Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Christian Writer’s Conferences: Interview with Marlene Bagnull

The Value of Conferences

Welcome to part two of our conference series. This week we are privileged to have Marlene Bagnull as our guest and she has some encouraging words to share with us.

Marlene, conferences are exciting opportunities for us as writers. Can you tell which conferences are you involved in and when and where are they being held?

The Colorado Christian Writers Conference is May 13–16 at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park (northwest of Denver and on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park). The Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference is August 6–8 at Philadelphia Biblical University north of the city.

How did you get involved in these conferences?

In 1983 I wrote a column for The Christian Writer (now The Christian Communicator). The editor asked me if I’d be willing to arrange for him to teach a one-day seminar in the Philadelphia area. To my amazement over 100 people attended. Even more amazing is what Father has done in the past 25 years, growing us to a three-day conference of over 200 conferees and 50 faculty.

The story of how I ended up directing the Colorado Christian Writers Conference is longer.

Around 20 years ago I was invited to lead the Conference Directors’ Symposium at the Biola Writers’ Institute. I didn’t feel qualified to lead it and recommended that Susan Titus Osborn ask Gayle Roper instead. I have to admit that mentally I kicked myself for throwing away the opportunity, but a few days later Susan called back and invited me to teach the continuing session for advanced article writing.

Teaching and appointments kept me too busy to attend much of the Conference Directors’ Symposium, but I did meet Debbie Barker, the director of the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. We got to know each other on the trek to the dorms, and then I “just happened” to grab Debbie’s manuscript out of the pile of mss turned in for an afternoon critique session that drew 70 people. God forged a very special friendship with her, and for seven years I served on her conference faculty, arriving early and staying afterwards to help.

When Deb adopted two little boys and could no longer manage directing the conference, she asked me if I wanted to take it over. Initially I said no. How could I manage two conferences? But God wouldn’t let me walk away from this opportunity. I finally said yes and have been directing the Colorado conference since 1997.

What actually happens at these conferences?

Each year I ask Father to use both conferences to draw all the participants, conferees as well as faculty, closer to Him; and each year I hear powerful stories of how He has touched lives. Our general sessions focus on worship and prayer as well as messages built around the conference theme. I have no doubt that these sessions prepare us to receive all God has for us in the continuing sessions, workshops, panels, one-on-one appointments, and the fellowship we share over meals. His presence is obvious and, as a result, our goal “to encourage and equip you to write about a God who is real, who is reachable, and who changes lives” is reached.

What level and type of writers are the conferences aimed at?

Because both conferences have a faculty of over 50 agents, authors, editors, and publicists and offer 7–8 continuing sessions, clinics, 42 workshops, and earlybird workshops we are able to address the needs of beginning and advanced writers. Believing in the “power of story,” both conferences have a strong emphasis on fiction. Two special emphases at this year’s Colorado conference are continuing sessions on “Making a Difference in the Life of a Child” with Cindy Kenney and “Growing Your Women’s Ministry” (writing and speaking) with Linda Evans Shepherd. The Philadelphia conference will offer a continuing session on screenwriting with Dr. Ted Baehr, founder and Publisher of Movieguide® and Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission. For those who are considering self-publishing, the Colorado conference has a continuing session on “The Adventure of Independent Publishing.” From the writer’s life and craft to marketing published books we seek to give writers the practical help they need to effectively “write His answer” (this year’s theme), regardless of the genre.

What can writers expect if they come to a conference?

Beyond all they will learn in the classrooms and the friendships they will make with other writers, each person who registers for the entire conference will receive four, free 15-minute appointments with our faculty. The earlier you register, the better opportunity you have to get your top choices.

How can writers know if they’re ready to attend a conference?

If you long to share what God has done in your life, are burdened by the needs of others, or concerned about issues facing our nation and the growing animosity towards Christianity and God is nudging you to “write His answer,” you need to do it! If you’ve always wanted to write a book or short story or magazine article but have never gotten around to it, a conference is a great place to finally get started. “It’s the equivalent of a full semester course in writing,” one conferee said. If you’ve been writing for some time but have not known where or how to submit your work (or have found your submissions bouncing back), a conference is the place to connect with editors and agents.

Can you give us some tips on preparing to attend a conference?

The Web site for the Colorado Christian Writers Conference and the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference has lots of information to help conferees prepare that can be summed up in three words: pray, plan, and prioritize. Pray, asking God to confirm what conference He wants you to attend and what workshops He wants you to take. Plan how you will gain the most from the conference by studying the editorial needs of the faculty who will be coming and preparing to pitch your ideas and manuscripts to them during the one-on-one appointments. Prioritize what you can realistically accomplish pre-conference and during the conference. You do not need to have a completed manuscript to talk with an editor, and you do not need to attend every workshop. Do not squeeze God out of your days before, during, and after the conference.

Do you believe conferences can play an important part in a writer’s growth?

Absolutely! I don’t think I would have persevered and gotten eight books published and made over 1,000 sales to Christian periodicals without the contacts made at conferences and all I have learned and continue to learn. Friendships made with other writers help me to grow spiritually and professionally. We need each other!

Marlene Bagnull is the author of 5 books, including Write His Answer – A Bible Study for Christian Writers and the compiler/editor of 3 other books. She gives “Write His Answer” and “Get Your Book in Print” seminars around the nation, has served on the faculty of over 70 Christian writers’ conferences, teaches At-Home Writing Workshops (a correspondence study program), and helps Christians publish affordably and professionally through Ampelos Press. She founded the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Fellowship in 1983 and directs the yearly conference. This is her 13th year directing the Colorado Christian Writers Conference.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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casey said...

I love the Colorado Conference. It's an encouraging environment for new writers, and offers challenges for experienced writers.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I've attended 5 of the Philadelphia conferences so far. Each one has provided growth, new friends, and writing opportunities.

Thanks Marlene for your hard work and faithfulness.

Susan :)