Monday, March 28, 2016

Writer's Corner: Reflections on Mount Hermon 2016

Whew! It's been a crazy couple of weeks. Mount Hermon was as incredible as it was last year. Hubby passed the test for his new position and started working a night shift right after I got back. I'm not gonna lie, that's been a huge adjustment. ;) On top of all that, it's Easter break for the girlies, so I have all three of them home with me all day for this whole week...with a hubby trying to sleep in the back bedroom. :} To my brothers and sisters in Christ who read this blog, I could really use your prayers during this time of schedule adjustment. 

But back to my trip and all the juicy details. ;)

My friend Sarah came and picked me up on Thursday morning, March 17th, after I dropped my girls off at school. The driving hours flew by as we talked about everything from clothing to personal convictions to raising kids. It's always so nice having hours of uninterrupted talking time with another adult. :D

We stopped at a Chick-fil-A in Fairfield, California for lunch. I had a yummy grilled chicken sandwich.

And since we were right next to the Fairfield Mall, of course we popped into the Disney Store. :D Sarah is a fellow Disney fan, so she had no objections. :)

A few shots of the inside of the store:

We didn't stop at Build-A-Bear this time, but I took my traditional photo as we passed. :)

Our other stop was Hot Topic. Again, not a store I can fully recommend, but it is the best place for Disney, Doctor Who, and My Little Pony jewelry and accessories. :)

My Zootopia reusable shopping bag from the Disney Store with my other goodies inside. :)

One of the things I bought in Hot Topic was this Zootopia Mystery Minis box. 

I couldn't wait to see which figure I ended up with!

Having the "naturalist" Yak in my box was a bit disappointing, I must say, even though he was a funny character. ;)
Still, they did a great job with these figures and all of the sculpt details.

Sarah had been saying all along that she had a surprise for me. It turned out to be the place we stayed. The Coastview Inn lives up to its name... you can see from this picture, taken from the sidewalk beside it.

That's right. My amazing friend reserved a hotel for us right across the street from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk! :D

I've only been to the Boardwalk once in my life, back when I was in college, and I don't remember much about it (aside from the roller coaster and a friend of mine cracking up as I babbled in a frantic, squeaky voice throughout the entire ride). 

The day was perfect, and the beach was breathtaking. Sarah told me that she really wanted me to be able to go to a beach, even though it wasn't "my" beach (the one in Trinidad that I used for my books). Isn't she the best? :D

Here we are on the beach together. :)

One of the buildings next to the Boardwalk.

The beach was covered with thousands of tiny, perfect shells. We spent some time searching through them for souvenirs.

After a while, we headed toward the Boardwalk itself to look around. Most of the games and shops were closed since we arrived in the late afternoon, but the Looff Carousel was still open.

Here's a shot from the outside.

It features a real working organ with moving parts:

The horses are amazing pieces of art and feature real horsehair tails. 

I wish I could have gotten better shots, but I was holding a handful of shells and had a hard time taking pictures at the same time. Also, mere minutes after we went in, they started shutting everything down. I'm so glad we got a peek before they closed, though. :)

We continued down the boardwalk to Neptune's Kingdom, an amazing miniature golf and arcade. The mini golf section reminded me a lot of "Pirates of the Caribbean" at Disneyland. The pirates took turns talking, and the cannons "fired" and shot smoke rings. It was really cool. :)

A few more shots of the mini golf course:

After we'd finished checking out the Boardwalk, we decided to explore the wharf.

The weather was so lovely.

Here's the picture I shared with you while I was on my trip. :)

As we went along, we kept passing restaurants and getting hungrier and hungrier. 

Then we came to Dolphin Restaurant on the Wharf, which had a take out menu with great prices.

Fresh fried shrimp and fries for $10? Yes, please! :D (Don't worry, I had plenty of veggies and fruit on the rest of the trip. This was a splurge...and totally worth every bite.) ;)

We got to see several sea lions underneath the wharf. I've never seen any this close before, so it was pretty amazing. :)

These two bulls were fighting in the water.

We finished our meal and our walk and came back to the hotel for a little solitude in preparation for Mount Hermon the next day.

Some friends I brought along (Judy was one of my Disney Store purchases).

The next morning, we got an early start.

One last look at the beach. The weather was cold and overcast this day. We were really glad we'd had such beautiful, sunny weather the day before.

