An Innocent Abroad
A First Timer’s Diary of the Beau Monde and RWA Conferences

Tuesday, July 28:
I arrived at the huge Anaheim Hilton & Towers Hotel around six in the evening. and met my roommates. First, I met Regina Scott, whose debut regency, The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, just came out. A social scientist in her “real” life, Regina is a buoyantly cheerful soul. Her next novel will be out in September, and she has four more coming, plus a novella at some time in the not-too-distant future. My other roommate, also a member of the Beau Monde, was Pamela Schlutt. A mover and shaker, she knows everyone! She has a fascinating time travel in the works – watch for her name.

The first event of the Beau Monde Conference occurred just a few hours later – the Regency literacy signing. Imagine walking into a room and suddenly being surrounded by all of your favorite regency authors: Rebecca Kelly, Cheryl Bolen, Jean R. Ewing, Lynn Kerstan, Alllison Lane, Emily Hendrickson, Donna Davidson, Elizabeth Boyle, Regina Scott, Elizabeth Fairchild, Judith Lansdowne. . . . All had their books available for signing personal notes. A huge basket filled with books and other goodies was also raffled off. The proceeds of sale of the books were donated to literacy programs.

Wednesday, July 29:
Beau Monde Conference attendees began their day with the keynote address from Emily Hendrickson. Her rousing speech in support of the regency genre was followed with a morning of informative workshops. In addition to writing skills and publishing news, offerings included Rebecca Kelly’s discussion of the scientific and technological advances made during the regency era. I was amazed to learn that by the end of the regency, gas lighting had become common. Jean Ewing described the flora prevalent in a Regency garden, and later in the afternoon, Emily Hendrickson explained the rigors of travel in the 1810’s and provided definitions for the many types of carriages used in those days.

An elegant afternoon tea ended the afternoon portion of the conference. Attendees were regaled with dainty sandwiches, a chest full of assorted teas, and ratafia provided by Lynn Kerstan. There is no surer evidence of the hard drinking that was rampant during the regency than this example of a refreshment “suitable” for ladies. Ratafia is, plain and simple, sweetened brandy. My teetotaler’s sip was enough to clear my sinuses; a few of those during the morning calls would surely result in the visitors falling off the settee.

While the afternoon was informative, the evening was given over to frivolity with a purpose as the Beau Monde Conference and the larger RWA Conference converged. First, RWA’s “Readers for Life” literacy signing attracted 250 published authors and more than a thousand romance fans. Name your favorite author – she was there, including, yes, Nora Roberts. Lines for favorites snaked out the door. While personalized notes were possible, chatting really wasn’t an option – this place was packed. And to good purpose. By the end of the evening, more than $26,000 was raised from the sale of books and the raffling of baskets of books and regional goodies donated by local RWA chapters. Pam, my roomie, won a basket from Idaho that was simply gorgeous.

No sooner had that excitement died down when the Regency Gaming Hell went into full swing. Empire waist gowns, feather headdresses, long evening gloves, and yes, knee breeches and embroidered satin waistcoats were in evidence at this miniature Almacks – a place so popular, they could serve only lemonade and people still came. The Gaming Hell included such rakish offerings as Vingt et un, Whist, and Commerce. Fortunes in gold coins (okay, chocolate in gold foil) changes hands as the evening progressed.

Those seeking more active pursuits had a wonderful time learning such country dances as the “hole in the wall” and a “trip to Paris.” Taught by the witty and charming John Hertz, choreographer for the Friends of the English Regency, enthusiastic dancers spent a few hours at a Regency ball.

I fairly fell into bed that night.

Thursday, July 30:
The RWA Conference began in earnest today.

Several workshops were offered in the morning, and also another dance instruction session. This time Mr. Herst’s repertoire spanned several centuries, not just the Regency. Particpants were short of breath by the end of this rousing session – country dancing is hard work.

So many authors are interested in writing comedy that a workshop on that topic led by Malle Valik, editor of Harlequin’s Love & Laughter line, had participants spilling out in to the hallway. This was a recurring problem – but success does have its price. I later heard that one reason for the over crowding in some workshops was that some 300 of the Californian romance fans who turned out for the literacy signing stayed for the rest of the conference. Those folks knew a good deal when they saw one!

The luncheon – fresh fruit followed by two kinds of quiche – offered a gourmet accompaniment to Julie Garwood’s laugh filled speech. Julie had the room howling with her memories of her first writing experiences: encouraged to keep diary by a favorite school teacher, Julie complied – sort of. Seems her own life was too boring to set to paper, so she just made up a more exciting daily adventures.

Later, in college, she found a test’s instructions to compare and contrast the philosophies of Plato and Socrates too limiting. Instead, she set the scene for a rousing debate between the two, complete with an intelligent female moderator, who was, of course, so captivating that she took the breath of both philosophers. The instructor, unused to test papers with dialogue, was perhaps bit breathless, too, but he gave Julie an “A” for sheer enthusiasm. However, I suspect that her enthusiasm for philosophy was far outstripped by that of the cheering audience.

