Sunday, April 08, 2007

My Mount Hermon Experience

Here’s a daily accounting of my recent trip to Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference:

Tuesday, March 27:

The president of GRPR (Rebeca) called to say her son was ill and she might not be able to attend Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. She wondered if I would be able to go at the last minute if she needed me to. Of course, I said, “yes!” But more importantly, I wanted Anderson to be okay. I decided to get some clothes together “just in case.”

Wednesday, March 28:

I had an injection in the top of my foot, to reduce the inflammation and swelling of a bone spur that has put pressure on a nerve to my big toe. Just a couple of hours later, Rebeca called to let me know that Andy was okay, but that she was sick. She needed me to take her place on the faculty, and to represent the firm to the conferees, agents, and publishing house acquisition editors. CAN DO! So I began to pack in earnest, and also to study for the workshop I would be teaching.

Thursday, March 29:

My alarm rang at 4:30 a.m. and I was on my way. By 6:00 a.m. I was at the airport, and by 7:45 a.m. I was in the air! The flight was uneventful. I landed in Salt Lake City for a 2-hour layover. This gave me the opportunity to get the lay of the land-my first time in that airport. The mountains were snow capped. Gorgeous! On we went to San Jose, where the action began in earnest. First I recovered my baggage, and wondered why in the world I packed so much. Of course, I AM a literary publicist, so it makes sense that I would be carrying quite a few books and manuscripts! I wrestled my 2 check-in bags and my 2 carry-on bags to the shuttle, and stood straddling the tower of bags to the rental car lot. On the way, I met a person who said their bags were filled with books, so I took a risk and asked if she was on her way to the conference. She was, and so my first Mount Hermon friendship was formed—with Kelly J. Eveleth (life coach).

A compact car was reserved in my name, but the Alamo-staff offered an upgrade to a Chevy Malibu for no extra charge. SWEET! I found my way out the loopy airport property, and shot out of the merge lane onto the major highway. It merged with another highway, and at that point I knew I would find my way with no problem. But the radio warned me that a bus fire was up ahead. Then hazard signs explained I might need to find an alternate route. That would be great, but with map quest I only knew how to get from Point A to Point B. I didn’t know which other roads would take me up the mountain! So I waited patiently with the rest of the traffic, as we crept up the mountain, bumper to bumper. My engine temperature climbed up to the notch just below RED. So, I turned off the air conditioner so the generator wouldn’t contribute to the heat, and opened the windows. The view was fantastic, and I felt like I could just almost, if I squinted my eyes, touch the redwood trees!

Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country. I’ve wanted to attend for YEARS, but the price (between $600-$900 depending on accommodations) kept me from attending. A few months ago, Cec Murphey donated 10 scholarships to the conference, and I was one of the judges who determined which writers were the recipients. I told the coordinator of the scholarship program that it was funny for me to pick other writers to go to the conference, since I had never been myself. I was actually happy for all these writers who won the special funding! The coordinator told me she just knew one day I'd get to go-just wait and see. Well, that "someday" didn't take long! The very year these recipients got to go to the conference, because of unusual circumstances, I was able to walk alongside them on the trails grinning ear to ear-for them (they don't know I was one who voted for them) and for me!

Once at the retreat center, I had no clue where to park or even where to go first. So, I found the largest parking lot and added my Malibu to the assortment of cars, pulled out just my purse for this first trip, and hiked up to the administration building. Lo and behold, Kelly from the shuttle bus was also there! We collected the keys to our housing for the week, and parted ways yet again. I trekked back to the car and pointed the vehicle in the direction of the steepest hill, to The Founders Cabin. I parked and wrestled my luggage to the upstairs room, my home away from home for the week. Jan Coleman was assigned to be my roommate, while Robin Crouch and Beth Jusino had the two downstairs rooms. Equipped with 3 large bedrooms with multiple beds, 2 full bathrooms, a living room with fireplace, a dining room, and kitchenette, we were set for the week. We also had front and back decks for our enjoyment. Later you would often find Robin, Jan, and I spread out critiquing manuscripts, preparing for our workshops, or writing down potential business dealings.

