Friday, October 27, 2017

CFRR 2017 aka The Best Day Ever

**I know this post is beyond late but life has been a bit busy! I almost had it all written less than a month afterwards but somehow it didn't save and I lost all but the first few paragraphs (which if you read this whole thing you'll see was a lot to lose). That was a huge discouragement and I just couldn't find the desire to do it all again. Insert a crazy amount of activities, forgetfulness, and whatever other excuses you can find and you'll have my reasons as to why this post is going up almost 4 months after the fact. But the fact that I still remember everything in such detail is a testament to just how awesome this event was! 
Last year I heard of this wonderful new event called the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat (CFRR). A
one day event for readers and writers of Christian fiction to spend together. It sounded too good to be true but since it was mid-week I knew getting the time off of work would be difficult and my finances weren't the best so I had to skip it. Afterwards I saw everyone's posts about it and it looked like an absolute blast. I knew I had do whatever it took to make it this year so when sign-ups opened up I jumped on it and reserved my spot. I was over the moon excited, the only grey cloud was that I wished my sister (and book bestie) Becky, was joining me, but we didn't think her schedule would allow it.
Months later, after the event was fully booked, she started a plan to come visit from TX and it ended up that she would be here the days I was at the retreat. Then a miracle happened, and four spots opened back up due to cancellations. I immediately sent her a text to call me. We talked, and after working out a few things with her schedule, she booked her spot. Now I was even more excited and the countdown began in earnest.
On Thursday night (at an ungodly hour) I picked Becky up from the airport and we crashed at our parents for the night. We didn't get a whole lot of sleep due to our excited gushing into the wee hours of the morning. We drug our sleep deprived selves out of bed then rooted around the basement for the books she'd had to store there, ran to a couple places that sold books, loaded up on McD's Sweet Tea (our road trip staple) turned the country music up loud (our road trip tradition) and set off on the 5ish hour trip to Cincinnati. The drive was pretty simple and we made good time.
After checking in we wandered around a bit trying to locate the elevator (we were a bit oblivious-lol). The kind Naomi Miller showed us to the one closest to our rooms and while she was giving us directions someone approached us. I thought she looked like Jen Turano but since she wasn't supposed to be there I dismissed it. However as she got closer she looked at me and said something to the effect of "I know who you are!" It WAS Jen Turano and she actually recognized me!! I think I was a little speechless-lol! She hugged me and we chatted a bit! And the whole actual day of CFRR she kept telling people how she named a secondary character in her A Class of Their Own series. Needless to say I was riding pretty high that night!
We played part of a round of Pandemic, grabbed dinner at Smashburger, finished our game, played Phase 10, then watched several episodes of House Hunters, mocking the people buying house. We headed to bed at that point but the excitement of what awaited the next day made getting to sleep a little difficult!
We got up a little after 7 and got ready to go. I was so hyped up that caffeine would have just been redundant! As soon as we were presentable, we gathered our books (to get signed), and headed down to registration. We joined the already long line and while waiting Melissa Tagg walked by, recognized me and actually stopped to give me a hug! After a few minutes of standing quietly I stepped out of my introvert self and said something to the lady in line behind us. It turned out to be the awesome Charity and we had a blast talking
while we were waiting our turns to register. After getting through the line (and getting our jam-packed swag bags) Becky and I found some seats in the middle of the room and started our fangirling as we spotted favorite authors around the room. We also took a quick look through our bags! Debby Giusti talked to us briefly and took a nice pic of us. Then a few minutes later Kristi Ann Hunter (we are both obsessed with her books) came up to where we were sitting and we got to say hi and she gave us her "Good Little Reader" stickers she was giving everyone who had read her books.
Things started to get moving at that point and Annie (one of the Stewards of the event) told us to find the candle in our swag bag and move into groups based on the title of your candle. Thankfully Becky and I had the same one, Currently Reading, and we gathered our stuff to move to the other side of the room. Somehow we ended up with front row seats and Pepper Basham was sitting next to me and Katie Ganshert was next to Becky!