We got one last look at Neptune's Kingdom as we drove by. :)

It wasn't long before we reached our destination. We parked in the exact same spot we did last time, so I thought it would be fun to take another shot of the little welcome sign, just like I did last year. ;)

Because the Buckeye cabins weren't available this year, we were moved to the Sequoia cabins. We stayed in room five.

A look inside.

Our two cozy beds. This place was definitely an upgrade from last year. We loved our room in Buckeye, but this one was even better. So sweet and inviting! :)

The beds from the other side of the room. Sarah slept in the one by the window, and I got the double bed.

The view from Sarah's window.

Directly across from the beds was a dresser and another window.

The view from the dresser window.

Petal, soaking up the bright, overcast sky.

There was a little electric fireplace in the corner (sorry the picture's so blurry).

This was what made our room so exciting: a nice sink and closet space...

...and most importantly, a bathroom of our own, including a shower. It was so nice to not have to travel down a hallway of rooms to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. ;)

The room featured beautiful framed photography. If I'm not mistaken, the photos were of different locations around Mount Hermon.

The first thing we did after unpacking was to put the sheets and pillowcases on our bed. Sarah's bed already had an occupant. Thankfully, none of his friends were anywhere in sight. ;)

My bed after I'd made it.

Now it looks even more homey! :)

Me and Sarah :)

As always, the scenery at Mount Hermon was lovely:

These were taken over the course of the five days I was there. :)

Just like last year, Petal accompanied me to Mount Hermon. Dorothy Doe did, too, but she decided to hang out in our room instead of exploring the grounds. ;)

I thought it would be fun to take pictures of Petal enjoying the sights around Mount Hermon and post them on Twitter for my daughters to enjoy while I was gone. :) I saved some of them to share here, too.

Being a Garden Fairy Zelf, Petal felt most at home when she was around the beautiful flowers and plants:

She was also quite partial to the tall Redwood trees that towered overhead.

Here she is at the Dining Hall, where we ate all of our meals.

The food at Mount Hermon was incredible, as always. We had a full salad bar with every lunch and dinner, and a variety of main courses to choose from. Breakfasts were great, too, though they didn't include salads. ;)

Petal making a new friend, Marci! :) Marci and I didn't get much of a chance to visit, but I enjoyed the short chats we had. I'm looking forward to connecting with her again sometime. She's a fellow writer and loves sharing recipes with her readers on her website, which you can see HERE. :) 

Mount Hermon also has an ice cream shop. Petal was more than willing to help me eat my cookies and cream ice cream. ;)

Some of the places to visit at Mount Hermon. Petal saw quite a few of them.

Here she is on the railing of our porch.

And here she is at the sign next to our cabins.

Visiting the bridge near the bookstore.

Outside the main chapel auditorium where all of our general sessions were held.

And inside the chapel, waiting for a general session to begin.

Here she is near the Book Shop...

...and beside the Book Shop sign. :)

Above the Book Shop is the Central Lounge, a place for writers to order coffee and sit and visit with each other. 

When she wasn't seeing the sights, Petal tried a few other activities.

She attended my classes with me. Here she is practicing dialogue beats.

Here she is taking a walk in the late afternoon sunshine.

She also thought it would be a good idea to catch up on her reading.

And decided to do a bit of brainstorming with Dorothy Doe, too.

She especially loved it when it rained.

So, as you can see, Petal had a lovely time. But what about me?

The conference this year started out a bit differently for me. I hit a few road blocks and actually spent a good part of my second day crying in my cabin. The opportunities I'd been given at my last conference seemed to be slipping through my fingers. Even in the middle of my tears, I clung to what I knew, that God was good and He had a purpose for my writing, even if it might not be quite the purpose I was expecting.

God was so incredibly gracious to me on this trip, and showed me once again how much He loves me. From leading me to another possible agent (just in case my previous options fall through), to arranging obvious opportunities to speak with agents and editors that were normally swarmed with people, to blessing and refreshing me through teachings and conversations with others, He showed me again and again that I was where I needed to be.

