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  • Writer's pictureKristina Atkins

Storymakers 2019

On Saturday, I attended the Storymakers Conference in Provo, Utah. I saw friends, went to classes, and this happened:


New title! Because the old one was a placeholder and I knew it was lame.

It. Was. Amazing.

But let me backtrack a bit. Because, as with all things, there’s a story behind this.

Remember how I had a baby a little over a month ago? (Oh yeah, I haven’t posted about that. I had a baby on April 2nd.) When I found out I was pregnant, and figured out the due date, I realized how close it was to Storymakers. I couldn’t go, not with a weeks-old baby. I couldn’t leave him home for 5 days, and I certainly couldn’t bring him.

But then registration opened in January. And let me tell you something: it was painful watching everyone registering and expressing their excitement. Because Storymakers is a wonderful conference. The attendees call ourselves the Storymakers Tribe, and tribe is a perfect description. It’s a true community.

So I was sad. Also during this time, I lamented to Christine that I wouldn’t be able to enter the first chapter contest. I felt like my first chapter of Feathers Sharp as Knives was strong and I wanted to see how it would do. And, I’ll admit, I wanted to win. Badly. I’ve entered the contest in the past with the first chapter of CoF two times (heavily edited in between), and received mixed results from the judges. I knew how painful the feedback could be, but I wanted to take the risk. Also, writers are masochists. Why else do we take punch after punch and continue returning and asking for more?

All of this was on my mind as I watched the registration numbers creep toward the cap. And by the second day, I broke. I told Kurt how badly I wanted to go. And why couldn’t I bring a one-month-old baby along? They’re sleepy and easy to bring along at that age, and I’d just wear him in my wrap the whole time. And, I reasoned, if I did end up cancelling, I’d get an 80% refund. It was a chance I was willing to take, and Kurt was too. So I registered. And I entered the first chapter contest, hopeful and nervous and excited and definitely a bit nauseated.

Fast forward a couple months, and baby number three (hereafter known as Bean) was born on April 2nd. And I dove into those first couple of weeks. And I was so sleep deprived, as one is when one has a brand new baby. And I started to think … can I do this? After all, in a normal year, attending Storymakers completely exhausts me and it takes a full week to recover. And I’d be starting off already sleep-deprived, and I wouldn’t really be able to recover after because baby. And I thought about driving 8 hours with a five-week-old, and staying at someone’s house with a baby waking up 2-3 times a night. And I realized I couldn’t do it. It would just be too hard.

So I decided not to go. But I didn’t get my refund yet. The deadline was April 20th, and I made this decision about a week and a half before. Christine recommended waiting, just in case I changed my mind. That weekend, she and her sister Emily came to stay with me, and Christine read my first chapter out loud so Emily could hear it. And my heart broke. I love this chapter so much and I was so sad it wouldn’t get the chance. Yes, I’d still get the judges’ feedback, but what if? I try really hard to view my work objectively, but I couldn’t stop asking that question. What if I actually placed? What if I didn’t go, and the feedback was so good that I’d wonder if it could’ve made it?

But I’d made my decision, and for the most part I was at peace with it. I was doing what was best for my baby and for my family.

But then, the day after Christine left, I was laying in bed, trying to sleep while the baby sleeps, as they say, when a thought popped into my head: I could go for one day. Fly out Friday night, return Sunday morning, and get my Storymakers fix in between. Plus, attending on Saturday meant I’d get to go to the intensive class I’d signed up for, and my pitch session would get scheduled for that day. And I’d leave the baby behind and get a whole 36 hours to myself. Kurt was on board, I bought the tickets, and soon I was off.

I wasn’t attending just for the contest. As I’ve said before, I love Storymakers. It’s one of the highlights of my year. And I had a great day. I landed after midnight on Saturday morning, went to sleep at 3 am, and flew out at 5 am on Sunday morning. I got less sleep the entire weekend than I do in one night getting up with Bean. But it was so worth it. I spent most of the morning talking with friends, then attended fantastic classes in the afternoon. I was excited for all of this, but especially the pitch session and the contest.

I went into the pitch session nervous, but hopeful. My book checks off multiple items from the agent’s manuscript wishlist. And this is a fantastic agent, one I really wished to impress. The pitch session was also a query+one page critique. It didn’t go well. The agent gave me helpful suggestions about my query, but was unenthusiastic. And then it was time for the agent to read my first page. They did not like it. They thought I began the book in the wrong place, and disliked the character I chose as the POV, and generally suggested I should reconsider my beginning. Now, let me just say that the agent was not unkind or unprofessional. But no matter how kindly someone says those things, they are Hard. To. Hear.

At first I managed not to get too upset. It was just a pitch after all, and I had gained ideas on how to strengthen my query. But as the morning progressed, I grew more and more demoralized. The first page the agent read was the first page of my first chapter. The first page of the chapter I’d submitted to the contest. And the agent had had nothing good to say about it. There was no way I’d do well in the contest.

I was still nervous as lunch started. I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than a salad, I was so nauseated. Then they said they were going to announce the results, and I got really sick. Adult Speculative, my category, was first. Well, at least we’ll get it over with, I thought.

They announced the third place winner. Then the second. And I said to myself that I was done. Maybe I could’ve placed, but that was it.

Life is full of sweet moments, moments you never want to forget. Writing is full of those moments too. I have a list of my favorite moments. It includes Christine saying she thinks the final draft of Feathers Sharp as Knives will be in her top 5 favorite books. And specific compliments from my MFA professors. And, of course, every draft I’ve ever finished because that is the best feeling.


Many thanks to Christine for filming the results, just in case.

But this moment tops that list. The moment they announced the first place winner. The moment they said my title, followed by my name. The moment it finally registered, and I gasped, and my friends cheered, and I wandered, wide-eyed, up to the stage to accept my award. And the flurry of congratulations (because the Storymakers Tribe is incredible) and pictures and processing what had happened. Yes, in case you’re wondering, I teared up. Multiple times. I still do, when I think about it. But I managed not to full-on cry. (At least, I managed not to until I got in the car to drive back to my sister’s house for the night.)

Moments like this are wonderful, and I hope this wasn’t the culmination of my writing career. But even if it was, even if I never see my words in print other than fresh from my own printer, I’ll keep writing. And it’s not just because I’m a masochist. It’s because I love this work. It’s painful at times, and so very, very hard, but it’s incredibly rewarding. And, though my husband considers me crazy to think so, downright fun.

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