Tuesday, July 05, 2011

AnimeJune Takes Manhattan: RWA 2011

Well, now that I'm all rested and ready to leave for Ireland tomorrow (hectic jetsetter that I am), I thought I'd give you all a recap of my trip to the Big Apple for the Romance Writers of America's 2011 National Conference.

Did I do some things differently this year? Yes. I didn't attend as many workshops. I didn't pitch. I researched YA, and I didn't go hog-wild at the booksignings this year. In fact, I think I attended three signings and walked away with fewer than six books total.

Did I have a good time, though? YOU BET I DID!

Day One started on Monday. Flew into New York, and despite a bit of panic over a very, very tight connection, arrived in one piece and on time to reconnect with 2011 RWA Librarian of the Year Wendy and Rosie! We fell into chatting (while I unhinged my jaw and devoured a chicken quesadilla - due to the tight connection, all I'd had for lunch was a banana, some string cheese and a Fresca) just like old times, like we totally hadn't been separated by geography for a year!

And Times Square, let me tell ya, it's a glorious spectacle the first, oh, three times you walk through it to the hotel, but afterwards, well, it's kind of like being assaulted by real-life Internet pop-ups. All advertisements, all the time, great big neon letters. After a while, I totally understood why all the native New York attendees advised us to get the hell out of the Square to experience the real city life. Honestly, it made the merchandising in DisneyWorld look subtle.

Anyhoo, the next day (Tuesday) was my Annual Day of Not Pacing Myself. For my three years of attending RWA, I've turned Condensed Sightseeing into something of an art form. In 2009, I tramped over the National Mall in Washington DC in one day - taking the Metro, seeing the Smithsonian, the National Monument, and the memorials for three different wars. In 2010, I explored three Disney parks in two days swimming through Floridian humidity in July.

Firstly, though, I picked up my Conference Swag:

Bitches can't handle my swag! Books that I really wanted to read, a beautiful conference pen, a flashdrive (of course!), a booklight, a water bottle bag thing that leaked all over the place, and a really helpful New York map from Carina Press and the Smart Bitches!

After that, it was time to really explore New York. I decided to forgo the $17 waffle offered by the hotel restaurant and foraged through Times Square, eventually settling on an EZ Deli that made a mean pancake platter for $4.50 - so quite the bargain in comparison to the overpriced hotel meal.

After that, I took the New York subway to the Museum of Natural History. Now, I'm young and Canadian and watch far too much TV so I was really touristy about a lot of things - like how, "oooh! The subway looks like just it does in the movies!" A lot of New York appeared "just like the movies" or "just like TV" to me. Sad but true.

The museum itself was amazing - lots of dioramas, dinosaurs, giant whales, and stuff animals (not the cuddly kind).

After that, since the museum skirts Central Park, I decided to walk across Central Park to reach the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which also borders Central Park - on the other side). First, though, lunch - a soft pretzel and mustard. I shared the pretzel with a horde of fearless, well-fed New York pigeons and the mustard with my pants. And none with the homeless person sleeping on the bench since I didn't even notice him until I threw the rest of my pretzel in the garbage.

Central Park was glorious - everything was ripe and green, the day was hot but not too hot. Again, the movie-lover in me took over, because I flipped out over the bridge from Enchanted (and the New York episode of Glee) as well as Bethesda Plaza where the musical number of "That's How You Know" (again, Enchanted) was performed.

Central Park is a bit of a maze, though, and it turned out to be a pretty long hike from one end to the other, with a lot of twists and turns and misdirection.

But it was fun to walk. I mean, I had no real idea of how enormous Central Park was. I kept thinking, it's one park in the centre of an enormous city. How big can it be?

The answer - pretty fucking big. But after about an hour and a half of walking, I finally made it to the other side, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

First of all, it's a gorgeous building all on its own, with loads of Palladian columns and people hawking their own art in front of it. Inside, there were loads of different exhibits. I wanted to see the Savage Beauty exhibit (dedicated to the art of Alexander McQueen's fashion) but there was an estimated 45 minute wait and a line of about two hundred people just to get in to that, and as it was already mid-afternoon I decided life was too short and went and explored the exhibits for 19th century portraits as well as armour and weaponry.

There was so much to look at - gorgeous pictures, cool swords, statues and sculptures and pastels... after a while it became a bit of a sensory overload and even then I had to pry myself away and cab back down to the hotel to get there in time for the Literary Autographing.

I arrived in time, starving and footsore as expected.

But I saw Christie Ridgway!

And Shirley Thomas! Who told me she'd read my review of His At Night and thought my casting for Spencer Stuart was spot on - and that it got her to watch Downton Abbey (always a plus!).

Then I saw Kate Noble and got her newest book, Follow My Lead.

Reconnected with Courtney Milan and bought a copy of Unveiled.

Fangirled over Rose Lerner! Although her new book still isn't out yet!

FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY got to meet Marjorie M. Liu! I love her books!

Met with Victoria Dahl and Joanna Bourne again, as well.

