RWA’s 2003 National Conference,
In the Town so Nice They Named it Twice

Wow, how exciting to be at the RWA Convention in New York. My first and most exciting contact was meeting up with fellow AAR staffers Sandy Coleman and Megan Frampton as well as former editor and reviewer Marianne Stillings. As you all know Marianne is a soon to be published author. Sandy and I live quite near each other and meet every few months for lunch but this was my first meeting with Marianne and Megan. After “talking” with them for years via AAR’s internal staff email loop, meeting them in person was quite a thrill.

My first session was one called What Reader’s Want (It’s not what you think) by Susan Wiggs. As a romance reader I was curious to know what that author thought readers wanted. Wigg’s thesis is that, among other things, readers need stories to make sense of their lives. Books can provide an opportunity for a reader to go to the darkest places and still be safe. Readers also want clarity. Books that bore and frustrate readers often contain characters that lack decernible motivations. Among other things. she suggested that writers read self-help books to enable them to clearly describe the problems of their heroes and heroines.

Though this presentation was directed at writers, it gave the reader side of me a clearer picture of what gives me satisfaction in a good book. What, after all, could be clearer than the motivations of the great fictional characters of our lives? And what is more frustrating than reading a romance novel where the motivation of love is unclear?

My next session of the day was Writer Power: How to Outwit the Trends, the Publishers and Ourselves with Jennifer Greene and Emilie Richards. The was a session to teach writers how to persuade an editor to read a manuscript that bucks the trends. The main focus of this session was to encourage writers to write what they want within reason but to sell their books by pointing out those things that editors want to see. Though there was nothing terribly earthshaking in the thesis I found myself hoping that the authors in the room took note. After all, if someone has written a wonderful story with an unpopular setting, World War II London for example, what do I care if they sold it by pointing out that the heroine has a secret baby?

An illuminating session I attended was Suzanne Brockmann’s Going Deep With POV. To illustrate how point of view can completely change a story, Brockmann read us “The Three Bears” from three different POV’s – Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and the omnipotent point of view of a camera on the wall. Then she read snippets from her own and other novels illustrating how POV affects a romance. The attention to detail Brockmann puts into her writing is amazing. She showed some effective ways that writers can change POV within a scene and shared her views on when it should or should not be changed.

Barbara Samuel’s session – Learning to Listen: Finding Your Own Voice – was the most participatory of the sessions I attended. Samuel explained that a writer’s voice can be modified but that it is always her voice. Not only that, a writer’s voice is often rooted in place. She, for example, is a woman from the American West and that is and will always remain a distinctive trait in her writing. To demonstrate how the same people can write very different things when asked to answer the same question, Samuel gave attendees writing exercises and then invited people to read what they had written in three minutes. Yikes!

It’s fair to say that I am as open as most people about my writing but the thought of reading anything that raw to a room full of writers was too much for me. Some of the samples people wrote were amazingly good, making me even happier that I was not volunteering. But there was much to be learned from the different perspectives of the writers who read their work. I left the session wishing that my college writing instructor had had half the teaching talent of Barbara Samuel. Her comments pointing out the distinctiveness of each passage read had us all smiling in agreement.

— Robin Uncapher

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