Conference

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Exhausted, Refreshed . . . INSPIRED!

Published June 30, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

For those of you who think writers’ conferences are dull, professional gatherings . . . Well, you’re doing it wrong!

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I spent last week at the first (of many, I hope!) SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference, held at the gorgeous BIOLA University. This campus is absolutely stunning, the food is fantastic—pizza, corn dogs, healthy food, chewy cookies galore, and the most amazing salad bar in history—and there are so many perfectly serene places to plop down and write. That doesn’t even take into account the incredible classes, friendships, writing inspiration, and encouragement I received during the week.

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I found this gorgeous bench area right outside the library where there was, blessedly, a Starbucks. I laid on the bench, staring up at the canopy of leaves above me, and just enjoyed a time of mental story plotting and sweet conversations with God in the most peaceful setting imaginable. Definitely a refreshing afternoon!

 

 

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Nadine has been like a mentor to me for the past few years, but more than that, she is an incredibly dear friend and encourager. You’ve heard me talk about her mad dancing skills and amazing storytelling ability (follow her shenanigans online), but Nadine has also gotten me over some major humps in my writing and life in general with her optimism and support. She is just one of those people who lifts you up, allows you to be yourself, and encourages you in your walk with God.

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The term “insta-friends” is definitely acceptable when referring to these lovely ladies. I met Kara in the bathroom of all places, both of us trying to scrape mascara onto our exhausted eyes, and we were glued at the hip for the rest of the conference. This girl’s mind blows my own, and I am so excited for her future in writing!

Adria joined our group later on, but we immediately adopted her and had to know everything about this super sweet lady and talented agent. I have to admit we all felt intimidated by her because of her status, but we immediately discovered that she is so relatable, fun, kind, and hilarious, and we only wish we’d had more time with her.

Tessa is quite possibly one of the sweetest human beings you will ever meet! She joined us for shenanigans, boba heists, inspiring classes, and she and I had a wonderfully honest conversation about God’s plan for our lives. This woman has a beautiful heart and a mind for the industry, and I’m so blessed I got to know her. 

Fun fact: The last night of the conference, Nadine, Tessa, Adria, and I made plans to one day fly to Ireland for a writers’ retreat, because . . . why not? Although Nadine and I got them to agree only after we did a dance and sang the “Sisters” song from White Christmas. We’re talented like that. 

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My first experience with boba tea was magical!! Stealing Shannon Dittemore’s car (with her permission, of course) for the Great Boba Hunt of 2017 is definitely a favorite memory. Five girls crammed into a car, three blind to the joys of boba that awaited them, all screaming as we sped away from campus with Nadine at the wheel, driving like she stole it. We even had a boba projectile contest in the parking lot, proving that children of all ages can be writers and professionals. ^_~

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This man is anointed (get The Story of with, it will change your life). Being in Allen Arnold’s class about creating with God rather than for Him was so inspiring and reminded me of the nearness I feel when I write with God at the center of the story. He taught about the idea of kintsugi, which is a tradition—and an art form—in Japan where broken objects are not thrown away, but rather repaired with gold, making them more beautiful than before. It was just the perfect analogy of how God takes our brokenness, makes us whole, and sees the damage done as a beautiful reminder of our past and our value to Him. Needless to stay, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room that night.

 

Call me biased, but writers are a fantastic group of creative, fun-loving introverts and extroverts who help to build each other up. The SoCal Conference was a wonderful means for us to get together, grow, and encourage and inspire one another. Although I was physically exhausted by the end of the week, I came away feeling more refreshed and renewed and inspired to write. I hopped on the train coming back down to San Diego, and my mind was flying as I stared out the window, watching the trees and beach fly by. Writing inspiration, a refreshed spirit, and some of the best friends and memories that a girl could hope for. Definitely an amazing adventure!

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Be A Writer, Be Unique!

Published August 7, 2016 by Ashley Townsend

My biggest takeaways from Realm Makers: The BEST friends anyone could ever hope to discover, and the fact that it doesn’t matter what you like to write or if your book is nothing more than a few random scribbles on a page. So long as you keep at it and push past all the negativity and self-doubt, you. Are. A. Writer! Whether or not you ever decide to publish and regardless of what genre you write, no one can take that from you, and this truth is infinitely special.

