From Mary Jo:
“2000 introverts pretending to be extroverts.” Yes, the RWA national conference in Atlanta has come and gone. There were no major scandals, the hotel was one of the nicest ones we’ve been in—compact, easy to navigate, and with good hangout spots. The Marriott Marquis is in central Atlanta so there are restaurants and other hotels around, and it was no hotter than Baltimore (not that that’s saying a great deal at the moment!)
One fun tidbit I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere is the conference badges. Once upon a time, they were simple: name, maybe hometown, that’s all she wrote. But over time, they’ve evolved. Orange roses for the Orange County Chapter. Conference pins for each year. And lots of other Stuff. These days, nametags are like the battle ribbons of a Ruritanian general. Lots of hardware, plus ribbons for things like being a volunteer, a speaker, a contest judge, et al.
One can read a lot about a person’s writing life from their badges. For example, a fellow WRW member has about five Golden Hearts on hers for the number of times she’s finalled in the Golden Heart, RWA’s unpublished manuscript contest. This year, she also sported a pink ribbon for First Sale. (Yay!) Being a Rita finalist gets you a silver bas relief pin of the Rita statue; winning gets you a gold one.
Some people wear badge holders with a canvas area equal to the badge just to have enough room. I had my share of hardware, but what captured attention was the two inch long cockroach. <g> I was on a PAN panel with Rexanne Becnel, fine writer and Katrina survivor, and she graciously brought cockroach pins for the other panelists. She’d bought them in the French Quarter, and the card said, “Adaptable. Tenacious. Resilient. It rises, even flies, to the occasion. The original SURVIVOR.”
That was meant to be a symbol for New Orleans, but it’s also a perfect metaphor for writers. Thank you, Rexanne! The card claims that no cockroaches were injured or killed in production, but I have to say that it’s squickily convincing, except for the sparkling holographic finish. I wore it on my badge all weekend, despite my general preference for keeping bugs a long way off.
But enough of insectoid musings. The best part of a writers conference is schmoozing with friends. Err….make that “networking.” Sure, it’s good to touch base with agents and editors, or possibly look for new ones. It’s smart to hear about new market trends. But it’s truly rewarding to see the friend who could barely walk two years ago now leaping around like a gazelle on her new knees. (I exaggerate only slightly.)
Or the lovely young lawyer who helped with the research on TWIST OF FATE—the last time we’d talked at a conference, she had been aching as her marriage fell apart. Now, several years later, she is remarried and so radiantly, happily pregnant that her announcement was in the second sentence she said to me. Yes! Conferences reflect the circle of life—ups and downs and ups again.
This philosophical mode got me to thinking about how I met the other Wenches. (Caution: this is memory, and maybe inaccurate after so many years and conferences!)
I met Lady Layton at my very first conference ever—the RT convention in NYC in 1986 (in the hotel that was part of the World Trade Center complex.) She and Barbara Hazard, both goddesses of the Signet Regencies, were kind enough to invite me, a sold but yet unpublished Signet newbie, to join them for a drink. Such generosity is never forgotten. Plus, they were so funny! I also met Edith’s daughter, the Amazing Susie, only ten years old then but already well on her way to becoming amazing.
Pat Rice and I shared an editor at NAL. With my second book, I was having trouble coming up with a title. Eventually it became LADY OF FORTUNE, but not before I submitted endless lists of possible titles. All of which the editor knocked down ruthlessly, followed by her pointing out that this brilliant Patricia Rice person had come up with a lovely title, INDIGO MOON, from a phrase in her book. I developed a deep resentment for the title paragon.
Then at the national RWA conference—1987 or 1988?—I noticed that the woman sitting next to me in a session had “Patricia Rice” on her name tag. I pondered for a few moments. I could either slug her or introduce myself. I chose to introduce myself, and we began to talk. Almost 20 years later, the conversation hasn’t stopped. <g>
It must have been at an RWA that I met Jo Beverley. She was a new Regency author, but already winning acclaim. We became acquainted. Just before the conference ended, she mentioned that she needed a roommate for the RT convention in San Antonio and did I know anyone who was looking? Well—I happened to need a roommate, and Regency people do tend to hang together. (It’s a cult, not a genre.) The rest is history. (But of the white nightie that disappeared into the bowels of the Menger Hotel laundry system, reappearing at ghostly intervals, I shall say no more.)
Susan Sarah and I met at a smaller conference, the WRW Retreat in Harpers Ferry. A very petite person edged up to me and said in a soft voice that she’d sold her first book to NAL, my publisher. I’m sure I offered the appropriate congratulations—selling a first book is one of life’s great moments—but what sent my antenna shooting straight up was learning that she was an art historian—and I was working on my creative process/painting book, RIVER OF FIRE. Chattering about art history and publishing, we took the long walk down the hill to the town center, and the even longer walk back up. In good times, when neither of us are in deadline hell, we live close enough to meet for lunch and brainstorming. And we do.
Susan Miranda was also met at Harpers Ferrry. I didn’t really know her for some time—I was just vaguely aware of this tall historical romance writer with great blond hair. That was all until the year when Susan Sarah ended up with three possible roommates, so Susan Miranda and I paired off in the room next door. We found that we are really good roommates. <g> And she brings the most FABULOUS research books for me to drool over. The very best were the historic fabric books which contain actual swatches of materials used in clothing so one can touch and feel. I drool—then go home and order the books. <g> ( http://sallyqueenassociates.com/products.htm )
Loretta Chase was different. (Loretta is always different!) I “met” her by sending a gushing fan letter about her second book, THE ENGLISH WITCH. (The first Albanian Regency. Loretta has since written a second.) This was in the dim dark days before the internet, but I’d run into Loretta’s editor (at a conference) and mentioned how much I’d enjoyed the book. The editor offered to forward a letter to Loretta, so I wrote. She wrote back. Actual snail mail. (You’ve read her blogs and books, right? Is it any surprise that she wrote great letters?) It was years before we met in person.
At a conference.
Which is one of the big reasons we go to them. Where else can we hang out with so many great people of our own tribe?