Well, my friends, I’m back from attending my first ever RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference, and it was everything I hoped it would be and so much more! Now, brace yourselves, grab a snack. Be sure to stay hydrated. This post reached epic length about halfway through typing it…
Day 1 – I arrived in Orlando, Florida around 11:30 a.m., hopped on a shuttle, and headed straight for the Swan and Dolphin Resort. I had just enough time to drop off my luggage with the front desk, then I made a beeline for the Dolphin side of the resort to have lunch with my pal, Kristan Higgins. You wanna know the absolute best way to start a conference? Have lunch with Kristan. It’s so easy to talk to her. It always feels like I’m catching up with a friend I’ve known for decades. Kristan made me laugh, of course, and she spent several minutes helping me prepare for my editor/agent pitching appointments. I love you, KH, but I think you already know that. 😉
Kristan introduced me to all kinds of people during that lunch, including Susan Elizabeth Phillips, whom I took a picture with mostly to make Mags jealous. Susan got an evil twinkle in her eye when I told her as much.
All good things must come to an end, though, so we hugged goodbye and I left my copy of ‘On Second Thought’ for Kristan to sign, giving us a reason to meet again during the conference. That’s called usin’ the old noggin’.
I finally checked into my room, unpacked, and went to register and get my conference goody bag. I spent some time exploring the Dolphin side, seeing where all the workshops would be in the coming days. When my stomach started rumbling again, I recalled Mags telling me about a cafeteria-style restaurant on the lower level, called Picabu. I figured I’d just grab something fast and maybe take it back to the room. But once I’d acquired my burrito (delicious, btw), I saw another woman sitting by herself in the restaurant, so I asked if I could join her. And just like that, I’d made a new friend. RWA is AWESOME for making new writer friends!
I made it back to the room around 7:30, and soon walked in Mollie, one of my three roommates. She spent the rest of the evening relaxing and unpacking, and I decided to check out the karaoke scene at Kimonos restaurant. The place was dead. Like, the only person singing was the karaoke host, and she had an awesome voice, which totally defeats the purpose of karaoke. It’s for public humiliation, damn it! Anyway, I decided to wait it out a bit and grabbed a table by myself, ordered a glass of something bubbly, and started selecting some songs I was sure would liven up the place.
About a half an hour later, I heard an angelic voice say, “You must be Julie.” I turned around and saw a friendly face beaming at me, immediately deducing she was Nicole, one of my other roommates and a fellow Canuck to boot. I said to her, “Did the shoes give it away?” See, I happened to be wearing high-tops with maple leaves on them. I knew I loved Nicole the moment she agreed to sing a Neil Diamond song with me to bring the bar to life. ‘Sweet Caroline’ was a huge success. In no time flat, the bar filled up with other romance writers who’d heard our siren call from the lobby. Soon, our table was full of fabulous ladies who became instant friends. We even sang songs as a group and called ourselves The Romancers. Seriously, ladies, if you’re reading this, I think we need to take our show on the road! Next stop: Denver! 😀
Day 2 – In the wee hours of the morning, our fourth and final roommate, Tiffany, arrived. While she was catching up on some much-needed Zzzz’s, Nicole and I went down to Picabu to grab some breakfast. We noticed a woman eating by herself and invited her to join us at our table. Her name was Claudia Connor, a name that sounded very familiar to me, but I wasn’t sure why. Yet another reason why I love RWA. It’s a long enough conference that it’s okay if it takes you three days to realize why/how you know someone. Ms. Connor just so happens to be the author of one of my favourite books, Worth The Fall! Once I realized that, proper gushing and fangirling took place. We spent about an hour together, laughing and chatting, but then I had to jet off for a full day of Disney at the Magic Kingdom.
RWA organized mini groups of conference attendees to spend a day at Disney. My group’s leader, Stephanie Haefner, was a dream tour guide. She knows Disney inside and out and ensured our day was as magical as possible. She and I met before the others at a place called Whispering Canyon Café. I FREAKING LOVED THIS PLACE. Trust me, there is NO whispering going on here. It’s loud, crazy, and hilarious! Whenever a table needed ketchup, they had to holler at the top of their lungs, “We need the ketchup!” and then the table that was hoarding all the ketchup would have to run over every. single. bottle. Our waitress, Bridget, cracked me up from start to finish. In fact, I was such a huge fan that I insisted she take a picture with us.
