Sometimes it seems that God ordains events. It’s as if the Holy Spirit whisphers in your ear, “You’re in the right place at the right time.” And that’s how I felt this first day of the Montrose Christian Writers’ Conference. I must confess I waffled on whether or not to attend. It’s a whole week. I haven’t planned for it. There’s a lot happening with work. What if the family wants to take off some time for a summer vacation? Always doubts. But somehow this year it felt right, like it would be a good year to attend. And so, at the last minute, I sent in my reservation, made a few arrangements with work, and decided to go. I’m glad I did.
I’m a commuter for the conference. I live about a half hour from Montrose, PA (on the outskirts of Binghamton, NY), so I’m not staying on site. But I don’t think that seriously detracts from the opportunity to connect with others, which is one of the best reasons to attend a conference. Witness this first day! Upon checking in, paying and receiving my conference kit, I decided to “sit a spell” on the front porch, parking myself in a rocking chair that will handle my size. Sitting in the same area were two older gentleman–older than me anyway. After I purused my conference materials, I started to engage in discussion with these two fellow writers, wondering what they write and why they were attending. I asked the first gentleman where he’s from, and he proceeded to tell me that although he and his wife have a place in the Buffalo area, and a summer place not far from Montrose, but he grew up in Norwich, NY. Wow! So did I, which I responded. I told him I grew up on the King Settlement Road between Norwich and New Berlin. He asked me where, his jaw noticeably dropping open. When I told him who I am and where, he about passed out. It seems that David Sawyer, the gentleman I was speaking to, grew up next door to my mother (and where I also grew up). He not only knew my mom’s entire family, but was best friends with my uncle David Slentz. And he knew my dad too! We visited for a half hour and I brought Dave up to speed on the family, who was still living, who had passed on, and what we’ve all been up to. He hasn’t seen my mom and dad in many years. During those years he married, became a school psychologist and retired from that profession nearly tens years ago, and now keeps busy writing and visiting his seven grandchildren. Isn’t it sweet to reconnect with old acquaintenances (and their families)?
The other gentleman in our threesome was Bob, and he’s from New Jersey–not far from the Delaware Water Gap. Bob has an interesting history. And no, I’m not related to him–not that I know of! Bob entered the military near the end of the Korean War and was asked to be a trainer/teacher. That fateful decision launched him in a lifetime profession of teaching, but not before he served 13 months on an island in the South China Sea with 50 men. After that experience he was discharged and went to NYU on a GI scholarship, for teaching. He went from one island that was 22 square miles to another–and worlds apart (not just in geography). Bob has lots of stories to tell and he’s now telling them through his writing.
Both men are rooted deeply in Christ and it showed in their speech. Already in the first 45 minutes of the conference, before an official word was spoken, I felt at home and at ease–like I’ve already made two important connections.
Before the evening session on this first day (which is the first session of the conference), I ambled off to dinner, sitting with Carlene VanCott, drama teacher and librarian at my children’s school. It was nice to catch up with Carlene and what’s happening with her family and in her life. She’s a writer, and an editor, and we often encourage each other to “keep writing” when we meet in passing at the school. During dinner several of the conference speakers were eating at the table where I sat. I thought I recognized one of them, Jeannette Windle, a fiction writer who grew up in South America, from a Twitter message she posted earlier in the day. She said she was off to the Montrose conference…so I mentioned I had seen it. That led to a discussion of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and involved David Fessenden (another conference speaker, managing editor for CLC Publications in Philadelphia) and his wife. The four of us had a great discussion at our table about social media and how it can be used for marketing. I was flattered they asked if I was doing a presentation on the topic! Alas no, I’m just a conferee. But, if Patti Souder reads this entry, keep me in mind for next year! 🙂
Did I mention that Montrose puts on great meals? The food is top notch, and of course, the conversations…! It’s fun to look around the dining room and see a room full of writers, from novice to those who have published numerous books. It’s high energy and just plain fun. When you tell someone else that you write “because I have to,” that’s all you need to say. They “get it”–no further explanation is necessary. It’s fun to be around other writers.
After dinner I had a slice of time, so I fired up the netbook (I have an Acer Aspire One) to check work-related emails. Another conference speaker–John Knapp, who is an author, textbook writer, editor and former English professor–engaged me in conversation, asking where I’m from, why I’m there, and our conversation turned to Twitter because I had just made an entry. He wanted to know more about Twitter, so I started to show him my Twitter account and explain what in the world it is and why it’s important. Unfortunately our conversation was cut short because the first session was starting and it was already 7:30 pm. We agreed I would show him more about Twitter later in the week–and I will.
After singing and announcements, we were treated to an opening speech given by Rusty Wright–author, journalist, columnist and lecturer on six continents. Let me say, I felt as though I were drinking from a firehose! He’s an excellent speaker, and the material he presented was not only inspiring, but practical. His topic tonight: Communicating Effectively with Secular Audiences. Rather than expound on his points, I’ll just say I’m purchasing the recording of the session because there was so much great material I literally could not take it all in.
After the close of the session, I said a “hello” to Ed (sorry Ed, I’ve forgotten your last name), whom I had met at a previous Montrose Writers’ conference 4-5 years ago. Ed has had two entries in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Well done Ed! He’s a talented writer, and a talented artist too.
And so, my soul seems filled to overflowing on just the first afternoon. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week, to inspiration, to honing my writing craft even more, and to meeting more interesting people.