Moving Forward

Last week I traveled to Wisconsin to visit my siblings and to attend WisRWA’s 2013 Write Touch Conference.  I also, unexpectedly, bought a house.  

It’s been a long eighteen months since my loss.  During that time, I’ve kept busy with my day job and various house projects.  But despite living in the East for close to 25 years, at heart I’m still a Midwesterner; most of my family still lives there. Last year I decided that when I retired in 2014, I would move closer to home. A logical decision, one that felt right in spite of the added drama so many nearby kinfolk might bring into my life. 

On the Internet I began to follow the southern Wisconsin housing market.  On trips, I began dragging siblings with me to see houses.  Most recently, I made offers on two separate houses, both non-productive.  On this particular trip, however, nothing seemed to fit.  Last  Wednesday, after two afternoons of seeing an assortment of selected listings, I parted with my realtor and headed back to my brother’s.  “We’ll find something next visit,” I thought.  “There’s time.”

Lovely Cape Cod

Minutes later, my realtor called about a new listing she’d just seen on their in-house board. 

When I drove up the quiet, tree-lined street to meet her in front of the brick Cape Cod, its traditional charm greeted me.  Mid-tour through the empty house, I called my local sibs, pleading with them to meet me at the house despite the busy dinner hour.   During their tour, each of them privately pulled me aside.  Although they may rarely agree on much, each said the same thing.  “If you don’t buy it, I will.” 

Bright Sun Room

Bright Sun Room

An hour later, back in the realty office over take-out pizza and store-bought peanut butter cookies, my realtor guided me through my offer to buy.  My husband and I, during our 38 years together, bought four houses.  And, as mentioned above, over the past few months I’d written up two other offers.  This still felt strange, alone.  At the form’s bottom, there are two spaces for the buyer to sign – generally husband and wife.  I signed the top line, noting the other line with a degree of sadness.  Thoughts raced through my mind.  It’s serious business, committing to buy a house, alone.  It’s serious business, committing oneself to an 850-mile move into retirement, alone.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Of course, I’m not alone. Everywhere loved ones reach out in support.  My friends.  My realtor.  My family.  My sons.  And always, my husband.  During the very long 22-hour wait for the seller to respond to my offer, I felt his warm presence.  I believe he would love this house.  (Well, maybe not some of the wallpaper, but that can be replaced.)

Right now I’m in mid-process. Inspections completed with closing scheduled for summer. With luck, all will move smoothly. It’s a friendly house with good bones. With some repairs and a few minor changes to make it my own, it will comfortably meet my needs when I retire and in years to come.  It’s a bright, airy house that, next year, I’ll make into my home.  

I’m moving forward.

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

WisRWA President Anne Parent chats with Keynote Speaker Michael Hauge

By the way, the WisRWA Write Touch Conference was great.  I heard dynamic speakers, enjoyed wonderful visits with old friends, and savored the joy of forming new friendships.  At times, though, I had a tough time focusing on conference business.  In my mind I kept walking through the rooms of my new house. I stripped wallpaper, arranged furniture, entertained family and friends, read, and created new stories in that glorious sun room.  I’m glad my roommate and other writer friends were understanding, and that our Keynote Speaker, Michael Hauge, offered a DVD.  

NJRW – 2011 Writers’ Conference, Day 1

This weekend I’m attending the Put Your Heart in a Book writers’ conference sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers.  Three hundred plus writers, agents, and editors are gathering to celebrate writing. It’s a much anticipated, much loved regional conference. Many arrived Thursday to hit the ground running early Friday morning.

In Friday’s three-hour Pre-Conference workshop, NY Times and USA Today best-selling author Brenda Novak spoke on Emotion: The Heart of the NovelA few highlights from her talk – Creativity happens in a series of tiny sparks, she said.  The more ideas we have the better.  Take risks.  Expect to make lots of mistakes.  Develop a network of colleagues.  More than anything, she said, creativity is about hard work and sticking with it.  I especially enjoyed her words on subtext in our writing.  We write who we are, she said then told of a writer who’d written a stellar lighthearted contemporary; every part was technically perfect – the plotting, dialogue, character development.  But the inherent negativity of the author bled through and the manuscript never sold. Subtext, she said, will leak through.

After Brenda Novak’s superb presentation, I joined up with three writers I’d met last year – Laura Thomson, Marta Bliese, and Laurel Wanrow.  All are members of the Maryland Romance Writers.  We stepped out into the chilly October air and across the parking lot to the Kona Grill for lively conversation over lunch.