I don’t often travel alone, but when I do, you can bet your poodle that it will be an adventure. Fret not, your poodle is safe if you wagered it, because I always do something that adds excitement to a journey . . . whether or not I actually intend to.

Last week, I hopped on a plane at 9pm to attend Realm Makers SpecFic conference, and I arrived in Philadelphia at what would be four in the morning, according to my internal clock. I braved several train changes and lugged my suitcase around countless stations, and my suitcase weighed, almost literally, a ton due to the copies of my books that took up the majority of beg space (“beg” is an inside joke, guys. I promise I edited this post *wink*). I arrived at Villanova University exhausted and hot (oh, the humidity! My curly hair did not approve), and all I wanted to do was put my face in ice water. But the instant I arrived in our dorm, I was greeted by the friendliest faces that I’d only ever seen on Facebook before, and everyone immediately welcomed me in. It was the strangest thing to meet these people for the first time and feel like I knew every last one of them.

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Just some of our group. (Photo Credit: Jake Tyson)

BUT THEN I went upstairs to drop my bag off, and Nadine Brandes (buy A Time to Die now! Just do it!) threw open the door and hugged me like we’d been apart for years. And we had.

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(left to right) Me, Tricia, Katie, and Nadine

Nadine and I got to know each other nearly five years ago at my cousin’s wedding. We bonded over YA and dancing and our love of all things fantasy and sci-fi, and we just clicked. She is one of those incredibly special people that you know for a day, and she finds her way into your heart forever with her charisma for life and her kind heart and sense of humor. Instead of washing my hair, which I probably should have done, we spent the next two hours chatting and catching up, and it was like we’d never been apart. Later that day, I would run into my other roomies and friends for life, Tricia Mingerink (fellow curly-hair-problems girl and author of Dare. I never write OMG, but O.M.G!!! This book!), and the most enthusiastic writer and blogger and caffeine drinker I have ever met, Katie (future Pulitzer and Christ Award winner. Follow her blog here). These ladies are my everything.

 

 

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Then I ran out the door and hopped on yet another train back into town to meet Cassie (follow Novels and Necklaces) at Independence Hall. You might recognize her name from the dedications at the back of Defying Shadows; she was one of the first to finish beta reading the book, and we’ve kept it touch. So when I heard that she was in Philadelphia, I begged her to meet me, and she agreed! *squeals in excitement* It was such a special afternoon just getting to know each other and acting like we did that all the time. Definitely a special memory! 

And, of course, I promised you adventure. Aside from the amazing conference itself and happily losing myself inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art and jogging victoriously up the steps, Rocky Balboa-style, the majority of my *cough* adventure happened the Thursday I arrived. This mostly involved me getting trapped inside a Starbucks during a torrential downpour, although it did lead to me sharing my story with a few tourists inside, so, yay! When I realized I was going to be late for the conference kickoff, I braved the crazy storm (I’m from San Diego—what’s weather? The sky is crying! Ah!), my umbrella nearly snapped, my coffee cup just about dissolved from the rain, I trekked eight blocks to the train station, realized it was the wrong one and considered jumping the tracks (regardless of oncoming trains) before going back outside to the correct platform, and then I almost drowned in the flooded subway station. Oh, and all the while my sandals were slipping around as I trudged through The Nile. It. Was. Awesome! ^_^ And somehow the girl from the place that doesn’t have weather was the only one who brought an umbrella to the conference, so at one point we had six heads and one soggy poster crammed under the half-broken contraption while we laughingly dashed our way across campus to the cafeteria.

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Tricia, Katie, and I missing our roomy Nadine (she was off mentoring and adulting) while we were soaking in the rain.

Now, because I can be incredibly long-winded, I won’t detail every 18 seconds of the most incredible conference in history, though I want to. So I’ll glaze over the way I met one of my favorite Twitter friends, Zac Tyson (aka the “other” Zac—you thought I’d be shy . . . bahahahahaha), half-soaked and fully exhausted, and then instantly became besties with he and Hannah. And I won’t describe how amazing the kickoff was that night, with marshmallow-stacking and tissue-pulling games, or detail the incredible costumes at the costume party, nor the fact that Brianna and Lillian saved me from being costume-less next to these ladies:

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Katie (Rey) and I (as a Padawan, because I’m certainly no Jedi) battling for supremacy. We broke the feud for dinner.

