Thursday thru Sunday marked the fourth (I think??) annual ACFW conference, held in Nashville. This is a group which has grown to 800 members in just 6 years, and is fast becoming THE group for Christian fiction writers.
So, this is the one conference I wanted to attend this year ... and the Lord very graciously made the way for me to attend ... in fact, insisted I attend, even when I started to panic and wanted to cancel. These last 4-6 weeks have been awful in terms of discouragement, weirdness at home, and being so busy I didn't have time for my own writing for the last 3 weeks. (Can we say, warfare??) But when I couldn't remember why I was going to conference, the Lord reminded me that He had told me to go, and my obedience was enough.
So. I did take my updated proposal for Daughter of the Gift (nothing on Heirs yet), but the Lord told me clearly to pitch the one I'm writing now, The Gift of the Stranger, even though I'm only about 1/3 of the way thru the first draft. And, I felt like I should get a paid crit ... but the only person who had slots left and who seemed "right" was Tracey Bateman--but I didn't know anything about her, beyond the fact that she's president of ACFW and published herself.
We left Wed. evening after a very stressful day, and at one point I was actually in tears, begging the Lord for His mercy. I told Him I didn't think I could bear coming away from yet another conference spiritually enriched but broken-hearted. The Lord soothed my frazzled nerves, and the next day, which was most of our travel and arrival, went much better.
The first night, I met a whole raft of people--some I'd already known, some I hadn't. I recognized Robin, Dineen, and Ronie right away, and found an immediate kindred spirit in Linda Wichman. (And yes, Stuart wore his dino mask during part of the meet and greet, effectively scaring off those who might have had romantic designs upon his bachelor person.) The editor/agent panels were interesting ... I found myself actually LIKING Jeff Dunn of River Oak (the editor who had my ms. for 16 months without communication) and Steve Laube (twice rejected my first book, and probably the most respected agent in the CBA--talk about feeling overawed) ... and the Lord told me when I started to make a disparaging comment about Jeff Dunn that if I really believed what I'd told someone else about the Lord "veiling the eyes of the editors" when the timing wasn't right for being published, that it was time to let that particular grudge go. (Oh ... okay, Lord!!)
I asked exactly who was interested in sf/f ... only a handful of editors or agents responded, and Wendy Lawton, the new agent who I'd just made an appointment with, was not one of them. They did all say that it's story--tell them a great story! And we kept hearing over and over to write our passion ... write what's on our heart ... don't necessarily follow "market trends." If God gives you a strong story, it will eventually get noticed.
I had trouble getting to sleep that night, but the Lord gave me this verse out of Nehemiah: "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the LORD, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses ... our God will fight for us."
Remember the LORD, great and awesome. Go out and fight for what's mine. God will fight alongside me.
Remember the LORD, great and awesome.
Still, I started Friday morning in tears ... Lord, why am I here? Troy prayed over me, then I went downstairs to breakfast, where Robin Lee Hatcher read a beautiful blessing and asked for those who wanted prayer to come up ... I was already in tears again, when I went up, and Tracie Peterson started praying over me and two other ladies, I began sobbing from the strong sense of the Lord's assurance and presence. So, I went into my day knowing that the Lord had something for me ... and wow.
I did part of Deb Raney's "Rewriting and Getting it Right" workshop ... it was good, but mostly just a reminder of what I already knew. My appt. with Wendy Lawton was during the 2nd half of the workshop ... she saw I was from SC and asked if I write southern fiction. LOL I told her no, nor do I write mom-lit, but fantasy--and yes, I knew she didn't take it--I gave her my pitch anyway and she listened and explained that she just doesn't "get" fantasy, though she loves C.S. Lewis, and then told me to talk to Steve Laube and Jeff Dunn. So I told her how Steve had already turned my first book down twice, and she told me to go anyway. She also encouraged me to write what God has given me--was WILDLY enthusiastic, in fact, about me knowing what my area is and pursuing it.
I couldn't focus well enough to go back to my workshop at that point. I sat down and chatted w/ some people ... all the time I kept mulling the irony of how the editor I wanted to see was sick and couldn't come, but the two people I was sure I didn't need to talk to were the very ones the Lord was directing me to. Another mental adjustment.
I got to lunch late, and both Jeff's and Steve's tables were full. I sat at Linda Windsor's table instead, where we had a spirited discussion on the ethics of more graphic historical, etc. (secular) romance.
I went wandering around the lobby, trying to process everything ... I was almost in tears again. Then Linda Wichman came by and started telling me about her appointment with Jeff Dunn and said I should talk to him, too. We sat down and I told her a little of my saga. She asked to see some of my work, so I gave her a copy of my proposal and then ran off to my paid crit appointment with Tracey Bateman.
If you've never met her, Tracey is a sweetie. EVERYONE at ACFW is wonderful, in fact. As Stuart mentioned on the forums, one question you're likely to NOT get asked is, are you published yet?
Anyway, I walked in to my appointment with her, we sat down, and she gave me this little smile and said, "This is a waste of $25, because I can't tell you anything to fix!" Oh. My. Gosh. (Oh, Lord! You're confirming this again!?) As I sat there nearly in tears, she started reading her comments, which included the question, ask her if she's interested in having Steve as an agent? (Am I interested?? YES!!!!) I'd just been thinking of his comment in the workshop that it's better when those referring a new writer contact him first, before that writer submits their work to him, and trying to figure out how to approach him gracefully--and here I find out that Tracey had already mentioned my piece to him! In a very blonde moment, however, I'd forgotten to put my name on the ms., so she couldn't remember my name, but sheesh--yes! She's one of his clients and is giving me a recommendation!
As I sat there completely overwhelmed, trying to think of how to respond, she began to say to me, "You are where I was 4 years ago ... this is your year, and the Lord is pouring His blessings out on you ..." Who knew that this would turn into a session of prophetic encouragement?
