Friday, June 28, 2013

Highlights of ICRS 2013

My heart is so full, my brain so stimulated, and my body so wiped out that it’s taking me a few days to process our experience at the International Christian Retail Show 2013. I had hoped to recap the event nightly during our stay, but the night before leaving for St. Louis, we discovered my computer was fried from the two tornadoes that hit in the four days prior. I had to leave home without it.

So now, I will share many of the highlights in random order as they come to me. I'm sure I'll probably forget something, but maybe some of the authors will remind me in the comments.

My own travel plans changed at the last minute due to the two tornadoes and some major family issues that still are not resolved. Tim stayed home to deal with some of it, and I rode to ICRS with Fay Lamb – we met for the first time at Catch the Wave last year where we both taught workshops, and both friendship and professional relationship developed. I’m honored to be publishing several of Fay’s books, and thrilled we had the opportunity to spend more time together during ICRS. Fay is hilarious, fun, curious, courageous, passionate, creative, intelligent, has a heart made of gold, and loves the Lord with all her might. (She’s all that, and I didn’t even have to tell you she considers herself a klutz, too!)

There were 10 of us representing Write Integrity Press and Pix-N-Pens Publishing: Fay Lamb, Vicki Tiede, Peggy Cunningham and her husband Chuck, Dianne E. Butts and her husband Hal, Marie Wells Coutu and her husband Ed, volunteer assistant Suzy Moore, and myself.


Peggy Cunningham and Marie Wells Coutu
at Bailey's Range - what a fun place!
Meeting some of our authors for the very first time and getting to know them personally. When we offer contracts, I talk to most of them on the phone, and we exchange e-mails regularly, so I get a good feel for their personality, but until we’re face-to-face, it’s impossible to know if my impressions are on target. Many times during ICRS, I marveled at how special these ladies are – professionally and personally. Hardworking, dedicated, passionate, creative, intelligent, fun. And just so lovely, inside and out. Their smiles, laughter, joy are contagious and if I ever get stranded on a deserted island, I’d want every one of them with me. I’m truly grateful to God for bringing all of us together.

Hearing Peggy Cunningham’s voice for the first time. Peggy and Chuck are missionaries in Bolivia so our contract negotiations all took place by e-mail. From looking at her headshot, and reading her words, my brain thought she had a soft, Southern, genteel voice – and I was so WRONG! Peggy’s voice is bold with a Pennsylvania accent – and every word she speaks is filled with such fun I’m sitting here smiling at the memory of it.

Dianne E. Butts during her booksigning
Seeing with my own eyes that Dianne E. Butts’ voice and mannerisms are as soft as they seem in phone conversations yet her body and spirit are tough as they come. Dianne is a walking miracle, and I say that in awe of our Mighty God. A week or so before ICRS Dianne had a motorcycle accident that could have been much, much worse. She was traveling 60 mph on the interstate with her husband (riding in front of her) and a friend (riding behind her), when her front tire went flat. She sideswiped an RV before going down, rolling over and over. The good Lord gave her the ability to process everything as it was happening, and she realized she was in the middle of the highway and could get run over, so she dragged herself (by damaged elbow) to the side of the road. She has a chipped ankle, a cut requiring stitches on her elbow, and lots of road rash on arms and legs. Later, after viewing her full-face helmet, they discovered she may have landed on her face during the initial fall. Her face is beautiful and blemish-free. Dianne’s presence and active participation at ICRS was an inspiration to us all, and a reminder to take nothing in this life for granted.

Storms outside St. Louis, just before we arrived.
I continue to marvel at the very presence of all of us in attendance at ICRS. The weeks leading up the event were mind-boggling with crazy events occurring for all of us. The enemy obviously didn’t want us there, but we all persevered. In those weeks before the conference, we experienced the motorcycle accident, two tornadoes and a tree in a house, major health issues, major plumbing problems, major car problems, book and marketing issues, travel ordeals, food poisoning, trips to the ER, fried computer, fried modem, and major family issues. And 30 minutes outside St. Louis, Fay and I encountered another storm that looked like it had a funnel cloud. When her phone started blasting out warnings of flash floods we pulled over to wait out the storm! With the battles each of us went through, it’s a wonder any of us are still standing, and a great testimony to God that we all made it to ICRS. [After we left St. Louis heading home, we learned of the underground explosions across the street from the convention center. All of this is a bit overwhelming, don’t you think?]

Marie Wells Coutu during her booksigning
Discovering that Marie Wells Coutu and her husband Ed know EVERYONE. She works for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and has attended ICRS in previous years. But it was amazing and fun to discover just how many people know them.

Hanging with Vicki Tiede twice in the same year! What a blessing. But I keep wondering if she set any records with the number of media interviews she had? Wow! And she never lost her voice at all! (Keep an eye out – we’ll be sharing some of those interviews in the coming days and weeks.)

Vicki Tiede and Shaun Tabatt
Meeting Shaun Tabatt, owner of Cross Focused Media. What a special man. He interviewed so many people – including all our authors. Watch for those too! (Shaun is also one who knew the Coutus – Ed was his Boy Scout leader years ago!)

