San Francisco: 2008

Romance Writers of America had their national convention -- I mean, conference -- in San Fran this year so I thought I'd mosey over and check out (among other things) the Pacific Ocean, which I'd never seen. Started getting my ticket$ for everything in February or so, warned the folks at work beginning in January about it -- and still work came down to the wire.

I actually took the plane ride very well both coming and going. Four hours isn't that bad on a plane where there's no turbulence. The short hop to Cinci was even more interesting because the TVs kept giving us our GPS position, which was almost hypnotic.

On the way out from there the lady sitting next to me had a toddler, whom she said had caused a ruckus on her previous leg. This time he kept quiet the entire time... but to ensure that she had to keep moving. Crouch up and hold him, sit down and hold him, shift him around, crouch up and stick her rear end in my face, etc etc. Finally the two fell asleep.

The RWA Conference. (below)
Just the San Francisco Tour, please.

Got the taxi with a bunch of other romance writers and took what seemed quite a bit longer ride into town than the ride would be back out. I was astounded that so much of the housing in the area was acre upon acre of horrible little boxes.

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

—words and music by Malvina Reynolds; copyright 1962 Schroder Music Company, renewed 1990

That song came to my mind because it was so literally true. Lo and behold -- it was written because Ms. Reynolds was riding in the same area! Shazam!

The hotel, the downtown Marriott — wowser, wowser! I even tipped the maid! Gorgeous place, such a friendly staff! (Except for the one taxi-hailing guy, but I thought he was having a friendly, flirtatious and quite leisurely conversation with the lady in front of the line from me and wasn't involved in getting her a taxi, which I desperately needed at the time. Maybe he can be excused if I can be excused by ignorance.)

The bellboy who took my bags to the room was gorgeous and young, the perfect tall blond image of California Surfer Dude. He asked me where I was from. "Raleigh," I said, thinking that that would be a familiar landmark and not too far off from the real thing.

He gave me a blank look. "North Carolina," I added. Again with the blankness. "Sorry, never heard of it," he said and then ventured, "Is that a state?"

I tried a different tack. "Raleigh's the place Barney Fife went to party."

He shrugged and said, "I watch Lucy instead."

Ah, the American educational system! Our future is in good hands.

Actual men are part of the crowd at the RitasThe hotel was jam-packed with women (and a few men) writers. I never did get to sit at the bar and shmooze, which is how you're supposed to network at these things, because all seating was full. The hotel itself was a maze. I never took the right direction to my room from the elevator. Did I imagine it, or did the signs with the arrows only appear on the second day of the conference?

Only ran into members from my chapter sporadically. Kept seeing Sabrina Jeffries with her agent firmly by her side. Kept running into Nancy Northcott, who always knows everyone and who had a more-than-full schedule and lots of people running up to her asking Important Questions. Other than that... no one to hang around with. (Note to self: next time bring Listerine.)

I was mainly after editor/agent appointments. I'd already gotten an agent reserved and with very little trouble tacked on an editor as well. The agent let me get two sentences into my spiel and then interrupted me with a series of questions that for the most part I assured her had nothing to do with the content of the book. She told me that a book whose protagonists were 12 years old would only appeal to 10 YOs, which would be a very limiting and undesirable audience. That my book was far too long for that audience, that the first Harry Potter wasn't nearly that long and people forgot. That setting the story in Alexandria, Egypt, would be entirely too confusing to young readers and need so much backstory that the book's story itself would be lost. That this and that that, and none of that stuff had anything to do with my book.

She smiled and told me sorry.

1. I know the theoretical audience for kids' books, thanks. Harry Potter was 11 in his first book and managed to snag a few readers. Septimus Heap and his half-sis were 11 in their first book.

2. Harry Potter, Septimus, Artemis Fowl, and those kids from So You Want to be a Wizard all started out with books about the same length as mine. Tiffany Aching, age 9, went through at least 50 more pages than my kids do. They've all done okay.

3. And furthermore... Well, I got so depressed at first after this that I attended a "Women Warrior Writers" workshop about rejections that fired me up and made me realize that this particular agent was an idiot who didn't know her market much less how to relate to her clients and thank goodness I hadn't signed up with her!

Editor appt: I knew this editor wasn't in the right genre—don't hit me!—but she was with the right company, one who never takes queries. I wanted to ask her if there was a way around that rule as we at RWA are often told there is. She assured me that her division had zero contact with the main company and she had no idea who was who over there or how they ran things. I wished her a good rest of the convention, hoped that she would forget me in two minutes, and scurried out with my notebook covering my face.