I called Russ to let him know I made it, and then I unpacked. By then 2 of the 3 cabin-mates made it and we became “sisterchick” friends right away. I studied my lesson for Friday, and studied the binder full of conference materials, in preparation for the week. I was faculty—I had to at least ACT like I knew what I was doing!

I found out I could hike down the hill with my laptop, perch on a park bench in
The Commons and pick up a wi-fi signal to sign on for e-mail and internet access. This way I could greet people as they walked by, enjoy the fresh air and the scenery, and work. What a great combination! Others checked e-mail in The Central Lounge, but with a signal just as strong in The Commons, I made my choice to remain out-of-doors. Others later commented that they felt this was my office-as often as they found me there working or having one-on-one appointments with conferees.

After e-mail was checked, it was time to get in line for the first meal of the adventure. I heard the food was good at Mount Hermon, and I was not disappointed. But the best part was the fellowship time. While waiting in line, John Leatherman came up to greet me. He has been in my online critique groups for the past 2 years. I also met Jan Eckles from The Writers View online group, and Merrie Destefano, editor for Victorian Homes and Bungalows and Cottages magazines. She introduced me to her friend, B.J. Taylor. I had the best time talking to them!

After dinner the faculty met for a meeting. This year’s conference had record numbers. There were over 450 at the conference, with 70 faculty members! It was great to put faces with industry names I’ve studied for years. Even better was learning just how REAL they are. They have servant attitudes and are very accessible to those just learning the ropes.

It was nice to go back to the cabin after this to get to know my cabin-mates better. The coordinator could not have placed me in a better cabin! Well—except for that brutal hike up the hill-almost a straight shot UP. The good thing about rooming with 2 others over 40 is that all 3 of us became breathless on the upward journey and had to take rest breaks. By the end of the conference, we were able to walk it without stopping. Maybe we became accustomed the altitude and air, and maybe we became a bit better conditioned! (And I’m sure the inhaler I packed for emergencies didn’t hurt either!)

Friday, March 30:

I skipped breakfast in the cafeteria (ate a protein bar instead) so I could spend more time getting ready for my day. Breakfast is the only meal faculty is not required to attend. How does a publicist dress to represent the GRPR firm, when the setting is rustic and the temperatures change about 30 degrees during the day? Since Friday was the day I was to teach my workshop, I chose dress slacks, a layered tank and jacket combo, and flats. For a more polished look, I spent more attention to my make-up. Robin confirmed that I had “just the look” for a publicist. YAY!

After getting ready to greet the day, I hiked down to The Commons for more internet access. A great place to work and network at the same time!

As I got ready to line up for lunch, I saw 2 beautiful, polished women in the back of the line. I’ll be honest that even though I’m usually fairly confident, I felt inadequate and had to think twice about joining the lunch line behind these two. I talked myself into it, reminding myself of my adequacy in Christ, and I’m so glad I did! Shawna and Sheryl were both great to get to know, and now Sheryl and I are pursuing a professional as well as personal friendship. God knew that Sheryl’s husband had been in a similar church experience as the one we just went through, and she was so kind and compassionate-powered with the empathy of a fellow survivor.

After lunch, we split up in two groups. First-time attendees went to the main auditorium for orientation while the alumni attended a session on how to get the most out of the conference. I have to admit it was odd to attend the newbie meeting as a faculty member, but found several other faculty who had not been to Mount Hermon prior to this year.

At Mount Hermon, conferees can select a major morning track to attend. These run for a combination of 8 hours, taught by the same instructor. In the afternoons, writers can choose from a variety of one-hour workshops, a total of 70 for the conference. Lots of good choices, taught by very knowledgeable and experienced faculty. Role models in the industry!

After the orientation session, we combined for the official kick-off meeting with everyone together in the Main Auditorium. The faculty was introduced-all 70 parading across the stage in different categories (agents, acquisition editors, critique team, freelancers, etc.) I was the lone publicist, and it was up to me to explain to the group the difference between an agent and a publicist. I’m so glad I had that opportunity to explain what we do as publicists.

