This past week I returned from Orlando and the 2017 Romance Writers of America annual conference. It was my second year attending the event, and the experience was overwhelmingly fantastic and inspirational. Here are just a few of my favorite highlights from this year’s RWA17!
Meeting Jade Lee and Cindy Dees
Tuesday night, before the event officially started, I was wandering with a friend looking for a good spot for dinner, and none-too-quietly whispering about how that’s Jade Lee when the amazing women called us over to chat. We ended up sharing a meal filled with great writing advice and discussion on the industry, as well as personal histories and stories, and I continued to run into both Jade and Cindy through the rest of the week. As writers, we often spend a remarkable amount of time on our own, but events like RWA are a reminder of the solidarity, support and joy in the romance genre, and how writers at all stages in their career are, first and foremost, writers.
The Golden Heart Luncheon
There was some contention surrounding this year’s splitting of the RITA and Golden Heart awards, but as someone who has attended only one event in the past, I thought the separation was a great idea. It seemed to give a more inherent value to the Golden Heart finalists, who had been nominated for unpublished manuscripts, and having a two hour ceremony dedicated to them, instead of a four hour ceremony late the last night, felt to an outsider like an important way to celebrate. Also, the incomparable Christina Britton, who was a newbie with me in San Diego last year, won the award for Best Historical, and that was a huge rush!
Beverly Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award Speech
Everyone in romance has heard of or read Beverly Jenkins. Not only has she made incredible strides in pushing for inclusivity in a genre still heavily dominated by a homogenous demographic of white women, she is a powerful force of joy, passion and acceptance that makes being in her presence, literally or virtual, a truly wonderful experience. I went to her for a signing after her keynote speech last year, and she actually thanked and hugged me for being at the event.
Her speech was eloquent, inspirational and emotional, the story of a descendent of illiterate slaves winning a notable literary award, and it challenged our genre to do better, be better, strive for a worthiness of authors, and people, like Bev Jenkins. I know I wasn’t the only one whose makeup didn’t survive the night.
Because of the Golden Heart and RITA award split, there was time after the ceremony for a dance party, and romance writers will never pass up a good dancing opportunity. Not only was it a ton of fun to actually get out and dance, but the party proved to be a great way to meet people and feel comfortable and friendly, but not in full-on networking mode. One of the women I was dancing with ended up being a fantastic pitch partner before my Friday afternoon pitches, and I think that casual getting-to-know you is a great addition mid-week. I really freaking should have taken off my heels, though.
Meeting Laura Kaye
If you’ve been following me on Twitter or on this blog, you’ll know that I’ve become a huge Laura Kaye fan, first with her Hard Ink series, and more recently with The Raven Riders and Blasphemy series, both of which have new books coming out this fall.
In addition to just being one of my favorite authors at the moment, Kaye does an admirable job with inclusivity in her novels, as well as safe and consensual BDSM, both of which I’m working hard to emulate in my own work. I had the chance to meet her several times over the course of the week, and even in the few minutes of conversation we shared, I feel more confident moving forward. Plus, I got to fangirl through the freaking roof, so there’s that.
Meeting New Friends and Keeping the Old
This year’s conference was a great way to meet some of my online friends in person, which is always a rush! I bonded with one friend on Twitter over our shared love of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series, Maya Banks’s KGI series and, of course, Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, and I’m a huge believer that book friends are life friends.
I also got the chance to chat books, industry, marketing and more with friends from last year’s events and some of the amazing women who also write at Wild Rose Press. Desiree Holt ( I knowwww) and I actually share a beloved editor, and we snapped a picture together to send her. Over all, it’s like one amazing family reunion, but with cousins you get to meet for the first time.
Inspiration and Joy
RWA this year for me was a lot more about networking than attending workshops, but I still learned an incredible amount both in and out of the classroom. As writers, we are solitary creatures, which doesn’t always bode well for this extrovert, but more than that, we tend to keep our noses firmly to the grindstone and often forget the bigger picture, the reason we do this, why we love the genre and the industry so incredibly much.
This event is the reminder I needed to push harder, write better and continue striving for a career in this beloved world. Between the stories from fellow writers, the reassurances that no, talking to the characters in your head doesn’t make your crazy, and the myriad experiences I had pitching, chatting and meeting people at the conference, I know I’m a better writer for it. My tank of passion, excitement and drive is filled back to the brim, and now the next step is just to get the butt back in the seat and write. I can’t wait.
RWA is more than just a conference, more than just classes or signings or coffees with beloved fellow authors. But for me, above all that, RWA is a love letter to the genre of love, the genre of joy, and the genre of hope. This conference is an escape from the daily grind of being a writer, a chance to find our author brethren, to learn and grow together, no matter where in our careers we are. If I learned nothing else this past week, and I can assure you that I did, it’s that I’m lucky as hell to be a romance writer. ♥