Sunday, July 24, 2016

San Diego Day 5 - Rita Day!

Sherry Thomas (image courtesy of Kristan Higgins)
My fifth day in San Diego started with a lovely, healthy breakfast while listening to featured guest speaker Sherry Thomas. Sherry was born and raised in China and moved to the US only in her early teens. Her earliest encounters with the English language were not happy ones, but luckily for her many, many devoted readers that all changed when post partum depression and romance novels came together to convince her she needed to write her own books.

The standard of speakers and workshop presenters at the RWA conference is very high. Every one of them have been highly entertaining, incredibly well spoken, and often moving - Sherry Thomas was definitely all of the above.

After breakfast I managed to slide in a Skype chat with my other daughter (the one I didn't manage to reach the day before) before Maya and I hurried to catch Michael Hauge's talk on Story Structure, with particular reference to the Will Smith movie Hitch.

I'd somehow managed to miss the fact that this was a double session, over two hours in length, which meant I had to miss another workshop I'd hoped to attend, but it was well worth it. Even if this was the only talk I attended at #RWA16, it would have been worth the trip!

Michael played us clips from the movie, using it to illustrate classic story structure with a particular focus on the internal journey of the main character. The talk was riveting, which was just as well since he had a lot of competition from the person behind me clicking away at her laptop keys, and the chatter from the people waiting to do their pitches outside. Fortunately in the second half of the session, someone figured out how to boost Michael's microphone so I no longer noticed all the background noise.

Michael Hauge's talk was something of a personal revelation for me, though his subject matter wasn't  entirely new to me. At one point I even drew a little lightbulb in my notebook as my entire current WIP shifted into sharp focus and I realised exactly what my story needs. I've heard from others who've heard him speak that he has this effect on everyone!

I've mentioned in earlier blog posts that there were queues for everything at RWA16. To illustrate my point, here's a glimpse of the queue for one of the publisher book signings (image courtesy of Patrick Haggerty) which shows just how excited everyone in this place was about BOOKS!

Image courtesy of Patrick Haggerty

Since there were again lengthy queues at every outlet offering food in the hotel, I grabbed a quick lunch of yesterday's left-overs in my hotel room, then hurried down to the main ballroom for the Awards Ceremony rehearsal.

Award ceremony rehearsal

The awards' organisers introduced us to the schedule and procedure for the evening, and gave a few tips for our acceptance speeches (such as don't drink too much alcohol in case you have to make a speech!) then I got the chance to walk up on stage and speak into the microphone. I'd barely breathed on it, and the sound echoed around the room. Terrifying! That was when I started to hope that maybe I wouldn't win an award. How the hell was I going to make a calm, rational, moving speech to a room of several thousand people with my own voice echoing back at me?!

After the rehearsal, Maya and I decided to blow off the rest of the afternoon workshops to go sightseeing. We had a lengthy wait outside our hotel for the next Old Town Trolley bus, snapping pictures of ourselves at the waterfall in front of the Marriott hotel to pass the time.

Me in front of the Marriott.

While we were waiting we also spotted what we believed had to be a good omen for the Rita awards that evening: (Hint - check the cab names!)

Whether or not it was Maya's deliberate plan to keep me too busy to get nervous about the awards ceremony that evening, it worked. The trolley bus tour of San Diego was just over an hour and a half long and gave us a glimpse of the city as well as a good insight into its history. I was so enchanted I completely forgot to take pictures.

Image courtesy of Old Town Trolley Tours

The bus took us on a tour through the Gaslamp Quarter with its art deco (and older) buildings, across the awe-inspiring Coronado bridge to the picturesque Coronado island which began life as a late Victorian resort thanks to the Hotel del Coronado (location for the film Some Like it Hot), then through Balboa Park where we ogled the magnificent organ pavilion, on to Little Italy with its tiny Victorian fishermen's houses, and finally to Old Town with its colourful markets. En route back downtown we passed the Maritime Museum where a tea clipper, replica Spanish galleon and submarines vie for attention.

At Seaport Village, close to our hotel, we hopped off the bus and went in search of gelato, which we ate, ice cream dribbling down our fingers, as we hurried back to the hotel to start getting dolled up for the big night, the climax of the entire conference, and my main reason for making the more than 16,000km journey to San Diego.

In the rush to get dressed and made up my nerves returned with a rush, and stayed until after my category winner was announced! I was in such a state I didn't even think to take many pictures of the event!

