RWA 2014

I spent last week on the San Antonio Riverwalk at the annual Romance Writers of America Conference, and I’m still recovering. Too much fun, too little sleep. I had no special reason to go this year, but my friend Jo Anne Banker and I signed up as soon as registration opened. In fact we’d been planning to go to this one since we went to New York in 2011. San Antonio! Road trip!

RWA 2014 toteThis year I had a completely stress-free conference. I wasn’t involved in the Golden Heart contest, and I didn’t make any editor or agent appointments. I went to have fun, hang out with my long-distance friends, and learn something about independent publishing, and that’s exactly what I did.

I went to a lot of workshops on independent publishing, picking up ideas and inspiration. I have yet to decide whether I want to follow that path, but I think I’m leaning that way. Humorous paranormal stories don’t seem to be in high demand in New York these days—one respected agent I spoke to said that she sold no paranormals at all in 2013—but there are readers out there who enjoy them.

I heard inspiring—and often very funny—talks from wonderful writers. Cathy Maxwell stepped in at the last minute to give the keynote address at the Golden Network Retreat. Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave a great workshop on character development (the characters in our manuscripts, that is), and she and Jayne Anne Krentz, long-time friends, told us about their adventures as writers.

One workshop I attended focused on the challenges and benefits of being a “mature” writer. I think all of the women at that presentation were over fifty, some published, some not yet. One attendee was 83. I went to numerous talks by and for independently published authors (definitely a new alternative for us mature writers), until they all ran together in my overworked brain. In fact, by Friday afternoon everything was running together. Fortunately, most of the sessions were audiotaped, and I am awaiting my copy so I can listen to sessions I attended and sessions I had to miss.

RWA 2014 booksThere were books everywhere, and I brought home even more than I usually do, one advantage of driving rather than meeting the packing requirements of airline travel. (The FedEx store at the hotel was constantly busy, shipping boxes of books home for those who were limited to their suitcases.) The tote bags we received at registration (imagine two thousand women wandering around with the same tote bag!) were filled with books, and there were more on the chairs at the general sessions.

The Readers for Life Literacy Autographing was the only Conference event open to the public, and people began lining up at 2 PM for the 5:30 opening. The hall was filled with five hundred or so authors signing books donated by their publishers, and countless enthusiastic book buyers, filling the shopping bags handed out at the door. The book sales raised over $58,000 for literacy programs. I went in intending to say hello to women I only see once a year, but I ended up buying a few books, too. I also went to several of the publishers’ free book signings during the conference and collected more books (including some for the neighbor who looks after my cat when I travel and refers to the conference as “Kay’s Book Thing”).

On the social side, I visited with many friends I’ve made through the Golden Heart at the Golden Network retreat, shared dinner one night with the Firebirds (at Tony Roma’s) and another night with the Lucky 13s (at the revolving Chart House atop the Tower of the Americas, with a panoramic view of San Antonio), as well as smaller dinners with friends. Houston writers filled at least three tables at the awards ceremony so we could cheer together for our finalists.

Next year the RWA conference returns to New York City. I may need a Really Good Reason to make it to that one. But that’s what I said in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and the reasons turned up, so who knows? The RWA Conference is the kind of vacation that leaves you needing rest when you get home, but it’s worth every minute.

Memories of BK Reeves

My dear friend and writing mentor, Barbara Reeves Kolaski, passed away a week ago today. Although she had been ill for some time, she had a long, eventful, and happy life, but there’s an empty space in my world now that she’s gone.

BK ReevesBarbara published several romance novels under the name Barbara Reeves, and raised a family as Barbara Kolaski, but to her writing students and RWA friends she was always BK Reeves.

I met BK about twenty years ago through the Bay Area Writers League, which met here in Seabrook, southeast of Houston. We became friends working on BAWL’s annual writers conference, and BK read some of my work through its contest. She invited me to weekend retreats at her boat house in Surfside, where I met writers with wide ranging interests. In 1996 I went to a workshop sponsored by the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter, because BK was one of the speakers, and immediately joined the National RWA and the HBA chapter. I still didn’t know what I was writing, more science fiction than anything else, but I’d begun reading futuristic romance, and that seemed like it might be a good fit.