Friday afternoon was divided into three forty-five minute workshop sessions.  Each time slot provided a choice of six workshops to attend.  For my first session, I chose to hear Brenda Novak again, this time speaking on Networking: Sowing the Seeds of Success.  The equation for writing success, she said, is to present a quality product (our writing), have an eye for opportunity, a credible source (can you deliver?), and the right networking mentality.  She gave pages of helpful info in a short amount of time.

My second session was given by award-winning author Annette Blair who writes single titles and vintage magic mysteries.  Annette spoke on Stuck in the Middle – A Life Raft of Solutions.  She recommended reading Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY (several times), and referred also to workshops by Barbara Wallace and Deborah Hale.  The more conflict in your story, the more pinches and twists, she said, the stronger your middle will be.   She passed out a worksheet that she advised using as a template for our sagging middles and which we reviewed in detail.  Incredibly helpful.

My third and final Friday workshop was NY Times bestselling suspense author Laura Griffin.  Her topic was How to Make Any Book a Page Turner.  We need to open our book with a character the reader can care about then immediately introduce conflict into the story.  One of her many suggestions:  Each chapter must end with a hook.  Beyond that, she said, end each chapter with a powerful and vivid word.  Instead of “a pool of blood on the floor” write “on the floor was a pool of blood.”  More vivid, more emotional.

At 6 pm we all gathered outside the Diamond Ballroom for a cocktail reception before the awards ceremony.  Midway through wine and pasta, fire alarms blinked and blared, although the sound was muffled by our conversations.  We were asked to vacate to the parking lot and front lobby area.  Fire trucks arrived and firemen trooped into the building.  The adventure sparked some writers’ imaginations and provided fuel for some future scene. 😉 Within several minutes, though, we were allowed to return and resume our reception.

Each year, NJRW honors its contest winners in an awards ceremony.  The Put Your Heart in a Book award is for unpublished writers.   This year’s winners:

Put Your Heart in a Book

  • Short Contemporary – Judith Wherett – RUNNING FOR HER LIFE
  • Single Title Contemporary – Jeanell Bolton – PASSION
  • Historical – Dianna Quincy – TEMPTING BELLA
  • Paranormal – Dawn Groszek – ROSE OF HOPE
  • Romantic Elements – D. B. Schuster – BREACH OF CONTRACT

The Golden Leaf is awarded to those contest winners who are published with an RWA recognized publisher.  After each category’s finalists are announced, an intriguing snippet of the winning entry is read by sultry-voiced Anne Walradt.  This year’s winners:

Golden Leaf

Hall of Fame Inductee, Cara Summers

When authors succeed in winning three Golden Leaf Awards within a category, NJRW inducts them into the Golden Leaf Hall of Fame.  Friday’s ceremony was crowned by inducting two such authors – historical author Hannah Howell  for her award-winners in the Novella category, and Cara Summers for her award-winning Short Contemporaries.

After the awards ceremony I was invited to attend a late night gathering hosted by the group from Maryland Romance Writers.   Several of us sat talking, laughing, sharing our stories, and working through two pitch sessions.  Saturday would be another full day.

Writers, what did you find most valuable about this conference or another you may have attended? Please share your comments.   ♥

Wednesday & Thursday at RWA National

The days at RWA National are passing in an exhilarating haze punctuated with moments of crystalline clarity. This is an amazing time for writers and the energy is evident everywhere here in New York City.

Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, Tess Gerritsen

Early Wednesday, three NY Times best-selling authors – Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and Tess Gerritsen officially launched RWA’s 2011 Bright Lights, Big Stories Conference with a 90-minute chat about their careers.  Their ease, candor and camaraderie set the tone for the coming days.

The Annual General Meeting of RWA’s Board of Directors (aka AGM) followed. My volunteer assignment was handing out budget summaries to attending members. When the doors closed, we took our seats. After a few brief reports, the meeting adjourned. Although 2,100 are attending the conference, no quorum meant no business could be conducted. Reason enough for members to return their proxies.

Madeline Hunter’s candid keynote luncheon address Wednesday was all I expected and more. “In the past year,” she said, “writers have exhaled one long sigh…I’m excited and scared to see what comes next.” In taking us on her writer’s journey, she offered a guidebook for our own journeys.  “We expose ourselves in our writing,” she continued.  “Our voice is all about that exposure. We find our voice by embracing the exposure but we cannot back off.  We cannot pull punches.”  Wow!

Sherrilyn Kenyon

Sherrilyn Kenyon‘s award luncheon keynote on Thursday took us on an emotional roller coaster bringing tears and laughter to the audience of 2,000+ writers in the Broadway Ballroom.  Another amazing, no holds barred speaker.

