Georgia on My Calendar

I’ve just come from the 2013 gathering of the Romance Writers of America, one of several professional conferences I attend each year. On general principles, the notion of spending a week in a mid-city hotel, eating conference food, wearing conference shoes, and dealing with hordes of people ought not to appeal to me, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s gathering.

marriott atriumHow can that be? My tolerance for noise is… well, I don’t have any, and this was an atrium hotel that looked to be at least 30 stories high. The bar was in one of the open-plan lobbies, and we ladies got loud, then louder still. My tolerance for gratuitous displays of emotion isn’t much greater, and yet, BOTH luncheon speakers moved us to tears, and that was just fine.

marriott lobbyWhat’s different about this gathering? Yes, it’s a professional conference. People are pitching their books, meeting with potential agents and editors, negotiating deals, scarfing up workshop wisdom, and making connections with readers, and yet, it has the feel of a family reunion. I know of one pair of writers who’ve been critique partners for two years, and they met for the first time last week in Atlanta. That’s not unusual.

I arranged to meet a Facebook writing friend for breakfast, she brought her roommate, and we might well stay in touch on social media, get together at a subsequent conference, trade beta reads, or otherwise build on that small but enjoyable interaction.

Some of the appeal of the conference, though, has to do with the nature of writers. Whether we’re introverts or extroverts, we’re people who notice what happens in life. We notice setting, and we notice subtext–what’s not being said, what’s emotionally driving somebody but never acknowledged. In other words, we’re probably on the more perceptive end of the scale. At a gathering of writers, you can have all the space you need, but you won’t have to make much of an effort to connect, if connecting is what you want to do.

This group is also–generalization alert–mostly female, as in 99 percent female, at least. Certain dynamics that might afflict other gatherings are largely absent from this one.

And some of the credit has to go to RWA itself. I once heard Julia Quinn say, “You will never hurt your career by helping another author.” This might be engraved over the figurative door to the RWA office, because it represents Holy Writ to most romance authors. If you can do another author a good turn, it is your privilege to oblige. This ethic tartan_450-204x335of professional collaboration might well be part of the reason romance is a $1.37 billion industry, and growing.

So I had a lovely week, despite being a warp nine, noise-intolerant, tactile-avoidant, introvert. I was with the right kind of people, focused on the right kind of agenda.

What sort of group do you enjoy meeting with? Does the task at hand make a difference? The setting? The membership?

To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of “Once Upon a Tartan.”

 

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34 comments on “Georgia on My Calendar

  1. 1
    MaryC says:

    I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you in Atlanta; my loss. I have to agree with this post on every level. I was walking along a Brooklyn street today thinking I should need a deserted island to recover from five days spent with 2000 women, but instead I’m invigorated and, as you said, already anticipating San Antonio.

    • 1.1

      I think Atlanta itself was a pleasant experience too, Mary. Men waited for me to get off the elevator first, and let me get on first. People smiled, they talked with each other on the street, they didn’t hurtle away from their mass transit stops as if shot out of a cannon… lovely city, and nice people.

  2. 2
    Moriah says:

    I prefer to meet with a small group of close friends normally, but my work held an awards event in San Antonio in June that had around a ton of people from all over the country. It was nice to meet people who work in other areas of my company.

    • 2.1

      Moriah, when RWA meets in San Antonio next year, I am determined to find the time to see the Quarter Horse museum. Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was in display at the High Museum, and I missed it. ARGH.

  3. 3
    Brinda says:

    I’m more of a stay-at-home-with-a-good-book person. I could maybe tolerate something like that with a good friend. Sounds like that was a great group of people, though which I’m sure would make a huge difference.

    • 3.1

      Brinda, I’ve never met a bunch of professionals in pursuit of an arguably competitive goal who are more supportive of one another, or unwilling to entertain scarcity thinking. Every great romance novel helps sell every other romance novel seems to be the prevailing belief.
      Compared to courtroom attorneys….

  4. 4
    Sarah R. says:

    I usually enjoy small gatherings and one on one time with a great person, but I have to say that I really LOVED being at RT this year. I don’t have any friends around here who read like I do or read the books that I do and it was so nice to be around people that I had that in common with, especially since it is such a big part of my life. It just felt to me like a sort of belonging and I place where I really did fit in. I know that first night was a rough one but by the end of the five days I had met some wonderful and a few “new to me” authors and also made a few friends, one of whom I talk to on the phone every week or so and we are also going to room together next year in New Orleans.
    So I guess it does depend on the setting and the people.

    I am glad you had lovely week with a bunch of lovely ladies.

  5. 5
    Karin Anderson says:

    RWA is one of those conferences I REALLY want to go to. So far, I haven’t really been able to afford it. Maybe next year? 😀

    • 5.1

      It’s not cheap, and when you’re not yet published, and wondering if it can be considered a business expense, that makes it all the more challenging. I hope you do make it next year, Karin, and if you come, you’ll look me up. The best part of the conference for me this year was connecting with new people in small groups or one on one.