By the time the main meeting ended, I made a mad dash to the lounge where my workshop would be held. I had set up the room in advance, since I was teaching the first workshop of the conference. Each chair held my business card, the business card of Austin Boyd (a client in our speakers bureau), and Austin’s brochure. At the podium, I had placed several ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) of books, to show what PR can do.

The workshop went well. I discovered JUST how passionate I was about public relations when I shared with them what our firm does and what we can do to promote their book. One of the faculty members attended the session (Ken Kuhlken), and he gave a great deal of positive reinforcement during the workshop. That made my day! I enjoyed interacting with the others in the session, and collected business cards from each of them for future networking.

At mealtime, I was to be assigned to a table, so that conferees could pick my brain for the hour. But, they had pulled Rebeca’s name (since she couldn’t attend) and forgot to put my name in the mix. So, I wasn’t assigned to a table. Fine with me! I had just finished my workshop, had stuck around to answer questions from those waiting in line to talk to me, and was running late to dinner. I enjoyed just sitting back and not having to be “on.” I sat at a table with Dave Meurer. Dave works for the United States House of Representatives as an aide to a Californian Congressman and he currently serves as a liaison to state and local elected officials as well as to the general public. Dave is known for his humorous parenting insights (in both columns and books). It was a pleasure to sit by him!

At the first evening General Session, I got to hear Dick Foth for the first time. He uses illustrations and stories to make amazing spiritual applications. Here is his bio: Dick Foth is from Falls Church, VA where he invests his days in the nation's Capital, much of the time with leaders who oversee the annual National Prayer Breakfast. He finds discipling and small group work particularly fulfilling, especially among those who live and work on "the Hill." He has always loved communicating truth in words, both spoken and written, especially by story. An author and former president of Bethany University in Scotts Valley, CA, Dick and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of four and grandparents of ten.

After this there was a faculty reception in the cafeteria for all the conferees to have an opportunity to meet us. To be honest, it was crowded and difficult to have any sort of meaningful conversation, so I made eye contact with the various groups as I jostled through the crowds, bumping elbows along the way. The snacks were non-diabetic friendly, so I abstained and determined to make the trek back to the cabin to crash. But, rather than crash I had more unwind time with my two cabin-mates (Beth wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Sunday).

Saturday, March 31:

I determined to go to breakfast to grab some protein. Robin and I sat at the table with Dick Foth and his daughter Suzanne. Dick and I found out we both have some connections to the Bible colleges in Springfield, MO. So then he said, "May I be so bold to ask you something that really is none of my business?" Of course I said, "sure!" He looked at my nametag and said, "I don't know anyone affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship as a pastor's wife who hyphenates her last name. Do you fit in very well with your fellowship?" I laughed. You see, on my nametag, they mistakenly had me as "Kathy Carlton-Willis" rather than using Carlton as my middle name. I explained that it is my middle name, and why. He smiled because Suzanne, had done the same thing out of honor to her family. I told Dick that on the continuum of things, I'm somewhere about 3/4 of the way between doormat and feminist. He laughed again, and asked if that was a bit of progressive thinking for the BBF. He knows us well! I did explain that there are a few in the BBF who are progressive, while others remain very conservative. He said that is the same with the Assemblies of God, of which he is affiliated. I’m not a liberal, but I’m not in the Stone Age either. I’m so glad there is freedom in Christ to choose what works best for our life calling to best bring glory to His name.

After breakfast, I attended the Career Track. I didn’t actually qualify to attend-members needed to have 2 books published to be a part of the group. But, since I was on faculty, I was welcomed in, when not meeting with conferees or teaching workshops. The kindred spirit there was special and unique. And…what we discussed there we “swore” would remain in that room so I can’t talk about it here unless it is common industry knowledge.

At break-time I hiked back over to The Central Lounge to purchase a soft drink (caffeine was essential), and to find a restroom. On the way, I had the opportunity to talk with Terry Whalin, an e-mail friend of several years. This conference was our first chance to meet in person. By the time I made it to the restroom, my tweed gauchos were hip-huggers. Nice problem to be losing weight, but I didn’t want to lose my pants! So I begged a safety pin from another gal, and no one was the wiser (except for the paunch of fabric making my blouse stick out in an odd sort of way).

