Posted in #RWA16, Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, rwa, Writing

Inspiration Overload at #RWA16

My brain can only handle about two days of RWA before it fries. I wouldn’t miss a minute of it—I wouldn’t dare, for fear I’d miss the best minute ever—but as I sit here in the San Diego airport, waiting for my flight back to the real world, I am feeling so inspired, so energized, so filled with information, gossip, tips, data, and carbohydrates, that I can barely think, let alone write. I am fit only for Candy Crush at this point, but the airport charges for wifi. So forget it.

The conference hashtag (#RWA16) will fade into history, the awards will find their permanent resting place on mantelpieces and bookshelves across the English-speaking world, and all the excitement fizzing in the air at the Marriott Marquis will scatter with the attendees and disperse. But as the old lyric says, the melody lingers on. The word “amazing” is used so indiscriminately today that its original meaning is diluted through overuse, but I’ll risk it. RWA is an amazing organization, and I mean that in the original, jaw-dropping way.

Are women truly wired differently than men are? Why are other creative organizations so cutthroat, and Romance Writers of America so nurturing? I don’t have an answer for it that doesn’t sound sexist, so I’ll simply thank them …us … for consistently amazing me. Every conference is uplifting as well as informative. Members who have progressed in their careers are cheered on, and members who have not progressed are supported, surrounded, encouraged, and counseled. It’s like a sisterhood—a sisterhood that includes men. I saw far more men, and a more interesting variety of skin tones, than I did even a few years ago at RWA12. White women, move over. A lot of new voices are offering tales of human pair bonding in all its myriad forms! This afternoon, for the first time, I read a romance featuring “black folk.” It was fantastic. Multicultural romances are going mainstream, and it’s way past time.

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Posted in Books, Other Stuff, Publishing, rwa, Writing

Is It Next Week Yet?

Like everyone else in America, I am so done with this week. One of the pleasures of traveling to San Diego to attend the Romance Writers of America conference will be the utter absence of news. For heaven’s sake, people, behave yourselves while I’m gone. When I come back to the real world, I’d like to find you all sitting around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and telling  jokes.

Someone please make arrangements and send out the evites. I’d do it myself, but I have to pack …

Posted in Books, Reading, rwa, Writing

Confessions of a RITA Judge

Did you watch the Oscars last night? So did I. And since I am simultaneously wrestling with an awards-judging process of my own, I found myself feeling unexpected sympathy for the much-maligned Academy.

Every year, there’s a certain amount of fist-shaking and eye rolling over Oscar nominations. Every year, someone is overlooked who totally should have been included. Every year, someone is nominated based on having been overlooked in the past. (“So-and-so should have been nominated last year, so let’s nominate them now even though their work this year was pretty mediocre.”)

Actually, of course, I have no idea how the nomination process works. But that’s how it seems.

And if you think people get passionate about the Oscars, you should see the brouhaha that goes on over Romance Writers of America’s annual RITA awards.

The RWA Board struggles mightily to be responsive to its large and fractious membership. So each year, the judging rules change, in an attempt to fix whatever people complained about the year before.

Which leads to a chaotic process — and even lousier, less fair nominations than the Oscars deliver.

Romance fiction is the 800-pound gorilla in the publishing world, much the way Hollywood is the 800-pound gorilla in the movie world. Of course there are other books being written and sold, just as there are movies being made elsewhere on Planet Earth. And romance novels, like Hollywood movies, receive their share of sneers — sneers from those who are jealous and sneers from those who are genuinely concerned about artistic quality. And actually, for many of the same reasons. Whenever an art form is really, really popular, commercial success is likely to occur. Once that happens, those who are making money seek to continue making money. And presto, the dreaded “cookie cutter” effect kicks in.

Nevertheless, the RITA is the most prestigious, most coveted award in genre fiction. Like the Oscars, the RITA represents the consensus of one’s peers. It bestows upon its recipient a heady illusion: you, gentle author, have written the best book of its kind among a huge field of contenders.

Have you? Have you really? Maybe. In the final analysis, who cares? You certainly wrote a good book. And now you have a wicked cool golden statuette to prove it.

But I would like to say, to the authors I am not allowed to contact — the ones whose books I am judging this year — you will probably not receive a nomination. At least two of you wrote fantastic books. I loved them. But I disqualified them.

And here is where the RITAs and the Oscars painfully diverge. The RITAs are intended to recognize romance novels. That’s the whole purpose of their existence. But they have become such coveted objects that lately — for the past two years, maybe longer — they attract authors who are not writing romance. I envy the Academy judges, who know, at a minimum, that they are judging a movie. We RITA judges are wrestling with the very definition of the art form.

The heroine of Book A has a boyfriend. This does not make Book A a romance.

The couple at the center of Book B face terrible dangers together. They seem quite devoted to each other, but the book is about facing terrible dangers, not the growth of a relationship. Book B is not a romance.

You’re killing me, people. Either stop writing great books that are not romances, or stop entering them in the RITA contest, I beg of you. Out there, somewhere, are romance authors whose books failed to get through the door because yours arrived first.

But thanks for the terrific reads.

Posted in Books, Publishing, rwa, Writing

More than Shoes

I wanted so badly to come back from RWA and confirm for you that yes, it was all about the shoes.

But no. Incredibly, it was about far more than shoes. And if I show you some of the shoes I’m talking about, you will understand how awesome this conference truly must have been:

publisher party pumps

Pretty freaking awesome.

I am still reeling from sensory overload, so forgive me if I’m a bit incoherent. I learned so much that I’m still struggling to process it all. Two of the biggest takeaways: (1) Publishing is changing – radically, and rapidly. (2) Storytelling is not.

