September 24, 2010

Serving Him in Word and Deed: American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference, 2010

On My First ACFW Conference

After being a member of ACFW for 3 ½ years, I finally attended my first ACFW annual conference. What an amazing, intense five days of learning, panic, laughter, and hanging with rarely seen friends. And what a crowd! More than 620 people which—especially at mealtimes—pushed my crowd-o-meter a hair past the Zanex-zone a couple times.

Attending this conference came as a gift from the ACFW Scholarship Committee, to whom I am deeply grateful. I went with the hope of learning some things that would strengthen me as a writer, of gaining new skills and improving on the skills I’ve worked to acquire. I also hoped to connect with writers who have mentored me and who have inspired, entertained or befriended me via email, blogs or their books. There are so many!

I got the connecting with writers thing down about 47 seconds after arriving at the hotel, to the dismay of a couple respected writers. I realize now that letting my enthusiasm bust out all over the first two writers I saw was a mistake. While waiting at the elevator, I saw one of my favorite authors whose books nearly kill me with her wit and style, and another writer with whom I’ve corresponded with for years but have never met. Like a true groupie, I screamed their names as I ran over and attacked them with a hug. Naturally. This is what you do when your dream of meeting people you’ve grown to appreciate becomes a reality. At least, in MY dream. Judging from the freaked out looks on both ladies’ faces, I’m guessing the dream for them was more of a nightmare. I think I even said something about being her biggest fan. This would be short for FANATIC, also known as a person to be avoided regardless the cost to handbag, life and limb. Sorry, girls. I really am. If it makes you feel better, I do learn quickly. At their less than enthusiastic response to my joyful greeting, I reminded myself I would be here for several days and that as a passably intelligent woman, I could pace myself and not frighten anyone further. The fact that both ladies were unable to make eye-contact with me for the remainder of the conference reinforced my first lesson:

1. DON’T attack people you admire upon first encounter, no matter how normal and sincere you truly believe yourself to be. Any hope of reciprocating love WILL be aborted.

Another great lesson I learned from this conference was that although you MUST prepare yourself, your pitch, and your plan as perfectly as possible (& always be alliterative), God has a pretty good plan for you and has a few thoughts of his own on how to best steer your life and career. This is by no means an excuse to hide in your hotel room and wait for your career to come knocking like room service. Which is ridiculously expensive, by the way. Do your homework on the conference and the industry reps attending. Make a plan and follow through, but remember: God is in control and truly knows best. Seek moments of quiet to recognize his leading. Remember that those Spirit-nudges may move you to sit somewhere or speak to someone or (GASP) hug someone you might not have planned on. (Yes. I now know that some hugs should be carefully considered for value vs. risk.)

One of the truly high points of my conference experience came by a ‘chance’ meeting at one of the lunch tables. By Sunday, I had met with editors and spoken to everyone I’d hoped to meet. At lunch, a couple of my friends still wanted to sit at a particular editor or agent’s table. This is in a room of about 100 tables with 620 people ALL trying to sit with someone particular, at tables with teeny name signs you had to be within 4 feet of to be able to read. With about 36 seconds to find it. Since I didn’t need to find a particular table, I took half of the room while my friends took the other half and we scoured the tables until we found the ones they wanted. By then, most of the tables were full. I looked around for a spare seat for myself, anywhere. Right beside me was a table with one seat left. It was the table hosted by an editor I have met and who has spent some time looking at my book for a contest I entered last year. I had hoped to at least say hello to this editor but had not seen her yet, even after 4 days. When she joined us and saw me at her table, she said she was hoping to see me here too, and after lunch, she pulled me aside for a great little chat before she had to run to her appointments. I so enjoyed the time at her table amongst a group of writers to whom she showed genuine interest, and was so blessed by our conversation afterward, that this unexpected meeting made my day. Made my conference, actually.

Another one of the many highlights for me was finally meeting my agent in person. Even if only for a few short moments, I think that kind of face time adds an extra touch of personal connection in a good working relationship. And lemme get one thing straight: I did hug her, but she made the first move. She even gave me chocolate. Dark chocolate.



