Over the last few days, I’ve been writing about some of my experiences at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. If you haven’t been to this conference, it’s near Asheville, North Carolina and home to some of the most beautiful scenes in America—especially in the springtime. (I know that was a subjective statement but it’s my writing life.) As you can see from my entries, it’s an intense experience for anyone on the faculty and especially the editors. Writers have spent their time, money and resources to come to this conference to learn and meet the faculty. From the minute I walked outside of my room, I was engaged with various people.
Some of you may wonder why I do it? Publishers have a long-standing love / hate relationship with these writers conferences. The editor is away from the publishing house, misses meetings and the day-to-day work of publishing (which continues to pile up when you are away). Some editors never attend these conferences. Others have limited their conferences to one a year (or maybe two). If you’ve been checking my speaking schedule, you know that I’m out a bit more often. I have many different reasons for going to these conferences. I enjoy the opportunity to give back to writers and help others on the journey. Also for my acquisitions role, I’m keeping an eye for the undiscovered treasure of a manuscript. It’s always on my radar.
I’m going to give you a glimpse at some of these other reasons I go to these conferences and some of what happened last week at Blue Ridge. In many ways, it’s like going to a huge meeting of old friends mixed with new relationships. In some cases, I’ve known writers and editors for more than twenty years. In other cases, faculty members are some of my Howard Books authors and it gave me a chance to get the update on their particular project. Many of the people at the conference (participants and faculty) would not know these people are Howard Books authors because their books are still in the publication pipeline and will not be released for some time.
While there aren’t televisions in the rooms at Ridgecrest (at least I didn’t have one), after the last meeting of the evening, I enjoyed going to the lounge near our rooms. The faculty stayed in a similar location and there was a TV on our floor. I’ve never watched 24 but a large number of editors and writers instantly went Shhhhhh when I spoke (even quietly) during the program. Obviously I encountered a room full of 24 fans. On two other nights, we gathered to watch American Idol. People cheered and talked but only when the muted commercials were playing. Everything was quiet when the actual programs were on the screen.
During another off moment, I walked around the Lifeway Bookstore at Ridgecrest and talked books with some of the participants and faculty members. It was great fun. I enjoyed the ride to the conference and from the conference. On the way in, I rode with McNair Wilson, the creative keynote speaker. He had one of the more unusual book ideas that I saw at the conference—and it wasn’t for me since I acquire fiction. He has a manuscript called Donuts on the Moon, Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer. Instead of creating a book proposal, McNair has a mock manuscript with cartoons and other fascinating bits that I enjoyed looking through it. Who knows where that manuscript will be published and if it will even retain the same title and feel before it appears in print. On the way from the conference to the airport, Alton Gansky was also in the van. It was fun to talk shop about fiction and catch up on family during that brief trip. From going to these conferences, I’ve known Al and Becky Gansky for several years.
One last experience from the Blue Ridge conference. According to the published schedule, Monday evening was supposed to be the movie, Vow to Cherish based on a book from Deb Raney, who was also on the faculty. Through some snafu, the movie wasn’t shown that evening but was shown on Tuesday evening. Some of the participants along with the majority of the faculty bailed out of that movie. How do I know? I was standing in the back of the auditorium and about to return to my room to handle some pending work. I got a frantic wave from another faculty member and pulled into the back of the room. The scheduled movie wasn’t going to happen so they decided to substitute with the editor panel. Where were the editors? There were a grand total of four of us in the room: Len Goss, Senior Editor from B & H Publishing Group, Jesse Florea magazine editor at Focus on the Family, Dan Penwell acquisitions editor from AMG Publishers and me. Instead of a stage full of editors from magazines and book publishers, the four of us conducted the panel. Literary agent Janet Benrey from the Hartline Literary Agency moderated the panel, fielded the audience questions and did an excellent impromptu task at keeping things moving. This panel was an unplanned surprise. Each participant was able to talk more about their particular company and have more of a presence at the conference from the limited number of available editors. It was great fun and a conference extra from my perspective.