Category Archives: Writers Conference

Realm Makers 2012 – Day 3

Today when compared to the last two days was fairly uneventful. I finished out the session on finding one’s readers (aka: marketing), and another on wounding the human body by Carla Hoch (author of “Fight Write”) which my son also attended. He enjoyed the teen track, but I think he might have enjoyed her sessions even more. She’s an absolute hoot. If you want to know more about writing believable/accurate fight scenes and what a human body can survive/not survive, her book, blog, and videos are a must (you can find everything on fightwrite.net).

Frank Peretti also had a Q & A session and gave the closing keynote. As before, he was exuberant, funny, and also wise.

For the keynote, he recited the scene from the first Jurassic Park movie where Dr Ian Malcom (played by Jeff Goldblum) warned (paraphrased), “You were so determined in finding out if you could do something, you never stopped to ask if you should.”

Frank compared how Hammond and the scientists’ attempt to control nature failed rather spectacularly to how we’ve lost control over technology in much the same way. And how now it’s controlling us. He asked us to step back and figure out at what point we say enough is enough.

As he was speaking I wrote in my notes (with paper and pen, even though I’m using that evil tech to write and post this): “Yes Big Tech knows a lot about me, probably a lot more than I think they do. They can use it to destroy me and my life if they choose, and with very little effort. Jesus, however, still knows more about me, and I can trust him to not misuse that information or try to destroy me with it.” None of us can say the same for Silicon Valley, or even our own government that knows a lot more about us than they will ever admit.

Right after the keynote ended, two fellow “Realmies” happened to read my nametag. They pulled out their copy of Havok’s “Sensational” anthology asking, “Didn’t you write a story in this?” They then asked me to sign it, which always makes me happy. But it’s also humbling. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel worthy of being asked to give an autograph. I’m no different than the two ladies who only want people to read their writing, find joy, and be inspired or strengthened by it.

The day ended with a book expo and author signing that was open to the public. Not as many showed up as in previous years, but I would still call it a success. The line for Frank Peretti was understandably the longest.

Believe it or not, but Tom bought more books than me! Or I should say, I bought Tom more books than I bought myself…

So Realm Makers 2021 is now officially over. I did, however, sign up for the post conference workshop on using social media to sell more books. I’m determined to not let my fear of using it deter me from using it…

Interesting, don’t you think, considering I just wrote about how such technology is controlling us… ?

Realm Makers – Day 2

The problem with writers conferences is so much happens. Boiling it all down into a manageable chunk can be… challenging. After all the classes and workshops, the brain gets full. Mine’s so full, I think it’s leaking out my ears. Or at least should be. Or maybe I just need to clean out the wax…

My favorite part of the day had nothing to do with the classes or on my appointments (more on that in a bit).

The Havok Magazine team met for lunch at a Greek sandwich shop called Dino’s (yummy. I love me some Greek Gyros). I was good today and ordered a Greek salad instead of a gyro, though. I ate myself stupid yesterday and knew I would be eating myself stupid again for supper. They cancel each other out, right?

Anyway, at lunch, one of the Havok volunteers thanked me for publishing one of her short stories, and later one of the authors for whom we accepted just last week also thanked me. I didn’t expect such sincere gratitude, because even though I sent the acceptance letters, the choosing and editing is a team effort. I can take some, but certainly not all the credit.

One of the sessions I’m attending is on finding readers and being irresistible to them. Not so much about marketing, per se, but about looking at marketing in a different way. Because most readers despise the idea. Instead, he said, reframe it into building relationships instead of making a sale. That’s the one thing that always drove me away from the idea. I’m not a salesman (or woman). I see it as trying to take advantage, or seeing my readers, not as people, but as walking wallets. I never want to even appear that way. So what I need to do is soul search a bit to find what about me and my writing will attract readers, and what can I do to build a relationship with them? It’s a tough question that may take a while to answer.

Which segues me into my first appointment. I presented my fantasy which the editor was intrigued enough to ask for a proposal. Not the complete manuscript, but no matter. It’s a step in the right direction (plus it gives me time to tweak it in a few areas I know need tweaking). I also asked for advice on where to find potential readers, which for fantasy and sci-fi is mostly Instagram and TikTok. She also gave me some people to follow to see how they use Instagram that I can emulate.

