Share Your Crazy Conference Stories

Here at Speculative Faith, we’re reader-centric. But for those who have attended writers’ conferences such as ACFW, what crazy stories might you share?
on Sep 21, 2012 · No comments

Here at Speculative Faith, we’re reader-centric. Yet many of our readers are also authors or aspiring authors. So you have attended a few writers’ conferences — perhaps conferences like the American Christian Fiction Writers conference that is ongoing this week.

Travel always creates new stories, but especially thanks to fiction writers’ conferences. And I don’t only mean coming home with new ideas for new novels (though this also happens).

If you’ve attended this conference, or any others, what crazy stories might you share?

For me, conferences are a mixed bag. Travel is thrilling. So is re-meeting or meeting friends. Learning new craft/promotion skills seems the most mixed of all, leading to my discontent with sitting there hearing about theory; I want to throw down the hood and drive the new author vehicle off the lot now. But perhaps anecdote potential is the best benefit of all.

My true fiction writers’ conference stories of whoa and woe:

  1. Five years ago, in 2007, I began driving to Dallas on Wednesday, Sept. 19 (Talk Like a Pirate Day) to attend half that year’s ACFW conference. Why half? Because Saturday morning, Sept. 22 — the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins — I drove four hours south to meet, in real life for the first time, a long-distance special friend. Lacy and I have now been married three years. Courtship is much easier close-range and married.
  2. I’ve attended 2.5 conferences far: the .5 comes from the 2007 one, and I’ve also gone to ACFW 2006, also in Dallas, and 2010, in Indianapolis.
  3. John Otte, now an author and SF contributor, is very easy to spot in a crowd. (This year I believe he is the only SF contributor attending the conference, once more in Dallas.)
  4. During ACFW 2006, the overwhelming amount of women was such that hotel staff turned the main hallway’s men’s restroom into a woman’s restroom. According to reliable rumor, one wacky cutup male author threatened to “go” on someone’s leg.
  5. During last year’s conference, I must admit I picked a favorite to win a Carol Award for best speculative novel. That night I watched the web feed with near-religious energy.
  6. If you’re worship-banding into the wee hours, hotel staff get annoyed. Just so you know.
  7. At a breakfast discussion featuring one publishing house’s editor, said editor, who was friendly and welcoming, asked the unpublished others what favorite novels they’d read this year. Most cited novels by authors who were published, not themselves personally. One person did not. Word to the wise: “No, don’t do that. No really, don’t. Really. Don’t.” (Addendum as of Thursday, Sept. 27: below, reader Shannon McNear offers a more-positive explanation, possibly for the same incident. What could seem like conceit on the surface could actually be honest response.)
  8. Author John Olson’s 2007 session opener, “God can’t spell and has bad grammar,” has ever since stuck in my mind and heart. This seeming heresy is an excellent antidote to potential author arrogance, and an infusion of more-Biblical writing “inspiration.”
  9. Somewhere in this 2006 photo at ACFW in Dallas are future Speculative Faith co-editors Rebecca LuElla Miller and E. Stephen Burnett.

    I’m still finding business cards, bookmarks, and other promotional paraphernalia that I had been given in 2010 and shoved hastily into my folders, pockets, sleeves, ears, etc.

  10. Future Speculative Faith co-editors Rebecca LuElla Miller and yours truly evidently met in person at least once, at ACFW 2006, and photo evidence proves this meeting. Neither of us, however, remember that meeting, leading to suspicion about alternate timelines.

What’s your writers’ conference story, wacky or otherwise?

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Galadriel says:

    I’ve never been to a conference…but I want to!

  2. Kessie says:

    Never been to one, only actually learned of them in the past year. I suppose I’ll have to go to one eventually.

