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ACFW MBT 2014 collage

A Look Back At ACFW 2014: 5 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Writers Conference

Yes, I am a mere 4 days back from St. Louis and the 2014 ACFW conference — and my suitcases are unpacked.

This, alone, is nigh unto a miracle. I walked off the plane in Denver and right back into a deadlines.

But along with neon green suitcases crammed full with laundry, I lugged home a heart filled to overflowing with memories.

The writing life is a strange mix of dreaming and hard work. Of being alone and being surrounded by imaginary characters who take over your mind. Of unending waiting and back-to-back deadlines.

And all of this is why writers need to make time (and yes, save money) for the annual ACFW conference.

We need to push back from our computers, get out of our chairs and:

  • interact with real people. Other writers who “get” us. It’s so fulfilling to say a real “hello” to people we’ve connected with online and who’ve been nothing more than a tiny avatar on Facebook or IM. Meeting them in real life — walking, talking, eating lunch — is reason enough to go to a writers conference.


  • learn how to be a better writer. When it comes to craft, I don’t know it all. Hate to break to you, but you don’t know it all either. Guess what happens if you attend the continuing classes and workshops taught by editors and agents and authors:  you learn stuff that influences your writing. 


  • laugh and hug and stay up late. You ever feel lonely as a writer? Yeah, me too. Imaginary characters are fun, but they can’t laugh with you. They can’t hug you back. And the Hyatt Regency in St. Louis overflowed with laughter last week. People were hugging nonstop — it was almost a mandatory activity.


  • be encouraged and encourage others. You’ve heard it before (you may have said it): the publishing industry is c-r-a-z-y right now. Hanging with other writers is the best way to talk out the issues, the questions, the what ifs and the what nows. There’s always a 24-hour prayer room at ACFW — a very vivid reminder that God is available to us all the time. And prayer happened everywhere during the conference: in the hallways, outside the meeting rooms, in the waiting area for appointments — as needed.


  • Celebrate and celebrate some more. Attendees celebrated the little things such as someone having a good 15 minute appointment, which is actually a big thing! Friday night at the MBT Pizza Party Susan May Warren announced Jeanne Takenaka as the 2014 Frasier winner. And then Saturday night we all dressed up and celebrated lots and lots of big things: the Genesis and the Carol award winners, as well as Robin Lee Hatcher’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Celebrating one another is one of the most important things writers can do for each other.

Did you attend ACFW? What’s your WHY for attending the conference — or any other writers conference, like the upcoming MBT Storycrafters and Deep Thinkers conferences?


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Suspense quote

Weekly Spark: Suspense Pacing—Utilizing the Reader’s Imagination

Have you ever watched a scene in a scary movie where the camera pans around the house in a tight zoom from room to room? Nothing bad or frightening is happening in those rooms, but for some reason you know it will. The camera focuses on a person watching TV, another cutting a sandwich with a sharp knife, innocent children playing in the yard. Maybe the musical score is filled with dissonant chords or whiney instruments. Your heart pounds. You contemplate covering your eyes to shield them from the likely assault, or at least having your palms at the ready.

A noise sounds to the right. The camera swings to spot its source. And then …

A small boy asks to go to the bathroom.

That’s right, no hairy monster. No one-eyed man with an ax. And yet you rode the pulse thrumming excitement of all that adrenaline, expecting something great—and loved it.

Deep breath!

This is what we call suspense. Hitchcock used it all the time. M. Night Shyamalan employed it in the movie Signs. It was also what made the film Jaws such a thriller. You thought the shark was coming toward the group of kids splashing in the water—but … no shark. The suspense is not about what happens. It’s what you think could happen.

Suspense is not action. It’s the expectation of something big and sometimes more intense than the event itself. It not only uses the writer’s imagination, but taps into all the possibilities swimming around in the reader’s mind as well. And the reader might fill it in with his or her own deepest, darkest fear—a suspense writer’s gold.

How do you write suspense? Unlike action pacing, suspense is slower, more drawn out, and filled with details that set a tone of expectation, leaving multiple clues of various possibilities. Like the camera angles in the tight zoom of a movie, the author shows very little of what is really there, but leads the reader to believe deadly hazards are all around. There may be a deadened silence, broken only by an eerie sound—footsteps on a vacant walk, the pop of a light bulb burning out, a black crow cawing.

