If Thursday was when the conference started to get down to business, Friday was when the conference was all about the business. I was a bit nonplussed by the (seemingly) sudden change in tone from giddy energy to SERIOUS BUSINESS but I got used to it. Workshops all day, some booksignings, and an empty Friday night, so I have fewer pictures for this day than others.
My day started out with the Continental Breakfast, and one of the very, very few problems I had with this conference. See, I have a nut allergy, and several meals are included in the RWA registration fee (which is mighty steep). I contacted someone at RWA about my allergy, and she seemed really helpful and said that my name and information would be given to the Marriott, and that I could find her anytime with the banquet captains, and that there would always be meals and desserts made without nuts that I would be directed to every time. I thought this was amazing - I was expecting that most of my meals with the hotel would involve fruit plates or just being told what not to eat, so I was very excited. Well, I never ended up meeting this woman, none of the banquet captains during the conference knew who she was, and other than my name being on a list for the luncheons, all the rest of my allergy-meal-planning had to be done myself. I had to go to the banquet captains and order a nut-free breakfast by myself and I had to wait 45 minutes to get and eat my Continental Breakfast. Fruit plates were my dessert replacement, and at the RITA reception none of the banquet captains had ever heard of this woman I contacted and worse, none of them could tell me anything about the food they were serving and whether it had nuts in it or whether anything had been especially prepared so I ate nothing at the RITA reception.
I should be clear about this - I'm not angry at the Marriott. I'm used to dealing with my nut allergy in public venues. The reason I'm annoyed is because in my conversations with the RWA representative, I was expecting more. If I'd e-mailed her and she'd said, "Well, all I can say is check with the Marriott - it might just be fruit plates and nothing is guaranteed" - that would have been fine. I could have accepted that and dealt with it beforehand. My problem is that she said, "I will make sure the hotel does this and this and you can be sure to find me here and there will be food prepared for you etc. etc." and yet nothing was done. I was expecting more than normal so when I ended up with normal I was disappointed. I never saw her in person. None of the banquet captains she said she'd be near knew who she was. I ended up on my own for most of it. I hope she enjoys the gift I bought for her beforehand for her helpfulness because I will not be doing it again.
ANYWAY - on to more positive things. After the breakfast I rushed over to my first workshop, Mastering Your Domain: Research and Development of the Paranormal World hosted by (left to right) Alyssa Day, Stephanie Julian, and Melissa Mayhue. It was a vastly interesting workshop. They all suggested research should be done in mythology and history and all sorts of interesting subjects because that will give a fantasy world an interesting backbone - but at the same time everyone should remember that the main idea is your paranormal world is made up. By you. You create the rules, but while you must remain consistant to those rules, you can make up whatever rules you like. However, the authors did mention that if you decide to do something with a magical creature that goes against the collective consciousness regarding that creature, you need to explain it. Example: if you have a vampire character who can go out in the sun without any problem, there will be readers that complain "Everyone knows vampires can't go out in the sun!" And you will have to find a way to explain why you're doing something differently.
After that, I hit the Pocket Book Signing to pick up some interesting reads, and since the Harlequin booksigning was right next door, when I was done with Pocket I wandered into Harlequin, and found a lot more books I wasn't expecting to be interested in. I'll admit, when I hear "Harlequin Booksigning" I imagine category romance which I tend to avoid, but I forgot all about Harlequin's single titles in paranormal, YA, and historical, so I found a lot to like (I even picked up a book with a unicorn for a hero!). Because I went to the Harlequin signing and then talked to some people and then returned to my room to stash my loot, like a muttonhead I completely forgot about attending the workshop Paranormals: Writing Outside the Box, which was a shame.
So instead I lined up for the Awards Luncheon. First, the RWA President alerted us to the bombings in Indonesia which had hit Marriott hotels, bombings that had apparently been aimed at Americans. Weird, but when I'm swept up in RWA I really don't pay attention to any of the news until I'm out. Anyway, she handed out some of the honorary awards to best librarian, best bookseller, and best article that puts romance in a positive light. Afterward, Eloisa James came up to give us her Keynote speech.
Linda Howard gave us a comedic speech, Eloisa James gave us a dramatic one - mainly showing how the events in her life, both tragic and positive, gave her the opportunity to pour her emotion in the similar events she put in her fiction. It was an emotional speech, especially when she explained her fears for her daughter's frail health and her mother's disapproval of romance. I enjoyed it and it made me want to go out and WRITE RIGHT NOW. Anyhoo, since I already had the novels I found on my seat, I dropped them off at the Book Exchange, a table by the conference registration desk where people who get doubles of books can leave their extras for other people to pick up.