Annie, Bonnie, and Carrie gave the official welcome, Debby Giusti led us in prayer and then the talented Nicole Coley led us all in worship. The perfect way to kick off this event!
Cynthia Ruchti was our first speaker and she had us all in stitches with her tale about the man she sat next to on the plane and the outlandish life story he had to tell. When she was done we played some games where authors from each group competed for team points. Some of them were a wee bit competitive and it was hysterical to watch. Speaker session two was supposed to be Becky Wade and Dani Pettrey but Dani couldn't make it due to health issues. She did FaceTime for a few minutes though and Becky did a great job! They had made a video diary of
sorts over the last year as they both worked on novels to give us a glimpse of the writing process from the beginning idea to finally having the finished copy in hand. They got us involved too by giving everyone a paper and each row a bag of M&M's. For each category, the color of M&M you got matched to one of the options given on the screen. I ended up with: Genre-Speculative, Setting-The Make-believe Land of Holly Brooke, Heroine's Profession-Innkeeper, Hero's Profession-Cowboy. From there we had to figure out what would bring the characters together and what each of their story goals were. And then we wrote a rough draft first sentence and lastly a rewrite of it! I'm no writer but it was still really fun and a clever way to get everyone engaged!
Immediately following that we went right into the first of the author panels. There were two consecutive panels both on the subject of  "Subtle Faith and the Change in Christian Fiction". Becky and I choose to attend the second one which was moderated by Pepper Basham. The authors on this panel were, Elaine Marie Cooper, Kristi Ann Hunter, Meghan M. Gorecki, Rachel McMillan, and Sondra Kraak. They discussed the two trains of thought between the loud and proud Christian message throughout the book and the more subtly woven in and maybe not straightout discussed route. There were points made for both sides and in the end I think we all agreed that we need both and it truly is a matter of what each particular story needs.
Once both panels wrapped up we broke for lunch but Annie made the caveat that you couldn't sit with the person you came with or were super close to so Becky and I had to split up. I made my way out of the room and stopped to say hi Sarah Baker, (who I can't remember how we first met but we've been friends of Facebook for a little while). While we were chatting Melissa Tagg came out and asked if we would want to join her for lunch. I of course said yes and we got in line together. Another girl was there, Reece, and we spent our time in line discussing Melissa's books, including an idea she had for a future story, and other aspects of writing. We got our food and made our way outside to find a table. As we got our seats another lady joined Melissa, Reece, and I, and then Melissa called Susan May Warren over to join us. What followed was one of the greatest hours of my life, getting to just sit and discuss books with two of my absolute favorite authors! We talked about their books, about authors they liked, and we even got to hear about what books will hopefully be coming soon from them! One of the absolute best parts was when Susie educated us on the difference between loincloths and breechcloths using a napkin as a prop. It was one of those had to be there moments but we we're all dying of laughter.
Lunch sadly came to a close and we all gathered back inside for worship once again led by Nicole Coley. Some more games were played one of my favorites of which was a guess that book game where the books were wrapped in paper and a few descripters were listed. The authors then had to try to guess which book was inside! It was clever and entertaining!
Shelley Shepard Gray was our third speaker of the day. My favorite part of her talk was when she was telling us about a character that was refusing to follow the original writing plan and after sharing her frustration with her husband he replied something to the effect of, "Shelley honey you made her up you can make her do whatever you want her to!" It cracked me up and has stuck with me and often makes me smile when I think of it!
Next came the author speed chats. We split up into groups of ten or so and authors would travel from group to group spending a few minutes talking and/or answering questions. Then Annie would call out and they would switch groups. The authors participating were: Becky Wade, Carrie Turansky, Dana R. Lynn, Dawn Crandall, Elaine Stock, Katie Ganshert, Laura Frantz, Rachel Hauck, Ruth Logan Herne, and Gabrielle Meyer. It was a really fun way to get to connect with a lot of authors in a short amount of time! When we ran out of time we had a brief snack break then the second set of author panels.
