And now the news from Nashville…
The American Christian Fiction Writers conference was a success for me. Whenever I shared the plotline and ideas in my novel, people responded with plenty of positive comments. I have at least one publisher interested in my novel, plus an agent who is truly excited about the premise. Considering the limited market for new writers breaking into speculative fiction under a Christian banner, those two add up to a major win.
The conference started off well. I met Christy-winner Robin Lee Hatcher. She’s a major name in Christian fiction and she’s got to be one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met—extraordinarily kind and warm. Her willingness to put my fears at ease (even before the conference) resulted in a far more relaxed four days than I anticipated. Thanks, Robin! She also introduced me to a fellow blogger, Katy Raymond over at Fallible. We wound up being the two extremes size-wise, something Robin duly noted at her blog.
I met up with several of the regulars over at Faith in Fiction; Dave Long of Bethany House runs that blog. Unfortunately, he got sick and was unable to attend, so Jeanne Damoff, Meg Moseley, Suzan Robertson, and Michael Snyder all picked up where he left off. Meg was a big winner of two awards including the Janet Grant Award for best unpublished author; she won’t stay that way for long. The FiF crowd was a great group of people and I enjoyed every conversation we shared during the weekend.
Nothing gave me more joy than finally meeting Jared Wilson of The Thinklings, Shizuka Blog, Mysterium Tremendum, and Gospel-Driven Church. He wasn’t at the conference, but he drove down from his home outside of Music City to meet up with me on Friday. You ever have one of those friends that you can pick up where you started and never feel like you skipped a beat? Well, Jared was just like that. We talked like we’d known each other all our lives. It’s crazy how many experiences we’ve had in common; in many ways he’s a younger version of me. Great guy, great time. And like he said over at The Thinklings, we closed a McDonald’s. Time flies when you’re having fun. Thanks, Jared! And may God bless all your novels and your blogs.
Randy Ingermanson served as my mentor for the conference. He’s won two Christy Awards and did a fantastic job of being the conference foil. Talk about a guy who can take a mocking and come out on top! Poor Randy was subjected to repeated barbs from the speakers, particularly Brandilyn Collins. Randy was one of the first male authors to join up with what was formerly called American Christian Romance Writers, even though he writes more in the speculative vein. As the trailblazer, he’s made it possible for more men to come on board and the expansion into other genres of writing. Still, we guys were outnumbered about 30:1. There were about 800 people total at the conference, so you can imagine the minority. I must say that being fawned over by the ladies (or was I imagining that) was a definite perk!
The wonderful part of the conference for me was Randy’s positive comments on my writing skills. But even better than that was the fact that he did postdoc work in String Theory at Ohio State. In what can only be the hand of God, my novel’s scientific mechanism behind the fantasy that drives the story is String Theory AND my male lead is a grad student at Ohio State! Finding out about the vanishingly small possibility of that intersection mere days before the conference had me stoked.
Took a few classes. Had to jump out of Robin’s organization class and missed almost all of it, sadly. I will stay disorganized. Deb Raney‘s class on rewriting was excellent and managed to overflow the room, too. Kathryn Mackle‘s screenwriting class was very well done.
Despite the fact that the conference was superb all the way around, the authors were open and never viewed any of us up-and-comers as competition, and everyone I met was truly friendly, I came away with one thing missing.
I heard many authors there defending their work. I still think that many of us who write Christian fiction are fighting against the perceptions of our fellow Christians, even though Christian fiction is more accessible and accepted today. The intersection of the Church and the Arts has been tenuous for most of the last hundred years and shows no sign of getting better. I would have loved to have heard a keynote that addressed this issue—it’s a big one.
My confession is that I struggle with my calling to writing. I believe it is something I do well, but still I wonder if the Lord would have us writing stories at a time when the American Church is hypnotized by entertainment. I didn’t hear anyone asking that same question at the conference, but I think it must be asked. Many there defended Christian fiction by saying that the Lord taught through stories, but there is another layer to that truth that went unexplored:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And [Jesus] answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
—Matthew 13:10-17 ESV
The stories Jesus told were veiled to all except a select few. But that’s not how many Christian writers interpret that passage; they view Jesus’ parables the opposite way. My concern: if our fiction is to make truth more accessible and not less, are we truly teaching through stories in the same manner Jesus did?
So that is my only regret: I would have loved to have heard more about the justification for Christians writing fiction today. That’s probably not a popular position among the conference attendees, but I know I needed to hear it. In fact, I think one of the greatest needs in the Church today is for some great Christian speaker with a background in the arts to recover the Christian theology behind the arts and evangelize it to the Church at large.
In the end, I learned much and grew considerably in my knowledge of the writing biz. Anyone out there who writes fiction should consider getting on board with ACFW. I had a blast, networked with plenty of worthy people, and have returned to writing—and blogging—with a new zest.