As for my second appointment, I presented my mainstream sci-fi story, because her publishing house leans more mainstream/secular audiences. I stumbled a bit when she asked what my main character’s arc was. For some reason I drew a blank, because, at least in the first book, it’s a bit multitudinous, and continues on into the trilogy (the second of which is complete). Once she asked if it was more than one, then I was able to tell her the overall arc. Whew! Bullet dodged! She also asked me submit a proposal as well as gave me some great advice on how to fix my first chapter (which had fairly important, but easily fixed issue). The best compliment she gave me was, “Your voice is sci-fi. I can see that right away.” I always question my voice and if it’s a fit for whatever genre I’m writing in. That it fit with this book is a big relief.

But it’s getting late, so I will say good night now.

“Good night now!”

Gotta ‘nother full day of classes tomorrow. No appointments, though, which takes away some of the stress.

Realm Makers – Day 1

Today was officially the first day of the annual Realm Makers writers conference. This is my fourth year attending. It’s taking place in St. Louis Missouri for which me, my son, and a friend drove all day yesterday to get here.

As much as I love to fly in an airplane, I despise what the airlines make passengers go through. So we drove for 17 hours straight, leaving at 3:45 am and arriving at 7:30 pm. It’s a rough trip, but still better than flying. Other than all the requirements and regulations, I’m not limited to how much luggage I can bring, and I’m not beholden to anyone’s schedule. It was also cheaper than plane tickets, especially when my friend paid for half the gas.

Today was a fairly full schedule. I took a pre-conference workshop on indie publishing presented by author and CEO of LMPBN Publishing and founder of 20Booksto50K, Michael Anderle, which was quite informative. Although I’m still looking for a traditional publisher, I’m not adverse to going indie. I can certainly see the advantages, such as the higher percentage of royalties and greater control over editing, content, cover design, etc. Yet there’s also a lot more work involved, such as the editing, cover design and the dreaded marketing. Plus the cost of all of the above.

Granted traditional publishers want their authors to do a lot more marketing themselves, but not knowing the best avenues to take, they can give me direction and advice on how best to accomplish it.

Plus I do better when others hold me to account–such as deadlines. Going indie, I fear I would procrastinate too much. I love to figuratively slit my wrists to write, but pouring that same blood, sweat and tears into what Michael terms “pushing the button” with actually publishing the book and the marketing, I’d rather literally slit my wrists (not literally).

On the lighter side… My son is taking the teen track which starts tomorrow. I was pleased that he wanted to attend, for one, but was even more pleased when I saw him take notes during the keynote address by author Frank Peretti, best known for “This Present Darkness.” He not only gave great advice, but had the entire audience in stitches with laughter. He’s funny, exuberant, and obviously loves life. He was also quite inspirational when talking about his own journey toward successful authorship. In short, we have to trust and be patient, and understand that God has not forsaken us when we find ourselves waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more for our dreams to come to fruition. He knows what he’s doing, and our job is to follow. Faithfully. And gracefully.

Tomorrow I’m meeting with two editors of small presses. As for my expectations, not high. I’m certainly not anticipating they’ll toss a contract at me. That they’ll ask to see my entire manuscript, though, that’s the hope.

I just returned to our hotel room after attending the agent/editor Q & A, which is always helpful in preparing for my 15 minute appointments. I have a better idea of what they’re looking for, and now know which manuscript to present to each.

Anyway, I’m gonna put on my pajamas and relax for a spell before switching of the lights. And say a prayer that God gives me peace of mind and the words I need to make a good impression and not embarrass myself by stumbling over my words.

Under No Uncertain Terms

I know I promised to talk about Philipians 4:7-9 in my last entry, but I decided to put that off for a bit. Instead, I want to talk about why I write, and why I can’t stop no matter how much I complain about it.

Back in 2000, I noticed that most mainstream science fiction contained little to no references to God (and many being downright hostile to religion and the idea of a higher power unless it was some ethereal “force” or “universe”).

On the flip-side, most novels labeled as “Christian” had scant little science fiction or fantasy.

I mentally lamented this one day, and a small voice in my head said, “then you write it.”

I ended up writing my first novel in three months. I did nothing with it for quite a few years, because I knew that while the bones of the story were good, the writing itself needed a lot of work. I attended some online writers courses, bought lots of books on writing, and attended writers conferences. I even queried several publishers and agents (to no avail).

In 2008, I had my son, and two years later I wondered if I should pursue publication. I would always write, including blogs, devotions, and journaling that few people would see, but nothing else. Taking care of my boy and working meant I had little time for anything else. I was fine with that.

However, at sixteen I gave my hands to God to use as he saw fit. Quitting on the idea of publication wasn’t entirely my choice, so I needed to ask him what I should do before making any decision.