A special treat for me was taking part in the conference choir. I am still amazed that our choir director, Rachael Phillips, was able to take people with varying abilities from all corners of the nation, pull us together with only a couple of practices, and direct a song that moved and inspired us all. This was a rare and beautiful treat! I praise the Lord for orchestrating something far greater than the sum of our numbers—a sweet collective of the gifts he gave us—and gathering our voices in a way that left us unable to do anything but stand in awe of him.

On How ACFW compares to other Christian writing conferences:
I’ve twice attended another large scale Christian writing conference that encompasses all forms of writing, not just fiction. I loved it! But while I am interested in many types of writing, my primary focus as a writer is Christian fiction. ACFW offers what no other conference does: a smorgasbord of instruction for writers at every level, and a rare opportunity to meet and learn from fellow Christian writers, editors and experts who know the fiction industry. ACFW conferences offer more tools unique to a developing career in Christian fiction than any other conference can, and definitely more than a writer could ever acquire on their own.

I came to this conference with a standing set of personal goals: to become a skillful wordsmith and storyteller, to grow as a communicator, artist and professional, and most of all, to remain true to the specific calling the Lord has placed on me. I was not disappointed. The choices of classes and workshops offered provided a variety of valuable resources for writers at every level, published and not, seasoned and new. I gleaned from every class, even on topics I’ve studied before.

I may never fully recognize the all the benefits I received from attending this conference. And that’s okay. I’ve been given so many opportunities to learn and grow as a writer that I no longer doubt God’s call on me to write or question his lead. He keeps flinging open doors before me, pushing me ahead, making the way clear. Why? And what does he want to say through me? I pray for the courage to dig down deep and let the words flow. I pray that I will hear his voice and sense his nudges, that I will understand what pains and truths, what victories and failures, what fears and joys and longings dwell in my heart that he can use to display his amazing grace. After all . . . 'tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.



Q: Have you ever attended an ACFW Conference? What did you take away from it?

19 comments:

Southern-fried Fiction said...

Ah yes, the elevator! LOL You're such a hoot! I think conference memories rate up there with some of the best family memories. And y'all are the only family who gets me!!

Camille Eide said...

Ane, only in a family like this could we invade each others' personal space like that without being arrested.

After my little display of uber enthusiasm, I slunk back to my friends muttering Awkward... beneath my breath. I just hope Ms. Jones has moved on. :-)

carla stewart said...

Camille, I love your take on your first ACFW conference. Before you know it, strangers will be accosting you at the elevator saying, "Oh, I love your books!"

Seeing you again was a highlight of my conference. Why does it have to be so darn long in between?

Author and Editor Sandra D. Bricker said...

Camille, this is my first time at your blog. I think your writing style and humor gives you such an authentic voice. I can't wait to read one of your books!

P.S. - We have the best agent EVER!

Jessica Nelson said...

This is such a wonderful post! I love it!!! And I'm sure you didn't scare those authors. If they were scared by a hug and gushing, then it's their loss. :-) I know what you mean about fanaticism though. Sometimes I really stick my foot in my mouth.

Anyway, yep, I've gone and loved ACFW. More for the people I met, than anything. :-)

Jenny B. Jones said...

I'm so SORRY!!! I had just arrived, was a little dazed, confused, and sleep-deprived, and it always takes a second to put a Facebook face with the actual person.Okay, it takes me minutes. Hours. I'm the one who felt bad afterward, but I didn't have time to fix it with the commotion and dinging elevator. It was AWESOME to meet you, and I wish we could've talked longer. Truly. (And thank you for the kind words.)

Camille Eide said...

Jenny - don't be sorry! I can only imagine how it must have felt to be dazed from traveling AND a terrible cold (just saw that on your blog) AND have some total stranger run up and maul you while you're trying to find your room. You're a pretty good sport considering. Bless you!

Keli Gwyn said...

Camille, this was my first ACFW conference, too. I was delighted to meet you.

I spent the three days seeing you repeatedly and wondering why you looked sooo familiar. It wasn't until the last night when Rachelle shared your success in the Mount Hermon/Zondervan contest the year before that I realized you were one of three to make it to the final round and that I'd been sitting right beside you when the announcement was made.

Congrats again on being one of the top choices in that contest. Impressive!!!

Camille Eide said...

