Anne here, and I'm just back from the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference, which this year was in Sydney. As always, the conference experience for me is a mix of catching up with writer buddies, making new friends, and being stimulated by the workshops, talks and panel discussions.
I love it, but it's also exhausting. Wench Mary Jo once said, "Writers' conferences are full of introverts madly pretending to be extroverts" — and it's true. Really it is.
Of course the exhaustion is actually due to overstimulation of the brain from the excellent workshops. Nothing to do with all those very late nights up talking with friends. Or wine. Or the early mornings so as not to miss any of the program. Or breakfast. No, I'm talking a purely intellectual kind of exhaustion.
In the week leading up to the conference I was on two panels with Grace Burrowes and others, organized by ARRA (the Australian Romance Readers Assoc'n) The first was a "reading salon" in Melbourne, where we read from our books, and then answered questions from the audience, and were fed delicious sweet and savory morsels. (ARRA always provides good food.)
The second was a bigger panel with a wider variety of authors and we answered mostly questions about writing, as a lot of the audience was in Sydney for the RWAust. conference, which started the next day.
That evening Harlequin Books gave a lovely cocktail party for their authors, and I got to catch up with so many people. After that, a small group of us headed off for karaoke. It was my first time, and I'd imagined it would be something like a club, with a stage, and confident people would take it in turns to go on stage and perform, while the rest of us watched politely — but how wrong I was.
This was karaoke as the Japanese do it — a small booth with benches against the wall on three sides and a big screen out the front. You pick out your songs a bit like a jukebox, and though a few were "performing" everyone sang (shrieked, warbled, bellowed) along with them anyway and some were dancing as they sang. It didn't matter if you could sing or not — one woman performs in musical theatre, others were tone deaf, but everyone sang along happily. It was enormous fun — and we finished at 2am. Which was about when this pic was taken.
Friday at our conference is an all day workshop concentrating on craft of writing. There was a "bootcamp" for some and for more experienced writers, a workshop on screenwriting with Ross Grayson Bell. You might ask "why screenwriting?" when we're all novelists, but screenwriters really concentrate on storytelling and story structure, and that's always useful.
I love attending "craft" workshops, as even when I'm very familiar with the concepts and material they're presenting, it's always useful to sit in the audience and apply those concepts to my current wip (work-in-progress). The screenwriting workshop covered some very familiar ground, but it shook loose a knot I've been struggling with in my current story, so I've come home refreshed and ready to pull the manuscript apart and rewrite it.
Friday evening is the official kick-off for the conference, with the costume cocktail party, sponsored by Harlequin. We introduced a costume theme some years ago and the costumes work as a wonderful ice-breaker. And even though there's no pressure to dress up, about half come in costume; plenty of authors are introverts but putting on a costume makes it easier for many to interact. And the costumes are always fun.
This year there was a royalty theme — "Tuxedos and Tiaras" — as the hotel was one in which royalty has stayed — there are photos of Prince Charles and Princess Di dancing there, for instance. So some people came looking glamorous, others were frankly silly. I'll let you decide which camp I'm in.
Here's me as an evil queen in a cheap tiara onto which I glued rubber rats, snakes and spiders. (And let me suggest if you want black lips, don't use eyeliner — it's really hard to get off.) Among the many silly and fun costumes there was a trio of Zombie brides, and "Prince" who won the costume prizes, awarded by Harlequin Australia's CEO, James Kellow. Of course plenty of others just looked glamorous and lovely: one woman who wore her actual bridal gown, and others looking very queenly. I can't fit all the fabulous costumes in, but if you want to see more pics, I've posted some on my own blog.
On Saturday one of the workshops I did was on the art and craft of prewriting with Christine Wells. Christine wrote historical romance as Christine Wells and Christina Brooke, and now she's back writing as Christine Wells and writing dual timeline historical novels set between now and WW2. Well worth reading.
Saturday night was the awards dinner, and among the many happy award winners was Emily Larkin (who I know a lot of wenchly readers enjoy.) She won the "long" section of the Romantic Book of the Year for her book Ruining Miss Wrotham, in her wonderful "baleful Godmother" series.
On Sunday morning I attended a talk by Grace Burrowes on "Why Historicals? Now More Than Ever." It was an excellent talk, about some of the research she's done, and how some of her themes arise from real life. One interesting discussion was on whether historicals could wrap difficult themes in a "softer" wrapping, and thus increase modern readers' awareness of important, current-day issues. She used her book, The Laird, as an example.
There's plenty more I could report on, but I've run out of steam, and I expect you have too.
So what about you? Do you go to conferences much? Do you like or hate to dress in costume? Have you ever done Karaoke? And what do you think of Grace's comment about exploring difficult themes in historicals — do you think the historical context makes it "easier" or not? Or, if you went to a romance writers conference, who would be your "dream team?"