Blogger: Michelle Ule
Filling in for Rachel, Janet and Wendy over the next three days as they attend, and I write about, the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.
This is the story of my first visit to the Mount Hermon thirteen years ago.
I first went to the conference at the suggestion of an old friend who remembered I always planned to write books. Be careful what you talk about in your youth–some people will remember. 🙂
I had no idea what to expect and was very nervous. I didn’t know a soul there and was traveling far from home on a trip that felt indulgent.
After checking in, I wandered into the dining room where I sat at a table with two women: Shannon Hill (now Marchese) and Becky Germany. They were editors and we talked about what editors did. I brought up Maxwell Perkins and his outstanding work. They nodded politely.
I took a magazine writing “track” (series of morning classes) during my five days there. As a trained reporter and editor from college, I felt confident I could write a magazine article–I’d done it before. Roger Palms was very encouraging and his course inspired optimism.
Unfortunately, the magazine editors that year were very discouraging.
Indeed, as the rain poured down in Mount Hermon’s redwood-studded valley, I grew more and more discouraged. It came to a head on Sunday afternoon as I watched the misty rain and prayed.
“You know, Lord, I don’t know why I came. Maybe I should forget about getting published and just go home to raise my daughter. It will be a bummer if I never publish a book, but it will be worse if I botch my daughter’s childhood.”
The clouds parted.
A beam of light split the clouds.
It did not hit me.
But it might as well have. I laughed. “Okay, God. I’ll take that as a yes.”
I cheered up considerably.
One of the speakers that year was writer T. Davis Bunn and he mentioned he had written seven novels before he finally sold one. I decided to use that erudite and skillful man as my marker. I wouldn’t worry about publication until I had written seven novels.
So, I went home and raised my children, practiced my craft, found a part-time job in publishing, attended more conferences and grew in my skill and confidence.
My daughter’s junior high years challenged me, and I’ve always been thankful I didn’t have a contract during that time. I was able to focus on my family’s needs and I “grew” in even more ways.
I’m glad God took his time.
And when I got discouraged and discontented, I remembered that sun beam and those seven novels I needed to write.
I got my first contract, for A Log Cabin Christmas Collection, the day we drove our daughter to college.
Becky Germany was my editor.
I’m not sure if it was the seventh project I’ve written, but it was close. 🙂
God puts dreams into our hearts and asks us to hold them lightly. Giving them up to God to use to His glory was easier knowing I “sort of” had a promise.
My children are total delights. I’ll have published eight works by the end of this year.
Almost all the good things that have happened to me professionally have been the result of attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.
That, of course, and God’s peculiar blessings for me.
Has God given you any promises? What dreams do you hold lightly? What God-given dreams have come true?
A writer’s dream comes true. Click to Tweet
Trusting God with a writing dream. Click to Tweet
Michelle, you got a sunbeam. We got rainbows.
* 20 years ago, we were leaving for my husband’s first meeting with the pulpit committee of our church. Heavy rain stopped, and a full rainbow arched over the road ahead. Five years ago, we were hesitantly poking our noses in every corner of a forlorn foreclosure. We glanced up and caught a quick rainbow shimmer. Seven tons of debris and countless hours later, it became our happy home.
* Thank you, Lord, for the fullness of time and promises fulfilled.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
In November of 2013, I was on a train from Gallup to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’d spent some time doing research in and around Navajo country and by the time I stepped onto that train, I was emotionally spent. Done. Weary to the core. I’d learned an incredible amount in less than a week and I felt burdened by what I’d heard, seen and felt.
As I found a seat by the window, I begged God to leave the other seat empty. I wanted to be ALONE. To listen to music and stare out at the stunningly beautiful landscape. I literally begged God for mercy. Asked Him to fill me up. Give me strength. Courage. Wings.
A very tall man sat down, smiled and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Max.”
Max was waaaay too perky for Jennifer.
“Lord, seriously?” was my prayer.
We got to chatting, I didn’t have a choice. And then Max found out that I was in New Mexico doing research. He was enthusiastic and persistent and soon had out of me the story of a failed warrior, NATANII, who abandons his people, flees to the sanctuary of a white family, changes his name to NEZ, and on and on the story goes.
(Caps are there for a reason…)
It runs out that Max was the principal of an all Navajo middle school and was on his way to meet his “amazing wife”, his words, but he sure seemed fascinated by my work. We talked for a bit longer, but when I told him I’d gotten on the train, hoping that God would fill me up and let me know I was on the right path, the look on his face got really weird.
Great. he was going to tell me to stop preaching at him.
Then, he sat back, stared at me and said “Jennifer, ask me the name of my old school.”
“Just do it. Say ‘Max, what is the name of your old school?’ Come on. Do it.”
