Thursday, July 21, 2016

San Diego Day 4 - Friday

By Friday, I was discovering a trend in San Diego's weather - every morning would start overcast and dull until about 9-10am when the sun would burn through the cloud.  San Diego really has ideal weather - not too hot, not too cold, not too humid, mostly sunny and bright.

My room-mate Maya and I had a bit of a slow start, and before we emerged from our room I managed to get in a quick Skype with one of my daughters before she went to bed. We then had to hurry to grab some of the free breakfast on offer for conference delegates - only barely making it as the staff were clearing up. We didn't manage to get in to the featured guest speaker but at least we got free food!

In the elevator on the way back to the conference venue for the first session of the day, I met and chatted with author Kristan Higgins - though I couldn't shake her hand since I'd just painted my nails and they were still wet!

Courtney Milan & Alisha Rai
(photo from Courtney's Facebook page)
The first workshop I attended was on how to build an audience by Courtney Milan and Alisha Rai. Courtney opened the talk by saying "In a world of 7 billion people, if only 0.001% like you, you have a career!"

Alisha and Courtney were entertaining and provided a lot of useful information, and the talk was very interactive.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get an even half decent picture since I sat at the back near the door so I could skip out of the session before the end to go to my pitch to agent Laura Bradford.

The level of organisation and attention to detail at the RWA National Conference has to be seen to be believed! With more than 30 delegates pitching every ten minutes, a small army of volunteers is required to keep the pitches flowing with military precision.

For example, at 10:30 all the delegates pitching at 10:40 are lined up outside the venue, in the alphabetical order of the person they are pitching to. Everyone is ticked off against a list, and any no-shows are replaced by hopeful delegates hanging around in the waiting room. At 10:40 on the dot, the door is opened and the pitchers are sent in. The editors and agents are seated in alphabetical order, with easy to read name cards at each place, so there is no confusion, no disorder as everyone takes their seats. Five minutes into the pitch a volunteer warns the room that half the time is gone, and again at one minute to. At exactly 10:50, all pitchers are asked to leave the room via the back door, while the next thirty plus pitchers are ushered in through the front door.

My pitch to Laura Bradford was quick and painless. Since I am already multi-published and Rita-nominated, I didn't need to convince her too hard to read my submission. I pitched her the story, she asked to read it, and since I didn't have many questions we were done well before our time ran out.

Nora Roberts at the #RWA16 Literacy
Signing (photo courtesy of RWA)
From the pitch, I hurried to the chat with Nora Roberts. Wow - this woman is incredible! Not only is her career impressive, but she is a very inspiring person to hear speak. She's direct, witty, and tends to talk in exclamation points, in a deep, gravelly voice.

For an hour she took questions from the audience, on everything from her writing process ("Generally I'm a three draft girl") to what she does in her spare time, to how she researches (as she goes along "because I don't know what I need to know until I need to know it") to which book is her favourite ("My favourite book is always the one on sale right now. My least favourite is the one I'm writing right now, because it's always the hardest I've ever written.")

My crappy picture of
La Nora
I was amazed to discover that her 'In Death' series of books, published under the JD Robb pseudonym, were originally conceived as a trilogy, and were her chance to explore relationships after marriage.

For me, though, there were three things I took away from this session:

  • The first is that even Queen Nora, after 200 published books, still finds writing challenging. "Every book is its own challenge," she says. "You've never written that book before."
  • Secondly, she doesn't believe that writers should write what they know, but rather "You write what you want to find out."
  • Finally, it's all about the story. "Don't ever read the reviews!" she says. "All that stuff is bullshit." Focus on the story, and on what you want to say.

For lunch, I met fellow Harper Impulse author Sun Chara and her friend Barb Heintz in the hotel lobby, and together we headed out of the hotel. Gorgeous as the Marriott is, it was nice to get out and enjoy the San Diego sunshine. As we strolled towards Seaport Village, the woman walking along beside us asked if we knew where Roy's Restaurant was. My companions thought it was back at the hotel, but like us the woman preferred to get out of the hotel for a little while. So Sun invited her to join us for lunch. And that was when we realised who the woman was: Rita Clay Estrada - THE Rita the Rita awards are named for!

We had a truly delightful lunch (I had a chicken & avo salad so large it fed me for two meals!) during which Rita regaled us with stories of the early days of the RWA.

One of the reasons Rita and her friends began this organisation in the late 60s and early 70s was to fight for the right of romance authors to own their own names. Reminiscent of the control wielded over actors by Hollywood's Studio System in the 1930s and 40s, publishers controlled their authors to the extent that all authors wrote under pseudonyms given to them by the publishers, the same name often being used by several different writers in succession! We owe these pioneers a huge debt for fighting the battle which won female writers freedom from this patriarchal control.

Me with Sun Chara, Rita Clay Estrada and Barbara Heintz.

Rita also told us how the golden Rita statuette was designed, and that the statuettes are manufactured by the same company which also makes the Academy Awards!

We ended lunch by committing to give Barb the proverbial kick in the ass to start submitting her work to publishers, and Farrah Rochon (seated at the neighbouring table) took our picture.  Everywhere one turns at #RWA16 there are romance rock stars!

Me with Kristan Higgins at the Rita and
Golden Heart Finalists' Reception
In the afternoon, I attended the reception for Rita & Golden Heart nominees on the terrace at the conference venue. All glammed up, we sipped champagne, nibbled on a selection of desserts, and mingled. Each nominee was presented with a certificate by one of the RWA board members, while a professional photographer snapped our pictures. In a moment of serendipity, my certificate was presented to me by Kristan Higgins, who I'd met that morning!

Maya's Massive Margarita
The sun beat down on that terrace, and we were all soon sweltering, so as soon as the official part of the reception was done I headed to the cooler climes of the poolside Tequila Bar to meet Maya, Sun Chara and Lynn Montagano for cocktails.

Me and Maya Blake at the Tequila Bar

By this time I was pretty exhausted and hoping for an afternoon nap. Better yet, a very early night! But Maya somehow managed to twist my arm into gate-crashing the Harlequin party that evening. I won't tell you how we managed to get past security (since I would hate to be the reason more people gate crash in future years!) and I also won't share any pictures. But I will tell you that Harlequin really knows how to throw a party!

The one common theme that seems to run through most RWA conference events is dessert. At every party the two things that are guaranteed are alcohol and desserts. At the Harlequin party there was a table entirely dedicated to ice cream sandwiches, there were Smores, and a whole variety of other sugar-rich delights.

Gifts were presented to Harlequin authors who had achieved remarkable milestones - I was amazed at how many authors had written 50, 75 and even 100 books!

The Harlequin authors are all effortlessly classy, so friendly and welcoming, and these ladies know how to dance! There was so much dancing that at one stage I thought maybe San Diego was experiencing an earthquake.

Sadly, I was too exhausted to get completely into the spirit and after a couple of hours I hopped a taxi home to the Marriott and left Maya to party on. I was so tired I very nearly fell asleep in the bath and went to bed with hair still wet. I didn't even hear when my roomie eventually returned from the party.

So that was the end to a thrilling fourth day in San Diego. But the real excitement was still to come: Day 5 and the fabulous Rita Awards Ceremony.

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