Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Troublemakers" at KCWC 2008

The following article by Vanessa Cain, KCWC 2008 first-time attendee, was first published in the State Gazette, a newspaper based in Dyersburg, Tennessee. We have permission to reprint it here since it is not accessible in the paper's online archive. Cain is a reporter for that paper, and she writes a regular column entitled "Raising Cains," which has recently become a blog on the paper's Web site.

It's a little longer than some of our former posts, but I think you will enjoy her story.

The presenter stood in front of the room, very comfortably making small talk and setting his pupils at ease. Standing behind the podium, he explained that his lesson would be centered around the pop culture of comic books. No, this was not a stuffy individual at all. His gaze traveled around the room, welcoming each student and pausing as his eyes rested on me and one of my dearest friends, Melissa.

“Oh, no,” he groaned. “It’s the troublemakers.”

No, this is not a flashback from my days in elementary school. Not even a glimpse at the giggling adolescent who whispered her way through high school geometry. No, this happened to two women hovering close to that 40-year mark, just this month. The location? The Kentucky Christian Writer’s Conference.

Now, it’s one thing to be called a troublemaker when you are a kid in school. And I will admit that it is a little bit more disheartening to be called one at grown-up at a conference filled with confident professionals…but… in a Sunday school classroom of a beautiful church? Well, it just sort of makes you take a good look at yourself.

The presenter was H. Michael Brewer, a published author and Presbyterian minister from the greater Cincinnati area. Mr. Brewer was either lucky enough or unlucky enough to be seated at our dinner table the night before. He was very pleasant company and seemed amused with the giddiness that seemed to be leaking out of us on our first trip to pursue our interest in Christian writing--and well--to just get away on a girls’ weekend with a pool.

From the moment we began to plan this trip, Melissa and I were sure that we would only attend the Kentucky Christian Writer’s Conference if it was something the Lord really wanted us to do. We were sure of that because we were confident it would take Divine Intervention to get us there.

In spite of being the age I have already mentioned (and never will again…), and being successful working mothers, writers and, in Melissa’s case-an editor-in our own little parts of the world, my friend and I had already confessed to each other that we were not very seasoned travelers. We both have a tendency to get lost in unfamiliar places. In fact, we booked the conference, and even our motel room, without a clear idea of exactly where Elizabethtown is located or how many hours it would take to drive there. We also used the weekend as a chance to catch up, so sleep didn’t fit into our schedule.

Intimidated by the thought of being around real-life editors and writers who had “made it,” I was see-sawing between the excitement of getting to know other writers who share my dream of seeing their name printed on the cover of a book and the nerves of meeting someone who might actually help me get there.
Remember, I mentioned nerves before…so I was sure I would come back from Kentucky with a horror story of spilling my Diet Dr. Pepper on the keynote speaker or tripping in some way and sending a contributing editor sprawling off the stage. So, as we approached the dinner table and another writer said, “Come sit with us! Are you somebody?” I felt an immediate kinship and relaxed.

Melissa recognized Rev. Brewer’s name from the brochure, but didn’t let me in on the information. She knew I didn’t know who I was talking to and said later that I was making a better impression being myself than getting all nervous and quiet. (Not to mention, she probably wanted to save the nice man of God from wearing whatever I was drinking.)

I don’t know. Is it better to be a quiet and shy writer or a troublemaker? To tell you the truth, I’m leaning toward troublemaker. By being ourselves, we were able to make connections at this conference…to say, “This is me. This is what I want. And I am somebody—even if those publishers don’t quite know it yet.” By being real, I think we were also able to invite others to open up, as well-or at least feel better about themselves by looking down at our lack of composure. Hey! Whatever it takes to build somebody up!

In sessions scheduled for the next day, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and You” and “What Superman and Batman Taught Me About Writing,” Rev. Brewer found a way to use his personal interests to further our quest to be published and, in fact, to further the kingdom of God. With the hook, “capes optional” appearing on the brochure, Melissa and I were especially interested in how Rev. Brewer planned to combine comic book trivia with the Divine truth of the Gospel and how Christian writers can apply both to their writing careers.

Well, he did a great job. Melissa and I were both entertained, inspired and even convicted in the session. In the lesson, I learned to not let fear of rejection or lack of imagination stop me from writing or pursuing my writing career; to create a world and play within it; find my own Fortress of Solitude; show up for life; write, write, write; use truth in my writing; find a good team; never give up and…to keep my cape handy.

Another lesson I learned at the conference is to stay on the lookout for troublemakers. They may turn out to be your biggest fans.

Vanessa Cain is a reporter for the Dyersburg (TN) State Gazette. She and her husband, Larry, live in Halls, TN, with their two sons, Brent, 18, and Brad, 16, where they are awaiting a registered letter requesting that Vanessa not return to the beautiful Bluegrass State.

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