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Realm Makers: What Could Be Next?

Fantasy author Morgan Busse: Could Realm Makers become another writing conference, or a true Christian-speculative conference?
| Aug 9, 2013 | No comments |
Morgan Busse (at right) with Firebird series author Kathy Tyers and Marcher Lord Press founder Jeff Gerke. (Photo by Kathrese Coleman McKee, Friday, Aug. 2)

Morgan Busse (at right) with Firebird series author Kathy Tyers and Marcher Lord Press founder Jeff Gerke. (Photo by Kathrese Coleman McKee, Friday, Aug. 2)

If you didn’t hear about Realm Makers, the first-ever Christian speculative conference that was held last week,1 I would personally check for memory tampering. I won’t go into detail since E. Stephen Burnett already did a recap of it on Tuesday (and is planning a fuller review next week).

I only have one comment: I cannot believe time and space did not explode that first morning!

There were some great classes ranging from worldviews and their influence in a writer’s work, to staged fights, to a panel on writing horror. Artists could be found wandering the halls: from comics, to writing, to radio. This wasn’t solely a writing conference, even though a couple classes were geared toward that profession.

However, I believe Realm Makers now stands at a crossroad. Where will it go next? Will it become another writing conference, or to morph into a true speculative conference?

realmmakers_finallogo

Just speculating: “Realm Takers” 2014?

In my own opinion, there are many venues that teach writing. But there are hardly (if any) venues where those who simply love speculative can attend. Yes, there are cons (Comic Con, Gen Con, Dragon con), but not one specifically geared toward the Christian view. Until now.

That is my personal hope for the future of Realm Makers: a place where Christian speculative fans can gather and enjoy both sci-fi/fantasy and God.

So now I’m asking you, readers, viewers, and lovers of the speculative, what would you want to see at a con like this?

What kind of panels would you want to attend?

What special guests would you want to meet?

What kinds of classes would you want to take?

What topics would you want to learn about more?

Suggest away. The box is open.

  1. Realm Makers was held in St. Louis last weekend, from Aug. 1-3, 2013, organized by author Rebecca P. Minor and the Faith and Fantasy Alliance website.

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Adam Graham
Member

I think you’ve got a good point. I’d probably think the next best step for a future Realm Makers Conference would be to partner with the Christian Comic Arts society:

http://www.christiancomicarts.com/

I think that would add an element. I think having a floor show where fans could show and trade their collections of comics and spec fic novels and DVDs would be nice.

I’d love for fans to have an opportunity to view obscure films or some sort of film festival, maybe a movie and guided discussion with a discussion guide to bring out themes and lessons.

In terms of guests, I’d love Michael J. Nelson but I think the key would be to grow the number of fans coming and you get more fans, you get better guests coming to sell their wares.

ruth mills
Guest

I love the idea of a the obscure film/film festival! There are so many films out there that have wonderful artistic value that are overlooked. Of course, that would mean not necessarily always using spec-fi themed films, but still I think most of us can appreciate and be inspired by art regardless of genre. ‘Russian Ark’ is coming to mind right now.

Rebecca P. Minor
Member

Thanks for fostering the discussion, Morgan…I look forward to hearing what folks have to say on this. I sincerely believe you are right: there are many places to go to learn about the craft of writing in general, and from the beginning, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just reproducing what others are already doing better than I ever could. I also agree with Adam that a partnership with the folks at the Christian Comic Arts Society would be excellent. I also want to network with Dr. Ted Baehr of Movieguide for some help in connecting to Christians in film.

Ideally, it will be best if we make this about fandom and creation. That’s how we can grow beyond just a little club of novelists, as I see it.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I also want to network with Dr. Ted Baehr of Movieguide for some help in connecting to Christians in film.

Some of our folks could help his folks understand a few things. 🙂

Those previous mentions I’ve made about one Christian review saying that “13 dwarves” are in The Hobbit and 13 is “a Biblical number”? MovieGuide.

Celesta Thiessen
Guest

I’d love Kathy Tyers to teach a class on character next time. Also it would be great if it was a 3 day conference with more time allotted for social interaction/activities. It was so much fun!!

Celesta Thiessen
Guest

Also, I’d like Pauline Creeden to come and teach us about marketing. She’s a marketing genius!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Still very writers-and-business-oriented, though.

I wonder if showing marketing would be better than telling about marketing. The conference itself thus becomes the marketing, to Christian fans of sci-fi and fantasy who aren’t also trying to write and sell it, who aren’t outside the con, but comprise it.

