“R” is for “Romance Writers of America,” or Staying Classy in San Diego

A new month, nearly a new season, and a moment to reflect on the RWA Conference I attended in July. Despite being a Warp 7 introvert, I generally enjoy going to these, and each of the four conferences I’ve attended has yielded a different experience.

rwa20122012: Anaheim–so close it was practically in my back yard, so there was no way I wasn’t going! And that was the start of it all: my first book, Waltz with a Stranger, had been accepted for publication and would be making its debut in December of that year. Going to sessions, getting to meet other writers and the people I would be working with. My sister and occasional collaborator came to the conference as well, so I had someone to talk to and de-stress with–always more fun than being on your own!

tyrgvmly2013: Atlanta–the first time in years I’d flown coast-to-coast on business. This time, I was on my own, so I made a point of talking to other attendees and getting to know them. I also had a chance to meet and talk to several authors whose work I admired, including Mary Jo Putney. (And to experience the phenomenon of sideways rain that had me epically drenched after five minutes, en route to the Literacy Autographing!)

images2014: San Antonio. The one I almost didn’t go to, thanks to a car accident about two weeks before. Though no lasting injuries were sustained, I arrived in a somewhat unfocused mental state, so it may have been just as well that this conference ended up being almost more social than business-oriented. While I attended some great sessions, I also spent more time than usual just hanging out with people and talking about this and that, which can be every bit as worthwhile.



Historical costumes were on display at Literacy Autographing
Historical costumes were on display at Literacy Autographing

2016: San Diego–By contrast, this summer’s conference was my most business-oriented, as I had two series to promote: the one I was about to wrap up and the one I’d just launched. I went to mostly career-oriented sessions, participated in three signings…and fielded a couple of unexpected curves!

I was never a Girl Scout, but I came to have a deeper appreciation of the motto, “Be Prepared!” during this conference.

As in: Be prepared with extra ibuprofen when your lower back goes into spasms halfway through a two-hour session! That happened on Day One, and I used all the resources I had–including my sister, who attended again this year–to keep the issue from becoming full-blown and turning me into a human pretzel for the rest of the conference. (I was moving fairly normally the next day, though my back would still twinge occasionally to remind me how much trouble it could be, if it chose to be!)preview

As in: Be prepared with promotional postcards, additional swag, and a smile when your books fail to turn up at a signing! I was relieved by how gracious most of the readers were when I explained the situation, and I collected names and emails so they could receive a free download of one of my titles afterwards!

Despite being pre-scheduled for so many events, I managed to make it to some good sessions. The aforementioned two-hour one presented a helpful overview of current trends in the romance genre. Another suggested ways to increase productivity and write faster without completely burning yourself out. And the speakers–including Beverly Jenkins, Sherry Thomas, and Robyn Carr–were memorable. Carr’s story is particularly inspirational, covering her career trajectory from newbie to mid-list author to unwanted commodity to best-seller. It’s encouraging to be reminded that success does not always happen overnight and that it takes time, hard work, patience, and perseverance to get there. But in the end, the only one who can stop you from writing, dreaming, and doing…is you. I think that’s especially true now, when there are so many options available to a writer.

And let’s not forget the Hamilton sing-along held on the very last afternoon! I wasn’t that familiar with the score then, but I found something infinitely cheering about hanging out with a roomful of people enthusiastically chanting, “I am not throwing away my shot!”


–San Diego Marina

Besides the conference, my sister and I fit in some sight-seeing stuff. Like exploring Seaport Village–right next door to the hotel–and riding their 120-year-old Looff carousel.


And dining in Gastown at The Old Spaghetti Factory, a restaurant that’s a bit of a sentimental favorite. And then there was breakfast at a local pancake restaurant, famous for a towering baked apple pancake that was both impressive and alarming to behold!0713161014-00

All in all, San Diego is a beautiful city that holds some great memories for me, and I was happy to visit it again. We traveled by train, and the journey went smoothly in both directions. And the sea views out the window were often breathtaking. I’m already contemplating the possibility of another trip in the not too distant future…




What’s rarer than a Leap Year?

A bona fide rock star coming to town and giving a free concert in the parking lot of a local records store. But that’s just what happened on Saturday when Elton John stopped by Tower Records on the Sunset Strip to promote his new album and to thank West Hollywood for its support of the AIDS Foundation.

