For the first time since it began, though I remember being a part of some of the conversations that led up to its founding, I finally had the opportunity to attend Realm Makers. Realm Makers is a writer’s conference, the only one of its kind in the world, that is specifically for Christian speculative fiction. Speculative, if you don’t know, includes things like sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal. Also, not every writer who attends actually writes for the Christian market, but it most certainly is a conference where writers of the Christian faith get to spend time growing and learning with one another.
My adventure must be told in two parts: the actual conference and my travel adventure.
This year the conference was held on the campus of Villanova University just outside of Philadelphia, PA. The conference was awesome and the keynote speaker was Thomas Locke. But perhaps the most meaningful thing to me was finally getting to meet in person many friends that I’ve known for years but have never met in person. Authors such as Kat Heckenbach, Kristen Stieffel, Ralene Burke, Becky Minor, Randy Streu, Kerry Neitz, Avily Jerome, Heather Titus, and many others that I may not be able to remember right now. (Sorry!) I also got to meet many authors that I’ve gotten to know more recently online.
The weirdest thing, though, was that people I didn’t know at all from the writing community actually recognized my name. It was both humbling and honoring to know that on some level I’ve had a positive influence on the development of these young writers.
I was invited to be on two panels. One was a panel on self-publishing. I felt a little out of place because Splashdown Books isn’t really self-publishing though they’ve changed to a hybrid publishing style very similar. The audience, though, really just wanted to know about marketing for self-publishers…to which I told them simply that I was really bad at marketing.
On the other hand, the paranormal/horror panel I sat on was tons of fun. We could have discussed the subject for several hours if we’d had the time. It was also inspiring to know that I had things to say to those attending that they actually wanted to hear about.
Attendees were also encouraged to dress in costume for the awards banquet. I was a Nerd Herder, from the TV show Chuck. In a room full of nerds, this costume was too obscure. Only a handful of people actually recognized it. Most people had to have the show meticulously explained to them, because they hadn’t even heard of it. (How is that possible, people!?)
Finally, most productive and fun for me was the time I spent volunteering to be an appointment timer for writers pitching to the publishers and agents at the conference. I enjoyed it so much that I did extra time, sending one young author back to the conference. I got to encourage and calm nervous writers who had never pitched to someone before and I got to have meaningful conversations with the publishers and agents during the in-between times.
I may or may not have successfully accidentally pitched to one of the publishers a book I wasn’t planning on writing at all for about a year and a half. I may or may not have successfully purposefully pitched my non-fiction book to an agent in less than five minutes. Requests for both. (Got to write one of them first. Ha!)
Well, enough about the conference. What you really want to hear about…what you NEED to hear about…is the adventure that was my travels.
It all started months ago when I booked my flight. I booked a cheap flight…I had a budget. My flight plan sent me from Charlotte to Newark, NJ by plane and required me to transfer to an Amtrak train to take me to Philly. From there I would take the regional rail line, right out of the train station, that would take me directly to the campus of Villanova University.
Sounds fun, right? You might be tempted to think so. Leg 1 – driving to the airport – was fine. Uneventful. Leg 2 – flying to Newark – was also fine. Uneventful. But then things begin to get weird.
Leg 3 required the transfer to the train. The Newark airport has an inter-rail system to transport passengers from the airport to the train station. At the pen-ultimate stop of the inter-rail train, the doors opened and a lady began to yell at everyone to get off, cross the platform, and get on the opposite train. We were all confused, but we complied. The original inter-train left.
We waited. The doors never closed. The new train never left. Another one showed up on the original rail opposite us. And then the lady started yelling at us to get off, cross the platform, and get on the other one. Again. Thoroughly confused, we were eventually herded back across the platform, back to where we started, and finally departed for the Amtrak station.
I’ll skip the ticketing confusion at the Amtrak station and then again at the Philly station when trying to get on the regional rail. Let’s just say train stations aren’t as organized and obviously signed as airports.
I hopped on the regional rail moments before it closed the doors. Yes! A break. I didn’t have to wait for another. But then it stopped two stops early. The conductor came on and said, “Last stop for this train. Everyone off.”
I was a mile away from my destination. I had no idea where I was. In hindsight, I should have just called a taxi. But I didn’t. I walked the last mile.
I was 15 minutes late for the cafeteria. The doors were locked. I was hungry, tired, frustrated, and sweaty. I just wanted to sit down and give up for the day. Finally, someone came out who worked there and she let me in. I begged the cafeteria manager for something, anything to eat. She pitied me and let me have the only thing she had available…a gluten free, dairy free, turkey sandwich from the cooler. I didn’t care. I was too hungry to care. As I was eating, the manager also brought me some chips and granola bars. She really did pity me. I must have looked horrible. Did I mention I missed my afternoon coffee?
After that, everything was fine during the conference, even though I was 30 minutes late for the kick-off.
But then I had to travel home. My train left at 5:15 am from Philly to go back to Newark. And if you’re not on the platform for the train, they don’t wait on you. I wanted to be there with time to spare. So I got up at 3:30 and called an Uber at 4:00. I’ve never rode with Uber before and I had a great first experience!
But the driver almost hit a herd of deer in the middle of Lancaster Avenue on our way to downtown Philly. He said he had NEVER seen any deer on Lancaster Avenue before, and he’d lived there for 20 years. We found at least six that night. At least his brakes were fine.
Then we may or may not have driven through the middle of an active crime scene while driving through West Philly. Six police cars, no lights flashing, and a small crowd gathered around one particular part of the sidewalk…Just keep driving, just keep driving…
But I made it on time and the train to Newark was uneventful. The plane from Newark to Charlotte was also uneventful, though delayed 30 minutes because of weather. (Much better than one of my friends who had a 7 hour delay!) And I had my first experience with an over-the-top caricature of a stewardess. No one has the right to be that perky that early in the morning. No. One.
Finally, the drive back home was also uneventful, though by now I felt like a zombie. I made it with a little help from my friend Starbuck.
And that was the end of my Realm Makers adventure. It was good to be with my tribe. But it’s great to be home. Thanks to all my friends for an awesome time!