Checked out both Jennifer Echols and Simone Elkeles, too, as I'm now trying to write YA and they seem to be the best in the biz right now - I also went to Elkeles' very helpful YA workshop with David Levithan.

As well, I managed to snag the last copy of It Happened One Season (a project-sequel of sorts to the lovely anthology It Happened One Night) and got it signed by Stephanie Laurens, and I met Jo Beverley, who very kindly signed my old, yellowed, used copy of Forbidden (which I'd read on my flight over) instead of making me buy the new re-issue.

I couldn't stay for the whole signing however - I was swaying on my feet by then, not to mention starving. I'd also been invited to the Nelson Literary Agency party (for being an author-friendly blogger, as it turns out!) and if I didn't have anything to eat before then I wouldn't be fit company for anyone, much less a party of authors and literary agents and publishing industry professionals.

So - I caved. One of the things I wanted to do while I was in New York is find one of the great, fabulous, glamourously secretly awesome restaurants and eat there but I was short on time and long on hunger so I ate at the McDonald's on Times Square - but walking, food in hand, I ended up having an unexpected celebrity experience.

I'd noticed in the morning that the middle of Times Square had an enormous Transformers display, with smashed cars and cranes and a life-size replica of Bumblebee. Well, now that it was evening, I discovered it was actually for the New York premiere of the third Transformers movie, Dark of the Moon - and I actually got to see Josh Duhamel walk by. I got a video of him, actually, which was pretty cool. I didn't have time to wait and see if Shia LaBoeuf showed up, unfortunately, so I made my way back to the hotel, gussied myself up, and shared a cab with fab author Carolyn Jewel to the NAL party.

The cocktail party hosted by the Nelson Literary Agency was amazing - it was held at a restaurant on the roof of a twenty-story building, so I could see brilliant New York skyline at dusk. Spoke to some authors, some agents, ended up in a long conversation with Andrew Shaffer and one of the writers for GeekMom, a lovely women who also writes Viking erotica whose name I have forgotten, as well as a couple of people who worked with digital books whose names I have also forgotten (I'm still rifling through my business cards, bear with me). Great conversation. Amazing view. Open bar. I was in heaven, although honestly, by the end of the day my knees were wobbling - I'd probably sat down for maybe 20% of the day, with the other 80% spent walking, running, and standing.

So I poured myself into bed and woke up the next day to start with the full conference experience. Today I actually did cave and get a $17 waffle because this year the conference didn't offer complimentary continental breakfast, and yet the opening session still started at 8:30 in the morning. But whatever. The opening session with Diana Gabaldon, Tess Gerritson and Steve Berry was eye-opening (Outlander apparently started as a "practice" book that was never supposed to be published), and Madeline Hunter gave a lovely speech for her keynote address at the luncheon.

In between that and the Book Blogger Tea, I ran into Jodi Thomas (who wrote Rewriting Monday, which I reviewed), and had a lovely chat with her and her friends. I told her I wanted to be published, and she said, with absolute certainty, "You will be. You know why? Because you care enough about it to come here." What a sweetheart!

After that, I went to the Book Blogger Tea hosted by Harlequin's Digital Team. We got to fill out survey sheets about what we liked to read and review (although I doubt I'll get anything because I said I preferred print to e-pubbed books), and we all got handmade fascinators (I kept mine - I'm the one in the pink shirt on the photo on the right). Saw Kristie J there, too (the woman in the red plaid in the picture on the left).

I could only stay for about half an hour, though - I had other things to prepare for. Big things. One big thing in particular that's been on my Bucket List since I was about seven years old.

My first live, real, original cast Broadway show!
I saw The Book of Mormon at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, and the experience was, well, pretty much beyond words. Amazing, hilarious, and life-changing are pretty mild, surface-scratching descriptors.

Needless to say, it was the highlight of my whole trip. The songs, the dancing, the actors, the jokes ... it was amazing! I sat in row B, close enough to spit on the actors (not that I would - they were awesome!), and I saw everything.

After that, well, the rest of the conference was still pretty good. On Thursday, I went to more workshops, cheered for SuperWendy upon winning the Librarian of the Year award, listened to Sherilyn Kenyon's depressing, inspiring, horrifying, uplifting keynote speech. Met author Lila diPasqua at our table (and she convinced me to pick up a copy of The Princess in his Bed at one of the signings the next day), and then did more sight seeing.

This time I went and explored 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The home of NBC Studios and the Top of the Rock Attraction. Weirdly enough, the security to get to the top of a building was more rigorous than the security at LaGuaria Airport, but the view was sure worth it!

You have to go up 67 floors to get to the top - the ride lasts 45 seconds and they play images and music on the ceiling of the elevator as it goes up and down.

But I got my sightseeing on and returned down in time to take the NBC Studio Tour - there we got to see Dr Oz's studio (getting renovated) and Jimmy Fallon's studio for The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy's studio was tiny. Like, living-room tiny. All the studios in NBC are small because they all started out as radio studios, so they've had to make due. Apparently, Jimmy can only seat an audience of about 182 people (Leno gets twice that, at least), and the producers use a wide-angle lens and never pan between Jimmy, the floor, and the band in order to trick people into thinking the studio's bigger.

