“God has a story to tell about you.
A major part of it is you telling yours.”
– Tosca Lee
I’m not a big fan of writing conferences.
They can be fantastic places to meet fans who encourage us, colleagues looking to collaborate, or even publishers seeking the next great work. But they can also be a substitute for the actual work of writing—not to mention conditioning us to write for other writers, not necessarily for a wider audience.
At various points in my own writing journey, conference-hopping became a way to avoid the real work at home that was messier and much more lonely. So naturally, you can imagine my mixed feelings as I set out for the Realm Makers last week.
RM is unique in its mission: a conference for writers of speculative fiction who also happen to be Christians. It’s the only conference that tackles this ambitious (and controversial) goal, so naturally, curiosity overcame my reserve.
I first heard about Realm Makers through my extremely prolific and well-connected friend Torry Martin. He introduced me to Ben Wolf, publisher of Splickety Magazine and subsidiaries, who introduced me to Becky Minor, independent fantasy author, founder of Faith and Fantasy Alliance, and organizer of the conference.
Becky invited me to come speak on steampunk.
Dozens of emails and hours of preparation later, I arrived on the campus of Villanova University, outside Philadelphia,where eighty-some writers spent two days together enjoying workshops on business and craft, not to mention the annual costume awards banquet, meals in the dining hall, and a Saturday night book signing.
I was happy to go and share what I’ve gleaned on my journey with steampunk. But God knows, when I got there, I realized I needed to be encouraged just as much as I needed to encourage others.
Of course, there was the sheer adventure of it. Put eight dozen fantasy, sci-fi, and horror writers on an empty college campus any day and you’re bound to have a story on the other side. Add New York Times bestseller Tosca Lee, a team of spunky MCs from the flash fiction imprint Splickety, and a panel of faculty with widely divergent experience, and you’ll probably end up with an epic.
Can we keep it under 120,000 words, at least?
Not a chance.
But for me, the real game-changers were Tosca’s opening and closing addresses, one of which was a rousing celebration of the true impact of speculative fiction on our culture. The other was an honest look at the “demons” we writers face on our own journey with writing. “Twin demons attack every project,” she noted. “One of them is perfectionism. The other is fear.”
Considering my own ongoing battle with perfectionism, this was salve for my soul. A NYT best-selling writer, just as afraid as I was? Just as willing to procrastinate because she doesn’t like the mess in between “Once Upon A Time” and “The End?”
I took great courage from these words, and also great resolve. It is possible not to be defined by this struggle. Not to give in. Not to become a statistic of those who “wanted to write a novel” but never finished the manuscript.
Eight published (and popular) novels later, Tosca Lee is living proof that the journey itself is not the end.
And so I came home to Wisconsin this week and told my faithful writing/business partner at City Beast Studio, Terry Reed, that I wanted to finish a piece I’ve been working on for six years. Like, now. Like, by Labor Day.
We started working on it this week. Hard.
In view of that alone, I’d say that Realm Makers 2014 was a rousing success. Maybe I’ll venture out to conferences a little more often in the future . . .
And write like a fiend in between.