Sunday, September 24, 2006

I’ve been to four ACFW conferences since joining in 2002. Some have been good, others…well, not so much. Dallas proved to be a far different experience. I arrived on Wednesday, expecting very little beyond my appointments, though it was my hope that author Jane Orcutt, who’d agreed to do a paid critique with me, liked the chapter I’d sent. Little did I know how wonderful this would prove to be—to go with no expectations and let God do the work He wants to do.

I felt the quiet buzz the moment I walked into the hotel lobby. Conferees occupied the seating areas and spilled out into the halls. No one wore name tags yet, but their faces spoke hope and excitement that immediately set them apart as writers, here for a purpose. All around me, I felt the warm embrace of people like me, kindred spirits with a love for writing and a love for the Lord. Also present were those conference newbies, eighty-nine in all. First timers with a look of fear on their face that brought me back to my first conference experience. I reached out to them, just as someone had reached out to me, and felt the thrill of helping make Dallas a wonderful experience for someone else.

Anticipation made sleep elusive that night. I’d memorized my ‘one-liner,’ and planned to read off my pitch sheet during my appointments. While I did not feel the same nervousness as I had at previous conferences, there was still that ‘waiting’ that accompanies every attendee. I awoke Thursday, eager to begin. Unfortunately, my appointment with Jane was postponed until Friday. This ended up being a blessing, though I only realized that later.

Our keynote speaker that night, Liz Curtis Higgs, was awesome. Her message will stick with me. I wish I could carry her around in my pocket, and take her out from time to time for encouragement. The worship sessions were wonderful, a place of praise and healing. Joy shone from people’s faces as they sang. From that point on, I knew I had a great conference in store.

I rose Friday morning, encouraged by Lizzie’s (as she referred to herself) speech, and ready to face my first appointment. Jane met me in the hotel lobby. She prepared me for my meeting with Melissa Endlich, Steeple Hill editor, much like a cheerleader, pushing me from the sidelines with her encouragement and enthusiasm. She helped me hone my pitch, stressing the things I needed to bring out, even offering to do my pitch for me when I told her about my aversion to the silly things. I was floored by her outpouring of compassion and generosity. Forgive me, Jane. Even this little bit does not fully express how much your kind actions meant.

Immediately following my appointment with Jane, was Melissa Endlich. Funny how editors and agents are just like real people. They weren’t nearly as scary as I’d always made them out to be. For the first time, I saw them as friends, people just like me, who understood my nervousness and fears and wanted to help. While I can’t say it went without a hitch, it was encouraging to receive a request for a full manuscript. This, I know, was in part, thanks to Susan Downs’ gift of “Barbour Mystery Author” which each of us stuck to our name tags. I doubt that Susan realized as she labored over these small tokens, how many doors would be opened to us as a result. Thank you, Susan. You are a priceless gift.

Just when I thought the conference couldn’t get any better, Liz Curtis Higgs addressed us again, right after lunch on Saturday. Her message of hope and healing inspired me, touched me, moved me to tears. I’m scared to death to put my heart into my writing, but she taught me the importance of daring to try.

“God doesn’t waste anything,” Liz said. “He uses your sins and your hurts.”

Readers want to feel connected with my words. Unless I am brave enough to bare my soul, I cannot hope to change a reader’s heart, or help them heal a hurt. Thank you, Liz, for challenging me beyond what I thought I was able.

Saturday night—awards banquet. We celebrated the joys and excitement of the Book of the Year finalists, the Genesis finalists, and the Mentor of the Year. Congratulations to you, Colleen Coble, for having your book, Distant Echoes, named as the ACFW Book of the Year. Lena Nelson Dooley won Mentor of the Year, and after having spent time with her, it was easy for me to understand why. Lastly, I want to thank Marian Merritt, a dear friend that I met at last year’s conference, for giving me something to celebrate as she was named the Genesis winner for 2006. Congratulations, lady. I know it was well deserved.

We’re on our way home now. My immediate plans are to get right to work finishing the revisions on the manuscript Steeple Hill has requested. I’ve also got a proposal to send to agent Wendy Lawton. Hopefully, six months from now I will have heard from them both, and I’ll have two more things to celebrate as I lay plans for 2007. If you weren’t there this year, we missed you. Hopefully, things will be different next year, and we can all say, “See you in Dallas.”

6 comments :

Susan Page Davis said...

Wonderful capsule, Janelle. The conference was awesome, and I took away SO much to think about.
Love, Susan

Virginia Smith said...

Sounds like an awesome conference, Janelle. Thanks for such a terrific report. And good luck on those resulting submissions!

Sandra Robbins said...

I have to agree the conference was a wonderful experience. The sessions were great, the worship uplifting, and Liz made me want to write the words God gives me. I have to say, though, that another highlight was seeing Janelle's polished toenails. You looked good, girfriend.

Lisa said...

I agree, Sandra. The toenails...that had to be the highlight. ;-)

Honestly, I loved being surrounded by friends...all four hundred and four of them.

Lisa

Jess said...

The infamous painted toenails! How on earth did I miss them, Janelle? I agree about attending the conference with no agenda - just go and let God guide your path. It's exciting to see what He has in store for us. I made many new friends and connected with some old ones I'd lost along the way. This conference was a blessing.

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