Seeing that was nothing compared to seeing the studio for Saturday Night Live - a show I've been watching religiously for about ten years now. I actually got to walk down the hallway where you see all the pictures of the cast and the guest stars! They were renovating inside, too, but we still got to see the major stages - there are three. The middle stage is where they have the monologue and the easily collapsible stages like Weekend Update.

The right stage is the semi-permanent stage which they use for difficult-to-set-up bits like sets that require stairs or water falls or something. The stage on the left is the one for the musical guests, and the guide (an actual page! Like Kenneth!) told us they've now had to include the stage's size in their contract with the musical artists because both times Kanye West forgot and had to squeeze forty ballerinas and giant gospel choirs onto that tiny stage.

After that dream come true, I trecked up to see and pray at St. Patrick's Cathedral. It even had a teeny-tiny gift shop.

And after that was the Gathering, the party for the FF&P Chapter of RWA. Great hors d'oeuvres, chocolate fondue, and goodie bags for everyone.

After that, it was Friday. The last day of the conference. I actually went to a couple of booksignings today, mainly to get Jennifer Echol's Love Story (which I did!), and some other cool books, too.

For my last afternoon of sightseeing, I checked out the Paley Center for Media - the new name for the Television and Radio Museum. When I walked in, I was greeted by this small, neat British man who introduced me to the exhibits - it's not a museum for walking around. For the price of admission, you can go downstairs to the theatre and watch all the specials and retrospectives and documentaries about television, and you can go upstairs and have an hour and a half of time watching anything from their enormous, enormous library of shows and archival footage. I watched a little bit of everything - some of the original pilot of Sesame Street, to 13-year-old Alannis Morrisette in You Can't Do This On Television, to the incredibly silly pilot of Cop Rock (America's one and only musical police procedural).

I got back in time for dinner before the RITAs - with a pretty sad result. I asked a certain other blogger to a Japanese place a friend of mine had suggested. She accepted, then turned around with a bunch of other attendees and told me we were having Thai. We walk from the hotel to the famous Restaurant Row, and I discover I can't eat at the restaurant because they cook with a food to which I am fatally allergic. The response from everyone? Oh well. Everyone went in. I stayed out. I got ditched.

It would have been easier to take if the Thai restaurant had been in the middle of nowhere, but we were on Restaurant Row, where you could literally cannot throw a rock without hitting a restaurant. They were up and down ninth avenue, all different styles and ethnicities of cooking. We could have gone anywhere else. Literally. And while I'm used to eating alone, I guess, it felt so depressing to be left on my own for the my last dinner at RWA. I just wish they'd told me they didn't want to eat with me while I'd been at the hotel. Because then I could have flagged down someone else.

I ended up eating alone at a Cajun place (with a yummy fried shrimp po'boy), cheered myself up by reading Jo Beverley's Forbidden, then went to the RITAs. And that was pretty much my New York vacation. I had a blast, I saw some great sights, and ... well, I have to admit that it wasn't so much about the conference this time. Going back over my memories of the trip, 90% is what I saw around New York and The Book of Mormon, and about 10% was the conference itself.

I don't know what that means, exactly. I still like writing, and I'm still working on a novel and want to be published, but the conference experience just wasn't with me this year, I guess. I'd let myself grow apart from my writing (or at least that part within the romance genre), so I felt a bit of a disconnect this year.

But I still managed to carry home some swag! Yeah, that's what I wrote - carried home. No shipping for me this time. I just took the books I wanted, and only enough to fit in my suitcase Hurrah for tiny apartments and will power!

We'll see what next year brings! AND NOW - ONTO MY ENORMOUS REVIEW BACKLOG!


  1. Anonymous6:11 PM

    Very interesting post. Loved the pics. Almost felt like I'd be at the conference.

    What a disappointing experience re your dinner companions on your last night. But all in all, it sounds as though you had a real "me" holiday which is wonderful.

    Good luck with your writing.


  2. It seems like a lot of the attendees who've blogged or live-tweeted their time at the conference felt the same. Was it because NYC is such a touristy-city that one couldn't help but turn it into a vacation? Or was it due to the mega-success of self-publishing and e-books, which lessened the pressure to attend a gazillion workshops on doing everything "right" to sell to NY? Or was it a combination of both? All of this makes me eager and curious to actually attend a conference (hopefully next year).

  3. Anonymous9:47 PM

    SQUEEEEEE! That wasn't for any of the authors, much though I love them, but for you getting to see The Book of Mormon, the soundtrack of which I utterly adore. My husband and I are hoping to do a trip to NY this Fall for our 20th anniversary and if I can get tickets to that my life will be complete. -- willaful

  4. Will you be coming to NY again??? I so want to meet the woman with such a kick ass writing style.