  3. I was just at the ACFW conference this past week (first one for me). My crazy story? Playing Fiasco with John Otte and Jason Joyner in the hotel basement until 1am. Good times, and Mona lives on (inside joke ;))

  4. Hmm. Author Diane M. Graham says she has a recent and, er, crazy story.

    [Splashdown Books founder] Grace [Bridges] and I wore Star Trek uniforms. We found a new friend named Gary Wade that showed up dressed like Picard…which is way cool. We joined our table without incident. A few others were not so fortunate. They were denied entry into the banquet they paid to attend. The reason given? Something about ACFW not wanting their banquet to turn into a Star Trek convention.

    Journalism hat on, here …

    1. Might other conference attendees confirm this?
    2. Were others able to enter the banquet while wearing Amish cosplay?
    3. Base question: did anyone really do Amish “cosplay” at the conference?
    4. Is it helpful to act “nerdy” at a conference and perhaps reinforce stereotypes of speculative genres and their readers? Or should readers/writers “blend” and in that way “infiltrate”?

    Speaking of costuming, this is a perfect segue. I neglected to mention another notable of the 2006 conference: I dropped one of contact lenses over the side of the hotel bed, and it promptly vanished into another dimension. Thus I was forced to plead my family to send replacements (In the package, my sister included a mini printed-out version of the film poster for Star Trek: First Contact. Ha ha!). But until then I needed to do with my glasses, prompting author John Olson and others to comment, accurately, that I almost perfectly resembled Peter Parker.

    • John Otte says:

      Okay, I can shed some light on what happened.
      1) I can confirm that some spec fic writers were temporarily turned away from the banquet (I was an eye witness). Here’s what happened:
      Four spec fic writers dressed up for the banquet. The tamest outfit was a little black dress with a dragonscale choker and special nail/claw things (I’m sure there’s a technical term for it, but there you go).  Another wore a suit but built a cybernetic arm overlay. A third wore funky contacts and werewolf gloves.
      The fourth, though, was really awesome. My roommate dressed up as Failstate, the titular character from my book. He faithfully replicated the entire costume, down to the face-obscuring mask. When I saw what he came up with, I was so tickled and humbled that someone would do that as a surprise for me.
      Once we were ready, we went down to the banquet and were able to take a few pictures. The others joined us but before we could enter, hotel security stopped “Failstate” and told him that they had gotten some calls about his costume. He showed his badge and they seemed (mostly) satisfied. “Failstate” went into the banquet and was almost immediately pounced on by the conference director and told that he couldn’t enter dressed like that and that he had to go and change into “Sunday best or better” if he wanted to get back in. She then insisted that the cyborg remove his arm and the werewolf remove his gloves (again, hotel security was cited as the motivating factor).
      So were they kicked out? Not exactly. “Failstate” chose not to attend. The cyborg and wolfman were allowed to stay after they removed the offending items.
      The next morning, the cyborg, “Failstate,” and I spoke to Randy Ingermanson about it, not to ask him to do anything, but just to make him aware. It will be interesting to see what kind of fallout comes from this.
      2) Not Amish cosplay, but there were some who attended in the garb of Southern belles and other historical time periods. I did spot another couple in steampunk attire. And, of course, there was the table of Star Trek officers.
      3) There might be some confusion here. Yes, there are people who look Amish who attended the banquet in that garb, but that’s because, from what I understand, they come from a religious community (I don’t know if it’s Amish or not but the garb is similar). They’ve been at the last several conferences and that’s the way they dress for the whole thing, not just the banquet. So it’s not “cosplay” anymore than Chip MacGregor wearing a kilt is cosplay.
      4) That’s a good question. I’m kind of split on this. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to dress according to your brand. It helps you stand out and can get people talking (folks were still reminiscing about Jeff Gerke’s turn as a medieval knight last year). But at the same time, it’s the ACFW’s house and therefore, their rules. While I’m disappointed that this happened, the best thing for us to do, I think, is let this go, let them think over what happened, and see what shakes out of the situation.

  5. C.L. Dyck says:

    Just a point of clarification: Any “Amish cosplay” seen at the conference is not that at all. It’s Closed Brethren attendees, who are not in costume, they are honouring their denominational traditions.

