A long time ago, in a far away place…. okay, so it was ten or so years ago in Washington, D.C. I attended a writers retreat, Algonkian Conferences, put on by a man called Michael Neff. I arrived at Dulles Airport after dark and took a cab to the cabin located in a state park not far from D.C. For a moment, I thought the cab driver was taking me somewhere to kill me, as I had no idea as to where I was going. We wound our way through tall pines with no other humans in sight. I found myself praying out loud. He didn’t kill me, but over the next couple of days, I wondered if it would have been less painful than my insecurities during that retreat. Ten students, both male and female, shared two five bedroom cabins along the edge of the Potomac River. It was lovely and we were all hopeful that our writing would be grandly praised. We spent a full week there, writing, critiquing, and string meals. The first day or two, Michael Neff listened to our works, gave us homework and explained the difficult road that might lie ahead, as many writers give up after a retreat, or worse yet, just don’t show up to their desks to write. He pushed us to limits we didn’t know we had. His sharing of his professional information and resources, helped us band together. He supported us with such zeal it made me feel like we could take on a dissident country. Every day we swore we were going to work harder to make him proud. The next day, armed with new work, we’d read, listen to his wisdom and revise the work for the next day.He’d push us again, stretching us to go beyond the limits we had arrived with. Though we loved him dearly, we’d sometimes giggle at the idea of setting him afloat down the Potomac tied to a donut raft. It took us the entire week to realize the enormous value of what he was teaching us. We didn’t know anything! We were cocky, over confident and just too green to realize we didn’t know what we didn’t know! Many weeks later, Neff’s wisdom sunk in. I came to realize that Michael Neff was the first of many mentors to give me good, sound advice, advice that moved me step-by-step to where I am today. A year later, because of Michael Neff, I attended and pitched a book at a New York Pitch Conference. It was a book I hadn’t even written! With my pitch, I got a manuscript request from two publishers for a book that didn’t even exist! What I learned from the conference and from Michael, was how far I yet had to go. From there, I began to focus on the craft of writing, obtaining my M.F.A. Shortly after graduation, my first novel was published and I haven’t looked back. In July, Vox Dei, a Christian imprint of Booktrope Publishing released my third novel, The Button Legacy: Emily’s Inheritance.
Today, I just wrote THE END on my first mystery, all because I took the first step at Michael Neff’s Algonkin Retreat! For that, I will be ever grateful to Michael Neff. He made an enormous difference in my writing career!
It is funny how people come and go in your life, influencing you without you even understanding the effect they have had. I don’t know why this hit me today, but it did. It also caused me to reflect on those who have had a spiritual influence on me, as well. My grandfather, John Lovean, my brothers, Kent and Milton and my older sister, Sue have been influencers in both my private and public lives. Thanks to all of you for making me see beyond what this life has brought me here on earth. You led me to the gift of eternal life. For more information on Michael Neff’s New York Pitch Conference see http://algonkianconferences.com/index.htm