Traveling to New York City and back

for the RWA National Conference was far easier than I expected.  I’d read up on all the new rules and regulations, enough to unnerve anyone who hadn’t flown in a couple of decades, and just as we were leaving yet another over-zealous security horror story popped up, this one involving a 95-year-old lady in a wheel chair.

I was also traveling with someone using a wheelchair, and the security people couldn’t have been nicer.  At the Houston airport, on a Monday morning when there was a high volume of travel, we scooted through a scanner in no time.  If anyone on the viewing end of that got a charge out of the image, I really don’t care.  From my point of view, it was simple, quick and effortless.  I forgot to take off my belt and drop it in the tray with my purse, tote and shoes, but the genial security man just laughed and asked me to hand it through to him before I posed for the scanner.  We were asked to remove our Kindles from our tote bags, but not to turn them completely off (I think I know how to do that).

On the way back, on Saturday afternoon at LaGuardia, there was not much of a crowd, and travelers moved quickly through the standard metal detector.  The underwiring in our bras did not set off alarms at either airport.  Nor did the small scissors in my carry on.  And the attendents couldn’t have been nicer.

Our checked luggage came through with a delay, or a scratch, on both ends of the trip, as did the TSA approved combination locks we used.

On the way to the hotel on Monday, our driver, a gregarious young man named Ravi who wanted to discuss legalizing marijuana, quickly realized from our rather clueless questions that we didn’t know anything about New York.  He was only too happy to tell us where we were (Queens, mostly), what bridge we were crossing (Queensboro), and where and when to spot the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building from a distance.  He even tried to explain to us how it was possible to survive in the insane traffic in Manhattan.  Our Saturday driver was less talkative, but he took us along the edge of Central Park, where we passed the long line of calm horses harnessed to their carriages, and a few of them ambling down the middle of the street with tourists in tow.

The hotel, the Marriott Marquis on Times Square, was gorgeous, and every staff member we met was courteous and helpful, from the desk clerk to the concierge, the housekeeper to the lady in the business center who helped us get our boarding passes printed on Friday.  And then there was the young man who led us on an expedition to the service elevator when the regular system overloaded and shut down for a few minutes under the strain of a few hundred women leaving workshops at the same time.

The elevator system is amazing, 18 cars if I am counting correctly, 14 of them glass on three sides, none of them with internal controls (except of course for those mysterious buttons that only firefighters are allowed to touch).  Prospective passengers punch their destination on one of several external panels, which tells them which car to use.  From practically any of the public areas, you see the glass cars shooting up and down the 49-story central atrium.

The rooms were lovely and, despite dire warnings circulating via email in the weeks just before the conference, absolutely free of insects of any description.  The worst thing we could say about ours was that the coffe maker didn’t work (no problem for me, I don’t drink coffee) and the thermostat was a bit quirky.  The housekeeping service was excellent.

We didn’t have time to do much sightseeing, but we ate at a couple of wonderful restaurants (Junior’s and Scarlatto) near the hotel and gawked at the billboards in Times Square like the tourists we were.  We watched a mounted policeman issue a ticket to a parked UPS truck while taxis screeched by a break-neck speeds.  We saw people from everywhere on the planet walk by.

It was a great trip, but we weren’t sorry to head home after such a busy week.  It was the predictable 100° when we landed in Houstonat 3:20 and 101° by my car thermometer when I left my friend’s house for the drive home to the Clear Lake area.  By the time I got home, it had plummeted to 98°.  Not a drop of moisture in my rain gauge either.  Just another hot, dry week in Houston.

My cat purred as soon as I picked her up.  I’m glad to be home.

Another Day at RWA

I had a busy day today, reminding myself that I’m not just here to visit and eat.  I headed downstairs bright and early for an 8:30 workshop on “Light versus Dark Paranormal Fiction.”  Houston author Kerrelyn Sparks and her Love at Stake series represented the lighter side of vampires.  She was joined by fellow NYTimes bestsellers Karina Cooper, Pamela Palmer, and Terri Garey.

From there I headed down the hall to “Not Another Sex Scene,” presented with charming Australian accents by Anne Gracie and Kelly Hunter.  Their workshop was full of useful information–about techniques of writing, not about what one of their British friends refers to as the “docking procedure.”  (And if you don’t know what I mean by that, you need to read more romance.)

From marketing to craft to motivation:  For my third workshop of the morning, I chose another Houston author, Sharon Mignerey, and her presentation on taking care of yourself, living a full life, and making writing fun again.