Phenomenal workshops!  Each hour, eight separate tracks let us hone in on a valuable area. While there are only a few scheduled that address e-publishing and self-publishing (no longer called “vanity”) those are the words heard everywhere and speakers are addressing this amazing writer’s evolution.  Perhaps the word “revolution” is more appropriate.

KOD's "Death by Chocolate" Party

The chance to meet and chat with fellow writers abounds in workshops, at evening parties, in elevators, and lounges.   This year the conference is spread out from floors 4 through 9 of the Marriott Marquis. For the first time in memory, ladies’ restrooms don’t have long lines. Escalators or the smart elevators are quick, efficient.  So is the friendly staff.

Last night I met my niece for dinner.  A Tulane student, she’s in NYC on a summer publishing internship.  (Personal note to editors or literary agents looking for a hard-working, loves-to-read assistant in May 2012…Casey’s your girl!)  Last time we met was on our Charleston trip and before that in Paris when she studied abroad in Vienna. Our paths cross in the most amazing places.

As dawn broke this morning, I lay beneath the comforter with words racing through my mind. On this last day part of me can’t wait to get back into the bustle of Conference. But I have stories to write, and characters whose voices grow ever louder. Someone, can’t remember who, said that networking at conference is important but that writing is critical. We are not writers unless we write.  Seems obvious, doesn’t it?

Last day ahead, and tonight are the RITA’s and Golden Heart awards.  More about that tomorrow.  Meanwhile, I invite all writers attending to share your insights, or links to your blog about this amazing conference.  What was your favorite part of RWA National 2011? 

Tuesday at RWA National – 2011

Registration is a favorite volunteer assignment. Early morning, 8 or 10 of us manned the registration desk, along with behind-the-scenes RWA Staff members who efficiently ran the show. As writers, editors, agents, and librarians arrived we pulled envelopes with registration materials and handed each a tote bag filled with books, a name badge holder, flash drive, book light, and even a collapsible water bottle. Roughly 2,100 attending this year but the space was well-organized so not much waiting.

KOD Raffle Bag Stuffers

After my two-hour stint at Registration, I raced upstairs to help stuff tote bags. The fourteen bags we assembled to raffle on Wednesday night at the KOD “Death by Chocolate” awards ceremony and party. Five of us worked; coordinators had matters well in hand. Books and other goodies were generously donated by KOD authors.

Chocolate doesn’t travel well and we needed more for the raffle bags. I made what should have been a quick dash down Broadway toward Walgreens. In Times Square a huge crowd gathered, along with police and their flashing vehicles. I followed the direction of the cameras and spotted a young man in a red t-shirt who alternately sat, stood, and danced atop a light post (click for news article). Patient NYPD officers on ladders worked to talk him down. He seemed in no hurry to comply. But I was on a mission. Must have chocolate for the raffle bags! So I pushed through the multitude. Got to Walgreens, grabbed the chocolate, and left. Now sawhorses and police on horseback blocked off the Square. A large blow-up trampoline arrived. The guy was still on the post. Head down, I (and others) worked our way north through the crowds. This is New York City.

Michael Hauge at RWA-WF

In the afternoon I attended RWA-Women’s Fiction mini-conference. Michael Hauge started the program with a two-hour presentation on Six Stage Plot Structure. Using selected scenes from the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding he explained how to use screenplay structure to enrich our novels. Outstanding, invaluable info!

Next up on the RWA-WF schedule was an agent/editor panel, followed by an author panel, all talking about the market for Women’s Fiction. It is a currently in high demand among editors, if it is well done.  I heard the term “cougar club” – women in their 40’s going through an identity crisis. The books need emotional complexity and depth. Hardcovers are usually more literary. Trade paperbacks feature a more intimate setting. Three critical factors are emotional drive, connection to the characters, and to make the reader care.

Author Marilyn Brant & Son

A Librarian’s Day Luncheon was held in the Westside Ballroom and best-selling author Julia Quinn spoke. There was also a Librarian and Bookseller Networking Event where PAN eligible authors could mix with romance-friendly librarians and booksellers.

I made a quick trip to the “Goody Room” – an area where authors set out promo items including chocolates, pens, and ever popular emery boards. No “paper only” allowed this year.

RWA’s Literacy Signing was held from 5:30 to 7:30. Over 500 authors signed their books for readers. Profits from the event go to RWA’s charity. (Update: Over $47,000 was raised!)  The room was packed, more so than I remember from past years. Not sure if it was the room size, or social media to blame. Drawings were held for chapter donated raffle baskets. Three or four contained Kindles or other e-readers. Lots of fun to meet with old friends and new.