The VIP guests (presenters, nominees and their plus ones) were allowed entry before the general audience so we could grab the best seats. Once we'd found places to sit, Maya and I went in search of our friends among the nominees, Maisey Blake, Heidi Rice and Scarlet Wilson.

The lovely Heidi Rice has long been an idol of mine, so having my picture taken with her on such an incredible night was a dream come true!

Me with Heidi Rice (I have no idea why
it looks as if I'm trying to walk away!)

Me, Maya Blake and Scarlet Wilson

Once we'd said our hellos and wished everyone the best of luck, we returned to our table to meet the people we were sharing it with. By this time the doors had opened, and excited writers, all dressed up in the finest of evening glamour, began to fill the room. This was when I suffered my first disappointment of the night. No dinner was to be served (not that I could have eaten anyway, in the state I was in!) only a small plateful of desserts for our table to share, and there was no alcohol (not that I could drink any), only water on the tables. I only discovered, after the awards ceremony was over, that there was a cash bar in the foyer outside! And so, sipping water and nibbling on a tiny praline chocolate square, I anxiously awaited the ceremony's start.

This year's awards emcee was Roxanne St Clair. While I think she lacked a little of last year's emcee's easy delivery, she did a great job keeping us entertained and the ceremony moving forward. I wish I'd been able to enjoy it more, but with my category up second to last there was little chance of me being relaxed enough until then to enjoy the evening!

Maisey Yates with her Rita award
(Image from Maisey's Facebook page)
The evening got off to an excellent start with my new friend Maisey Yates winning an award for her book Brokedown Cowboy. It was downhill after that, though, with neither Scarlet nor Heidi winning in their category. The ladies seated at the table with us also didn't win in their categories.

The presentation of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement award to Robyn Carr half way through the evening provided a welcome break. Kristan Higgin's moving introduction and Robyn's acceptance speech were both incredibly absorbing and moving.

Robyn Carr (Image courtesy of RWA)

At last we were in the second half of the awards presentations, and my category was within sight. But by now I needed the toilet and was too scared to leave the room,in case I couldn't get back before my category came up. So while half of me was praying to win, the other half was praying I'd lose so I wouldn't have to make a clumsy acceptance speech in front of so many people while urgently needing to pee!

Just two awards left to go to mine and finally my anti-stress tablets must have kicked in. My tension eased. I felt serene. I could do this. I was okay with this. I even began to enjoy myself.

My category, at last. Jill Shalvis took the podium and announced the nominees in my category. I felt a little thrill as she announced my book. Then she cracked open the envelope... I held my breath.
"And the winner for the 2016 Rita award for Contemporary Romance: Mid Length goes to..." not Romy Sommer.
[Massive congratulations to Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy for their book Him]

And I was okay with it. No shock, no regret, no anger, no sorrow, even though I'd travelled half way around the planet just for this moment. Maybe I was having a delayed reaction?

The final award was presented, the evening was over, and I made a mad dash to the toilet - surprise, surprise, there was a queue, but I didn't mind since the fabulous rock star paranormal author Nalini Singh was also in it.

Maya and I headed to the bar for a very well-earned drink. She earned hers by putting up with my tension all night, I earned mine for - hell, do I need a reason?!

We took our drinks to the hotel's Marina Bar where we joined a group of friends for celebrations, chatter, laughter and farewells, since many of us were leaving the next morning. I'd love to say we had a massive big blow-out party to end all parties, but sadly the excitement of the day (of the entire 5 days!) was finally getting to me and I was exhausted.

Maya and I returned to the sanctuary of our hotel room where she packed for her crack-of-dawn flight out of San Diego, and I completed a quick interview via email for The Times newspaper back home. Barely able to keep my eyes open a moment longer, I whispered good night to Maya and sank deep into sleep.

Update: I can happily tell you that the reaction wasn't delayed. It simply never came. Cliched as this sounds, it really was an honour to be nominated, just to be there on this amazing night, to experience this incredible conference, meet all these lovely authors, and to come away feeling energised and excited about writing again.

Maybe because I was always a long shot in this category, maybe because I know there will be future chances to win, maybe because I was relieved not to have to make an acceptance speech, but I'm completely fine with the fact that I didn't win, and very happy for the two women who did. Strangely, I am more upset for those of my friends who were nominated and didn't win!

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