Realm Makers, a conference for Christian science fiction and fantasy writers, wrapped up its third annual session last week in St. Louis, and was, by all accounts, a great success. I’ve not yet been able to attend, but I keep an eye on its progress via reports from and conversations with people who did manage to make it.
Christian speculative fiction writers have been searching for a “con” of their own for a long time. My mind immediately goes back to an incident which may have been the precipitating event that spawned Realm Makers. At the very least, it encapsulates its reason for being. I wrote about it in October, 2012. I may have taken a tiny bit of creative license with the eyewitness account:
All Your Galas Are Belong to Us: There was a minor kerfluffle at the American Christian Fiction (formerly Romance) Writers convention two weeks ago.
Kerfluffle. I love that word. “It is a large, good word, and will bear repetition.” It is also endearingly random.
Anyhow, a group of ACFW members who happened to be speculative fiction writers, rather than the standard purveyors of historical romance, arrived in costume at the Awards Gala, and some were turned away to re-suit, with “security concerns” the stated reason. Paraphrasing liberally:
ACFW Staffer: “Good heavens! This man looks like a terrorist, and that other fellow might be hiding explosives in his…paws.”
SF-er sporting Spock Ears: “In that case, madam, it would be logical for you to allow us a peek beneath your voluminous hoop skirt, which has ample room for all manner of ordnance.”
ACFW Staffer: “SECURITY!!!”
Again, there may or may not be a causal relationship between this incident and the inaugural Realm Makers convention in 2013. I like to think there is. The SF-ers had genuine professional needs as well. They were hungry for mentorship in a genre with few prominent Christian writers. They needed to exchange knowledge amongst themselves and network with publishing industry professionals who, by and large, didn’t understand speculative fiction and had no compelling reason to try. They also needed expert help to navigate the fast-moving and increasingly complex world of electronic and independent publishing.
There were writing symposiums aplenty, but nearly all focused on the Christian Booksellers of America (CBA)-style prairie romances and missionary stories that kept them on the fringe of any discussion, or worse, under the microscope like some newly-discovered and slightly unnerving multi-jointed insect. The writing seminar content was fine, from a technical point of view, but a lot of it didn’t translate to the speculative genre or address its peculiar challenges.
Perhaps most of all, they desperately needed tangible evidence that their passion wasn’t a hopeless folly—that they weren’t off their rocker trying to write science fiction and fantasy stories as/for/about Christians. They needed a place where they could blow off steam and have some fellowship with other people who shared their love of imaginative storytelling and spoke the language of their faith and their literature of choice.
They looked for such a place. It did not exist. They’d have to create it themselves.
So, Realm Makers. It’s come a long way in three years. They’re starting to see some representation from major industry publishing houses and agents, and some writers who have achieved success and modest notoriety in the genre are stepping up to provide encouragement and mentoring. Young writers with fresh ideas showed up. In the seminars, there was a strong focus on quality storytelling that is both dynamic and emotionally engaging. There were also some prominent voices this year asserting that crossing over to pitch stories in secular venues does not imply the writer is compromising his values, selling out, or risking her immortal soul in vain pursuit of worldly acclaim. Quite the contrary, they said—your voices and stories need to be making an impact in places that aren’t traditionally Christian markets. It won’t give you cooties, and besides, the devil can as easily show up in a bonnet as wearing horns and claws. That is, there’s nothing inherently holy about an Amish romance, or writing for a Christian publisher, or limiting your audience to the folks at church. Go into all the world—and don’t be afraid.
There was, once again, a costume ball, with more participation and creativity than ever, in conjunction with the award presentations. I think the cosplay is a key element of Realm Makers that sends a strong unspoken message of shared identity and playful defiance of the status quo: Look—We have a con of our own now where elves, hobbits, dragons, wizards, Browncoats, Vulcans, steampunk adventurers, mockingjays, Jedis, clone troopers, superheroes, and creatures with all manner of tentacles, antennae, and paws are welcome. You can even wear a bonnet and hoop skirt, if you like. Imagination is God’s gift—we aim to set ours in motion and make something wonderful.
Besides, it’s fun, and fun isn’t an adjective that usually springs to mind when you’re talking about a Christian writers’ conference. They also staged a miniature zombie apocalypse, arming the valiant human survivors with Nerf weaponry. Make of that what you will.
Here are some links to reports from people who attended this year’s Realm Makers. There are many pictures. Note the smiles.