Lotsa prayer, sleepless nights, reams of paper and oodles of overtime. That's what got me here. I rushed home from work yesterday evening -- unashamedly unconcerned about the winner of American Idol -- fired up the AMD, perched a dinner salad on the edge of my desk and consumed it as I registered for the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) annual conference. And I couldn't help thinking about what it took to get here...
It's said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." Well, I've had quite a few "first steps" over the last two years. Somewhere along the way, after leaving the ministry and spending five or six years in the construction field, that nagging sense of "calling" became undeniable. I was pretty sure God didn't want me back in the ministry. But the gifts and talents sitting in my spiritual cupboard, growing rusty and dusty, haunted me.
I was a reader, and occasionally a writer. But my writing was scattered and unfocused. Got stuff published in the editorial pages, wrote skits, developed discipleship curriculum and ranted to whomever would listen. I'd compiled quotes and anecdotes for the ministry, and continued working on those. At the time, I was leading Bible study classes, training small group leaders, doing the "guest preacher" thing at various churches and... drifting.
Was this all God had for me?
It was the Worldview/Westbow Fiction Contest that roused me from the malaise.
I was subscribed to World Magazine and when they announced the short story contest, something stirred in me. "I can do this," I said. And so I did it.
The story did not make the finalist's cut, but I was pleased with it. I would get a huge boost however, when I discovered it was one of several entries posted online. (It later morphed into Someone in the Circle, officially became my first work of fiction ever published, and went on to be selected for Infuze Mag's Best of 2005 Short Stories and Poetry).
That's when I received an e-mail from some dude named Maxx.
He'd seen my story posted at the World blog, liked it, and asked if I'd be interested in joining an online critique group. Huh? A what? I didn't know squat about critique groups, and my wife cautioned me about the number of perverts trolling the internet. (Fact is, she still didn't know what to think about this "writing phase" of my life.) But Maxx wasn't a pervert.
The critique group was Penwrights, and joining it -- way back in October '04 -- was one of the most important steps in my writing journey.
It's moderated by three nuns. Well, they're not really nuns (in fact, at times, they're almost devilish). Ane, Jessica and Gina took turns cracking my knuckles and giving me atta-boys. They endured sloppy writing, undisciplined POV, an avalanche of adverbs and my penchant for riling up peace-loving Penwrights. But the group was like water to my weary soul. Noel and Eunice, Janet and Kelly, Reni and Heather, Yvonne and Terri, Michelle and Maxx -- and many others -- have helped me unpack my dusty cupboard of gifts.
With their unbending encouragement, I started my novel, What Faith Awakes, in May '05. It was a huge step... but one I completed early this year. Yeah, in light of everything else, it's a mere hill. But I climbed it. Currently, I have an agent excited about me and my story (no, she's not from the state mental hospital!), and I've started a second book. A semi-pro sci-fi mag has picked up one of my shorts and others are in the pipe.
And yesterday evening I took another step in the journey.
It's a done deal -- plane fare, conference, hotel, all paid for. Lord willing, September 21st I'll be stepping onto Texas tarmac with my camera, laptop, iPod, case of Trident... and some crazy dreams. Hopefully, I'll meet some of you, my cyber-friends (see previous post) there, and we shall exchange awkward moments ("My, you look much heavier than your profile pic") and then proceed to laughter, tears, encouragement and fond farewells.
Yes, it's been a long journey. But it's only beginning. Now it's just a matter of taking the next step.