Friday, September 23, 2005

ACFW Conference--Goals are Good

I think this will be my last post on the ACFW Conference. While I haven’t run out of things to say, I think I’m running out of things anyone would want to read. Might be I’ve already passed that point.

But the blog will pick back up on the next stage of my journey to publication. When that happens, I’ll happily let you all know.

This summer I spent some time re-evaluating my writing goals, something I do from time to time. Which got me thinking about what my goals were for the upcoming ACFW conference. I finally settled on go, be professional, and have fun.

Okay, “go” sounds like an unusual goal, but in the weeks and days and hours leading up to the conference so many barriers popped up between the conference and me that just getting there was going to be an achievement. On several levels it would have made more sense for me to just stay home. But Peter and I were convinced that God wanted me to go. So I did. And left the details to Him to work out.

So one goal down, two to go.

Be professional. This really wasn’t a hard goal for me as it tends to be my default mode when I’m nervous. But as I thought about what I wanted “being professional” to encompass, I would have to stretch a bit as well. One of the big advantages of a conference is getting to meet and interact with other writers. I wanted to make sure I made the most of this, which would mean stepping out of my comfort zone and making the first attempt to start a conversation, to participate in workshops and meal time talk.

Actually, this wasn’t as hard to do as I thought it would be. Partly because I have a deficiency in adult talking time since I primarily spend time with my kids. Partly because talking about writing is just so darn much fun. And partly since my crit partner Jenny can talk to anyone about anything. Plus, having been in ACFW for two years and participating fairly frequently in the forums, a lot of names were more familiar. It didn’t feel like I was talking to strangers.

The final goal was a shoe-in.

I had a blast. I felt relaxed and in the company of good friends. The worshipful spirit permeated the conference. And I got to talk about writing. How much better could it get?

I’ll let you know when I get to the next leg of the journey. Until then, God’s blessings on you.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

ACFW Conference--My Place in this World

One of the things I’ll take away educationally from the conference has to do with what genre I write. As many of you know, my first novel was a historical romance. Then, when a publisher requested the completed, the editor asked for some changes, particularly to pick up the suspense level. Which I did and found I loved writing that way. When they finally declined on the book, I had already mapped out a contemporary romantic suspense series and began writing it. Even my crit partners agreed that I seemed to have found my niche and my writing reflected it.

But what to do about my historical and it’s half-finished sequel? I love those characters and stories and hate to see them languish on my hard drive, never to see the light of day. So all through the spring and summer I’ve been thinking about it on and off. What do I really want to write? Do I really want to commit to writing historicals?

One of the concepts that’s gaining momentum in this writing business is the idea of branding. Yes, your writing style can be “branded” in the same way a soda can be a “Coke” or “Pepsi.” Your brand helps readers know what they’re getting when they pick up your book. Are they getting a woman’s fiction from Deb Raney or a stay-up-with-a-nightlight Brandilyn Collins’s suspense?

Another idea that meshes with this one is the question of where CBA fiction is going. There will always be the “core” CBA, the traditional, conservative sweet stories that make up the bread and butter of the CBA. Historicals tend to fall into that category. But suspense stories tend to be more new territory for CBA. The CBA isn’t what it used to be and most publishers at the conference seemed to be open to expanding the idea of what makes up CBA fiction without crossing boundaries of language and explict sex.

So essentially I was straddling both parts of the CBA. My historicals, though with some suspense, were core CBA. But my new romantic suspense are more “new” CBA. And trying to write both would make it difficult for me to develop a brand.

One option would be to write both, but under different names and different brands. But that created two problems for me. One, I still have little kids at home and thus my writing time is limited. I couldn’t produce enough books for both brands to keep the publishers and readers happy. Two, beyond my two historicals, I only have a couple of vague ideas for historical stories, while I have a ton of suspense ideas. Three, nobody’s going to want to publish only two books for me.

So, finally everything clicked together and I felt myself sliding into a slot I had been moving toward for sometime. I’m a romantic suspense writer. Period.

Don’t know what will happen to my historicals. I’d still love for them to see the light of day and I have a few ideas along those lines. But even if they never do, they served a purpose in helping me find myself as a writer and develop my skills.

A noble purpose indeed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

ACFW Conference-company on the journey

It's overcast today in the Sonoran Desert. A rare occurance and one which reminds me of the few things I disliked about southern California. In Arizona, it's usually puffy white clouds, big thunderheads, or lotsa sunshine. Not much of this depressing overcast stuff that inhabits SoCal from May to July. Thought I had escaped...

On to the real stuff.

Writers are a fun bunch of people to hang out with.

I never realized how much until this past week at the ACFW conference. I’ve hung out with my groups of writer friends before. My old group from California (old, as in, I’m not there anymore) has always had good times. (Waving to Jeanne, Pat, Caroline, and Peg!). And I’m incredibly fortunate to have one of my ACFW Crit 19 members live only 45 minutes from me. (Waving to Jenny!).

I had gone to ACFW’s conference in Houston two years ago. And I’ve been to Mt. Hermon. But this year, coming to a conference where I had established relationships prior to the conference and then getting to hang with those people for five days was just on another level. To me, it was a taste of what heaven will be like.

