So this last weekend I went to Realm Makers, a conference for Christian speculative fiction writers. It was my first time going to it, not to mention only my third writing conference ever (after the San Diego Christian Writers’ Guild conference in 2009 and the Central Coast Writers’ Conference in 2014) and the first I’d gone to outside of California. I’ll admit, I was very nervous. But now that I am back home and have had a chance to evaluate the experience a little bit, I realize I need not have been nervous, really.
Then again, I suppose we are all nervous the first time we do something, aren’t we? This conference was also the first time I’d ever flown solo on an airplane, so I had to deal with all the airport stuff all by myself. That, however, I prepared for a lot, packing three days ahead of time, checking the TSA’s What Can I Bring list again and again, checking the weather and the like. Somehow I still overpacked, though (I brought way too many pocket tissues at any rate, as well as snacks that never got shared or even eaten).
The conference was jam-packed with activities, from classes to meals to keynotes to my mentor appointments to a book signing, and I was grateful for what downtime I did get. But I learned a lot from the classes and keynotes, got good advice from my mentors, got five books signed (three I bought at the conference plus two I brought from home), and ate some very nice meals, all the while meeting a LOT of people (there were like 220 people there) and having some great conversations and laughing a lot.
The conference was held at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno. It is possibly the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. The staff was very nice, and the meals that the conference provided, which were catered by the hotel, were delicious. The indoor pool, which I had the chance to visit during a long break, was amazing. I can see why it’s a AAA Four Diamond Resort and has won several awards from TripAdvisor. Also, in keeping with the name of the hotel, there are many beautiful water features and natural stone walls that suggest ancient ruins, which I loved.
I signed up for a continuing session and several electives. The continuing session was by journalist-turned-novelist Robert Liparulo and was called “Embrace the Strange.” It was about embracing the strangeness inside yourself and finding your writing voice. Since I am very much still trying to find my writing voice, it turned out to be a great class. It gave me a lot to think about, for sure. I also bought House of Dark Shadows, the first book in Liparulo’s YA Dreamhouse Kings series, and had him sign it. He said I’ll really like it, so I look forward to reading it! (Also he gave out coupons for his books at the session, which is a brilliant idea).
My first elective was author Mary Weber‘s “Networking Beyond Your Mom.” I expected some practical class on how to network with people (something I do need advice on) but instead it was about making real, authentic connections that matter, or as she put it, “how to make friends.” It was a surprise, for sure, but I liked it, because I do value more real connections, rather than shallow ones.
After lunch, I had my second elective of the day, followed by the second portion of my continuing session. The second elective was “Plotting a Best Selling Series” by author David Farland. I’m still very new to writing series, so this was something I definitely wanted to learn more about. He gave a lot of great advice, mostly using his Runelords books (which I totally want to read) as an example. The second portion of “Embrace the Strange” continued the theme of the first. I had to slip out for part of it to go to a mentor appointment, but thankfully a very kind person let me copy her notes of what I missed.
That night was the Awards Dinner, which happens every year. The number of people at the conference swelled to about 250 for the dinner alone. You were allowed to wear costumes for this if you wanted. I hadn’t been able to decide on one, so I just dressed nice. I saw a lot of great costumes, including Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle, Dr. Elwin Ransom from C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (which excited me cause I thought I was the only one who had even read those books), Star-Lord and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy, multiple people dressed as The Doctor, a couple girls dressed as the TARDIS, one guy dressed as Second Doctor Companion Jamie McCrimmon, and a lady dressed as Hello Kitty who was actually the mom of the main emcee guy, Ben Wolf. I didn’t know most of the people up for awards, but I clapped all the same. My longtime online friend Kerry Nietz, a.k.a. the “Founding Father” of Realm Makers, won two awards – best in the Science Fiction category and Book of the Year – for his novel Frayed. Congratulations Kerry!
The next day — and the last day of the conference — featured the last portion of my continuing session, two electives, and the book signing. My first elective, which was after the final session of “Embrace the Strange,” was “Make Me: Character Motivations and Goals” by Lisa Magnum, author and editorial manager for Shadow Mountain Publishing. I feel like I learned a lot from this class, which I am happy about because my work tends to be very character-driven. Then again, that’s why I chose it. 🙂
After lunch, I had a couple mentor appointments and then my final elective, “Building Your Magic System,” again with David Farland. I was a bit late to this one due to my second appointment, but he did make a very good point that your magic system has to have moral implications and that it can’t be used to fix everything.
The keynotes — the opening one on Thursday night and the closing one on Saturday — were by bestselling author Ted Dekker. I’ve heard of him, but had never met him or even seen him speak. (Come to think of it, I never did introduce myself to him). They were really, really good. He was very honest and raw and real. I admit I was surprised to see what he looked like (I envisioned him as this professional-looking, big-time author, and then he gets on stage and looks like he should be in a punk band).
All in all, it was a great experience. I was nervous when I left, didn’t know what to expect, and I came home very satisfied with the experience. I learned things, got to meet a lot of people who get my type of writing, and most of all I was challenged. One thing that was said over and over at this conference was that writing is a calling, and that if you write it is because God put the desire in you to do so. No one has ever said that, at least to me. I thought when it came to your calling, it had to be something big and “churchy.” Writing for me was a side passion, something I did just because I love story and writing. I had intended to use it for God, of course, but I figured my “calling” had to be something less mundane. So it’s comforting to know that I don’t need to look to something else for my calling, that my calling has been right in front of me this whole time, and moreover it’s doing something I have loved to do in some way, shape or form my whole life, from my childhood days when I played spy with my best friend on the playground or pretended to babysit imaginary children, all the way up to now, when I’m an adult with multiple novels in progress.
I got more out of this conference than either of the other two conferences I’ve been to. This one feels less dry, more welcoming. I’ll likely go to other conferences, of course, or similar events (I went to Comic-Con the weekend before Realm Makers, and even managed to go to a writing panel there, which was about point of view and taught by Maxwell Alexander Drake). But Realm Makers has been the best one I’ve been too so far.
I’m hoping I will be able to go next year. I don’t know where it’s going to be yet, or if I’ll even be able to afford it, but this is a conference I definitely want to continue going to and supporting. If you want to find out more, you can go to their website.