Reflections on Sandy Cove 2006

It’s been a little over a week since I returned from the 2006 Sandy Cove Writers Conference. I’ve finally decompressed a bit, paid my “vacation tax” at the radio stations (or at least made a some substantial payments), and have caught up on my rejection letters and current writing projects (or at least as caught up as I’m ever going to be). I can finally take a moment to reflect on the conference and the lessons I learned there.

It was a great week overall, even though I was sick with a bug of some sort that had me coughing and hacking through the whole conference and kept me semi-mute (believe it or not). I think it was God’s way of saying “Dan, shut up and listen a little more.” I did just that, although some of the attendees might not agree (imagine how mouthy I would have been with my whole voice!) Still, there is a theory that learning can only happen when one’s mouth is shut, and I did learn some things at Sandy Cove.

One thing I learned on my way home is why the attendees who have been to Sandy Cove in the past and flew in for the conference all flew in to Baltimore (BWI) instead of Philadelphia (PHL), even though BWI costs a little more.  I learned the hard way that PHL has horrible problems with outgoing traffic. Apparently only one of PHL’s runways can be used for outgoing flights because of noise issues. My 6:32PM flight didn’t leave the gate until a little past 7 PM, and spent the better part of an hour waiting in line for the departure runway. I missed my connecting flight in Cincinnati (the last flight to Little Rock that day), and got to stay the night at a cheap, seedy motel courtesy of Comair.  Next time I go to Sandy Cove, I’ll fly through BWI.

But enough about the travel. Let’s talk about the destination.

The Sandy Cove Conference Center is a wonderful place to be, whatever the event that brings you to this bay-side haven of rest. In addition to the full schedule of conferences and special events, Sandy cove is a great place for a group or personal retreat. I met a number of folks who were there for a night or two under the “Bed and Breakfast” program, and if we lived closer, I’m sure we’d be among them occasionally.

Every Christian Conference Center has its own unique personality and focus, and I couldn’t help but note that there seems to be a pattern of guests coming to Sandy Cove after traumatic or stressful seasons of life for a time of healing and restoration. The Cove has an impressive program called Operation Oasis that allows servicemen returning from deployment in the Middle East to enjoy a time of restoration and reconnecting with their families–free of charge. There’s also an impressive scholarship assistance program to help those with financial challenges to attend programs and events at Sandy Cove. I heard that over $8,000 in scholarships were awarded for the Writers Conference alone, and over 40 attendees were there thanks to the Scholarship program. The Sandy Cove staff is one of the most helpful, servant-hearted crews I’ve ever known. It was quite apparent to me that ministry is the top priority across the board at Sandy Cove. It’s a wonderful place.

Writers Conferences also have unique personalities and flavors. The Sandy Cove Writers Conference has a very distinct spiritual focus, one that draws the participants to consider their writing–even writing in secular environments–as a calling from God, a mission to “Take the Word to the World.” There is, of course, also coverage of the business and financial realities of the publishing industry and writing in general. Sandy Cove is a good conference for newbies to the world of Christian writing/publishing, and there was a remarkably large number of attendees who were at their very first writers conference, many who were green as grass and still figuring out whether or not God is calling them to write. I know for certain that there were some who left knowing that they are not and never will be writers. The faculty was gentle and sensitive about that, emphasizing the importance of pursuing your individual calling and being who God made you to be. The faculty was warm and personable, very approachable, and obviously loved sharing their passion and spending time with fellow wordsmiths.

The conference wasn’t perfect, but then again neither am I. They tried a new idea this year, a concept that included “homework” assignments in the morning sessions that were reviewed during the afternoon “mentoring” sessions. There was some mis-communication among the faculty, and not everyone was on the same page, resulting in a less-than-optimum, somewhat confusing plan (or lack thereof).  I suspect that the 2007 conference will deal with this better. If I have a complaint, it would be that most of the sessions (in the non-fiction track, at least) were rather elementary, and I would have appreciated a little more “meat.” My favorite session was a continuing class taught by Doug Newton, senior editor of Light and Life magazine. The class was loaded with practical teaching to help improve our writing, but we were just getting into “the good stuff” when we ran out of time. It would have been valuable to split the non-fiction track into beginner and intermediate/advanced tracks. I also found it troubling that there was some misinformation presented in one of the mentoring sessions in response to a some entry-level questions about writing for magazines. It wasn’t deliberate misinformation in my opinion, likely just an area where the mentor’s experience was limited.

