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Friendship, research, and craft: RWA13

RWAbadgeI spent last week at the Mecca for romance writers, RWA’s National Conference, which took place in Atlanta this year. I listened to inspiring, educational, and sometimes heart wrenching speeches by the likes of Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Courtney Milan, Cathy Maxwell, and Kristan Higgins.

On my annual tour with the Kiss of Death (KOD) chapter–for writers of romantic mystery and suspense–the Atlanta firefighters shared their lifestyle, equipment, and stories. And, for the fourth year in a row, I made a new friend. The KOD tour is always worth every penny.

ATLFireTruckAt the conference, I learned about self-publishing from best sellers Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, and Gerri Russell. A former green beret provided information about weapons, training, operations, and jargon. A cop-turned-writer shared undercover procedures and interesting stories from her time working narcotics for the Los Angeles sheriff’s department.

Plus there were the craft sessions. Characterization, hooks, suspense, plotting, and more. On Saturday morning, I even gave my own workshop on creating e-books with Scrivener.

There’s nothing quite like a whole week of rubbing shoulders with successful and aspiring authors, rekindling old relationships, and making new friends. An entire week surrounded by people who “get” me. Those who understand that particular brand of crazy that makes us writers.

That’s why I go to conference.

Hanging with my Kiss & Thrill blog sisters, Manda Collins and Sarah Andre, in Atlanta.

Hanging with my Kiss & Thrill blog sisters, Manda Collins (L) and Sarah Andre (R), in Atlanta.

Georgia on my mind (RWA13)

Out for a run with Laura Griffin in Anaheim.

Out for a run with Laura Griffin in Anaheim.

Next week is the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Atlanta. I have so much to do!

I think my wardrobe shopping is done. I just need to determine each day’s outfit, try it on, and take a picture for Evernote so I won’t forget what I planned to wear. (Yes, I’m THAT type. You’re surprised?) This is how I stay organized and limit what I take to one carry on suitcase and a tote bag. That’s right, I get two cocktail dresses, heels, five days of professional wear, evening outfits, workout clothes, toiletries, and all my shoes into one bag.

Rolling the clothes is key. As is limiting shoes. Luckily, I’m not a shoe hound. 😉

Newbie me with AJ Brower in Orlando.

Newbie me with AJ Brower in Orlando.

Despite all the prep, planning, and expense, I love conference. I learn new things about writing and the publishing industry, make new friends, and catch up with old friends. I come away energized (after about a week of recovery sleep), motivated, and inspired.

This will be my fourth year attending Nationals, and every one has been worth it. Each year has had different personal theme associated with it, and this time is no different. The 2010 conference in Orlando was the first year I’d attended a writing conference of any kind. I hardly knew anyone outside my local writing chapter in the beginning, but by the end I’d made several friends that I still keep up with.

Romantic Suspense Golden Heart® finalists in NYC

Romantic Suspense Golden Heart® finalists in NYC.

The second year in New York, I was a Golden Heart® finalist. The whole week was an absolute whirlwind, but a lot of fun. I  had made a  bunch of online friends in the intervening year, and it was neat to meet many of them in NYC.

My first year as a published author!

My first year as a published author!

Last year in Anaheim was a biggie. It was my first year attending as a published author (though not in romance), and the number of people I knew from previous meetings, my online classes, or online writing groups was staggering.

This year will be my first time presenting at the national conference. I’m giving a workshop on Saturday morning called “E-books Made Easy with Scrivener”. I expect I’ll see many familiar faces and learn lots of new ones. I’m excited!

If you’re going to Atlanta, I hope to see you there. 🙂

2000 friends

Many of the Golden Heart finalists at The Golden Network retreat (yes, that's me down in front)

It’s heady stuff being surrounded by 2000+ people who get you. That’s why I will save up my money each year to attend the RWA National Conference. Not only is everyone in attendance a writer, editor, or agent, but they are largely romance writers, and mostly women.

