Friday, July 26, 2013


Me (far left, bottom)and some of  the 2012 GH Firebirds.
Well, I suppose I should apologize first for taking a WHOLE WEEK to blog about my time at the 2013 Romance Writers of America National Conference in Atlanta.  But it takes me at least that long to recover from the nonstop energy and excitement that is Nationals.  There is simply too much information/experience to process quickly, especially given late nights, early mornings and, ahem, a drink here and there.

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.
The last night of the conference is dedicated to honoring those romance writers who have written the best of these stories of the year.  The Golden Heart® Award for unpublished romance manuscripts in six categories is the only one of its kind for writers seeking a professional career in writing.  The RITA® Award recognizes excellence in published romance in eleven categories, including Best New Book.  Congratulations to all the winners in 2013!

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!


  1. To be inspired and get the boost... YES!!!!! I can't afford an RWA membership (yet), but there is a conference I go to every year. In fact, my whole year revolves around it now.

    It's coming up in September and I am so excited! I love getting to hang friends I talk to online all the time, learning new things to apply to my writing, staying up too late, in-person brainstorming, crazy conversations about football, listening to my CP's hilarious stories of when her kids were little.

    There's nothing else quite like it. I think every writer, at some point in his or her career, needs the experience of a conference. It's hard to describe what it's like to be surrounded by people who know exactly what it's like inside your head and don't think it's weird to see you in a corner madly scribbling away, or get that far-off look in your eyes as a plot piece clicks into place.

    The one I go to is a fraction of the size of RWA, but it's still one of the largest conferences in the country.

  2. I don't think I'll ever get to one. I had to talk fast to get 'permission' to go to two scifi conventions next year. Not that I'm a RWA member either. *pouty face*

  3. RWA is a monster, but you're right Rachel, you can get the same kind of boost from a smaller conference. Just being around folks who "get it" makes all the difference!

  4. The one I go to is up to over 600 attendees and gets bigger every year. The first time I went it was just over 300 people. It's not exactly small, but still not as big as RWA. I'm a seasoned pro and this one is conference #7.

    This year we may break 700 for the first time. Which worries me a little because the hotel we're at is actually too small for that many people. We barely fit three years ago with 520 attendees. There are four elevators to get 600 women to a formal banquet. I'm taking the stairs!

    Pippa, even if you can just go to a one or two day local conference it still provides the same boost. There are tons of small ones scattered around the US, surely the UK has some too.

  5. Great post, Donna, and of course I'm GREEN with envy. (But, then I'm always Green. *rimshot*)

    Felt so "homesick" missing RWA this year, and my Firebirds and Starcatchers GH gangs, but definitely planning on San Antone next year and hoping all the stars to speak.

    @Rachel May I ask which conference you're referring to? Emerald City, maybe?

  6. Laurie, ACFW. American Christian Fiction Writers. It's where I've learned most of my craft, and what I started out writing. It's still a great conference, and I got into Jim Bell's all-day Quantum Story class!

    Amanda's doing a marketing class the second day and I'm looking forward to it.

  7. @Rachel. Aha! Where is it held? And are non-Christian writers welcome?

  8. Wait, that sounded wrong. I meant writers of non-Christian works, not non-Christian writers. Just to clarify. :)

  9. BTW, Donna, LUVLUVLUV that shot of the jumbotron with Sharon's name and title. Can I post that on the sidebar? I love it.

  10. As far as I know writers not writing Christian are welcome. I'm not writing Christian fiction anymore, though I'm still a member for now. There is a non-member registration rate. I plan to write paranormal and science fiction romance on my name tag just to see if anyone besides my friends notices.

    It's in a different city every year, usually in a semi-central location. It's in Indianapolis this year, St. Louis next year, Dallas in 2015, Nashville in 2016 and 2018, and Grapevine, TX in 2017.

    It's THE conference for Christian writers. Most of the classes are taught by multi-published Christian authors, but we've also had Margie Lawson and Donald Maass. Jim Bell is usually there, even if he's not teaching. ACFW has a phenomenal emphasis on the craft of writing and helping writers get that first novel finished. I would not be where I am without ACFW.

    Plus we get to see Chip MacGregor in a kilt at the awards banquet.

  11. I believe I had the privilege of seeing Chip in his kilt at last year's RITA/Golden Heart Awards ceremony. Except I didn't know it was Chip until Amanda introduced me at the Afterparty. The kilt certainly got a lot of positive attention! And being of Scottish descent, oh yeah...loved it!


Thank you for chiming in! We love to see your comments. (All comments are moderated so spam can be terminated!)