While pondering possible titles for this blog post, I considered “Misery Loves Company” which might have enticed you to read, but would have started us out on the wrong tone. My trip to New York for the Romance Writers of America 2019 National Conference was far from miserable. It was, in fact, one of the most enjoyable conference experiences of my career.
So what’s that other title about? Writing is a fairly solitary exercise and while I belong to three wonderfully supportive groups up here in the Poconos, none of them are romance focused, so I always look forward to an RWA conference as a way to connect with my peers in the romance genre, and with writers whose books, like mine, feature LGBTQ characters. I’m also looking to connect with writers who are at the same stage of their career so we can swap notes, perhaps commiserate a little, and cheer each other on to the next step.
This year, in particular, I was hoping to do all of that and also find a reason to keep going. To, nevertheless, persist. My fatigue this year hasn’t all been due to external forces. As a writer and a romance novelist, I’m also exhausted by what’s happening in the marketplace. Thankfully, I’m not alone. My first workshop of the conference was appropriately named #Tired: Wielding Your Pen When the World’s on Fire and everyone in that room was tired. There are other writers out there who felt as though we now need to take two steps to cover the same distance as one. That everyone else is writing faster and harder and better. That our lives outside of writing hours have become stupidly complicated, meaning that sometimes three steps are required when we are back in the zone. And, we all agreed, the absolute dumpster fire that is social media just makes it all worse.
Our lovely panelists, Kianna Alexander and Synithia Williams, were prepared for us, though, with a number of ways for us to Realize, Reset, Recharge, and Restart.
Next up was the PAN Keynote with Jennifer Probst, who also talked about this overwhelming fatigue, to a wave of emphatic nods from the audience. I walked out of this session with five paragraphs scrawled into my notebook—all five written down at the encouragement of our speaker. Why I came to the conference, my fears regarding my career, my dreams, when my writing felt the worst, and when it felt the best. These paragraphs will slot nicely into the reset phase of my working plan from the first session.
I attended other workshops and sessions, but these two set the tone for my conference by reminding me that I wasn’t alone and that if <insert any author here> could keep going, I could too. I just had to want to.
Another aspect of this conference that resonated was how many authors took a moment to speak to the need for more diverse representation, not only in the awards arena, but in our chapters, on our boards, and in our books. The reminder that this starts at the chapter level is timely, and ties directly into why I’ve always tried to be active in my own chapters. Change starts within, and we will only get out of this organization what we put into it.
On to the social stuff! The social happenings are the highlight of every conference and one of my favourite authors, Kristan Higgins, totally made my day on Thursday by posing for a picture with me. She is as lovely in person as she is in her reader group! I was thrilled to finally meet her.
I also ran into Liz Jacobs and Roan Parrish, both writers I adore! We’d been friends online for years, but it’s totally different to meet in person. I nearly convinced Liz to move to San Francisco, because for some reason I thought she already lived there and had what we agreed was a lovely mental image of her and her wife and cute dog all sitting on a sunny balcony overlooking the water. Roan has the boundless energy I recognize from her books. I was excited to applaud her efforts when the board recognized her fundraising activities.
I met and caught up with several members of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter, both on Wednesday evening and Thursday evening. One of the challenges of an online chapter is the connectivity that comes with meeting regularly. Hopefully, putting some names to faces will enable our members to feel closer as a group. Robin Covington is going to do a fantastic job as chapter president next year and will need the support of our membership!
Thursday night, I caught my first Uber (after taxi overheated and dumped us on West 9th) to Brooklyn to watch E.J. Russell’s sons dance. Oh, my. Gina Night, Jenna Bayley Burke, E.J. and I stopped by the brewery next door first, then took our seats for three hours of scantily clad beauty. The skin! The dancing. The singing! The music! The show was called Queen of Hearts and performed by Company XIV at their theatre in Bushwick. An amazing show. Even if you don’t appreciate dance, just the experience of so many talented people moving and working together will blow you away. More objectively—so many lovely bodies. I could have watched these beautiful young people move all night.
Friday afternoon, I got together with Judith Utz (A Novel Take PR), Liz Jacobs, Jenn Burke, and Kini (Smexy Books) for a drink. We touched on the subject of industry fatigue and what seem to be the popular subgenres of romance right now. We also enjoyed delicious cocktails and each other’s company.
Dinner out with Jenn, J. Leigh Bailey, and Shae Connor was another highlight. We found the most amazing Turkish restaurant and enjoyed hours and hours of conversation about writing, publishing, and just being human. Later, we indulged in Schmackary’s cookies as recommended by Amanda Weaver. Nom, nom, nom.
I attended multiple signings and gathered many books. I plan to read all of them. I’ll try to read all of them. I’m thinking of writing a blog series about my attempt to read all of them. I’m always up for a challenge! After my first RWA (San Diego 2014) I dragged 37lbs of books home. I think you’ll agree I was much more restrained this time.
I finally met Vanessa North! She’s as gorgeous in person. I also met Cat Sebastian and Ruby Lang. I cannot wait to read Ruby’s book! I met a dozen other authors as well and enjoyed chatting with everyone about their stories.
I picked the books in this picture for two reasons: I liked the author and wanted to read more, or the cover called me across the room. One thing I did notice this year was a distinct lack of science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance. A good thing, as there are fewer books in my haul. But a sad thing as those are among my favourite romance genres. This year, I picked up a lot of light-hearted reads and books that veer more into women’s fiction territory.
Finally, on Saturday, Jenn and I caught the subway downtown for a while, so she could see a little more of Manhattan. I took her to Washington Square Park where I tried and mostly failed to take a selfie of us standing in front of the arch. Then we popped into a few bookshops on our way back up to Union Square and ended our trip with another subway ride back to Times Square just in time to pick up our luggage and hoof it to the bus back to Pennsylvania.
Back home again, I took Jenn to meet my tattoo artist, Rob, and she got an amazing tattoo! One final dinner out and we all came back to my place and collapses. Sunday officially didn’t happen. I did laundry and gamed.
All in all, it was a great conference. If you’re a romance writer or a member of the RWA, I highly recommend attending at least one national conference near you. If not just for the workshops and signings, but to mingle with your people. Exchange ideas, congratulation someone in person for their achievements, and learn a little more about the people behind the books you love. If you’re a reader, there is always a huge book fair on the Saturday where you can do pretty much the same thing. Meet your fellow readers (many of who are writers too!) and line up to meet the author of the book that changed your life.
My Summer Daze is still in effect. I still have to cover all the vacation shifts at the shop, get my daughter to college, prepare for my father’s visit and mow the lawn (again and again), but I now have some ideas—if not story ideas, then plans—for what I’ll be working on in September. I feel refreshed in regards to my career and, most importantly, as if there is still a place out there for my voice and my stories.
The hardest part of getting back to work is probably going to be choosing which project to work on, but I have some ideas about that, too. ❤