Early Bird Session:
Renowned author James Scott Bell opened ACFW with an early bird session on writing where he declared that all writers are weird! How cool is that! That simple statement got a huge round of applause, several “amens,” and palpable relief resonated throughout the room. From that point on, everyone relaxed and was hooked into what he had to share. By the time Jim was finished with the four hour session on plot and structure, everyone learned valuable lessons, a whole lot of trivia about Jim’s favorite movies,” The Fugitive“, “Moonstruck, “City Slickers,” and of course the legendary “Odd Couple.” Jim lives in L.A. capital of movie land, and he uses his movie knowledge to effectively demonstrate examples of plot and structure, while keeping his audience captivated!
Cynthia Ruchti opened ACFW with wonderful words of praise to all those devoted to making ACFW the extraordinary event that it is. Held in the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Indianapolis, the setting for a scene in a famous movie, everyone who came to the conference was in awe of the beautiful lobby, the glass elevators rising to a fancy restaurant that circled the city at the top. What I was privileged to find out by eating at this restaurant with ACFW president Cynthia Ruchti and VP Becky, the food prepared throughout the entire conference was prepared on the same quality level as their ***** five star restaurant. (They could make pork chops taste as extraordinary as the best filet mignon.) Cynthia Ruchti was in charge of preparing the menu for the entire 4 days, the best conference fare ever served; among the several thousand other responsibilities she oversaw throughout the conference.
To start the ceremony, Becky Germany from Barbour publishers awarded three never- before-published authors an award of a contract. What a thrill for them and what a way to begin the ACFW conference!
Brandilyn Collins opened ACFW with a story about her experience arriving at the Indianapolis airport. As she deplaned in the Indianapolis airport and headed to the baggage claim area, it was announced over the loud speaker that everyone must evacuate the area. Thinking it was a bomb scare, everyone skedaddled out as fast as they could, but not before a huge door came down right in front of Brandilyn. To this day she has no idea what was going on behind these instructions. When they lifted the door, she ran, and as a daily runner, she didn’t hesitate; just grabbed her bags as they circled around the baggage claim and ran, until she got to the car and out of the airport. As she stated; “Suspense follows me wherever I go.”
We all joined in for praise and worship music, the singing led by Rachel Hauck with Denise Hunter on drums.
Next to speak was Tim Downs, who has a long list of credentials; life experiences, including a syndicated column as a comic strip writer, a marriage counselor, and of course, writer extraordinaire. As Brandilyn described the character from the Bug Man series as “about as socially inept as one can get, but knowing everything there is to know about…well…maggots,” Tim came on stage with several stories which held us all captivated!
Dinner, breakfast and lunch were perfect opportunities to meet authors, agents other newbies and aspiring writers. No matter which table you sat at, you were sure to meet someone God led to you for help and support.
Throughout the conference, there were classes for all levels of writers, from veteran writers such as Gayle Roper, Colleen Coble, Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock, James Scott Bell and founding author, Tracie Peterson to aspiring writers looking for direction, help and support. It was impossible to catch all the classes, author signings, agent meetings and publisher discussions. By the end of the action packed four days, most people attending were actually ready to go home, so they could have a chance to digest all they learned and experienced.
The award ceremony was the culmination of the year’s efforts by so many volunteers. As writers took the stage to accept their awards, most had a funny quip to make, poignant story to tell, and the ceremony seemed to be over in a blink of an eye.
Award Ceremony Highlights:
The Genesis awards which represent outstanding potential by unpublished authors were presented by one of my favorite people, Camy Tang, author for Zondervan. Camy has a real heart for aspiring writers and is very involved the Genesis awards, spending many, many hours reading over manuscripts, along with several other volunteers. Although they are not awarded a contract on the spot, historically, almost all Genesis award winners are given a contract within a very short period after receiving the Genesis award.
The Carol Award: As a tribute to Carol Johnson, the real pioneer behind the expansion of Christian fiction, Janette Oke presented the very first Carol Award to Carol Johnson for her lifetime achievements. Both women received a well-deserved standing ovation and an extended round of applause!
Double Award Winners:
Susan May Warren won two awards; one was the “Mentor of the Year award,” dedicated to her for going above and beyond to encourage other authors and aspiring authors along their journey.
Susan also won an award for “The Great Christmas Bowl.” The genesis of the book came when she and another author asked the magical two words, “What if?” The joke between them was that the first one who wrote a book about the football teams and Christmas would be the winner…as it turns out, on more than one level!
The surprise for me was the speech that double award winner newcomer Dan Walsh delievered for “An Unfinished Gift.” It wasn’t a surprise that he received the awards for the book, he’s garnered many five star reviews; the surprise was his heartfelt acceptance speech where he mentioned that he’d been a pastor for twenty-five years; what a privilege it was to be among so many talented women and how humbled he was by the encouragement he received throughout the conference. Frankly, his acceptance speech was so poignant, heartfelt and gracious, I was ready to sign up for any broadcasts he may have as a pastor and definitely make a point of reading all his books.
Terri Blackstock also won in the suspense category for her book called, “Intervention.” As she elegantly graced the stage in her beautiful copper gown, she walked to the microphone and made the joke, “I’m the Susan Lucci of the fiction world.” She’s been nominated on numerous occasions but this is her first award that she’s received. The best part about this award and this book, is that “Intervention” is her authentic story about her family, and she had to reach deeply into her soul to write this story. Special congratulations to Terri Blackstock!
After reading most of the books in the finalists category, how does the ACFW committee could select one book from the many choices on the finalist lists? Most categories had more than the usual number to select from based on ties. If you take a look at the finalists, Christian fiction just keeps getting better and better!
To summarize the growth in the Christian fiction industry; five years ago, for all Christian products sold, fiction was approximately 12% of the total Christian industry. In the last six months Christian fiction has gone from 15% TO 19% of the total Christian industry.