Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Realm Makers: 2017 Reflection

Now that the dust from this year's Realm Makers conference is settling, I'm going to attempt to sum up my thoughts on the event from my very-insider point of view. I won't say I'm writing in any kind of lull, since we're already waist deep in the planning for next year's conference. In fact, the location and dates are now locked in, but you're going to have to wait a little longer to learn those details.

We took a lot of risks with the 2017 conference, and I'm glad to inform you we came out financially solvent, despite the significant potential for missteps that would have sunk the Realm Makers ship. I am extremely grateful we were able to provide our conferees with what I thought was a five-star experience (even if the hotel lobby was smoky because of the nearby casino floor. It's Nevada, what can I say?) Offering our attendees the opportunity to take classes with award winning and bestselling authors is a standard we intend to continue to strive for.

Because of the diverse paths Christian authors of speculative fiction must take to bring their books to print, we also intend to continue expanding our contacts in both the Christian and general markets. 2017 was the first year I felt we really had significant contacts to offer our attendees from both markets, and I have received feedback that this mattered to quite a few.

In offering a conference that seeks to bridge the gap between the markets so that Christian authors can learn from the strongest voices in the industry, we are well aware that we court controversy. A lot of that controversy stems from the seemingly simple question: Is Realm Makers a Christian conference?

To answer with a definitive "yes" or "no" completely oversimplifies the nuance required to navigate the current publishing climate. The following statements are ones you can always call us on remaining true of Realm Makers:

1. We are a conference run by Christian leadership. Scott and I profess faith in Jesus Christ as the fully man, fully God son of God the Father, and the particulars of our statement of faith can be found on the Realm Makers website. The other members of our advisory board and planning committee also adhere to this statement of faith.

2. We will employ teachers at our conference who are significant voices in the world of speculative fiction. Some of these individuals will be Christians as defined by our statement of faith, some will not. Those whose personal theology does not align with those points will participate with us because we have vetted them as individuals who will not take exception to a Christian worldview being expressed by our attendees or their work. We will never "flag" any faculty member as being on one side of the "Christian" line or another.

3. Although we will develop conference content with the primary goal of serving Christian authors, we welcome attendees of any background to our conference--all we ask is respectful behavior toward the worldview upon which we center our vision.

4. We will continue to develop Realm Makers in the way we believe IT should go, referencing successful conference models to guide us, but departing from those models when we feel it will benefit our attendees. We keep a keen eye toward constant reinvention, trying our best to anticipate our attendees needs, not necessarily "sticking with what worked before."

5. The content of Realm Makers will cover craft, genre, and faith to varying degrees. In all these areas, we expect our attendees to take home what is useful and set aside that which is not.

An Aside:

To this point, I was deeply grieved at the infighting that grew out of healthy discussion following the 2017 conference. We always encourage people to sift through every piece of teaching they encounter while they are with us. However, this discussion and sorting at times degenerated into name-calling and hurtful questioning of the authenticity of individuals' faith. 

So rose the ugly tendency of the Christian community to eat our wounded.

The element of this debate I found most frustrating was that the fighting ignited over points one of our speakers has previously made in his body of work and other public addresses over recent years. This controversy over points that anyone could have discovered well in advance of the conference truly slashed my soul, as individuals called into question the hard work of my planning committee and attacked a faculty member who risked being raw and transparent because he was told he could be.

Speaking of healthy discussion . . . 
Thankfully, that series of discussions has settled to a quiet smolder, if not having gone out altogether. It is my prayer that the long term impact of the 2017 conference will be that authors found equipping tools, connections, and perspectives that will serve them well on their writing journeys ahead.

On the whole, I still feel that we brought you the best quality conference yet in 2017, and as we forge ahead, we will continue to seek out fresh and unique perspectives that will continue to elevate speculative fiction penned by Christian authors.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Digital Doodle, Sunday June 25th

If you've ever read Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, you've probably figured out in what way you express and receive love. This was a book my husband, Scott, and I read through and took to heart in the months before we were married, and since then, it's been interesting to evaluate how this theory of emotional expression plays out in my everyday life.

