Robin's Daily RWA Journal
July 28th and 29th, 2000

Friday July 28, 2000

Another day with RWA. Most of the people at this conference are authors and writers who are working on manuscripts. Overall the tone of the conference is serious and professional. Coming into the lobby and in the elevators the talk is of agents, pitches to publishers, advances and the guidelines either formal or informal that shape the voice of the various category lines. Its a tough business and being at this conference gives one an idea of what it takes to break in. RWA sponsors agent appointment with unpublished authors who are given a few moments to pitch the story of their manuscript. Although there were Undoubtedly disappointments one did hear quite frequently the excited voice of a new writer who had just been asked for her full manuscript.

My own day started out with a conversation with Julia Quinn. In person Julia is clever, pretty and deceptively even younger looking than she really is. She has been writing since just after college when she wrote and published Splendid. After we talked about her starting out as a writer I asked her which hero, whom she had not written, had affected her the most. Her response was Derek, from Lisa Kleypas's Dreaming of You. Why? Julia didn't know. It was just one of those things that happens. Julia's next release (she's received DIK status twice from AAR) is The Viscount Who Loved Me, to be released in December.

A little later, while standing in line at the RWA Registration desk I struck up a conversation with the very charming Darlene Graham, who hails from Oklahoma. Darlene writes for Harlequin Superromance (her most recent title is Under Montana Skies, out this past spring in March). Darlene, an obstetrical nurse, began to write after she developed hearing problems and feared she wouldn't be able to hear her patients. Before that time, she had noticed romances were very popular with her patients, and since she enjoyed reading them herself. . . .

Darlene's next release, This Child of Mine, features a female lobbyist here in Washington, D.C. The idea came to her, in part, because her husband is a lobbyist. One of the challenges of writing the book was keeping politics out of a story with a political setting. Darlene explained that her focus is on character more than setting and that neither of her characters is actually in politics.

Darlene's favorite hero is Jamie from Outlander. "He's funny. He's sexy. He's philosophical. He's younger. I appreciate that. I think that we need to open our minds to other men. Character is character." she also admires Will Parker, the hero in LaVyrle Spencer's Morning Glory. "He starts out an ex-convict and ends up a war hero. He was the same man, just in different clothes. This idea that character always reveals itself forms the basis of Darlene's overall philosophy. Her desk always contains the James Allen quote: "Circumstances do not make the man. They reveal him."

Later on I met with Anne Stuart and Barbara Samuel (who writes contemporaries as Ruth Wind). These two writers, who know and respect each other deeply, sat down with me for one of the most enjoyable interviews I've ever had. Both are both witty, self-deprecating and literate and I laughed through much of the forty minute interview. We talked about a wide range of topic including how each of them choose settings, historical time period and sub-genre as well as the basis of the kinds of heroes that each of them write. This interview was so interesting that it would be a shame to simply write a synopsis her. Happily, I recorded it and I'll be transcribing and editing it soon for publication at AAR.

I also asked both Anne and Ruth about the books that had influenced them when they were growing up. Barbara said, "I pretty much read everything from the time I was ten or eleven. My mother never censored my books, my reading materials. Harold Robbins at twelve - without having a complete understanding of it. I read a lot of science fiction fantasy because there are people in my family who had read those. I read my father's Ed McBain Mysteries. I read a lot of historical romances Victoria Holt, Daphne DuMaurier - all of that old group. That pre-nineteen eighties boom." She went on to talk about Anya Seton at age fifteen. When she read Green Darkness (she wrote the DIK review of it for us), she said, "I reread it and reread it and reread it that year. I know that that was the book that turned me into a romance writer. I had been a writer for a long time at that point but when I read that book I said "Well I know exactly what I wanted to do." Later Barbara made a pilgrimage to Ightham Mote, the house in Kent that inspired Anya Seton. Her webpage includes a wonderful description of that journey and can be found at http://home.rmi.net/~samuel/pilgrimage.html (this is a jump link).

Anne started out in the seventies writing gothic romances. She set them in England and the United States. "Gothics were dying and I went on to regencies. I loved Georgette Heyer. Her favorite Heyer was Venetta, though Devil's Cub, is really close as is The Reluctant Widow, and A Convenient Marriage.

I asked Barbara for the romance hero who had hit each of them the hardest. Barbara couldn't really think of a hero so she picked two heroines: Julia from Green Darkness and also Mary Elizabeth Potter from Linda Howard's Mackenzie's Mountain. She did mention the Gérard Depardieu character from the movie Green Card, because "he was so tender so tortured and he really got me. I loved that movie and I've watched it over and over again." Another hero Barbara loved was the John Malkovich character in Dangerous Liaisons.