Keli - it was great seeing you again and I'd forgotten about sitting together at MH. I really enjoyed ACFW, hope you did too! It was so intense that I'm still recovering. We are blessed to be working with the most fantastic, hard-working agent! I will be watching for your name for sure. Many blessings on your writing career!

Erica Vetsch said...

It was great to meet you across the banquet table. I wish we could've chatted a little more, but it was so LOUD in there!

I'm so glad you had a great conference, and isn't it cool how God works things out better than we could've imagined?

Thank you for singing in the choir. I could've listened to you all sing for ages, it was so beautiful.

Courtney Walsh said...

Camille,

I attended my first ACFW in '08 and my experience with a "chance meeting" had me walking away not quite grasping how special and divine it was until months later. I sooo understand what you're saying. I have to tell you (not to sound weird) but I just think you're stunningly beautiful and I love your writing style! :) I agree with Carla... very soon, you'll be the one getting tackled in the elevator.

Ok, hopefully not tackled, but definitely approached! :) I'm glad I got to meet you in real life!

Camille Eide said...

Courtney - Ditto on meeting you in real life, I'm just sorry we didn't get much chance to get better acquainted. What an intense couple of days! I kept thinking I'd grab my camera later and get shots with people or talk to people later and would never see them again! Thanks for the kind words. Blessings on your writing!

Carla - you know seeing YOU was my favorite part of conference, by far. We'll just have to plan something!!

Sandra - THANK YOU! That means a lot coming from you. And I totally agree, we're in the best hands!

Erica - I was blown away when Rachelle told me you have a kid in college, that's just not possible. :-) Hope to hear more about your writing. Blessings!

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

You're so funny, Camille! Glad you had such an amazing experience at conference. Next year I hope to join you!

Catherine West said...

Camille, it was great to meet you! I hope we get to spend more time together at the next conference! Keep me posted on your writing progress! I am sure it won't be long!

Anonymous said...

Hi Cammile, have just read your comment on style/voice on Randy's blog, what was the name of the author you are so impressed by? yeggy

Julie Garmon said...

Beautiful blog, Camille. I loved meeting you, sitting at the table together. Chatting and laughing.

Terri Tiffany said...

I saw your name on Jessica's blog. I haven't gone to the ACFW conference yet but wanted to last year so much. This was so much fun to read! Thank you for sharing it.

Karla Akins said...

And you were a lovely roommate and a lovely person all the way around. God has big things in store for you, young lady!

Linda Glaz said...

Great post Camille. You covered the experience so very well.

ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF. . . .

RANDOM FACTS ABOUT ME:

I've published five novels and 2 novellas (more about those on my website.) I've been writing all my life, but decided in 2007 to get serious about being published.

I love action movies and Jane Austen. (she’s dead, I know. I found that out when I tried to get her to endorse my novel)

They let me play Bass guitar and sing in a worship band.

I can produce 4 dozen homemade cinnamon rolls in a flash for a crowd of drooling young adults. Or publishing house editors.

I used to have a Harley. Now we have six (going on seven) grandkiddos. Decent trade, really.

I am a proud Grammy. Don't even think about taking candy from my babies.

I hate shopping (Yes, I'm aware that I'm a girl)

MY ROOTS:
I've lived in Oregon all my life, spent time in Eugene (Go DUCKS!), Springfield, Reedsport, and Smith River. Which is not really a town, but a river, about 70 miles long, a tributary of the Umpqua River in southwest Oregon.

Although it's not a town, it is a community with a strong sense of pioneer history. It's cool to say you've lived there, especially if you lived there during the days when you had to take a boat to school. No joke! The old farmhouse my grandfather and my mother grew up in still stands, nestled into a narrow, pasture carpeted valley, complete with a swimmin' hole and its own 'crick'. It may turn up in one of my novels.

There's a rumor that my ancestors had a connection with the Mafia back in Sicily. I used to fantasize as a kid about a big black limo with tinted windows pulling up and whisking me away from school. Ahhh. So THAT'S why I'm having so much trouble conjugating my dangling participles now.

NOT RANDOM: I am challenged by the truth and amazed by the grace of God. And it's either in spite of or because of that grace that I hold a PhD in Learning Stuff the Hard Way.