Stephanie stayed with me long enough to meet Mickey Mouse. The line took over an hour, but OMG, it was so worth it. Mickey spoke! HE SPOKE! And he sounded like Mickey! As soon as I heard him speak, I was bouncing and screaming and all the kids were staring at me…
Stephanie had to scoot back to the hotel to meet our remaining group members since their park passes weren’t valid until after 4 p.m. I spent the extra time racing off to Storybook Circus to meet all the other characters! I seriously didn’t even care about the rides. It’s all about the characters for me.
Stephanie and the rest of the ladies in our group met up with me at The Little Mermaid ride. She even had name tags for all of us. It was such an awesome mix of women, and I was so glad to make some new friends! 🙂
We spent the rest of the afternoon, evening, and night going from ride to ride to ride. By the end of the day, I bet I’d walked over ten miles. Around 11 p.m., the thunder and lightning rolled in. We decided that was a good time to vamoose and got back to the hotel just before the onslaught. The roomies were still awake when I went into our room, so we caught each other up on our days and managed to squeeze in some beauty rest before Thursday’s activities.
Day 3 – Holy moly, it was hard getting out of bed on Thursday, but I had motivation in the form of the PRO retreat. Authors who’ve completed a work of at least 20,000 words, or multiple works totaling that word count, are eligible for PRO status, which is where I fall. The PRO retreat started with a couple round table sessions. I knew Kristan Higgins would be leading one on revisions, so I sprinted to her table to soak in whatever words of wisdom she shared. My next session was with Joanna Shupe who talked about how to prepare your book from pitch to publication.
I followed Kristan to her next workshop with Sonali Dev – How to gut your readers and make them love it. Kristan spotted me near the front and returned my copy of ‘On Second Thought,’ all freshly signed and glorious. A standout line for me came from Sonali: Every scene of pain needs a tampon string. It made total sense at the time. I wrote it in my notebook and everything…and I have no idea what it means anymore. Maybe my journey as an author will be to find out how to remove that elusive string….
Thursday was awards day. First, at lunch, we celebrated the Golden Heart nominees. The Golden Heart awards are given to authors who haven’t yet been published in anything novella-length or greater. I entered my story, and despite not receiving a nomination, I was particularly invested in the outcome and secretly envisioned myself up on that stage. When I stepped into the huge ballroom, it was nearly impossible to find a table. I ended up sitting next to a bunch of strangers who soon became friends. One of those new friends happened to be the fantastic Vivi Parish, who introduced me to Jeannie Moon. I mentioned how I’d be pitching my story to Meghan Farrell of Tule Publishing the next day. Jeannie immediately took me under her wing and told me how wonderful Meghan is, and what it was like writing for Tule. I couldn’t wait to meet Meghan after such a glowing review!
Congrats to all the Golden Heart winners!
Following the awards lunch, I attended a Pitch Wars workshop that was SO HELPFUL. It was another round table-style workshop, and each table was assigned an expert who listened to our pitches and helped us to get them polished and ready to present to editors and agents. I was so grateful, not only to our expert, but also to the women at my table who gave me invaluable feedback.
I mentioned Mags earlier, (a.k.a. Maggie Wells) my critique partner extraordinaire. She has a hot new series releasing next year with Sourcebooks, and I promised her I’d say hello to her editor, Cat Clyne. So my next stop was the Spotlight on Sourcebooks. Man, what an insanely cool group of women. Cat was so happy I introduced myself to her. I told her that Kate Snyder, Mags’ heroine, was inspired by me and my wickedly awesome sporty shoe collection. She believed me. Another thing about Mags…even though I was so bummed that she couldn’t be in Orlando with me, it really felt like she WAS there. I always had her in my pocket, carrying her with me from workshop to workshop. Texting her with little tidbits and insights whenever I had the chance. Thank you for being my person, Mags. Aww, I’m schmoopy.
That evening, the roomies and I decided to order pizza before the RITA Awards. These are like the Academy Awards for romance authors. The highest honour any published author can receive. We got ourselves all glitzed and glammed up for the occasion. Thanks to Nicole for straightening my hair and to Mollie for providing the straightener!
Again, it was ridiculously hard to find a table, but wouldn’t you know it? I ended up at a table with my pal, Julie Anne Lindsey! Julie and Julie at the same table! Yay!
The RITAs were SO great. There were beautiful, tearful moments and videos of friendship shown throughout. Major congrats to all the nominees and the winners! And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, we had a two-hour dance party afterward that was OFF THE HOOK! Stephanie, my Disney tour guide, hit the dance floor and the photo booth with me!