Rebekah Loper
Member

I wanted to attend Realm Makers this year, but time and money would not allow. I would love to see it go more the route of a speculative conference than a solely writing conference – because you can find writing conferences all the time, and honestly the same techniques apply whether you’re writing for the secular or Christian crowd, when it comes to the technical aspects of writing. Or at least one would hope.

I would still love to see a couple of writing-oriented panels, though, and it would be awesome if there were at least a couple editors/agents to pitch to during the event.

I would especially love to see speakers/guests from ‘secular’ industries who are trying to honor God and be witnesses outside of the ‘Christian’ spectrum. Though sadly I have no suggestions for actual people at the moment.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Of note: a few of those folks were at the inaugural Realm Makers conference, such as Matt Yocum, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant who’s written for Marvel Comics.

I am certain the next event will be bigger if only because of new participants. If everyone who had wanted to come this year — and who followed the conference on Twitter (hashtag #RealmMakers) — came next, that would be hundreds.

sarahdgrimm
Guest

Just being part of a conference full of Christians who love speculative fiction was amazing. I’m going to second all three of Celesta’s recommendations. 🙂 Marketing, characters and more time? Sounds great to me.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Recommendation to self: Next time I may bring one of those giant Treskillard-sized banners for Spec-Faith. I’ve already enlisted a few author friends who are interested in panel talks, including in a controversial topic that, when broached at the Friday night awards dinner, brought absolute trepidation and silence. 😀

merechristian
Member

I think that a future conference should expand to be like the Christian version of comic-con. I would concentrate on having more folks like the officer you mentioned you wrote for Marvel. There are many Christians in secular media and they could have some good ideas and be invited. But really I would extend it to comics and invite more speakers and have more panels outside of writing. I’m only going on the reports of what was there, since I wasn’t, but that is my two cents. 🙂

Katie Clark
Guest

I’m definitely curious about this one for next year. I learned about this year’s too late, but it sounds awesome!

Lisa Hall-Wilson
Guest

I didn’t make it this year because I found out about it too late – had already chosen my cons for the year. However, I LOVED that it was close enough to Canada that I could drive at much less cost than flying – which I have to do for every other Amn con I attend. I LOVED the selection of classes available this year. Sure, at every writer’s con you can get classes on characterization, marketing, etc. But the class about fight scenes – WHAT?!! I so wanted to do that. So many classes that spoke to just sci-fi/fantasy/spec fic that as a writer I just can’t find anywhere else. I don’t attend comic cons or any of those sorts of things (think there’s one in Toronto I might look into). As a writer, I’d be looking to get value for my investment – either in marketing/sales opportunities, or in learning opportunities. Maybe you can find a way to balance the two?

Ralene Burke
Guest

I agree with Lisa–if it were to go the way of a con, I’d like to still see something of worth to the writers/authors. A big part of why I enjoyed Realm Makers was being with other writers (and learning from other writers) that think like I do. While I do agree you can find general writing at other conferences, there still some things that are very specific to specfic. Maybe the first day (a Friday) could be all writers, and the rest of the weekend more for fans and such.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Story groups.

Have volunteer audience members (authors) receive “scripts” including a single chapter from a famous novel, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Hobbit. Sitting up front, with one host as narrator, all read through the chapter — with dramatic acting, impersonations, and any resultant laughter. This is followed by discussion and trivia.

I’ve hosted plenty of these at my church, and they’re fun and fantastic.

Optional: another session to discuss how to set up a Story Group at your own local church (including books and movies). After all, the local church is the front-line field for enjoying and promoting speculative stories for God’s glory.

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

I would totally sign up for that. Sounds very cool.

Rebecca P. Minor
Member

One of the major challenges going forward in making it more like a con is that we will have to make the event multi-track. I can’t see any way around that. Many people indicated that they were very pleased that this year was single track because they didn’t have to choose between sessions, but down the road, I think it would likely be that we have tracks for writing, comics, film, gaming, and fandom.

Kristen Stieffel
Guest

During the small publishers panel, most (if not all) of them expressed interest in branching out into apps and games. So I think a session on digital media would be an awesome addition.

Carol
Guest

Love that idea.

Elizabeth L
Guest

I would be much less likely to attend if it turned into a Christian comic-con. That’s not what I’m interested in. Realm _Makers_, right? If it turns into a place to fangirl, where are the people creating their own realms? Sure, we share common interests and we can explore those, but I would be very disappointed if we dropped the writing aspect.