But, don’t get me wrong. My “complaints” are relatively minor overall. The Sandy Cove Writers Conference was a great experience, and I recommend it heartily, particularly for beginning or unpublished writers. One of the best things about writers conferences is the opportunity to gather and build relationships with editors and fellow writers, and in that sense Sandy Cove was an absolute home run. I came away with many new friends, and relationships that will last as long as I do, or perhaps longer. Some of my contact with editors has opened some interesting doors of opportunity. More important than all that is that God spoke to me at Sandy Cove. He spoke through editors, writers, and even through an agent, believe it or not. 🙂 He also spoke to me directly, as I sat alone in the late-night moonlight by the water’s edge and allowed Him to restore my soul and revitalize my vision as a writer.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an add-on session that wasn’t affiliated with the writers conference (other than by the fact that the teacher is the assistant director of the conference). AuthorizeMe is a workshop designed to get the book idea that’s been rattling around between your ears out of your head and onto paper in the form of a book proposal ready to pitch to an editor or agent. Sharon Norris Elliot teaches the use of storyboarding for capturing, analyzing and organizing those book ideas, as well as explaining the required elements of a non-fiction proposal. AuthorizeMe is usually a two or three day seminar, and trying to cram it all into a single 10-hour workshop was challenging but not completely impossible. There were eleven students in the class–ten women and me. Fortunately, I’ve been in the deep end of the estrogen pool before, so I handled being the minority representative without much trouble. Sharon Elliott did a fine job, and her capable assistant Jeanette Scott (one of my favorite faculty members) was a real asset who offered valuable input and insight. One of the most valuable parts of the process was the time we spent working around the room analyzing each other’s proposals. I started out with a unique (aka “strange” if you’re linear) idea and ended up with three different book concepts that grew out of the workshop. The one I decided to pursue at the conference is a humor book (not at all what I started out to do) that generated a lot of interest among the editors. I’m going to be submitting it to one of them as soon as I finish some polishing and fine-tuning.

Did I get my money’s worth out of AuthorizeMe? Yes, I think I did. There was nothing taught that I didn’t already know, but it was a good refresher course and the group dynamic with twelve women who didn’t know me or my previous work helped bring some things to the surface that may have stayed hidden otherwise. If your writing vision includes a non-fiction book and you don’t have a clue how to make it happen, AuthorizeMe is exactly what you need, and I recommend it highly.

I’ve got to admit that I miss Sandy Cove. I didn’t get nearly enough of the place to suit me, but I got what God wanted me to have from the place, and now I’m back on the firing line again, “taking the Word to the World.” 

Thank you, Lord, for Sandy Cove. You can feel free to send me back there as often as you would like. Via BWI, please. 😉

Cingular 3G in Philly, but I miss Sandy Cove.

I’m writing from gate E1 at the Philadelphia International Airport. There’s a lovely WiFi signal here, and it’s free in a few hotspots on concourses B abd C. However, it’s eight bucks a day here in concourse E, and I’m just too cheap for that. Cingular 3G to the rescue! I’m getting a great 3G signal here, with good throughput and consistent speed. Not the fastest I’ve seen anywhere, but still a great step up. It’s a beautiful thing!

It’s always sad when something wonderful comes to an end, like a great film or a pint of HaagenDas Sorbet. The Sandy Cove Writer’s conference is over, and that is a sad thing in many ways. I have some wonderful new friends that I won’t see again for a long time, and I still haven’t had my fill of the magnificent views of the Chesapeake Bay that are such an integral part of the Sandy Cove experience. On the other hand, I really miss my beloved Sharon and the kitties. I’m not looking forward to Little Rock’s heat (it’s 91 there now, 74 at the Cove), but I can’t wait to be back home with my soulmate and our little friends.

There’s so much I want to say about Sandy Cove, but I’m too tired to do it justice. I’ll hold off on anything further until I’ve slept and decompressed, lest an editor happen by and see anything less than my best work. But make no mistake — I’m going to miss Sandy Cove and the wonderful new friends I made there. If you’re one of them, give yourself a hug for me. 🙂

Clammy Times

I’m writing tonight from my hotel room in North East, Maryland (which is the actual name of the town, not a direction or quadrant). I had to stay off-campus tonight, because there were no rooms available at Sandy Cove for tonight. I’m attending the AuthorizeMe workshop on Saturday, and will move to a room at the Cove tomorrow night. For tonight, it’s the Best Western.

