Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Realm Makers Recap

Realm Makers was amazing! Seriously, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I mean, where else do you have a room full of people in nerdy costumes praying together? This is what they say on the Realm Makers website:

"Are you a creative person who loves science fiction and fantasy, but also makes your spiritual growth a high priority? Have you found that you’re a little too weird for the usual church crowd, but don’t exactly fit in with the sci-fi convention set either? Well, now there’s a place for you to learn, share your talents, and commune with people a lot like yourself."

And now that I've gone, I can say that it's completely accurate. I completely felt like I belonged. We're all writers. We're all Christians. We're all there to learn and share ideas and build each other up and inspire each other and make new friends and just be a community—a family—unlike any other. The only negative thing I can say about Realm Makers is that the conference ends and we all have to go back home. (And the book store is a negative to your bank account. But that's a good problem.) So if you're a Christian speculative fiction author, I highly recommend you go to Realm Makers. It's more than worth it.

So for my experience.

I roomed with Jaye L. Knight and Tricia Mingerink and we had such a great time! We spent hours talking about everything from Marvel movies to childhood imaginative games to our current WIPs and future writing projects to spiritual growth. Before the conference, we went with my family to the Arch, which was a lot of fun. And included conversations about how much my sister hates Keevan from Tricia's Blades of Acktar series. XD

Brent Weeks was the keynote speaker, and both his opening and closing keynotes were fabulous. He was very inspiring, and funny too, while being very real about the ups and downs of his faith and writing journeys. I haven't read any of his books, but I was very impressed by him as a person, and want to read his books now.

I did Julie Hall's continuing sessions on indie publishing, and while there were things that I already knew from my 6 year journey as an indie author, I still learned a ton. I did have to miss parts of it to go to appointments, but I hope to get the conference audio to fill in the gaps...and so I can experience the electives I had to miss because there were too many good ones at the same time. Plus, a fellow Realmie gave me a cool idea for Time Captives bookmarks during the continuing sessions and I can't wait to try it out!

And I met Jill Williamson! She had to fill in for a faculty member who last minute couldn't attend, and it was during my scheduled appointment, but Tricia offered to let me join her in her appointment and it turned out great! Yes, we fangirled. Jill is an amazing person, so sweet and easy to talk to, and the half hour just flew by. It's so hard to choose what my favorite part of Realm Makers was, but meeting Jill was definitely up towards the top. And she was excited I brought Replication to Disney and even drew a Mickey in it!

With Tricia and Jill Williamson

I had two pitch appointments, and I was scared about them, but they proved to me just how unique and special Realm Makers truly is. Before my first one, the lady in charge of appointments invited me to practice on her, and then she prayed with me—and then we talked a bit about Doctor Who because they were holding the pitches in the room called "Davos" and we both kept wanting to read it as "Davros." And before the second, a lady came to me saying she was the "designated pray-er on duty" and she prayed with me as well. The pitches went well, and I'm looking forward to seeing what God does in the future.

The awards banquet was so much fun! Dressing up is awesome, and there was such a wide variety of costumes. Even in our little group, we had Anna from Frozen (me), Ranger Maddie from Ranger's Apprentice (Tricia), and gender-swapped Daryl from The Walking Dead (Jaye). So when Tricia and I got to our room to get ready, Jaye told us she was almost done, she was just cleaning up the zombie blood in the bathroom. It was awesome. XD I loved that they were playing songs from movie soundtracks, I loved all the costumes, and it was just a great experience. Nothing quite like it. And then afterwards I talked to one of Jaye's carpool buddies about the time she met Bradley James (BBC's King Arthur). I'm so jealous.

The princess, the princess Ranger, and the redneck zombie hunter

With Tricia as Maddie

With Jaye as Daryl

With Kendra E. Ardnek as steampunk Clara

With Jill Williamson as the White Witch

With Brie

"Can you see me now?"

The electives were fun, especially Jill Williamson's worldbuilding class. I loved it so much. And there was definitely an information overload. So many things to learn!

