RWA is a writer’s conference. It is about the business and craft of writing. As a non aspiring writer, I went as a fan and a blogger to see what it was all about.
While some authors were not happy to see readers and bloggers at RWA, most everyone that I met was delightful. Of course, the first question that springs to mind is whether I will be reviewing these authors in the future. Absolutely. I would think that the authors I met would expect that I be fair and honest else they wouldn’t visit in the future and neither would the rest of you. Further, all these authors deserve to be given an honest and non patronizing review. To do otherwise would indicate I have no respect for them.
Wednesday for me, and for RWA, is all about the literacy signing. When I arrived at the Marsalis ballroom, I was met with quiet and peace. I had no idea what was coming. We worked for hours, unpacking and repacking and counting the books. Then alphabetizing these hundreds of books. When I left at noon, the room was in shambles and I had doubts that in the next five hours, it would be useable. I didn’t want to leave but I had to because I was so hungry and tired, I thought I was going to pass out.
Lisa Kleypas said she was treating us to lunch that day, or rather the Spanish were treating us to lunch. I hoped that the Spanairds were really good to her because by the time noon rolled around, I was surviving on fumes and was ready to eat one whole spanish bull. Lisa Kleypas’ generosity of spirit was inspiring. She was gracious, engaging and pretty amazing. I don’t think I have enough words to describe how amazing she was. We did talk about reader reviews and she stated that her opinion was that everyone should feel free to state their own opinion. She also said that praise was harder to accept than criticism for her.
The Literacy Signing is an event that is open to the public. Anyone can come and wait for hours in lines to buy books they likely may already own for a chance to meet with authors that they love. Some authors, like Nora Roberts and JR Ward, stay patiently until the bitter and long end to greet each reader. Others signed their books and left early.
I ended up volunteering at the signing because RWA needed it. I don’t know if an event like this can be better organized but if you, as a reader, felt like we were disorganized, it was because we were. I was told different things by different people. Some were saying I had to rip a receipt to ensure that they didn’t come in again and use the same receipt to get new books. Others said to just watch and see if they paid. When I directed traffic, funneling the long line into smaller lines, I didn’t know what I was doing either. And it was just as frustrating for me as it was for those standing in line. Ironically, there were authors who wanted to buy their books and get out of Dodge. They were standing in a line parallel to the readers. Some of these authors were complaining quite loudly about standing in line. I thought that was pretty foolish given that the readers were standing in line right next to them.
Thursday started out with the Samhain breakfast. While I was there, there was little talk of the news of the previous day that may find epublished authors de-recognized. Instead, everyone was fairly upbeat. Mandy Roth and Michelle Pillow were sitting with us. It seemed like a good pairing. Mandy was the extrovert and Michelle much quieter. Angie was in person who she was on her blog. I did ask her whether she would be doing any belly dancing as she has blogged about taking lessons but either she waited until I was gone to perform or she refused altogether.
I volunteered at the book fair room which mostly had me standing around and bothering the possible customers. ::shrug:: Being in the book fair room ended up being fortuitous because I was able to meet Linda Howard and kind of embarrass myself. I was explaining to another reader that I had read Howard’s soon to be released book, Up Close and Dangerous, and that it was like Alive but that they didn’t eat each other. Pause. I stumbled on, “Well, I mean. . . ” Linda Howard then says something like, “Actually . . .” You guys get the picture right? I think I was blushing.
By this time, the announcement regarding the changes in the PAN and publisher recognition were beginning to filter from group to group. Erotic romance authors were declaring that they were being marginalized, “once again.” I had to disagree. The changes were in response to epublishing and not in response to erotic romance. Erotic romance is part of RWA and of romance and it is not going anywhere. Sub genre classification had nothing to do with the changes and the instability of epublishers that can spring up overnight had everything to do with it. If it was inspirational romances that were being published primarily in e format and there were the same Triskelion like problems, it would have come down the same way.
Friday was the day of parties. It was book signings and meetings and parties and while fun, it was completely exhausting. I had the great opportunity to meet Marisa and Maria of RomanceNovelTV. These ladies are professional producers and are doing this because they love romance. You can hear it in their voices and their body language as they lean in toward you and excitedly share their opinions of the genre. They have great things planned in the future and it is definitely something to watch in the future.
The greatest surprise was seeing Judith McNaught at the Random House party. Random House held their publisher party at the Mansion at Turtle Creek. When I first stepped into the hotel, I was greeted by an oasis of silence. The Hyatt, where the conference was at, is one non stop place of noise, unbearable noise at that. The room where the party was held was small and low lit. There was an open bar with a center table of delicious food.
The authors’ nametags were their covers which I thought was very clever. Shawn O’Gallagher, senior publicist, greeted everyone as we came in and did a great job of introducing us to her authors. Julie Kenner and I chatted about adoption. Jaci Burton looked adorable in her strapless white and red sundress. Judith McNaught took a hankering to Burton and took her around the room introducing her to various Random House authors.
