After a long, activity-filled weekend in Reno and a few days of hiding from the intense summer heat at my parents’ air-conditioned home, I finally have the chance to share some overall thoughts on my experience at Realm Makers 2017. Some of you may have followed my Realm Makers adventure on Instagram and YouTube, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.

My aunt and my mom were my chauffeurs and traveling companions. It was nice to relax and visit instead of keeping my eyes on the road and attempting to find places without getting lost. Directions and maps are not my strong point, even if the nice lady on my phone is dictating them to me. 😉

My other traveling companions were my Zelfs. I brought Petal, my typical traveling Zelf pal, along with Rein-doe and Stardust, a Zelf from each of my two younger daughters. They wanted their Zelfs to experience the trip with me.

Stardust, Rein-doe, and Petal

We stopped at Toys R Us for a “bathroom break” because that’s what toy collectors on road trips do. We’ll use any excuse to stop at a toy store, even if the bathrooms are mediocre. Then we drove on to pick up my friend Rosemary. We had lunch together and then started on the last leg of our journey to Reno.

Mom and Mimi gave us cute little goodie bags for our trip. Mine was unicorn themed, and Rosemary’s was dragon themed, in line with our personal obsessions. I forgot to get a picture of our surprises inside, but you can see them in my vlogs.

We arrived at the Atlantis Resort and Casino just in time to check in and get to the welcome session. One of my favorite parts of the this opening session was at the end, when all of the agents and editors present participated in a panel and took audience questions. It was wonderful to hear from them and get more information about what they were looking for and how best to communicate with them during our pitch appointments.

Our first look at the Atlantis.

After dinner, there was a panel for all of the newbies (like myself), which explained what to expect and gave information we might need to know as first-timers.

Then we had our first keynote session with our keynote speaker, followed by a fight workshop. The workshop looked fascinating, but by that time, I was almost falling asleep where I sat and I had a headache, so I slipped out early for some down time in the hotel room.

My first class, “Heroes, Villains, and the Heart of Your Story,” was the next morning. It was a continuing session throughout the conference. I was also able to select several electives to go along with my continuing class. I really enjoyed that first session. One fun challenge was figuring out my life/writing theme by choosing my three favorite movies and discovering the common thread between them. The only problem was, I couldn’t narrow it down to three! With some effort, I managed to limit myself to seven movies. I wonder if I’ll ever know my life theme? 😉

Sadly, through a series of events both pleasant and unpleasant, this ended up being the only class I attended while at the conference. Which is ironic, since the classes were what I was looking forward to the most. Between agent and editor appointments, recovering from said appointments (in a good way!), wrestling with the spotty internet to send off my manuscript, and getting sick the last morning, I never made it to another class.

I had two appointments the first day, one with an agent I’d met at Mount Hermon in 2016, and one with an editor. Beginning with the agent appointment was one of my best decisions. Since I already knew her and she was somewhat familiar with my book, it was more of a “catch up and get reacquainted” appointment than a full-on pitch, which helped me relax and be myself. It was so nice visiting and seeing her enthusiasm for my concept. She even gave me helpful pointers for my next appointment with the editor.

My editor appointment was much “scarier” than my first, since I really needed to sell my concept instead of just chat. It went well overall and ended with the editor requesting my full manuscript. While this is in no way a guarantee of anything, it was better than an outright no, which is what I’ve run into more often at other conferences.

I had several other chances to catch up with the first agent, and things ended on a positive note, though still with no guarantee of anything in the future. So now, it’s just a matter of playing the waiting game so notorious in this industry. No matter what happens, though, I’m encouraged by the positive response I got. It shows I’m going in the right direction.

Friday night was the cosplay awards dinner and quite possibly my favorite part of the entire conference. As someone with a vivid imagination who doesn’t celebrate Halloween, I rarely have a chance to dress up. It was so much fun having that opportunity and seeing all of the wonderful costumes. I went as a unicorn, or more accurately, as “unicorn inspired.” As you all know, I tend to struggle with positive body image, but I felt elegant and beautiful in my costume…even though my unicorn horn felt a bit conspicuous. 😉 It was also awesome to have an excuse to coat myself in glitter, which sadly didn’t show up in the pictures.

