Monday, September 23, 2013

Meeting the Master--My ACFW 2013 Conference Experience

Kara Hunt, Pegg Thomas, and myself
We're three members of six in a critique group called
the "Quid Pro Quills."
For months leading up to the ACFW Conference, I prepared in anticipation--polishing my novel to pitch to editors and agents, choosing outfits and deciding what to pack, praying for wisdom and the right words to make someone want my book, helping my critique partners polish their novels, printing out proposals and one-sheets, ordering business get the idea. I foolishly put way too much pressure on myself, believing everything had to be perfect since the conference was being held close to home and it might be my only opportunity for years to do this.

But closer to conference time, my attitude and prayers began to change. ACFW offers an email loop for first-time conference goers--this year led by the humorous and upbeat Brandilyn Collins and the sweet, knowledgeable Cara C. Putman--to help them prepare, know what to expect, and provide the opportunity to meet other first-timers. A few weeks before the big day, an email came through from someone expressing how nervous they were. The wise and experienced Brandilyn and Cara helped ease our fears by explaining that we shouldn't come with a particular outcome in mind. We should go to this conference ready to learn, with no expectations, and let God work His will through us. I have to admit, I was very ashamed of myself after reading this because, sadly, I had begun to lose sight of the fact that God is in control of my journey, and I need to follow Him in this, not myself.

That's when I began praying that God would help me to put myself aside and allow Him to make this conference what He wanted it to be for me, even if it didn't include any contracts.

God did just that.

One week before conference, my dad--56--went in for back surgery and had a heart attack on the table. The doctor and nurses rushed to close him up, flip him over, and revive him. They were able to get him stabilized and settled in "recovery," but he was in very critical condition with no guarantee that he would pull through. For four days they kept him under heavy sedation, assisted with a ventilator. Slowly, his vitals started to return to normal. On the fifth day, the nurses woke him from his sedation and gave him several hours to rally around. When he didn't, we all knew something was gravely wrong. My parent's pastor showed up at the hospital during the time he should've been giving his congregation a sermon. The pastor told us that God spoke to him and told him he was needed with us, so he called in a replacement and drove to the hospital. That being said, I knew then that one way or another our lives were about to change.

The doctor ordered a CT scan that showed Dad had suffered a severe stroke and another was active as they were running the test. Due to the damage and location of the stroke, we were told to prepare ourselves as he would probably not make it through.

Tough words to hear. I've always been a daddy's girl, and though I know he's put his faith and trust in Jesus and will spend eternity in heaven, I didn't want to say good-bye. I wondered if the pastor was there to help us do that very thing. I stood next to Daddy as he gazed at me with a blank expression and told him how much I love him. I asked him if he loved me, and he rapidly blinked his eyes. I asked again, and he responded the same way. I knew he was trying his best to communicate, and he was still in there somewhere.

I believe there's power in prayer, and I asked my Facebook friends (old and new) to please pray for my dad. Those of us at the hospital surrounded my dad's bed as the staff made preparations to transfer him to another hospital and prayed. My mom told her pastor that the bible says if we ask for something in God's name, faith not wavering, He will give it to us (Mark 11:22,23). We prayed for a miracle.

Five hours passed, and Dad was transferred to a hospital with neuro-specialists who did several evaluations. At this point, his eyes would not dilate at all in the presence of light, and he couldn't move his arms or legs. A neurosurgeon met us in the waiting room and told us that the swelling of his brain was pressing on the brain stem and that our only chance to save him would be to go in, remove the part of the brain that had been damaged, alleviate the pressure, and give the brain more room to swell if it continued. We trusted the doctor's judgement and prayed that Dad would survive another surgery.

He did.

Two hours later, his pupils were dilating and he could move his arms and legs. Another CT scan showed the swelling was already diminishing. He seemed to know exactly what we were saying to him and could even shake his head when asked questions. Within two days, the nurses had removed the ventilator. He was able to speak clearly as if nothing happened. He knew the month, day, and year, and knew who all his visitors were (and there were a lot!). God gave us the miracle we asked for. Yes, the doctors and nurses knowledge saved my dad's life, but God gave them that knowledge, and God was in control the entire time.

