At RWA 2013 – Saturday

RWA 2013 wrapped up on Saturday, July 20, with attendees looking increasingly bleary-eyed as we stumbled from workshop to workshop.  In the morning I had a chance to visit with a number of friends, and even met someone from New Zealand who had read my Golden Heart entry–that was a thrill!

I went to a workshop on Key Writing Skills, giving by agent Jill Marsal and Starcatcher (and now multi-published author) Robin Perini.  This was an excellent hour; I have a whole page of notes.  Four main areas: Develop Great Characters (characterization means observable traits, while character is true nature revealed under pressure; goal and motivation always important); Create a Compelling Story (braiding plot and character, internal versus external conflicts); Focus on Story and Pacing (show character changes in every scene, while turning points change the story’s direction); and Revise and Polish (watch out for backstory, telling rather than showing, overwriting, etc.).

The rehearsal for the awards ceremony, a precaution against someone falling off the stage, accompanied by a plea not to drink beforehand, only took about half an hour.  Then I caught a sandwich with fellow Firebird and Lucky 13 Oberon Wonch and her roomie.

I went to two more workshops on Saturday afternoon, “Visceral Rules: Beyond Hammering Hearts,” by Margie Lawson (I’ve been to Margie’s workshops in the past, but she’s always interesting), and a really terrific presentation of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! methodology by Jessica Brody.  I’m reading Snyder’s book now, and I’m going to see if that helps me plot the new novel I haven’t been making much progress on.

The last event of the conference, on Saturday evening, was the Awards ceremony for the Golden Heart and RITA winners.  Cheryl Bolen, my long-time friend and conference roomie, and I went downstairs about 7 PM and had a glass of champagne (in spite of that warning) while we waited for the VIP door to open.  We made out way to our table near the front and found it full of West Houston RWA folks:  Lark Howard and I as Golden Heart finalists (both in the paranormal category), Sophie Jordan as a RITA finalist (novella), and Sarah Andre standing in for a finalist friend, Krista Hall (romantic suspense) who was unable to attend the conference.  Cheryl, Susan Breeden, Tera Childs, and Sophie’s husband were our guests.  As it happened, the only one of us to accept an award was Sarah, reading a thank you from the absent Krista.  Rounding out the West Houston participation were Colleen Thompson presenting a RITA and Christie Craig, the evening’s emcee (entertaining the audience with her usual humor and standing on a box to reach the microphone).  Winners, finalists and audience all had a wonderful time.

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Sunday, and time to go home, came all too soon.  Somehow I managed to stuff all the free books I’d picked up (yeah, I need more books.  But, she added virtuously, some were for my neighbor who looks after Nutmeg when I’m away) into my suitcase.  Cheryl, Colleen Thompson, and I caught the shuttle to the airport, where a Skycap who had clearly been dealing with ladies from RWA all morning, cheerfully told Colleen that if she could pull “one hardback and one paperback” out of her suitcase, it would slip through under the fifty-pound weight limit.  He was right.

Even with a stop at the grocery store, I was home in time for dinner.  Nutmeg the cat was glad to see me (and the roast chicken I’d picked up on the way home) and I was glad to sleep in my own bed.  But I’m still processing all I learned at the conference, getting in touch with new friends, and catching up in general.

And definitely looking forward to RWA 2014 next summer in San Antonio!

 

 

At RWA 2013 – Friday

On Friday morning at the RWA Conference, I went to a workshop given by Deb Dixon, the author of a book that belongs on every novelist’s shelf, Goal, Motivation &Conflict. (First published in 1996, GMC is still available from its original publisher, Gryphon Books for Writers.  Go order it.)  This workshop, however, was on “Finding Your Voice.”  Deb compared an author’s voice to an ice cream cone, with the base made up of what one tells (your themes, plots, story arcs, world view, etc.) and the flavor how one tells it (tone, sound, word choices and so on).

With my head swimming with writing advice, I decided to seek a bit of publishing advice, and went to the Spotlight on Kensington session.  Kensington is an independent American-owned publisher, prominent in romance and a range of other genres.  The Kensington editors were enthusiastic and eager to describe the advantages of traditional publishing, both paper and electronic.

After lunching with another group of ladies I’d never met (this time including an agent who represents several of my friends), I went to another Spotlight session, this one on Sourcebooks, a publisher which started in 1987 with financial and business books and which has successfully spread into fiction over the last few years.  Their team at the conference, including the founder of Sourcebooks, Dominique Raccah, was enthusiastic and encouraging.

