I just returned from my first trip to RWA Nationals in New York City! Let me tell you, it was an amazing experience. I don’t think I had a single down moment (except when I was walking out of a party with Joanna Bourne and couldn’t make the elevator work–mortifying). (Oh, or when Carole Mortimer asked me if I wanted to get coffee and I only barely managed to stammer and nod–also mortifying.) But luckily I managed to somehow miraculously remain fairly chill and relaxed the entire conference. Well, as chill and relaxed as I get. If you met me this week, you probably noticed that I’m pretty high energy. I just mean that I mostly didn’t make a complete fool of myself most of the time.
The conference was fascinating from my perspective as a blogger/reviewer. While it’s really geared toward writers, I got a tremendous amount out of the sessions I attended. I really enjoy reviewing books, but I get frustrated when a book isn’t working for me. I wanted a better vocabulary for expressing exactly why, I suppose more in the manner of an editor. And I did pick up quite a bit of information on the craft of writing from the sessions I attended and by watching the conference hashtag while walking around the hotel and NYC (sorry if I bumped into you while my rapt attention was on my phone).
But the big thing I learned is just how much everyone at RWA is not only a writer, editor, agent or reviewer, but a fan. I had heard this in the Love Between the Covers documentary I saw at the Library of Congress in February, but to see it in action was something else entirely. Though there is a HUGE public signing to benefit literacy (it’s raised over a million dollars since they started doing it), there are also smaller signings for each publisher throughout the conference where the lines are short and it’s possible to chat with the authors while picking up a signed book. Those signings aren’t quite as crazy as the big public signing, but there is still a line-up at the door beforehand and a buzz of excitement throughout. Plus, even a popular, accomplished writer like Joanna Bourne will go to a signing just to support a friend.
And then at the RITA/Golden Heart awards, it all culminates in this tremendous celebration of everything romance is and has done for everyone in the room as readers and writers and women making a career from these books we all love. If you caught me early in the week, I’d have told you that my favorite moment of the conference was getting to sit down for coffee with Carole Mortimer, who has been writing romance for Harlequin/Mills & Boon since 1978. We had a wide-ranging conversation about everything from the shift away from heroine-only point of view to Alexis Hall’s Glitterland, which she had just started reading. I was unbelievably flattered that she would take so much time out of her schedule to talk with someone who runs a small romance review blog and has nothing more to offer than a handful of book reviews now and then.
But at the RITAs, something amazing happened. I’m not a crier. I don’t cry. But after the retrospective of Carole Mortimer’s career, when every single woman in that room gave her a standing ovation, I was having trouble keeping it together. Mortimer has written category romance basically her entire career. She just published her 200th book. She told me that she occasionally gets stopped at “real life” cocktail parties by people who are mystified that she’s not a robot or just filling in an outline given to her by her editor (as if that would be easy, even it was the case, which it isn’t). More than the bodice-ripper, more than 50 Shades, more than any other kind of romance, the category gets no respect from anyone outside the romance community–it’s barely acknowledged even in derision. But here, at the RITA awards, people who understand what it takes to have a career with that kind of longevity oohed and aahed over Mortimer’s gorgeous new self-pub cover, laughed at her humor, smiled at her humility and celebrated what really is a lifetime of achievement.
I don’t even know how to encapsulate my experience at RWA so I’ll default to my favorite thing: food. I’ve had better food on various trips (the best one was a site visit to New Orleans for a meeting), but I have never had better and more varied company. I shared meals with Julia Kelly, Audra North, my friend Julia from the DC area romance readers group I coordinate, Alexandra Haughton, E_bookpushers, her mom (Ninja_Mom as E refers to her on Twitter), Jeffe Kennedy, Rose Lerner, Joanna Bourne, Sarah Lyons, Carolyn Crane, Ana Coqui (LOTS), Shari Slade, Amber Lin, Kailynn Jones, Del Dryden, Tamsen Parker, Liz Blue, Alexis Anne, Mary Chris Escobar, Carole Mortimer (just coffee but I’m counting it because our server hassled us for not ordering food), Jessica Tripler, and Jackie Horne. I had drinks with Shelley Ann Clark, Janet Lee Nye, Kiersten Hallie Krum, Julia Broadbooks and KK Hendin. I had donuts with Megan Frampton and Carolyn Jewel, where I also finally caught up with Wendy the Super Librarian, Dabney Grinnan, Erica Monroe and Isobel Carr. I also did a food-adjacent thing with Laura Florand and Jeannie Lin that I’ll be writing about later in the week because it was just so cool and I took lots of photos. I’m sorry if I missed anyone. My brain is super fuzzy at this point.
But from everyone from Tessa Dare, who gave me her full conference tote to give away to one lucky reader, all the way through a fairly new writer who was pitching her second book at the conference this week, I’ve never been around so many positive, encouraging, supportive people. Julia Kelly, during the very first meal I shared with her, asked what my goals were for the conference. I couldn’t really answer beyond meeting all my Twitter buds and learning some things about the craft of writing. But the fact that she’d even ask someone she barely knows, with an open mind and the willingness to do her part to make whatever I came up with happen, well, it was then I knew that, in a refrain I heard echoed over and over again throughout the conference, even as a non-writer, even as someone with fuzzy goals and just starting to explore the possibilities of the industry, I’d found my home.
Speaking of that full RWA conference tote, sitting in the hotel lounge waiting to leave for the train station, Tessa Dare sent out a tweet that she had a full conference tote she’d be graciously willing to hand off to someone to bring home for another lucky romance reader. So now, you might be the winner of this fabulous prize! This giveaway is only open to readers in the United States and Canada, but hang on for later in the week when I’ll have another giveaway open to international readers.
Prize includes: one navy and gold RWA tote bag, one RWA/Harlequin iPad cover, one RWA badge holder, one RWA/Tor tumbler and one each of the following books: On a Night like This by Barbara Freethy, Perfect Touch by Elizabeth Lowell, The Redemption of Darius Sterne by Carole Mortimer, This Heart of Mine by Brenda Novak, Douglas by Grace Burrowes, Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas, Say My Name by J. Kenner, Slave to Sensation and Angel’s Blood by Nalini Singh and finally, a SIGNED copy of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare.