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New York-New York: Back-to-back conferences in Manhattan

times square

At the end of July and early August, I spent two consecutive weekends in New York City, mingling with my kind—aka writers, you know, the ones who understand why I stare at the wall and call it “working”—exploring the busy streets on foot, attending workshops, and giving my own presentations (on Scrivener and self-publishing).

The first weekend, I attended the Romance Writers of America (RWA) annual national conference. Imagine 2000 writers and industry professionals, 99% of them women, talking plot, characterization, self-publishing, industry trends, writer’s block, query letters, and work-life balance.

The fun goes from sunup till midnight for four straight days. Once conference starts, you could easily never leave the hotel. After you've faced the mad crush of Times Square, Hell's Kitchen, and Broadway—think facing off at the line of scrimmage—you might not want to. 😉

[click an image to enlarge]

Gwen and Keely with plaques

Can you tell I woke early and spent the morning on a train? Keely Thrall and I won signed quotes from Nora Roberts at the Golden Network retreat on Wednesday.

central park west

Running down Central Park West before the conference starts on Thursday.

fruit stand

A fruit stand we found on 8th Ave in Hell's Kitchen on the way back from dinner. I loaded up on snacks.

Hudson River

Running north on the Hudson River Friday morning.

Kiss and Thrill friends

All but one of us from kissandthrill.com managed to attend RWA this year. It was great to catch up with each other in person.

Highline Trail

The Highline Trail (an old elevated railway turned multi-use path).

Hudson River and Highline Trail

View of the Hudson from the Highline Trail.

Funny ad on building

This ad made me laugh on my run to the Hudson River. You can just see the USS Intrepid at the bottom right of the picture.

The following weekend, I returned for the annual Writer’s Digest (WD) conference, an event for all types of writers in both fiction and nonfiction. In my unscientific visual survey, the 800 or so writers, agents, and editors in attendance appeared to be split roughly 50/50 between women and men. That definitely affects the atmosphere (not better or worse, just different).

Since WD is affiliated with a magazine rather than a membership organization, most people didn’t know each other—and many of them seemed to be earlier in their writing career—but everyone was friendly and excited. I met three people in the first hour, just standing in line to register (wrong line, oops) and sitting on the hotel’s mezzanine. Along with the workshops and keynote speakers, the pitch slam—like speed dating with agents and editors—was a huge draw.

It was also nice being in Midtown East, which despite boasting Grand Central Station, the United Nations, Park Ave, Madison Ave, and the Chrysler Building, was far less crowded than the west side.

Roosevelt Hotel lobby

The lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel from the mezzanine level.

grand central exterior

I stumbled upon Grand Central Station while walking down Park Ave on my way home from dinner the first night.

Chrysler building and Grand Central Station

The Chrysler Building at sunset, towering over Grand Central Station.

Inside Grand Central

Inside Grand Central. There's even an Apple Store.

Ceiling inside Grand Central Station

Part of the ceiling inside Grand Central Station. Zodiac signs in the stars.

Freedom Tower

On Saturday morning I ran down Park Avenue–which was closed to cars for the morning–to the Brooklyn Bridge, then veered west to find the Freedom Tower and World Trade Center Memorial.

WTC memorial

World Trade Center Memorial, north pool. I was surprised how small the footprints of the WTC buildings were.

Storm trooper in doorway

The “guy” loitering near the door of this restaurant on Park Ave looked a bit out of place…

Patience the lion at NY Library

Hanging with Patience the lion outside the NY Public Library on 5th Ave.

Chrysler Building at night

The Chrysler Building at night from 5th Ave.

East River

Running on the East River on Sunday morning.

Back-to-back weekends in Manhattan was definitely exhausting, but I squeezed as much as possible out of both the conferences and the city. I had a fantastic time, reconnected with old friends, made new friends, learned lots, and came home motivated and inspired to get back to writing in my quiet little suburb.

Friends, fun, and combat medics in San Antonio

Image of my 2014 RWA conference name badgeMore than 2,000 romance writers and industry professionals have descended on the San Antonio Riverwalk for the Romance Writers of America National Conference. For the fifth year in a row, I’m one of them.

The conference workshops don’t start until tomorrow, but I’ve been here since Monday and I’ve been busy, busy, busy.

Monday:

After a long morning of travel, I spent the afternoon and evening with three of my fabulous Kiss & Thrill blog sisters and a new friend. In addition to eating good food, chatting, and laughing, we brainstormed each other’s stories. I’m not usually comfortable getting feedback on my book or premise before the first draft is done, but after Monday’s session, I might be a convert. We came a ton of great ideas that I think will help get me back on track with Men of Steele book #2.

