5 Outsider Observations about the 2016 ACFW Conference

Here’s the deal. I write non-fiction. For those of you who slept through Language Arts, or are accountants, that means I write about things based on facts, real events, and real people. Fiction writers, on the other hand, write about things that are imagined, though they may be portrayed in such a way they feel like reality. Like one who comes across a group of children painting a fence and expects to find Tom Sawyer among them.

I don’t know a lot about writing fiction. That’s why it comes as such a surprise (to myself included) that I attended a fiction writer’s conference this weekend. No seriously, I’m not making this up. I’m a non-fiction writer, remember. I stick with the facts.

I just returned from Nashville, Tennessee where I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference.

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With over 550 in attendance who specialize in literary categories such as fantasy, sci-fi, romance, young adult suspense, historical drama, or crime thriller, I was really a fish out of genre.

During the countless introductions between myself and other writers, the same question would be posed. “What do you write?”

“Non-fiction.” I’d respond with a smile. And then they’d all look at me as if I had two heads. The sci-fi people were mentally writing my character into their next book.

Then they’d slowly and sweetly say, “You know you’re at a fiction writers conference, right?”

Yes. Yes. I knew. And I’d explain how I got there. That I am friends with an amazing Christian fiction writer, Colleen Coble, who lives near my hometown and who has been ever so gracious to help mentor me as I dream of a writing career. I’d relay that Colleen taught me that whether writing the truth or the imagined, the craft of storytelling is much the same. That she believed I would learn a lot from the conference teachers, and that she knew that the many agents and editors in attendance work with both fiction and non-fiction writers.

This would all make perfect sense to the fiction writers. Colleen is basically a rock-star in their books (figuratively, not literally). She has published over fifty books and is the CEO of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association (ACFW). If Colleen says it, even fiction writers know it’s as good as truth. I had a golden ticket in my mentor and friend.

But, I already knew that.

So once we writers got past the initial shock of my presence, we would have the most wonderful conversations. We’d talk about each other’s books, dreams, and families. We’d laugh and shake our heads at the amazing room full of talent. I was so impressed with their creativity and kindness.

I admit there were a few moments when genre explanations would cause my eyes to grow wide. Like the woman who told me she wrote “paranormal romance without the erotica.” I guess I just wasn’t expecting that phrase to come out of her mouth and it took a while for the little Plinko chip in my brain to bounce off the pegs and settle into the slot of acceptance. But it turns out she was very sweet and became a friend that promised to keep in touch. I hope she gets a good wifi signal on her spaceship.

And so as I now sit at home in my favorite recliner and mentally debrief the past few days I thought I’d make a few observations as an “outsider.” Sometimes those are the most enlightening because of the fresh perspective. So without further ado, I give you:

5 Outsider Observations about the 2016 ACFW Conference

1. The agent and editor appointments are serious business. (Like, sweaty palms and shaky leg serious.) But they are amazing opportunities.

Attendees are given a very special piece of paper when you check in on day one and this sheet tells you who you are meeting with and when. At your appointment you have 15 minutes to pitch a book proposal to an agent or editor. 15 minutes. No more. Time keepers come to the door and cut you off. They may or may not be trained in judo.

Before your appointment you prepare and you practice and you put on more deodorant. And then it’s your time. Your time slot has been called. You have been chosen like one of the little green aliens grabbed by the big claw in Toy Story and you rise from your chair and walk down the hall. You sit across from your potential dream-come-true-maker and you say stuff. Hopefully it sounds better than that last sentence.

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I pitched twice on Saturday to two different literary agents. It turns out they are not nearly as scary as I feared. They smiled at me and even made some small talk. I took some deep breaths and we got through it together. I appreciated their gracious feedback and will look forward to following up with their advice. All in all, these appointments are a GREAT opportunity the ACFW conference presents. Attendees should not miss this chance!

9 out of 10 editors agree.

2. Literary agents, editors, and successful published authors are real people too.

Contrary to popular belief, these skilled professionals put their pants on one leg at a time. (I didn’t actually witness this, but it’s what they tell me.) The first night of the conference I sat for two hours and listened to two different panels of literary agents answer questions about pitching, proposals, and publishing. There were 13 total agents and I could have told you 11 of their names and partial bios before they were introduced. Listen. I’m not a stalker. I just use the internet. I’ve been reading these people’s blogs and tweets for months and I respect them greatly. I was a little star struck seeing them in real life. (Oh my gosh! Chip MacGregor just looked my way!)