I may have gotten the wrong “vibe” of what you guys are suggesting, since I didn’t read the comments that carefully. But that’s just my gut reaction. 😛

merechristian
Member

I think that having it be a place to do nothing but be fannish may be too far, but it should be more than a writing workshop or what not. It should be a place for all of those, writers and readers of Christian Speculative Fic to come together. At least, that’s my opinion.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

No, I think you understood rightly, actually! 😀

Yet isn’t it true that Chrisitan authors are also fans? The whole purpose of the costume dinner — which was a huge selling point for the event — was to enjoy some “fandom.” Broadening the conference would be more of the same. It sounds like Becky Minor up there, the conference organizer, is leaning toward multi-track options. So both writers and fans would be included. But if you encourage fans, then that will offer even more to writers, who otherwise would be attending yet another conference only talking about writing for writers who write about writing for other writers — and, so far, don’t reach a whole lot beyond that(?).

As Morgan mentioned, other outlets offer writers-exclusive seminars and training materials, such as the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. This year it’s in Indianapolis. Conferences are every year in the fall.

But bring the fans to RM, bring the folks who want to explore (not just make) all fiction for God’s glory, and that will yield even more training and profitability for writers. First, they will certainly sell more books and broaden their own fanbases. Second, whence comes the subconcious belief — I myself have had it — that writers only learn through courses and lectures specific to the craft and sale of writing?

As for the conference’s name — apart from the above image captioned “Realm Takers”? — “Makers” can apply to an imaginary world’s receivers and not just transmitters. All of us help “make” the imaginary worlds of the stories that we love.

If I may dare a personal testimony, one reason Speculative Faith has grown so well since our 2010 reboot is our intentional focus on readers, not only writing-craft. For Christian and non-Christian friends equally, who love speculative novels and films yet do not write and do not know about these great books, that’s essential.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Note again that I, like Morgan above, speak as a conference attender and not an organizer. Either way, I know we want to support this thing.

For more about the over-limiting, niche-ifying effect of what I call “writicism”:

The Forgotten Reader

Seven years ago I attended my first writers’ conference. That was a heady experience:

Wow here are other writers just like me who like writing about actual science fiction and things like that and best of all from a Christian perspective so where do I sign up and will you listen to my very naïve science-fiction novel proposal please with a minimum of laughing?

It bore fruit. That’s how I made real- and aspiring-author friends. I joined Speculative Faith. That site grew. Other sites, networks, independent publishers, and even some traditional Christian publishers’ slow acceptance of some fantasy, also grew. That’s fantastic. And it’s likely true that any growth here may be better than none.

But this can reach a plateau. Many websites and writers neglect the main reason they should grow. They turn into what I’ll call Writers Who Write about Writing for Writers Who also Write about Writing. Writers end up practicing writicism.

No, I’m not saying this is sin. I’m saying it’s limiting. It’s shooting ourselves in the foot.

We’re doing the same thing we’d do if we decided: Hey, let’s try not to reach out to regular readers.

Elizabeth L
Guest

I see what you’re saying and agree to some extent. But if it’s going to expand, I would caution against two things: doing it too soon, and slackening on the writer side of things.

I’ve seen too many projects that fell apart because they were pushed onward before they were ready. Let it mature, let word get out there – then consider changing it.

And if it’s going to be expanded, please offer as many classes and opportunities for writers as there were this year. Balance the fan half and the writer half well.

Another concept…I wished that there was more time for us to just talk together in a casual environment. Meals helped, but we had to hustle. (At least I did – I got so distracted that I never really got enough to eat. xD) If there was a relaxed kind of atmosphere, possibly some kind of icebreaker…

This becomes even more important if you plan on expanding. If the authors and fans got to mingle and weren’t kept separate…

There I go rambling again. 😉

Celesta Thiessen
Guest

I really, really liked that it was a single track. It was so much fun being all together the whole time!

Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman)
Guest

The writing classes were great. I would like a panel or class on cover design. And, of course, moar books to buy!

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I’m not a “con” person, so I’d like to see a RM continue to provide value for writers. I think the con aspect is a great idea, though, because it will introduce speculative fans to the books that are available. I also think the event could attract even more media attention, which again, brings more attention to the books and the authors.