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And I won’t tell you how Banana Dolphin Nadine had to keep us company when Nadine wasn’t around for our final breakfast as a group (may the banana dolphin live on!!!!), nor will I describe how two Zacs holding the aforementioned fruit companion is now legendary.

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And I honestly can’t explain what’s happening here:

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Zac is, clearly, a wizard (Photo credit: Me, but Zac’s phone. ^_~)

I also promise not to go on and on about how incredible and informative Kathy Tyres’ World-Building classes were, or how we had a hilarious and wonderfully useful self-defense class on the final night (Carla could totally take down the Hulk!), or the fact that Thomas Locke is such a beautiful speaker and Tosca Lee plays a great presidential candidate. And it would just be too much to tell you how Kirk Douponce—one of the most fantastic cover designers in the industry—is also an amazing person and coffee drinker, and has a great sense of humor when revealing some of the worst covers ever created (and I quote: What am I even looking at here?).

 

elevator 1And that’s not even getting into our group of Realmies! Suddenly, our small crew expanded into a tight-knit group with Hannah and the “other” Zac on Twitter (if you follow his Twitter, you will NOT regret it) and his awesome brother, Jake, and then Megan (aka Agent Carter) and her sister joined us, and Brianna and Lillian, and the “other” Zac from CO (aka Bruce Wayne who braved the Philadelphia train system with me, but doesn’t like coffee. Go figure), and Sam (Saber!), and Emilie Hendryx (her Society 6 designs are amazing—check them out here), and Jessi and Amy Brock McNew and Olivia— *sucks in a breath* I think you get the picture. At one point, we all crammed into an elevator and prayed we wouldn’t die. It. was. Epic! (Photo credits: Zac T. Austin; Fear: Me)

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I’ve never really had a close community of writers who can get together and share their thoughts and fears and fresh ideas, so this experience was special to me. Each night, everyone gathered at our dorm to hang out and chat about our day, and by the end of the conference, Katie and I had nearly lost our voices (worth it). Friday night, I was lucky enough to get on a Philadelphia-New Zealand Skype call with Grace Bridges of Splashdown Books, and on Saturday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Suzy and Shawn Kuhn, and I also pitched my next little brainchild to Michelle Harper of Love2Read2Write and Julie Gwinn, an agent at the Seymour Agency (I know, I was dying on the inside!).

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On the last night we had together, my roommates and I remained behind from the Nerf War that had commenced just outside our door and didn’t cease until 4:30am. 0.o But inside our room, Nadine, Tricia, Katie, and I finally got the opportunity to just be together and munch on chocolate and all the goodies Tricia brought, and we spent that time sharing about our next projects in a safe environment. I started tearing up as I sat there listening to Nadine describe the incredibly moving story she has in mind; Tricia detailed her entire series that sounds ridiculously gripping; and Katie—the youngest but probably the most dedicated writer of us all—who shyly admitted a few of her story ideas and then became excited as she explained what she has in mind. 

It was such a wonderfully special moment for me, and I suspect for all of us, because I realized I was witnessing the brilliant contrast between our group. Yes, we all love reading fiction and writing it and have similar tastes in certain areas of fic, but we all come from different backgrounds and are incredibly unique as writers. And that doesn’t just go for the best roommates of all time (this is a fact and is not up for negotiation), but for ALL writers. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, enjoy sci-fi or fantasy, historical or purely romance, your story and your voice as a writer is unique and special and needed. The fact that literary historians can attribute several works to the Pearl Poet (they don’t even know the author’s name!) simply because of the style and tone of his/her works just goes to show you how wonderfully different we all are. And that is a great thing!

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Keep writing and dreaming, because God has a plan for that desire He’s put in your heart, and if you lean on Him and surround yourself with the right friends (^these people^), they’ll help you see it through.

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