Unlike the faithful crowding the parking lot and lining the surrounding sidewalk, I was nowhere near West Hollywood that day, but AOL live-streamed the event so I spent my lunch hour watching from the comfort of my workspace.  Years have passed since I was a kid listening to 45s of “Bennie and the Jets” and “Your Song,” but they still charm–and they’re recognizable from the opening chords. As is “The Bitch is Back,” which started off the set with a bang!


Anyway, pictures are worth a thousand words when it comes to an event like this, and I got some nice stills of Sir Elton, his band, and his magic piano hands that blur over the keys. Enjoy!


These guys have been playing with Elton for years, and the comfort and familiarity shows, from the way they back him up with such enthusiasm to the way they all embrace and take their joint bow at the end of the gig.



And seeing close-ups of Elton’s hands, moving so fast they were a blur over the keys, was a special thrill! That man can play, and he zoomed through 13 or 14 songs with an enthusiasm and energy that had the whole crowd cheering him on.  Towards the end, Lady Gaga made a special appearance to sing some of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” with him. He ended with a rousing rendition of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”

What a performance–and what a wonderful memory for those who got to see him!

The Most Exhausting Place on Earth…

Especially after 16 straight hours!

Back when I was a kid, we’d make a family excursion to Disneyland in the summer. I remember “E” ticket rides, a park that didn’t include Space Mountain and Big Thunder (which should give you some idea of how long ago that was), and blazing temperatures because you know, Anaheim.

P01-04-14_20.32[2]In recent years, after a lengthy absence, we’ve been making the trek to Disneyland in early January, which is not only a more temperate time to visit but also provides the opportunity to see the park decked out for the winter holidays. It’s not just the huge Christmas tree in Main Street (which lights up at night) or the pretty garlands festooning the lampposts and balconies, several of the rides get into the spirit as well.

P01-04-14_12.56[1]The Haunted Mansion, for example, always has Jack Skellington commandeer the place, inside and out, and the ride takes on a strong “The Nightmare Before Christmas” influence, with Jack, Sally, and the Oogie-Boogie Man making appearances throughout. Apparently, it’s a bit different every Christmas, which makes things even more interesting.

P01-04-14_10.12[2]It’s A Small World goes all-out for Christmas too, right down to the Santa Hat on the face of the clock. The dolls now dance against holiday backdrops and the theme song alternates with renditions of “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” (good news for those who find the theme song annoying).

But It’s A Small World really comes into its own at night, when everything from the exterior building to the topiary animals light up in brilliant reds, greens, and golds.P01-04-14_22.06[1]This year I was pleasantly surprised to see another ride hop on the holiday bandwagon: the venerable Jungle Cruise–calling itself “Jingle Cruise” for the occasion–which boasts a “script” with jokes as old as the ride’s setting purports to be. But this time around, the ride added some unexpected Christmas touches, including garlands on the top of the boats and a burlap snowman on the landing. They even dressed the head hunter in a Santa suit!P01-04-14_16.21[2]P01-04-14_16.21P01-04-14_16.31

If we return next year around the same time, it will be interesting to see if any other rides decide to get into the act!


Staying until the Fantasyland Castle is lit up has become something of a tradition with us. And it’s always a breathtaking sight when the sky darkens and the towers and turrets lighten from terra cotta to pure white and sprout glittering icicles. The fake snow and soap bubbles drifting down only add to the atmosphere.

This year we ended up staying even later, because the youngest member of our party wanted to see the fireworks, which is something we’ve promised him we’d do “one of these days.” So this time around, we humored him–and I’ll admit, it was worth the hassle and the crowd (packed in six deep–at least–in front of the castle). The display wasn’t long, but it was certainly spectacular, though my cell phone camera can’t quite do justice to it.

P01-04-14_21.33[2]P01-04-14_21.32[3]P01-04-14_21.33P01-04-14_21.38[1]All in all, we stayed for about sixteen hours–arriving around the time the park opened and leaving less than an hour before it closed. So we’ve got memories, photographs, souvenirs, tired feet, and–in my case–a new understanding of why my parents were always comatose the morning after a trip to Disneyland!

And of course, we’re looking forward to doing it again next year!

Spotlight: Mia Marlowe (Blog Swap and Giveaway of Plaid Tidings)

This week’s Spotlight is on Mia Marlowe, author of Scottish-themed historicals for Kensington, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at RWA 2012 in Anaheim, and again at RWA 2013 in Atlanta. Welcome to Blue Stockings & Crossed Genres, Mia!