That being said, the value I’d like to see added, as a writer, (besides the other suggestions, which I love) would be worldbuilding–not entirely unique to speculative fiction, but perhaps more important and more specialized. One of the things that came out this week in an early discussion here at SF is that some readers who don’t identify as spec fans are turned off by all the set up some authors use to establish their world. How great if we took a novel like Harry Potter 1 and took it apart to see how Rowling (or Lewis, Tolkien, Hancock, if we chose one of their books) established their world without boring readers in the process.

Also from that post, this comment by Adam Graham, I thought, would make a great RM workshop: “I’d love to know for sure what speculative fiction writers do that makes their books less accessible to the average reader and how to avoid it.”

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I hereby nominate Rebecca LuElla Miller to a potential Realm Makers 2014/15[?] panel discussion called: “Writers: Go Beyond the Niche.”

Teddi Deppner
Guest

Great idea, Becky! World-building is so essential to the nature of spec fic writing, and (I feel) one of the things I love best about reading it.

In my opinion, however, we need to study different “masters” of the craft of world-building than Lewis and Tolkien. Despite the classic nature of their books, their style of writing is getting more dated (less appealing to today’s readers) with every decade.

Even though I used to read through their books every year as a teen and 20-yr old, when I try to pick up their books today I find them so slow! My tastes have changed over the years to match the current styles of writing. The LoTR feels like too much detail thrown at me at once, too much unnecessary background. I have the impression from what I’ve heard from the younger generations of readers (younger than me) that they feel the same way.

So I’d lean toward the J.K. Rowling option you mentioned, or maybe Patrick Ness and his Chaos Walking series. Lois Bujold and her Vorkosigan series. Patricia Briggs and her Mercy Thompson series. There are number of good, newer works that model the fresh, quick-paced approach to melding good world-building with engaging characters and non-stop plot flow.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

I could see a con like this having a three-pronged focus:

* Creator Fellowship & Improvement – A place for “realm makers” (authors, comic-makers, filmmakers, etc) to connect with each other and with collaborators, and take relevant workshops (improving themselves and what they offer their fans); have some private events for creators-only (without fans around)

* Creator / Fan Connection – A place for fans of realm makers to connect with those whose work they follow and enjoy; a place for realm makers to make new fans and get exposure to fans of spec fic

* Creator / Collaborator Connection – A place for realm makers to connect with publishers and others in the industry with whom they might collaborate (book cover designers, artists and illustrators, authors, book trailer video ppl, web designers, e-book formatters, publishing houses, agents, indie press reps, etc); have an exhibit hall (not just book tables) and provide time/space for people to schedule meetings with people they feel might become partners in creation/publishing (like Mt. Hermon writers conference and how you can schedule 15-minute appointments with veteran writers or with agents and editors, how you can submit work for critique by qualified veterans of the industry, etc)

Everyone benefits from this. And to avoid covering ground already covered by other cons, the unique spin on this would be two-fold 1) it is the Christian niche of spec fic and 2) it is the spec fic niche of Christians. Two sides of the same coin. In other words, you can go to Comic-Con and get spec fic stuff — but most of it isn’t Christian. And you can go to the ACFW conference, but most of it isn’t spec fic.

So if you have indie movie viewing or invite celebrity speakers, make sure they’re in the Christian spec fic niche. If you have writing workshops, don’t cover basic how-to-write stuff but instead focus on the specific challenges facing Christian creators of spec fic.

Sure would like to see this con become something great as the years go on! Wish it weren’t so far away. 🙂

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

With or without “separate” events or tracks — after all, unlike other genres, many fans of fantasy fiction are quite willing to take peeks at the creative process, even if they’re not trying to sell stuff — those great suggestions would take a lot of planning, volunteer time, and of course some money. I say, sign me up.

Paul Lee
Member

after all, unlike other genres, many fans of fantasy fiction are quite willing to take peeks at the creative process, even if they’re not trying to sell stuff

I love the idea of the wall between creators and fans being invisible and informal. After all, all creators should be fans, and probably wouldn’t be creators unless they had not first been fans of other creators’ works. And fans do contribute to the making. Even fans who might not be directly interested in the creative process participate in the development of the “realms” by their analysis and praise of the creators’ works. The creators might make the realms, but only the fans can make the realms “real” by believing in those realms and spreading their enthusiasm to others.

merechristian
Member

Great point, bainespal. Even though he is not a believer, I use Brandon Sanderson as an example of this. He has detailed notes on his web site, speaks to the fans, and loves communicating with them. Yes, he is a brilliant writer, but he also has popularity because he doesn’t hold himself aloof from us. While he would probably say that, yes, he is an artist, he is also, to use a cliched term, “one of us”. I would say that the most beloved authors, and the best, are those that are humble and cheerful. They contact fans and listen to criticism.

merechristian
Member

I foresee Becky Minor having a really fun/maddening/headache-inducing time organizing this dream conference. 😀

Might I also suggest doing a strategy for advertising more widely to get interested folks to appear and participate.