Tuesday:

Yesterday kicked off with a sunrise bus ride to Lackland AFB where we visited the National Military Working Dog monument and spent the morning learning about how the Air Force security forces (military police) train, and their various missions. I had no idea that one in six new enlisted recruits enters the security forces.

Image of the National Military Working Dog Memorial

During lunch I got a chance to chat with a real live Air Force combat controller! It was the first time I’ve met a member of the special operations forces and it was great to learn about what motivated him to choose the USAF and special ops, and learn more about what he does.

After lunch we drove to Fort Sam for an informative session on Army combat medics. They showed us their state-of-the-art training facility complete with the sounds, smells, and feel of a real combat scene with life-like “casualties” that breathe, have pulses (or not) and blood pressure, and have gruesomely realistic injuries. We also had a Q&A session with several decorated medics who are now instructors at the school. As usual the tour with my Kiss of Death chapter was worth the trip to conference all by itself.

Image of an Army Combat Medic training simulator

We capped off the day with dinner and a fun speech by suspense author Wendy Corsi Staub.

Wednesday:

Today I started with a sunrise run on the Riverwalk. Due to a lack of “you are here” stickers on many of the maps, I ended up running a couple more miles than I intended, but I can’t fault the view. From mid-morning on, the Riverwalk is packed with tourists, but before breakfast, the only people on this oasis below street level are the walkers, joggers, park police, merchants, and sidewalk cleaners. It was the break from chaos that I needed.

Photo of the San Antonio Riverwalk

Despite getting back to my room later than planned, I made it to my Golden Network (for current and former Golden Heart finalists) retreat on time, and what a day. Robin Perini, Jennifer McGowan, Cathy Maxwell, and many others shared their words of wisdom, I made new friends, and I finally met several online friends in person.

After three nonstop days, this introvert-at-heart was ready for some downtime. I skipped the madness that is the literacy signing, ordered room service for dinner, took a short nap, and just decompressed.

Now I’m ready for the conference to begin bright and early tomorrow!

Hibiscus flower picture

Waiting for a different call

Golden Heart (R) finalists in Romantic Suspense in NYC

With some of my Kiss & Thrill sisters: Golden Heart finalists in Romantic Suspense in NYC.

Every year around this time, thousands of romance writers are sitting by their phones waiting for “the call.” Not the one from an editor or agent, but from one of the members of the board of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) telling them their manuscript or book finaled in either the Golden Heart® (unpublished) or the RITA® (published) Awards.

These prestigious contests are sort of like the Oscars of romance, complete with a ceremony emceed by an author-celebrity, lots of fancy gowns, and a golden statue for the RITA winners. The only thing missing is the E! reporter.

I can tell you from experience that there is no day so nervewracking as finalist announcement day. (Okay, except the actual awards ceremony.) I’ve been through it twice (2010 and 2011) so far. You think you will distract yourself with writing, but find that you’re constantly checking the RWA web page, Facebook, and Twitter to see if your category is done. And every time the phone rings your heart skips a beat.

Rachel Grant and me on awards night in NYC.

Rachel Grant and me on awards night in NYC.

In 2011, I was a Golden Heart finalist. I got the call in the middle of a doctor’s appointment with my son and couldn’t answer! I finally listened to my voicemail when the doctor stepped out, but it was vague. Still, I was pretty sure RWA wouldn’t call me on announcement day for any other reason.

That was the longest doctor’s appointment ever.

I got out to my car, returned the call, got my good news, screamed my head off like an idiot, and took my son out to lunch to celebrate. Hey, school could wait, he had to eat, and his mom was a finalist.

Getting that confirmation that my writing had improved was fabulous, but the best part of being a finalist was the new friends, many of whom now hang out with me over at the Kiss and Thrill site. The second best part was being treated like royalty at that year’s conference. 😉

For unpublished authors, a Golden Heart contest final opens doors with editors and agents too. I got some amazing feedback and a couple of revise-and-resubmit requests that year. Those—and some wins in other contests—eventually gave me the confidence to hire an editor and self-publish my GH-finaling entry, BLIND FURY.

Next year, I’ll be back to biting my nails at the end of March hoping for a RITA call, wondering why we do this to ourselves.
So, I’m raising a virtual glass to all of my friends who are waiting for their call today. I’ll be there to smile or console, and to cheer on the finalists in San Antonio this July. Good luck!