When Star Trek Drops a Truth Bomb

My husband and I are watching through the Star Trek: Voyager series (again) with our sixteen-year-old son, who had never seen it before. It has been an enjoyable experience, especially as we come to our favorite episodes.

Currently we are in Season Five, and last night’s episode was “The Fight,” where aliens attempt to communicate with Chakotay using boxing as a frame of reference. Boxing is a sport in which I have less than zero interest. However,  during one scene, Chakotay’s trainer says this to him: “It all comes down to the heart. Do you have the heart for this? That’s the contest. It’s not against him [your opponent], it’s against your own natural human desire not to get hurt. That’s the real fight.”

I have seen this episode at least a couple of times before (not one of my favorites), but this time the trainer’s words stopped me dead in my tracks, because they are so applicable to writing. Once you’ve written something, and you want to get it published, you find out that you are in for a world of pain (unless you are very unusual).

I get looks of disbelief from those in the industry when I admit that I have completed seven novels but still haven’t sold a single one. The reality I’ve been forced to admit is that this is due in large part to my natural human desire to not get hurt. Every time I mentally strap on my guns and gird up my loins for another round of submissions, I find out yet again that I’m just not “enough.” Over the last ten years, editors and agents have told me the following:

  • You’re not special enough.
  • You’re not funny enough.
  • You’re not Christian enough.
  • You’re not quirky enough.
  • You’re not creative enough.
  • You’re not contemporary enough.
  • You’re not American enough (my personal favorite).

After the first few years, it’s harder and harder to go back and knock on more doors, knowing that you will most likely get the same types of rejections, and knowing that your writing has improved dramatically but will most likely not be given a chance. This would be easier to take if my test readers were lukewarm about my stories, but almost all of them have really loved my stories.

The amount of resolve required increases exponentially when no one in your life believes you will ever succeed, and when you face ongoing disapproval for your dogged determination to keep trying. So my natural human desire to not get hurt has led to my neglecting the “selling” side of writing. Instead I’ve focused on writing more and better stories—but of course those stories will never see the light of day if I don’t keep sending them out.

In a little over a week, I’ll be attending a new writers’ conference in Dallas. These days, I can only afford the cheapest of conferences, and this one looks like a great value. And, despite my natural human desire to not get hurt, I have signed up to pitch one of my books to a newly-formed small press. I no longer have any expectation of success, but I am increasingly aware that failure is guaranteed if I continue to do nothing.

It brings to mind another movie quote, this time from Chariots of Fire, when Harold Abrams whines to his girlfriend, “I won’t run if I can’t win.” And she comes back with, “You can’t win if you don’t run.”

True words.

 

The Rule of Three, Part V

I planned the series of posts for this week to distract me from the fact that my favorite writers’ conference is going on without me right now. But, as I prepared to write this post, I realized that I also have some deep-seated ambivalence toward this event.

First, some history. The last time I attended the big ACFW conference, it was in Dallas. I was going through a devastating crisis with one of my kids and almost didn’t go to the conference at all. Then, as it happens, there was a very polarizing incident which occurred during the fancy awards banquet. I had no idea anything had happened until I checked my email after getting home and saw that it had blown up with people weighing in on the incident.

Without rehashing that event in any way, I’ll just say the result was that many of us who write speculative fiction felt disrespected and/or marginalized by the group at large. One person decided to take action. She made the bold decision to start a whole new conference, a conference specifically for Christian writers of speculative fiction. (Note: NOT just writers of Christian speculative fiction.)

When I heard the news, I was thrilled. I was determined to go to that first Realm Makers conference. I knew it was going to grow into something amazing, and I wanted to be in on the ground floor. I loved their commitment to keeping expenses low. The conference was held at a university and we stayed in the dorms for $20 a night. That first year, my total cost for attending the conference was under $400, and that included paying for a room for my daughter Lina who drove me up there in her car.