Another seated luncheon for two thousand plus today, more books on the chairs.  Several long-time RWA volunteers were presented with service awards, and the librarian and bookseller of the year were honored.  Our luncheon speaker was NYTimes bestseller Sherrilyn Kenyon, who kept the audience laughing, and occasionally crying, with the story of her long and obstacle-laden journey to success.

After lunch I managed one more workshop, “Got High Concept?” by Lori Wilde, an hour on creating a one-sentence pitch to intrigue agents and editors.

At three o’clock Jo Anne and I attended the reception for Golden Heart and Rita finalists, where we drank champagne, ate sweets, mingled with  old and new friends–and the RWA Board of Directors–and received our finalist certificates.  I’ve accumulated a few contest certificates over the years, and tucked them away with the manuscripts that earned them, but this one is going in a frame on my wall.

After some feet-up time, our conference activities over for the day, we collected two of our Houston friends, Pat O’Dea Rosen (a winner in last year’s Golden Heart contest) and Julie Pitzel, and went out to play tourist.  We walked around a corner or two until we spotted a restaurant Pat knew, where we settled in for Italian food and wine and more talk about writing.  We forced ourselves to share a serving of Tiramisu (I could easily have eaten a whole one, but I’m already wondering what I’ll see when I step on the scale back home on Sunday) before we walked back to Broadway.  We found an unoccupied bench and watched the lights, the ever-changing ads, and the wondrous variety of people on Times Square.

I’m not going to see the Statue of Liberty or a Broadway show–at least not on this trip–but at least I can say I’ve been on Broadway, walked past the theaters, and stood in Times Square.

More From RWA 2011

The RWA conference got off to a great start this morning with a panel of NYTimes bestsellers:  Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and Tess Gerritsen.  I’ve been a big fan of Berry’s thrillers from the beginning, starting with The Amber Room.  Right now my copy of The Emperor’s Tomb is waiting for me, bookmarked around page 150, and next to it The Jefferson Key.  So I was looking forward to his appearance, and I found Gabaldon and Gerritsen just as entertaining.  All three answered questions about how they sold their first novels, their writing habits, and told any number of hilarious stories.  Berry wrote for twelve years and eight manuscripts before he sold The Amber Room.  Gabaldon wrote Outlander as a “practice novel,”  and to this day can’t explain it in an elevator pitch.  Gerritsen wrote romantic suspense novels for years before she decided to write a medical thriller; until then she had never mentioned to her agent that she was a physician.

The crowd nearly filled the enormous Broadway Ballroom, and president Dorien Kelly announced that the conference has over 2100 registered attendees, from all fifty states and more than twenty other countries.  No question that the hotel is teeming with women (and a few men) sporting RWA badges adorned with a variety of pins and ribbons, carrying two thousand matching tote bags.

We returned to the Broadway Ballroom for an excellent lunch, expertly served to a packed room in the unbelievable din of the crowd.  Fortunately the microphones and giant TV screens allowed everyone to hear Madeline Hunter’s keynote address.

Jo Anne and I spent the afternoon at the PRO retreat, a set of workshops for members who have completed and submitted at least one manuscript.  The session focused on industry matters and featured a marketing executive from HarperCollins along with agents and authors.  An impressive list of PRO members also graduated from PRO to PAN (Published Author Network) status.

By the end of the day I had added another five free books to my stack (they appear on the chairs in the ballroom, courtesy of the speakers’ publishers), visited the Goody Room filled with promotional items, and made a pass through the Book Fair, which offers books by the dozens of speakers and assorted craft books (and I resisted temptation there!).

After some time in our room to rest our feet and check our email, we decided it was time to get out of the hotel for a while.  We went all the way across the street to Junior’s where we feasted on corned beef and pastrami reubens, onion rings the size of lawnmower tires, dill pickles and pickled beets.  (We brought back a third of the sandwiches and a slice of cheesecake.)   As we ate out on the sidewalk patio, in balmy weather, we watched a mounted police officer issue a ticket to a parked UPS truck, while taxi cabs and delivery trucks whizzed by at amazing speeds and pedestrians of every description wandered past.  A second police horse arrived and the two horses and their officers doubled as ambassadors for the city as passersby, adults as well as children, stopped to admire and pet them (the horses, although the cops were quite attractive, too).

Many  of the special interest RWA chapters had events tonight, but Jo Anne and I sat and visited with friends.  Visited the bar a couple of times, too.

Tomorrow: workshops, an appointment with an agent, luncheon featuring the annual RWA servicce awards, and a reception for the Golden Heart and Rita contest finalists.

