|Me (far left, bottom)and some of the 2012 GH Firebirds.|
For those of you who have never attended an RWA National Conference, there is no describing what it is like to share space with 2000 other writers, much less writers who are striving toward the same goal. These women (and a few men, too, more this year than in the past), come from all over the world; they come from all walks of life and all races, backgrounds and political outlooks. But they all share the same passion for reading and for writing. No matter where you meet—in the hotel lobby, in a bar or restaurant, in a workshop or conference event—one question will always bring two people together: What do you write? Even the most retiring introvert can feel at home in this environment.
And it’s not just the Great Unwashed who mingle in this way. The conference organizes one formal event for fans/readers and best-selling writers to get together, with the Literacy Signing. Over 150 writers, from the Big Names down to the just-published gather in a vast ballroom with stacks of books to sign, readers come in to meet and greet them and the proceeds are donated to a local literacy charity. This year some $40,000 went to Atlanta learn-to-read groups. I always volunteer at the Literacy Signing and it’s huge fun for everyone. I met my idol Shana Abe this year, but in past years, I’ve talked with Linda Howard, Alexandra Ivy, Nalini Singh, J.R. Ward, Angela Knight and others.
The towering open lobby and bar spaces of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis also allowed for plenty of informal interaction with the Big Names in Romance. I was waiting in the bar for some friends on the first night of the conference when Nora Roberts joined her friends next to me. I played it cool, but a woman passing by with her family did a double-take and circled back.
“Excuse me,” she said. “What is your name?”
“Nora,” Nora said.
The woman ran off, barely suppressing a squeal. She’s probably kicking herself that she didn’t say anything else. Like, maybe, “hello”.
That’s okay, because two days later I ran into Nora again, when I got lost trying to find my way to the mall attached to the hotel. I asked two ladies smoking outside a door for directions and only as they were explaining where to go did I realize that one of them was Nora Roberts. Duh! I just apologized for interrupting and ran away. Really. Shouldn’t these people have bodyguards? Or entourages or something?
But they don’t because at heart they’re just like us. And not too long ago they were us, struggling to put that story down on paper or to convince an agent to take a chance on them or to sell that first book. One of the best parts of attending Nationals is that you get to be inspired by the personal stories of the best-selling writers who are chosen to speak to the conference at the keynote and awards luncheons. These women invariably leave an indelible mark on everyone who hears them, because they are not afraid to share how difficult it was for them to get to where they are.
This year’s keynote speaker was Cathy Maxwell, author of more than 30 romance novels, including the lush historical romances for which she is well known. As a member of Virginia Romance Writers, where Cathy is a member, I knew conference attendees were in for a treat with Ms. Maxwell on the playbill, and we weren’t disappointed. She gave us a rousing peptalk urging us to never give up on our dreams.
Contemporary romance author Kristan Higgans, NY Times and USA Today best-selling writer of ten romantic comedies, was the awards luncheon speaker. Kristan, predictably, started off in a lighter vein, with some reminiscing about her first time at Nationals (and trying to save money), but her talk quickly turned to more serious memories. Of an awkward adolescence saved by an escape into books (she read Gone With the Wind 12 times during a particularly difficult time!). Of the pain of the loss of a child eased by reading. Of the support of her husband, who, as soon as he passed the test to become a firefighter, told her to quit work and start writing full time. No one who heard Kristan’s speech was unaffected—or uninspired.
But that’s what we come to Nationals for—to be inspired, to get the boost that will keep us going another year. Writing is a famously lonely business. We spend long hours alone at the computer, struggling with the demons of character and plot, motivation and conflict. We get rejected over and over again, by badly-chosen critique partners at first, then by agents and finally by editors. And after all we’ve gone through, we may ultimately be rejected by the readers. We need this one time in the year to hear writing is not a futile enterprise. Telling the stories that fill our heads and our hearts is important work, work that can change lives and make the world a better place.
|Sharon on the big screen as a RITA nominee.|
Next year’s conference will be held July 23-26 in San Antonio, Texas. Don’t miss your chance to get fired up for your future!
Be sure to check out Sharon Lynn Fisher’s giveaway below of an Advance Reader Copy of her upcoming new book Ophelia's Prophecy. This one is sure to be another winner for Sharon and you could be one of the early reviewers!