MiaMarloweAuthorHeadshot120180Thanks for having me here today, Pamela. Since you’re blogging about Victorian fashions on my blog, I’ll be sharing about Scottish clothing here. Obviously, everyone’s thoughts run to kilts whenever Scotland is mentioned and it does have a storied past. But before we get to kilts, we need to have (pardon me, pun haters everywhere) . . . a good foundation!

For men and women, the universal undergarment was the leine (pronounced “LAY-nuh”) or shirt. Made of linen, it was a chemise-like, sleeved garment that came to the knees. Over this, woolen fabric was draped to form kilts or arisaids.

Kilt2A belted plaid, or Great Kilt, is actually just a large rectangle of fabric 50 to 60 inches wide and 4 or 5 yards long. The wearer had to pleat it and strap a belt around himself to hold it up while draping the excess over his shoulder. This versatile garment also doubled as a blanket to wrap up in at night if a man was living rough in the Highlands.

An arisaid is the feminine version of a Great Kilt. The fabric is folded over a rope belt and then can be worn with both halves of the material forming the skirt or the top part can be used as a sort of built-in shawl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe practice of associating a certain tartan with a specific clan is a Regency era development. Wearing a kilt had been prohibited after the disastrous Jacobite uprising of 1745 and was forbidden under pain of seven years’ transportation for a second offense. The Highland Dress Act was repealed in 1782, but kilts didn’t really come into their own again until an English king came calling. (In Plaid Tidings, my hero Alexander is part of the advance guard charged with making sure Scotland will be safe for his sovereign!) When Sir Walter Raleigh arranged for King George IV to make his visit to Scotland in 1822, he assigned certain weaves to each of the clans. English nobles scrambled to come up with a Scottish connection so they could join the king in full Highland regalia. The result of the royal progression to Scotland was a renewed sense of nationalistic pride and a resurgence of Highland dress and traditions.


And now, I believe Pamela has some questions for me:

1. Since the heroine of my new historical, A Song at Twilight, is a professional singer, I was intrigued to discover that you are a classically trained soprano yourself. Would you share a little about your time as an opera singer?

Mia: My undergrad degree is in Music. After winning the District Metropolitan Opera competition, I made my debut with the Denver Symphony and sang with a number of regional opera companies. It was glorious and invigorating and I loved singing, but it required me to leave my small children and DH for increasingly longer periods of time. When I was offered the opportunity to spend 8 weeks in Germany with a repertory company, that was the tipping point. At that level, music is a demanding god.  No one can have it all. I will never regret not laying my family on the altar of my career.

2. Do you have a favorite opera and/or a favorite role (one you played or aspired to play or wish you’d played)?

Mia: I played a lot of different roles. I know what it’s like to cough my life away in a freezing Parisian garret (Mimi from La Boheme). I got a chance to create the role of Mariane in the regional premier of Kirk Meecham’s Tartuffe with the composer in the audience, which was both scary and gratifying. I’ve worn a corset and bumroll and sweated bullets over an aria that turns coloraturas’ bowels to water (“Come Scoglio” from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte). I even did a pants role (a male part written to be played by a woman) when I was in college (Cherubino from The Marriage of Figaro). That was great fun. But I have to say the role I enjoyed most was Rosalinde from Die Fledermaus by Strauss. Not only is the music divine, she is the smartest person on the stage, outwitting her straying husband by seducing him at a masked ball and earning her own HEA!

Mia as Rosalinde
Mia as Rosalinde

3. How long have you been fascinated with Scotland, and have you ever visited it? If so, what is your favorite/keenest memory of the place?

Mia: When I signed a new contract with Kensington for more Scottish stories, my DH suggested it might help if we actually visited Scotland. We went last June. For 12 glorious days, we cruised around the UK. I really enjoyed the stop at Kirkwall on one of the Orkney islands. But my favorite spot was the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. No, we didn’t see Nessie, but it’s not hard to imagine something large and otherworldly beneath the surface of those dark waters.

4. What are your hero and heroine’s strongest/weakest traits, and what makes them the perfect match?

Mia:  Alexander is a reluctant hero at first. He wants nothing to do with the Scottish side of his nature since his Scottish mother left him when he was very young. However, when he wins the Bonniebroch barony in a hand of cards, a betrothal comes with it—to a very determined Scottish miss. Lucinda helps him learn to forgive and find the strength to complete the three tasks which will lift a terrible curse from the old Scottish castle and all its residents.

