Imagine over 600 writers (along with their characters and storyworlds) congregating together at a single hotel in Indianapolis. This happened last weekend at the American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference, and it made for an experience both amazing and a tad overwhelming. So what happened there? I’ll share just a few highlights.
While this is a writing conference, committed to excellence in writing craft and the publishing industry, God takes first place. There’s a prayer room open all hours of the day and night and worship before the main sessions. Every year a harp and bowl (worship and prayer) meeting gives opportunity to set aside the bustle of conference activity and enter into time with God. For me this year, it was a much needed moment to step away and hear what God had to say about everything taking place. I love that people who come from different denominational backgrounds all come together, fellowship as one body, and offer prayers and encouragement to one another. All this made a difference noticed and commented on by hotel staff and the press that attended the conference.
Workshops on craft and industry:
Each class offered a wealth of information, whether it was Susan May Warren talking about incorporating sensory information and tying it into emotional memory, Rachelle Gardner and Sandra Bishop dissecting writer’s verbal pitches in a way that gave me insight on what an editor or agent experiences when trying to make sense of an author’s book, or James Scott Bell discussing how a great plot always reveals how a character deals with death (physical, emotional, psychological, etc). These are just a few small notes from hours upon hours of teaching, all of it valuable. And in addition, the keynote sessions on the power of storytelling dovetailed perfectly with what God has been speaking to me of late in this area…always a neat experience.
One of the beauties of the ACFW conference is the opportunity to spend time with a bunch of like-minded people, all quirky enough to write novels. Where else can a story unfold mid-air, fabricated as a joint effort by the people around you? Just being with others who get it is a great feeling. In his workshop, Steve Laube described writing novels as “going into a cave and wrestling with demons in the dark.” Intensely demanding, but the rewards of victory are sweet. Other novelists understand the unique joys and challenges of writing fiction. Plus they’re just fun to be around.
It’s an absolute pleasure to spend time with other speculative fiction writers, the “weirdest of the weird” perhaps, but so much fun. I had opportunity to discuss maps, language, world-building, sword-fighting, and so forth with other fantasy and science fiction writers. And I noticed a more positive attitude toward fantasy in the Christian fiction industry. There’s still not huge interest and many refused to consider publishing fantasy, but several places previously closed are now open to considering it. In addition, smaller publishers putting out Christian fantasy and science fiction are gaining traction. During the agent panel, Amanda Luedeke shared her confidence in the potential for growth of fantasy within the Christian market. I believe, without a doubt, the audience is there…and hungry. The question is how to connect with them? If the number of speculative fiction writers I met at conference is any indication, we’re doing our best to grab hold of readers with spectacular stories that won’t let them go.
In short, if you’re a writer of fantasy, science fiction, or any other fiction genre, I highly recommend starting to save now for next year’s conference in St. Louis. It is well worth the investment in your writing career, and you will come away with fresh insight to apply to your novels.