The Penguin party was lovely. A waiter met us at the door with hot crab cakes and glasses of wine. I spotted Claudia Dain chatting with Tommy Dreiling, the Barnes and Noble buyer. It was his first conference and I think he was overwhelmed by the estrogen overload. Cindy Hwang and Jayne Ann Krentz came to talk to him and then a few other authors such as Marjorie Liu, but I think he would have liked to have made more connections. Authors need to be more proactive about this. I ended up sitting with Sue Grimshaw at the Passionate Ink luncheon and there were several other places open but no one seemed to want to sit with us.
Probably the most interesting part of the conversation was when Dreiling spoke on the issue of erotic romance covers. He reiterated that Barnes and Noble was a family store and that there are some covers that are simply too explicit. I understand that there was at least one book from a NY publisher that Barnes and Noble is not stocking to the surprise of the publisher. I don’t have a problem with this. There is no reason that erotic romance covers can’t be tasteful. I thought Eden Bradley’s covers, both for The Dark Garden and the Darker Side of Pleasure are a great example of tasteful but very erotic covers.
Friday evening ended with the Harlequin party and it was amazing. The ballroom was filled with women and happiness. As schlocky as this sounds, there was so much exuberance in the room that it was infectious. Not one person looked unhappy and truthfully why would you be there if you were? The Harlequin party wasn’t about networking or promotions or anything. It was simply about fun and joy. I got to dance to ABBA with Anne Marie Winston. She’s a pretty good partner but used to her husband leading. I didn’t take any pictures that night. I felt like to do so would be catching people in unguarded moments. It was simply too good of a time to mar in anyway.
One of my biggest disappointments was that I did not get to meet Malle Vallik of Harlequin. Next year, I am going to hunt her down so that we can talk about our mutual love of ebooks.
Saturday was all about the Nora party. The reason I say that is because I was ready to go home. I missed my family tremendously. Everytime someone asked to see my iPhone, I saw a picture of my daughter and I longed for her. Kristie J and Wendy told me it was only one more day, that Nora Roberts invited us to an exclusive shindig and they were right. I could make it.
I have to take a moment to say what a wonderful time I had with Kristie and Wendy and Sybil. They were fun and dear people with whom I wouldn’t hesitate to embark on another venture.
Laura Reeth, the protein pusher and publicist extraordinaire for Nora Roberts, asked which author or authors did not sound like their online personas and I didn’t have a good answer for her.
After meeting Kresley Cole, I do now. Kresley Cole looks like an unattainable goddess in her promotional pictures and her emails to me have been businesslike. I wanted to meet her but was much intimidated. She is, however, completely unlike the aura her photo puts forth. She is still just as gorgeous but friendly, down to earth, and funny. More than anything, I could see her Valkyrie heroines in her. She’s a take no crap, but lets have as much fun as possible living kind of person.
I did notice that Ruth Ryan Langan has this enormous entourage following her wherever she goes, including some big name author named Nora somebody or other. When I saw them, they were either eating or drinking. I am not sure how she stays so tiny. She should write a book on that some day. How I Ate and Drank My Way to Thinness. It’s a guaranteed bestseller.
With Nora, I walked a fine line between being totally stupid and superficially in control. I think, at times, that I appeared normal and others she was re-evaluating her invitation to me. At the party, I caved and whipped out pictures of my daughter. Either to make me feel better or because she is a big show off, she returned with pictures of her family complete with her apple cheeked, slightly red haired grandchildren. Clearly her progeny. They were way cute.
The funny thing is as we were all getting ready for the party, we realized that there was no room number on the invitation. We had been invited to the party but had no idea where it was. We called a couple of numbers but the hotel front desk wasn’t handing out room numbers to any freak who called them swearing that they had an invitation. Finally, Wendy and I headed out of the room and downstairs. On the elevator we spotted someone with an invitation and she reluctantly told us the room number. Thankfully Wendy had brought her invitation to show that we had a legitimate reason for going.
Upstairs I was forced to eat plate after plate of food. If you were there and thought I ate too much, I was doing so under duress and not because the little panini sandwiches were delicious.
I think to some extent these conferences are not so much educational but spiritual as writers come to meet with other writers to get a sense of community in a largely solitary endeavor. Kristie J wrote a great post about being with poeple who know you. To some great extent that is what the convention is about. People talking the same language with you. For writers, I think that there is a sense of affirmation that they are doing something right. That for all the time that they spend, laboring over a laptop or desktop typing out the words appearing in their head, that for all the criticism they receive, either individually for their books or for aspiring to write trash, that there is a purpose and a correspondingly positive result.
I came away from the conference with a greater love for my genre. For all the petty arguments, the dark side of giveaways, the politics, the strained politeness, romance writers are doing good. They are taking us away, with their creativity, from the mundane to the magical. And if you ever go to the conference, you’ll meet these craftswomen, these artists and you’ll believe that you are reading a genre filled with vibrant, beautiful, intelligent women. And you’ll believe that you can be proud that you read a romance.