The people I got to connect with were the best part of the conference. Sarah, my roomie and fearless writing buddy, was such a blessing to me. I'm so glad we got to share the experience of Mount Hermon together again. It was a joy and comfort to be able to pray for each other, commiserate with each other when things were tough, and rejoice together when things went well. Sarah, if you're reading this, you're completely "awesome," and I couldn't have chosen a better friend to share the week with. ;)

(If you guys would like to hear Sarah's point of view on the conference, you can check out her blog post HERE.) :)

It was wonderful to reunite with another writing buddy from last year who wishes to remain anonymous online. You know who you are, "R." :) She's a fantasy geek like me and a complete sweetheart. It was so much fun to catch up with her again and share crazy bouts of laughter late into the night when she hung out with Sarah and me in our room. :D

Then there was my incredible Morning Mentoring Class. We got a great group shot together, which I know I will cherish for years to come:

Back Row, left to right: Me, Kara Swanson, Michelle Murray
Front Row, left to right: Kathy Tyers Gillin (our instructor), Alysia Maxwell, Kayla Turney, Joey Stoll

I can't fully describe how amazing it was to spend each Mount Hermon morning with this group of people. All of us were writing Speculative Fiction (fictional writing that includes supernatural, fantasy, or futuristic elements), so it was fun to read each other's stories since they all had a similar feel. Some of us were Disney geeks, most of us were Marvel fans, and we all shared a love for fantasy stories. We also were all at a similar writing level, so the critiques we shared on our stories were helpful and relevant. There was enough variety in our personalities and thought processes that everyone brought something unique and challenging to the story discussions. We had so much fun working together that we even met outside of class to brainstorm and discuss our work. 

We shared a lot of laughs together, too. ;)

Alysia and Kayla don't have websites yet, but you can learn more about Michelle, Kara, and Joey's work on the following websites:

Joey: (Joey is currently offering his first novel as a free eBook. You can check his website for details.) :)

I am so excited to see what God has in store for all five of these amazing writers, and I hope I'll get to see them again next year. :)

Kathy, our leader and mentor, led us with grace and eloquence. She has the most amazing insights on point of view, worldbuilding, and writing in general. She's also incredibly smart, and has studied languages, microbiology, and more. She's a talented musician and an accomplished author. Her writing credits include two Star Wars novels, some Star Wars short stories, and several original science fiction novels. In spite of all this, she is one of  the most approachable, humble people I've ever known. I learned so much from her last year and was thrilled to get the chance to study under her again this year. I'm hoping she'll be back again next year so I can learn even more. I'm pleased and honored to call her my teacher and my friend. :) 

To learn more about Kathy and her writing, you can check out her website HERE

A few selfies from our last night:

With Kayla

With Alysia

With Kara

Love all these girls so much! :D

I'm not going to go into specifics about my opportunities this year, but hopefully when the time is right I'll be able to share more. I will say that I have some possible openings with both my writing and my artwork. 

I was thrilled to connect with some of the faculty this year, too. I think my five faves this time around were Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Agency, Jesse Florea from Focus on the Family, Jessie Kirkland from the Blythe Daniel Agency, Pastor Bill Giovannetti, a pastor, professor and author, and Kathi Lipp, an author and speaker whose radio interview earlier this year was a tremendous blessing and encouragement to me.

Mr. Steve Laube is one of the most sought after agents at Mount Hermon. He was unable to attend last year, so this year was the first time I had a chance to connect with him. Almost every time I saw him, he was surrounded by people. However, I did get a chance to sit at his table one night and had one other conversation with him. He was gracious and humorous. I enjoyed getting the chance to talk with him.

My daughters were thrilled when they found out Jesse Florea would be at Mount Hermon. They love listening to the Adventures in Odyssey Podcast, and he's one of the hosts. When I asked Jesse if he'd give me his autograph for the girls, he signed a Focus on the Family Clubhouse Magazine for them (which will be treasured for years to come). Jesse was very approachable and kind and had no problem with me fangirling about Adventures in Odyssey. ;) 

This was Jessie Kirkland's first time at Mount Hermon, and I'm so thankful she was able to be there. She gave an excellent workshop on traditional, indie, and hybrid publishing, sharing the pros and cons of each, and also giving us a realistic look at the publishing market. I especially enjoyed how she tied in personality types that worked best with each type of publishing. It was an honor to meet Jessie and learn from her. 

Bill Giovannetti is actually from my part of the country, but it wasn't until I went to Montana last November that I heard about him and one of his latest books, Grace Intervention, which has played an important role in my sister-in-law's family. Pastor Bill is a sweet, grace-filled person who lets God's light shine through him in a beautiful way. His "night owls" class I attended was on success in writing and how it is defined for the Christian writer. It was just the message I needed at that particular part of the conference (right after my weepy day). ;) I'm so thankful I had the chance to connect with him, and hope I'll be able to do so again in the future.

