What a great conference we had this year! You know the story, 90 Minutes in Heaven, about Don Piper, the Baptist preacher killed in a horrific accident? He died, but was brought to life; lost an arm that now functions beautifully; was told he’d never walk again, but strode into our classroom without so much as a limp. He was our keynote speaker. His ghost writer, Cecil Murphey, taught classes too. I took his early bird session about dialogue and sat at his table at the banquet. You know Cec–author of Dr. Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands? Cec also writes with the witty and wonderful Twila Belk. She was there too.
I feel like a name-dropper.
I spent most of my time in the student center, talking with whomever came along, which was as fun and exciting as sitting in class and learning from some of the best in the business.
I had a delightful chat about clothes and shopping with Twila. I’d worn a new jacket to the conference, the same one she was wearing. Always a conversation starter.
I had a coincidental meeting with Caleb Pirtle, author of The Gambler: Playing for Keeps (part of a miniseries based on Kenny Rogers’ song) and over fifty books. Had him to myself for a whole hour, talking about writing, books, the business, and relationships and how they play out in fiction. Even interrogation techniques. It was fun to feel like a colleague instead of a student, but I was definitely a student. Even took notes–and this was before I attended his class.
Jim Pence, singer, artist, and multi-pubbed author, visited with me for a while. He was the ghost writer for Terry Caffey, whose story is told in Terror By Night. One horrid night in 2008, Terry’s entire family was murdered by his daughter’s boyfriend, who then set the house on fire. Although he’d been shot five times, Terry managed to escape, dragging himself over 400 yards to tell a neighbor who committed the crime–and the only reason he knew was because his young son had called out the man’s name just before he died.
But this wasn’t a “true crime” novel, it was a faith and healing novel, and it included a miracle:
Long before Jim met Terry, he’d written Blind Sight, a book he believed would launch his career and make him a household name. Even his publisher believed so. But it never happened. That book wasn’t the answer to Jim’s prayer, but years later, it turned out to be an answer to Terry’s.
One page from it, a page that explained why the main character had been spared the catastrophe that had taken the rest of his family, survived the fire. Terry found it, scorched and weathered, beside a tree.
I hung on every word of Jim’s story. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. (You can read more of Terry’s story on CBN’s website.)
As I said, I had more fun and learned more just sitting in the student center than at any other time in any other conference, big or small, that I’ve ever been to. I got to visit with friends, Terry Lacher, Lynn Hobbs, Jessica Ferguson and her husband Jim, and Terry Burns, my one-time agent. Got to have a short visit with Terry’s wife Saundra the night before at the banquet, where I also got to chat a few minutes with author Jody Day, who won the grand prize in the writers contest this year.
Everyone I talked with, everything I heard, made me question my direction in my own career and what my goals are. I’m going to do some soul searching this week, some serious praying. I’m not going to quit writing, but I’m tired of being directionless. It’s time for me to figure some things out.
Anyway, never underestimate the value of a small conference. This one proved to be the most valuable event ever.