2005 RWA National Conference
Blythe Barnhill: Day Four (July 30, 2005)

Linda and I took the scenic route to the conference Saturday morning, and I got a quick course in Northern Nevada history. We stopped for coffee at a cabin that was a former opium den, then drove through Virginia City on the way. The history junkie in me was dying to stop and have a proper look around, but we had places to go and books to get. Nonetheless, we had time for a nice breakfast before we hit more publisher signings. We started out with Bantam and St. Martin’s authors, and felt lucky to score Mary Balogh’s new hard cover (neither of us had read it yet). We also chatted briefly with Vicki Lewis Thompson, who said that she felt like she had a different niche with her nerd books. I agreed; not all of us are clamoring for sheriff and firefighter heroes.

The luncheon on Saturday was, quite simply, a real treat. Susan Elizabeth Phillips was the keynote speaker, and she began by saying how she wasn’t sure she could compare to memorable keynote speakers of the past. There was no need to be so modest; she was both hilarious and inspirational. And I have to admit, I was relieved that she took her writing friends’ advice not to use the term “book of your heart.” She started out with an hilarious story involving her husband, a leaky car trunk, and a visiting clergyman that had everyone laughing. But her primary message was that everyone has a different writing process, and that writers should not feel discouraged if the way they do things is different from a critique partner. She encouraged authors to celebrate their own style and the success and diversity of the genre. In one of my favorite moments, she also advised authors to blow off the occasional bad review: “Eat some chocolate, call your best friend to vent for awhile, and then get over it!”

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After lunch we headed to still more booksignings (Warner and NAL). We met Julie Anne Long (AAR’s Ellen was a huge fan of her debut book, The Runaway Duke) and Kathryn Caskie (whose book we had been trying to hunt down throughout the conference). We even braved the very long Jo Beverley line, but after that we had to cut out – we had a tea party to attend.

The party was hosted by Ballantine/Randomhouse, and we enjoyed some fabulous treats (tea and goodies, perfectly suitable for fans of romance). We caught up with author Susan Carroll. She’s most famous for writing The BrideFinder, but she’s shifted to historical fiction now. Her newest book, The Courtesan comes out this month.

After the party we quickly dressed for dinner, and followed hordes of glamorously clad RWA members down to the Hilton’s ballroom. The RITA awards followed dinner, and attendees were led to the other side of the hotel for the ceremony. I had an early flight the next day, so we went back to Linda’s house (thus missing what is reported to be a very controversial ceremony).

I flew home to greet my husband, children, and a house full of guests (my brother in law professed that he wanted to try reading a romance, so I gave him one. We’ll see how that goes). As I’ve reflected back about the conference experience, it seemed to me to be riddled with contradictions. It’s both exhilarating and exhausting; if you look around on Saturday afternoon, pretty much everyone looks like they’ve just completed a triathalon. It’s intimate (everyone runs into friends from past conferences at every corner) until it’s time to seat everyone for a meal or compete for signed copies of books (note to those of you who kept taking them without standing in line, SHAME ON YOU!). Membership is diverse, with multi-published authors rubbing shoulders with those hoping to be published for the first time. Participants also varied greatly along religious and political lines. There were writers of less explicit romances who verbally thanked God for their success, and some of RWA’s board members are reportedly trying to take the organization in a more conservative direction. Yet many of the new authors I met wrote Erotica or Romantica, and publishers reported that their books are selling very well. As the conference celebrated its 25th anniversary, many of the participants reflected on how RWA has grown and changed over that time. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future.



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