What does all this have to do with conference? Everything. Though I didn't feel right going to the conference after everything that had happened in the past week, my family members encouraged me to go since my dad was doing so well, and I would be closer to the hospital than I would be at home if something were to happen. So, I went.

The Hyatt Regency, Indianapolis
Location of 2013 ACFW Conference

Albeit, the first day of conference, Friday, was a struggle for me. My body was present, but my heart was not. It was with my dad. But the keynote address by speaker Robin Jones Gunn was amazing and stirred my heart. God has truly blessed that woman with the gift of storytelling.

As the day progressed, I realized how completely unprepared I was to pitch my novel in light of all that had happened the week prior, so I utilized the prayer room and asked God to meet me at this conference in the way that He wanted. In a mass of over 600 attendees, I met one of my critique partners in person, Pegg Thomas--who writes historical fiction with humor--and through laughter and close fellowship, helped uplift my heavy heart.

Me and Pegg Thomas
The evening ended with a class I attended--a spotlight on Bethany House Publishers, where Charlene Patterson and Dave Long (editors at BH) explained what they were looking for in new authors. Here, I met Becky Wade in person (who you all know I'm a huge fan of). She signed my copy of My Stubborn Heart, along with offering a heartfelt hug.

Saturday began with breakfast (and lots and lots of coffee!) and my first appointment to pitch my book to a lovely agent who I'd love to work with. Unprepared and nervous, she calmed my jittery nerves with her easy manner. She was so easy to talk to.

That afternoon, I took a class on "The First 50 Pages" taught by Jeff Gerke, took a much needed nap, and volunteered to work the silent auction room, where I met the lovely Cara C. Putman and her mother (who was so precious I wanted to take her home with me).

Sunday was full of activities, beginning--again--with lots of coffee! After breakfast, I got a hug from Denise Hunter and we chatted for a few minutes. I had three more appointments, two with editors and another with an agent. Another great keynote address by Robin Jones Gunn shook me hard. Her story of how God has used her writing to touch people's lives reiterated how I need to follow Him on this journey and let Him work through me to help others. After all, He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews  12:1,2). I am nothing without Him.

During worship, the mass of attendees sang their hearts out to God. Voices spilled out the ballroom doors and down into the lobby where all guests and employees could hear. Even some of the serving staff sang along.

Me and Karen Witemeyer, author of historical romance
with Bethany House
I thoroughly enjoyed Karen Witemeyer's class on "Author Voice." She is so sweet and encouraging, and has a heart for helping aspiring authors.

The gorgeous Kara Hunt!
My other critique partner, Kara Hunt, arrived, and I was so excited to meet her, I skipped my class with Tosca Lee (but will still get to hear it when the entire conference on flash drive arrives in my mailbox). Kara is so genuine and funny. Meeting her and Pegg--I felt like I'd known them forever. I'm so blessed with a wonderful critique group. I only wish the other three could've been there!

The Annual Awards Gala was so much fun. Everyone was dressed in their best, dinner was divine, and I loved watching the winners take the stage and accept their much-deserved awards.

Me with Frank Peretti
ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award

Brandilyn Collins
Beth Wiseman, giving her thank-you speech

Me and Pegg again!
All the free books I got to take home!!

Me and Rachel Hauck
She's one of my all-time favorite authors!

This conference was an amazing experience for me in so many ways. I learned things about writing and about myself, enjoyed the worship, discovered what not to do when pitching a book, and met a lot of great people. But inspite of learning how to master my craft, most of all--after I put myself aside--I met with the Master.


  1. It was a wonderful time - no doubt! Loved meeting you and Kara face-to-face too. I don't know when we can do it again... but we'll find a way. :)

  2. Well said. You touched my heart with this posting.

  3. Candice -

    It was so nice to meet you at ACFW! I finally got around to going through my business cards and had to pop over! I hope your dad is doing well after all of that! Man! God is so good isn't He?!

    So glad you came and had a great time!!!