Meeting in person for the first time several precious prayer warriors I’ve known online for years: Pam Meyers, Laura Hilton, Martha Rogers, Bonnie Calhoun. These precious ladies have been a blessing to me for years, and meeting them in person was an honor and a heart blessing.

Visiting with Cecil Murphey for the second time this year, and FINALLY, FINALLY, FINALLY meeting the incredible Twila Belk.

Discovering how special the husbands truly are – Chuck Cunningham, Hal Butts, Ed Coutu – supported, participated, assisted, encouraged, prayed. The ones who weren’t – Marc Lamb, Mike Tiede, Tim Ruckman, Lanny Moore – held down the forts at home, at times managing some pretty difficult situations yet also provided support, encouragement, and prayers for all of us in our absence. (Marc and Fay lost a beloved pet during our trip, Tim dealt with all the storm mess I left behind, and Mike dealt with a houseful of kids – in addition to all their regular responsibilities.)  The support and love I witnessed between all the couples just brings me to tears as I write this. What a blessing.

Left side, front to back: Hal and Dianne E. Butts, Vicki Tiede, Suzy Moore.
Right side, front to back: Chuck Cunningham, Hal Coutu,
Marie Wells Coutu, Peggy Cunningham, and Tracy Ruckman. Fay Lamb is behind the camera.

Suzy Moore. My goodness. I only met Suzy online a few weeks ago, through Dianne. Suzy lives in the St. Louis area, and volunteered her services to assist us any way we needed while we were in town. She is incredible – and such fun. She fit right in with all of us, and instantly became part of the WIP/PNP family. Suzy, thank you for all you did – you went above and beyond every step of the way, and we all appreciate you so much.

I find it interesting that I’m already at 1000 words on this post, and I haven’t even mentioned the book signings, which is why we were there in the first place! Each author had one hour to sign and give away 60 books. (I realized sometime between the 4th and 5th signings that we were actually giving away 65 books each, because I’d taken 5 extra copies of each book to get the authors to sign them for the FaithFunder campaign. I’ll be gathering and sending those out in the coming weeks!)

Our book signings were brisk and fun, and we met book buyers from Nigeria, Finland, Scotland, Australia, New
Zealand (Debbie Roome, you’ll be proud to know I recognized their accents!), the UK, Canada, Mexico, and all over the United States. A representative from one of the large publishing houses told one of our authors that the only way we’d give out all of our books was if we offered chocolate – but we didn’t need to do that! One of our authors gave away 65 books in 28 minutes! Talk about a fast signing! We averaged about 40 minutes for each of the signings – what a blessing.

Teamwork. I’ve never experienced a group of people acting as a team as much as this group at ICRS – and it wasn’t even intentionally done. We all seemed to operate in sync – and it was so remarkable I know it was truly God’s hand directing us. At one point, several of us were walking down one of the aisles – surrounded by the big guys like Zondervan and Harper Collins. I heard someone we passed say, “There goes Write Integrity.” Only God could have made that happen!!

One personal note about the trip. On Monday, I had brunch with a dear friend I haven’t seen since I graduated high school. Maggie Madonia showed me around St. Louis – the town really is incredible and I hope we can go visit and play there some more! The architecture is beautiful! I just don’t understand how Maggie hasn’t aged a bit in all these years!! Maggie, thank you for the awesome bag of St. Louis goodies. And for the recommendation of Bailey's Range - the food, atmosphere, and service were awesome.That gooey butter cake made it home to Tim safe and sound – and we love it!! Pete – I’m so sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet.

A special, public thank you to all those who contributed to the FaithFunder campaign. None of this would have happened without you – we’re truly grateful to you for making the book signings possible. You’ll be hearing from me in the next couple of weeks!

When I returned home, I had a check waiting to replace the computer that was fried. It arrived just moments ago. The check came from a friend who believes in our mission, believes in our company, and wanted to bless us in a tangible way. I’m grateful beyond words.

Fay and I returned to North Carolina on Wednesday, Tim's birthday, so I was able to spend the rest of the day with him, celebrating his special day.

Hopefully, from this massive list, you’ll see why my heart is so full – overflowing, actually – with God’s goodness and mercy. I am encouraged by our authors and challenged anew to publish, support, encourage, and promote their books with my whole being – and I encourage YOU to support and encourage them too. How? Buy their books for yourself and to give as gifts. Leave reviews. Visit their websites and blogs – leave comments. Send notes. Invite them to your church or local bookstore, writer’s group, civic group, for a book signing, reading, or even a Skype session. Talk about their books with your family and friends. Pray for them. Our books are our mission field, and the more people we encounter, the larger our field – and potential to impact more lives – grows.

A grateful heart, indeed.


Anonymous said...

Tracy, you said it all. However, I'm trying to figure out who you mistook for me... :-)

Kristi Butler said...

What a fabulous experience!! I'm rejoicing with you in all the answered prayer!! God is so faithful! Thanks for sharing so beautifully!

Phee Paradise said...

I'm so glad you were all blessed. It's going to be fun to see how God increases His blessings.