The book festival was the last night. I got some of my books signed before the festival, like my Bryan Davis and Terry Brooks books. And I'm pretty sure I was fangirling bigtime over Dragons of Starlight and Echoes From the Edge (now Time Echoes) when I was talking to Bryan Davis. He was pretty awesome and gave me an extra book on top of the one I bought. I also met Wayne Thomas Batson and it was pretty cool. Then I bought a copy of The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin, which had won several awards, and got it signed too.

With Terry Brooks

With Bryan Davis

With Wayne Thomas Batson

My new signed books

Most nights, Jaye, Tricia, and I were pretty good about going to bed early, but not that last night. We just didn't want it to end. So we sat outside by the fountain for a while and talked, and then went to our room and got ready for bed and then talked some more, and then turned off the light and kept talking a little while longer. I miss them both already, and sincerely hope we can work out another visit in the near future.

And we had to go home. That's the worst part of it. It's over too quickly. But I am beyond glad that I went. It was thoroughly amazing, and I really hope I get another chance to go to Realm Makers someday!

Monday, July 15, 2019

One Step At A Time

This is, in a way, sort of a continuation of last week.

I've always been the sort of person that wants to know everything. Not in a know-it-all kind of way. In an I-want-to-know-what's-going-to-happen way. I want to know all the what, when, how, and why of what's going to happen in my life. But life doesn't work that way. God doesn't work that way.

Oh, He knows all the what, when, how, and why of everything. But He hasn't given that knowledge to me. He hasn't given that knowledge to any of us.

So many times, my plans have gotten derailed. Like the time I wrote this poem. So many times I've wanted things to go a particular way, and they never do. So many times I've been in tears crying to God, wanting to know why things aren't going the way I thought they were going to go, the way I thought they were supposed to go.

I don't have the master plan. All I have is what God wants me to do right now. Not why He wants me to do it. Not where it's going to lead. Not where He's going to have me five, ten, twenty years down the road.

I don't know. But He does. And He's going to work everything out according to His plan. He's doing things for my future right now that I know nothing about. He's in control.

And all I have to do is take things one step at a time, following Him, trusting Him that He knows what He's doing, because He does. It may not make any sense to me right now, but that's okay. Because it makes sense to God. He's a good God. He's not going to give me a stone when I ask for bread, a snake when I ask for a fish, a scorpion when I ask for an egg. He's guiding me along His perfect plan that is to His glory one step at a time. And I just have to follow and trust in Him.

"From where I'm standing
Lord it's so hard for me to see
Where this is going
And where You're leading me
I wish I knew how
All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out
In a world I can't control...
"From where You're standing
Lord, You see a grand design
That You imagined
When You breathed me into life
And all the chaos
Comes together in Your hands
Like a masterpiece
Of Your picture perfect plan"
—"Already There" by Casting Crowns

Monday, July 8, 2019

Acktorek and Trust

I try never to write books with a particular theme in mind. Generally, what I've found is that when books/movies are written with a particular theme or message in mind, it becomes preachy, and the story and characters suffer. It's my opinion that when you focus on the story, the theme becomes a natural and integral part of the story, and is way more powerful than a story written to prove a point. So I try to organically write a story, dedicate my writing to God, and leave the theme up to Him. And generally, when I notice the theme later, I'm floored by what God was doing in my writing without me even noticing it.

I wrote Acktorek to jumpstart and revitalize my imagination. Seriously. After that really bad bout of writer's block I've mentioned a time or two on here, I needed something low stress, something that was new, something imaginative, something where I didn't have to worry about word count. So I just wrote. And the story formed. Not exactly what I'd envisioned, but it came out better. (Though I have to say, I do sometimes miss the original bits and pieces of books that get left behind when I actually write them.)

Fast forward to the beginning of this year. I was in a place where I was ready to abandon all I've worked for in these last six years of publishing and more of writing. Adulting is hard. Being an entrepreneur is hard. Things in my life aren't going the way I'd envisioned (spoiler alert: they never do). Back in December, when I was dealing with some personal things that weren't panning out the way I'd hoped, I'd felt God impressing on me to trust Him. To

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths." —Proverbs 3:5-6

I'm just going to be honest here: I wasn't. Sure, in my head, I knew that I needed to trust God, but in my heart, I was ready to throw away everything God had brought me through up to this point and go do something entirely different. Yes, there are times when God wants us to completely change what we're doing. I'm not going to deny that. But when you've been following where God leads and using the gifts He's given you, and when the results aren't what you expected, you decide to throw it away and go do something else in your own strength because it looks easier than fighting the battle God put in front of you...well, that's not good. That's not trusting Him.

