2006 RWA National Conference
by Robin Uncapher

Wednesday, July 26th

I arrived late to the big booksigning. What a circus! As always hundreds of romance authors sat a table cloth covered tables in alphabetical order, each with a pile of books next to her. This booksigning was held in the Marriott ballroom. (Hmm wonder if a ball has ever been held there?) It's a huge room but was not really large enough to accommodate the crowd comfortably.

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How to find my friends? Thousands of women were crowding the aisles. Romance novels are popular in the South. Southern women exhibit none of the insecurities that we Northerners have when it comes to talking about romance novels. This event is the Romance novel equivalent of a rock concert, not an individual one, but Woodstock or LiveAid. Look to your left and there is Linda Howard. Look to your right and there is Barbara Samuel. I scan the A's. There is Judith Arnold, writer of my beloved Love in Bloom. Turn around, there is Loretta Chase. Julia London sits a few tables over. After I buy a book from her, I zone out but find myself smiling at Madeline Hunter.

What a racket! You can barely hear someone talking directly to you. But the actual noise is not the only problem. The Marriott Ballroom has terrible acoustics and noise is bouncing off everything.

I make my way to Marianne Stillings, my old All About Romance friend, and now successful author. She is busily signing Sigh’s Matter, her latest book. What a cover! And Marianne looks like such a nice reserved person. As always I am thrilled to see her. For once I do not envy her, though. Its only 6:30 and she still has two hours of trying to make conversation at the top of her lungs with 2,000 strangers. I am exhausted for her. We agree to meet after the signing, as I am jamming up the line and its impossible to talk.

I bump into Sandy Coleman and thank heavens there is one other person to pal around with in this crowd. I’m dying for gossip but its hard for Sandy to tell me any of it over the din. Sandy and I part and I run into Laurie, who doesn’t recognize me as I now sport different color hair than what I had in Dallas. Like me, Laurie has bought a few books, but is determined to buy conservatively in light of the amount of stuff she will need to carry home or mail out.

At the end of the evening, I get a bite to eat with Laurie, her husband, and Marianne. It’s a blast to spend time, but we are already tired. How Marianne held up over the course of three sweltering hours is anyone’s guess, but she did. Laurie's husband turned out to be just as I expected him: handsome and intelligent with a dry, dry sense of humor and a clear appreciation of his wife.

Not bad for a first evening.

Thursday

Sandy and I head off to Julia Quinn’s workshop on dialogue. But it is so popular that the fire department would prohibit allowing everyone who wanted to go into the room. We are locked out and instead attend a workshop on blogging run by the authors who run Vamps and Scamps. The workshop, targeted at beginners, focuses on promotional blogging and discussion loops. We listen but it’s clear that we aren’t really the target audience for this one. The current philosophy on blogging is that it’s a free thing you can do daily. Working with other authors makes it possible to share the work. While this is all true, blogging seemed like an immense amount of work to me, with not a lot of payoff. But that may be exactly why I write At the Back Fence with Laurie and Anne rather than do my own thing on a blog. To each his own.

Next comes the keynote luncheon. I am on my own, feeling shy and looking for a seat. Much as I believe in the All About Romance philosophy on reviews, there are romance authors who I know would prefer not to sit next to me. This does not, btw, include everyone who has received a poor review from me, but it does include some. Not wanting to make for an uncomfortable lunch for someone, nor have one myself, I scan the room. There is nowhere to go! Everyone knows everyone else. I am overtaken by an attack of insecurity and shyness. All the empty chairs are being saved for friends! Then I see one and plop down.

My neighbor smiles at me. Am I hearing impaired too? Oh dear. I am at the special hearing impaired table and may be taking someone’s seat! Luckily she is nice and welcoming and there are enough seats for everyone. Whew.

After lunch Meg Cabot delivers an absolutely priceless luncheon speech on her experience when The Princess Diaries was being made into a movie. It was so hysterical she really should use it in a book. Among other things she told us how, when the movie was being written, writers from Disney called to ask if there were beaches in the country of Genovia. “Wait a minute,” Meg tells us she said, “You do know that Genovia is a made-up country, right?”

