The 2008 Romance Writers of America conference got off to an earth-shattering start before I even left Southern California. I was reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi at the Ontario Airport while waiting for my plane when a 5.4 magnitude earthquake hit two miles away, cracking some runways. Because the rumbling and shaking fit the scene I was reading, I did not realize an earthquake had occurred until I heard other passengers gasp. Possible moral: Do not read military sf while sitting near an earthquake fault.
I roomed with my critique partner and friend Farrah Rochon, whom I haven’t seen since last summer. We had a great time staying up late to catch up on news and bounce story ideas off each other. As a result, I came home with plans for a short story and two books. Farrah and I were glad to get to spend a lot of time with fellow SOLA member Rae Ann Parker, who moved away from New Orleans shortly before I did.
I also enjoyed a long lunch with historical romance author Lynna Banning, a fellow Early Music enthusiast who years ago encouraged me to start writing seriously. She also convinced me that a science fiction and fantasy writer could get a lot out of RWA and suggested that I join the organization, for which I will be eternally grateful. Lynna agreed to do an interview on my blog, so look for that later this month.
One of my goals for the conference was to network, so I talked to as many writers as I could. One particularly interesting author, whom I met at Thursday's lunch, was Mingmei Yip. She was at the conference to promote her first novel in English, Peach Blossom Pavilion. I took a cab across San Francisco to hear her play the guqin (a seven-stringed instrument something like an Appalachian dulcimer) at one of her booksignings. She also graciously agreed to be interviewed for my blog.
Some people go to the RWA conference primarily to see friends, agents, and editors. My main goal was to learn a lot, and I certainly did. The workshops this year were fantastic, and several lasted two hours instead of the usual one, allowing speakers to cover their topics in much greater depth. Here’s a brief overview of the sessions I attended.
- Cherry Adair spoke on “Layering and Texturing Your Novel,” which should come in handy in September when I start the second draft of my WIP. She works twenty-two layers into every chapter of her novels. Useful tip: When adding layers and reviewing chapters, don’t start at the beginning of the book. Instead, look at the chapters in random order.
- Mary Jo Putney and Patricia Rice talked about brainstorming, its uses, and how to develop a good brainstorming group. Useful tip: Brainstorming is the opposite of critiquing. Instead of judging others’ ideas, one should build on them and take them in new directions.
- Psychologist Eric Maisel spoke on “Creativity for Life.” This session was so crammed with useful information and great ideas that I’ll devote a whole post or two later to it.
- I learned the basics of making book trailer videos from Diana Holquist and Lindsey Faber. Useful tip: A book trailer should not be about the book, but rather present one concept that will motivate readers to buy the book.
- Four American Title finalists (Ruth Kaufman, Gerri Russell, Michelle Ann Young, and fellow OCC-RWA member Gina Black) joined with publicist Theresa Myers to talk about ways to promote oneself while still prepublished (an optimistic synonym for "unpublished"). Useful tip: If you post snippets of your novel on your site, don’t post your first chapter. If you do, after your book published people may pick it up, read the first page and recognize it, and set the book down, thinking they’ve already read it.
- Robin Owens, Ann Aguirre, Catherine Asaro, and editor Cindy Hwang held a panel on cross-over fiction, specifically, fiction that combines romance and science fiction or fantasy. Useful tip for choosing where to submit a cross-genre book: If the romance resolves after the fantasy or sf story, the book is a romance; if the romance resolves before, the book is speculative fiction.
- The final session I attended was Susan Gable’s “Story Superglue,” in which she discussed how characters and the reader’s emotional response to the book are the two things that make a story stick with a reader. Useful tip: If you give each character a motto and a set of values, you’ll have any easier time knowing what choices each will make.
I also found time to visit the nearby Ghiradelli store twice, and good thing, too: My baggage was searched on my flight home, and the searchers repacked carelessly. The lid came off a container of non pareils, and it was half empty when I got home. Luckily, on my second trip to the store, I had gotten another container, which remained sealed.
Except for that tragic incident, the conference exceeded my expectations. I came home with a suitcase full of books and other goodies and a brain full of ideas for writing faster, better, and more happily.
For some other takes on the 2008 RWA conference, visit these Web sites: