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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference

Personal Weather Report - Sunny!

Writing Activity - My first contemporary is currently at 49,000/60,000 words.

From April second through the seventh I found myself surrounded by towering redwoods, stately cypress, and Japanese cherry trees bursting with puffy pink blooms; vibrant azaleas; and 325 eager conferees filling the Mount Hermon conference grounds south of Santa Cruz, California.
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When I saw this sign, a delicious sense of anticipation washed over me.
I'd been looking forward to the Christian Writers Conference for months.

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One of the landmark cherry trees in the main courtyard.
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The view of the courtyard as seen from where I stood in the photo above.
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Six days amidst some of God's finest handiwork while absorbing the high caliber instruction offered at one of the most respected Christian Writing Conferences in the country filled my sponge to overflowing. I was fed physically, relationally, intellectually and emotionally.
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My room was in Buckeye, which is conveniently located across the street from the dining hall. I came home a few pounds heavier after enjoying the wonderful meals we were served by the friendly staff.
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A second path to the dining hall with Youth Memorial to the left,
where I attended the Alumni Orientation and one of the Night Owl Sessions.
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At dinner one night, someone asked what I considered the highlight of the conference. I sat speechless as I attempted to narrow my list and finally said there had been so many that I was unable to choose a single item. I attended the same conference for the first time a year ago and was a bit overwhelmed. This year I arrived knowing what to expect, dove right in and availed myself of the many excellent opportunities, and I was richly blessed.

I attended the Major Morning Track led by T. Davis Bunn: Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level. Our brilliant instructor gave me a vigorous mental workout, challenging my thinking in several areas. My afternoon workshops covered a variety of topics from editing to dealing with rejection. Author James Scott Bell and Harvest House editor Nick Harrison presented an entertaining workshop, Fiction Tips from Hollywood Classics, in which they showed how excellent dialogue and a tightly woven plot add to a story.

In between workshops in my brief snatches of free time, I visited the bookstores. There's nothing quite like the smell of freshly printed pages or the feel of glossy covers. And what can be better than tables filled with books on the writing craft and novels by leading names in Christian fiction?
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I browsed in the Mount Hermon Book Shop, where I had the opportunity to chat briefly with top-notch agent Steve Laube, who proved himself a staunch supporter of his clients and who left the shop with a stack of books. I learned that he enjoys a good thriller. And what did I purchase? A Regency romance, The House in Grosvenor Square, by Linore Rose Burkard, whom I interviewed on my blog for writers, Romance Writers on the Journey.
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A special feature of the Mount Hermon Writers Conference, the Writers' Bookstore, overseen by Myrtlemay Crane and Joy Harrison, tempted me. I added a good 15 pounds of books to my luggage. Thankfully, I live within driving distance, so I didn't need to worry about airline weight restrictions.
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One often hears that writers tend to be introverts. I certainly fit the stereotype; however, I shed my shell for the week and met many wonderful people, several of whom I'd originally gotten to know online.
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.I served as an influencer for author Miralee Ferrell, who wrote Love Finds You in Last Chance, California, the first historical in the new Summerside Press line. Since the book is set in the Sierra Foothills and the Mother Lode I proudly call home, I was excited about her book. We chatted online; having the opportunity to talk to her in person was wonderful.
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Upon leaving the dining hall after lunch one day, I heard someone call my name. I'd searched in vain for Sarah Sundin, but she found me first. Sarah was another of my blog guests at Romance Writers on the Journey, a debut author who's sold a three book WWII series. A Distant Melody is coming from Revell in January 2010. She was every bit as nice as I thought she'd be.
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Last year a mutual friend introduced me to a children's writer who lives in my area. Chris Pedersen and I hit it off and get together at a local coffee house about once a month. I told her how great the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference is, and she signed up. We rode down together, and I enjoyed sharing in her thrill of discovery as she attended for the first time.
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The fellowship and sense of camaraderie at Mount Hermon set this conference apart. In the relaxed setting, I enjoyed conversations with many, including agents and editors, whom I learned aren't nearly as frightening as I'd imagined. Why, those I spoke with actually made me feel quite comfortable. One made my day, requesting my manuscript after I complete the revision, and I wasn't even attempting to pitch it.

Each evening we gathered in the auditorium for a time of worship followed by an uplifting and entertaining talk from our awesome keynote speaker, Bill Butterworth. The rafters rang with laughter as he regaled us with one delightful story after another in which he wove meaty nuggets of wisdom.

The conference is held over Palm Sunday weekend each year. On Sunday morning we gather for a time of hymns, celebration and communion. My heart sang as I witnessed the melding of the diverse Body of Christ in harmonious worship.

After six action-packed days, I returned home enlightened, encouraged, enthusiastic, albeit exhausted. I'm already looking forward to next year's conference when I plan to be very brave and enroll in the Mentor Track—providing I haven't sold a book and qualified for the Career Track.

5 comments:

Anne Barton said...

Keli, thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures and stories. I love the photo of you in front of the cherry blossoms!

It sounds like the conference was inspirational and fun. I'd love to hear more about the Mentor Track--what's that?

So glad you had a great time. And I appreciate all the help you gave me when you got back. I don't think I even gave you time to unpack. :)

You're the best! --Anne

Keli Gwyn said...

Anne,

I heard several people describe Mount Hermon as a little slice of heaven on earth. One can't help but be inspired in such a setting.

The Mount Hermon Web site has the following to say about the mentoring program: "The Intermediate mentoring clinics, held each day during the major morning tracks, are by application only & limited to ten writers per group. The goal is to give novelists and nonfiction writers concentrated time for having their works-in-progress critiqued in a knowledgeable and sympathetic but realistic manner."

The fiction staff included some of the top Christian novelists of today: Gayle Roper, James Scott Bell, Brandilyn Collins, Randy Ingermanson and Kathy Ide.

I spoke with several conferees enrolled in the mentoring clinics. My understanding is that they submitted their works-in-progress prior to the conference, which were then forwarded to each of the other members in their group.

During the clinic, each member received a critique by those in their group as well as the instructor. A number of the mentor track attendees referred to this process as being "on the hot seat," but they said the experience helped them a great deal and highly recommended signing up for the mentoring track.

I understand the valuable of the mentoring track, because I learn a great deal when I critique others' work. I'm honored you share yours with me. Not only do I get the satisfaction of helping another writer, but I also get to enjoy your great stories.

I unpacked my suitcases soon after arriving home. Unloading the three bags of books and finding places for them on my heavily laden shelves took longer. And laundry? Let's not even discuss that. :-)

Karen Fraga said...

Keli,
I also enjoyed reading about the Conference that you attended. It sounds perfect. I liked the picture of you standing in front of the cherry blossoms, too. I find it interesting to read about your experiences at the conference.

Kristi Holl said...

Thanks for posting the photos! I went to Mt. Hermon in '08, and it brought back so many terrific memories!

Keli Gwyn said...

Kristi, I wish I'd had the opportunity to meet you in 2008 when we were both there. I plan to attend in 2010, so I'll look for you.