5. Was it something specific or general that spurred you into writing, and which authors were the biggest influence on you as a writer?

Mia: I met a romance writer and realized writers weren’t the ivory tower sorts I’d always imagined them to be. She was just like me. So I reasoned if she could do it, I could too. The Greeks have a word for this. It’s called “hubris.” I had an ocean of things to learn before my first manuscript was published.

6. You’ve tried your hand at many things in life. What is one thing you haven’t tried yet that you would like to try?

Mia: I’d like to run away with my DH and be a full time world traveler—at least for a while. It’s been a dream of mine to circumnavigate the globe and hit all seven continents. Different countries and cultures fascinate me. Of course, I’d miss my family and my dogs (and my own bed) after a while!  At that point, I could always settle in for some armchair travel with some great books!



MIA MARLOWE is a rising star whose Touch of a Rogue was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Top Ten Best Romances for Spring 2012. Mia learned about story-telling while singing professional opera. She knows what it’s like to sing a high “C” in a corset, so she empathizes with the trials of her historical heroines. Mia resides in Boston, Massachusetts. For more, visit www.miamarlowe.com & connect with Mia on Twitter and Facebook.


Plaid Tidings

PLAID_TIDINGSChristmas in the Highlands…

Not any dashing English lord’s idea of a good time. But now that Lord Alexander Mallory has won a Scottish estate in a hand of cards, he is the unlikely laird of wild, snowy Bonniebroch. Worse yet, the ancient pile of stones comes with a betrothal. To a fiery red-headed virgin. And a curse.

Alex will have his hands full honoring the first, seducing the second and breaking the third … all by Twelfth Night.

Want a Highlander for Christmas? Order yours now!

Print: Amazon | B&N | BAM | Indiebound | BookDepository
Ebooks: Kindle | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | ARe

Want to try a taste? Start reading now…

Mia will give away a print edition of Plaid Tidings to a lucky commenter. To enter, leave a comment or question for her. Or answer a question of your own: Famous or not, living or dead, who do you most want to see in a kilt?

ETA: Michelle Fidler wins the giveaway of Plaid Tidings! Please contact Mia with your mailing address, so she can get your prize off to you. And thanks for stopping by!

And catslady wins the giveaway of A Song at Twilight over on Mia’s blog. Please contact me with your mailing address, so I can send you the book. Thanks for participating!

Spotlight: Mary Jo Putney (Book Giveaway of Sometimes a Rogue )

Welcome to what I hope will become a regular feature on this blog–the Spotlight column, focusing on guest authors–whether longtime favorites or brand-new faces–and their works. This week, for the maiden voyage, I’m delighted to host an author whose books I’ve loved since I was a wet-behind-the-ears graduate student, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting at last summer’s RWA conference in Atlanta: Mary Jo Putney.

MJP-1579HR-Color--pic1Here, Mary Jo talks about her newest release, Sometimes A Rogue, which came out in late August, and her long career as a romance author.


 1. What was the inspiration for Lady Agnes Westerfield’s Academy and how did his experiences there shape your hero, Rob Carmichael?

MJP: I find the idea of deep male friendships sexy, at least partly because it demonstrates that they are loyal and capable of emotional connection.  In my Fallen Angels series, the core characters met at Eton, where they became family for each other, since each of them needed that.

When I was thinking about a premise for a new Regency series, I wanted to do something similar, but different.  The Westerfield Academy takes that male bonding idea and ups the stakes.  When I thought of the school’s tagline, “for boys of good birth and bad behavior,” I knew I had a winner. <G>

Boys end up with Lady Agnes, who is a generous and accepting foster mother to them all, not necessarily because they are delinquents, but because they aren’t fitting the molds their families or society want.  Rob Carmichael is the despised son of an earl’s young second wife.  His relationship with his father is bad and with his older brother, worse.  At the Westerfield Academy, he makes loyal friends, develops a solid sense of himself, and the ability to adapt to whatever life sends him—and it sends him a lot!

2. Several of your novels feature identical twins with complex relationships who end up changing places–Kit/Kira in Dancing on the Wind, and Dominic/Kyle in The Wild Child. How does Sarah and Mariah’s relationship compare to those of your other twin pairs and what do you find especially appealing about “trading places” trope?

