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 – 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

 

Catching Up

Actually, I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up ever since I got back from California, and that was that was seven weeks ago!  But I’ve had a lot going on since then.  Let’s face it, life never really slows down, does it?  And would we really want it to?  All that busy stuff keeps us up and moving.  I haven’t been bored, I’ll say that much.

Last week I had a birthday–let’s not worry about which one it was–and Jo Anne, Sarah Andre, Lark Howard and I celebrated by driving out to Katy Budget Books for a launch party for our friend Shana Galen’s latest book, When You Give a Duke a Diamond.  It says a lot about Houston traffic that it took us about an hour and twenty minutes to get out to Katy at rush hour and about twenty-five minutes to get back two hours later.  But the time navigating through traffic (Jo Anne was driving, but she got a lot of advice from the back seat) was well spent.  At dinner later we realized that without our writing connections, the four of us would probably never have met, and that would have been a loss.  Lark gave us her take on the evening last week at Reading, Writing and Rambling, the blog she shares with our friend Pat O’Dea Rosen.

Later in the week I had a second birthday dinner with my next-door neighbor and her daughter, a lovely meal at a charmingly old-fashioned Italian restaurant, Antonio’s in LaPorte, Texas.  Seafood fettuccini with lemon garlic sauce, yum.  LaRue gave me this charming little porcelain kitten box.  It’s less than three inches long, so I’m not sure what it’s meant to hold, but for the moment it’s sitting on my monitor stand, after becoming yet another victim of my attempts at photography.

Books:  not much reading this week.  I did finish Tera Lynn Childs’ Just for Fins, the third book in her Young Adult mermaid trilogy.  I don’t read a lot of YA fiction, but I’ve enjoyed this series, a light paranormal tale set in Florida (and underwater, of course).  I started Cheryl Bolen’s Marriage of Inconvenience, which I am enjoying.  I have an early copy; the book will be released October 2.

TV:  This afternoon I finally watched last week’s SYTYCD, a pure performance episode.  I don’t know, or really care, who’s going to win the titles Tuesday evening (and I’ll have to record that one, too–I have a meeting that night), but all four of the remaining dancers are amazing.  Who would have thought a few weeks ago that Cyrus the Animator would be in the final four?

This evening, of course, I watched Hell on Wheels.  Another bloodbath.  This is the most violent show I watch–I was going to say the only one, but Major Crimes last week ran up a pretty substantial body count–and I remain completely hooked.  By the characters, and the background, not the bloodshed.

This week I’m looking forward to the return of Bones, the premier of Revolution and the season finale (alas) of White CollarWarehouse 13 has three more episodes to run, and Castle will be back next week.  There is no standard TV season these days, is there?  But there are always new stories to enjoy, and, I hope, to learn from.

Meeting the deadine

for my Golden Heart® entry took a writing marathon over the Thanksgiving weekend, but I did it.  I’ve never joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but as things worked out I did write just over 20,000 words in November, more than 11,000 in the last week.  Of course I didn’t do it from scratch.  Back in August I plotted out the remainder of the book, about forty per cent, because I needed a synopsis for the Golden Pen contest.  When the unfinished manuscript made the finals of that contest, which uses the same format as the Golden Heart, I decided I’d push to finish it before the GH deadline.

Somehow the push took a while to get started.  Early in November I realized I’d have to change my ususal methods to have any chance of finishing–writing by hand in a notebook just wasn’t going to be fast enough.  So I switched to writing on the computer, and that sped up the process considerably, although it did away with my first round of edits.  I still found myself about 10,000 words short on the night before Thanksgiving.

But I still had four days almost entirely free.  Apart from Thanksgiving dinner with my neighbors and a trip to the grocery store on Saturday, I could write all weekend.  And that’s pretty much what I did.  (Well, I also played Sudoku, read other people’s blogs, snacked too much, and listened to the TV or radio in the background.)

Just short of midnight on Sunday I had a respectable complete first draft.  It needs work:  the ending is rushed, most of it hasn’t been proofread, and I’m already thinking of bits and pieces I want to add, but it satisfies the requirements for submission.  Monday evening I sat on the couch with my cat and watched TV, feeling like a kid starting Christmas vacation.  Tuesday evening I reviewed the synopsis and made a few changes–the closer I got to the end, the more the story snuck off the path, but that’s fine with me.  The last page of my outline was pretty vague. 

By this morning I had everything ready to go (for two entries).  Jo Anne had her entry ready, and our friend Lark Howard dropped hers off.  We bundled them all up and sent them to the Romance Writers of America® national office, on the other side of Houston, via the delivery service we use for business.  By this evening I had a confirmation email from the highly efficient RWA staff.  The deadline for receipt of entries is tomorrow.

I learned quite a bit in the course of meeting my self-imposed deadline.  I can write a lot faster than I thought, at least if I have a road map to follow.  I can write a lot faster on the computer than in a notebook–but at the expense, I’m sure, of a lot of small edits and typos.  This draft will probably require more rewriting than a manuscript written at a more leisurely pace, but the total span may still be shorter.  I’ve always been pretty mich a seat-of-the-pants writer, and I don’t know if I can convert to plotting from the beginning, but I may give it a try on the next project.  And I may find that I have to write at least a hundred pages before I have any idea who my characters are or what they are going to do.  We’ll see.  After the holidays.

I have no idea where this came from, but it’s one of my favorite writer quips:  Being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life.  I’m giving up homework until January.  Maybe.  Or maybe I’ll just start making notes for that rewrite, or for that next project I’m thinking about.  Being a writer means having all those stories in your head, trying to find their way onto paper, never quite letting you stop, even when you try.