At about the same time, I heard about a contest for unpublished novelists. It’s called “Genesis” and sponsored by ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). An author submits a synopsis and the first fifteen pages of their completed novel. In return, regardless if a person’s novel wins or not, the three judges return a scoresheet with comments/critiques about where the story worked, and where it needed improvements.

I decided to submit my story, but at the same time set a “fleece before the Lord,” (see Judges 6). I asked God that if he wanted me to continue pursuing publication, tell me by allowing my story to make the finals. Not win, though. I figured that would be asking for too much.

Fast forward a few months. One night I received a phone call, but didn’t recognize the number. Figuring it was spam, I let it go to voicemail. The lady who called left a short message congratulating me on making the finals in the Genesis contest, speculative category.

My first response? Crap. A large part of me wanted to quit. I liked my life as is, and after so much time, so many roadblocks, money spent only to get more rejections, that part didn’t think continued pursuit was worth more of the same.

Fast forward almost twenty years since I penned my first draft, I’m still an unpublished novelist. That’s not to say I’ve been sitting idle, and have zero successes, though. I now have written five complete novels (two need serious work), have published short stories and am an acquisitions editor for Havok Magazine.

Nor do I have anyone to blame for my lack of novel publication other than me. I simply don’t submit enough. Part of it is procrastination, but it’s also extreme pickiness. Too extreme, probably.

Some might say I should go the indie route, and I have thought and prayed about it quite a bit. I keep getting the sense that God doesn’t want me to. At least not yet.

Writers tend to feel a lot. About everything. No matter what happens, we always think of the worst possible consequences. We can’t seem to help ourselves. No one should be surprised, because that’s what we have to do in our stories. That kind of thinking can’t help but spill over into reality.

I submitted a short story for another anthology, and received comments back in less than a day. Many of his changes would affect the plot significantly, but not it’s impossible. That same day, I received edits for my fantasy from a fellow writer who said that she feared her edits would make me think the story is terrible when it’s not (I haven’t looked at them, yet, though).

That knee-jerk-reaction-the-sky-is-falling reactionary part of my psyche once again told me I’m wasting my time. I suck as a writer, because after 20+ years I have scant little to show for it. That alone should prove how bad I am. After all, very few endeavors could have a worse track record. Imagine being a doctor with little success after that many years!

Granted that’s not the best comparison, because mere spilling words onto a piece of paper doesn’t physically heal or harm anyone.

In the end though, all that lamenting, pouting and whining is irrelevant and a waste of more time. God told me during the 2010 Genesis contest that under no uncertain terms am I allowed to quit. It might take another ten years (although I pray it won’t take that long) before I see any of my novels in a bookstore, but I have to keep working on it. Sometimes (most times), it’s all I have to fall back on to keep me moving forward. Luckily it’s been all I needed (even if I do grind my teeth while accepting it).

Oh, and my novel did end up winning the contest.

Ignorance is Preferred. For The Moment

I wrote previously about meeting with an agent at the Realm Makers writers conference, and how he asked me to send a proposal. I decided to send it via regular mail, because he mentioned once during a Q & A session that he preferred it over email. Emails tend to pile up and get buried. If it’s on his desk in an envelope, he’s more inclined to read it faster.

Yesterday when I took the mail out of our mailbox, I spotted my SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) stuck between a dental cleaning reminder, and a stack of store coupons.

My first response: “Great. Another rejection.” Especially considering the thinness of the envelope indicating it contains but one sheet of paper.

I couldn’t open it. I was already in a sour mood last night (no particular reason; I get that way sometimes). Why make it worse by intentionally reading a rejection letter?

Still it sits on my dining room table, buried under those coupons and dental cleaning reminder. We’ll see if I’m brave enough to read it after work today. Chances are good, regardless, because I am curious. That and what if I’m wrong, and the letter is merely to ask to see the entire manuscript?

I think there’s a 25% it’s to ask for more; 75% it’s a rejection. Hence the desire to remain ignorant and hopeful instead of knowing and being disappointed.

Just Like The Rest of Us

There’s one thing I hate about meeting with agents and editors (and a famous author this time around) is the anxiety. The fear of stumbling over my words, the inability to share my story correctly, and all-in-all making a bad impression.

Before my first appointment — a fifteen-minute mentor appointment with Terry Brooks (who wrote the Shannara series among others), I prayed most fervently to take away my anxiety. Not so much that I say all the right things (although I prayed that too, but considered that secondary). I hate being nervous, because ninety-nine percent of the time, that anxiety is in the end completely unfounded.