Celesta Thiessen
Guest

If we made the conference 3 days instead of 2 we could be together on Sunday and all do church together. There could be worship and then some of the authors could give their testimonies either how they came to Christ or what’s God’s been doing in their life lately.

Jessica Brendle
Guest

I would love to see the conference open each day with a short devotion and testimony by an author. I don’t feel as comfortable with the idea of a church service, though. I suppose because funds are tight and I’d like to see the training as time-efficient as possible. Widely-varying worship styles can be a source of discomfort to some, as well. ( Some of us go bug-eyed when someone shrieks with “holy laughter” right behind us during prayer! Guess that reveals my theological position, but I hope you understand my point.)
As far as the proposed idea to change Realm Makers, it is my hope the conference won’t stray too far from what was offered this year. I look forward to coming!
I know some of you mentioned Tolkien and Lewis becoming less popular. While that may be true, I am still a fan! I found their influence to be one of the main reasons I am now interested in creating other realms. While I think we should strive to keep our writing tight, I do think it is sad that some of the youth are so used to quick bytes that their lack of sustained attention is changing how shows are filmed and books are written. All the best!

Scott Minor
Guest

Thinking about the stage combat workshop, I thought it would be a good idea to take a particular fight that has been written into someone’s novel and staging it ahead of time in preparation for the next workshop. We could discuss what about the writing made it impossible to recreate, and what worked well. We could also have people read some unrehearsed fight scenes that the combatants then try to recreate as they listen. That might be funnier than watching a game of twister!

As for growing to three days and multiple tracks. I think some ideas will have to be several years off in order to build up to them successfully. Those ideas will demand a much higher level of attendance since they both come with a hefty price tag. There’s a learning curve in the marketing and advertising that needs to be navigated carefully.

There will always be material at Realm Makers for writers, as a matter of course. But what all writers of Christian spec-fic writers want is to meet their readers, not to mention comic book artists, screen-writers, film-makers, illustrators and graphic designers.

All in good time. And what a fabulous time it will be!

merechristian
Member

Well said Sir. Have you all decided when a new conference will be next year? Perhaps I and others can make it then. 😀

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I say, anything that gets you there, brother. 🙂

By the way, I alluded to your and my Lewis conversation in the award presentation.

merechristian
Member

😀 Very true. I fall into the pattern of being over zealous about my Lewisianism. 😀

Carol
Guest

I didn’t make it to the conference, so take my comments in that light. I am already planning to attend next year, and will do so whatever format it takes. But I would love to still have the writing focused track. I think the idea of creating a con-like atmosphere holds merit, but to attend a whole conference with other spec fic writers-that seems delightful. Seems like there’s a lot of thought going into making this a great conference, and after reading all the comments I’m even more excited about attending next year.

Galadriel
Guest

I would love something more like ComicCon, but I think the writing should still be a part of it. It should be a both/and, not an either/or. As someone said above, ComicCon doesn’t address the Christian side, and ACFW doesn’t really cover speculative.

Zachary Totah
Editor

I didn’t make it to Realm Makers this year, but I’m looking forward to the next conference and hoping it will become an annual tradition, no matter what direction it takes.

While I like the idea of bringing writers AND readers together into one setting, I would definitely prefer to see some writing classes/workshops remain part of the schedule. I’m thinking particularly of world-building and other topics that pertain directly to spec fic and that won’t probably be available at traditional Christian conferences. You could even have classes for each aspect of world-building. That would be awesome! I think one of the things that makes spec fic so difficult to write, sci-fi and fantasy in particular, is the creation of new worlds, planets, cultures, races, and so on. I know I would greatly benefit from some in-depth teaching and discussion on how best to do this, and I’m guessing others would as well.

I really love the suggestion to take a popular book and examine how the world of the story is built. A more modern novel might be more helpful, since I think readers these days have less patience for the style that Tolkien and others used.

Austin Gunderson
Member

If it’s worldbuilding instruction you crave, nothing in my experience beats a good university course in cultural anthropology. Seriously. One cannot hope to create internally-consistent social, economic, and political systems without a thorough understanding of how such systems coalesce and operate in our own world.

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