MJP: Identical twins fascinate because they look alike and have many traits in common, yet they are distinct individuals.  Unlike Kit and Kira and Dominic and Kyle, Sarah and Mariah were raised apart, and Mariah didn’t even know she had a twin.  Since they meet as adults, in some ways they have a less complicated relationship: they can just be friends and enjoy the bond that immediately manifests.

As for the trading places, it’s always a fun plot device.  Again, Kit/Kira and Dominic/Kyle are different because they exchange places while they’re among people who know them.  When Sarah substitutes herself for her very pregnant sister, she is among people who don’t know her, but her situation is dangerous, unlike the other twin pairs.  Luckily, she’s a lady if not a duchess, so she can carry off the substitution fairly easily.  Other than being in desperate peril, of course!

 3. What would you say were your hero and heroine’s strongest/weakest traits, and what makes them the perfect match for each other?

MJP: Both Rob and Sarah are resilient and able to deal with life well, but they’ve become too good at “settling” for what they have.  Deep-seated emotional insecurities that make it difficult for them to give and receive love, so they think love is something they won’t have.  Because they have similar issues, they move rather slowly and warily into love.  But Rob is tough and smart and honorable, and Sarah is sunny-tempered and intrepid, so shared adversity sets them on the road to a deep and lasting love.

 4. Your Fallen Angels series–perhaps your best-known work–consists of seven books: the stories of the four “angels” themselves and three of their friends/relatives. Your Lost Lords series has the potential to be even longer. What do you do to keep a series fresh, for you and your readers?

MJP: I don’t focus on the beau monde social scene, so the stories and characters can be quite different.  Also, I don’t draw in earlier characters unless they serve a real story function, so in each new book, you won’t see everyone who has come before; that would boring.  As you say, the Lost Lords series could go on indefinitely, since schools keep getting new classes of students. <G>

 5. As this year’s recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, what is the most valuable piece of advice you would offer writers at the beginning of their career?

MJP: Go for quality over speed, and work both hard and smart.  I think that having a long term career writing fiction requires resilience and an ability to roll with the punches even more than it requires talent.  Talent is fairly common, but it’s tenacity that keeps an author standing for years.

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this new feature!

MJP: Thanks for having me, Pamela!

Comment before midnight PST, October 13,  for a chance to win a copy of Sometimes A Rogue. The winner will be notified by email.

81abjMpj4RL._SL1500_Even the most proper young lady yearns for adventure. But when the very well bred Miss Sarah Clarke-Townsend impulsively takes the place of her pregnant twin, it puts her own life at risk. If the kidnappers after her sister discover they’ve abducted Sarah instead, she will surely pay with her life…

Rob Carmichael survived his disastrous family by turning his back on his heritage and becoming a formidable Bow Street Runner with a talent for rescuing damsels in distress. But Sarah is one damsel who is equal to whatever comes. Whether racing across Ireland with her roguish rescuer or throwing herself into his arms, she challenges Rob at every turn.


Mary Jo Putney was born in Upstate New York with a reading addiction, a condition for which there is no known cure.  After earning degrees in English Literature and Industrial Design at Syracuse University, she did various forms of design work in California and England before inertia took over in Baltimore, Maryland, where she has lived very comfortably ever since.

While becoming a novelist was her ultimate fantasy, it never occurred to her that writing was an achievable goal until she acquired a computer for other purposes.  When the realization hit that a computer was the ultimate writing tool, she charged merrily into her first book with an ignorance that illustrates the adage that fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Fortune sometimes favors the foolish and her first book sold quickly, thereby changing her life forever, in most ways for the better.  (“But why didn’t anyone tell me that writing would change the way one reads?”)  Like a lemming over a cliff, she gave up her freelance graphic design business to become a full-time writer as soon as possible.

Since 1987, Ms. Putney has published over forty books and counting.  Her stories are noted for psychological depth and unusual subject matter such as alcoholism, death and dying, and domestic abuse.  She has made all of the national bestseller lists including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USAToday, and Publishers Weekly.  Five of her books have been named among the year’s top five romances by The Library Journal, while three were listed in the Top Ten Romances of the year by Booklist, published by the American Library Association.

