RWA Conference Report

July 28 2009

In late July I returned home from the Romance Writers of America National Conference pooped, but revved.  Under one roof was a wonderful and cacophonous gathering of 2000 women (plus a few men) who support, encourage, teach and comfort each other. 
 
Fervor sparked every speaker and presentation. Funky, down-to-earth, and as spunky as her heroine Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich opened the conference with stories about her first ten years of writing and being rejected. In fact, the theme of the conference could have been “don’t give up--ever.” Like many creative people, Janet sleeps with a steno pad next to her bed, but hers isn’t just for ideas that pop up in the dark. Every night makes a list of tasks she must accomplish the next day.    
 
Linda Howard, who could build a whole new career as a stand-up comic, claimed she had nothing inspirational to relate, and then kept us laughing as she described her crazy family, adding “bless his heart” or “bless her heart” after each name. 
Meeting famous authors in a setting where we all felt (nearly) equal was a kick.  Late one afternoon I spotted Nora Roberts in the hallway hunched over a stack of her books, scribbling her autograph as fast as she could so the books could be added to the book sales room.  On an impulse, I patted her on the back and whispered a little sarcasm. "Hi, Nora," I said.  "Is this the high life, or what?" 

     After dinner together one evening, a bunch of us from the Wisconsin branch of RWA were strolling back to the hotel, when somebody noticed Linda Howard, bless her heart, walking toward us. Of course, I had to shake her hand and thank her for making us laugh until we cried. She thanked me back and said every story she told was true.  
 
In her luncheon speech, eloquent and lovely Eloisa James stressed the importance of infusing true-to-life emotions into our writing. To make her point, she described how she used one of her own life-altering experiences in an early, very successful historical novel. 
 
Eloisa mentioned that she'd grown up in Minnesota.  As a resident of a neighboring state, I was curious. I waited for the luncheon crowd to clear and asked her what town she came from.  Answer: Madison, MN.  (Never heard of it, but I didn't tell her that.) Before we said goodbye, Eloisa noticed the pink "First Sale" ribbon on my nametag and congratulated me. I was impressed by that generous and thoughtful woman.
 
Out in the hall between sessions, I joined a very short line of people waiting for an autograph from Janet Evanovich.  The woman in front of me asked me to take a photo of her with the author and then ran off so fast I had to chase after her to hand back the camera. Though Janet had been standing in a pair of really high heels all morning (the kind Stephanie would never have worn), she seemed happy to sign one of her books for my sister-in-law, Patsy, who got me hooked on Stephanie Plum adventures.     
 
The eight workshops I attended were helpful and motivating. One presenter shared her personal rule about being rejected by a publisher: “You get six hours to bitch, and then you get back to work.” I needed to hear that. 
 
I was glad I attended Donald Maass’s workshop, “Fire In Fiction,” named for his latest book on the craft of writing. The one-of-a-kind literary agent performed like the genius professor, coaxing the correct answers from his worshipful audience, gesticulating, striding back and forth and sweeping his hand through his brush of black hair. 
 
Since I’d taken one Maass’s classes before, I knew he would give us specific assignments and time to write. At the end of the session, we each left with a bit of what might become a really great story, right there in our notebooks.
 
I must confess I have a new, and of course, perfectly innocent crush.  Saturday morning at a time when most authors are sleeping (or sleeping it off), I joined other lucky women at the “He Said, She Said” workshop led by New York Times best-selling authors Carla Neggers and Andrew Gross. Neggers and Gross read examples from each other's work and then discussed their techniques for revealing a protagonist’s character through the male and female point of view.
 
The bonus for me turned out to be how, um, ahem, really ATTRACTIVE Andrew Gross is.  Check out Mr. Gross on the web.   
 

Besides the scheduled sessions and my two appointments, I attended a casual gathering of other authors who have books published by The Wild Rose Press. TWRP Editor-in-Chief, Rhonda Penders, rounded us up so we could meet each other and share questions and comments about the book market, about the latest TWRP news and (of course) about our own books. Together we made up a happy bouquet of Roses.