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These agents and their fellow laborers, the editors and successful published authors, are just like me. Only they actually make money in the writing business. But seriously, they are so humble, funny, kind and gracious and they are at the conference to discover new talent and to help writers! These professionals WANT to help and know HOW. It’s a great two-for-one.

3. Writers are nice.

I don’t know what I expected, but I thought maybe there would be at least an undertone of competiveness among the conference attendees. I was wrong. Instead, everyone I met was my new friend and cheerleader. We prayed for each other, swapped ideas and advice for pitches, gave hugs, and dealt each other drugs (ibuprofen) for stress headaches. We swapped business cards and handed out compliments. One woman gave me a piece of chocolate. It felt like a cozy home away from home in that huge air conditioned banquet room. And that’s saying something.

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4. Lighted magnifying mirrors in the hotel bathrooms are not a great tool to utilize for face scrutiny before a meeting with an agent or editor. You just saw freckles and pores you didn’t know existed. You didn’t need to see that. Enough said.

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5. The “C” in ACFW stands for Christian, and they ain’t joking.

Each day we were led in a time of worship. The vocalists and musicians that led were wonderful, not just in talent, but in leadership. They didn’t make it about them, they made it about God. The songs and worship times glorified the One who is more creative than any room full of story creators. The focus was on Him. My voice caught in my throat one day as I glanced around the room and saw men and women, old and young, with all colors of hair, skin, and clothing raising hands and worshiping the Almighty God. No book contract could ever bring a sweeter collaboration.

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The shock is wearing off. I went to a fiction writing conference.

Did I get home after midnight and have to drive almost seven hours each way by myself? Yes. Did I drink enough caffeine the past three days to damage my kidneys? Maybe. Did my brain cry out for sweet relief after feeling as if one more bullet point would cause it to burst. You know it. Did the valet parking fee use up my eat-out budget for a few weeks. Dang it.

Was it worth it all?

Absolutely.

And you can trust me. I’m a non-fiction writer.

Mullets and Web Widgets.

I got my hair cut on Friday but didn’t expect anyone to notice.

It was one of those trims that was healthy for the removal of split ends and getting bangs out of my eyes, but was not meant to change my “look.” I would have been surprised if anyone did comment on the trim. Especially my husband, who struggles to notice the big style changes. But, that’s another blog post.

This week my website got a makeover. And it was more than a little trim. I feel like it went from long, flowing locks to a pixie cut, or something like that. What I’m trying to say is, my website has a new look. I hope you don’t think it’s a mullet.

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The new updates include:

  • A new tagline

    Stories. Truth. Hope. 
    I wanted to choose words that summarize what I write about and why. I’m a storyteller. That’s just my style. And I tell true stories and not fiction, so “truth” seemed to be an appropriate word. I also love to point to what I believe to be Truth- God’s Word. And ultimately, whether I’m writing about parenting a child with cancer, getting through a mundane day as a mom, struggling through life transitions,  faith, or just some goofy story that just makes us all laugh, I want to hold out hope to my readers.

  • New pages in the menu

    I have now included pages explaining who I am (About Christy), why I’m called a “cancer mom,” why I wrote Bible curriculum, and the details of some of my other writing and speaking.

  • New photos

    I’m not going to lie. My husband took my headshot photo here at home. It’s not what you would call “professionally done.” I made him take approximately 78 photos before I found one I liked. He thought they all looked identical in the first place. Anyway, you get the idea of what I look like. We’re not planning to open a Glamour Shots studio anytime soon.

  • Well placed web widgets

    The word “widget” is not in my everyday vocabulary. But sometimes you’ve gotta say what you’ve gotta say. Case in point, we found ourselves running late to meet up with some friends this weekend because I was trying to fix a feature on my website. This involved customizing a web widget. When I gave this as an excuse for why we were running late they looked at me as a dog would when hearing a high-pitched whistle. Their heads tilted slightly and they looked confused/annoyed. Nonetheless, my web widgets are customized making it easier for you to receive an email each time I post a new blog. All you need to do is add your email address under the header photo where it says “Follow this blog.” Clearly, a web widget win.

What stayed the same?