A ten-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA, she has won RITAs for Dancing on the Wind and The Rake and the Reformer and is on the RWA Honor Roll for bestselling authors.  She has also been awarded two Romantic Times Career Achievement Awards, four NJRW Golden Leaf awards, plus the NJRW career achievement award for historical romance.  In 2013 she was awarded the Romance Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

Though most of her books have been historical romances, she has also published three contemporary romances, several paranormal historicals with strong fantasy elements, a young adult historical fantasy trilogy, and numerous novellas and short stories.  She is currently writing the New York Times list bestselling Lost Lords historical romance series for Kensington.

Ms. Putney lives near Baltimore, Maryland with her nearest and dearest, both two and four footed.  She says that not least among the blessings of a full-time writing career is that one almost never has to wear pantyhose.

Visit her on the web at maryjoputney.com

ETA: Sandy wins the giveaway of Sometimes A Rogue! Please contact me with your mailing address so your prize can be sent to you as soon as possible.

RWA 2013: Parting Thoughts

P07-17-13_08.32Almost two months after the RWA conference in Atlanta, I have finally collected my thoughts enough to offer some kind of postmortem on those intense 4-5 days. At least to compile a list of the things I am most likely to remember–from the serious to the frivolous, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

So, in no particular order:

15 Things I Discovered While in Atlanta for the Conference

1. More than 2000 people in an enclosed space, even one as large as the Marriott Marquis, generate a powerful amount of noise.

2. Atlanta natives can be the nicest, most helpful people imaginable–from the security guard who personally escorted me across the skybridge from the Hilton to the Marriott so I’d know how to get there to the woman on the street corner who gave Hopelessly Lost, Confused Me the clearest, most comprehensible directions to my intended destination. (Yes, there were some folks who were less than helpful and a few that were downright rude, but by and large, I was favorably impressed by “the kindness of strangers.”)

3. Mary Jo Putney, a historical romance author whose work I’ve long admired, is as classy and gracious in person as her books and blogs suggest. Not only did she provide a lovely quote for my soon-to-be-released book, she invited me to sit at her table during the RITA Awards ceremony on Saturday night when she received the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. I was delighted to accept, and met several other authors that evening, including Cara Elliott and Jo Beverley, who were also very gracious. Romance is a very welcoming community, on the whole.

4. RITA awards are heavy–yes, I got to hold Ms. Putney’s for a few seconds. The metal ones presented today are manufactured by the same company that manufactures the Oscars. (According to Eloisa James, they used to be made of chocolate.)

5. Kristan Higgins, the contemporary romance author, is a terrific public speaker, delivering a sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching talk on how romance novels comforted and sustained her during some of her most difficult times.

6. Cathy Maxwell, the historical romance author, is no slouch either: she spoke movingly of a man who’d been a brilliant artist but who lacked the confidence in himself even to sign his name to his works.

7. A hybrid career–combining traditionally published and indie-published works–has much to recommend it, at least in theory. Especially if you have a head full of stories, some of which might be too offbeat to appeal to mainstream publishers.

8. Forms of social media are more numerous and confusing than ever. (This may not be news to anyone else, but I felt obscurely comforted to know I wasn’t the only person bewildered by Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and their ilk.)

9. There are more ways to get your work out there and in front of readers than could have been imagined just a few years ago.

10. No one understands a writer quite like another writer.

11. Book signings can be feeding frenzies, especially when the books are free.

12. The Georgia Aquarium–the world’s largest, apparently–is all kinds of awesome, especially the Cold Water gallery that houses sea otters, beluga whales, and South African penguins.

13. Don’t set foot outside in Atlanta during the summer without looking out the window first. Checking the Weather Channel beforehand is probably a good idea too.

14. The “plane train” at the intimidatingly large Atlanta airport is a great way to get from place to place. (I just wish I’d known about it before I walked the 100 miles or so from the terminal to domestic baggage claim on my arrival.)

15. Writing is the wellspring from which everything flows. A simple but fundamental truth that can too often get lost in the flurry of marketing, promotion, and social media. And yet this is something that every writer emphasized in every session in which the subject arose. Tell your stories. Tell them to the best of your ability. Protect the work. Don’t let being an author get in the way of being a writer. Nora Roberts was particularly vehement on the subject, saying that one mistake she thinks beginning writers are making is focusing too much on “market, market, market” and not enough on “story, story, story.” Words to live by, Ms. Roberts.

Well, that’s all for Atlanta, folks! Maybe a year from now, I’ll have a similar list for the San Antonio conference. Hope to see some of you there!

RWA 2013, Part 2: Baptism by Thunderstorm


Rain in Downtown Atlanta, photo by callison-burch

Contrary to the ’70s popular song, it does rain in Southern California.