There were about 80 of us that year, and the contrast with ACFW could not have been more stark. I felt welcomed with open arms. At mealtimes, I would cruise past the various tables before deciding where to sit. Did I want to join a conversation about superheroes, Star Trek, horror movies, or high fantasy? It was nerd heaven.

The next year, I was unable to attend Realm Makers as it was held much farther away and it conflicted with another event that was non-negotiable. However, I was determined to make it to year #3, when it would again be in St. Louis. That was my first lengthy solo road trip—in our non-air-conditioned Suburban, which passed the 300,000 mile mark that week!

To time my arrival correctly, I ended up paying for a night in a hotel on the way, but still my overall costs came to less than $500. A bargain! The conference had already grown to 150 people and now there were multiple classes offered in each time slot. There also was an impressive selection of editors and agents with whom you could schedule appointments.

A couple of my dear friends were there that year, which greatly added to my enjoyment of the conference. The classes were excellent. At long last, I had found “my people.” I thought for sure I’d be attending Realm Makers every year for the foreseeable future.

Then came last year. The cost of the conference increased, and it was held in Pennsylvania, 1500 miles away. Acting in faith, I registered early for the conference, hoping I’d have enough summer class students to pay for my transportation.

No one wanted to take my classes. Still, I had a backup plan which I mentioned in yesterday’s post. I was speaking at a local conference, and they paid me $300. If I stayed with relatives and friends on the way, and if I didn’t eat out at all, I could just cover my gas money with my conference pay. It took me three days to drive each way (I am so not a long-distance driver!).

Just a few weeks before I left for the conference, we received the devastating news that my husband was losing one of his regular contracts, which meant a serious loss of income for us—income that has not been replaced. So I knew even before I began my epic solo road trip that it might be my last trip to Realm Makers, or to any other conference for that matter.

It was a difficult few days for me. On the one hand, of course it was great to attend classes and to see some of my writer friends. On the other hand, I felt more strongly than ever that I was on the “outside” when it came to being published, and that I would never figure out how to get “in.” I came to realize that the path I’d been on for seven years was not leading to publication. In short, I gave up on the Christian publishing industry. I don’t believe I will ever write something that Christian publishers or agents can like.

At the banquet last year, they announced that this year’s conference would be held at a resort hotel in Reno, and I knew in that moment I would probably never be able to go to Realm Makers again. Still, a part of me hoped it would somehow work out, and I kept this weekend free “just in case.” Now, so many of my friends are in Reno enjoying the excitement of being together and learning together. Realm Makers is no longer the “scrappy little conference that could.” It’s now a full-blown top-notch professional conference with a big-name keynote speaker. I knew this would happen eventually, but I thought it would take a little longer! If I had gone this year, it would have cost me well in excess of $1000 for the conference, hotel, and airfare. That is now way out of my league. The Rule of Three seems to have stopped me in my tracks this time, even when I didn’t want it to.

But, I hear some of you asking, why did you make a cloak for the raffle then? Because I still believe in what Realm Makers is doing, that’s why. I want other aspiring writers to get the chance to go and soak in the all-encompassing nerdulence and take the classes and cosplay for the awards banquet. The raffle raises money for scholarships, and as long as I can still afford to make a cloak each year, I probably will.

Does that mean I have given up on pursuing publication? No. I only gave up on being published or represented by anyone in the Christian publishing industry. Since that approach did not work, I am casting a wider net. Over the next few weeks and months, I will be querying agents in the general market. I still believe there is an agent out there who will love my work and want to see it in print. I don’t believe that agent works for a Christian agency or works with Christian publishers. I have zero hopes or expectations in that direction.

Does that mean I wouldn’t attend Realm Makers again if it became financially feasible? Not at all. I would give my proverbial eyeteeth to be there right now. If I ever go again, though, it will be for the classes and the fellowship and the wall-to-wall nerdiness—and that would be worth it. I can’t imagine I’d even consider setting up any appointments, because I can’t imagine the outcome will ever change.

Tomorrow: a follow-up post wherein I try to answer some of the questions that I know my posts this week have raised.