  6. 6
    Polly says:

    As an educator, I always found conferences and workshops full of people with the same goal – making a difference in the lives of children. It does ‘take a village’ to do that, and generally everyone present was of the same mind and heart. So there was always lots of talking, idea sharing, mentoring and connecting going on, and I usually came home ready to DO MORE and TRY HARDER.

    • 6.1

      I come home with those same sentiments, but also DO LAUNDRY, TRY to get back on schedule.

      Teaching is a vocation, and deserves far more respect than it gets, at least public school teaching. I dedicated my first book in part to my junior high English teacher, because he was the first (and for a long time, the only) person to tell me I had writing ability.

  7. 7

    As a former journalist and current painter, my group of choice is The WCAGA (Women’s Caucus for Art of Georgia). We meet at local galleries and arts venues. The homogeneous gender dynamic is a plus, keeping the focus on our response to the reaction to the art instead of the attractions of testosterone. The membership changes slowly, lending continuity to the relationships, but the art – everything from yarn bombing to intentional graffiti murals to classic oil on canvas – sparks debate. Mutual involvement in the arts brings us together, the broad definition of art allows for individual response and lively discussion. Our spirits are kindred, though our tastes diverge. It’s hard to pull away from the easel and get out of the studio, but the reward, inspiration, is priceless.

    • 7.1

      Same Same with writing! Hard to shut the computer down, hard to get the head out of the story, hard to trust it will all be there next week. And we argue! The nice thing about this conference is that the big scare caused by the advent of ebooks (and Amazon’s role in that market) seems to be easing off, leaving a sense of “there are many roads to Rome, and we’re all exploring an ever-widening darkness.”

      A nice change from previous years.

  8. 8
    Tracey says:

    When I find myself in groups of people, I find that I’m usually the quiet one. I watch people. And I listen. I love to listen to people’s stories, and watch the interation. It doesn’t really seem to matter what the occasion. As a travel agent, I loved going on trips with other agents. As a chef, I enjoy being around other people with a passion for cooking. It’s a sense of “belonging” maybe? Being with other people that share something that is of your heart? Maybe?

    • 8.1

      Tracey, I would normally hide and watch too, (or hide and hide), but with the writing, I’m in an odd position. I have the gray hair, I have the list of titles, I have a few accolades, and I’m expected to act like somebody who knows what she’s doing.

      Fact is, three years ago I was unpublished, I’m learning more craft with each book, and I have no idea how or why my books have done as well as they have. Many, many talented writers struggle for years before they’re published, before their work is appreciated, before they make any lists or get those coveted “best book” awards.

      Still, I have laps around the track being a non-anxious presence, I love to write, and I’m not completely without writing experience. I impersonate a successful author when I don’t know what else to do….

  9. 9
    Ellie W. says:

    I had a good friend who writes erotica at the convention. You were in my neighborhood for that–Atlanta area. Your storytelling is a bit more my speed. I’ve just really gotten into your books. Read the first one on vacation. Then, I bought six of them at our local used bookstore, all three novellas for Kindle and then two more of your mass market books via Amazon, just a day ago.

    I’m in a lot of networking and business groups for my marketing business. And I love them. I love people, and talking and laughing and making profitable connections. But when I want to dial down, I like a good romance novel. Yours are particularly good, I think, because they are gritty enough. Your characters eat and use the privvy. They are awkward, funny and passionate. They’re people I would want to hang with in my hood, yo.

    Thank you, also, for not talking down to your audience. I’ve had to look up inchoate, pulchritudinous and bagatelle. And I don’t regret that. Since getting your books at my local used bookstore, I’ve read them all twice. Such good stories, good characters. Love those Windhams. Thanks, again.

    • 9.1

      Ellie, thank you for all those kind words. I get pressure to make my writing more “accessible,” which I take to mean “using words with fewer syllables.” While I don’t want to be obscure, at least the heroes I’m writing would all have had strong classical educations, read Homer and Virgil, been fluent in Latin, Greek and French at least, with a smattering of German and Italian… how do you write fellows like that without using the occasional verbal flourish?

      And yes, I love the Windhams too. Really looking forward to Lady Jenny this fall!

      • 9.1.1
        Ellie W. says:

        I think publishers (maybe even EVERYONE) underestimate the readers of romance novels. Like we’re not college graduates. Like we haven’t already read Jane Austen. She’s just not publishing any new work, you know?

        I like a book that doesn’t insult my intelligence. A great story never hurt either. I also appreciate characters who have strength and talent. Don’t let “them” change what you do. New York Times bestseller’s list doesn’t lie.

  10. 10
    Myrna says:

    Textiles is a predominately female area as well and I can relate to what you’re saying. I’ve experienced the same feeling of belonging and sharing in textile based, creativity workshops.

  11. 11
    Livia Quinn says:

    I considered closing my business and attending up to the weekend before, lol. The workshops looked fabulous and there were many friends I would have liked to see. Glad you enjoyed the experience.

    And wish I was going to be in New York to meet the narrator of Bridegroom and Tartan. He is FANTABULOUS, the absolute best!