Writing is a solitary business. It’s not something that can be done well in a group. For an example of that, check out suspense writer Brandilyn Collins’s blog. Scroll down to September 16, A Negligee Nightmare. A group of conferees sat with her one night to write a story. What a stitch!

But generally, we sit in front of our computer and write alone. And our own reaction to our work can range from: “This is perfect; I wouldn’t change a word” to “I should stop wasting my time writing this drivel” to anything in between. It’s hard to be objective about your own work. Add into that mix the fact that you already know your story front and back, and it’s hard to see what’s missing, what needs to be added, what needs to be taken away.

Thus, the great benefits of critique groups. I’ve been in both kinds: the meet-in-person type and the on-line type. Each is a different beast with pros and cons. And it can take awhile for you to find the right group or for the group to find itself. It’s an amazingly difficult thing to put your words, your baby, in front of others for the sole purpose of their telling you what’s wrong with it. But I don’t see that it differs much from getting your book published and releasing it to the public so people can write nasty reviews about it on Amazon. At least in your crit group, most of the time people have your best interests at heart and want to see you improve your writing.

But that kind of self-exposure creates the opportunity to bond. If writing is opening a vein and bleeding on the page, then your crit partners are the ones who appreciate and understand the bloodletting because they’ve been there themselves. There’s something about experiencing trauma together that bonds people.

So the Nashville conference gave me the opportunity to hang out with three members of Crit 19: Julie, Jenny and Greg. It was a blast. And it made me sad that we can only do that once a year, because hanging out with people who know you and love you, who understand the weird mind of a writer is like a refreshing oasis in the desert journey of solitary writing.

I also stumbled across another unexpected benefit. I took one of Gayle Roper’s fiction clinics. This is an intensive class where 6 or 7 people submit their work to each other before the conference to be edited by everyone. Then you sit in the class and listen to what they have to say about your work. A pretty scary proposition when these people are complete strangers.

But it wasn’t that way at all. For whatever reason, even though our group had a variety of writing styles, we meshed really well. We seemed to understand each other’s work and I got some of the most valuable feedback ever. It was a great experience. And even in a two-afternoon class we bonded.

So while I had known for a while how important it is to have other authors accompany you on this writing journey, this past week brought it home to me in living color.

Between now and next September in Dallas, may the threads of e-mail keep us joined until we can meet again in person.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

ACFW Conference: It's all good

Please bear with me as I'm new to this blogging thing. But with the number of people I wanted to share my conference experiences with, it seemed as good a way as any. So join me on this blogging adventure. :)

It’s all good ☺
Couldn’t resist. That was one of the mantras of the ACFW conference in Nashville this past week. Depending on the intonation, you can put a plethora of meanings into that sentence. Kinda like “bless your heart,” the other mantra of the conference. Oh writers are a fun bunch to hang out with.

And God is good.

Back in the spring, I knew God wanted me to go to the conference. Generally, when my husband and I have the same idea, it’s God talking to us, that’s how different we are. So when Peter wanted me to go, I knew that was God. But we had no clue how I’d get there. Well, I received one of the conference scholarships, so that confirmed it. Peter has worked really hard since the spring, holding two jobs so I could have the money to go.

So, the Saturday before the conference when we were having my son’s fourth birthday party, I thought I was all set for the conference.

Until my crit partner called.

Her daughter works for the airline and she couldn’t find me in the system. I wasn’t worried. I had an e-mail with my confirmation, so I sent it to crit partner Jenny.

She called back. I was scheduled to fly out Wednesday.

I thought it was Thursday.


I don’t do change well. I can come around eventually, but it takes me some time to adjust. So at 12:30 AM I was calling the Sheraton Music City in Nashville to see if I could get my room a day early at the conference rate. I could.

Deep breath. Okay. It would put a serious crimp in the budget, but it couldn’t be helped. It was more expensive to change the flight. So I had to spend the money at some point.

Okay, we’ll be getting back to that, but fast-forward a bit to the conference. I’m a person who needs about 9 hours of sleep a night, more if I’m in a stressful situation like say, a conference. If I don’t, I get grouchy, cranky, achy, and generally am not fun to be around. I stare blankly at walls and can’t even remember my name, let alone what I’m writing. Such a wonderful state to be in when you want to impress editors and agents with how professional you are. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep leading up to the conference because I now had one less day to prepare than I thought. Then the first night I was there we had a fire alarm at 2:30 AM. Not to easy to go back to sleep after that.

It was only a precursor.

I had a five day slumber party.

God was good. I averaged five hours of sleep a night during the conference but amazingly felt—and looked, praise God!—well rested. As I had my quiet times each morning I told God how much I felt His presence literally holding me up and giving me energy. It was amazing.

I had so much talking to do with people I rarely get to see in real life that I hated to waste that time sleeping. It was great.

So, back to the paying for the extra night thing.

I didn’t.

The hotel, for whatever reason (I’m assuming the fire alarm), covered that night. My mentee bought my breakfast the next day, so the extra day in Nashville cost me nothing financially.

God is good.

More on the conference tomorrow.