Nationals is the place where I can be exactly what I am—a romance writer—and feel totally loved, accepted, and encouraged for it. I can turn in any direction and grab a random woman-with-a-badge, and she’ll be able to commiserate with me about the genre’s detractors, the pain of rejection, the agony of revisions, and the heartbreak when the muse has left the building.

And more than that, she’ll likely share any tips she has for how to overcome whatever my issue of the moment is. If I’m nervous about my editor appointment, she’ll probably offer to listen to my pitch or tell me her experience—whether first- or secondhand—with the person I’m meeting.

If I’m feeling insecure about all the rejections, she’ll likely remind me how long today’s bestselling authors chugged away at it before finding an agent or publisher who believed in them.

Hundreds of writers at the annual PRO retreat, 3 hours of information and encouragement.

The sense of community that RWA offers online and at chapter meetings is amplified exponentially at Conference. It’s a little slice of time out of “the normal” that’s almost unreal.

I come home shell-shocked and frazzled and exhausted, and ready to dig back into my writing, energized by the support, wisdom, and perseverance of my peers. I come home with new friends and improved relationships. I come home having met online friends in person, finally solidifying that spark of common ground that we found on Twitter, an email loop, or on a blog.

Writing—in any genre—is not for the faint of heart. It’s a solitary, lonely business fraught with rejection and hard work. Nationals is where I renew my writerly soul with knowledge, friendship, and motivation.

I realize not everyone can attend. Money, family, and work can get in the way. But romance writer or not, you don’t have to go it alone. Find a local or online group, follow #writing or #amwriting on Twitter. Hang out with me and my friends on this blog. 😉

Everybody needs support. There are no gold stars or A’s for effort, but writing friends will always be happy to talk you up, or down, as needed.

Just try us.

Undressed

© Darren Green | Dreamstime.com

I’m leaving for the RWA National Conference on Sunday, and I have this fear that I’m going to forget something important. Like my awards night dress.

Sounds silly, but unfortunately, it’s not unprecedented.

Back on 2002, we drove from Santa Maria (CA) to Phoenix to visit family and attend my childhood friend’s wedding reception in Tucson. We packed up the car for our overnight trip, left the kids with grandma, and hit the road with enough time to make the drive, check in to our hotel, change, and walk downstairs for the festivities.

Unfortunately, the kids weren’t the only thing we left in Phoenix. Hanging neatly on the closet door of our guest room were my dress and my husband’s shirt, slacks, and tie. When did we figure it out? As soon as we pulled into the hotel parking lot and grabbed our bags.

We looked at each other and asked, “Where are our clothes?” Followed by a few choice expletives.

Somewhat reminiscent of the frantic race to sell our van in Los Angeles just the year before, we checked in to the hotel—coincidentally, the one where we got married—and made a mad dash to the mall for suitable attire. Sadly, our shorts and flip flops just wouldn’t do.

I’m proud to say that after weeks spent looking for a dress in California, I found a new one in 45 minutes flat. The Engineer had equal success with his own threads and we were “only” about an hour late for the two-and-a-half-hour event.

At least we got new clothes and a night in a gorgeous hotel without the kids out of it. Too bad the stress probably took days off my life…

Conference call

The Romance Writers of America national conference is coming at the end of the month, and I can’t wait. This is my second one, and it will be extra special because it’s in New York City. And being a Golden Heart finalist this year is going to be pretty darn cool, too!

Two years ago I couldn’t imagine why I’d want to spend so much money on traveling, hotel, food, and conference fees. Could it really be worth it?

Oh yeah, baby.

Conferences are about more than just workshops, agent/editor pitches, and motivational speeches. The real value is in meeting—and being surrounded by—so many people who do what you do and write what you write. I don’t have to explain the struggles I face. These other women (mostly) face them every day too.

They “get” me.

