Friday, August 01, 2014

RWA 2014

RWA’s national conference last week was like most conferences for me. When you’re in the moment, everything is exciting and fun and refreshing. Meeting longtime friends and spending quality time, gossiping and finding out who is who and what is what, and taking in the workshops.

And then you come home to reality; a suitcase stuffed with dirty laundry, and an exhaustion that takes several days to banish.

I flew Tuesday to Houston. The plane was late. Very late. By the time I got to Houston, I felt agitated because I had planned to arrive around 2, settle into my room, walk on the Riverwalk and get my bearings. Maybe even write. Ha!

But in Houston, while spending 2 hours waiting for the connecting flight to San Antonio, I ran into Barbara Hancock. Barbara is a former Nocturne Bites author. She recognized me and yelled, “Bonnie!” As she charged her phone, we sat and chatted. Turns out her flight had been cancelled and she was supposed to arrive in San Antonio at 11 a.m. and have lunch with friends. Our flight didn’t get into San Antonio until 6 p.m.

Ah yes, the thrills of air travel.

When I got to the airport I saw Vicki Pinder, who was waiting on Allison McMahon. Both are from my chapter, Florida Romance Writers. We split a cab and they dropped me off at the River Center.

I checked into my room, unpacked my zillions of outfits and then decided I needed substance. Food and alcohol. Not necessarily in that order. I hadn’t made plans, didn’t see anyone I
knew and just wanted a quiet dinner alone, so I went to the Mexican restaurant right on the Riverwalk outside the hotel.

There was some guy playing a weird pan flute in the courtyard outside the mall and I instantly transported back to a 1970’s Muzak informercial.

After dinner I walked the Riverwalk to see the sights, then went to the bar. Caroline Fyffe was there having drinks with Kate Douglas and Ann Roth. We had some drinks and chatted and then I decided I needed sleep.

Wednesday was a free day. I had a meeting that morning with my agent, but wanted to explore the city, so I walked along the Riverwalk, did a little shopping and then came back to meet with my agent. After, I met my good friend Jennifer Ashley and her delightful husband Forrest for lunch. More Mexican! A beef burrito with refried beans, sour cream and cheese. Mmmmm. No margarita. I can’t handle Tequila. It turns me into Bonnie the Crazy Person who likes to dance on table tops and sing bawdy songs in broken Spanish.

Then I had a little time before the Giant Booksigning so I walked to the Alamo, going the long route along the Riverwalk, meandering alongside the canal, watching the boats of wide-eyed tourists and their guides, thinking about standing still like a statue like the guy does in Key West at sunset, but did not. I had history to visit.
Made it to the Alamo, not the rental car place, and it was very crowded. Inside no photo taking was allowed, but despite the crowds, it was quite solemn, especially as I visited the chapel where the women and children hid while the fighting raged on.

On the walk back, I stopped at a store and bought a very cute cowboy hat with a denim band with rhinestone guns. Yee Haw. The heroine in my current WIP wears rhinestones, so I thought it was fitting. Returned to the hotel, showered, dressed for the booksigning and added the hat.  Made it to the ballroom with 10 minutes to spare. It’s always a cool feeling to be an author at the literacy signing because you are let in early, and pass this long line of people waiting to get in to buy books from their favorite authors.

Found my table and copies of DEMON WOLF, my newest Nocturne. I was sitting next to the adorable Rachel Vincent, who writes the Soul Screamer series. We chatted and compared earthquakes she endures in Oklahoma to the hurricanes we have in Florida.
I was pleasantly surprised to meet a few readers who like my indie Werewolves of Montana series. Alison McMahon (pictured her with me) stopped by and we snapped a photo together. She had won an award (I forget which one) and sported a pretty pink flower on her badge.  Then Leah Hultenschmidt with Grand Central Publishing stopped by (she is a former editor from my Dorchester days) and she coaxed me into joining her at my chapter’s cruise next year with promises of lots of fun and drinks. I saw Jenn LeBlanc and got all emotional, thinking of Pamela Clare. Last year’s RWA it was Pam, Norah Wilson and myself as Pam tried on dresses for the Rita awards and asked our opinions. Pam lives in Colorado, Norah lives in Canada and I live in Florida so we seldom see each other. I hugged Jenn, who must have thought I was a drunk psycho, and told her I needed to hug her because I could not hug Pam. Then I called Pam and passed the phone to Jenn and the three of us talked. Pam had just cut her hair and sent us a text photo, and she looks fabulous.