As an artist and author, I spend way too much time in self-analysis, but hopefully my observations
will be useful to some of you as well. My primary love language is time. It doesn't matter if we do anything productive or exciting. I just want to know that you value spending time in my presence. Ironically, because of my socially anxious nature, it takes a long time before I feel safe enough with any person to connect with them face-to-face. So that "quantity time" that deepens my relationships is hard to come by. Clearly, it's complicated.

As an artist, I have discovered that if I don't have time in my productivity cycle to develop my skills, I begin to resent the stuff that is crowding that time out. Time to experiment and get better at what I do is like the "quality time" of being an artist. If you are coming between me and my skills and not allowing us time to improve together, you will quickly become a serious problem for me.

In a proactive effort to preserve my sanity, I have decided I need to carve out between 30 minutes to an hour each day working on something that hones a skill I want to build. My current artistic goal is to work to develop a digital style that plays more to my strength with pencil. Before I really dig into my Divine Summons graphic novel, I want to make sure I have landed on a digital style that I truly love to work in, and the hard ink line work I've been doing so far is not it.

So tonight, I've sketched a first effort at exploring the tools in Clip Studio Pro (my comic software) to see what I might be able to use in the pursuit of a more pencil-y style. I'm also using the drawing to hopefully motivate me to tackle the coming week with fire, not weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I'm feeling good about this revelation that love languages don't only apply to interpersonal passions, but to pursuits as well. I pray that I will be successful in pursuing my goal of more "quantity time" with my personal art style.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fabulous Dragon T-shirt--2 weeks only!



We Minors are about to head out on a major adventure, and you know what?

Adventures are expensive. And I don't have a contract from a bunch of dwarves promising me an equal share of the treasure at the end. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

Here's a little context to help you make sense of things. Every year since we began Realm Makers, I have designed the official Conference T Shirt as well as a "fun design" that we sell as a simple artistic endeavor. From fandom to geekery, these shirts have definitely been popular--and I've enjoyed seeing friends and strangers alike wear them.

This year, we've been working with the fabulous Kirk DouPonce, illustrator extraordinaire, to generate some updated branding for the conference and our awards. Out of that process, this awesome dragon graphic arose.

Being the dragon freak that I am, I was immediately ready to slap that puppy on everything, from our awards seals to our car to our bodies. (Not kidding, we had temporary tattoos made!)

More sober minds steadied us, however--we are hoping to take our show on the road, so to speak, and attend multiple homeschool conferences as a vendor in the near future. (More on that in due time.) But just like the way the words "magic," and "fantasy" might keep you out of some homeschool conferences, a banner with a giant red dragon might just have the same effect.

So, OK, Realm Makers won't wear the dragon badge on everything.

But that doesn't mean our nerdy following can't wear the dragon on a shirt!

And so, ahead of Realm Makers: 2017, we're doing a pre-sale campaign on these awesome shirts. Not only because we think our fans will like them, but because of that thing I mentioned up above: adventures are expensive, and we need to get creative about how we're going to fund driving from Pennsylvania to Reno and back again. It will be a grand total of 7000 miles and 4 weeks on the road.

I will be working on freelance projects along the way, but as is the nature of the freelance life, we have to guard against those times of slim pickings, which life has been dishing out over recent months.

So, if you're so inclined over the next couple weeks, I would be honored if you would be willing to order a dragon shirt for you or a friend. They come in men's and ladies' styles. You can elect to have them shipped straight to you, or if you'll be with us at Realm Makers at the end of July, you can save the shipping and pick your shirt up there.

I can't make any guarantee of there being available inventory of these shirts after this campaign, so get 'em while they're hot.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Dragon Problem-Preview


Today marks a fun day that authors never tire of: release day!

The project that I'm humbled to be a part of is an anthology called Freshly Brewed Fiction, and it's a group of stories penned for the purpose of supporting a local library. Better yet, we'll celebrate the release of this book at our local independent book store, The Towne Book Center in Collegeville. It's good to know the piece I've written will be helping the honorable institution of the local public library as well as our indie bookstore, which does a great job with author events.

