Well, this is the last RITA finalist post before we hit Nationals. Can you believe it's only a week away? Please give a big welcome to my sister finalist, FARRAH ROCHON! I'm really looking forward to meeting her in Anaheim!
When Donna extended the invitation to blog, my first instinct was to talk about football. Yes, football. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows that I bring the word fanatic to an entirely new level when it comes to the sport. Furthermore, my RITA nominated book, I’ll Catch You, is the second in a series about a fictional football team. Gearing my post to action on the gridiron just seemed natural. But, unfortunately, football has become a very sore subject these past few months. You see, I’m a New Orleans Saints fan, and if any of you out there follows football even the tiniest bit, you already know that this off-season has been a very hard time for Saints fans.
Instead, I decided to blog about the subject that my fellow RITA Award nominees who have visited Donna’s blog all have in common: the RWA National Conference.
The first time I even learned there was such a thing as Romance Writers of America was back in 2001 when the organization held its annual meeting in New Orleans. There was an article in the local newspaper about some conference coming to town, and all I knew was that Julie Garwood--THE Julie Garwood--would be at a huge book signing that was open to the public. I had to be there!
I was in graduate school at the time, and remember skipping out on my final class of the day so I could make the hour-long drive to downtown New Orleans. I walked into the ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel and was completely overwhelmed by the sea of excited readers and writers.
I stood in line for the better part of an hour, patiently waiting for Ms. Garwood to sign my copy of The Bride (*insert wistful sigh*). I chatted with fellow romance lovers, learned there were more authors out there than Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, and LaVyrle Spencer, and even bought tickets for a raffle basket.
As I was standing in yet another long line to pay for all the books I picked up, my ticket number was called, and I walked away with a basket donated by a Colorado-based chapter of RWA. I happened to hop on an elevator with two members of that chapter who told me they would see me next year at the conference in Denver. I secretly laughed, thinking Yeah, right! You see, at that time, I had no intention of ever writing a romance novel. I’d just started reading them, for crying out loud.
A year later, I attended my first RWA conference (yes, in Denver) after finishing my very first romance novel several months earlier. Fast forward ten years, to this year, when I will attend my tenth conference in Anaheim. I guess the joke was on me.
Actually, it is almost comical to see just how much I’ve grown since that first conference in the Mile High City. I remember going back to my hotel to have lunch every day, because I had no idea that the luncheons were included in the price of admission. I also had no idea that publishers gave away free books! I bought a bunch from the amazingly wonderful Tattered Cover bookstore in downtown Denver and stalked my favorite authors in the hallway to get them to sign them. And the RITA Awards? I was back in my room, reading a book, completely oblivious to the fact that there were a couple thousand elegantly dressed romance writers enjoying the conference’s big finale.
I’ve gone from being that wet-behind-the-ears newbie, to a much more polished PRO Member, to wearing my pink First Sale ribbon in 2006. This year, I will have the honor of walking around the Anaheim Marriott with that lovely RITA pin on my badge.
I could never have fathomed back as that graduate student waiting in Julie Garwood’s line that Romance Writers of America and the RWA Conference would become such an integral part of my life. My closest friends are people I’ve met through RWA. My career (much to my father’s chagrin) has been made possible because of what I’ve learned about craft and the publishing industry through countless RWA workshops.
The course of my life changed forever, and it all started at the RWA National Conference.