It was such a joy to sit at Kathi Lipp's table and thank her in person for how her interview impacted me this past year. She was helpful and entertaining, and gave some great insights on writer's platforms. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for me to attend any of her classes this year, but I'm thankful I at least got to share a meal with her.

One of the things that makes Mount Hermon so spectacular is that it gives you the chance to interact with writing professionals in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Sitting across the table from an agent, editor, or professional author can be intimidating, but if you can get past your nerves and just be yourself, you'll discover that they are people, just like you. Every person I talked to was so kind and approachable. And that's saying a lot, considering that throughout most of the conference they constantly have others pitch stories to them and try to get their attention. They have my respect for being able to keep a gracious spirit through it all.

Overall, it was another incredible conference. I learned a lot about writing, about myself, and about God's timing. I'm overjoyed by the leads I got on some writing opportunities, grateful for new friends made, and excited to see what will happen next. :)

Shifting gears here. I wanted to share a few of my goodies from my trip. :)

Here's most of my haul.

I love the Disney Store's reusable shopping bags, and when I saw this Zootopia one, I decided it would be a great addition to my other Disney bags.

The Disney Princess one came home with me, too. :) It worked out really well that I had these, because I ended up needing them by the end of the conference. ;)

As you all know, I really enjoyed Zootopia, and couldn't resist this sweet plush Judy Hopps. :)

I snagged a few little things, too.

This Eve necklace from Hot Topic was actually something I ordered online last month, but it arrived the day before I had to leave for Mount Hermon. I loved it so much that I wore it multiple times on my trip. :) Hubby says Eve reminds him of me...especially the part where she gets frustrated and blows up the big battleships. Sad, but true. I do tend to freak out when I'm having a bad day, especially when my hormones are in play. In most public situations, though, I'm more of a Fluttershy. ;)

I thought Maggie could use a pin for her Lord of the Rings collection. :)

And I LOVED this Tenth Doctor Pocket Pop keychain from Funko. I attached him to my bag and carried him around Mount Hermon. :)

This cute little flip flop keychain was my souvenir from the Boardwalk. I love the amazing paint job.

It says Santa Cruz on the back.

You already saw this guy, but I figured I'd include him in the souvenir lineup. ;) This was my yak from the Zootopia Funko Mystery Minis.

I always like bringing back a little something for my daughters, and when I saw some new Emperor's New Groove pins, I knew they would be perfect for them. Little Gal got this "No Touchy! No Touch" pin...

...and Middle Gal and Oldest Gal both got a copy of this pin. :)

This was the stash of shells I ended up with from the Santa Cruz beach.

I can't believe how tiny some of them are!

Sarah bought me this cool Mount Hermon Christmas ornament and a pin to remember our trip. I had really wanted to get one of these last year and didn't end up with one, so it made it even more special that Sarah bought me one this year.

And finally, I ended up with several book purchases from Mount Hermon. These three are my writing "how to" books, which I hope to get through in the next month. Storyworld First by Jill Willamson, Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

All three of these books come highly recommended, but the last one has been mentioned over and over again as a "must have" for writers, so I'm especially glad to have it in my collection.

I also bought Kathi Lipp's book on organization. It may be wishful thinking to trust this book to help me, but I appreciated the fact that Kathi is not a naturally organized person. It's comforting to think I'm getting organizational advice from someone who thinks the way I do. ;)

These books were my freebies. I've never read Kathy's novels, and am super excited to have two of them now. ;) This Quiet Sky was written by Joanne Bishof, an author who was a huge encouragement to Sarah last year. I'm looking forward to reading all three after I get through my instructional books. :)  

I guess that's all for now. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers as I attended the conference. They were very much appreciated. I'm so excited to follow through with the opportunities that came my way this year, and can't wait to share more as I am able. :)

I didn't vlog at Mount Hermon nearly as much as I planned to, but I do have a few short vlogs that I will be putting up on my YouTube channel over the next week. I'll add a link here when they're up. :) UPDATE: The vlogs are up...such as they are. Only four this time. You can see them HERE. :)

More doll stuff to come, so stay tuned!