I went back to the Career Track, and then on to Lunch. At lunch, I was “on duty” as a hostess of a table. I met some interesting people who all had neat stories to share. Many had questions regarding book proposal, publicity, blog tours, and our speakers’ bureau. In the afternoon I met with conferees, discussing their work, and also worked on my laptop as time allowed. I ended up not making it to any of the 70 workshops because of the individual appointments scheduled during that time. My prayer for the week was to build up other writers, rather than think of my own writing career, so I was pleased to have so many opportunities to interact with others about their work.

Because of a double-booked time slot, I was quite fatigued by the time Dinner break rolled around. I hadn’t even made time to use the restroom! So, after interacting with my table, I walked back to the cabin for a quiet evening rather than attending the General Session. Some of my cabin-mates decided to do the same thing, so we had an enjoyable quiet evening, with a fire burning in the fireplace, and critiques for conferees’ manuscripts sitting in front of us on the table, to be turned in at breakfast. I also tried to get ahead on work, knowing when I returned to Kentucky I would be in the middle of a big move. What was supposed to be an early evening to turn in ended up being another late-nighter. Who goes to a writer’s conference to sleep, anyway?!

Sunday, April 1:

This morning we had a FABULOUS Palm Sunday service in a tabernacle with PHENOMENAL organ music and singing, as well as scripture readings. It was just so very touching! I needed that inspirational time to make sure my focus was solely on adoring my Lord and worshiping Him for coming to this earth to take my place. He will eventually take me to the home my soul is hard-wired for which to long. Earlier in the week Dick Foth worded it like this:

Jesus left His place
To come to my place
To take my place
To take me back to His place!

Mount Hermon has a busy schedule on Sunday, with various workshops and tracks meeting. But they are famous for their meditative church service before lunch-always on Palm Sunday. We also shared communion, which was a touching part of the service.

Then it was on to lunch-with more conferees. Afterward, the faculty met for a short meeting to nominate writers to receive awards at the last night’s award service. Then I met with more one-on-one appointments and retired back to the cabin for the evening, skipping the General Session yet again. I know my limitations. Too much input and I’m overwhelmed!

Also on Sunday, I got to meet Beth Jusino, our final cabin-mate, and a literary agent with Alive Communications.

Monday I skipped breakfast again, opting for a protein bar so I could look over some projects and prepare for some appointments. Today was my last day on campus, so I had to make it count.

Lunch and Dinner were more of the same-talking with conferees and building them up. In between, I attended another session of the career-track.

During the conference, I was able to meet some of our clients face-to-face for the first time and there was such a connectedness that I am just jumping with joy that they are with GRPR!

I attended the final evening General Session. It began with the presentation of several awards. It was good to see ones I respected in the industry be awarded with their “just reward.” Dick Foth concluded the program in a powerful way, and then we all headed to an autograph party. Several GRPR clients and potential clients had books to sign, so I attended the party to give my support.

After that, Robin, Jan and I met back at the cabin with another fire blazing in the fireplace. How cozy! We brainstormed about the conference and about our personal careers and each challenged the others to step out of our comfort zones to get to the next step in our career progress. One thing I learned here was that I was charging way too little for my freelance editing. So, as of now, my rates go UP! I confided in them that I was always afraid to ask the going rate since I didn’t have a college degree in the field. They insisted a degree does not matter as much as having the right skill-set and experience. They had looked at my edits and critiques and said I had what it takes to make $30 an hour or more! Wowser!

Tuesday, April 3:

My alarm buzzed at 5:00 a.m. and I opted out of taking a shower so that I could do the last minute packing and be ready to hit the road at 5:45 a.m. to join the rush hour traffic in the dark of pre-sunrise. Jan and Robin got up to say goodbye. Robin grabbed the keys to my rental car, and backed it up to the door to help me load the truck. What heart-friends I have made in these two gals!

The drive was harrowing. No shoulders, lots of curves and hills, and unsure of what lane to be in at any given time to make my exits. But eventually, without any hitches I might add, I made it to the rental car drop-off, right at sunrise. Then, I wrestled my luggage on to the shuttle bus and made it to the airport. There I had plenty of time before my flight.