I was getting downright annoyed at his super perky vibe and figured if I just asked him, he’d hush up and let me chill.
As I pondered, he did the “I’m waiting ” glare.
“Okay, Max. What is the name of your old school.”
He grinned and leaned toward me. “Well, Jennifer, the name of my old school?” He waited…raised his eyebrows…
“…is Natanii Nez Elementary School.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
How’s this for 6 degrees of Separation?
Max Perez is the superintendent of schools in…Belen, New Mexico.
Ohhh, down the hill from our own Andrew Budek-Schmeisser’s house.
Wow… I thought Max would be an angel. Angels walking! This world of ours that has been termed a village seems to shrink daily.
I love your story. I could hear it a thousand times. 🙂
Well, I do have a story here…but it makes me cringe with embarrassment to tell it. Nonetheless, it may serve as a cautionary tale…Thou Shalt Not Treat The Lord Thy God As A Trained Seal.
* Early in the time I began writing, I got discouraged, and asked God to send me a sign to tell me I should go on, that this would all result in success. He seemed to ask, “What?”, so I said, “Well, how about something red?”
* And soon I was finding Red Stuff. Not the dull natural reds of New Mexican rocks, but brightly-coloured flotsam borne in on the wind, seemingly placed to catch my eye.
* Once I picked up a piece of trash (it was not red), and idly turned it over to look at its origins…it was from a bottle of water, made by a company called Red Rock. I still have it.
* What I didn’t see at the time was that this was an exercise in wish-fulfilment; I was using God as an agent of symbolism. Realization did not come all at once, but with an excruciating slowness in which I realized that none of what I was chasing was real…and that it wasn’t God breaking a perceived ‘promise’, it was merely me, playing the fool in thinking I could turn the Almighty into a bottled genie.
* So I laid down the dream of a career as a novelist; not because it didn’t really matter (as I sometimes told myself) but because it DID. It mattered too much to be tarnished by pagan mind-games.
* I still write, and still have several active WIPs. They’ll never see the light of day, but it seems wrong to abandon them unfinished.
* And, yes, I still find Red Stuff, but enjoy it for hat it is; a bit of colour on the landscape, and a reminder that God’s ways are not those I might try to demand.
Of course, the professional advice that I had neither the right voice nor message for the market played a big role…but the point is that wanting Too Much to see God’s hand on one’s life…and subconsciously inventing the manifestations that make it seem real…is not a good road.
* The parting of the clouds and the sunray that you related, Michelle…that’s a different story. THAT, like Jennifer’s Meeting On The Train…that’s God.
I’m sorry, Andrew, but I’m going to disagree with you about those red surprises. In fact, I just went downstairs and when I saw the red candle sitting on the counter I thought, “just God blowing Andrew a kiss!”
I suspect I’ll think about you for the rest of my life whenever I stumble on a some odd red object.
I believe that God DOES send silly reminders that He knows us and He cares about us. I recently went through a very difficult couple weeks with my manuscript and as I struggled, I got five, count ’em, five research serendipities in two weeks.
I need that affirmation that what I was doing had purpose and that God was behind it. It was easy to get lost in everything else going on–it’s been an intense period for many members of my family–but, the Lord reminded me that where He leads He provides.
So, when I encounter minor things like your red objects or sudden odd research items that fall into place and make my eyes go wide, I think, “wow, Lord, thanks.”
You can call them what you like, but to me they are blessings from the God who loves me.
As a Christian, I do not walk through life in a vacuum of purpose. My problem is I often don’t recognize the purpose. I think I know what is going on in my life and how everything works together, but the reality is I’m frequently caught in surprise by what God REALLY was doing behind the scenes while I was preoccupied with something else (usually my own plans).
You may be too young for that PBS show “Connections,” but it traced back how one simple idea led to another to another to another and 400 years later we had plastic–or whatever.
We may start out to do something with the best of intentions, get waylaid or off course and wander. The results may seem purposeless–and yet how can ever really gauge that?
If it means we met our spouse, or had a surprise child, or landed an unexpected job or met people who loved and prayed with us through tough times, then, was that detour from my expectation really a disappointment?
I’ve got kids struggling right now, and I understand why, but I think to myself, “I wonder what God ultimately will bring out of this for them?”
I can commiserate, but I can’t say that what seems like nothing isn’t something.
Maybe that’s all too much philosophy for a blog but your writing has had purpose and meaning. I’ve got Blessed are the Pure of Heart right here and it’s given me plenty to think about.
But more important, as you yourself have said, you haven’t been abandoned and left without prayers and people who care about you as you go through this ending. There’s value in that, Andrew, and I know you know that.
So, let’s be thankful for the writing journey you have been on, whatever the seeming success at the moment. It’s been good and important.
Michelle, thank you so much for the gracious and heartfelt thoughts…I read them earlier, but only now am physically up to typing.
