This year Seekerville assigned coverage of the 2015 ACFW Conference in Dallas, Texas to two extraordinary Villagers, and they didn't let us down!
Natalie: Ps. 9:1 “I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.”
The highlight of my 2015 ACFW conference experience was meeting my crit partner Courtney Ballinger for the first time in person—she’s been a total God-send to me! Having her there to talk to and practice pitches with was invaluable.
I also had the best roommate ever—shout out to Elizabeth Van Tassel, gemologist and “female Indiana Jones” for the Middle Grade reader. I also got to hug Seeker Pam Hillman and several Villagers!
To share every heart-stopping moment would take waaaaaaay too long, so I’ve written a few highlights via bullet points. A few aspects of my crazy-wonderful, whirlwind, “Wow, God!” first-time conference attendee experience are summed up below:
• Having my name drawn from ACFW’s “The End” program for a free conference registration
• Family and extended family volunteering out of the blue to pay for my hotel and gas and drive me to Dallas
• A deep heart-peace knowing the weekend was covered by my prayer team and the ACFW blog prayers
• Eating one of Carol Moncado’s chocolate chip cookies
• Getting to wear-again the bridesmaid dress from my best friend’s wedding (still fit after two years!)
• Watching God’s hand move through appointments and “accidental” circumstances (more about that coming soon on my personal blog)
• Being invited to sit down in a small group with my crit partner and my writer-crushes to learn insider info about the craft and industry
• Getting one-liner writing advice from the Christ-like ACFW 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, Francine Rivers
• This shy, normally-reserved girl being able to come out of her shell and meet five AMAZING agents by “happenstance” and friends’ introductions
• Getting a partial request from a publishing house I had my eye on, getting a “really like some aspects, but needs work” from another publishing house WAY out of my league, then getting a full request from an extremely gracious editor with my “dream” publisher
• And for the grand finale, watching my incredible critique partner Courtney Ballinger win a prestigious award and give a charming, humble, unplanned acceptance speech
You can’t make this stuff up, y’all. God is way too good to me, because I don’t deserve the first bit of this. Can you tell my well-spring is bubbling over right now?
|Courtney (left) and Natalie (right)|
|Left to right: Nancy Kimball, author of Chasing the Lion, & Natalie|
Left to right: Historical romance and YA author Pepper Basham & Natalie dressing up as characters on the genre night. Pssst! Pepper can rock a killer British accent. And she sings!!!
Between appointments, preparing for those appointments, and meeting fascinating people in the hallway, I only took in about an hour of the Continuing Education Session and then about 30 minutes combined of all the workshops, but here goes:
• In the CE session “The Story Equation” by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck, we studied the Dark Moment’s components and watched a clip from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty showcasing character development and “back story breadcrumbs” as Susie May calls them.
• Ronie Kendig gave lots of cool scientific research and guy-speak examples in her workshop about the male point of view. I was only able to grab about 5 minutes of this one before a pitching appointment and was so nervous I forgot to snap a photo! She did a wonderful job.
• In the “Working With Your Agent” workshop by Steve Laube and Tamela Hancock Murray, we learned an agent can do for you what no one else can, and what to do when it’s time you fire your agent—or they you.
• Lastly, I attended the “Do’s and Don’t’s For Your First Year” workshop by Harper Collins authors Kristy Cambron, Laura McNeill, Katherine Reay, and Mary Weber. They gave us incredible insight into the stuff they wish they’d known pre-contract and how to balance the dual persona of “normal person/mom/wife/coworker” with the writing celebrity personality and online presence. I had to leave in the middle of the session for a pitching appointment, but as I slipped out, they encouraged us to anchor our identity in Christ, not what we do—a beautiful reminder He loves us, with or without visible success.
|Literary agents Steve Laube and Tamela Hancock Murray made learning about agents fun|
|Left to right: HarperCollins authors Sara Ella, Katherine Reay, Kristy Cambron, Mary Weber, and Laura McNeill|
|Natalie and contemporary romance writer and parent coach Sarah Hamaker (Thanks to inspirational romance author Alexis Goring for the use of this photo!)|
|Above, left to right: speculative YA author Amanda G. Stevens, Natalie, and inspirational romance author Alexis Goring. (Thanks to Alexis for the use of this photo, too!)|
|Left to right: Historical Romance Author Carrie Turansky, Natalie, and Becky Yauger, ACFW web manager|
|Left to right: Melissa Endlich, Senior Editor for Harlequin's Love Inspired Books and Shana Asaro, Associate Editor for Harlequin’s Love Inspired Books|
|Joseph Courtemanche, 2015 ACFW Genesis Winner, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category|
|Michael and Rosanna C. Sharps|
|Courtney and I, laughing it up with Biblical fiction author Connilyn Cossette (center)|
|Left to right: literary agent Ann Byle, ACFW executive board member Brandilyn Collins, and Courtney Ballinger! We accidentally chose the wrong table and these ladies were kind enough to insist we finish our half-eaten breakfast with them.|
Left to right: RT BookReviews Magazine Senior Inspirational Reviewer Melissa Parcel, Librarian & Christian Fiction Columnist for the Library Journal Christine Sharbrough, MSLIS, and author/speaker Cynthia Ruchti, who writes stories hemmed in hope.