After the luncheon, I skipped off to the It's Not the Hottest Genre, So How Do Debut Historical Romance Authors Get Six-Figure Deals? workshop with (left to right) Tessa Dare, Tracy Anne Warren, Helen Breitwieser and Kristin Nelson (agents), Courtney Milan, and Sherry Thomas. This turned out to be much more helpful than I had expected. After all, there really isn't a formula for how to write a brilliant book that gets you the big bucks, but these authors and their agents shared the authors' query letters, discussed what the agents liked about them, and the books' opening paragraphs and writing styles that caught agent and editor attention. You need a hook, basically - or at least a really well written idea.
After this workshop came a painful decision - should I go to the Berkley and Grand Central Publishing booksignings or should I go to the Why We Love Mr Darcy: Insider Tips on the Historical Market workshop with (left to right) Laura Lee Guhrke, May Chen (Avon editor), and Julia Quinn? As you can tell from the photo, you can guess which one I went to, but still...
I love free stuff - free books, especially. I would have loved to have gone to the Berkley and Grand Central signings and snatched up more free books to squirrel away ... but then I would have missed the workshop by authors I adore that was discussing an issue I was interested in. That's when I really had to consider the money and effort I'd put into coming to this conference and what I wanted to get out of this conference. There are always free books, and if there aren't any good workshops on at the time I will hit up a booksigning, no question - but ultimately I'm here to learn and if I came away from this conference with six huge boxes of books but no workshop experience I wouldn't have considered that a good use of my investment. I already had, what, 50 free books already? This wasn't a Free Book conference, this was a Writer's conference and while the free books were a lovely bonus, I ultimately decided to go to the workshops because I am a writer and I did not travel 3000 miles and pay a huge amount of money to get free stuff.
But that can always be someone else's plan - I met someone on Saturday who said she bought the CD-ROM of all the workshops to listen to later while going to all the booksignings she could manage.
My decision turned out to be in my favour because from what I heard - the Berkley signing wasn't very well organized. Instead of letting everyone in, they let a certain number of people in at a time and only let new people in when others left. While this succeeded in thinning the crush of people in the small booksigning room, according to friends of mine who attended, this meant the people who got in first now had the time and space to snatch up all the books they could without lines, and this led to the publishers running out of books before even half the people who'd been waiting in line had a chance to get in! Personally, while the crush at booksignings can be extreme, it's necessary - better that all the people in line get 2-3 free books than a quarter of the people in line get 15 books while the rest get nothing.
The workshop with Guhrke, Quinn, and Chen was relatively illuminating - we were often distracted by the wild cheering coming from the RITA and Golden Heart Finalist party in the room next door. It was also a bit contradictory - Gurhke said if we want to succeed and make a living, we have to be businesswomen as well as artists and research the trends - but ultimately said write for yourself. Huh? What if what you're writing isn't a trend right now? I understand her idea, but I think Julia Quinn was a wee bit more helpful in making sure we research and understand the genre we're writing for and it's general trends, so that we know when we're nudging boundaries or breaking rules.
Next came What Came First, the Plot or the Character? the Yin and Yang of Creating Great Characters within Great Plots, which gave some tips on how to show and not tell about characters, and creating scenes that explain characters in an interesting way.
After that, things quieted down. Friday nights, from what I hear, are traditionally quiet because this is the night when the publishers all give parties for their authors (the Harlequin party was at the Ritz-Carlton, apparently). Katiebabs had invited me to go the big bloggers' dinner she'd planned at the local Lebanese restaurant, but I had to decline. For the same reason people with a peanut allergy avoid Thai restaurants (because they cook everything with peanut oil), people with tree nut allergies like me have to avoid Lebanese restaurants. So I figured it was going to be a quiet night. Kristie J was also too tired to do anything, so I brought up McDonalds for both of us because it was cheaper than room service and we just talked. It was a nice little bit of downtime.
But the downtime didn't last long! Pretty soon the other bloggers were back at the hotel bar so down I went for another chat. In the first picture, that's Rosie, another blogger whose name and blog I have both shamefully forgotten, and Julie James. In the second picture is Aymless, who is AWESOME. I met her at the Literacy signing and she blew me away with all of her energy. While we were talking in the bar, a woman comes up and I asked her name, and she said, "Shiloh Walker."
Cue double-take! She doesn't like having her picture taken but she was a blast to talk to. Lots of fun and energy. She had a southern accent (as a Canadian, I had a hard trouble telling a Southern accent and a Lower Midwest accent apart, which unintentionally offended the Midwesterners who insisted they didn't have an accent), but she said it was because she was lazy rather than being actually southern. As a nurse, she had a lot of things to say about sex scenes that were not only anatomically impossible but damn unhygenic.
After awhile a cowboy (yes, a cowboy) with a porn 'stache dropped off some cupcakes leftover from the Harlequin party and in the last photo you can see Aymless enjoying one. Very surreal (the cupcake cowboy, that is). Eventually people drifted off and I crashed into bed, ready for the last day of the conference.