I couldn't rest in my new plan. I just couldn't. I was miserable, I felt sick about it. But I was so done with what I'd been doing, so done with trusting God when the results weren't anything like what I'd expected. Luckily, I have parents who are both supportive, and who honestly fight harder for my dreams than I do. My mom told me not to talk about my other plan until I read Business Boutique. ...still haven't actually finished it, but anywho.

As I read Business Boutique, I finally started to remember why I write in the first place. Why I teach music the way I do. Why I love it. Can you believe I'd forgotten why I love to write? Even though this was after I'd written draft 1 of Acktorek and quite enjoyed it? I started to pray that God would direct me in the next steps for my author career. I honestly had no plans for my writing this year, other than maybe to try to write another draft of the Espionage sequel. (Apparently, Espionage is my least popular book. Please go give it some love. 😊) Which I suppose isn't all that surprising, considering I was thinking about giving it up. And you know what? I didn't at all feel God impress it upon me to give up writing. Indeed, it was quite the opposite.

I felt Him telling me to go ahead and do the new Time Captives covers now. To take steps to make my books more professional. And then there was Realm Makers. I obviously already wanted to go. I had friends ask repeatedly if I was going this year. I hadn't planned on it. At some point the idea of trying traditional publishing with Acktorek was planted in my head by one of Nadine Brandes's newsletters where she explained why she went with a bigger publisher for Fawkes and Romanov. I felt like I should pitch at Realm Makers. But there was no way I'd have it ready for this summer.

Yet, God kept putting all the pieces into place. Plans came together for me to logistically get to Realm Makers. (I rarely drive on the interstate at home, much less out of town...back roads and in-town driving for the win!) I got both the pitch appointments I wanted, even though I'd convinced myself I wouldn't get either. I had hiccups with Time Captives—which will be available on consignment in the bookstore, so if you're going to be there, check it out!—but I now have a box ready to take to St. Louis. I have my business cards.

Acktorek is where things are really crazy, though, and I have to give glory to God for where it all is right now. I never thought it was possible to write a draft as fast as I wrote the second draft of Acktorek. Seriously. But I did it. I had no idea how to pitch a book, how to write a book proposal, what I'm getting myself into here. (Still don't really.) But I've learned soooooo much. I have no idea what's going to come of these pitch meetings. I have no idea what things I'm going to learn during the conference. I have no idea who I'm going to meet and what connections I'm going to make, or honestly, why God wants me at Realm Makers this summer at all. I don't know. But I'm (finally) trusting that He has a reason for it.

And funny thing, as I've been working on my proposal and pitch, I've thought about the theme of the book. One list of questions commonly asked during verbal pitches was about the theme. It took some brainstorming, but finally I figured out that theme. That message of the book that I didn't put there intentionally. Not the only theme dealt with in the book, but by far the most prominent one. And this is what I wrote: 

-What is the theme of this story?
Trust. Trusting your family, trusting your friends, ultimately trusting God. Trusting that He knows what He’s doing, that even the worst circumstances work together for good, that however excruciating things might be, He will give you strength to bear and overcome them.

Trust. All this time, I've been struggling with trust. With trusting that, even when things don't look at all like what I expected, God is still in control, working all things together for good, for His glory. That He knows what He's doing. And all this time, He's been guiding me through a book that's all about trust. All about seemingly terrible circumstances with no way out, where God has been orchestrating it His way, which is totally different from ours.

When I realized that, I was amazed. God is pretty awesome. He always teaches me things through my own books when I give them over to Him and ask Him to do what He will with them.

I don't know what's going to come out of Realm Makers. I don't know what's next for Acktorek. I don't know what's next for me as a writer. But I do know that God knows. God is in control. And all I have to do is trust Him.

"Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass." —Psalm 37:5