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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back from Conference

Personal Weather Report - Calm after being somewhat unsettled the past week.

Writing Activity - None at present.

After four months of waiting, the Romance Writers of America® national conference finally arrived. I spent five days from July 29 - August 2 in the San Francisco Marriott surrounded by 2,000 romance writers. That's a lot of estrogen and emotion in one place.

I admire the men who braved the conference. There were a few male editors and agents as well as a smattering of deep-voiced, masculine-variety romance writers. Perhaps one of these guys is going to give Nicholas Sparks some competition.

I spent the first two years of my writing career in isolation. When I got the call from RWA® in March informing me that I was a double finalist in their prestigious Golden Heart® contest for unpublished romance writers, I entered a new chapter in my life. All of a sudden I was thrust into the limelight.

Minor celebrity status is conferred upon the GH finalists. I'd placed in four RWA chapter level contests, but this one is national. International, really. We had finalists from Canada, England and Australia. Over 1,000 entries were received in ten categories, resulting in a total of seventy finalists this year.

I entered four manuscripts in the inspirational category, two of them finaling. The manuscript I entered in the GH the year before didn't fare well, so I never expected to final this year. And I certainly didn't expect to double final. I was stunned. I had the honor of sporting two lavender ribbons on my name badge.

During the four months following the call from RWA, I ventured into Cyberspace, setting up a website and two blogs. I joined a number of Yahoo loops where I chat with other writers and with published authors. I made friends with the other GH finalists, a group of talented, generous, fun women. I couldn't wait to meet them.

I arrived in San Francisco determined not to give way to my normal reserve. Instead, I put my newly acquired Toastmaster skills to use and initiated conversations. In spite of the fact that Toastmasters is about speaking, I did my best to get the other person talking. And, oh, what wonderful things I learned from those with whom I had the opportunity to spend time. Like California soil after a hot dry summer, I soaked up the liberal doses of wisdom being showered upon me.

Until the past few months, the word "networking" had a negative connotation in my book. I didn't understand what it was all about and saw networking as self-serving, or even selfish.

A new understanding dawned as I interacted with others who share my passion for writing. We have much in common. Like me, these women deal with hearing voices in their heads and waking up in the night with a scene begging to be recorded. Now I see networking as mutually beneficial. I learn from others and share freely the wealth of information I've been given. The sense of community among the writers, especially my fellow GH finalists, warms my heart.

And speaking of hearts. No. I didn't come home with the Golden Heart, which is a heart-shaped golden necklace, but that's fine with me. I never expected to win. I couldn't be happier for the woman who graced the stage representing the inspirational category with style. Her time has come, and I fully expect her to have her first sale soon.

RWA and our fellow writers treated us Golden Heart finalists like royalty. We all feel like we're winners just for having been nominated. When the one winner for each category was called to the stage, the rest of us whooped and hollered and applauded with such vigor that our hands were sore afterward.

My girlfriend, Kathryn, joined me for the gala event. She's been a staunch supporter since I wrote that first horrid chapter of my first manuscript, the one where the dialog wasn't even in quotation marks. LOL. Sharing the event with her made the conference finale even more special. She got this flattering shot of me. Just wish my head hadn't been so far in the clouds that I forgot to get one with her.

So ends an incredible chapter in my life, one that will stand out in my memory for years to come. Conference may be over, but the friendships formed during my reign as a GH finalist stand as a testimony to what really matters most: people, not a prize.

And what's next? Well, I'm at a crossroads. When I got that call from RWA in March, I was taken by surprise. I'm honored beyond belief that ten of my peers liked my stories enough to give them scores that placed them as finalists. I knew, though, that the final judges, who are editors, use a different measuring stick: the market.

I headed to conference knowing I'd written five manuscripts that weren't "the one," that being the riveting story that will launch my career as a published author of inspirational romance. As I sat in my first ever agent and editor appointments pitching one of my sweet, traditional historical stories, my intuition proved accurate. The publishing professionals were kind enough to tell me what they are looking for, though, and I was quite attentive.

So, now I'm taking a hiatus. At first the idea of doing so scared me, but the initial emotion has given way to reason. I've come up with a plan. I'm going to devour the stacks of wonderful romances I've been collecting. Market research it's called in the publishing world. (Hanging out with great authors leads to discovering how many wonderful books are yet to be read. Those in the photo are the few I purchased at the literacy benefit at conference.) After I read the romance novels, I'm going to study the many books on the craft of writing I've been collecting. I'm going to give my creative mind a rest and wait.

Wait? Keli? The woman who likes to plan every step with excruciating detail? Yes. I feel a need to relax and reflect. The past two and a half years have been incredible. Now it's time to absorb what I've learned, increase my knowledge base and plan for an exciting future. I've heard published authors say that when they wrote "the one," they just knew it. Everything came together, and the book resonated at a deep level. I firmly believe I'm on the verge of such an experience, but I'm going to rein in my tendency to control my world and let God do the leading. Sound plan, that. And exciting.

1 comment:

C.J. Redwine said...

Good for you! I can't wait to read what comes out of you next. :)

And meeting you was one of the highlights of my conference!