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Time to retreat

Golden Heart finalists at the RWA Conference in 2011.

I attended my first chapter retreat–more like a mini writers conference–last weekend, and it was a blast.

Great speakers like Robyn Carr, Elizabeth Boyle, and Diane Gaston told stories and inspired us, reminding us that every writer starts at the bottom.

The Romance Writers of America national conference offers a quantity of content that’s hard to beat, along with the opportunity to meet writer friends I otherwise only “see” online. But I enjoyed the intimate nature of a much smaller local conference where it was easier to connect with people.

And despite the conference size, we still had some amazing speakers and fantastic workshops.

The workshops, as always, sparked some “aha” moments, but there’s nothing like talking to other writers to get your creative juices flowing. For me, that’s where the greatest value of these get-togethers lies.

There were at least two separate instances where I had an epiphany in the middle of discussing one of my manuscripts with another writer. Those moments alone were worth the time and money spent at the retreat.

But the biggest treasure was strengthening friendships and making new ones. In this solitary endeavor we can’t have too many friends who understand and support us.

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.

New York state of mind

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I'm in the Big Apple this week getting my writing batteries recharged at the annual Romance Writers of America conference. (Sans wifi, so this is my first-ever blog post via iPhone.)

I'll be sure to check in next week with all my tales of fun with the Coast Guard and other adventures.

Until then, have a great week and a fabulous 4th of July!

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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Conference call

I spent last Monday through Saturday in Orlando at RWA's 30th Annual National Conference rubbing elbows and sharing air with some amazing authors. (Commence namedropping.) A few highlights:

  • Suzanne Brockmann (one of my all time faves) gave a great workshop on “Theme” and humbled me with her 80-page outlines and 7-book story arcs.
  • Cindy Gerard assured us that self-doubt never goes away, no matter how successful you are. Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips concurred. I sat next to Cindy on a tour bus before I realized who she was, and she was very nice. Happily, I had just read one of her books (SHOW NO MERCY) and loved it, and could honestly say so.
  • Laura Griffin sat with me at lunch and on the tour bus, introduced me to her agent, and offered to critique my next query letter. She was super-friendly and supportive. (Even after I initially got her books confused with another author I've also read. *red face* I knew I was a fan, but I've read too much in the last year to keep it all straight sometimes. *sigh*)
  • Über-agent and author Donald Maass got me thinking in a new way about my story and characters, and just generally got us pumped to write.
  • Nora Roberts reminded us that it's always been hard to get published and that we should quit whining and get to work!
  • And the agent I pitched to gave me good feedback on my pitch and storyline, and requested a partial of Slow Burn. *happy dance*

A few things really stuck with me from the conference:

  1. No matter how successful the author, they still have doubts about their next book. For better or worse, that never seems to go away. So while it sucks that I'll probably always be plagued with fear that my writing isn't good enough, it also means that I'm not alone!
  2. Every author has his/her own process, and there's no right way. Suzanne Brockmann is a heavy plotter. Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes into the mist. Both are tops in their subgenres. Experiment until you find what works for you, and then quit worrying about it.
  3. Most published authors are fairly ordinary. Based on my experiences at conference and in chapter meetings, they are friendly and helpful people with the same joys, sorrows, needs, and frustrations we all share. Everyone that I met was incredibly generous with advice and encouragement. The only thing different about them was the paycheck.

Bottom line: we're all people, and we all have to start somewhere. I imagine everyone at the conference as somewhere on a timeline to publication. Some of us will move up the line faster than others, and some will never reach the published mark, but we all have to follow the same basic steps to get there.

Read, improve our craft, and most important of all: write!

Like Nora Roberts says, “You don't find time to write. You make time. It's my job.” Exactly.

For another take on the conference from my roommate, Christine, check out this post.

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