The speech is a huge success, Not only am I laughing, I have a couple of free Megan Cabot YA books to take home to my daughter, Lizzy.

On Thursday night Marianne and I went to dinner with Laurie and Rachel Gibson; I can't speak for Rachel, but the rest of us had a wonderful time. In case you are wondering what Rachel Gibson is like, she is a lot like her books - witty, dry, pretty, and modest.

Friday

On Friday I hit the booksignings. I amassed a huge pile including books by Lisa Kleypas, Meg Cabot, Laura Lee Gurke and Edith Layton. I met Linda Howard, who recognized my name from my name tag and said, “I know you.”

I almost died of happiness. Linda Howard reads At the Back Fence, sometimes at least.

Wow.

That evening I went to the Random House (Ballantine, Bantam, Dell) and Berkley parties with among others, Laurie, her husband, and Sandy. It was a wonderful evening but by this time fatigue was setting in. Meeting hundreds of people and making small talk for hours can be hard no matter how thrilled you are to be there. We stayed at the Random House party for about an hour, but left Sandy at the Berkley party after only a few moments. Laurie was right, btw, Random House does have the best hor de oeuvres...it's not everywhere where you are served mini Beef Wellingtons..

Saturday

On Saturday I hit a few more booksignings, including Putnam's, and was delighted to see Marianne’s RWA roommate, former AAR reviewer and author Megan Frampton. I had read and enjoyed Megan’s Signet Regency, A Singular Lady, but greedy woman that I am, I wanted a signed copy. Megan was happy to sign a book for me but refrained from using my suggested inscription “To Robin, without whom this book could not have been published,” Why she refused to write such a whopper I can’t imagine but she was nice enough to sign “singularly,” and told me about the Mommy Lit she hopes to sell soon.

Later I dropped in on the Avon spotlight for writers with Laurie. At RWA, each publisher presents a spotlight workshop to inform prospective authors what they are looking for, and how to submit manuscripts. The basic message is that Avon is focusing heavily on Paranormal and Erotic Romance. Historicals should be set in England or Scotland during the Medieval period or the 1800s and war stories are favored. It was nice to hear that Medievals may be coming back. Erotic Romance is getting a big push, and they will be more flexible about setting and story when it comes to Erotic Romance and Paranormals.

They are moving away from romantic comedy in the Contemporary arena. Much of what they receive is not all that funny, so they encourage contemporary love stories with some wit, but which are not comedy. They give SEP as an example.

Unpublished writers are encouraged to query via email. Personally I would still go with an agent, but for someone who wants to submit directly, email is the preferred route, although sample chapters and manuscripts should be sent via snail mail.

Avon's editorial staff also talked extensively about Avonfanlit.com. This is a competition whereby unpublished writers write chapters for a six-chaptered Avon ebook. Voters will choose which chapters are best, and the book will then be e-published by Avon. Its supposed to be a kind of American Idol for romance.

By the end of the spotlight it was roughly noon. Laurie and I went for a quick lunch and that was it for me for the day. I didn’t want to push it too hard as the big night was coming up.

Sandy was invited to Nora Roberts' beautiful pre-RITA cocktail party. She invited me and we attended with other invited guests. What an event! The party was held in Roberts’ penthouse suite, and she looked absolutely beautiful in a metallic evening gown fit for the Oscars. We ran into a multitude of RITA nominees, as well as Laurie and her husband.

Then it was on to the RITAs themselves. What great people watching! Everyone was dressed to the nines. The theme of the show was the contrast between real romance writing and the way it's portrayed in the movies. Roberts' monologue was hilarious, and there were lots of great film clips. I’ll let you all check out who won. Suffice to say we were all eager to see our favorites win. Nora Roberts herself brought down the house when she accepted the RITA “...on behalf of JD Robb, who could not be here tonight. But she wanted to thank me…without whom her book would not have been written.”

Susan Elizabeth Phillips won the Lifetime Achievement Award. Gayle Wilson showed considerable talent presenting a very funny faux biography.

Then, suddenly it was over and all of us were heading out for fruit and chocolate from the chocolate fountain. Sandy and I made a quick night of it, both of us completely exhausted.

That’s all, folks. Next year...Dallas.

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