    I wasn’t at the banquet, so I can’t confirm or deny any of the rest. The banquet is semi-formal, so it may be that attire such as Renaissance is looked upon differently than something like Star Trek. 

    • Thanks, CathiLyn.

      Though I can understand this potential annoyance, I also can’t help but wonder if perhaps the “weird” complex is a factor? That is, fans are referring to “weird” stories and acting “weird” — contrary to these stories’ firm basis in Scripture, reality, and real culture — then becoming surprised when others react with alarm.

      However, I wasn’t at this particular conference, and am at this point only exploring.

      More on the “weird” label being itself the weirdest way to promote epic stories:

      Please Quit Calling It ‘Weird’

      • C.L. Dyck says:

        Yeah, I think it’s really important, when dealing with topics outside the usual pale of Christian fiction, to introduce them sensitively and to take the approach that a missionary would when trying to settle in long-term in a foreign culture.

        It’s not cool to assume that just because we do things a certain way and we think it’s okay, people who are cultured differently should just not be offended. Among its own circles, the SF crowd often expresses offense at the cultural assumptions of non-SF Christian writers. Well, that’s a two-way street, and we are all called to exercise grace and a grownup attitude.

        This is why we have to make the choice of whether to “evangelize” Christian SF to the Christian culture, or go in a secular direction, how to shape our message, etc. And it’s why it’s such an individual choice.

        I think the most important thing in a professional setting is just to be professional. Dress professionally, act professionally. The banquet is its own thing, and we all loosen up for it a bit, but the way we spend the other three days also impacts the impression we make. If the author is his/her brand, then we need to embody it in a way that earns credibility and respect.

  6. Shannon McNear says:

    Whoa, dude, that’s one ancient photo!

    No comment on the “costuming” issue. Others have said it better.

    I did, however, wish to comment on item #7, above. There is an explanation for what this person said that may–hopefully–alter opinions of what happened. At least soften them.

    Said person (not me, but a good friend) had been observing a fiction fast for the past year–Spirit led, that’s between her and God, right? So when asked the question, she didn’t stop and think how the initial statement would sound–she fully intended to explain. And then wasn’t given a chance to.

    Yes, I can totally see how blurting out “mine” to such a question would be construed as total conceit. A better answer might have been “none,” or just abstaining from a reply. But … sometimes there IS a reason, even when it looks like arrogance. One never knows.

    To answer your original question about crazy conference stories, well … this year, mine is that I was awarded one of Barbour’s semi-famous first-time author contracts, for a historical romance novella. 🙂 Not at all what I would have envisioned five or so years ago, but you know what? This was a total gift from the Lord.

    Of course, I’m chuckling over the irony that with 7 completed novel-length manuscripts, it’s a story I haven’t written that gets a contract! But I’m so excited to get to write this one! 😀


    I did, however, wish to comment on item #7, above. There is an explanation for what this person said that may–hopefully–alter opinions of what happened. At least soften them.

    Ah, that does help, though I don’t recall if we’re talking about the same incident! In fact, so far those 2.5 conferences tend to blur together, especially the first 1.5 of them. I do recall plenty of incidents in which people were very eager to share with me about their WIPs — perhaps I came across as an editor, even before Spec-Faith? Either way, I’ve come to believe eagerness to share with someone about your story is far better than an imposter “humility” that says, “I’ll just keep it to myself.”


    Said person (not me, but a good friend) had been observing a fiction fast for the past year–Spirit led, that’s between her and God, right? So when asked the question, she didn’t stop and think how the initial statement would sound–she fully intended to explain. And then wasn’t given a chance to.

    Perhaps this was the same incident. I do recall a quick move-on moment; perhaps many felt this was a kind of posturing. With that angle, I’ll be sure to amend the above. My thanks for your very kind and Christlike correction, and correction it is!


  8. […] I recognize these lines (adapted from this) from my own redeemed yet sin-struggling heart. But this week I also saw some of them even more glaringly, in response to a dustup at this year’s American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Dallas. According to John Otte: […]

What do you think?