In case you're interested to see what I've contributed to this book, I'm offering the first segment of the story for you here. "A Dragon Problem" introduces a new character to my story world, an ebony hatchling dragon named Silya, and it reunites readers with the tempestuous Raen, dragons warder, as well as the unquenchably direct Vinyanel Ecleriast. Mix in an undead necromancer, and you've got a caper it takes both dragons and elves to conquer.

I hope you enjoy this little excerpt. As soon as I know if this book will be available to non-local folks, I will update you. If you're within schlepping distance of Collegeville, PA, I'd love to see you at the Towne Book Center between 7-9 pm on April 30th, 2017.

A Dragon Problem
by Rebecca P. Minor
as it appears in  Freshly Brewed Fiction

Whatever you hear, whatever fears you have of what’s happening, you must not come out of
this crevice, do you understand me?” Silya’s mother set her deep into a stony niche, at the rear of their family’s cavern home.
A voice from beyond the mouth of the cavern echoed faintly against the crystalline walls. The speech had a rhythmic lilt to it, rising and falling like waves against a jetty. Silya struggled to sort sounds and syllables from the reverberations, but could not make out enough to understand. Her draconic gift to translate any language she encountered faltered in the muddled echoes.
“But what do they want?” Silya shrank back, wrap- ping her tail around her crouching body.
“Who can say, with man and his fears?” Mother said. “But promise me. Remember you are but a hatchling, and not yet a match for many men.”
Silya nodded.    

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Where Did Realm Makers Come From?

Image Credit: Dog Eared Design, Kirk DouPonce
At the header for this blog, the graphic reads "Author-Artist-Ringleader," and for some of the folks who stop by, the "ringleader" part is a bit of a puzzlement. I thought today that I would shed some light on the reason people attach words like that (or nerd-herder) to me.

A little over 5 years ago, I started planning this thing called the Realm Makers Conference. It came into being because of several factors that exist in the publishing world that make it difficult for Christians who write fantasy and science fiction to find publishers for their work.

On the general market side--that means the Big Publishing Houses of New York, stories that center on traditional values are often passed over as "been there, done that" at best, or "dangerously misogynistic/insensitive/out-of-touch" in more critical scenarios. This climate  has only gotten worse over the decade I've been following publishing. In this past year, I have learned of multiple scenarios where the author's failure to include significant characters that promote ideals counter to Judeo-Christian values has proven grounds for rejection. Authors need to be on the lookout for anything that might be construed as tokenism, exploitation, cultural appropriation, and a whole other host of parameters that will send the red flag flying.

Now, understand, that I completely agree that no group of people should be treated like a gimmick. What could be more counter to the teachings of Christ? But for fiction to be forced to include a certain recipe of character types and concepts, and only cast those in the prescribed light, is poison to creativity at its core.

On the Christian market side, the speculative fiction writer has an uphill climb as well, although I must say, the publishing options in the CBA have grown a little since Realm Makers began. We're nowhere near having enough publishing homes for the number of fabulous manuscripts out there, but incremental progress does seem to be happening. The main obstacle Christian Speculative writers face is general Evangelical suspicion of the genre. This is the factor I see chipping away. We have a long way to go, and we have our own content wars on the Christian side of the fence. We battle over cleanliness in fiction, inclusion of magic, the core definition of "Christian Fiction," and more.

The other challenge for Christian publishing has always been wide distribution of books. This is actually looking a little more grim of late, given the failure of independent bookstores and the disappearance of even large Christian bookstore chains. Add to that the publishers who are rumored to be closing their doors to fiction altogether, and you've got an uncertain future for CBA speculative fiction.

So, as you can see, the Christian who writes "weird stuff" is still between a rock and a hard place. In addition to the publishing climate being turbulent, Christians face a lot of snide looks, if not downright insults, when interacting with the marketplace at sci-fi/fantasy/comic conventions and other places they seek to connect with readers. The sad part is that the loudest voices don't typically represent the largest populations.

