I’ve put off writing this RWA19 recap post in part because the conference was a whirlwind, and I spent the week after I got home trying to process the wild roller coaster of emotions. And then I went away on vacation, where I did no writing and instead celebrated all things southeastern Maine. But here I am! Ready to try and synthesize days of intensity and overwhelm and fun after the Romance Writers of America National Conference.
Note: Technically, this con is “RWA Nationals.” RWA is the name of the organization, not its con, and yet most of us call the con itself “RWA.” I’m going to do the same in this post.
Framing the Beast
I’ve been to cons before: kink cons, gaming cons, education cons, even RWA. I know that it’s impossible to do everything, and even out of the “this seems reasonable” list, I can usually only get to about half of it. For this con, I really wanted to prioritize meeting with people. RWA sells audio recordings of most of the workshops, which I will likely buy for many of the classes I missed.
With this priority, I scheduled a bunch of time with my agent, editor, and some publishing house meetings, along with escapades with friends for dinners and drinks. Even so, my schedule was…full.
The City That Never Sleeps
I love New York. My bestie lives in Brooklyn, and I get to the city quite a lot to visit her and gallivant. That said, I avoid the hell out of Times Square. But the conference was at the Marriott, and being close to the con hotel was a priority, so Times Square it was. I booked the Hotel Edison, right across the street from the Marriott. This was a great choice! The hotel was adorable, cheaper than the Marriott, and no elevator bullshit. (I think it was cheaper for me to get to my room across the street than get to the 30th floor of the Marriott.)
Everything’s expensive in and around Times Square, but it’s really out of control in the hotel. I set a goal to eat in the hotel as little as possible. I drank a fair number of $7 Shirley Temples, but mostly I ate around 8th and 9th avenue.
- Junior’s Cheesecake — Seriously, I ate at Junior’s so many times, including after the RITA gala. It’s reliably tasty AF. You can even order it online.
- Times Square Diner — Nothing fancy, but quick and moderately priced and within 2 blocks of the hotel.
- Bonchon — I don’t care that they’re a chain. All I care is that they deliver via Seamless to my hotel room so I can lie on the bed in my nightgown and hoover THE most delicious chicken wings into my mouth like a terrifying Eldritch being. Like I did on Saturday night.
- Café China — This Michelin-star Chinese restaurant hides only a few blocks from Bryant park. This was some of the best food I’ve had in at least the last year, maybe longer. I made some seriously pornographic noises when eating these dumplings.
Because I didn’t prioritize workshops, I honestly didn’t go to that many. But I went to some, and here were some highlights:
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Round Table on Wednesday night was a special way to start off the conference. I originally wasn’t sure about going to this: I didn’t necessarily have anything to say, and I didn’t want to take airtime away from marginalized authors who had experienced the RWA prejudice firsthand.
My friend and writing buddy Felicia Davin, though, pointed out something I wasn’t considering: she was going to make sure she was present in support. I was a little embarrassed to have ignored that part of it: of course just being a body in a seat mattered. A large turnout supported the idea that these issues matter. And they do.
So I went, and it was quite moving to hear people’s stories firsthand, and to get to be present at what I hope is a turning point in RWA. The people in that room were ready for change. Sadly, I think the people who most needed to hear these stories weren’t present for them. But I was, and I am better for it. I’m embarrassed that I almost didn’t go, and so, so glad I did.
Another highlight was Damon Suede’s Trope-Tastic workshop. A two-hour workshop on anything seemed a bit too much, but it’s Damon Suede, and I love that guy. He runs an amazing workshop. He gave us an eight-page handout–seriously, eight pages!!–and I also took a ton of notes to supplement. I hope to use tropes better in my work.
One of the best takeaways from that workshop was about using verbs to crystallize character. Since characters should not be static, encapsulating their drive with a verb helps them always be acting and reacting. The verb arises from a void in their life somewhere, and they’re filling that void by acting via that verb. Identifying the verbs for my current book has helped me as I’ve continued drafting.
Those verbs, by the way, all ended up being “p” words:
- Lori: pursue
- Geoff: probe
- Patrick: protect
It’s life-changing character work, people. Damon has some great books on the subject on his website.
I have been excited and nervous about the RITAs since March, when I got that call from Avery Flynn and lost my fucking mind in the hallway of my school. I finaled back in 2015 with PURELY PROFESSIONAL, for Best Erotic Romance and Best First Book, and while I was tremendously honored to be a finalist, I had very little expectation of actually winning. I wanted to win, sure, but I didn’t think I had much of a chance, and I instead celebrated dressing up in a fancy gown.
This year, though? This year, I wanted it badly. It’s an honor to be a finalist, but I really wanted to win. While I knew I had a pretty good shot, I also knew it was far from a sure thing. I also really wanted it for Tera Cuskaden, my editor, who has had it on her bucket list. Tera did so much to help me bring this book to life, and I wanted her to get some recognition, because she definitely deserves it.
I got myself a pretty amazing dress from Rent the Runway, and filled it out with a lot of help from a push-up/plunge bra from Torrid. I also was lucky enough to have a bunch of “family” with me: my husband, our best friend Crystal, my writing buddies Ray and Amanda, my amazing agent Saritza Hernandez, and my aforementioned wonderful editor Tera. I was nervous, but it wasn’t until my category was announced that I thought, oh god, I might actually throw up! And then I won.
My adorable friend Amanda surreptitiously recorded the whole thing.
Of course, I had pretty much lost my voice by that day from talking loudly in loud places for three days, so I sound super hoarse and emotional…and I am both of those things!
Here’s the full text of my speech, if you want to read it.
I think one of the best things about the night was getting to win a RITA on the same night that history was made with the first two Black women RITA winners, and the first Southeast Asian RITA winner. What esteemed company! Congratulations to Kennedy Ryan, M. Malone, and Nisha Sharma, as well as all the other RITA winners!
After the ceremony, we went to the bar for drinks, and then headed to Junior’s. Perhaps the real miracle of the evening was walking into Junior’s at 10pm on a Friday night and being told, “Table for 8? Sure, we can seat you right now.” Nothing washes down nerves and excitement quite as much as a slab of amazing cheesecake.
Life must go on. I returned from RWA in a whirlwind of emotion to the same to-do list I’d left behind: laundry to wash, closets to clean out, sex toys to review, books to write. I have a giant, gorgeous new statue on my bookshelf, which makes it all feel sort of surreal, but there’s still lots to do.
The biggest task on my to-do list is THREE FOR ALL, the final book of the COMES IN THREES trilogy. I’m self-publishing this book and working to get it out this year. I’m cranking along, probably only a week out from the completion of my draft. From there, it goes to Tera for developmental edits, and the wheels are turning.
Thanks to everyone online and offline for all your support both leading up to the RITAs and now. I’m excited by what else this year will bring. If you want the most up-to-date info on THREE FOR ALL and my other future writing projects, subscribe to my newsletter. Oh, and if you haven’t read THREE-WAY SPLIT yet, it’s on Amazon and pretty much everywhere else online.
Here’s to a great rest of 2019!