BK taught Creative Writing classes for the Continuing Education division of San Jacinto College, and I signed up for one. And then another. And then another. I have no idea how many of those eight to twelve week courses I took over the next few years. It wasn’t that the subject matter really changed much from one class to the next (I still have a fat binder full of the handouts), but the opportunity to spend one evening a week with other writers, and to have BK critique my work as it progressed was irresistible. I became fast friends with several other perennial students, as we fought our way through writing projects and hashed them out at the nearest IHOP with BK after class. I wrote the first draft of Tempting Fate in those classes, and the beginning of Paper Hearts.

When my late husband could no longer bear to stay home alone at night, I signed him up, too, and BK welcomed him. Jack and BK were about the same age, and I remember going across Houston to a writers conference with the two of them happily singing songs from the 1930s and 40s as I drove.

When BK no longer felt safe driving, she gave up the San Jacinto classes, but a group of us continued to meet at her house a couple of evenings a month; now and then we’d even have sleep-over weekends in the big house where she’d raised her three children. We called ourselves BK’s groupies: me, Kay Sakaris (we still call one another “Other Kay”), Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Ann Peake, and BK’s daughter Anne-Marie Novark.  Over the years Terri and Kathy moved out of the Houston area, Other Kay, Ann and I had full time jobs, life got in the way, and BK’s health worsened, until getting together became a sadly rare event, but BK’s inspiration remained.

BK (center) and the Groupies: (from left) Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Kay Hudson, Kay Sakaris, Ann Peake (Anne-Marie Novark took the picture)

BK (center) and the Groupies: (from left) Kathy Gresham, Terri Richison, Kay Hudson, Kay Sakaris, Ann Peake (Anne-Marie Novark took the picture)

I have so many wonderful memories of BK: her encouragement, her insistence that I have a “writer’s brain,” her faith in me as an editor, her kindness to Jack as he slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s. She introduced me to the writing community, and through her classes, BAWL, and RWA I have met so many of my friends. I look at my bookshelves and see reminders of her: her books, of course; a little ceramic newspaper office she gave me because much of Paper Hearts revolves around a newspaper; my place card from a table she sponsored at a charity luncheon; a photo of BK, Kathy Gresham, Jack and me at another luncheon; a plaque from BAWL, because she made sure I was at an event I hadn’t planned to attend, so I would receive it first hand.

BK’s books are out of print now, alas. She wrote all her life, from the time she was a little girl in West Texas, but she didn’t pull out her manuscripts and begin rewriting them for publication until her husband, Stosh, passed away in the late 80s. She used to tell us that she bought her first computer on the way home from Stosh’s funeral—this may have been a slight exaggeration, but not by much. She published several traditional Regency romances in the early 90s, with plenty of sexual tension but no explicit sex. But she could, and did, write hot sex with the best, as she showed when she rewrote an early western story into an interracial historical romance called My Buffalo Soldier. She often made remarks that wildly contradicted her sweet, grandmotherly appearance, and (most) people loved her for them.

It wouldn’t surprise BK to know that one of my first reactions to hearing of her passing (from one of the Groupies) was, “Well, I have to write about BK.” Life was research to her, meant to be both enjoyed and recycled as material for the next writing project. It might surprise her to know it’s taken me a week, but I’ve written this in my head too many times to count. There are just too many memories to include (although we agreed that neither one of us could say “Hello” in less than five hundred words).

Barbara Reeves Kolaski was laid to rest on Saturday with her favorite pen in her hands. I have no doubt she’s using it today at some afterlife Writer’s Retreat. After all, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

And Happy New Year

Well, I’ve eaten my New Year’s Eve herring (a family tradition–I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was a little girl) and I’ve watched the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert (that was a tradition with Jack, and I’ve kept it up).  I’ve started new notebooks and hung new calendars.  I don’t really make resolutions, and I try to keep the goal setting to things I can actually control, but I do find myself thinking over what I’ve accomplished in the last year.

