Where can you take writing classes with your favorite authors, mingle with the rock stars of romance, chat with RITA Award winners, pitch in person to literary agents (without puking), and make new friends from around the world? The Romance Writers of America National Conference, of course.
For those of you not in the romance reading and/or writing community:
RWA = Romance Writers of America, an organization of 10k+ kick-ass published and unpublished romance fiction writers, publishing industry professionals, librarians, and booksellers who support the romance genre
RITA = the Oscar of the romance writing world
The 2017 RWA National Conference was held here in Orlando last week and I’m still detoxing from experience and information overload. I’d been waiting years to attend. I wish I’d gone sooner.
The first morning I drove to Disney while blasting the Hamilton soundtrack. Not only is it an inspiring work of genius, but if you sing/rap along it loosens the tongue. As I sang along to “I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot” my eyes began watering. I fought back the tears. I was not going to ruin my makeup. But this was my shot. I had two agents to pitch and four days to make a mark. To feel like I belonged. To make a game plan for my career. To believe I was a “real” writer.
Friends and family in the real world usually don’t consider you are a real writer if you aren’t published. They believe it’s a cute hobby. Easy. Like crochet, only with no homemade potholders to show off at Christmastime.
Like hell it is.
There were SO MANY unpublished writers at the conference, all eager to suck up information, hone skills, and gain inspiration. We were not alone.
And the “rock stars” of romance, the hard-working success stories of the writing world, welcomed us with open arms. Literally. These women are huggers. As they embraced me I hoped some of their writing mojo would sprinkle onto me. No, seriously, I’m getting weepy just thinking about it. Beverly Jenkins hugged me. So many others.
There’s only one problem with the whole success by osmosis idea: the number one thing I learned was that there is no secret formula. Just a buttload of hard work.
So, my Kristan Higgin’s story:
The first day I attended the First Timers’ Orientation. Robin Covington, Eliza Knight, Dee Davis, Laura Kaye, and Damon Suede welcomed us newbies and tried to convince us that no one at Nationals eats the young and we’d survive and possibly even enjoy ourselves. Yeah, an easy sell for a bunch of introverts who feel like fumbling ball boys at the World Series. A few big names snuck in at the end of the session to say hello. Kristan, one of the key writers I’d hoped to meet, was one of them.
When the session was over, I waited for my chance to say hello. The girl is popular. Even multi-published authors can’t help to go all fan-girl around her. I finally got my chance to shake her hand and casually mention that she was the reason I was at RWAs and one of the main reasons I write contemporary romance.
She gave me a hug. Said I was making her eyes water. Then she asked me what I was writing and how it was going. When I mentioned that I was pitching on Friday, her eyes lit. “You want to practice with me?” she asked.
Yes? No? Of course! I tried not to panic. Or throw up.
While we waited for the room to clear out, she introduced me to all the amazing writers passing by to chat with her. They were all so kind. Welcoming. Treated me like an equal. And they promised me Kristan was very “nice” and wouldn’t make me cry.
When the room finally emptied, she sat across from me. I was so dang nervous I had to read my pitch to her. It was like that dream when you’re on stage and you forget all your lines and Meryl Streep is waiting for her cue. She asked me probing questions about my characters and story. Helped me focus on the more gripping aspects. Fed me confidence.
Little old me. She made me believe that I was just as important as any of the other writers there. She made me believe that if I worked hard enough, I had a chance. By believing in me, she made me believe in myself.
Nurturing. This organization has it down.
And no, I didn’t get a picture with Kristan. I was attempting to be a pro. Yes, I’m kicking myself. The next day at the PRO Retreat she used my story as an example. I may have swooned. I felt like a rock star. I only hope I can share the love with other aspiring authors as completely someday.
Virgina Kantra Story:
The scene: Keynote Luncheon with Susan Wiggs. Me and two-thousand or so writers in a ballroom for the third time (first being Golden Heart Award Luncheon, second the RITA Award Ceremony the night before). I wasn’t sure I could take more peopling, so I grabbed a seat a table in the back in case I needed to sneak out. The table filled up, and someone asked if she could grab the last seat left beside me. Sure.
She noticed my first timers ribbon and asked how I was enjoying it. I asked if it was her first time, too. Then she shifted and I could read her name badge…and I noticed the ten RITA pins lining the top. Open mouth, insert foot.
Turns out this lovely latecomer was Virginia Kantra, a ten-time RITA nominee who’d won the Best Mid-length Contemporary Romance RITA the night before. When we weren’t listening to Susan Wigg’s inspiring speech, Virginia peppered us with writing stories, business advice, and kindness. The woman knows how to network. I paid attention.
When she asked if she should bring her RITA Award statue to her signing later that day, we were all like “heck yeah!”
She did. She let me f
ondle hold it. Inspiration.
Part 2 coming soon!