But not like this.

Dumbfounded, I stood in the lobby of my nice, just-slightly-offsite hotel and stared out the sliding glass door at the rain bucketing down from the overcast Atlanta sky.  At the trees lashed by furious gusts of wind. At the bolts of lightning that occasionally flashed overhead.

It hadn’t looked like this an hour ago. I wasn’t sure it had looked like this even half an hour ago. (Memo to self: when you’re staying in a place where the weather is almost notoriously unstable, don’t go anywhere without looking out the window first.)

I was a five minute walk away from the conference hotel, where I was due to participate in a group signing within the next half-hour. In this weather, it might as well have been five miles.

An effort to raise the hotel shuttle driver and ask for a lift to the signing proved fruitless. Flustered but determined, I pulled on a plastic raincoat, grabbed my umbrella, and ventured out into the storm.

Within two minutes, my umbrella had turned inside out, my dress was wet from the thigh down, and my stockinged feet squelched in their sandals. My glasses, streaked with rain, were all but useless for visibility purposes. Buffeted by the wind, which was driving the rain sideways, fearing I’d be knocked flat on my face any second, I took refuge in the foyer of the restaurant next door.

My mind raced furiously, trying to calculate how much time I had to arrive at the signing; whether I had time to change into dry clothes before setting out again (don’t be ridiculous, my subconscious retorted, Outfit #2 will get just as soaked as Outfit #1); whether I could just ride out the storm and show up a little later–or not show up at all, since my absence would probably not even be noticed in a room full of authors (most of them far more well-known than I) and fans.

Call it gumption, stubbornness, or insanity, but I rejected the last idea almost at once. Committed was committed. This was my first signing ever, and I wasn’t going to blow it off, no matter how bad the weather was or how obscure I was. Come hell or high water–and Atlanta was currently providing plenty of both–I was going to that signing. And as close to the scheduled time as possible.

I couldn’t tell if the rain had let up at all, maybe infinitesimally, when I braved the storm again. The wind was still gusty, the precipitation pattering steadily down, but I was already so wet I didn’t notice if I was getting any wetter. My top priority was finding the safest, dryest way to get to the conference hotel.

pedestrianbridge_0110Fortunately, I knew about the skybridges, the enclosed walkways that linked several of the main downtown hotels, including the conference hotel. But which one was closest? I squinted and squelched my way across the street to a business plaza that had a skybridge that led somewhere (the person in charge of security had been somewhat less than helpful about that when I’d asked earlier). But I figured if I took the bridge I might at least end up in a place I recognized, and I could navigate the rest of the way from there.

And so it proved. Even a little better than expected, as I’d thought I might end up in the hotel next door. Instead, I found myself on the atrium level of the conference hotel, the very place where the signing would be held. And there was time for a brief stopover in the restroom to remove my rain gear and tidy myself just enough to eliminate the half-drowned-rat look. Umbrella and raincoat hastily folded and put away in my tote, I hurried into the ballroom with minutes to spare, found and took my seat. My dress was still sopping, the skirts clinging to my legs like sheets of fresh papier-mache. But my cardigan was fairly dry, so I draped it over my knees and pulled the skirt down to cover it. At least I had a bit of insulation now.

And I’d made it. I’d arrived–and on time (barely), at the place where I was supposed to be. That was a victory in itself. And I also had one hell of a “war story” to tell, to anyone interested in listening!

Then the doors opened, the people poured in, and I proceeded to be very busy for the next two hours. Even when you’re not signing many books yourself, you end up watching those who do–what they say, how they conduct themselves, how readers react to them. In all, it was a learning experience every new author should have–though I recommend skipping the thunderstorm part, if you can! (Apropos of which, every now and then, a rumble was heard or a flash was glimpsed through the window blinds. But by the time the signing was over, the storm was a distant memory.)

Recent events have had me reflecting on this experience–not nostalgically, but perhaps philosophically. Because there will always be storms, whether literal or metaphoric. Always things you can’t control, but which affect you anyway.
And when faced with those, sometimes the best you can hope for is a quiet place where you can ride out the storm until everything calms down.

But when that’s not an option, all you can do is fulfill your individual obligations, soldier on, and try to chart your own course through the storm–until you come out the other side, to the place where you’re supposed to be.Rainbow_At_Maraetai_Beach_New_Zealand