Day 4 – Are you okay? Has anyone died from exhaustion yet? Day four was my pitching day to an editor and agent! I wanted to look professional so I wore a conservative outfit….
Pffft. Yeah right! Canada is in da houuuuuuse! 😀 I was all pumped and ready to rock my first pitching session, but my editor didn’t show! Maybe I scared her off. I’m not really sure. At any rate, I used the extra time I had to go to a workshop on productivity. My second pitching appointment was with Meghan Farrell from Tule Publishing. I’d been hoping that the first session would help me shake off the nerves, so I went in to this appointment a bit on edge. Meghan couldn’t have been any sweeter. And the best part of all? She requested that I send her the full manuscript and a synopsis! Woohoo!
I caught the tail end of Kristan’s workshop following my appointment and told her the good news. She gave me a big hug and said she wasn’t the least bit surprised, and then we ran into Jeannie Moon who also gave me a big hug. And there was so much hugging and happiness and I friggin’ love RWA!
In the late morning, I attended Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ workshop entitled ‘The Girls Who Played with Fire.’ These two ladies are a hoot! While I sat in awe of them, I noticed Melanie Greene, one of my conference besties, in attendance. Melanie and I crossed paths far too many times to count throughout the week. She always had the biggest smile on her face. I serenaded her the first night with a Melissa Ethridge karaoke song, and thus our friendship was forged. I invited myself to sit at her table for the Keynote Luncheon hosted by beloved author, Susan Wiggs.
We made friends with the other ladies sitting at our table, some I recognized from the dance floor the previous night. Seriously, RWA is like a dream come true for an extrovert.
After lunch, I went to the Sourcebooks signing and scored some awesome books! I met Tamara Morgan, a long-time Twitter pal whom I bonded with over mimes. She signed a copy of ‘Stealing Mr. Right’ for me, which I can’t wait to read. In my book she wrote, “Here’s to mimes and thieves!” Amen!
Then, I met my new BFF in the hall while I waited for my final pitching appointment of the day. Lainey Marshall sat in a chair next to me, we immediately struck up a conversation, and somehow ended up having a pushup-off. I’m pretty sure that’s my new favourite way to prepare for a pitching appointment.
Nerves officially worked off, I sat down with Meg Ruley, a renowned literary agent, to pitch my story. She couldn’t have been nicer. She gave me tons of excellent feedback and invited me to send my manuscript to her as well. Success! 🙂
For dinner that night, the roomies and I went to Kimonos for sushi, then frolicked in the resort pool (FOR THREE HOURS!), where we made many, many more friends. To cap off the night, we returned to the karaoke bar where my ‘air guitar’ during ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ brought the house down.
Day 5 – Okay, so the fatigue was finally starting to catch up with me. I had to drag myself out of bed, but I’m so glad I did because Damon Suede’s workshop on Power Couples was fricking awesome! Tiffany, my super-tall and lovely roommate, joined me for some lunch after, then I got myself ready for the Literacy Autographing event I volunteered for. I had to wear a cute green RWA apron that actually looked good with my outfit. My duties included keeping the authors in my section hydrated and helping with line control. I was about an hour into my two-hour stint when Kristan texted me to say she’d sold out of her books and was waiting for me in the lobby bar to have a drink with her.
Hmm. What to do, what to do…My conscience didn’t even argue with me on this one. I whipped off my apron, shoved it under a random author’s table (Thank you, random author!), and ran my ass out of there. Worst. Volunteer. Ever. Moments later, I slid onto the stool opposite Kristan, who is like a beacon to everybody who’s anybody at the conference. Suddenly, a parade of amazing authors marched by, led by Heather Graham. It was like a revolving door of awesome. Heather and I quickly bonded over our love of karaoke and agreed to meet up later that night at the bar that was beginning to feel like my home away from home.
After drinky times, I spent the next little while back in my room, regaling my roommates with the story of how I met KH, and proving that, yes, it was really me they saw sitting at the bar with ALL THOSE FAMOUS AUTHORS. We all packed for a bit, then got ourselves ready for one last night of karaoke. Heather and co. were there already, so we parked ourselves at their table. Claudia Connor was there, too! It was the perfect end to an incredible week!
We missed you, Kristan! You still owe me an Endless Love duet! 😉
Day 6 – I was up at dark-thirty to catch my shuttle to the airport. Mollie had left the previous evening, but Nicole and Tiffany woke up with me to hug me goodbye. Then, I was homeward bound–exhausted, exhilarated, and with a full, full heart. Thank you to everyone who made this such an unforgettable experience! Who’s in for Denver next year?! 😀