Here’s one of my favorite pictures from the evening, featuring me and my three roomies, Deanna, Rosemary, and Kayla:

One of the other things I enjoyed most about this conference was getting to know these lovely ladies even more. Sharing a room with three other people you mostly know can be a little intimidating, but these gals made it easy. We shared many heartfelt conversations and got to celebrate with each other as the weekend progressed and we all received encouraging feedback. I can’t wait to see where Deanna, Rosemary, and Kayla’s writing journeys lead.

On Saturday, after recovering from an upset stomach due to (I believe) dinner the night before, I had the privilege of meeting with Ben Wolf, the editor of Splickety Magazine, and Jill Williamson, author of several YA books and the wonderful Storyworld First, which I purchased at Mount Hermon last year. Both had done a professional edit on my first ten pages before the conference and had valuable insights to share. More than that, it was an absolute pleasure to sit and chat with them. Jill and I especially had the chance to visit for a while. It was great seeing her interest in my book and getting to share my heart and reasons for writing.

Saturday afternoon I was still feeling pretty tired and a little off from the morning, so I spent most of the day in my hotel room recovering. I missed the second keynote with our speaker, but it worked out for the best. He is a sweet man with a heart for his audience, but I felt extremely uncomfortable with his theology and was disappointed that he didn’t talk much about his incredible writing journey. So instead, I stayed in my room, watched the surprise rainstorm out of our ninth story window, recorded a quick vlog, and talked to God about the conference, thanking Him for everything I’d experienced and asking for His guidance in my writing future.

The evening ended with dinner at restaurants of our choice, a book signing and raffle at the bookstore, and then the zombie apocalypse Nerf gun war. I was honestly going to participate, but it looked a little hard core for me (we’re talking GIANT Nerf guns), plus head shots were allowed, and I wanted to keep my eyeballs. Maybe next time I’ll be brave enough to join. 😉

All five ballrooms were cleared and tables were turned on their sides for the war. Here the troops are gathered, getting their instructions before battle.

Petal was all for fighting, but I convinced her to watch instead.

Our partner in crime, Sarah, wasn’t able to come for the whole conference, but she came on Saturday. It was fun spending time with her, even if it wasn’t for the whole conference.

On Sunday, Mom, Mimi, Rosemary and I made a few stops on our way home, including a stop at Build-A-Bear, where Rosemary made her first animal: Toothless the Dragon from How to Train Your Dragon. I made a matching one since he was on sale and I had a gift card. We also wore our matching dragon Realm Makers t-shirts and temporary tattoos, so we were quite dragon themed that day.

We also found some great souvenirs for our trip: Unicorn Snot and Mermaid Scales. 🙂

Just before we dropped Rosemary off, we went to a fun thrift store in her hometown that had one half of the store dedicated to costumes. It was so much fun! Now I know where to go the next time I need a costume.

And then, after yet another bathroom break at Toys R Us (are you really that surprised?) and a long car ride where my mom and aunt very graciously listened to me pour my heart out about all of my experiences over the weekend, I was back home. My three girls and my hubby hugged me tight and told me how much they’d missed me. My cat was a purr-box and a psycho ninja kitty all at once, and my hyper puppy wagged his tale and gave me one of his big doggy smiles. Home sweet home.

My heart is still pounding over the possibilities of the future, thanks to the contacts I made and conversations I had at the conference. I’m trying hard to be patient and to keep the mindset that nothing will happen, just in case. Better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. Still, as I said before, I received so much encouragement from everyone I talked to. After years of working on this concept, of studying and improving my craft, and of growing as a person and a writer, it’s exciting to think that I’m that much closer to my goal of publication. I can look back now and see how God has used every road bump, every edit, and every rejection to mold me into the woman I need to be, which in turn has made my story closer to the tale I want to share with the world. I’m doing my best to trust Him and trying not to be too impatient. Or hyperventilate. I want to use this period of waiting to nail down my outlines for the following books, keep up with blogging, and resurrect my house, which looks like it was hit by a tornado. 😉

Overall, Realm Makers was a wonderful experience. I’m so thankful for the people I met and the connections I made. This was only their fifth conference, and it has grown from around twenty attendees to over two hundred this year. I’m excited to see how Realm Makers continues to grow and take the world by storm in the coming years.