This was my first time attending the Mt Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference and I’m certain that it won’t be the last. It wasn’t cheap, but what I took away was worth the cost. It was big. Someone told me there may have been 400 attendees, but I never heard an official number. After reading over the roster, it looks like most came from California, Oregon and Washington, but a surprising number came from all over the country. It was an automatic reaction to smile at someone and glance at their name tag to see who they were and where they came from. I’m not sure why we always want to know that. Does that help us understand the person better? We just can’t get away from our sorting boxes.
The next question you were guaranteed to be asked was, “So, what are you writing?” With so many different genres being represented, it was possible to meet dozens of people writing in completely different tracks. As expected though, everyone gravitated to their familiar writing group. We all got to recognize who the agents, editors and writers were in our particular genre. What surprised me was the number of people with books already out. I was under the impression that most people were like me, in need of help getting my book out. The availability of agents and editors makes it a good place to talk about new projects and get new ideas, so I can see going back again and again. I especially liked the ability to sit next to people with multiple books out who were happy to answer all my questions I threw at them. I got their feedback on agents, marketing, and editing.
I was surprised at the general reaction to my genre, what’s come to be known as Speculative Fiction, a term that confuses me because, isn’t all fiction speculative? But by that, the distinction is made that these books cannot be placed either in contemporary cultures or timelines, or have some supernatural element to them. It became the joke of the conference for agents and editors to say pointedly that they DO NOT carry speculative fiction, or Jeff’s books. Jeff Gerke ran the SF track and was happy to take in all the wayward writers venturing into the great unknown in Christian publishing. Some were writing SciFi, a lot had female heroines with supernatural powers, and then there was me. My book is fantasy because I could not tell the story in any known culture or place in history, so I made one up. All of them, however, have a Christian theme and moral. What surprised everyone was that two major awards given by the conference for promising writers were given to two women in this track. I hope the other publishers took notice.
Jeff’s class was awesome. Not only was he hilarious, he was a dynamic writing teacher. He made us nail down the Meyers Briggs personality for our characters, strengths and weaknesses. In a conversation with him after class, he talked me into changing the age of my main character. Making him older fixed a few issues that were problems with the story and allowed him to have deeper insight into what was happening in the story, something I never would have thought to do on my own.
I knew that my book had problems before I went. The conference snuck up on me before my book was anywhere near being ready, but I wanted to at least gage the interest. I was bolstering myself to go home with the knowledge that I learned good ways to be a better writer, and I did, but I was also happy to get positive feedback. An editor is interested and wants me to send in a proposal. An agent is interested and wants me to send in some sample pages. Neither would make the offer if they weren’t genuinely interested, despite the amount of work I have to do.
That being said, I have a lot of work to do. I can’t send in anything until I finish the book, and based on the feedback I got, I have to start over. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a fresh thing. I recently join the American Christian Fiction Writers organization (ACFW) and so am looking forward to the critique group help. I was happy to learn that agents are pleased to hear a writer is involved with ACFW because of the great writing help they offer. I also recently joined a local writer’s group in San Jose and am looking forward to getting feedback and encouragement from them.
There’s work, but it’s good work and I’m looking forward to it. I have to get this story out of my head and onto paper.