From this moment on, for about 36 hours, I was floating on air. The first thing I did, though, is go back to my room and hand the critique to Troy, who kept applauding me and grinning every 2 minutes! (This man is worth his weight in GOLD for this weekend!)
Trying to follow up on what I'd been told so far, then, I sat at Jeff Dunn's table for supper, but he was late getting there and early leaving. No matter--I knew the Lord would work out the timing--and I was able to trust now that He'd do the same where Steve was concerned.
Troy and I had been invited to a private un-birthday party for Randy Ingermanson in Colleen Coble's suite. It was a little awkward at first, but Randy was shocked and thrilled and welcomed us with open arms, literally--then Troy and I helped with videoing while he opened his gifts. During the party I met Meredith Efken, Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck (had a really neat talk with her!), and Camy Tang, and Troy finally met Brandilyn Collins and her wonderful mother Miss Ruth.
I managed to be in bed by 10:30 (exhaustion has its merits) but popped awake at 4 AM, so excited to see what the Lord would do for that day. I lay there praying off and on till I could justify getting up and dressed.
My appointment this morning was Amanda Bostic, the new editor at WestBow. We had a wonderful talk--I told her about my previous hoped-for submission and why it fell through, and about my critique with Tracey, and she wound up taking my proposal for Gift with her, along with my two one-sheets (I prepared one for my "trilogy concept" for Daughter of the Gift), and seemed enthusiastic about my writing.
Troy was waiting for me as I walked out of the appointment. Shannon Hill was also standing right there, so I pounced on her and asked if she had a minute. She had this deer-in-the-headlights look--I felt SO bad--but then she seemed to remember me from last year, and said after I explained the situation about her having my old proposal that I could send her the new one, too. So! That's two good submissions right there, even though Troy chided me afterwards for jumping on Shannon Hill. (He did say that my pitch itself was nicely done.)
Lunchtime came, and I walked up to Steve's table to find it mostly filled, except for one left open for him, but when I commented (there were bags in a couple of the seats, and I wanted to ask to make sure they were taken), Barb Huff insisted on giving me her chair. (Another wow--another "thank you Lord!" moment!) And ... I was sitting right next to him! When he came, he asked us all for our short pitches. My turn came--I said that I was so impressed by the one next to me that I was completely intimidated and thought mine was rendered completely redundant. :-) I'd also mentioned that he'd kindly turned down my first book twice, and he said, And you're still sitting by me?? Then he asked when, and I told him, and he remembered since the second was in conjunction with him doing the guest-of-the-month at Christian Fandom a little over a year ago. Anyway, he did say "cool" to my book premise, which is hopeful ... and when I talked to him privately right after lunch, he smiled when I mentioned Tracey's critique and told me to get the ms. ready ... he wants it to be finished before he looks at it.
Wow!?!?! I have an "in" with Steve Laube again!! LOL
Slowly I started coming down off my high during the afternoon--I was starting to be ditzy by the time the booksigning was held on Saturday afternoon, and by dinner, where I sat at Jeff Dunn's table aGAIN (I really like that guy ... don't know if I'd want him for an editor, still, but I like him a lot!), I could hardly focus. I'd wanted to attend Kathy Mackel's late night chat, but just couldn't face it by that time. Too exhausted. (Kathy was the one I met at my first conference, who offered me a recommendation to Jenny at WestBow, then had to decline it because of the length of the book--it was great to see her again, too!) I was in bed and asleep by 9:30 and this time slept thru till 5 AM.
Sunday ... Troy and Meeghan attended worship and the last general session with us. Karen Ball, editor at Zondervan, was our speaker for the whole conference ... she's just wonderful! On Sunday she shared the testimony of her marriage--of the trouble they went through, her "perfect" childhood and her husband's horrific one, and how reality didn't match her expectations, but God healed their relationship--and her husband has become the man of God she prayed she'd have. I kept thinking of me and Troy ... the trials we've walked through (only *I'm* the one with the weird family history) and where the Lord has brought us to ... y'all have to know that we had a neighbor come stay w/ the kids so that he could go with me and take care of Meeghan while I was in workshops, etc. Troy suggested I introduce him around as my manservant for the weekend ... that was quite the hit, as was Meeghan. And then Karen closed with the verse that she'd used during each of her talks, from Habakkuk:
Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
Only this time, she read the last verse as, "It will not be overdue."
Do you know how often the Lord speaks to me of my writing journey in birth metaphors? Do you know that He told me last year that as He asked me to walk a harder road in birthing, so I can't expect that I'll take an easy path in my writing, as well? And do you know, I've been "overdue" with all of my babies, except the one that was induced before my due date??
But I realized when she said that, I was never overdue. My babies came in the fullness of God's timing--and so will my stories.
His timing is everything. Apparently, the timing on Daughter of the Gift is for later, but now is the time for the first prequel. The word I have at this point, then, is to "do the work" ... get busy and write. Walk in the strength I have--in the light of the vision God has given me--and the rest will come.
Can you blame me for being excited?
I realize I've neglected to mention a couple of other nifty things ...
... like the other people who prayed for me, and how humbled I am at those God had set around me to "cover my back" ... including those who prayed for my kids at home, and for Hurricane Ophelia to get a move on up the coast so we could leave without worry ...
... and for the gift basket I won for having the most children, and getting to stand in front of EVERYONE and brag on them a little ... and the thunderous applause when I said that we homeschool ...
... and fellow homeschooling mom-of-many Roxanne Sherwood, who used to live locally and moved away before we knew each other was a writer--who has said she'll be praying for me and pulling for me ... and who at 44 is pregnant again with her first baby after a loss ...
What an awesome company You have allowed me to be part of, Lord!