    • 11.1

      Livia, James Langton’s website is here: http://www.eloquentaudio.com/

      I’ve listened to his version of Dante’s “Inferno,” and am starting on the Sherlock Holmes offerings next. What this guy does with my Scottish Victorians mesmerizes ME, and I wrote the books. He was born in York and educated in Scotland, though he’s based in New York now.
      It’s enough to make an author decide to write an Scottish Victorian Christmas book….

  12. 12
    Christina G says:

    I love my puppy raising group! I love going to meetings, obedience classes, socialization outings. There is always something to learn from someone else whether they’ve been there six months or have raised six puppies. Not only is it great for the dogs, but it is great for the people – raisers and public alike. Maybe learning a new technique to teach a puppy a new skill or (my favorite!) educating the public on what we are doing, why the dogs wear jackets and how to interact with a service dog in the future.

    Part of what makes it so great is the wide variety of people that make up the group. We have students, retirees, film producers, kids involved through 4-H, stay-at-home moms and those who work full time. There is no drama (except for whose dog has gotten into what lately) and no petty squabbles, just a group of like minded individuals with a love of dogs and helping others. Even when not working with the dogs or at group events, we still get together and help each other out.

    It was actually one of my puppy raiser friends who gave me the push to pursue my writing. She told me of a local romance writers conference and I was able to register at the last minute. Since then, there’s been no turning back for me. Now I have another group of support and let me tell you, it has been WONDERFUL!!

    I was so upset that I had to miss Atlanta this year, but my sister would never forgive me for missing out on her baby being born. I guarantee I will be there next year regardless of babies or weddings or whatever! I can’t miss the opportunity to socialize and learn from other great minds.

    • 12.1

      Christina, I didn’t know you were related to the Duchess of Cambridge!

      Yes, you must join us in San Antonio. The probability of running into one of your keeper authors, or into people who are enthusiastic about the same genre you are, is 100 percent. The probability of learning something and having fun, about the same.

  13. 13
    bn100 says:

    Friendly, hard-working people; task doesn’t really matter

    • 13.1

      Hmm. This is probably the ethic behind Habitat for Humanity. Whether you’ve ever met your crew before you show up to pound nails, or not, they’re friendly hard-working people, and that’s enough to make the day productive and enjoyable.

  14. 14
    Janie McGaugh says:

    I enjoy being in groups with people that have the same interests. Task and setting don’t make a difference (unless I really don’t like them!); obviously the membership (the people) does make a difference to me.

    • 14.1

      I dunno, Janie. Some of the most memorable get togethers in my life–the evenings I remember thirty years later–were somewhat setting dependent. It had to feel like a safe place, a place where confidences could be exchanged without fear of disrespect.

      But I have to agree with you, too: People, for better or for worse, make ALL the difference.

  15. 15
    Jennifer says:

    When I worked at the library, I used to enjoy conferences at the state and national levels with my colleagues in my field. I felt like they really respected my opinions and my work and didn’t care (if they even knew) that I didn’t have the requisite professional degree. I think it helped that at the second national conference I attended, one of the top people in the field cornered me and asked me to do a presentation at the next one — it was intimidating and awe-inspiring, like getting the Pope’s blessing and the Medal of Honor and all sorts of unbelievable honors I had no idea how to live up to!

    While the sessions at those conferences weren’t universally exciting, I did generally return home with lots of good ideas and refreshed enthusiasm and commitment to my work. (Unfortunately, once I got back home, I rarely felt that my day-to-day colleagues had that same kind of understanding and respect.)

    Now I suppose I get that sense of warm welcome and acceptance from fellow contra dancers — it’s a very open kind of group!

    • 15.1

      I’ve been to one national librarians conferences–20,000+ librarians, and that was a light year. The sheer energy of the gathering bowled me over, but I also had a sense I was among bright minds and good hearts.

      Must be hard to go from something that inspiring back to the chain gang, and feel like nobody at work shares your renewed enthusiasm. Clearly, somebody at that second conference saw a spark in you, and wanted to make sure that spark was nurtured.

  16. 16
    Sue says:

    I believe the task at hand makes a huge difference. It brings people together on common ground. When I am engaged in something I am interested in with other like minded people we are all excited about what we are learning, engaging in spirited discussion and etc. – all the positives are magnified.

    As for location, I do NOT like crowds and especially noise. I have a significant hearing loss and those conditions are generally a misery for that reason as well. Then again, if I am with those like minded people I usually find the smaller group, say during a presentation, or friends made and met to debrief and enjoyably process with. I also must admit that I like a fancy hotel and visiting that standard of living. The room to retreat to is, however, crucial to my happiness and sanity.

    • 16.1

      Sue, that part about the room… spot on, for me. I must have a foxhole into which I can retreat, because just being around other people can overwhelm me. Sometimes, I don’t even realize how badly I need solitude, but a pounding headache will eventually get the message across.

      Thank goodness for room service and in room fridges and microwaves, too.