I meant to write this RWA National recap right after the conference, but copy edits for The Spymaster's Secret greeted me just as the conference ended. So, this recap is a little later than I meant for it to be. In any case, two weeks ago, I attended the RWA National conference in New York. My first RWA conference was in New York back in 2011—I knew no one and wasn't even a member yet. It was overwhelming and inspiring and so many other things. I joined just after. This year's conference was the fifth national conference I've been fortunate enough to be able to attend, and I went into it with a bit of a different mindset. In some ways, I suppose, I was searching for that inspiration and excitement of my first conference because this year has been such a difficult writing year. Between the state of the industry as a whole and the world in general, getting words down on the page has been more difficult than I can ever remember. I really hoped being surrounded by other romance writers and attending workshops would give me a little jolt.
I'm not sure if it did what I was hoping, but I did find out I'm not alone in my feelings. The first workshop I attended on Thursday was called #Tired: Wielding Your Pen When the World's on Fire, which showed me that a lot of us are in the same boat and gave me some good strategies that I hope will help me along. I went to the PAN Keynote, delivered by Jennifer Probst, next and found more of the same. She spoke about our doubts and fears in a changing industry and reminded us to protect the work because there's nothing more important than the book. That change is going to happen and we have to change with it, but we also have to commit to what we want. I came out of those two sessions feeling not so alone and a little more determined. I also went to a great workshop called Burnout: The Art and Science of Unlocking the Stress Cycle. The presenters were both really dynamic and gave me a way of looking at stress and how we treat it and our physical response to it that I hadn't thought of before. It think it's going to be really helpful.
I went to some other fantastic workshops too, ones that will help hone my craft. Jade Lee's session on Going Deep: Exploring Core Wounds was so interesting, and Sherry Thomas's Pacing workshop really helpful. Both gave me new ways to think about character and story structure that even my more organic way of planning/writing (not an outliner, me) can work with. One of my favorite workshops turned out to be the last one I attended on Saturday: Hands on History, A Physical Experience with the Past. The presenters were both re-entactors of various historical periods as well as authors, and they gave us some great tips on historical research. They also busted some myths and brought with them so much stuff for us to look at and touch and even try on, in some cases. We saw hats and gowns and undergarments and a real document from the seventeenth century, learned about handicrafts and how to start a fire. I wish the session had been longer than an hour!
Going into this conference, there has been much focus on diversity and inclusion in RWA and the romance-writing/reading community in general, and more, who has been excluded. Those conversations carried over at RWA, and though the conversations are difficult and I wish we didn't have to have them, they are necessary. On the first day of RWA, I attended a round table discussion called RWA Listens: Continuing the Conversation Around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The entire board was present, and the session seemed well-attended by the general membership. Many people shared both their stories of lack of inclusion, of racism and the bigoted behavior of some in organization, and their ideas for solutions, for ways to move forward. It felt productive. Like a good step. I also went to a panel called Whose Story Is It? Writing Diversely in Romance Fiction during which the conversation continued and also branched out into looking at the characters and stories we write and if we're the best ones to write them. It was another great discussion, and it sparked other conversations throughout the rest of the conference. Hopefully, we'll keep having these discussions. Hopefully, one day, we won't have to anymore.
I went to the conference undecided about whether I was going to attend the Rita Awards Friday night. If you follow romance, you've probably seen the discussions about racism and bias in the awards over the last few years, and I just wasn't sure I wanted to support the awards as they are. However, a few NJ Romance Writer chapter mates were finalists, and I decided to go to support Nisha Sharma and Joanna Shupe. I ended up so glad I did. I went with two fellow NJ authors, Arell Rivers and Anaida Pierce, and we joined up with some other NJ authors to form our own little cheering section. The energy in the room was really fantastic, and the program was too. Presenters took us through a history of romance that made sure to highlight its trailblazers in all genres, paying particular attention to the marginalized voices that came before and are writing now. And, I was there to witness history. After 37 years—and wow, is that far too long!—two Black authors finally won Ritas: Kennedy Ryan won for Long Shot and M. Malone won for Bad Blood. The Ritas also had their first South Asian winner in Nisha Sharma, who won for her Young Adult novel My So-Called Bollywood Life. The entire room was on its feet, cheering and applauding. The energy was really amazing, and I truly hope it means even more change is coming.
I ended my conference with a visit to the Literacy Autographing, a huge book fair, the proceeds of which are donated to literacy charities. To make it even more fun, my mom came into the city and went with me (after lunch and gelato with Dad)—and I hope she doesn't mind that her picture is here (Hi, Mom!). Mom is a big romance reader—you may have heard me say in the past that the first romance I read at the age of twelve came from her shelf—and we've been sharing books for decades now, so it really was great to get to go to the signing with her.
I have a few regrets about the conference—not doing as much networking as I'd planned, only getting to see some friends in passing—but, overall, it was a good conference and I got a lot out of it, including some additions to my TBR. (And now that the conference is over and copy edits turned in, it's back to writing for me!)