Did you make it to RWA Nationals? Pat Haggerty did – and here’s his thoughts about what he did, who he saw and just how hot it gets in San Antonio!
Just about a month ago I loaded up my wife Donna and my 11yr old son Hayden in a Budget rental car and headed off down I-10 to make the 9hr drive from Pascagoula, Mississippi to San Antonio, Texas for the 34th annual Romance Writers of America National Conference. I’ve been in RWA for 5 years now, president of a RWA chapter for the past year, and this was the second Nationals in a row that I’ve attended.
My wife Donna has always been very supportive of my romance reading and writing habit, but my desire to attend another Nationals puzzled her. She attended with me last year in Atlanta as a participant. She went to all the workshops, met all the other writers, attended the Rita awards ceremony, and just couldn’t understand why I’d want to do it all again.
Oh sure, she had fun. I mean, writers are interesting, intelligent, remarkable people, so that wasn’t it. Donna simply asked, “Won’t they have a lot of the same workshops?” I nodded. She blinked, “Ok, but this year I’m bringing Hayden and we’re going to catch up on school and go shopping while you’re at the conference.”
My son was thrilled, but then he’s easy to please. “Ooooo, San Antonio, can we go see the Alamo?” I nodded. “Will the hotel have a pool?” I nodded again, “YEA!”
But my wife’s question was legitimate. Why would a published or unpublished writer want to take time out of his or her busy schedule and spend the money to attend a writer’s conference put on by RWA? I figure the answer boils down to three things: education, networking, and motivation.
I’m an unpublished writer with a background in math and computers. I did not grow up a reader; I hated English class, and was never wowed by books. When I hit my late 30’s and finally decided that I really wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I discovered that my slacking in those English classes way back in high school (Sorry Mr. Pruitt!) had finally come back to haunt me.
But it doesn’t have to be a misspent youth that puts you in need of some education when it comes to the writing and publishing business. Oh sure, paying attention to Mr. Pruitt would have saved me from all the remedial English and writing study I had to do, but he never would have taught me what it takes to churn out a strongly plotted eighty-thousand word novel with a good hook and a strong ending, and then create a synopsis, a log line, generate a query letter, find an agent, or any of the many things a writer may have to do to successfully traverse the long and frequently mined road to publication.
At RWA nationals, most workshops run an hour and a half, and there are 8-10 different ones to choose from each period, from the day’s start at 8:30am on through till the day ends at 5:30pm. So on the first day of the conference there were somewhere around 60 sessions and I chose the 7 that I liked best. Big name educators and authors teach the workshops, and they are almost always fantastic.
I saw Nalini Singh talk about paranormal romance and Sylvia Day discuss the state or the romance industry and why she likes to write in it. Margie Lawson discussed dialog tags and Nora Roberts said, “Anyone who tells you that they know the one way to write a book is a lying bitch.” She followed that up with, “Writing’s a business. What, you think the idea fairy’s going to land on your shoulder and shit ideas? It’s work. You sit at the chair and you write. Every. Day.”
I learned from a patent and trademark lawyer that it’s ok for me to write about my character singing “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees and to say that he met his girlfriend in the drive through for McDonalds when he ordered a Dr. Pepper and she gave him a Coke by mistake. But it wouldn’t be ok for me to have my character walking down the street singing, “Staying Alive” and for me to quote the lyrics right in the text. Not even part of a sentence. Not without contacting the Bee Gees and getting (paying for) permission first.
I could go on and on with the terrific workshops I attended, but I think you get my drift. And even when the workshops cover something you’ve seen before, they are never exactly the same and you are sure to learn something new.
When I got on the elevator the first morning of Nationals to head off to “Writing Faster, Writing Better” by Cindi Myers, I was wearing boots, jeans, a Hawaiian shirt covered with Disney characters, and a cowboy hat. There was an older gentleman already in the car and he looked me hat to boots. “Is that Pluto on your shirt?” he asked.
“It sure is.”
He smiled. “You a writer?”
“You written more than one book?”
“Five, and I just started on number six.”
He pulled a business card out of his back pocket and handed it to me. “Call me when you get home on Monday and we’ll talk.” He was an editor for a big name publisher and I just ran into him in the elevator. That’s what I’m talking about (and thanks Pluto!).
Somewhere around 2,200 authors, editors, agents, etc. attend RWA Nationals. I met authors from all over the world and will use things like Facebook and email to keep in touch with many of them. There were people from small online publishing houses, graphic designers and cover art experts, and the nice Brit who’s the chief editor for one of the Harlequin lines. There are pitch sessions you can sign up for with big name agents, editors, and just about every publisher you can imagine. You can have a new head shot made and talk to the people from Smashwords about publishing e-books on non Kindle readers.
If it’s not what you know but who you know, then there’s an awful lot of whos to meet at Nationals.
I figure that most of us writers have two demons that we face daily: time and self-doubt. The time devil is the one that’s always trying to throw life in the way of our writing. Like today, when I sat down to write my next scene only to remember that I needed to churn out a blog post for R.U. first. =)
The more insidious of our demons though is self-doubt. He’s the little bastard that sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear. “That’s the worst dialog I’ve ever, read. ”You think anyone’s ever going to want to read that?” “You don’t really think that you’re going to get published, do you?” That one’s usually followed by the sound of someone falling down because they are laughing so hard.
Never overlook the shear motivation engendered by spending a few days around a couple of thousand other authors. It’s amazing how self-affirming that time together can be. Because they are all like you, and even the ones that are world famous and have published book after book still face those same demons.
On the second day of Nationals I attended a workshop titled, “Mastering the Deep Point of View” put on by Christie Craig. At the end of her funny and quite excellent session, Christie pulled out a suitcase. She reached down, unzipped the bag, and lifted out one of those large FedEx packs, the ones that hold probably four or five inches of paper. She started to pull out groups of letters and let them slip through her fingers to fall around her feet. While she did, she told us that the letters were all rejections, long and short. She talked about how she quit high school in 10th grade, and all the problems she had from life and when she started to write. When she finished the first pack of rejections, she reached down and pulled out another stack just as big and did the same thing with that stack, then a third stack. More than 10,000 rejection letters and she never quit.
That’s motivation for you, and it made RWA Nationals worth every penny.
And in case you were worried, Donna and Hayden made it to the Alamo. It was practically right next to the hotel.
“Hayden, did you like the Alamo?”
“Oh yea!” He pulled out a diagram and started to run me through all the things I barely remembered from my visit back in high school. I asked him if he visited the basement and he rolled his eyes, “I saw Pee Wee Hermann, I know there’s no basement.”
I smiled and asked Donna, “Did you like the Alamo baby?”
She gave me a flat look and said, “It was 103.”
“But did you like it?”
“One Hundred and Three.”
She loved it. I know.
Did you go to Nationals? Got good stories to tell? We want to hear them!
Join us on Friday for Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s fabulous post on Braiding Your Story.
Bio: After four years in the USMC, Patrick Haggerty studied Actuarial Science and Computers at Georgia State University. He has spent the past 15+ years developing and delivering technical training courses for Learning Tree International. On the side he has a successful consulting practice doing web application development for clients ranging from the United State Marines to Delta Airlines.
Seven years ago, stuck reading a mediocre book in yet another hotel, Patrick decided to try his hand at fiction. He may not be published, but these days you are much more likely to find him spending his evenings writing romance, than code. Patrick is an active member of RWA, RWAustralia, RW New Zealand, and is VP of Membership for Gulf Coast Romance Writers of America, and VP of OIRWA.