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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Grabbing Our Attention for a Shift in Vision

The day I wrote this post, we mourned again the shift that happened to us as a nation on that September 11, the lives lost and the pain experienced by so many on that day and in the days since. We-the-people and they-the-leaders have heard and told so many lies in the ensuing years . . . some purposeful, some hopeful, some just plain stupid.

by Zachary Staines, Unsplash
Turmoil in the heavens (titled by me)
We live in times that challenge us to ask questions of ourselves and each other. How shall we live? How did we get here and what are we going to do, what can we do, to climb out of the mess? I hear hopelessness from so many, anger at the political games and the candidates, fear about tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow.

This isn’t a political post. It’s a writer’s post. It’s a human’s post. I’ve asked these questions here before, and I’m asking them again because I don’t think I’m the only one pondering these things. Don’t you feel a stirring to do something different—or at least to do it differently?

I just returned from the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Nashville, the first ACFW gathering I’ve attended since 2010. Cost nixed any thought of ones in between, that and wondering if I fit among CBA writers. I’m merely a Christian who writes fiction instead of a Christian who writes fiction that’s Christian. There I go, anthropomorphizing books: our stories don’t, in themselves, have a belief system. Let’s say instead that some Christians write fiction that does more than reveal their worldview; it actually provides a strong and unequivocal faith message. My “Oh, I can’t afford it” had some backbone in the thought that a conference designed for those who write for the tribe instead of those who write across lines wasn’t something I needed.

If you’ve read my recent posts here, such as Writing in a Time of Discontent and Writing and Reading When the Living Ain't Easy, you will have noticed a certain angst building in me. I’ve begun to believe this was a God-driven discontent. I had no specific reason for it, no answers. All I knew was that I longed for a new or renewed vision.

NASA, Unsplash
Vision? Yes, please.
To attend or not to attend? I’m frugal by nature, and I hate to inconvenience others. Attending would disrupt my husband’s life. He’d have to man the fort here, and because my mama lives with us, he’d be in charge of meals. (Michael doesn’t cook.) I’d already booked a flight to the Women’s Fiction Writers Retreat in New Mexico. And now I was thinking of zipping off to another one? It felt selfish. Greedy. The idea of seeing old friends didn’t have the weight it needed to absolve me of guilt. Nor did the fact that on the way home I’d be fulfilling a commitment to address a book club.

But I couldn’t rid myself of the idea that I was supposed to be there, as if God wanted to do something in me and with me and for me, something He could do best if I spent too much money, drove too many hours, and got myself to Nashville.

My beloved husband said, “Go. We’ll be fine.”

I went.

And, oh, my. What an experience. Old friends, yes, and new friends added to the blessing. But the inspirational messages from Don Maass and Ted Dekker, the worship, the sheer joy of being among other writers at whatever stage they found themselves, was so powerful that I wanted to do a happy jig. The only downside to the entire experience was driving the mountain road west of Asheville with marauding trucks for company. They didn’t like me any more than I liked them.  

I am among the most blessed of women. I have a husband who adores me and supports my dreams and sails with me. I have family of whom I’m immensely proud. I have friends and tribes, and I have the most fun job in the world, that of crafting stories and sharing love with readers. And I have a God who pushes and prods me into action because He knows what I need.

I came away from Nashville with one answer, at least. I will continue with added zeal to cleave unto Him with all my heart and not let the enemy distract me from my purpose. I won’t worry about what others do. I will do—with all my might—whatever my hand finds to do. Right now, that means loving Him and loving my readers with all I have in me and crafting whatever story He calls me to write, hoping that His love will pour through the words into hearts more in need of Him than ever before.

by Joe Gardner, Unsplash
Opening to the Light (titled by me)

I can’t fix the times we are in and neither can you. But perhaps we can write stories that offer hope and point readers in the direction they need to go, in whatever way we’re called to do that.

Because I had such a spectacular time, I asked three friends to share their thoughts about the conference. 