Why do these things make our hearts pound? Because the anticipation of something awful is actually more anxiety producing than the experience of it. The anticipation makes us ask the questions, “What is the next challenge?” and “Can we get through it?” The experience shows us we can. Which is scarier to you? The not knowing.

However, unlike life, where we want these answers right away, the author’s bread and butter is in making the reader wait. So stretch these moments out. Add more description mixed with hints that are crucial to the story so they won’t miss a letter. That’s the essence of suspense.

What is your favorite suspense scene in a book or a movie? How did the writer play on your imagination to create the suspense in your mind?


Connie AlmonyConnie Almony is the author of At the Edge of a Dark Forest, a modern-day Beauty and the Beast story about a war-vet, amputee struggling with PTSD. You can find her writing book reviews for Jesus Freak Hideout, hosting InfiniteCharacters.com and LivingtheBodyofChrist.Blogspot.com, or hanging out on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

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Learning By Reading

By Rachel Hauck

I found a book that looked interesting to me on Barnes & Noble’s site.

A story set in the ’30s and had some element of football in it. So I downloaded it.

Devoured it. The story captured me. The writing… I didn’t spend half my time rewriting the sentences in my head or pondering why the character was acting without proper motivation.

I told Susie, “You have to read this book!”

And, as it was set in the ’30s and had football element to it, she was keen to give it a go.

Two days later she emails. “I’m mad at you! I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. reading that book.”

By now, I’m dying to talk to her about it because it had some fascinating elements. But she halted me from gushing on and on until she finished.

THEN, we had a long talk, breaking it down, decided what worked, what didn’t, why we liked it, how we could learn from this author.

The story was told from a single point of view in first person present tense. A form Susie and I have both written in the past but due to the more popular third person past, we both changed. There’s a bit more versatility with third-past.

It was told in alternating time lines: 1931-32 and 1938.

The author had good descriptions, good turns of phrase, a solid voice.

True to form, Susie noticed the main protagonist didn’t have a large story arc, but it was understandable. And that’s a trait of literary fiction.

We discussed the changes she did make, why and how.

We discussed the romance and the relationship between the protagonist and the hero.

“I loved them together,” Susie said, “And I was rooting for them, but I never saw why. Like what did he bring to her no one else could and what did she bring to him.”

Good point. You know we talk about the “essence” of a character here at MBT and how the hero and heroine must bring something to the other no one else does. Or sees the true person inside, underneath all the muck.

Luke Danes and Lorelei Gilmore are the perfect example of a couple who are very different but at the core the same and “get” one another. They bring out the best.

Back to the book Susie and I discussed…

We loved the time frame and setting.

We loved the writing.

We loved her phrasing.

She did a great job of obfuscating and deflecting truth.

There was a little girl in the story. The little sister of the heroine. But I KNEW it was really her daughter.

The love affair from the ’31 years gone south but she ended up pregnant. To hide her shame the parents raised the baby as their own

But I was wrong!

I studied how the author wrote the scenes with the little sister to figure out how she left room for this girl to really be her own, but yet wasn’t without lying to me, the reader.

There was a hurricane at the end of the book. A big slam bam finish!

I loved this the best. Because the hurricane was only mentioned twice in the story, almost a throw away line, by the protagonist’s aunt.

But if you’re a smart author, no line of dialog is a throw away!

Turns out the hurricane was making it’s way up the eastern seaboard, wreaking havoc.

It was the perfect foil. When the “big storm” was on its way — they didn’t know it was a hurricane — but I did, as the reader.

I love when plot points are so intricately woven in to the story. But not slapping me in the face.

The ending was the protagonist marrying her man, having a family, waiting for him to return from war. I cried, it was so good.

It hit all of my emotions.

I learned from it, as a writer.

So here’s my challenge to you all.

Take a book you love, pair up with another writer friend, and discuss it. What worked, what didn’t work? What did you learn? How can you incorporate it into your own writing?

I didn’t see the weak character arc until Susie pointed it out.

But she totally missed the layered in hurricane story.

We helped each other see and learn.

And it was fun!

So, go for it. Learn from others. Share.

Happy Reading and Writing.

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