2014 ACFW Conference Debrief: Breathe. Brave.

Genesis Finalist PinI’ll lead with the big news: I’m so pleased to be a 2014 Genesis Finalist! While I did not win in my category, my silver finalist pin is very, very shiny. 😀

Congrats to all Genesis and Carol Award winners and finalists!

And now it’s time for an ACFW 2014 conference debrief

Actually, it’s a week later and darn near past time for an ACFW 2014 conference debrief. Am I fully decompressed yet? I don’t know. My goals were to learn and to network–the latter being a big step out of my comfort zone. Nonetheless, it was a great conference, even though I lost track of my days around the time the guy at the airport car rental hub said, “Have a nice weekend.”

“Thanks!” I said, although I was thinking, It’s only Wednesday. Right?

I’m only mostly kidding when I say, I’m still not sure.

Wednesday, September 24

My husband and I made it safely to St. Louis. Since we only had one true day of vacation, we spent it on the logical thing: visiting the Gateway Arch!

ACFW 2014 (the ARCH!)

And of course, the Museum of Western Expansion was lots of fun.

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Then we had a lunch date, a nap, and a dinner date. I tried (unsuccessfully) not to be distracted by all the ACFW members I recognized from the Internet. 😉

Thursday, September 25

This was the official conference kick-off day. I started with a fun two-hour shift volunteering in the conference bookstore.

And then it was off to the Welcome and keynote address.

Speaker Lauraine Snelling gave the first part of her address. Some notable quotables:

“If God has called you to be a writer, you’d better do it!”

“God is growing us. He asks us to do things, but He says to us, ‘Ask Me and I’ll help you.'”

“Lots of our dreams get put on hold. Life gets in the way, but everything that gets in the way can be fodder for a book.”

“Start writing down the things God has done for you.”

She made reference to Jesus calling Peter out to walk on the water, which dovetailed with the lyrics to “You Make Me Brave.” My take-home: doubt sunk Peter, and there’s not much different about that for me. Also, “Lord, help me!” is a perfectly good prayer in that situation.

 Genre Dinner

Next was the Genre Dinner, a favorite conference event where authors may dress for the genre or time period they write. (I write mostly contemporary, so I didn’t dress up–but I did get to be a “lady’s maid” and help a friend into her Regency gown beforehand!)

After dinner, I had my appointment with official conference photographer Emilie Hendryx, so I’ll be debuting pretty new headshots soon. (Can’t wait!)

Then it was off to the Spotlight Sessions. I went for a glimpse of HarperCollins Christian Publishing and Revell.

HarperCollins Christian Publishing

VP and Publisher Daisy Hutton led a session focused on expanding their reach to broader audiences without abandoning their core reader. They are looking to get books into the ABA independent bookstores channel and optimize the publishing channels they are a part of.

Regarding self-publishing, they referred to an ongoing conversation of how they can add value for authors, how to increase ebook growth and how to price ebooks. However, they see no conflict between indie and traditional publishing. Daisy expressed an “all ships rise” mentality in the publishing world, stressing that there is a place for everyone.


Executive Editor Vicki Crumpton gave a brief history of Baker Publishing Group and Revell both independently and then as a division of Baker. She spoke briefly about their program and spent the majority of the session on Q&A.


I think it was Thursday evening that my husband and I watched Maleficent. I liked it a lot!

Friday, September 26

The Zone Breakfast is a chance to make connections with other writers in your region–but silly me, I completely forgot, in my attempt to get to breakfast on time, that it was a themed meal. I found my friend Jennifer Sienes, who gently pointed out to me that I was wearing a Southeast zone ribbon on my nametag, and they were a different zone at that table. Ohhh, right right right. Sorry!

A cool “God moment” happened right there–clear across a room with 500 or so people all looking for a seat, I heard my name called out. Ane Mulligan, a friend from the Southeast zone, spotted me floundering and called me to the table! And then I had coffee and the clouds of brain fog parted.

I sprang a leak as Rachel Hauck and the band led us in worshiping our Lord. :’)

The Power and Heart of a Novel — Gail Gaymer Martin

Friday was the Continuing Education day. Highlights from the two-part sessions I attended:

The novelist’s three-fold mission: conflict, tension, and emotion.

Conflict is the power that moves the story.

Characters’ personalities change their reactions. Think about how different people in different situations would see a scene, object, or circumstance through their unique personalities and back stories.

Some methods to create tension in a story: introspection, dilemmas, a ticking clock, dialogue, subtext, avoidance, and pacing.

Emotion will follow very closely with tension.

 Keynote, Part 2

At lunch on Friday, we received the second part of Lauraine Snelling’s keynote. And here is where #ACFW2014 started getting really personal.

Lauraine told us to breathe. From the diaphragm. Shoulders down. Fill our lungs and expand at our belly buttons. Hold…. and release.

Once again, this recalled for me a line from one of the worship songs. “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise…” It’s astounding with a few deep breaths will do to invite peace and calm into the body and spirit. And then to remember what God has done for us, that our Creator breathed life into us and that our very breath belongs to Him, it’s still astounding, and yet that peace begins to make complete sense.

She advised us to study people. To realize that the person who can hurt you the most is the one you love the most… but  that (1) God will never let us go, and (2) it’s going to be part of a story someday.

This quote challenged and humbled me: “None of us are grateful enough for the gift He has given us in us. In the experiences God has given us.”

And this: “Mine the wealth God has given.”