The romance hero that Anne picked was Daniel Day Lewis's character Hawkeye in the movies The Last of the Mohicans. "He was a major turning point for me. Major, major, major," Anne said laughing. She also liked Alan Rickman in Truly, Madly Deeply and even more as the villain in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. In fact she based the hero in her novella in My Secret Admirer on that book. Anne is also a new Russell Crowe fan, having seen Gladiator. "He's the first working class hero who's gotten to me," she said.

More on all of this later when we post the entire conversation with Anne and Barbara.

A bit later I sat down for a quick chat with a group of romance authors taking a break. I asked them for the hero who had most affected each of them. Michelle Jerott picked Christian from Laura Kinsale's Flowers From the Storm, "He was wounded. He was the best wounded hero in the world. I just loved him. He's had a stroke. He was a very unusual hero in that she didn't fix him in the end. he never got perfect."

Jo Beverley picked Francis Lymond from Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles (she wrote a DIK review of the 6th in the series, Checkmate, for us some years ago). "He's a brilliant guy and I love brilliant guys. I get off on brilliance. He also suffers but what I really love about his character was that he doesn't whine. He takes what fate throws at him and just tries to deal with it. He makes the impossible decisions. I find very often in books we don't make up tough characters who do the real tough thing. In romance we are soft hearted."

Then I sat down with Susan Grant, who debuted last year with Once a Pirate. Her next book is The Star King (which AAR publisher LLB, who doesn't generally enjoy science fiction/romance hybrids, thoroughly enjoyed - you can look for her review closer to the book's December release date). Sue is a commercial airline pilot for United and had just flown in from Hong Kong for a meeting with her agent. Before Sue was a commercial pilot she was an Air force pilot. She spoke about some of the difficulties of presenting a realistic military heroine, as was her heroine in Carly Callahan in Once a Pirate. "People have been influenced by Hollywood. For example in romance novels a character might go to a party wearing a leather flight jacket. Nobody goes to parties wearing a flight jacket."

Susan talked quite a bit about her new book and I'm saving some of what we discussed for later. She did say that the book was unusual. The heroine is older than usual, about forty-two and the hero is an alien. Sue said that it is meant to appeal to a mainstream romance audience not just one that ordinarily goes for romance science fiction.

I asked what Sue liked to read in the years when she was flying all over the world. Sue said she didn’t read much romance. She read science fiction and that she had not really known about romance. Then, " Three years ago my life took a one-eighty and it was totally unexpected." Nowadays Sue reads very little romance in an effort to keep her voice fresh.

It was close to the end of the day but AAR reviewer editor Nora Armstrong and I hit two cocktail parties run by editors who had graciously invited AAR to take part. Our first was the Pocket Party where we sighted author Virginia Henley (or a close look-alike) and author Emma Holly, who used to write erotica for Black Lace and will now be writing romance. The second was the Putnam Berkley Publishing Group party where we met Liz Carlyle, a witty woman with an infectious sense of humor and a wonderful southern drawl. Liz won as Favorite New Author of 2000 in our annual reader's poll. Also spotted were Julie Garwood, Miranda Jarrett, Nora Roberts, and too many others to name.

I got home late, and oh, do my feet ache, but it was worth it!

Saturday July 29, 2000

I'm going to start this report on my last day at the RWA National Conference in Washington, DC with the best part. It was Suzanne Brockmann jumping up and down on the stage at the glittering RWA Award Ceremony holding a RITA in one hand and looking like the romance writer's version of an elated Rocky Balboa. As the audience laughed and cheered, the words "unmitigated joy" came to mind. Suzanne won the RITA for Best Contemporary Single Title for Body Guard (a full listing of RITA and Golden Heart winners follows. For those of us sitting in the evening-gowned RWA audience last night, it was impossible not to be caught up in the thrill of the moment. This was a room full writers whose work makes up over half of the mass market paperback sales in the United States and they were honoring one of their own.

I didn't expect to get to the RWA Awards Ceremony last night but thanks to a kind writer with an extra ticket I made it in. The ceremony is not unlike the Oscars with a lot less filler. I sat next to AAR Reviewer and Editor Nora Armstong comparing notes.

In addition to her award for Bodyguard, Suzanne won Best Long Contemporary Series for Undercover Princess, the only title by this author we didn't review last year!

Some other high points included Tami Cowden's acceptance speech for Cruising for Love, the Golden Heart Award Winner for Traditional Series Romance. This award goes to an unpublished manuscript submitted by an unpublished author. "My husband is no Fabio," said Tami, "but he has never once complained when I play the throbbing organ music while I write." You may recognize Tami's name - she's been our on-the-scene reporter for this conference for the past two years, and has written two extensive articles for us on character archetypes.

Patricia Ryan who won Best Long Historical for Silken Threads, was so astonished that she admitted that she had prepared nothing to say even though RWA had urged all nominees write something up just in case. "I just didn't want to be sitting with the card in my lap while Mary Jo picked up the RITA," she quipped. She went on to say that she also thought that each of the other nominees was more likely to win than she was.