These factors prompted me to begin Realm Makers, a writers conference with several core goals:
1. Educate Christian writers so their craftsmanship would rival the "big names" in the general market.
2. Connect writers who are ready for publication with industry individuals who can bring their books to market
3. Equip Christians to innovate and pioneer in order to find routes for great fiction to get to market
4. Build a community of creative contemporaries who support one another through the challenges of being makers of fantastic, but often misunderstood, stuff. This community atmosphere where everyone's voice could be heard without fear of slap-down or disrespect was a fundamental value at the root of what Realm Makers does.

God has truly blessed the Realm Makers effort beyond what I imagined it could be, and for our 5th anniversary conference, we have already surpassed our attendee numbers by leaps and bounds. I am grateful we've been able to take this "Little Conference that Could" (to quote Mike Duran) and build it into a vibrant, year-round encouragement to like-minded creators whose faith infuses everything they make.

But as we grow, the spectrum of voices becomes wider within our community, which is a good thing. Sometimes the newer community voices don't know the history of what Realm Makers has aspired to do, all along, and that's what compelled me to write this post. First and foremost, I want Realm Makers to be a place where creativity flourishes, because no one feels they need to defend the majors of their worldview: the existence of God and the redeeming work of his Son, Jesus Christ. Beyond the tenets of our faith, however, I sincerely hope Realm Makers continues for us to be a think tank where we can lovingly discuss the challenges of the publishing landscape, whether our authors choose CBA, ABA, or self publishing.

Overall, our goal is to see great books that shine a light on who God is reach the hands of readers. When I stand in judgment, some day either soon or far, it is my prayer that the Lord will be able to say to me of my Realm Makers efforts, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Melancholy, My Dad, and the Charcoal Tree

When you're like me, and you lost your dad at 13, it's easy to romanticize how you perceive a man who's been gone for the vast majority of your life. I like to remember the Marine, the idealist, the brilliant man my dad was, even though he was also an alcoholic, a child abuse victim, and ultimately lifestyled himself to death until he left my mom with 6 kids and no real career to support us. I didn't learn much from my dad, sadly, because I was too young at the time to tap the brilliance part, while we still had him.

He did, however, one afternoon in our smoky, cluttered 80s living room, teach me how to draw a tree.

My dad was a charcoal artist who never pursued honing his gift outside of high school. Probably not a lot of opportunities to draw still life or models while drill instructing on Parris Island, I'm assuming. But I can't count the number of times he sat in his kind-of-gross recliner and told me how he drew a series of beautiful nudes during art lessons as a teen that mysteriously disappeared. (I think his running suspicion was that his instructor made off with them. Oddly, I lost one of my favorite drawings in high school the same way, but it was a cat.) Art clearly remained in his bones, even if life had pushed it aside.

Anyway, my dad gave me this impromptu lesson with a number 2 pencil and a scrap of whatever paper was sitting atop the clutter. He flicked the pencil over the paper, using the side of the lead, and said, "Trees, grow from the ground up, so draw them that way." I think he was trying to break my of the childhood habit of making a bumpy lump and sticking a trunk under it.

But I watched, fascinated by the way his seeming haphazard flicks of that pencil slowly fused together to form branches, reaching twigs, and a sturdy trunk. And how mere scribbles overtop approximated leaves so generally, yet perfectly.

There's a sort of pall hanging over me this month--call it a collection of political frustration, lingering burnout after finishing a large client project, and gray weather malaise, but I've found my mind lingering in melancholy, and for the past few days, art has been . . . awful. Stilted, graceless, and frustrating.  A friend recommended I try something to free up my mind, and in that mix of gloom and a need to shake out the tight lines, my dad's tree technique tapped on my shoulder.

The image above is a digital version of my application of my father's instruction from so long ago. Just a little 20 minute gesture, but an opportunity to reflect on the fact that I do have this one little piece of legacy to hang onto. No matter what life thrust upon or took away from him, he took that moment in my childhood to grab a pencil, and that moment has stayed with me 30 years or more. For all of us, those who are reeling with hurt, or frustrated, or fearful for the future, I hope we all remember today--and everyday--that little investments into single lives matter. More than we may ever live to see or understand.
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