Thursday afternoon was given over to business – the annual meeting of RWA members. Some fairly important stuff for writing professionals happened, but little that will impact the reader in the near future.

By the way, the trip to the goody room is a much anticipated event for old time attendees, but a total surprise to this first-time attendee. A room is set aside for authors to spread out their promotional materials – and for publishers to offer books for free. Between that delightful discovery, and the gifts sitting on the chairs at lunch every day, I scored more than 25 books. Heaven has a rival in the RWA Conference!

The imaginative, attention-getting devices used by authors vary considerably: Nora Roberts had tissue boxes printed with pictures of her upcoming titles – perfect for wiping away the tears evoked by the immortal Nora’s tales. Pens, pencils, postcards, sachets, candies, and lipsticks were some of the gifts. Excerpts and first chapters of upcoming releases titillated eager recipients, and there were even – no kidding – books just there for scooping up. Here’s a few of the tidbits with which I was teased:

Suffering withdrawal pains for a new Debbie Macomber? Don’t fret, this divine Ms. M has two, count ’em, two books coming out from Mira Books this fall. First will be the anthology That Summer Place(with Jill Barnett and Susan Wiggs) in September, and then the single title release Once They Were Strangers in November.

Time travel fans will be glad to see Another Dawn by Deb Stover in January, 1999. This time, a wrongly accused man awakens from his execution to discover himself back in 1891 Colorado – along with the doctor who wept as his sentence had been carried out. Maggie Osborne says that no one does time travel better than Deb – I couldn’t agree more.

Remember Stargazer? Well, Laura Baker’s second book, Legend comes out in October from St. Martin’s Press. Set in the Navajo lands of New Mexico, it tells the story of a FBI agent with the heart of a Navajo shaman and a beautiful shaman’s daughter. Laura writes what she knows – she lives in Albuquerque and runs two galleries featuring Native American art and jewelry. Watch for her contest to win a replica of the beautiful necklace that graces Legend’s cover.

Faith is Lori Copeland’s next Brides of the West title for Heart Quest. Lori promises a lighthearted inspirational tale of a woman named Faith, who leaves Michigan to marry a rancher in Texas.

Available starting next week, Rita winner Jean Ross Ewing’s Illusion arrives. This time Jean gives us an historical – set, of course, in the English regency.

Thursday evening ushered in the welcoming reception. California cuisine was mixed with Tex-Mex for this appetizer buffet served out on an open air deck. I didn’t have much luck spotting published authors, but I had a delightful time mixing with my fellow future published authors. In my other life, I am an attorney, and while I have met many pleasant, supportive lawyers in my time, no legal organization has ever offered as much support, advice, instruction and camaraderie as does RWA. Complete strangers (at least, they had been strangers!) offered me advice for my editor appointment scheduled for the next morning.

Then, Pam, the roommate who knows everyone, insisted that Regina and I accompany her to the meeting of the FF & P (Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal) chapter of RWA. Bless you, Pam! Here’s a secret for you, readers – the FF&P chapter is where all the fun writers are. This party was a blast. Anne Stuart was the speaker – I had not met her before, and I was soon regretting all I had missed. Anne is my kind of lady – irreverent, a bit loud, and very, very funny. The Wyrd Sisters (of which charter members are Deb Stover and Laura Hayden, among others), were also in evidence (of course!) I won a drawing for autographed copy of Shelley Thacker’s Timeless. Billed as something fans of Highlander will love, this book delivered – I devoured it before the weekend was over. And yes, again, chocolate was a guest of honor.

Once again, I dragged myself into bed in the small hours of the morning.

Friday, July 31:
This was a working morning for me. First, I was the hostess for the workshop on Polishing Your Manuscript” offered by Lynn Kerstan and Alicia Raisley. This was another popular choice among attendees. Women (and one man) filled the room, lined the walls and sat on the floor at the feet of these dispensers of wisdom.

My busy morning continued with an appointment with Ann Leslie Tuttle from Silhouette. Nervous as I was, she soon put me at my ease. Now I need to polish (finish!) my manuscript so I can send it to her!

While I was being such an industrious worker (and nervous story pitcher), fun stuff was happening. On Friday and Saturday, chats with the following authors were possible: Debbie Macomber, Heather Graham, Jill Marie Mandis, Nora Roberts, Julie Garwood, Diana Gabaldon, and Catherine Coulter. During these chats, these queens of romance answered questions from the packed audiences. Now don’t you wish you had been there?