It’s a great time to be a writer. It’s not such a great time to be a publisher. Nobody wants publishers to die, but they are thrashing and gasping like fish in a basket. It’s gruesome to behold. Kinda tugs at the old heartstrings, too. They are still the best at what they do, and everybody loves what they do. But they are no longer essential. They are “extra.” They are the frosting on your career’s cake, but they are no longer the cake.

So while we are all chewing on that mouthful, let me tell you what else I learned.

Blogging: I’m doing it wrong. Very few people care what happened at the Romance Writers of America 2012 National Conference. Those who care, care intensely, but never mind that. I simply must stop jabbering on and on about writerly stuff. :gasp!: :sob!: This is going to be a hard habit to break, so only time will tell how far I get with this one-!

Facebook: I’m doing it wrong. Okay, this really hurts. I thought I knew Facebook. But my knowledge extends only to being a person, not being a page. I gotta tackle that page from a new angle. (In my spare time.) This could get ugly. I bet it takes me a while to hit my stride, because I have no clue how to accomplish this — but it sounds like a really good idea: “Make your page a fun place to hang out.” Ohhhh-kaaaay.

I learned a lot of other stuff too, but it’s all writerly stuff. So I can feel my workshop leaders tugging on my sleeve and whispering, “Wrap it up! Quick!”

I’d better take their advice. Wouldn’t want to spend all that time & money at RWA for nothing.

One last thought: Every time I plan to go to this conference, I fret about the expense. I think, “Do I really want to go?? How badly do I want to go? Is it really worth all that @#^%$!! money?”

So far, when I have decided to go, I have never regretted it. Never. It’s just SO much more than shoes.

Posted in Other Stuff, rwa, Writing

Okay, Now I’m Nervous

Apparently it’s not possible to sail into RWA’s national conference without a care in the world. I keep trying to tell myself I’m really in the “sweet spot” this year, there’s nothing to worry about, it’s all good, it’s going to be a blast, et cetera. No good. I’m nervous.

Perhaps the nerves are contagious. I’ve been following the #RWA12 hashtag on Twitter and all the chatter about shoes may be getting to me. I am reflexively worrying about shoes now. Weighing the risks and rewards of fashion vs. comfort.  Poring over hotel maps and mentally calculating the probable distance between point A and point B. Is the comfortable pair too shabby? Does the “nice” pair have insufficient arch support? Must I rush to the shoe store and replace every pair presently nestled in my suitcase?

This is nuts. I have no one to impress this year – and if I did, would footwear be the best way to go? (“Wow, look at those strappy sandals and perfect pedicure. I bet that woman can really write.”)

I think I need to get off Twitter and get a grip.

Seriously, this is going to be a GREAT conference. I am thrilled by the workshop offerings, the setting, the weather forecast, and the fact that for the first time ever, I am going to be in a room of my own. (I may go back to the utter-strangers-as-roommates situation for future conferences, however — maybe the summer camp/slumber party vibe is part of the conference’s charm. I may be missing out, rolling in solitary luxury. Or not.)

I’ll be posting pictures and videos over on my Facebook page, probably starting Wednesday night. So if you like to live vicariously — or if you’re just curious — stop on by!

Posted in Other Stuff, Publishing, rwa, Writing

How to Jinx a Writers’ Conference

I am really looking forward to the Romance Writers of America conference in Anaheim. I mean, I am REALLY looking forward to it. Is that a Bad Sign? Should I temper my excitement by reminding myself of, say, that Mexican Riviera cruise — which I was confident would be a dream vacation … until Day Two, when the Norovirus hit?

Maybe there’s no such thing as a jinx, but I am typing this with my fingers crossed. Just in case. Because if I manage not to jinx it, this RWA conference is going to be fantastic. FANTASTIC! There; I’ve said it.

I’ve attended quite a few, over the years, and they have all been great. But I’ve never been in quite this position before: making money from my books without being beholden to a publisher. I have no editor. I have no agent. I am not up for any awards. In other words, I am feeling no performance anxiety of any kind. I have no meetings set up. No conversations to anticipate, fret about, and mentally rehearse. No acceptance speech to write. No “graceful loser” smile to practice. No tricky etiquette questions to mull (“Which of us is supposed to pay for this lunch? After all, she invited me – but I chose the restaurant. And she’s my editor/agent/reviewer/chapter president …so does that tip the balance? And if so, in which direction?”). For the first time in my career, I will be free as the proverbial bird.

And, as if my enviable position above the fray weren’t blissful enough, I also have a book contract with NAL (or Signet, or Intermix, or whatever it is calling itself these days) — a bona fide subsidiary of Penguin Putnam. An actual “Big Six” New York publisher. Ha! Yes, I am hugging myself. Forgive me. It’s just too, too perfect. Because the contract is just for an e-release of one of my old titles — so it’s really no big deal, right? But a contract is a contract is a contract — so I am officially a Contracted Author. With a book coming out in August. Which means that, unlike most of the other self-pubbing authors, I get to attend the Signet/Berkley/NAL party on Friday night.

If you’ve never been to an RWA conference, you are going to have to trust me on this. Friday night is the night when all the publishing houses host parties for their authors. And you do not want to be left in the lobby with the wannabes, pressing your nose against the glass and watching as all the published authors are swept off in limos to glamorous destinations that you can only dream of. (Okay, there aren’t always limos and it’s not usually that thrilling of a destination — in fact, often the parties are just receptions held on the conference hotel premises — but that doesn’t matter; being in with the in crowd feels great, and being left out hurts. That’s just human.)

So. I go to the conference needing nothing from anyone, expecting nothing, able to enjoy every minute to the full without the usual high-adrenaline plague of nerves. And yet I get to attend the party. How perfect is this?!

Too perfect. Excuse me while I go throw some salt over my left shoulder.