At a First Timers’ Orientation, first time attendees learned the ropes. Many online chapters also met Tuesday evening. I attended From the Heart RW’s “Meet and Greet” and met Nikki Enlow, one of 2011’s recipients of the RWA Service Award and President of FTHRW.  Also Denise Pattison (we’ve been trying to meet for years), and others. Those attending were given “conference survival kits” – a fun collection of necessities for surviving conference. An evening highlight was a talk by a Samhain editor who spoke on the state of e-publishing.

Tuesday evening allowed many online friends to socialize. Authors from The Goddess Blogs held a party in their suite, providing food, fun, drinks, and tiaras.

More fun to follow tomorrow as the Conference officially opens.

RWA’s Kiss of Death Pre-Conference

In the few years since it started, RWA’s Mystery & Romantic Suspense Chapter’s (aka/Kiss of Death) Pre-Conference Tour at RWA National has earned a stellar reputation.  This year’s tour to the Sandy Hook, NJ U. S. Coast Guard Station upheld that tradition of excellence.

Promptly at 8 am Monday, over forty KOD members met in the lobby of the NY Marriott Marquis and boarded a chartered bus for the 1-1/2 hour trek down the coast to Sandy Hook.  We were greeted by an enthusiastic team of men (aka/Alpha Heroes) who oriented us to the United States Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard formed in 1790. It is the oldest continuous sea service in the United States.  Today there are roughly 39,000 members in service, less than in the NYPD.  Among other duties they conduct Search & Rescue, monitor buoys, perform Homeland Security missions, and conduct law enforcement including fisheries and recreational boating safety.  They believe in “Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.”

After our initial orientation, including a short film about training recruits, we split into groups to rotate through key areas of the station.  In a classroom, our group learned more facts before going outdoors to board and tour the Bainbridge Island, a 110-foot Cutter, one of the station’s “workhorses”.  The Captain of the boat patiently answered many writer-type questions, including “What weapon would be used if someone wanted to take out the bridge of a cutter?”

We walked back toward the station.  While waiting to see a Rescue helicopter in a flyover, we browsed through the station’s store, run by two CG dependents.  The store is stocked with everything from uniforms to candy bars.  We then went back into the station for a demonstration of some of the equipment used by the USCG.  Afterward, we boarded a smaller boat for a 15 minute cruise that included an unexpected demonstration of a “man overboard” rescue.

Lunch was in the station’s mess.  The cooks served a wholesome meal of chicken breast, French fries, broccoli, assorted salads, corn bread, and deliciously fresh baked cookies and brownies.  No carbonated beverages, just juice, iced tea, coffee and water. Good coffee. Great price.

After lunch we were escorted back to the artillery range for an indoor presentation of various guns and artillery training conducted by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard’s purpose is to save lives.  They use only the necessary force to stop a situation.  Weapons and bullets were explained and they passed around mock representations of two guns so we could judge their weight.  Again, as in the station and on the boat, the young men and woman professionally answered numerous questions.

Our tour concluded with a brief talk about some real life situations at the main station.  Debbi Ward, KOD tour coordinator, passed out red and black “thank you” gift bags of authors’ books and chocolate to those of the Sandy Hook U.S. Coast Guard who’d so graciously shared their time and knowledge.

Back at the Marriott, members of the Kiss of Death gathered for an evening dinner of pasta, roast turkey slices served with a delicious blend of seasoned sliced brussel sprouts and mushrooms, and some outstanding desserts.  The Annual General Meeting followed chaired by President Melba Moon.

Our evening concluded with a fine speech by KOD member Nina Bruhns, award-winning author of over 25 books.  Ms. Bruhns discussed her own writers’ journey and the emergence of the Kiss of Death chapter to the present day. “What a great time to be a writer,” she said.  Over the next few days, she added, we would be hearing things such as “Smash words” and “Kindleize.”  “Writers can now be in charge of their own publishing,” she said.  “A whole new world of possibilities is opening.”

My personal thanks to men and women of the United States Coast Guard at Sandy Hook, and to the Board of KOD for an outstanding and well-organized day. 

RWA Conference Talk

Next week, Romance Writers of America (RWA) kicks off its 31st Annual Conference in New York City —  Bright Lights, Big Stories. As I pack, my home office resembles the back room at Macy’s, filled with assorted tops, capris, slacks, dresses, and skirts. Lots of black, of course.  Black goes with everything. It’s also slimming.  This year I’m adding a splash of turquoise.  Found a darling Laura Ashley top on clearance and couldn’t resist, especially given the comfort factor of the travel ready top.  Comfort is important for conferences.