I forgot to tell you that I was randomly selected for a complete security check of my luggage on my flight to and from the conference. I'm writing an article on it, so won't go into detail, but it was a bit unpleasant. But even more unpleasant were the pat-down friskings I received. You see, I was told when I had the spinal cord stimulator implanted that I could not go through the metal detectors at airports, but that they would use a wand on me. No biggie. I've seen those wands. But I guess because of heightened security (Code Orange) they chose to ignore the wand and do a complete frisking-both sides of legs, up my inner thighs, between my breasts and even under my breasts-all over-just like a criminal frisking. Then I had to sit down and pick my feet up so they could check the bottom of my feet as well. It was unreal! I wonder if other passengers thought this middle-aged white female was a "sleeper" security threat to their airplane, since the guards were checking both my bags AND me? What are the odds?

I made it from San Jose to Salt Lake City with no problems. Then, we sat on the tarmac for over an hour in St. Lake City due to delays (they said our airplane was overweight so they had to dump fuel, and also they said weather was treacherous in the Cincy area so they had to wait for it to pass). Of course, one of the passengers in my row had to ask, “Don’t we NEED that fuel to FLY?” There was a large amount of panic on the plane, as many were concerned about making their connecting flight. In fact, the Delta flight attendant got on the PA system and said, “Many of you are worrying too much about your connecting flight. The truth is, no amount of worry is going to help your situation, so just quit worrying about it until we land. Sit back, and enjoy the flight.” Yeah-right they said! Easy for HER to say!

I made it home, better late than never, and hugged Russ like I hadn’t seen him in a month rather than a week. There’s no way I could even begin to tell him what my week was like, so mostly, I just sat back and rested in the realization that it had been a most glorious week!

With no advance notice of attending the conference, I didn’t have a personal agenda for the week. I didn’t bring any book proposals, one-sheets (a summary of a book proposal), or samples of my work. My goal was just to build up other writers. I believe God blessed that motive and allowed me to make some career-building connections. I was able to provide information to writers and help them grow to the next level. It was all so rewarding. I love mentoring other writers and help them not give up. I also enjoy hooking them up with the right person to further their career (even when they aren't potential clients for GRPR). I just get jazzed being sort of the matchmaker in the process.

I can't even begin to tell you how awesome and draining it was to be on faculty there-yet energizing at the same time. I loved pouring out my encouragement and ideas to writers who just needed to be edified a bit. They needed someone to believe in them!

Several people called Rebeca (the president of the GRPR) and told her how much they liked me, so I guess I "done good." YAY! It was like a big test, and I passed!

They had such positive things to say, and Rebeca shared a lot of it with me. All I can say is, WOW. It has to be all God! I was definitely emptied out and used up for Him. And that is the best part!

If you know me well enough, you know these aren't brags, but they are testimonies of how good God is to give me little bursts of sunshine right now in this transitional stage in our lives.

I can’t wait to meet my new friends at some writer’s event in the very near future. And in the meantime, they remain in my love and prayers.


Terry Whalin said...

What a whirlwind account of your time at Mount Hermon. Good job, Kathy. I was tired again just reading it.

Heather said...

Hey Kathy,
Popping over here from FCW. Thanks for sharing the details of your Mt. Hermon experience! I'd love to go someday -- but it's out of my budget right now. Your post was almost like being there -- glad you had a wonderful time!

Karen said...

Kathy, I relived the moments from your journaling, wondering how I ever found the energy to pack so much into five days. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint of the conference. It was great, at last, to meet you in person.

Merrie Destefano said...

Hello, again! It was great to meet you at MH! I have a feeling that you made me sound MUCH nicer than I really am. I'm usually quite cranky when my blood sugar crashes and there's food around! Just joking--I love your blog. You did a wonderful job describing the non-stop mania and excitement! Blessings always--

Donna J. Shepherd said...

Great wrap-up! I'm tired again just reading about it. We had so much fun, and it was great seeing you in person once again. Let's get together soon!