After the booksigning, I met Erin Quinn, my fellow Dark and Deadly author, at the bar. We were going to hook up with authors from Marie Force’s self pub loop, but the bar was so very crowded I could not figure out who was who. So Erin and I chatted and drank.

Thursday was Get To Business Day. It was my only full day of workshops I could attend, so I did several.  After gulping down a quick breakfast downstairs at the mall’s food court, and meeting a delightful writer who told me her very solid business plan for getting published, I went to workshops and then the luncheon. My friend Renee was getting a service award. Yay! Sylvia Day was the speaker and she talked about the changes in publishing since she first got published and how we authors should dream big and plan smart and you can always remake yourself. Good advice.

More workshops in the afternoon, then upstairs to change and meet Renee for dinner. Renee Ryan, who writes emotional Christian romances, is a dear friend from years ago. We walked on the Riverwalk to find a restaurant, and decided No More Mexican. We found a fun Texas steakhouse, ordered steak and mashed potatoes and salad, with glasses of chilled Chardonnay and then asked the waiter to take our photo. The table in back of us photobombed our photo, which was very funny.

We had a delightful time catching up, and then we decided to drop by the Harlequin PJ party. They had an open bar (more wine!) and we saw Winnie Griggs, dressed in very cute pajamas, and Laura Altom, and I met Gwen Knight, a new Nocturne author. Also saw the very cute Farrah Rochon, whom I always enjoying saying hello with at conferences. The PJ party had great swag, notebooks featuring the vintage Harlequin covers. “The Widow Gay.” Fascinating.

Next morning bright and early my darling husband texts me a photo of our elderly dog looking for me. Guaranteed to spike the guilt. We had a texting session and then I grabbed eggs and bacon and coffee, much needed, and sat down to the listen to the breakfast speaker. She was very good. I sat next to Kristin Wallace, our chapter president, but had to leave because I had a workshop.

Jennifer Ashley and I gave our workshop on writing the successful series. I was kinda nervous and told Jenn I wanted to hide under the table. But I did okay. After, I rushed upstairs with Cindy Thomason, and we changed into shorts and then grabbed a cab to rent a car. We were going to Bandera Texas, the OFFICIAL COWBOY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!

We promptly got on the wrong freeway and I told Cindy she was fired as navigator. Ha! But we made it there to Bandera, population around 902. Or 903. Guess it depends who died or if someone had a baby. We had lunch at a very cool restaurant called Old Spanish Trail that had an entire wall of John Wayne photos, and a wagon as a salad bar. Best was the polished, scarred wood bar that had saddles as stools! Then the deer head that overlooked the bar rather sternly.  I had Mexican food! A great burrito and iced tea and Cindy was dying for a hamburger.

We went shopping for gifts. No cowboys. Boo hoo. No werewolves, either. But I imagined seeing Aiden or Darius or Kyle riding into town, growling at all. Fun.

Then we went to one last shop before leaving and I fell in love… with the cutest pair of cowboy boots. Soft brown suede with FRINGE! I tried them on and told Cindy, “Tell me not to buy these.”

She said, “You must buy them! They are too cute!”

So I caved and bought my boots. I told her I was wearing them to the Harlequin party that night. With my cowboy hat.

We drove back to the rental car place, then made it back to the hotel. I had a dinner with my Harlequin editor, so I dressed for the HQ party as well. Cowboy hat? Check. Black dress with elegant silver and black jacket? Check. Hose? Check. Cowboy boots. Check.

I met my editor and a very nice author named Cara Lockwood, who writes for Cosmo Red Hot Reads. We went to a terrific little place… MEXICAN! But yum…I seldom eat Mexican food at home so I indulged. After a few minutes, Julia London joined us. She was nominated for about a gadzillion Rita awards. She’s warm, witty and very personable and told a hilarious story about jogging in a new pink sports bra that turned her body bright pink.

They had margaritas with their homemade Tequila, but I stuck to wine. No table top dancing.

Then it was off to the Harlequin party at the Westin! I saw the very elegant Olivia Gates pretty in a long pink dress and we chatted a bit, then Loreth Ann White and the three of us got our photo taken.

I sat with some friends and more wine! Bring on the alcohol! And the chocolate, yum! Tiny brownie
squares, chocolate mousse, so much chocolate! And the dancing. I actually danced. Not on a tabletop, either. I didn’t fall down or trip and Sylvia Day remarked I had a cute cowboy hat.

I was soooo tired and ready to retire, but Renee said we should shut the party down and Winnie said, “I always shut the party down.” So I stayed. Then Renee and I got a cab back to the RiverCenter, and talked a while in the bar.