Editors & Agents answer questions at WisRWA's Write Touch 2011

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the WisRWA Write Touch Conference in Milwaukee.  Wisconsin is my home state so it’s a favorite.  Betsy Norman and her minions did an outstanding job organizing the event.  While there I learned, bought some books, met up with old friends and made a few new ones.  I also placed second in the FAB 5 contest, and came away renewed and refreshed.  Been writing hard ever since, at least when I’m not refurbishing my wardrobe for RWA National. 🙂

I love RWA Conferences — smaller regional ones like WisRWA’s Write Touch and NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book, and the queen of conferences, RWA National. Writing can be a lonely profession.  Conferences let me mingle and talk passionately about writing to others who understand.  They provide an opportunity to learn about the craft and business of writing, to network, and hopefully to take the steps needed to sell books.

Here are some tidbits I’ve learned about conferences. After you’ve read them, I hope you’ll share your own conference  lore and wisdom.

1 – Choose a conference wisely. Consider the speaker/s, topic/s, editor & agents attending, reputation, location, size, cost, and convenience.  Start out with a smaller conference or all-day workshop then work your way up.

2 – Set a conference goal. Do you need help with story conflict?  Motivation to finish your novel?  Do you hope to connect with an agent?  Connect with other writers?  Make your goal specific and achievable.

3 – Look professional but dress comfortably.  Wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself.  It shows.

4 – Wear comfortable shoes.  At larger conferences, you’ll be on your feet a lot, in line or walking between workshops.  Aerosoles, Easy Spirit, or Naturalizer are all favorites.  Flats.  Not as sexy as 4-inch heels, but more comfortable.

5 – Act professional. Everyone’s heard “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  That’s not necessarily true for conferences.  You’ll meet people who could have some influence on your chosen career. Keep a positive, friendly attitude.  Smile.  Be helpful.

6 – Meet new people.  Strike up conversations in line. Ask if you may join a table with an empty seat where you don’t know anyone.  Skip a workshop and find a chair in the lobby or the bar and look for other writers.

7 – Bring business cards and offer to others you meet.  If it’s too late to have them printed, print your own.  See this link to an earlier post with some suggestions.

8 – If you can afford the time and expense, plan to arrive a day early, or leave a day late.  It will let you see a new city, or give you uninterrupted time in your room to write.

9 – Bring nutritious snacks for your hotel room.  Fruit and granola bars are my favorite. And of course, a few pieces of dark chocolate never hurt.

10 – Volunteer.  Conferences take a lot of energy to organize; many hands are needed.  If you haven’t signed up in advance, ask at registration to talk to the volunteer coordinator.  Tell her when you have some free time, and offer your services for an hour or two.

Questions?  Comments?  What advice do you have to share about conferences?

Now, it’s time to fill my suitcase!  I’m off to RWA National!

When Worlds Meet

Conferences stimulate. And sometimes they surprise.

For my day job, I attended the annual PAEOP “Reach for the Stars” Conference in State College, PA.  As I sat down in a workshop given by Pamela Posey, President of the National Association of Educational Office Professionals, I expected simply to gather pointers that would help me in my job.  Pamela’s accent, an intriguing blend of southern Illinois and Mississippi, guided us through goal setting.  Unexpectedly, I heard her quote a familiar name.   “Margie Lawson,” she said.   Surreal.

As an educational secretary I probably would not know of Margie Lawson.  But writers of romance know her and stand in awe.  Her Deep Edits system has breathed life into countless novels.   A few years ago I attended an all-day workshop Margie presented at an event sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers. It was grueling.  Six hours of Deep Edits and other wisdom left me feeling whipped and wrung dry.  I drove home knowing I’d run a marathon.  But my writing improved.  God bless Margie, and other such giving writers.

I try not to mix my “gotta save for retirement” job with my career as a writer.  I lead a double life in separate worlds.   When I leave work at 4:30 or 5:00 pm each day, I eagerly shed my office skin and don my writer’s identity.  My alter ego.  Call it a need.

But yesterday, when I heard Margie Lawson’s name, my two worlds met and momentarily merged.  The experience was…interesting.

Near the end of the conference, I sat in on a roundtable discussion with other office professionals who work in offices similar to mine.  For the opening exercise we wrote on slips of paper — “some secret that few people know about me.”   The folded slips were gathered.  We then each chose someone else’s secret and tried to guess who at the table had written it.  I wrote on my slip “I write romance novels.”  It felt good.