In between workshops, I looked through more upcoming releases. Since I love short stories, I was thrilled to see the many anthologies of short stories and novellas coming out in the next six months or so:

  • In September, we can look forward to That Summer Place with Debbie Macomber, Jill Barnett and Susan Wiggs. The title evokes /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages of breezy lazy vacation spots to me.

  • In December, we’ll be able to find Scandalous Weddings (doesn’t that just sound delicious!) with stories by Brenda Joyce, Rexanne Becnell, Jill Jones, and Barbara Dawson Smith.

  • Three Wyrd Sisters have contributed to an anthology coming in 1999 – A Dangerous Magic. It will include a short story by Laura Hayden with a match making guardian angel; a second by Von Jocks in which an airline passenger find loves from “another plane;” and another by Deb Stover, wherein a woman finds something unusual in her garden. The anthology is rounded out by stories by Andre Norton and Roberta Gellis.

That night I was privileged to attend a reception given by Pocket Books to announce a new line – Sonnet Books. This line is intended to spotlight Pocket’s rising stars in historical romance – those writers who have a following, but aren’t yet at the very top. Linda Lael Miller will headline the new imprint with a four-part series starting next April. Meanwhile, the debut titles, released in February, will be Briar Rose by Kimberly Cates and Wishing by Miranda Jarrett.

Saturday, August 1:
Up early and straight for the workshops for me. First, I laughed along with the spill over crowd at Bonnie Tucker and Brenda Chin’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Way to Write Comedy that Sells. Bonnie is a remarkable woman. She told how in the face of her husband’s life-threatening illness, she was still able to find things in life and herself at which to laugh. It’s no wonder her books result in belly laughs. For her part, Brenda, and editor for the Love & Laughter line, explained how to get a book published with that line – have smart-ass dialogue. Good news for those of us who like to read those books!

Next I rushed to hear Susan Elizabeth Phillips explain how to write a compelling book. Susan was a joy to hear, and to me, a vindication. Readers may not know this, but aspiring romance authors often hear that they must follow the rules to be published – do this, this, and this, and never, ever do that. Well, Susan listed some of the rules she has broken. She also listed some of the books she’s read recently and recommends. Accordingly to Susan Annie’s Wild Ride by Alina Adams has real conflict and is not politically correct! To the Ends of the Earth by Elizabeth Lowell kept her engaged in emotion. She also urged readers to pick up Janet Evanovich’s Four to Score and Kristen Hannah’s On Mystic Lake.

After David Freeman’s 28 Techniques for Making Unforgettable Scenes, it was time for lunch, which was unforgettable. Truly unforgettable. Oh, the food was good, but Anne Stuart was phenomenal. Anne traveled to the podium, rose petals thrown in her path by an entourage of fellow authors bedecked with satin gloves and feather boas. The group remained at the front of the room to serve, with additional volunteers from the audience, as a back up group to serve up “amens” and “woo-woos.” Anne’s advice to all was to “remember to dance in inappropriate moments – life will reward you for it.” She also advised her listeners to sing the blues, with gusto and style – and find a backup group. As Anne puts it, there is no place for dignity in art. Her bumper stickers say Back Off – I’m a goddess! She truly is worthy of worship!

Back to pretty serious stuff for me after lunch – more workshops. I learned writing great heroes and plotting.

Every now and then during the conference, I would come across a fellow attendee who wore a ribbon saying “First Sale.” As you might expect, this indicated that the wearer had recently sold her very first book. Who are these women?

Well, two happened to be from my very own Heart of Denver RWA chapter: Rogenna Brewer and Patti DeGroot . Rogenna’s first book, Seal It With A Kiss, will be out April, 1999 as part of Harlequin’s Silhouette’s SuperRomance’s Men in Uniform series. Patti’s Promise Forever will be a lead title for Kensington’s new Historical Gems in September.

Other recent “first sales” I learned about at conference were:

  • Janet Wellington’s Bachelor For Sale, a Precious Gem release, available right now. Remember, Walmart is the exclusive seller of Precious Gems.
  • Shelley Bradley’s The Lady and the Dragon debuts with Precious Gems in November.
  • And another Precious Gem debut, also due out in November, is Sylvia McDaniel’s A Hero’s Heart.
  • Kristina Wright’s first novel, Dangerous Curves is a Silhouette Intimate Moments, coming out in March, 1999.

After all the workshops, it was time to prepare for the Gala Awards Ceremony! For those conference attendees who sported the proud ribbons announcing their Rita or Golden Heart finalist status, Saturday night was the only night of the conference that mattered.

The Gala Awards ceremony was well named. From the moment I entered the huge ballroom, I was transported to an event that rivaled the glitziest of Hollywood affairs. This was dress up time, girls. Long gowns, sequins, and glittering jewelry abounded. But it was the stage, with its backdrop of a revolving Rita – a tall golden statuette of a woman – that dominated the attention of all. Dramatic music, two lovely ballet dances, and a stirring view of the year’s romance fiction helped to build the suspense for the evening.

