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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

05 August 2008

RWA conference highlights

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:


Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like you had a rich experience. I'll look forward to the interviews, and more discussion about layering. I use that term but I think in a different sense.

Lana Gramlich said...

I'm glad you had a good & productive time! I don't think I could handle an earthquake, personally. That must've been some kind of scary!

Steve Malley said...

Thanks for sharing your RWA insights. I stroke my beard and peer out at the horizon...

Sphinx Ink said...

Thanks for the meaty post, Shauna. Lots of good content, making me wish even more that I'd been able to go to the conference.

I'm so glad you, Farrah and Rae Ann got to reunite. Love the photo! I also like the new photo of you in the blog sidebar.

The seminars you attended sound excellent. I look forward to your sharing more of the knowledge you gained.

Oh, and the earthquake story is a hoot. Glad no one was hurt. I have a cousin who lives in Chino Hills, which I believe was the epicenter of the quake. Guess I ought to e-mail/phone and make sure he and his family are okay.

Carleen Brice said...

Thanks for the tips! I'd love to hear more about looking at the chapters in random order. A book-length ms is so long and confusing I forget where threads begin unless I look at it in sequence, but if it helps to do so randomly, I'd try that too.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, I think what Adair meant by layering is that to avoid a flat book that doesn't draw a reader in, one must incorporate 22 elements. Because most people aren't going to incorporate all these into their story as they write it, she suggests going through the book afterwards to make sure these important elements occur as needed. Her whole list can be found at (which can be found at, but a few of the elements are:
--words that create the proper atmosphere
--a character arc for the protagonist
--a goal for every scene
--individual voices for each character

Those are probably things you layer in too, right?

LANA, I was reassured by the way the locals were freaking out over the earthquake. It made me realize that most of the earthquakes here are much smaller.

STEVE, I think you'll find my future posts on Dr. Maisel's session particularly interesting, since you are involved in multiple arts.

SPHINX INK, you can at least read some of the handouts at and learn some of the info.

CARLEEN, Adair didn't mean to always work on drafts 2+ in random order. Rather, she's suggesting a technique that's something like how some people read their book backwards, word by word, starting at the last word. Doing the chapters in random order helps one focus on whether necessary elements are in each chapter rather than getting distracted by the story. She also looks for just three elements at a time, rather than overwhelming herself by looking for all 22 in each chapter at once.

Michele said...

Yeah, the quakes are usually so small we don't feel them...You might hear your windows rattle, but that's usually about it. I was in the air when that 5.4 happened and watched the Breaking News on Jet Blue's DirecTV; that was surreal in itself.

Looks like you and I went to completely different workshops. There were so many from which to choose!

Sorry to hear about the chocolate explosion caused by the searchers.

But I'm glad you had such a great time in San Francisco!

Shauna Roberts said...

MICHELE, I was surprised how many people I knew were going to RWA that I didn't see, while others I bumped into over and over. See you tomorrow!

Rae Ann Parker said...

Shauna, it was great to see you at the conference. Your earthquake story makes me chuckle again. I bet the author would love to hear it.

Thanks for recapping some of the workshops. I wish I could attend each and every one. I'm looking forward to receiving my conference cds.

Shauna Roberts said...

RAE ANN, the one good thing about all the driving that one has to do in Southern California is that it gives me lots of time to listen to RWA CDs, Learn Spanish in Your Car CDs, and other stuff.

Farrah Rochon said...

Oh, Shauna, the chocolates tragedy breaks my heart! How careles of the airline.

Needless to say, I had a fabulous time rooming with you. I'm still trying to digest everything I learned last week. I'm super excited about putting our late night brainstorming sessions down on paper.

I enjoyed reading your wrap up!

Sidney said...

Sounds like a good trip. I went to RWA's annual meeting one year when it was in New Orleans and had a good time.

Shauna Roberts said...

FARRAH, yes, I was quite annoyed with the airline. But the good news is, Ghiradelli's Website now sells chocolate instead of just directing you to their stores. When winter comes (and I don't have to worry too much about melting), I can stock up. I'm so pleased we got so much brainstorming done, and we hadn't even planned to do it.

SIDNEY, my first RWA conference was in NOLA. Maybe we were both at the same one.

steve on the slow train said...

I had dismissed romance writing as fluff until I met Anne and Ed Kolaczyk, who wrote as Andrea Edwards. Their stories were always well-crafted and included a lot of local color. I'm curious to what percentage of the attendees was male.

Too bad about the chocolate. You'd think the TSA could check such things without destroying them.

Shauna Roberts said...

STEVE, that's an interesting question. There were very, very few men attending the RWA conference. My chapter in New Orleans was about 10% men, and although the percentage of men in my Orange County chapter is much lower, of the people who come to meetings, perhaps 5% are men. So a lower percentage of the male members may attend.

Thanks for the sympathy for the chocolate.