  • My blog, Ten Blue Eyes, is still there! Same name, different look.

 

Again, I’d be honored if you’d consider following me by adding your email address under the header photo. Thanks so much! (PS- if you’re reading this in an email it means you already are following me. You’re on the ball!)

 

Just like they say. “Major website makeover. No split ends.”

 

 

Together.

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The five of us knelt by the couch in our family room. Our hair was blonder and our skin more tan than three months before when summer began. Now it was the night before school started back in session. The eve of routine and alarm clocks.

My husband asked if I’d be the one to pray aloud for the family as we prepared for the next morning and new season of life. I agreed, but took a deep breath first as the thoughts of all the transitions to come filled my mind.

Our oldest child would be heading to middle school in the morning at a somewhat ungodly hour. Many days he’ll leave before the sun comes up. He had practiced his locker combination and reviewed his new schedule sufficiently, yet it felt like the unknowns still trumped our preparation.

Our middle child was off to second grade, where reading skills and independence increase at a surprising but encouraging rate. She’s turning into a little lady right before my eyes.

And the biggest transition that was looming over me and causing my shoulders to be tense with dreaded anticipation was sending our youngest child to Kindergarten. After twelve years of staying home full-time with my children, I felt a sadness about my impending empty day-time nest.

Finally I began to pray aloud. My voice quivered a few times as thanked God for His goodness and the gift of a wonderful summer. I had to swallow several times and clear my throat as I asked Him to guide our children this school year and to give them each the two things I most often request on their  behalf: wisdom and courage.

Wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it. 

As I said “Amen” my son glanced my way to verify his suspicion that I was holding back the tears. I shrugged and made small talk about getting up to bed. Transitions are hard enough for the kids without them realizing Mommy is about to melt.

Before they got their last drinks of water for the evening and headed up the steps we gathered in a circle and put our hands together. We were as ready as we could be to face the newness.

Now five days later with a week of school under our belts we’ve dealt with a few highs and lows. We’ve rejoiced about sitting next to best friends and eating really good middle school cafeteria lunches (really?). We’ve also had sobbing at the bus stop wishing for more days at home with Mommy. My heart and neck muscles have been wrenched even further. We’ve had excitement over new opportunities to play in the school band, and disappointment for getting scolding for taking too many grapes in the 2nd grade lunch line. Oh, the grapes of wrath!

But we have each other still.

We’ve got each other’s back and we’ve wiped each other’s tears. We’ve delivered forgotten items to the school and slapped each other on the back with joy over new successes.

And so dear family, my favorite home team, here’s to a great school year and to acceptance of all the transitions that comes our way.

May we have the wisdom to know how to live well, and courage to make it happen!


This post is linked up with the Five Minute Friday blogging community. Each Friday a one-word prompt is given here and bloggers are challenged to write for about five minutes about whatever come to mind based on the word. This weeks’ word: TEAM

 

 

Island Issues.

My dad called me earlier this summer and sent me on a mission. He was out of town and afraid Costco would sell out of a large raft he’d seen and he thought we needed it for our upcoming lake vacation.

Operation vacation floatation accepted.

And then I stood frozen in the aisle at Costco. I stared at the box that contained the said raft and dialed Dad’s number. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word raft. The thing comfortably seats seven adults and boasts six cup holders. It may be visible from space.

“You know this thing is ginormous, right?” I said into my phone with raised eyebrows as I tried to figure out how to lift the box into my shopping cart.

“Yes, it will be fun. Just grab it. I’ll pay you back.”

Never mind the story of how I got it into my van with only my six-year-old’s assistance, and how we blew it up and got it into the water and anchored at the lake.

Bottom line: we’ve got our own island now. Zip code not included.

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But here’s the problem. There’s no good way to get on this thing. No ladder. No handles. No flight attendant holding out her hand for assistance.

My process to board the island resembles a walrus rolling onto shore, only not nearly as graceful.

One time my son, who was already on the island, offered his assistance. He pulled me up and our momentum continued until I knocked us both over and landed on top of him.

“Are you okay?” I asked once I found which way was up.

“Yeah, you didn’t hurt me, you just held my head under water for awhile.”

Oh, that’s all. Glad it wasn’t more serious.

The kids are the most successful at boarding the island, but teenagers and grandmas alike have had some serious island arrival issues. We’ve laughed at each other and cheered our successes. Sometimes we tell others to look away so as to save some embarrassment. Other times we own the hilarity.

And as in life on dry land, it helps to know we’re not alone in the struggle.

Sometimes we help each other by offering a hand. Other times we make life better by laughing together at our failures and encouraging each other to try again. Sometimes we take each other down in our desire to be a team, and sometimes we lift each other up in triumph.

But we’re in this life full of struggle together. It’s a lot better that way.

No man is a floating island.

 


This post is part of the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers are invited to write for about five minutes about a topic after being given a one-word prompt.

This week’s word: HELP

 

 

 

Snail Spa

I’ve heard it said that no lake vacation is complete without a man-made snail habitat. Er, something like that. But I can’t argue with the saying, because it certainly rang true for us.

While spending a week with our extended family, my daughters and their cousin not only discovered the snails in the shallow water of the lake, but “rescued” them and carried them a good twenty feet from the water to our deck railing. The girls then spent hours caring for the snails and building a natural habitat out of paper bowls, water from a squirt gun, leaves, scissors, and dish soap.

Of course the scissors and leaves were part of the snail clothing design unit and not so much the living quarters, but useful nonetheless.

The habitat was complete and the snails were quite spoiled with their own bathtubs, showers, and even a hot tub. I can’t speak for the snails, but who could really dislike such a variety of hygiene and relaxation options?

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As I watched the girls bathe the snails for the forty-second time it occurred to me that as parents we really don’t need to create fun for our kids as often as we think we do. Sure, sometimes it’s good to play a family board game or a round of “I Spy” in the car, but most of the time, kids just need a little freedom and maybe some Palmolive.

It’s a delight to watch a child’s imagination at work and to see their little hands design and create- even if it leaves you with a mess and a few less paper bowls in your stash.


This post is was inspired by the Five Minute Friday blogging community where bloggers are invited to write about a topic for about 5 minutes based on a one-word prompt. To see more of this week’s post from other bloggers visit here: http://katemotaung.com/2016/07/14/five-minute-friday-create/

This week’s prompt: CREATE

Give It A Rest.

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It’s really just a piece of junk that our dentist gave my son as a prize after a routine teeth cleaning. The pink and blue toy top with the smiley face lays on the floor as another hazard for bare feet, along with the Barbie shoes and plastics beads.

With a quick snap of my thumb and middle finger I send the top into motion. It spins across the floor and the happy face blurs out of focus. I watch it and also notice the dust and dirt that’s been tracked into the house on our many trips in and out.

We’ve been busy.

Summer break has begun, but our calendar apparently didn’t get the memo. Each day we’ve set alarms and helped bleary-eyed children get dressed and out the door for our fun-filled camps and summer activities. Three weeks into this routine is enough. Thankfully now the pace is slowing down.

But just as the top begins to wobble more as it slows, I feel as if I’m becoming a little unsteady myself. The motion has brought joy, but I feel that for it to continue to do so, it first needs to stop and be intentionally set back into motion.

Sometimes a reset is needed.

The top slowly ceases moving and rests on its side. The happy face is back in full focus. And this is clear to me as well.

Rest makes it easier to get a good grip and a nice start to the motion.

Just watch your step if you leave your toy resting on the floor.


This post is part of the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers are invited to write for about five minutes based on a one-word prompt. To see other posts on this same topic click here: http://katemotaung.com/2016/06/23/five-minute-friday-rest/

Today’s prompt: REST

 

Nothing to Lose.

I’ll never forget what she said. She stood behind the simple podium telling a room full of young moms the heartbreaking story of her infant daughter’s death. My throat felt tight and many eyes twinkled with tears as she told our MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group the details of her unimaginable loss. But it was one statement in particular that hit me. And it stuck. Though it has been years since that morning, I have replayed her words in my head often, as if she said them just last week.

She said something like;

“This may sound strange, but now that we have other children and I try every day to protect them from this world and to raise them right, there are times when I’m thankful that the daughter that we lost is already safe. Nothing can harm her now. She’s with the Heavenly Father, and she’s safe.”

Her transparency is capable of encouraging many others to live with such a perspective. Her worldview is an eternal one. Her hope is not rooted on Earth, but in Heaven. Her trust is in an invisible and loving God.

