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Makers of Realms

Man, I hate to be the one to say it, but July is almost over already! What a full month it’s been—what a full two months! It seems that June and July have contrived to fill each day with projects and events so that I spend way too much time doing and not nearly enough time being. Despite every effort to enjoy the fact that I can throw on a t-shirt and not freeze to death.

Anyhoo, I wanted to share about the BIG EVENT I have been pining after and looking forward to and been so SO excited about for the past year and more: Realm Makers.

Realm Makers is a writing conference. But it’s unlike any other writing conference (at least that’s what I keep hearing, since this is the only one I’ve ever attended😅). This is a Christian Speculative Fiction conference, a place where Jesus freaks and fantasy/sci-fi nerds can come together and share our faith AND our fandoms without being called out or condemned for how much of the Gospel is or is not in our work.

Last year I attended online and gleaned so much from the classes that I feel both my story and myself grew in deep and meaningful ways, and I knew that I wanted to attend in person the next time (which is great, since it was in New Jersey. Practically a joyride away. (Okay, more like six hours with scary city traffic at the end, but you know. Not the nineteen from NC in a snowstorm.))

It’s hard to believe that the conference was just last week! My friend and I arrived Wednesday evening to the largest complex of a hotel I ever laid eyes on. In that moment, I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore😂 I’ve felt out of place several times before, but being dropped in Atlantic City at Harrah’s really made it obvious that I belong in the quiet, green hills. Not metropolis with blasting AC, ear-popping elevators, and rhinestone studded flip-flops.

But then we moved to the conference center where the ‘Realmies’ were gathering. Right off the bat we saw people in the flesh that I’ve only ever known as images and videos, and over the course of the weekend the sense of a gigantic family reunion grew more and more. This was not a collection of strangers with a similar interest. These were friends, brothers and sisters that I haven’t met yet—and I did meet many of them over the weekend!

Every day was chock full of classes ranging from the emotional craft of fiction and avoiding burnout to worldbuilding, navigating fight scenes and injuries, and the publishing process from start to finish. And more! It’s great how this conference takes writing and the writer as a whole and addresses all aspects of the craft, the heart and the business of it. But their main goal, more than all the learning and pitching opportunities, was community; providing a safe environment for people to make connections and build relationships with one another. I had more conversations in those five days than I usually do in five weeks back home. It was both exhausting and exhilarating to get to talk books and stories and writing with people who ‘get it’. Who’re on the same road. Being able to walk beside them for a time is an experience I’ll treasure for a long time to come.

Other than the classes, which took up the bulk of every day, there were ongoing pitch appointments with agents and editors (an amazing opportunity! No, I did not take any!), mentor appointments with industry pros (a great chance to ask burning story questions or just chat! Yes, I did! I met with a fight instructor who is an absolute hoot who gave me direction in my combat and martial arts research, and later with an author I have admired for years. She answered my one paltry question about genre, then helped me through the rest of our time together since I was so tongue tied!), and the bookstore.

All I’ll say about the bookstore is that I met many authors there and I walked out with many books. And candles. Lovely, wonderful candles.

Thursday night was a book launch party for one of our own, involving tea, cookies, and games (seriously, go check out The Wonderland Trials). Friday night was the Awards Ceremony (for which we all got to dress up in cosplay. How cool is that? I ate a ridiculously fancy dinner next to the Mandalorian. How cool is that?) One of my favorite books from last year, Of Fire and Ash, won two awards—including Book of the Year—and one woman (who had previously expressed to me her doubts about winning due to the competition her book was up against) won in her category, too! That was great to see.

But the absolute brightest highlight was the opportunity to meet an author that I have been wanting to meet since I was about thirteen. Wayne Thomas Batson was instrumental in my life as a young person, young reader, and young storyteller, and though I dreamed of it, I never thought I’d get the chance to tell him how much his Door Within trilogy meant to me.

He was on faculty for this year’s conference.

I about fell out of my chair when I found out.

I chickened out the first time I saw him.

But I said to myself, “Self! You’ll regret it forever if you leave this conference without speaking to him.”

So, naturally, I approached him after the awards banquet while wearing a kimono and topknot. There’s gotta be something about cosplay that upsets the status quo and makes the impossible less scary. 😅

And he’s the nicest guy! We didn’t talk long because it was so loud and busy, but then, on Saturday during the Book Festival when the bookstore was open to the public and authors were present to sign books, I went and talked with him again. I asked him to sign my hardback copy of The Door Within, the book that really got me going. What he said in there is a thing I will cherish and strive to be in my life and in my writing.

Dreams really do come true, even if you have to wait fourteen years and a lifetime.

All in all it was an amazing, fun, exhausting, fulfilling, wonderful experience and I can’t wait to go next year. This time, though, it’s in St. Louis, so I’m probably going to have to fly this time for sure . . .

You want to come, too?

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