* And you are right…and I was quite wrong. To assume that a request for a mundane ‘sign’ of hope is an attempt to manipulate God…it’s tempting to think that, especially if one is one’s own worst critic, but it rather takes the possibility of God granting a requested grace from His hands. On reflection, that seems rather rude of me.
* And this community…it’s not just the greatest blessing of the path along which I’ve written…it’s the major blessing of my life. No longer being able to carry on any sort of reasonable conversation in person…here, I’m not crippled. It may take forever to write a comment these days, but there need be no frustration at halting thought and fingers. When it’s done, it allows me participation in this place, on an equal and accepted ground. I treasure that.
* As I treasure your reply, Michelle. I have fallen far of late, and it’s been harder to rise, but being helped to look up…one can still see the stars. I won’t quit.
* And I won’t reject the gay bit of red string that is caught on the fence outside my widow. I shall blow a kiss back.
I regret to have to tell you that you are Wrong.
Finding Red Stuff was not a manifestation of your mind. Nor was it accident. Please, understand it Was from God. God does not play games. He sets people on earth for reasons. And those reasons often appear to be dreams. Sometimes–ok, most of the time, unattainable, totally impossible, crazy undo-able desires that simmer on the edge of our consciousness, ignored deliberately or cursed with tears. But God never gives up on us. Because He is the one who put the dream in our soul. And encourages us when we ask.
You say you have several WIP that will never see the light of day. Why?
You say you had “professional advice” that said you had “neither the right voice nor message for the market.” That was not advice. It was a killing blow. Who is anyone to so destroy? What right have they to take a heart and tromp it to earth? The market? Who cares about the market? The only thing that matters are the words you write. Put down on paper. Given from the hand of God to rest in yours. It is Your Commission.
Forget about inventing things that seem real, red stuff. Insist upon seeing God’s hand in your life. Because it is there. And he loves the color red.
Take up your life and write. And write. And write. And tell us the instant you type “The End” on that first magical, wonderful book entitled, “The Dream.”
Wanda, thank you or your stirring words…and yes, I see that I was wrong. I tried to limit God by assuming he would not grant what was a simple and sincere request for a simple, guiding sign…comes from over-thinking, and questioning one’s motives and actions WAY too much.
* The WIPs…ah, well, one deals with Navajo spirituality, bilocation, and the gift of healing, another’s solidly Catholic, and…well, they’re a bit much for CBA, and far too religious for ABA. They were fun to write, but I’m not quite sure who’s going to want to read them.
* And the main one’s a collection of vignettes from Viet Nam, without much of an arc except the relationship of the characters…because that was the only arc to which these guys could hold…that of love and comradeship.
* But I won’t quit, and I’ll just keep putting them into God’s hands. If there’s any audience, I figure he can find it. And if not, He’ll read them Himself.
* Thank you again, so very much.
Andrew, this is what popped in my head the moment I read your post. Red Badge of Courage. I don’t know if you can personally relate to that story, but I think you are indeed, courageous.
Lara, thank you…I have never really thought of myself as courageous, just someone doing a job. I so appreciate your words!
I agree, Andrew, that you can’t demand messages from God. But that doesn’t prevent God from voluntarily leaving you a trail of happy breadcurmbs. So I disagree with your conclusion.
I call them God winks–some harmless little connection that is known only to God and me. While God wasn’t drinking the Red Rock, he wasn’t surprised by your surprise.
Shirlee, you’re absolutely right, and my conclusion was dreadful. It was an attempt to limit God’s grace in granting a small request for reassurance by imposing a perniciously self-questioning attitude, one that is suspicious of good motives (and doubtless indulgent of baser ones).
* I have learned a lot today, not the least of which is humility. Thank you1
I love these stories, thanks everyone for sharing. I’m still waiting for my sunbeam in the sky and just trying to put myself in a position to see it if it comes 🙂
For me, it was being honest and open to see what God would do. As often happens, I thought I knew why I was attending the conference and God had completely other plans for me (see Monday’s post), which turned my life completely upside down.
That sunbeam sustained me through some difficult times. I can see it all in hindsight, but in the moment . . . well, you know. 🙂
I had a light beam. I’m a protestant who was debating whether to write a reflective book at a Trappist monestary by making weekly visits there. On my first visit to Abbey of New Clairvaux, I was doubting the wisdom of it (catholic vs protestant) when a beam of light began to shine through a slit in one of the ancient chapel windows (origin any constructed in 1500 AD for an Abbey in Spain, dismantled and brought to CA by Willlian Randolph Hurst in the 1930s) across the field from where I was sitting under a walnut tree. The light beam grew and grew in length until it reached clear to my feet and then it stopped, the space of a couple hundred yards. It stayed that way for a few minutes. The light bulb came on. I got the message. The book is now written and waiting for the pieces to come together (editor and representation). The Abbott of the Abbey offered to write its foreword (!) after I sent him a draft copy to see if he would approve and give his blessing on the project. We have never met. He’s offered to stock the book in the monestary book store. I took a picture of the beam of light with my cell phone, and of my tablet resting on my knees. Interesting. I’ve had other experiences, but one story is enough for now.