Then finally it was time for the awards. Winners of the RITA receive not only the pleasure of Romance’s highest accolade, but also the golden statuette. And the winners were:

Traditional RomanceLucy GordonHis Brother’s ChildShort Contemporary RomanceJennifer GreeneNobody’s PrincessLong Contemporary RomanceRuth Wind (aka Barbara Samuel)Her Ideal ManContemporary Single Title RomanceSusan Elizabeth PhillipsNobody’s Baby But MineRomantic Suspense/GothicIngrid WeaverOn the way to a WeddingParanormal RomanceJustine DareFire HawkInspirational RomanceMelody CarlsonHomewardRegency RomanceJean Ross EwingLove’s RewardShort Historical RomanceBarbara SamuelHeart of a KnightLong Historical RomanceMaggie OsborneThe Promise of Jenny JonesBest First BookElizabeth BoyleBrazen AngelFavorite Book of 1997Susan Elizabeth PhillipsNobody’s Baby But Mine

And, the recipient for the Lifetime Achievement Award was Sandra Brown. This award is presented to a living author in recognition of significant contributions to romantic fiction and the romance genre. To qualify for the award, the recipient’s career in romantic fiction must span a minimum of fifteen years. Recipients must in some way continue to promote the romance genre, teach romance in fiction, or publish romantic fiction.

(Laurie Likes Books: click here for the 1998 All About Romance Reader Awards. We had different categories, but some of our winners were RITA winners too.)

Following the RITA awards, the Golden Hearts awards were handed out. The Golden Hearts contest is for unpublished authors and highlights the brightest up-and-coming stars in romance. Watch for these names, readers, they are sure to be coming to a bookstore near you soon:

  • Janet W. Butler
  • Nina Bruhns
  • Jane Gaskins
  • Dorien Kelly
  • Virginia Kantra Ritchey
  • Gerri Russell
  • Sunni Jeffers
  • Debra Brown
  • Tracy Cozzens

When all the awards had been handed out and were gleefully clutched in the hands of the elite, when we had cheered until our throats were hoarse and clapped until our hands were stinging, we all trailed to another ballroom. The theme of the party was of the Hollywood of days past, so on the way, passing under the brilliantly lit marquee, we were met by screaming autograph hounds. Well, two of them anyway, with bobby socks and all. Once inside the “theater,” we were greeted by Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, and Errol Flynn. At that point, it wasn’t just the award winners who were breathless.

In the ballroom, tables groaned with the weight of a vast array of creamy confections. Chocolate was definitely the order of the day! Festive music, balloons, streamers, and glitter added to the joyful occasion. And those who did not receive the real RITA’s were gifted with smaller chocolate replicas, wrapped in gold foil.

Sunday, August 2:
Not much happening on this day – in fact, the hotel was already setting up for their next convention. I don’t think I was the only one who slept in on this day.

Most of the official events were over – there was but one more. The Booksellers’ Breakfast. This turned out to be quite a treat for me. I privileged to spend about forty five minutes talking with Bonnie Tucker – whose latest Love & Laughter, Stay Tuned, Wedding at 11, will be out in October. It so happened that I received and read this very funny book a week or so before the conference, so I was very happy to chat with Bonnie. Yes, she really is as funny in real life as her writing suggests! We both love dogs, so we traded tales of our hairy companions.

Then I was the surprising winner of a gold charm bracelet festooned with western symbols including a cowboy hat, boot, pistol and covered wagon. There was also a charm of a tiny book inscribed with the “Linda Lael Miller” – the sponsor of the drawing. Linda has two books coming out in her Two Brothers series – first, The Lawman in October, and then The Outlaw in November. I felt a bit of a fraud taking the lovely bracelet from Linda’s own hands – you see, I had seen a heart shaped kitchen magnet with a blurb about the “Two Brothers” earlier in the weekend at the Pocket Sonnet Launch party and was already hooked!

Linda’s generosity was highlighted the day before, as well. She has sponsored a scholarship, the “One Vow,” which this year will assist three women to better their lives, and those of their families, through education. The three winners, who were chosen based upon their essays, will each receive a check for $5,000 to use for tuition or other expenses relating to their education. Linda decided to sponsor the scholarship because she remembers being a young divorced mother with little money and only a high school education to assist her to supporting her family. She clearly went to an exemplary high school – Linda has written more than 40 novels since those days, and has more than ten million books in print. This generous author has pledged 100 percent of her future speaking fees to scholarships for women. It was a pleasure to meet her in person.

Home was beckoning at this point, and I had a plane to catch. It had been an exhausting five days, but well worth the lack of sleep!

Next year, Chicago!

Tami Cowden, Aspiring Romance Writer

Find links to other articles Tami’s written for us at the end of her piece on hero archetypes

Return to RWA 1998 Index