As I waited for my appointment with Terry, another writer was waiting for someone else to finish theirs. I mentioned how I’ve been praying for a calm spirit, she graciously (and beautifully) prayed for and with me. Her prayer even made me a little misty-eyed (and simultaneously grateful I don’t wear makeup).

During that appointment, and a literary agent appointment a few hours later, no nerves presented themselves. I was calm, confident, but also listened more than I talked. When I did talk about my story, the words flowed out of me when I usually stumble. I also didn’t hedge or try to figure out what they wanted to hear (as if I could anyway, but still I try. I can’t help it. I know why I do, but that’s an entry for another time).

The literary agent was intrigued by my idea, but as he speed-read through the first couple of pages, he said that while he’s intrigued, the jump between the prologue and the first chapter was too jarring. Still, he did ask me to send him a proposal. Not a complete rejection, but nothing to indicate he was all that excited either.

For which I was fine with, oddly enough.

Or not. Truth is, I received the score-cards for the contest I submitted it to a few days before, and although I didn’t agree with some of the comments at first, they still got me thinking that perhaps I need to revisit the story yet again. The first couple of chapters at least.

As I talked to Terry Brooks, he offered also to read my sample chapters. I had to keep it, however, because it was the only one I brought (reminder to self: bring multiple copies next time). I did give it to him during the scheduled autograph session later that evening (I was the only one in line who didn’t have a book for him to sign, but that’s because he signed my copy of “Sometimes the Magic Works” during the mentor appointment).

He read it that night and returned it to the conference coordinator with the message for me to find him so he could talk to me about it.

I attended a Q & A session with him and fellow author Brent Weeks, and hovered over him until he finished signing several more autographs after the session. That entire hour and a half of me waiting to talk to him, I tried not to worry that he would tell me to burn those pages and never write another word.

I exaggerate. I didn’t think that at all. Nor was I overly anxious, because I convinced myself that no matter what he told me, his advice would only make my story better.

He first asked if it was YA or adult.

When I told him it’s adult, he said I need to flesh it out more. Adults tend to want to read about the emotional impact of what happens–that I need to add more exposition. The prologue was powerful, but not enough emotion of the devastation the characters endured. The same for the first chapter of another character being sold as a slave.

Other than that, he said he wanted to keep reading, the bones of my story are good, and the concept is interesting. Granted he was working off a dozen pages, but experienced authors do get a sense of good or bad writing from the first few pages. That he thought the bones were good gave me a measure of relief. As long as my story has a solid structure, everything else is detail (literal and figurative), and can be fixed. A poorly structured story can’t, at least not easily and not without starting over.

All in all, after spending $500–which included the cost of the conference and one of the few Terry Brooks mentor appointments, I got my money’s worth. Not only to spend time with one of my favorite authors, but to get a glimpse into the man behind the words. I discovered he’s a delight, funny with an almost childlike gleam in his eye, a real passion for the written word, and doing whatever he can to help newer writers learn the craft to tell fabulous stories that entertain, and teach readers new things (without the sermon, of course).

Because (with God’s help) my nerves didn’t get the best of me, I was able to enjoy both appointments and discover that famous authors are just like the rest of us. They have the same desires and passions, weaknesses, strengths, humility and humor as everyone else.

Heart Treasures

Heart Treasures

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~ Luke 2:19

I tried writing down everything that happened at the writers conference last month. The good, the bad, the exciting and the boring. I wrote about the first two days, but stopped half-way through the third.

I couldn’t go any further. Like Mary, I needed to treasure it as well as ponder.

During the conference, I signed up for a fifteen minute appointment with a literary agent. I practiced my pitch in one of my elective courses just prior to my appointment, and I continued to mentally recite it as I walked through the hotel.

The moment I sat down with the agent, I started my pitch. I didn’t get but a few words in when he said, “Show me what you have.”

Okay. Fine by me, because I was stumbling over it, anyway. I gave him my “one sheet” which contains a back-cover blurb, the genre, word count, and my bio which includes my writing credits.

He read the first page of my fantasy (and latest novel), stopped less than a page in and said, “I have a question for you. Why aren’t you published, yet? This is really good.”

“Honestly,” I said, “I haven’t tried that hard. I’ve been concentrating on writing and improving my craft.”

He nodded and continued to read. He spent over half of appointment reading it. I spent that time staring at his two massive football rings, and ached to ask him who he played for, and if they were Super Bowl or division championship rings.