Robin Patchen,, critique partner and friend, said this about her experience this year. “The biggest takeaway for me was the sense of community. I love the way veterans reach out to people new to ACFW and try to make them feel comfortable. I love the way ‘big’ authors don’t act big but sit in classes and learn with everybody else. I love getting to share my stories and hear others’ stories—not just our books, but our lives. I love feeling like I’m part of this great, godly, flawed, writing, editing, publishing, crying, celebrating, and worshipping community of crazy writers.”

Sharon Srock, wrote, “…It’s such an encouragement to sit in classes, shoulder to shoulder with much more accomplished writers and see your own ‘Ah ha’ moment mirrored on their faces as an instructor gives us all something new to think about. So much of Donald Maass’s early-bird session added to what I already had. His questions about what can make things worse for your protagonists, what can make them feel more human, what new highs or lows can you add to the story were exactly what I needed. I finished the conference with Susan May Warren’s session on ways to supercharge your series… Add in the chance to put faces to names and seeing that we all struggle with the same doubts and worship the same way… I can’t wait till next year.”

And then there was the woman I picked up in the hall. Who could imagine I’d do such a thing, but as I headed to my room on the sixth floor, I noticed a porter giving directions as he wheeled a stranger’s luggage forward. I called out, “Are you here alone?”

She looked at me in horror. A strange woman in a strange place asking if she were alone? She finally said, “Oh, no, I’m here with ACFW.”

I grinned, realizing I’d sounded slightly mad. “Oh, good, so am I.”

by Alex Harvey, Unsplash
Give Kathy 20 years, and she might have looked at me like this!
Can't you imagine her lifting her cane, ready to throttle me?
Kathy Beliveau—who, it turns out, lives within an hour or so of me—is an aspiring author and a delightful new friend. She and I spent the afternoon and evening together, checking out the bars and singers on Broadway (as my husband said, “What else would you do when you pick up a woman?”) until we decided we were too old—or our ears were—to handle the volume and we retreated to a Mexican restaurant for dinner.

by Linda Yezak of Kathy, yours truly, and Ane Mulligan

Here are Kathy’s words about the conference.
“I was in such a dark swamp before the conference. And you, Normandie, asked if I was alone....and then... Blessings.
“I've been blessed meeting some wonderful folks, cheering folks I've marginally met who I ‘met’ while reading and judging their books. 
“Thank you fellow writers for the help, encouragement, support and the lifting up that ACFW conference provides. Reminds me of how blessed I am.  Not in a swamp of my own making but amongst others who reach out and say ‘come.’"

So, what about you? Did you attend the ACFW conference or another one that brought on a shift in thought and motivation? What has been roiling in your spirit recently? Do you feel the need for change? The need to move in some different direction? Or perhaps just the need to get busy and get out there, to be doing the work you were called to do, whatever that is?

I’d love to hear from you.

Normandie studied sculpture in Italy before receiving a BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Her women’s fiction has garnered numerous awards across the country, including a recent final in the Maggie (Heavy Weather): Becalmed (2013), Sailing out of Darkness (2013), and Heavy Weather(2015). Her first romantic suspense, Two from Isaac’s House, released in November 2015 and was a Romantic Times Top Pick. From Fire into Fire is her fifth book. A lifelong sailor, she and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. 


  1. I have always come away from every conference I've attended with what I call a golden nugget of learning that has taken my work to another level. The best of this last one was rooming with my two crit partners, Michelle Griep and Lisa Ludwig. And meeting new friends. Seeing you again was a huge bonus, Normandie. It's been too long.

  2. It was lovely to see you, Ane, and to meet Michelle. I'm glad I finally figured out how to silence my new cell phone, too!

  3. This was one of the most fun conferences I've attended, and like you and Ane, I came away with some great nuggets and a lot of new inspiration. It was so lovely to see you again, Normandie. Let's not let 5 years go by this time!

  4. I'd love to see you again, Robin, even if I can't make it to another conference for a few years. We'll plan on it!


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