Nancy Butler, who won the Best Regency Award for The Rake's Retreat urged readers who love historicals set in the regency period to give traditional regencies a try. "Regencies rock!" she said.

Judith Ivory wasn't there to pick up her Best Short Historical award for The Proposition, but her editor was. Given the cheering I was obviously a very popular choice!

Nora Armstrong was thrilled when Gayle Wilson won for Best Romantic Suspense award for The Bride's Protector. "You haven't read her? You've got to read her!" she whispered as Gayle took the stage.

Isolde Martyn who had come all the way from Australia, won for The Maiden and the Unicorn for Best First Book. Soft spoken Isolde seemed to be stunned by the award, though thrilled. She pointed out that almost everyone in the book is based on a real person and she hoped that wherever they were the hero and heroine would forgive her for the liberties she took and writing the novel.

All of this came at the end of an exhausting fascinating day. . . .

I attended a workshop given by Jo Beverley and Margaret Evans Porter called "Writing About England." Jo Beverley's talk focused on much of the information that an American might miss - even one who does some extensive research. I was fascinated by her explanation of the problems of fording rivers and climbing mountain ranges. Jo also explained some slang terms and warned Americans against using American slang, which pulls readers, especially British readers, right out of the story. Margaret Evans Porter, a transplanted American, gave an overview of British history.

Later Nora and I attended a session entitled "Chat with Patricia Gaffney." For lack of a better term, Patricia Gaffney is one of those people with "presence." Somehow you just know that she's successful. She has a sense of humor so dry that you find yourself watching for the sparkle in her eyes.

Pat is currently working on a book set in Washington, DC. The heroine of the book inherits a resturant. Pat began the session by inviting all of us to name the resturant, which will probably end up being the name of the book. A few brave souls suggested names which were taken into consideration. My own mind went completely blank. So much for stardom.

Pat is happy to be writing women's fiction these days. She wants to write about women and their friendships. Besides she feels that her historical writing has pretty much run its course. "When I got to Oulaw in Paradise, I relized I was pretty much out of ideas for historical romances," she said.

After the session Nora and I sat down with Pat, who participated in the July 15th issue of At the Back Fence. She told us that she has been following the ATBF Message Board discussion on To Have and To Hold and that she is especially impressed by poster LFL's insightful posts on the book. "LFL knows that book better than I do," she said and went on to compliment LFL's analysis of the characters in the book.

Pat told us how she started writing romance. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to write the most fun thing that she could write. It was Sweet Treason. She wrote that book just to have fun and didn't care what anybody else thought. "I would write it differently now," she said, "I would control myself now." Hmm. Her eyes were twinkling while she said this.

I asked Pat about the books that she had loved when she was growing up. "I don't think that you are ever as moved as when you are young, she said and went on to list some favorites as Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles and Captain from Castile by Samuel Shellabarger.

Finally, at the end of the interview, Pat directed me to the website created by her friend, Passion Ann (feel free to take this jump link to Passion Ann's site. May I say here and now that I am in awe of Ms. Heet and am considering my own Fan Site for her.

Lastly, I need to tell you about another of my Friday meetings - one that never made it into my Friday report. Late on Friday, Diane Farr and I talked about her career including her RITA-nominated books, The Nobody, and Fair Game. Diane is one of those writers whom Georgette Heyer influenced tremendously. If you read The Nobody, you know that Diane Farr is a Heyer fan. "When I wrote the book," said Diane. "I was not writing it for publication. I was writing for my own amusement and the reason why I was writing it was because I had read all of my Georgette Heyer and I needed another one and she wasn't around to write them anymore. Because I was writing for my own amusement I was deliberately trying to write like her. In a way it was deliberate."

Other than Heyer, Diane admires Mary Jo Putney. "I owe The Nobody to Georgette Heyer and I owe Fair Game to Mary Jo Putney, " she said laughing. (Guess I should have asked to whom she owes Falling for Chloe!) Diane went on to say that when you are first writing it is inevitable that you would be influenced by the voices of writers you admire. She believes it is better to allow yourself to be influenced than to come off sounding "wooden" by resisting it. "When you emulate someone else's voice, you discover your own," she said. Growing up, Farr said, she read mostly English writers such as C.S. Lewis, E. Neesbitt, J.M. Barrie, and Lewis Carroll. She added that "the English have a certain musicality in their language that appeals to my ear."

The following are the awards given at last night's banquet. The RITA is awarded to authors of published books while the Golden Heart is for unpublished authors.

2000 RITA Winners

Rita Clay Estrada received the Lifetime Achievement award.

2000 Golden Heart Winners
  • Tami Cowden
  • Barbara Dunlop
  • Carolyn H. LaFever
  • Linda S. Rooks
  • Carol Lynn Umberger
  • Wendy Sue Bores
  • Barbara Cool Lee
  • Abigail M. Lederman

-- Robin Nixon Uncapher

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