Writing:  In 2013 I’m afraid I did more editing than new writing.  Jinn & Tonic finalled in the Golden Heart contest and I spent some considerable time editing that.  The Golden Heart is quite a rollercoaster ride, but I’m hooked, so in the fall I pulled out Tempting Fate, a story I’ve always loved, rewrote much of the beginning, moved some scene and chapter breaks, and sent that off to the 2014 Golden Heart.  Now I’m finally back on my current project, currently 62 pages long.  I know where my characters are going, but I’m having a little trouble getting them there.

Meanwhile I went to a wonderful regional writers’ conference in Shreveport, put on by the NOLA STARS, the North Louisiana chapter of RWA.  And I flew to Atlanta in July for the RWA National conference, with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson, and had a great time meeting up with old and new friends.  I also finished my two years as president of the West Houston RWA chapter.  I’m pulling the plug on volunteering, at least for a while.  I need to get back to writing.

Reading:  I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (a life-long habit).  In 2013 I managed to read 38 of them, mostly novels, mostly romances and mysteries.  Between my local writer friends and my Golden Heart sisters, my bookshelves and my Kindle are well stocked.

Work:  In October Jo Anne and I cut our work week back to three days, and we love it.  More time for writing, reading, and sleeping.

Around the house:  Two big projects got done this year.  I had the large dead pine tree in the front yard removed before it could fall on a passing car, along with a couple of smaller ones, and the rest of the trees trimmed.  And I had the swimming pool I’d been ignoring for five years demolished.  Now I’m slowly working on the rest of the yard.  Maybe this year I’ll attack the big indoor projects (the bathrooms need remodeling, and the floors need work), but for the time being I’m picking away at smaller clean-and-toss jobs.  Apparently I am incapable of throwing out pens, address labels, or memo pads, all of which keep turning up in the mail.    I started with my writing nook, but there are plenty of other excavations to look forward to.

Life in general:  I’m catching up on my sleep.  I’ve put on another five pounds or so, a trend I definitely need to reverse.  I admire my friends who go to the gym or their fitness class every morning, but I think I’ll stick with walks around the neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by now and then.  I hope you enjoy reading these little essays as much as I enjoy writing them.  And I wish you all a wonderful, rewarding, and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

Rails & Romance: Passion’s Prize

One day last July at the RWA Conference in Atlanta, I wandered into the very crowded room where two thousand (mostly) women had gathered for lunch and a keynote address.  I found a table with a couple of empty chairs and found myself sitting next to a writer called E.E. Burke.  I’d never met Elisabeth Burke before, but we soon discovered a shared love of Hell on Wheels and American historical romance.  Elisabeth told me that she and two other writers (all three of them Golden Heart finalists), Jacqui Nelson and Jennifer Jakes, would soon release an ebook, Passion’s Prize, Passion's Prizecontaining three related short novels set during the post-Civil War construction of the Katy Railroad.  I downloaded it as soon as it was available (the three parts are also available separately, but if you are interested, you’ll enjoy them all).

Adella’s Enemy, by Jacqui Nelson, opens the collection with the story of Adella Willows, photographer and one-time Rebel spy, who has come West seeking vengeance for the death of her brother in a Yankee POW camp.  She blames the man behind the Katy, and if she can derail the Katy, figuratively or literally, she’ll have her revenge.  But she didn’t figure on falling for the Irish railroad foreman, Cormac McGrady.

In Eden’s Sin, by Jennifer Jakes, we meet Eden Gabrielli, a brothel owner in the railroad town, and U.S. Army Major Sinclair Bradford.  The investigation of a rape committed by a railroad worker brings them together, but the secrets of their pasts, blackmail in the present, and the future of the railroad may drive them apart.

E.E. Burke wraps up the book with Kate’s Outlaw.  Kate Parsons is the daughter, and only heir, of the Katy’s owner, but she has yet to prove her worth to her father as more than someone to be married off to a male successor.  When she is accidentally kidnapped by Jake Colson, a Cherokee bent on stopping the railroad’s path through the Indian Territory, she finds unexpected passion for both her captor and his cause.  But can she save both the railroad and Jake?

A brief epilog reconnects our three heroines, who each appear in the others’ stories, and sets the stage for the next volume, E.E. Burke’s Her Bodyguard.  That one’s waiting on my Kindle, and I’ll be looking forward to more books in the Steam: Romance and Rails series.

Passion's Prize 3

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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