Last year I came back armed with more than increased craft knowledge. I came away armed with new writer friends, a face-to-face connection with former online-only friends, and a new level of energy that went into my work.

Conferences can refill a writer’s well when she’s running dry. And you can never have too many friends who really, truly “get” you.

How about you? Are you going to RWA11, or any other conferences this year? Why do you go? Or why not?

Kiss of Death

So you know I went to the RWA National Conference last week and met fabulous writers, both published and unpublished. I arrived a couple days early to participate in activities with my online romantic suspense/mystery chapter: Kiss of Death (KOD).

Yes, it’s a bunch of ladies (and a few men) trying to figure out interesting ways to kill people…uh, I mean characters. On Tuesday (7/27), we took a tour of MacDill AFB near Tampa, and started the day with an inside/outside tour of a KC-135 Stratotanker (a refueling plane), complete with two pilots and a boom operator to answer questions.

The KC-135 Stratotanker, ready for 45 romance writers to board

 

It was awesome. The guys had great stories, and the KC-135 has an incredibly important mission. For one example of how they support other aircraft, check out this article.

After baking in the heat and humidity, we had lunch with airmen who had volunteered to eat with us and answer questions. Laura Griffin, Lexi Connor, and I sat with a Senior Airman who worked in satellite communications. He was shy but happy to talk about his career and future goals.

We left the group with thank you bags (which I diligently stuffed the night before along with many new KOD friends) with free books and goodies from our published authors, several of whom were in the room, though most of the men and women who joined us had no idea.

After lunch we went over to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), which has a hangar on the base. These are the crazy folks that fly into hurricanes and other storms to monitor and study them. Among other things. The pilot we talked to was a former Navy flier. NOAA is actually a uniformed service (though not an armed service), so he gets to retain his rank, pay, and retirement. NOAA falls under the Department of Commerce.

Cool fact: Jim Henson created muppet mascots for three of NOAA’s planes. Uncool fact: Disney will not give NOAA the license to use any other muppets for the newer planes in the fleet.

NOAA plane with original Beaker and Super Gonzo art by Jim Henson

 

We ended our day with the parachute riggers (the guys who pack the chutes). I thought this would be boring, but it might have been the most fun part of the whole day. We got a static-line chute packing demonstration, a simulator demo, and a talk from the free-fall riggers who were also jump masters.

And yes, the free-fall guys were under the special forces umbrella. I saw that maroon beret peeking out from a pants pocket…

Static-line jumps are for low altitude jumps, and the chute is triggered by the line to which the jumper is attached. You see these on TV and movies all the time where the guys are hooked to a cable and they jump one after another while somebody yells “Go, go, go”, and their chutes open almost immediately after they clear the plane. The person yelling is the jump master, by the way.

Static-line chute rigger

 

Free fall chutes are used for high altitude jumps where there’s a need to go in quiet. They are shaped differently from the static-line chutes, and are made of more durable material. You may have heard of HALO (high altitude low opening) or HAHO (high altitude high opening) jumps. These are often used by special forces. The men can be dropped miles away from their target (often at night) and avoid detection by the bad guys.

Free-fall rigging

We grilled the guys on how to kill someone by messing with their parachute and determined it was near impossible without involving an entire group of people. Ah, well. Another method then.

The day wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without all of the new friends I made. It was great being surrounded not only by writers, but by a whole group of people mainly focused on romantic suspense.

The Kiss of Death has breathed new life into my writing, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

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Look out Mickey

All I can say is that the RWA board rocks with socks. Due to the flooding in Nashville, the Gaylord Opryland hotel could no longer accommodate our National convention this year. RWA’s 30th, and my 1st. Bummers abounded until the board pulled through and booked us in the Disney Orlando resort for the same dates.

I’m so impressed, and though I may have to cough up airfare (or endure a really long drive), I can’t wait.

RWA has made me proud to be a member over this last year. First with the whole Harlequin debacle, and now handling this major catastrophe so well.

Bravo.

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