conferences at this stage of infancy (RM is only 3 years old) experience significant growing pains, some of which translates into skimping on details. From my vantage point, RM didn’t cut corners. Many props to Becky Minor and her team.
- The enthusiasm level was extremely high. Whether it’s because the timing was just right for such an event, the unique mix of people, the pre-conference chatter and networking, or simply because so many geeks were in the same place at the same time, the buzz never let up. During the two-and-a-half days I was there, I never got the sense that we’d exhausted each others company or the things we could learn about and teach each other. Sure, this is usually true of most writers conferences. However, I personally felt the vibe was, well, transcendent.
- The industry appears to be taking notice. Dave Long, representing Bethany House (BH), was a last minute addition. But with BH being the biggest publisher represented at the conference, this seemed to indicate that some of the “gatekeepers” are taking notice. (Apparently, this may have been one of the few oversights of the RM team as Dave didn’t have nearly the number of appointments and pitches he should have, being that he was a late add.) Steve Laube of Enclave publishing was there, as were several other agents and indie presses. Hopefully next year the organizers will extend invitations to more publishers, including mainstream outfits with spec imprints. Also, it would be nice to see Publishers Weekly and some more mainstream reps contacted for possible reportage.
- The growing interest in “crossover” publishing. Some of this observation comes from leading a workshop on “The Crossover Christian Novelist.” It was very well attended and received. And I only covered half my material! There seemed to be a growing sentiment among many attendees that taking their writing to the general market was not only practically but philosophically expedient. At one point in time, going mainstream seemed to be viewed in evangelical circles as being a sellout or a compromiser. If you weren’t writing explicitly about the Gospel, you were copping out. Thankfully, the evangelical writing community seems to be growing up in this regard.
- The surprising interest in “Christian Horror.” Perhaps it was because my workshop was the only one on the list for that particular genre, but I received lots of inquiry and positive feedback about the subject. I brought ten hard copies of “Christian Horror” and sold them all. I had at least a dozen discussions with Christian writers who felt stigmatized by the label (by other Christian writers) and were struggling with how to frame its compatibility with contemporary evangelical fiction. As with my previous workshop, I only covered half my material. It really seems like there’s quite a bit of room for the subject of horror to continue to be explored by Christian novelists and at future conferences.
- Clean Paranormal Romance. In conjunction with my “horror” discussions were several writers who said they were exploring the idea of “clean” paranormal romance. While they liked the genre, they were completely turned off by its proliferation of erotica. My response was that I could never see a traditional Christian publisher taking a chance on such a thing. However, I could see a legitimate place in the market for such a sub-genre. (In fact, some mainstream presses are open to Christian authors who write”clean,” values-driven fiction that is not preachy.) I really like this idea! Memo to indie publishers: Might “clean” Paranormal Romance have a place in your catalog?
- Realm Makers and its relation to the ACFW. Without going into too much detail, RM is a direct result of a growing sentiment among Christian fans of spec-fic that the genre was being under-represented in the ACFW. The American Christian Fiction Writers advertises itself as “The voice of Christian Fiction” and is the largest organization of Christian writers in the world. I’ve attended two of their national conferences and been a member at different times along my career. However, the feeling among many spec fans was that they were outsiders in the ACFW ranks. This was also my observation. I’m saying this NOT to create an antagonism between the two groups. In fact, I believe BOTH genres and BOTH groups serve a purpose. However, I DO think that the growing popularity of RM validates the belief that speculative fiction fandom is a lot bigger than what mainstream Christian publishers are currently representing. How, or if, RM will affect future ACFW conferences is something I’m really keeping a eye on.
- There’s some fantastically creative, aspiring, Christian writers. Listen, there’s a lot of mediocre talent out there. Most of us need a good dose of reality to realize how uninspiring and ordinary our stuff sometimes is. Writers conferences are good at doing that. However, I personally was pleasantly surprised by the number of unpublished authors I met who have some really good ideas. One guy in particular named Jason asked if we could schedule some time together. He’s been writing an anime serial on Deviant Art and has a lot of followers. But the series is not monetized and he wants to reboot it. Anime and graphic novels are typically not something Christian novelists aspire to. However, when Jason shared with me his ideas, showed me character sketches, a detailed map, and explained the ideas behind the story, I was really impressed. This guy had put some serious thought into the series. As with most of these things, the big difference is not between good ideas and bad ideas, but between a creative who simply aspires and one who rolls his or her sleeves up and completes the project. Either way, Jason was just one of several unpublished authors I was impressed with. Good to see the creative spark being fanned among believers!
- Mending broken bridges. It’s a little surprising to me how many people view me as a grumpy, unapproachable, malcontent… only to meet me and come away saying just the opposite. Frankly, I am happy to dispel that notion! But it does say a lot about our social media presences and what they say about us. So there was a person attending the conference who I’d unfriended on Facebook. We’d had several brief, but tense public exchanges. Well, I knew he would be there and wondered how we’d get along. The first day, I saw him avoiding me. Later I approached him and said, “Hey! You’re the guy I unfriended on Facebook.” He apologized for his words, but I laughed, shook it off, and said I harbored no grudges. He seemed genuinely touched. That evening I sent him a Friend request. In the end, this may be the most important thing that happened for me at RM 2015. I’m wondering how many other bridges were mended this weekend.
Anyway, that’s just a quick thumbnail of what was a rich, rewarding experience for me. It’s left me feeling rather encouraged about Christian artists and our potential impact upon pop culture. Once again, congrats to Becky Minor and the Realm Makers staff for putting on a wonderful conference. I’m eager to see where this “movement” goes.