Last Monday, July 26, I left work and hopped a plane to attend my very first Romance Writers of America
(RWA) National Conference. Originally scheduled to be in Nashville, the flooding there earlier this year meant the conference had to find a new home and it ended up in Orlando. And, not just in Orlando, but right on Walt Disney World property. It was, in short, the Best. Vacation. Ever.
My week started when I landed at Orlando International at the appalling hour of 1:30 a.m. I caught my shuttle, which I shared with Portland paranormal author Jessa Slade (whom you should read because she's a good writer and super-nice) and a very enthusiastic (read: sugared-up) little boy who was on his way to SeaWorld with his family. We arrived at the Walt Disney World Dolphin (the conference hotel) sometime shortly after 2 a.m. I had to wait until the hotel's computer system had turned over at 4 a.m. before I could check in. I'll tell you, though, that as tired as I was, I was grateful to have those last quiet hours to myself. I took a walk around the property to get my bearings before the conference began in earnest and relished the almost complete lack of other human beings anywhere on the grounds. When I finally got to my room, I washed off the travel grime, brewed a cup of in-room coffee (nasty, but caffeinated), and began the wait for my 7:25 a.m. shuttle to Universal Orlando to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (It was AWESOME, in case you were wondering.) When I returned to the hotel, exhausted, sweaty (temps in the 90s, with humidity the same), and sunburned, my roommate had checked in and we finally got to meet in person. (We hooked up through the RWA online message board for people seeking rooms and/or roommates. Luckily, we got on well together, because we all know what a crapshoot online hookups can be.)
Eventually, I wandered down to the bar, because anyone who's ever been to a con knows that, eventually, everyone shows up in the bar. Through the haze of my exhaustion, I actually recognized Sarah Wendell, more commonly known as Smart Bitch Sarah, and screwed up my courage to introduce myself. (Believe it or not, I'm actually rather shy and more likely to sit alone in the corner than engage in conversation with persons to whom I have not been introduced — also known as strangers.) SB Sarah in turn introduced me to Roxanne St. Claire and Louisa Edwards. Various other intelligent and charming women passed by the table while I sat there, but my 36 hours without sleep made my brain more of a sieve than usual, so I'm afraid their names have escaped me.
Wednesday was Librarians and Booksellers day and the couple of times I poked my head into the room where they were having the workshop, I heard was a lot of stuff that I already knew. This was also the day that I met with the amazing ladies from HarperCollins to talk about what I like to read and what they have coming out in the next few months. They fed me Swedish Fish and Reese's Peanut Butter cups and earned my adoration. While I was talking with them, Meg Cabot arrived. It was my first, but certainly not my last, OMG fangirl moment of the conference. I am proud to say, though, that I played it cool and restrained my squee.
At the end of the afternoon I wandered down to the Booksellers and Librarians meet-and-greet and met several authors whose books I enjoy (Courtney Milan, Delilah Marvelle, Jane Porter, and Carolyn Jewel, for example) and some authors who were completely new to me (like Linda Robertson and Laura Bickle) but who have been added to my TBR list.
That evening was the Literacy Signing and the line was forever long. I just had to keep reminding myself that the signing was open to the public and that Sherrilyn Kenyon, Nora Roberts, and Meg Cabot were all in the same room. I waited in line even though I wasn't going to buy anything. I was really just there for the experience. While in line, I chatted briefly with the woman behind me who was a Golden Heart nominee from Vancouver Island. Her name was Jacqui Nelson and she ended up winning this year's Golden Heart for Best Historical Manuscript. (Click here for the complete Golden Heart and RITA winners list.) Yay, Jacqui!
At some point, there was the experience of the World's Worst Karaoke. It was traumatic. I will say no more about it.
Thursday morning was spent at the Magic Kingdom, but I returned to the hotel at 11 a.m. to meet with Karen and Laurie from Kensington. They bought me an iced coffee, which made me kind of their slave, and invited me to tour the Kensington offices in New York if I attend RWA next year, which I will totally take them up on.
Then it was time for the Keynote Luncheon with speaker Nora Roberts, who was quite a good speaker and gave me the first of several moments that weekend of having the mad desire to write a novel. There's something about this community of (mostly) women supporting and encouraging each other that makes one want to be part of it, even if that means writing a book.
In the afternoon, I met with Danielle from Sourcebooks, whose Casablanca line is doing some of my favorite romances, including reprinting several older Laura Kinsale titles with lovely covers. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky is also doing some really fine romances, but for a young adult audience.
Then it was back to the Magic Kingdom, where I got stuck on Splash Mountain during the fireworks, which didn't suck.
Friday morning was spent at Disney's Hollywood Studios, then it was back to the hotel for the Awards Luncheon. Why does it seem that every hotel banquet chef equates vegetarian with bland? At least I didn't get served chicken (?) for the second day in a row.
Friday evening was the time for the publishers' cocktail parties. At the Ballantine Bantam Dell party, Tess Gerritsen told me how much she loved Powell's, which made me happy. I ended up spending much of my brief time at this party speaking with Jenna Black. In fact, we talked about how we both hated talking to strangers at parties, so being thrown together worked out well for us both. Next it was on to the Berkley NAL party, where I got to get a little fangirly over Lauren Willig before dashing off to catch the shuttle to EPCOT for the Avon party. This party was held in a super-secret party room at the Living Seas pavilion. There were giant windows that looked out on the aquarium and provided stunning views of fishies and some scuba divers. I spent some time talking with Katharine Ashe, then hit the buffet. Later, I spied Toni Blake, Julie Anne Long, and Wendy Corsi Staub, all of whom I had met at various times earlier in the week.
The evening was capped off with the Harlequin party at the Waldorf Astoria. It was big and loud, with dancing and desserts and cocktails with orchids in them. It was quite the spot for people-watching and I only regret a little bit that I didn't get up and dance.
Saturday was the final day of the conference and I'm not sure if I actually did more on this day, or if I was just so exhausted by this point that it felt like I had done a lot. I met with Jen and Anne Marie from St. Martin's then ran off to a couple of book signings. At the Hachette book signing, I spent some time talking to Selina, whom I was supposed to have met with earlier but our wires had gotten crossed, so I was glad to have run into her.
Saturday evening was the RITA and Golden Heart awards banquet, emceed by Sabrina Jeffries. As exhausted as we all were, we still looked fabulous. It was a great end to the weekend and I offer my sincere congratulations to all of the winners.
After the banquet, we went dancing and I finally tumbled into bed sometime after 2 a.m. only to wake up early so I could get packed before catching the shuttle to the airport.
I would like to extend a special thanks for a great week to my roommate (she knows who she is and why she's being thanked), Louisa Edwards for making me feel okay about my fangirl moments, and Toni Blake and Julie Anne Long who seemed to be there at all the best moments. Thanks, ladies, for making my first RWA so interesting.