In summary: If God made me a writer, and gives me tough stuff to go through, He’s giving me lots of material. I can bless others with it. I can give Him thanks for it. I can thank Him for everything.

Breathe. He makes me brave.

 Down-time, Downtown

Friday night was scheduled free time, and mine was spent at the Hartline Literary Agency client dinner. We went to the Old Spaghetti Factory. It was great fun to connect with agency founder Joyce Hart, my own agent Jim Hart, and other writers represented by the agency.

Outside the restaurant, there was such a cool view of the Gateway Arch in the distance, framed by buildings as I looked up the alleyway. My phone just couldn’t do it justice.

ACFW 2014 (Old Spaghetti Factory)

Saturday, September 27

Saturday brought another “moment” at breakfast.

I won a book on Renee-Ann Giggie’s blog last week, and she said she’d bring it to me at conference. We texted and planned to meet at breakfast. She saved me a seat.

When I found her, a very tall man was standing there, kind of leaning on the empty chair she saved for me.

I stood there, semi-smiling, all awkward-sauce, while they conversed. Then he turned to me and gave my name tag a look. “Hi, Brandy.”

“Hi… Allen. What do you write?” (A pretty safe question at a writers’ conference, usually.)

“I don’t write.”

With all the wit of the Heineman I was raised to be, I fired back, “Oh. Then what are you doing here?”

“Well, I’m on the [ACFW Executive] Board, and I’m a publisher.” Another few words of chit-chat, and then the emcee, Brandilyn Collins, called Allen Arnold up on stage to say a few words to the entire roomful of people. Yep, you heard it here: Brandy’s mouthing off to the brass. As per usual.


The moral of my two breakfast parables is this: Feed me coffee. Early and often. Not terribly profound, but there you go.

The day-time schedule was full of classes! A brief rundown:

Publishing Contracts — Rick Acker & Steve Laube

This lawyer-and-literary-agent duo teamed up to explain common contract clauses from both a traditional publishing standpoint and the indie distributor contracts offered by Smashwords, CreateSpace, et al.

The session covered these basic kinds of clauses: the Grant of Rights (trad)/ Grant & Territory (indie); Out of Print (trad)/ Termination (indie); Royalties (everyone’s favorite); Audit Rights, Copyright Notice and Registration, Noncompetition, Editing and Publishing Details (all trad); Author’s Representations and Warranties (trad)/Warranties (indie).

It was a good session. I caught up with Steve Laube afterwards to thank him for injecting a little humor into what can be a dry and confusing topic.

Mind Magic Writing — Ronie Kendig

Easily my favorite workshop of the day, and possibly of the whole conference. I took tons of notes, so here are a few highlights:

Explaining the session title: “Design + Marketing = Magic”

Focus business writing on action, results and goals. Avoid disqualifiers.

Negative space creates balance but also a paradox: the absence of text/graphics actually draws attention, but a wall of text is painful.

We all have a literary signature. Forensic linguistics (word pairings, word/sentence structure and paragraph length, commonly used words) can reveal us and surprising details about us as writers.

Immersion in story and character: Keep the domino effect in play. If one thing changes, they all change. How does a change impact the character’s job? relationships? decisions? setting? viewpoints? beliefs? emotions?

Remember that God asked you to write and that confidence is like muscle–the more you use it, the stronger it gets. (i.e., Breathe. Brave.)

Side Note: I don’t know how long this promo will last, but the Kindle edition of Ronie’s novel Raptor 6 is free right now… Snag it while you can!

I skipped the 2 o’clock hour of classes for another shift in the bookstore, and then proceeded on to…

Author Law 101 — Rick Acker & Cara Putman

To be honest, my head was full by then and my notes in this class are pretty sketchy, as I had to slip away for a mentor appointment during the session. I’ll catch it on the conference audio later!

And then, it was time to get ready for…

The Awards Gala

Here is where I had to engage that “breathe… brave…” idea. Although I was happy either way, whether I won or not, I was just really nervous.

ACFW 2014 (Awards Gala)

I shouldn’t have been. It was a great night. I got to sit with WORD buddy (and newly minted Genesis winner!) Kristi Ann Hunter. And one of my very favorite authors, Karen Witemeyer, also sat at our table, which was a lot of fun. And the meal was top-notch.

There’s a live blog and lists of all award recipients available at the ACFW site.

Sunday, September 28

You thought that was it? Not at all! The Post-Conference Session started bright and early.

How to be an Insanely Great Indie Author — Randy Ingermanson

Randy Ingermanson is a funny guy. He’s also an intensely smart guy, and if you give him a 3 hour session, he’s going to fill it to the brim with 160 info-rich PowerPoint slides. I’m boiling them down to this:

The definition of “Insanely Great” is modeled after Apple’s success, and it refers to a period of runaway growth;

and this:

The End

And then, we flew home. Good ol’ Atlanta, right where we left it.

God blessed the time, definitely. I enjoyed time with my husband. I connected with so many more new and old friends that I could mention here, but I want to spread some link love to Conni Cossette, Meghan Carver, Cass Wessel, Joy Avery Melville, Ron Estrada, Dana R. Lynn, Christina Banks, Nicole Quigley, Ashley Mays, Holly Michael, Diana Sharples, Becca Whitham, Edie Melson, and Shelia Stovall in particular. The conference theme was Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.” You all surely sharpened me.

I arrived at #ACFW2014 with the goal of learning and networking, but I left with a charge I didn’t expect…

Breathe. Brave.

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