Though she has lost the most precious thing, she has nothing to lose.

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I know for a fact that this woman would have rather not faced her horrific pain in order to gain such a mature and godly perspective. But we don’t always have a choice in our life lesson plan. We do however have a choice in how we’ll accept it.

And her words remind me to accept an eternal perspective.

That with our Heavenly Father’s love and the gift of hope He offers, we have everything to gain.

And when we rest in the Truth, we have nothing to lose.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot 


This post of a part of the Five Minute Friday community where a group of bloggers write for about 5 minutes about a topic based on a one-word prompt. To see other posts from this week you can click here: http://katemotaung.com/2016/06/16/five-minute-friday-lose/ 

This week’s prompt: LOSE

In Plenty And In Want.

It was a few tissues and an empty Starbucks cup that tipped me over the edge. They were strewn on the floor around the empty trash can instead of being out by the curb with the rest of the trash that my husband had collected. Didn’t he see he’d dropped it and he really hadn’t completed his task of taking the trash out? I would be sure to mention this to him.

And I did.

“You left a mess of trash on the floor out there and you forgot to put a trash bag in the upstairs trash can. Basically, you completed half of your job.” I said in a huff later that afternoon.

I wanted him to get it right. I wanted him to do his whole job with no mistakes and no delay. I wanted him to make me happy and not leave extra work for me. I wanted him to be perfect.

Somewhere along the way in marriage the “wants” change.

IMG_5301When we were dating I wanted him to sit by me. To take me out to dinner. To kiss me. To propose. I wanted him to want me and choose me to be his forever.

When we said our vows we said we’d love each other “in plenty and in want,” and we meant it. Of course, that meaning of the word “want” in that context is to be in a struggle or need of material possessions or money. And that is a “want” that we, middle class Americans, have never truly known.

Somewhere along the way in marriage the “wants” change.

The focus changed. It went from me wanting him to choose me, to me wanting him to do things for me.

My focus used to be on him, and now it is more often on myself.

I want him to provide and protect.

I want him to help with the kids.

I want him to help me keep the house in order.

I want him to take all the trash out.

Somewhere along the way in marriage the “wants” change.

And each day I need the reminder to strive to change them back.

To ask myself how he’d want me to serve him. And to faithfully put him above myself.

To love and cherish the wonderful man I married. In sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.

In plenty and in want.

———-

This post is a part of the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers write about a topic, based on a one-word prompt, for about five minutes. To join us, check it out here: http://katemotaung.com/2016/06/09/five-minute-friday-want/

This week’s prompt: WANT

Famous Wise Sayings (Mommy Style)

Happy Mother’s Day! Here’s to “keeping it real.”

Christy Cabe

DSC_0293I have great and utter respect for Benjamin Franklin, Albert Eisenstein and Thomas Jefferson. The guys who wrote the Chinese proverbs and whoever thinks up the sayings on fortune cookie papers aren’t bad either. Some people just say some smart stuff. Ya know?

But today I’d like to keep things real. What if the famous wise sayings of old were written by a mommy who was still wearing her bath robe and slippers and was able to just say it like it is. I’m talking about Mommy Wisdom. Smart little nuggets for REAL, daily life.

This thought struck me as I cleaned up a spill on my kitchen table and floor for the third, yes third, time in one day. Thus leading me to my first Mommy wise saying amendment…

Don’t cry over spilled milk.

AMENDMENT: Don’t sob over spilled milk. Deep breaths and/or moderate sighing is encouraged. If…

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34.

In honor of Mother’s Day weekend, I am sharing this post from four years ago about the struggle I felt as I turned 34- the same age my mother was when she passed away.

Christy Cabe

23 years ago today my Mom, Mary Miller, died suddenly of a heart arrhythmia. She was 34 years old.

This Friday is my birthday. I will be turning 34.

I’m going to be very honest here and admit that I’m struggling with turning 34.  It has nothing to do with aging and I’m not one bit superstitious so the number itself doesn’t bother me. I guess what bothers me is the realization of how young my Mom was when she passed away. This realization sits with me differently at age 34 than it did at age 10.

I always knew she died young. I heard that comment from grown-ups over and over in the months after her death. I also knew it was such a sad thing that she left my Dad with two little children, ages 10 (6 days shy of 11) and 6. I was sad because I’d…

View original post 992 more words