New York, New York

I’m at the Romance Writers of America® National Conference in New York City this week, feeling more than a little overwhelmed.  My friend Jo Anne Banker and I had no problems on our flight from Houston yesterday.  The flight was packed, but the security and customer service folks at both ends were helpful and polite, and the driver who brought us into Manhattan was friendly and funny and got us safely to the immense and gorgeous Marriott Marquis.

New York is all up and down, and the streets are two or three lanes wide, depending on how agressive the surrounding drivers are feeling.  What a contrast to the wide open spaces of Houston, where I drive sixty miles a day, forty on the freeway system.  Ravi, our driver, said he couldn’t drive sixty miles in Manhattan if he worked at it all day (as he apparently does).  You could not pay me enough to drive a block in Manhattan.

The RWA Conference proper does not open until tomorrow morning, but registration was available yesterday, so after we checked into the hotel Jo Anne and I collected our badges and tote bags (filled with goodies and free books) and went to supper with a friend, the wonderful Sharon Sala, who will be receiving RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her impressive body of work on Friday evening.

Jo Anne and I spent today with the Golden Network, the online RWA chapter open to Golden Heart® finalists.  We’ve been participating in a Yahoo loop with the rest of the 2011 finalists since late March, and today we got to meet many of them in person.  The day included two agent/editor Q&A sessions with a stellar array of industry professionals.  And late in the afternoon more than twenty members of the chapter who sold their first books since last year’s meeting were “booted” to alumna status.

This evening I made a quick pass through the annual Readers for Life booksigning.  Publishers provide the books for more than five hundred authors, who sign them for fans from both the ranks of the RWA and the general public, and the proceeds go to RWA’s longtime support of literacy programs.   I’m told people were lined up from the first floor of the hotel by midafternoon–the signing was on the sixth floor and opened at 5:30.  By the time I stopped in around 7, people could enter on the sixth floor, but the ballroom (capacity 2800 people!) was packed with authors (in alphabetical order at row after row of tables stretching nearly the width of the room) and readers (many carrying cartons of books).  I stopped to talk with two friends, but we truly could not hear one another.

I’m already hoarse from talking (and doing it in packed rooms full of other women talking just as enthusiastically), and the conference has three days to run.  By the time we fly home on Saturday, I’ll probably be whispering.  Or writing notes on a little pad of paper.

I wasn’t planning to go to New York

for the Romance Writers of America National Conference in June, until the morning of March 25th.  I’ve belonged to RWA for fifteen years, and I’ve never been to Nationals.  Never felt I had a good reason to go, and until recently I seldom had the money.

But on March 25th Lorraine Heath called me.  Actually, she emailed me, because I was at work and she had my home phone number, and her email asking for another number landed in my spam folder.  Since I know Lorraine only by name and her email was headed “Request from RWA” and it was March 25, I had to pick myself up off the floor before I could send her my work number.

Then I raced to tell my best friend, RWA sister, and employer, Jo Anne Banker, about the email.   Before I finished the story, the phone rang.  Lorraine was calling to tell me that Paper Hearts was a finalist in the historical category of the romance world’s biggest manuscript contest, the Golden Heart®.

Jo Anne had gotten her own call a couple of hours earlier, so I had walked into the office that morning to the news that her manuscript Lost and Found was a finalist in the contemporary series category.  I was happy for her, I really was.  And I moped for two hours.

For the last three years, Jo Anne and I had sent off our Golden Heart® entries together, laughingly promising that if we made the finals we’d go to the big conference.  If we’d really thought about it, we’d have known that the odds of both of us finaling would baffle even Mr. Spock, and for two years we shook off the disappointment and declared that at least we wouldn’t have to have our pictures taken.

But this year it really happened, and we’re going to New York!  We have our conference reservations and our hotel room.  We had our pictures taken after all, and sent them to the RWA office.  We joined the 2011 finalists loop, and the Golden Network, the RWA chapter for GH finalists past and present.  I took a class on WordPress and set up this blog.  Yesterday we signed up for editor and agent appointments at the conference.

On March 25th, the conference in late June seemed far away.  Now it seems closer every day, and I have shopping to do.  Our three-person office takes “business casual” pretty literally; most of the time we wear jeans, sneakers, and shirts, not always with buttons.  So I’ve bought some slacks that (a) are not jeans, and (b) are long enough to wear with shoes that are not sneakers (I’m tall).  I haven’t been on a plane in twenty years or so, so I’ve bought some luggage that is not the good quality, very heavy, hard-sided, wheel-less American Tourister lurking in my attic.  I need a decent summer jacket and a small purse, and who knows what else.

And, heaven help me, something very fancy for the awards ceremony.  I’m going to New York!