 I was reminiscing earlier tonight about the last time I was in this neck ‘o the woods. It was about 25 years ago. Believe it or not, I used to be a Chamber of Commerce executive. I was Executive Director of a the Corry Area Chamber of Commerce, in the small Pennsylvania town of Corry. To make a long story short, I did what I believed was right in a particular situation, and by doing so, I committed policical suicide and was forced to “resign” (aka “get the heck out and we’ll let you maintain a little dignity”). Toward the end of my C of C career, I attended the Institute for Organization Management, an annual seminar event for Chamber Executives that was held in Newark, Delaware. I drove past Newark on my way to North East, Maryland earlier today.

It was my first trip anywhere close to the coast; We were land dwellers. In my experience, clams were breaded strips of mysterious, rubbery stuff that felt like rubber bands in your mouth. There was a clambake one night while we were at Institute, and I was intoduced to steamed Little Neck clams. That’s when the love affair began. I don’t get to eat them often, but I wasn’t about to spend a night in this neighborhood without spending part of it with a bucket of clams.

When I asked at the front desk, there was only one place recommended for seafood — Woody’s Crab House. I had done some homework in advance of the trip, and it didn’t take any selling to get me committed to the place. Woody’s is the kind of place that has brown kraft paper on the tables instead of tablecloths, and a solid core of regular customers who love to sit at those tables and beat steamed blue crabs with a wooden mallet. My supper was a big bucket of clams (3 dozen), a little container of drawn butter, and a Diet Sprite. YUM! What a wonderful delicacy!

What amazes me is that the locals don’t seem all that crazy about seafood. They like it, they eat it, but they don’t get excited about it. I think there’s so much of it that they take it for granted. In the mid-south, we’re kinda like that about barbecue. It’s everywhere–Sharon and I have lunch at Corky’s at least once every week. it’s so plentiful that we tend to take it for granted.

I wonder… are we the same way about God’s grace? It’s plentiful, and it’s everywhere we turn. Have we become so familiar with the Lord that we take Him for granted?

Lord, please don’t let me forget how wondeful, powerful, and precious your grace really is. You’ve done some pretty cool stuff in and through me — please don’t let me forget that it’s You, not me, who is the source of my success and the strength of my life. Thanks for being so lavish with your grace, even though I don’t deserve it.


Arm Flapping, Wordworking, and HSDPA Rocks!

As I type this I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport, enjoying (in an “as compared to a root canal” sense) a two-hour layover. Once I deplaned and observed the standard post-flight bladder ritual of 51 year old men, I found my gate and pulled out the Latitude D820 for it’s first cruise through the land of WiFi outside my sterile and secure network at home. Dell has added a really nifty feature to many of their notebooks called “WiFi Catcher.” The nifty part is that you can check for open WiFi availability withut having to boot the computer, which can be a great battery-saver.

Unfortunately, WiFi Catcher can’t discern between “open” and “open but not free” WiFi. ATL has a great WiFi system that is wide open if what you want is airport and flight information. It politely hijacks you browser to present the airport’s website and lots of detailed info on flights, services, and all the other “stuff” you might need to know about an airport when travelling. But, if you want more access, you need to select one of several WiFi vendors and, if you don’t already have an account, pay around $5.00 a day for access. In airport dollars, five bucks isn’t bad, given the cost of a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Still, I’m too cheap to drop five bucks if I don’t have to. And I don’t have to with the D820.

After calling Sharon to reassure her that I made it to Atlanta alright, I popped the SIM out of my phone and slipped it into the D820’s SIM slot, hidden under the main battery. After firing back up and starting the built-in Cingular HSDPA card, I was soon a happy camper. At first, I thought that there was no 3G service available, as the applet indicated that it was connected to the EDGE network. While I was running a few speed tests, however, I started getting errors saying that the connection was too fast for the speed test I was using. After a recheck, I discovered that I was, indeed, connected to Cingular’s new 3G network!

I’m pleased to report that I’ve seen realtime throughput consistently in the 650-750 kbt/s range. Very encouraging, and not bad at all for things like email, web surfing, and blog updating. Very cool, indeed.

I’m on my way to the booming metropolis of North East, Maryland for the Sandy Cove Christian Writers Conference. I’ll have more on that later, as they are about to start boarding my flight to PHL, and the battle for overhead bin space is already underway. I have, however, made an addition to the Blogroll, adding the website/blog of Jim Watkins, the director of the conference. No, I didn’t add this just to kiss up to the conference director — it’s actually a great site with some funny and insightful stuff. Check it out!

More on the conference when I get there.