Confessions of an ACFW Conference Junkie

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Angela Breidenbach, ACFW PR Officer, here: Please welcome our ACFW member guest Carla Stewart

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

In 2001, when God nudged me to follow my writing dream, I had confidence in my instincts—my better-than-average spelling and grammar, my ability to put together a coherent sentence. I read voraciously and understood the power of story. I pounded out a novel in three months and skipped off to my first writing conference. Even though one of the speakers warned it might take several years to have a book published, I had a feeling he was misinformed and that I would be soaring with eagles in no time.

My first novel did get an editor request at the conference and it was possibly the quickest rejection I ever received. The bottom line was that, while I had some skills, I had no idea how to put them to work to write a novel, so my season of waiting began. And while waiting implies a certain passive attitude, I’m convinced Isaiah didn’t mean that at all. They shall run and they shall walk indicates we are to be engaged in the work, gaining strength and wisdom as we wait.

In 2004, I wrote a new story—one that grabbed hold and wouldn’t let me go. When I finished, I began querying agents and received over thirty rejections. I started new projects and continued reading craft books, putting new concepts to work, but all the while, the story of my heart sort of floated in the background.

Then in 2006, I learned about ACFW. I registered right away and applied for a paid critique at their annual conference. I’m still stunned at the encouragement I received. Over the next six months, I had a freelance editor look at the manuscript, did a complete rewrite, and entered the Genesis contest in 2007. No one was more surprised (or delighted) than me when I won my category. Over the next several months I waited to hear from those who had requested my proposal, and in April of 2008, signed with an amazing agent. Seven months later, the manuscript sold to FaithWords (Hachette Book Group).

Can you see the turning point in this story?

In 2006, I learned about ACFW. There are other key words in that paragraph: Paid critique. Genesis contest. Requested proposals. Agent. Sold!!

My path to publication exists because of ACFW. There are other paths, to be sure, but ACFW is dedicated to the world of Christian fiction and those who write it. The things I mentioned are only a fraction of the opportunities offered at an ACFW conference. For you it might be the worship that speaks to you and takes your career in a new direction. Or a workshop. Networking. Finding a critique partner. Meeting God in the prayer room. I don’t know what God has in store for you, but I would encourage you to come to ACFW and spread your wings. Take advantage of networking opportunities. Volunteer for one of the many available spots. Come with an expectant heart. That’s what I did five conferences ago. Now, for the first time, I’m among the “published” authors – NINE years after I began this journey toward publication.

Perseverance counts. So does learning the craft. You may grow weary and feel faint, but don’t lose heart. Join the ACFW conference in Indianapolis in September. It’s a lot more fun to run toward your goal with others. Hope to see you there.

Author Bio:
A two-time ACFW Genesis winner, Carla Stewart is a Guideposts Writers Workshop alumna and has been published in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, and several regional magazines and anthologies. Her debut novel, Chasing Lilacs, released in June 2010 with FaithWords. Carla enjoys a good cup of coffee, weekend getaways with her husband, and the antics of their six grandchildren.

New Release Information

Chasing Lilacs
Publisher: FaithWords (Hachette Book Group)
Pub Date: June 17, 2010
Available wherever books are sold

About the Book:

Debut author Carla Stewart tugs heartstrings in this powerful novel about a girl searching for the truth about her mother’s love.

It’s the summer of 1958, and life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for Sammie Tucker. She has plenty of questions about her mother’s “nerve” problems, shock treatments, and whether her mother loves her.

When tragedy strikes, Sammie’s life careens out of control and she must choose who to trust with her deepest fears: her best friend who has an opinion about everything, the mysterious boy from California whose own troubles plague him, or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on.

Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie has ever done.

• This is Carla Stewart’s first published novel. She won first place in the 2007 American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis contest for CHASING LILACS.
• This brilliant novel is written in the same vein as Sue Monk Kidd’s beloved novel The Secret Life of Bees (Penguin, 8/08).
• Carla’s articles have appeared in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, Saddle Baron: Magazine of the West, and Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine. Her story “A Nod in the Right Direction” appeared in the 2007 Shades of Tulsa anthology.
• Carla maintains a website ( and blog ( and is on Twitter:

Book Cover Endorsements:
“A remarkable debut novel. Carla Stewart cleverly captures the stark simplicity of a young girl’s voice with all the masterful qualities of powerful prose. Unforgettable.”
—Susan Meissner, author of The Shape of Mercy

“CHASING LILACS is the kind of coming of age story that sticks to you beyond the last page. Unforgettable characters, surprising plot twists, and a setting so southern you’ll fall in love with Texas. Carla Stewart is a new talent to watch!”
—Mary E. DeMuth, author of Daisy Chain and A Slow Burn

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