Saturday, I was feeling it. No energy. Exhausted. Headache. Hey, I have a hangover! Oh joy! I lazed in bed and realized, “breakfast ends at 8:30 a.m. I need eggs. I need protein. I need COFFEE!”  So I took a quick shower, climbed into jeans and a T shirt, NOT conference attire, and got downstairs. Oh joy! Coffee!!! Food!

I listened to the speaker (Karen Rose) but had to leave early, so I snuck out and then went to a couple of workshops. I don’t even remember what I did for lunch. Or if I had lunch. Did more workshops in the afternoon. One was a workshop on selling books on Amazon and how to make the most of themes on Amazon. I thought my theme for the weekend was Mexican Food and Wine. Right in the middle of Virginia Kantra’s workshop about intimacy and sex and handcuffs, Caroline texts me. “Want to have wine at the bar?”  I texted back, “I can’t, I’m busy with sex!”

Where else can you say that and someone will totally understand?

After, I met Caroline in the bar and we chatted. Then it was upstairs to get ready for dinner. I met my longtime buddy Linda Broday, whom I had not seen in ages. We had… GUESS?

MEXICAN FOOD!

Then Linda had to get ready for the Rita/Golden Heart awards. She had a long blue dress with sparkles she was wearing. I was too zonked to get dressed so I went upstairs, napped a bit and then came down to the bar. Dennis Pozzessere, Heather Graham’s husband, was there with Jo Carol Jones. We chatted and then Forrest, Jennifer Ashley’s husband joined us. Jo Carol showed me amazing photos of stained glass she has been doing. The awards were over and the bar started filling up. Heather joined us with Beth Ciotta (pictured here), who had been nominated for a Rita. She didn’t win, but she looked amazing in her long gown!

By then I was feeling really winded, so I said good night to everyone and went upstairs. It was only around 11:30 but I had a flight to catch.

I made it to the airport and had a little breakfast and someone said, BONNIE VANAK! I turned around and it was Cindy Holby. She was sitting with Megan Frampton, so I joined them and we talked furniture and basements and other stuff.

Then I went to my gate and waited… and found out the plane was delayed. But it eventually moseyed into the airport and I was able to make my connection and make it home. DH picked me up at the airport, gave me a huge hug and kiss and drove me straight to dinner. To Davie, the cowboy capital of South Florida. I fit right in with my cowboy hat! I had a Reuben sandwich. NO Mexican food! Then we got home and the dogs went nuts, jumping all over me.

And then the next day it was back to the day job, dragging myself into the office, one tired foot after the other. It’s Friday now and I have finally unpacked, washed my dirty clothing and thought about RWA and what I learned.

The one tried and true premise remains, at least for me.

You can know all the secrets of Amazon algorithms, how to get a bazillion likes on your FB page, use social media to reach millions and get a contract or self publish your books and get lots of sales….

But if you don’t write the best book YOU can write, it doesn’t matter.

Readers are smart. They will buy one or even three books. But you must consistently produce quality product, the best you can. Write the story from your heart, and be market savvy. Hire an editor and proofreader if you are self-publishing because the story is too close to you and there will always be mistakes.

If you are publishing with a trad house, work with your editor. That’s the benefit of a trad publisher… you are assigned an editor, a professional you can learn from!

So the weekend is approaching and I’ve done a lot of thinking. I have taken a short break from writing because I was burned out from writing back to back books. I hate telling readers who are anxious for Aiden’s book that I have no firm publication date, but that is a book I want to be GREAT! It needs to percolate. I’m ready to write again. I have a short story for my wolfies that will include Aiden playing matchmaker. And Monday I am off to Guatemala for the day job. More travel! More airplane rides!

NO MEXICAN FOOD!

Holding down a full time, restrictive day job in which I hop on a plane and zip off to foreign lands makes finding writing time very challenging. By the time my day ends in these countries, I am usually too exhausted to do more than fall into my hotel bed. I will probably write on the plane. Or perhaps at night if I can find the energy.

No matter what, I don’t want to publish anything more until I feel confident it is the best work I can produce.

RWA 2014 taught me a lot. It was a wonderful conference and a chance to catch up with friends and totally immerse myself in the romance industry. Most of all, it taught me to dream big, and keep pursuing those dreams. I made the NY Times this year. That was a huge dream come true. And there are many more dreams to pursue. Some will change. Some will remain the same.

But no matter what, the journey will be challenging and worth the ride, especially with good friends along the way.

As long as there is no tequila…

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