The first was "Merging the Imaginary and the Real Worlds" with Ann H. Gabhart, Gabrielle Meyer, Karen Barnett, Susan Anne Mason, and Tracy Lyons.
The second, which Becky and I attended, was "Book Boyfriends" with Courtney Walsh, Melissa Tagg, Dawn Crandall, Shelley Shepard Gray, and Susan May Warren and moderated by Melony Teague. This was one of the absolute highlights for me,  not much better than discussing heroes with the people who created them! Shelley shocked and amused us all, talking about her Amish hero who had been in prison and the one scene with him in his heroine that had Susie remarking "Maybe I need to read more Amish fiction!". Susie talked about how when she creates a hero she figures out  the lie he believes and the truth that sets him free. As I thought about it I could clearly see that theme in all of her books (and I have read them all) but it's so versitile that it never feels redundant. Melissa of course talked about Logan (I would have been disappointed if she didin't)! And Courtney and Dawn talking about two of their heroes had me immediately going to the bookseller to by their books! Seriously it was so much fun fangirling about heroes with the authors!!
Everyone gathered back together for one last time of worship and the final round of games. Our group, Currently Reading, won which meant we each got a book! Since Becky and I were in the front and super fast we managed to snag copies of An Inconvenient Beauty by
Kristi Ann Hunter which wasn't even going to release for a few weeks! And my copy got to be the first of this novel that she had ever signed!
There was also a bit of a fashion show where several authors dressed up in period costume from the time periods their books were set!
Annie and Carrie wrapped things up and people who had signed up for personal prayer found their groups and for the rest of us author signing began! It was awesome being able to chat for a few minutes with so many authors whose books I absolutely love and I got to get pictures with almost all of them! Several of them recognized me from my blog or Facebook and it was the coolest thing ever! Getting to meet someone you greatly admire and having them know who you are-best feeling ever!

After Becky and I got all of our books signed we were kind of just standing around and almost went back to our room but for some reason we deceided to stick around a little more and boy am I glad we did! I went to use the restroom and when I came out Becky told me that Charity (who we had met in line at the beginning of the day) invited us to join her, Kristi Ann Hunter, and some others out for dinner! Of course we said yes and after a bit of coordinating we dropped our stuff off in our room
then went back to the lobby to meet up with the super sweet Kat who had offered us a ride. We all got to the resturant, LaRosa's Pizeria, and there were 11 of us in total. It was me and Becky, Charity, Kristi Ann Hunter, Dawn Crandall, Debra E. Marvin, Winnie Thomas, Denise, Jessica, Sarah, and Kat. We had such a fun time and had the most fantastic server that handled our craziness like a pro! After dinner we loaded back up into the cars and went to United Dairy
Farmers for ice cream! All of us were a bit sleep deprived and may or may not have been a little giggly and loopy! We finally took pity on the poor employees and went back to the cars saying our goodbyes before we all headed in different directions. When we got back to the hotel I figured we'd just head to bed but as we passed the hotel resturant we saw Jen Turano with a bunch of ladies and they invited us to join them. We got to have some awesome conversations and meet even more people including Rebecca and Michaela. We all finally admitted our various states of exhaustion (I'm pretty sure it was either close to midnight or beyond at thie
point) and Becky and I headed back to our hotel room. We were both beyond tired but I was still riding high from everything that had happened and it took me forever to fall asleep.
We got up bright and early, got ready, packed up, checked out, got gas and sweet tea, and began the road trip home. The whole way we kept discussing everything that had happened the previous day and already started making plans to attend CFRR 2018! To say that it went above and beyond our expectations is a great understatement and this day will forever go down as one of my favorite days ever! I can't say thank you enough to all those who worked so hard to make this event a reality!


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