|Literary agent Chip MacGregor and family|
|Seeker Pam Hillman and Harvest House senior editor Kim Moore|
|A photo with the lovely Brandilyn Collins|
|Two of the first acquaintances Natalie made at the conference, contemporary romance author and Frazier finalist Jessica Everingham and speculative YA author Amanda G. Stevens|
|Natalie and her somehow distant cousin Pam Hillman (Natalie’s just glad Pam still claims her after they met in person, haha!)|
|Seeker Pam Hillman asked Natalie to take a photo of her and her agent Steve Laube.|
|The welcome sign autographed by the Hyatt Regency DFW staff!|
Natalie Monk writes historical romance stories of laughter, love, and redemption. A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Natalie is currently seeking representation and plotting her third novel. Natalie is a home school graduate, a piano teacher, devotional speaker, hog-hunter and former post-hole digger. She loves sweet tea, book talk, porch swings, and watching musicals and action movies with her family.
Follow her on
The Sweet South Blog: http://sweetsouthblog.blogspot.com,
Facebook: www.facebook.com/nataliemonkauthor, or
Courtney here, still a little travel-weary after the 600-mile drive from Dallas. But what a trip!
This being my first conference experience, I had no real clue what to expect. Sure, I’d read blogs, articles, and every bit of insider info I could find, but nothing prepares you for the overwhelming thrill. (Or for the airport maze leading to the hotel.) My husband joined me—and thankfully drove—which calmed my introverted self. Meeting my critique partner, the fabulous Natalie Monk, for the first time EVER helped as well. We embraced in the hotel lobby and immediately starting chatting as if we were friends reuniting instead of email pen pals. I’m still thanking the Lord for her.
The conference, for me, required quite a bit of stretching.
Stretching far out of my comforter zone. Stretching my small talk skills. Stretching my ability to speak about my books instead of write about them. Thank the Lord I met with my agent Mary Keeley Thursday morning. She’s a mighty encourager and handed me the pointers I needed to display confidence as I met with editors. She was, in fact, my very own fairy godmother come to transform my tattered dress into a gown.
And if Mary was my godmother, Natalie was my creative mouse. Which doesn’t sound like a compliment, but I promise it is. Don’t we all love Gus-Gus from Cinderella?
Okay, my imagery might be falling apart here, but I hope I was also Natalie’s Gus-Gus as she glowed while conversing so readily with agents, editors, and other authors. (She even wore beautiful gowns like Cinderella!)
I’ll skip ahead to one of my top highlights of the conference. After the nervous exercise of editor appointments, the time came for the Awards Gala. We dressed up, slid into our heels, and rode the elevator down to the dimly lit room where a fancy dinner awaited.
I wasn’t nervous. At all. Because despite the fact I was a Genesis finalist, I wasn’t going to win. That might sound like false humility, but it’s most definitely not. I didn’t scribble down even a bullet point of a speech. I didn’t practice walking across the stage.
Because I’d told the Lord all I wanted was to final. And when He blessed me with that honor, I didn’t ask for more. (Though I might’ve whispered that winning would be nice.)
Seconds before the winner of my category was announced, I was shaking.
I leaned toward my husband. “I don’t want to win ‘cause I don’t want to go up there and make a speech.”
Then the deep-voiced announced called my name.
I like to think God was chuckling, His plan too amazing to be combated by my shyness.
So that’s a bit about my ACFW conference experience, folks. You’ll experience every emotion and, Lord willing, go home trusting the Lord even more than you were before.
(If you’re like me, you might also go home in a different vehicle than you arrived in. But that’s a another story for a different post.)
|Courtney and her agent Mary Keeley|
|Left to right: Melissa Tagg, Courtney, and Becky Wade|
|Jennifer Major and Courtney|
|Francine Rivers and Courtney|
|Courtney and Casey Herringshaw|
|Courtney, Mary Keeley, and Jaime Wright|
|Courtney’s name tag and registration packet|
|“Courtney’s Awesome Husband” Ethan |
and Courtney with her Genesis Award for best contemporary romance!
Courtney Ballinger, lover of all things Southern and bookish, writes about “Faith and Charm on the Front Porch.” A 2015 ACFW Genesis Award winner, Courtney has devoted years to improving her craft and familiarizing herself with the publishing world. In 2014, she also won the 2014 RWA Touched by Love Award and signed with Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary. Courtney aspires to glorify the Lord with the stories He’s called her to write. You can connect with her at www.courtneyballinger.com.
|Our roving reporters at the end of the gala! Thanks, ladies.|
Leave a comment today about your 2015 ACFW conference highlights or if you didn't attend, what you enjoyed most about our reporter's play-by-play and Seekerville will toss your name in the hat for your choice of any Genesis finaling book in print or ebook. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.