He finally had to force himself to put it down, and asked if I had anything else.

“I do.”

“Did you bring them?”

I did, and took them out of my folder. His expression indicated that he was pleased that I did. I pulled out the first chapter of one and said, “This one is a lot shorter, so it won’t take you as long.”

He skimmed through that one and asked more about the books’ genres, what genre I preferred to write and if the books were YA or adult.

In the end, he not only asked me to send him the full manuscript and synopsis of my fantasy, but the other two as well. He even bragged me up a bit to an editor for Tor sitting next to him, and recommended I sign up to meet with her as well. She was full up, however, and I never got a chance to accost her during meals or elsewhere.

I sent him everything about two weeks ago. I expect to get a response in the next six weeks or so. Hopefully.

I don’t expect him to take me as a client, though (or at least tell myself not to). My books have received interest like this before, and ended up being passed over.

Even so, that the agent literally couldn’t put my story down says — and means — a lot. It also shows that all my hard work has yielded good results after all.

Writers Conference – Day Two

As far as conferences go, the first day is one of the most stressful. Not because there’s so much going on, but being in a new place with so many new people, and not an inkling of where things are (this is a maze of a hotel).

I set up my table to sell prints of dragons my mom had purchased during the many times she had attended comicons and the like. I sold a total of six prints (including one my son had painted, which was really sweet of the buyer to do).

A lot of people asked if I had painted them, and with so much excitement in their eyes when they asked made me wish I had. I’m thinking next year I might have to create something to sell, but what? Sure I have my photography, but they’re not exactly sci-fi/fantasy related. Really, will pictures of clouds sell at a sci-fi/fantasy writers convention? Probably not.

Tom came with me, and for a ten year old, he’s been so patient watching the booth when I’m in class, or watching Babylon 5 DVDs in our hotel room. He did go swimming yesterday for an hour, so it’s not been a total drag for him. Plus we went to a restaurant for supper called Trainwreck saloon. He bought a tuna steak sandwich which was over an inch thick. It is currently not only his favorite meal ever, it’s now his favorite restaurant. He couldn’t stop talking about it last night or this morning.

Writers Conference – Day One

I finally got around to writing about the conference, and to share the highlights with you. I waited, because I had to not only catch up with work, but family came in from out of town, and I had to write a short synopsis for my latest novel (more on that later).

Anyway, here’s what happened the first day:

We left home at 3:45 am and arrived at the conference at 7:30. Just over 15 hours. Not bad considering I had anticipated a minimum of 16 hours.

Traffic overall was not bad, so I must have timed it just right. I didn’t hit any city during rush-hour (so called). The weather also couldn’t have been better. I even managed to grab a parking spot close to the front entrance of the hotel. How often does that happen?

I was no less exhausted when we made it, though.

The part about attending a conference for the first time is not knowing what to expect, and not knowing anyone else attending. It’s a little intimidating. I saw a bunch of other attendees, and most were engaged in lively conversations. For a moment I couldn’t help but feel like an outcast, almost unwelcome.

I’m going to chalk those icky feelings up to being tired. I’ve been in this situation before when I’ve attended other conferences. In the end, I make lots of new friends. Plus, I’m not the only newbie to attend, so I doubt I’m not the only one feeling lost.

Another Step

On a long journey.

In three days I’m leaving for a writers conference called “Realm Makers.” I plan on meeting with several agents to pitch one of my novels.

As usual, I’m anxious. I can write well enough, but pitching my novels well enough to pique interest, it’s intimidating to say the least. How does one boil a book down to a sentence or two, and well enough someone will say, “Tell me more?” Especially one who has little confidence in speaking to people I don’t know about my stories.

The last week I have spent trying to prepare my documents as well as my mind.

I’ve attended many conferences, talked to many an editor and agent. You’d think I’d be more comfortable by now. Considering I’ve yet to secure an agent, and have too few stories published, I’m not confident this conference will end up any different.

So why go, then?

Because conferences aren’t only about eventual publication through a traditional publisher (versus vanity or self-publishing). They also offer classes to improve our writing, and learn more about marketing. Even better, I get to meet, connect and reconnect with other writers. Others who understand the joys, sorrows, frustrations, failures and triumphs of what writing means.

I also often meet God there, and I learn something about him, about myself, or a combination of both. I never know what, and that’s part of the fun.

I will also write at least one entry a day while I’m there so you can share the journey with me. Perhaps a photo or two.