And then it was time for the RITA and Golden Heart Finalists reception, held on the Pulse Loft overlooking the Atrium level of the hotel.  Nearly all the Lucky 13s and a good many of the RITA finalists were there, as well as the RWA Board members, who presented us with our certificates.  We were served champagne and petit fours and had our pictures taken.  I’m not sure what happened to the individual photos, but here’s a group pic of the Lucky 13s.

Lucky13s

I managed to hit one more workshop after the reception, “Don’t Just Put Gears on It: Writing and Selling Steampunk.”  I don’t know if I’ll ever try to write in the Steampunk subgenre, but I find the combination of science fiction and alternate history fascinating.

Friday evening was my chance to visit with some of the Starcatchers, the GH finalists from 2011.  A group of us walked down the street to Benihana (the first time I’d been out of the hotel since Tuesday evening–I’m afraid I can’t say I saw much of Atlanta!) for a most entertaining dinner.  I don’t think we were the first group of romance writers our chef Bernard had served, and he took our teasing in good spirits (and the spirits consumed probably accounted for the teasing).  Back at the hotel, we found a few more Starcatchers, and a few more spirits, in the bar.

At RWA 2013 – Thursday

On Thursday morning of the Romance Writers of America conference, I attended the PRO Retreat.  PRO originally meant an unpublished writer who has completed a manuscript, but these days it includes small press or independently published writers who have not yet met the income requirement to join the Published Author Network.  This year’s retreat workshops focused on business rather than craft.

The first session, featuring Dorien Kelly and Courtney Milan, emphasized the idea that the author, who can always say “no,” holds all the power.  That still seems like a stretch for those of us who haven’t sold (or published) a book, but it does seem more believable today than a few short years ago.  Dorien and Courtney packed their session with information on contracts with both publishers and agents.

The second session (and trust me, I wouldn’t be able to write this up if I hadn’t carried my faithful spiral bound notebook through the conference, making notes during breaks) gave us Esi Sogah, editor with Kensington, and MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, agent with Trident, talking about the value of traditional publishing methods and the changes going on in the distribution of books.  In an interesting show of hands, most of the people in the room acknowledged owning an e-reader and downloading books.  Far fewer had actually read most of those downloaded books, and only a handful had gone on to buy another book by an author they had downloaded.  (Me, too.  Of course I also have more unread paper books than I care to admit, and I fully intend to read them all.  Someday.)

In the third workshop of the morning, Nancy Berland and Pamela Spengler-Jaffe discussed publicity and social media: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, etc.  (Throughout the conference, author-as-publicist was much talked about.)  There was disagreement over the value of free books, with some authors feeling that free downloads stimulated their sales, while others believe that they only train readers to expect books to be free or very inexpensive.

The keynote luncheon featured good food and an inspiring talk by historical romance author Cathy Maxwell.  I walked into the huge. crowded room a bit late and found an open space at a table full of “strangers,” but not for long.  I soon discovered I was sitting with a friend of a friend.  RWA is a small, and very friendly, world.

After lunch I went to a very crowded workshop on Character Development, given by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (who should have been given a much bigger room).  I’ve read several of Susan’s novels, but I’d missed Ain’t She Sweet, which served as an example of how to make your readers care about an unsympathetic (at least as you begin) character.  I’ve since acquired a copy.  Susan talked about backstory (and how not to dump it all in the first chapter), motivation, and the ever-popular principal of Show, Don’t Tell.

By now my brain was buzzing with undigested information (a common condition during conference, and for weeks after), so I wandered around a bit.  I visited the Independent Booksigning, a new addition this year, and picked up a few free books from friends, restraining myself with the thought of carrying them all home (by this time I already had a dozen free books to pack, although there was, as usual, a FedEx desk set up in the lobby for those who piled up so many books they needed to ship them home).

I belong to the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal on-line chapter of RWA, and on Thursday evening I attended the annual FF&P Gathering with all of the 2013 Golden Heart Paranormal Finalists, a delightful evening complete with dinner and a costume contest (the theme was Southern Gothic, but several of the costumes were definitely Victorian Steampunk).  By the end of the evening, dancing women (and two or three men), costumed or not, were entertaining the DJ as much as he was entertaining them.

Here are the 2013 Golden Heart Paranormal Finalists (at the Friday afternoon reception on the loft in the middle of the atrium). From left to right: Ella Sheridan, India Powers, Mariah Ankenman, Amy Jones, Dawn Marie Hamilton, Lark Howard, Kay Hudson, and Tara Sheets.

Paranormal Finalists

 

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