*originally constructed *Hearst
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
That is SO cool!
Sounds fascinating to me. I take it you’ve read Kathleen Norris’ works?
I’d love to spend a weekend in a silent guided retreat at a monastery, but have yet to find one near by. I attended on many many years ago and got a lot out of it.
Best wishes on the book!
Love this story Michelle! And I owe my (very tiny bit of) publishing success to Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. But more important are the friends I made along the way! Missing the conference and my pals this weekend but praying for all the conferees.
Kristen Joy Wilks
It was at my 10th …or 11th (I had one year that I got to go to 2 conferences, so I think 11th) conference that I finally sold a novella to an editor. But I was so glad that I went to that first conference and every one after that.
“A trip that felt indulgent” … I can so relate. Being a “homemaker” and not the bread-winner … it’s so hard to justify spending money on myself. I always think … until someone else believes in me, I shouldn’t be spending that kind of money on myself. It’s so hard not to think like that. But I loved the ACFW writer’s conference. I love connecting with other writers. It’s the sweetest. We have so much in common. It’s a blessing to meet these people I’ve come to know and love. But the flip side is that–it’s the spending money that moves you where you need to be … the classes, the friends, the keys, the beams.
** I love your story, Michelle. Thank you for sharing that.
You’re right, Shelli, the money makes one pause. But, in any craft development there is a cost. People go to college and trade schools to learn a skill, I’m not sure why we think regular school is sufficient to learn enough about writing to sell a project.
Perhaps it’s because everyone has to learn how to write in school, yet there is a vast difference between what I was taught in English Literature classes and what I’ve subsequently learned about the fiction craft. Indeed, I’d say the work I did on the UCLA Daily Bruin was far more important to me as a writer than any class I took.
I could only justify one conference a year, but I supplemented with reading every 808 book at my library. Critique groups can help–and ACFW provides plenty of opportunities for those. Blogs, there’s a lot of information on line that can be helpful.
But, other than meeting agents through commenting on their blogs (Hi, all), a conference can be the best place to meet them as well as to network with editors. (Hey, see the Monday post).
Conference fees can be tax deductible and should be viewed as an investment in your career–like purchasing a dedicated laptop.
All that being said, it’s important to count the costs–and there are a lot of them.
I was fortunate to go to Mount Hermon in 2013, Michelle.The only person I knew was B.J. Taylor, who had attended the Guideposts Workshop with me, and afterwards, started a writer’s group I was able to join. B.J. called and answered all my questions and told me how it worked, including taking your writing and putting it in for critiquing. I was scared stiff. “How can I ask an agent or editor to look at my work?” I asked her. “Just walk up and ask for an appointment,” she said, “but do it early as the slots fill up fast.”
The first day there, I looked across the road and saw a spire on a little brown building. Could it be a church? I went over, found the door and stepped in. Directly in front of me, taking up half of the far wall was a magnificent stained glass window. Golden ripe wheat spread across it from side to side, with sheaves bound in the middle. Green hills, tops of mountains, and clear blue sky with a line of clouds rose above the field.
It felt like a flash of lightning as I took this all in with one glance.
Wheat! My wheat. The land, the sky, it could have been taken from my home in Montana where I have been a farmer for most of my life. Where my father threshed the wheat on his father’s homestead with those exact sheaves standing in the field. And I felt God promise, he would see that my crop, my writing, would be harvested, just as those sheaves were ready for the threshing.
I could not get up the nerve to ask the agent I wanted to talk to if she would see me. But she critiqued my writing, and set up an appointment on her own. As did a wonderful editor. And two years later, that agent took my book. Our own dear Wendy Lawton. And I am quite sure, my book will be published also for it is finished and stands, a sheaf in the sun.
So encouraging! Thank you ♥
Janet Ann Collins
I’m chiming in late because I’m still recovering from the wonderful Mount Hermon conference.
The first time I saw Mount Hermon was when a friend loaned us a cabin there for our honeymoon. An eclipse of the moon happened while we were there. Before attending my first writers conference there I only had one story published for pay and wasn’t sure if I was really called to be a writer. That story had been in Pockets magazine. A few weeks before the conference Pockets contacted me and asked to republish the story. And there was an eclipse of the moon while I was there! Yes, I was definitely supposed to be a writer. I’ve never become a best-selling author, but have had lots of things published in periodicals and have found out my writing has touched people’s lives.