I'd never been to an RWA literacy book signing before. They used three ballrooms to seat everyone and just about anyone who was anyone was there. (I did spot some missing authors, mostly from my local chapter.) I got to gush before Julia Quinn, who actually REMEMBERED ME!!! from being in NC, and similarly got to say some appreciative words to Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Both ladies were incredibly gracious and seemed to take the praise well and as genuinely given, as I'd intended.

I bought some books from some authors who looked lonely and with whom I unfortunately made eye contact. Someday I'll probably be in this position, I reasoned.

Publishers have individual book signings in which you don't have to buy the books. Yep, they're free, free, free! This year they scheduled all of these events for the same time slot, and lines were incredibly long since each publisher just had one room each to operate in. By the time I made it through three (I was being picky about bringing books home!), I sighed to a person waiting in line with me, "It's all vampires and XXX sex." She agreed and said how very, very tired she was of such, as I am. But really that's all it was. If it wasn't vampires it was some kind of animal morphing thing, and there were only one or two books during the timeslot that didn't rely on extremely graphic and continuous sex to carry the book. Oh nooo, it's not porn, it's "erotic." And they pretend there's a difference.

I'm not against porn; I'm just against pretending that porn isn't what it is. (Though granted, women's porn is quite different from men's porn. And look here for an even more different take on it!)

Me, I prefer good characters, a solid plot and good writing. I have yet to read an "erotic" novel that had good writing, much less my other two criteria. Imho imho imho.

One day I was standing in line for lunch when I looked over and saw a woman's (pen) name badge with a familiar name on it. I'd seen advertising for her book somewhere but I also knew the name from comics: one of Superman's lower ranks of supporting cast. I asked her if she read DC Comics and she told me I was the first person to catch the link.

After I got back I happened to be on the DC Message Boards when a discussion of that character came up. "Hey, you'll never guess who I met!" I told everyone conversationally. Two weeks later I get a polite but antsy email from said author requesting that I never ever do that again. Legal problems, don't you know. Then why would a person choose such a pen name in the first place, if they were worried about Time-Warner's legions of lawyers? I ask you.

I volunteered to introduce someone at Conference so if you buy the CD-ROM with all the workshops (a best buy for writers! See the links page for info.) I'm the one introducing Pam McCutcheon's "Scene and Sequel" workshop. It was crowded and people kept bankging their way into the small room and banging their way out. Pam knew what she was talking about (an excellent speaker!) but couldn't help when some beginner-level people didn't understand her "let's put together an example chapter from audience suggestions" exercise. I thought it was very clear.

I attended SEP's workshop as well as the "how to make a video of your book" workshop, both of which were not recorded and both of which were FAAAABULOUS!!! Now that I have my book cover I really should get to work making that video.

Were the workshops that much better this year, have I gotten more discerning in my choices, or did I just luck out? I only attended one dismal workshop. Of course my seat was against the wall so I'd have had to crawl over about a dozen people to make my escape. Argh.

Loved the Tor spotlight! (Publishers give "spotlights," where they tell what they're buying and what's about to be published.) What a great speaker the head editor, Heather (mumble mumble last name?) was. When she said that what she was really looking for was something with aliens and spaceships, I almost screamed, "I've got one of those in the works!!!" Instead when I got back I sent off Amazon Magic to them. When I hear back yea or nay (hopefully yea!) I'll send out Applesauce and Moonbeams, and by the time I hear back from that maybe Nothing Personal, my aliens-and-spaceships novel, will be all shined up and purdy and ready to go.

More Rita Awards

The lunches at the con were great — but not $300 for a meal ticket great, which is what they were charging non-conference members. Continental breakfasts were loaded with pastries and muffins and lovely fresh fruit. There was a food court around the corner and down a block that didn’t have a McDonalds or Wendys in sight. You could get Thai BBQ, soup and salads, crepes, sushi, and there was a huge deli where you could get just about anything. Except a good glass of iced tea. (What is it with non-Southerners and the inability to make tea???) I was going to hit the Ghiradellis home store over somewhere around Union Square for a chocolate sundae (I had a coupon) but never made it. Never made it to a gen-u-ine tourist-type SF restaurant either. No time! No time! Every moment was packed right up to the huge awards ceremony Saturday night, for which I'd purchased a STUNNING pink lace dress that you could almost see under my enormous name badge.

As the ceremony began the sound system began to play a certain theme loudly and I laughed. The woman next to me asked and I assured her that they were playing the main theme of Star Trek IV. "It's the one set in San Francisco," I said. "The one with the whales." She sniffed, "I don't watch those kind of movies." She was also completely lost during the film montage that featured famous scenes of SF... which were conspicuously absent any with Dirty Harry or Steve McQueen. (You'll get that joke on the next page.)

Julia Quinn won her category for The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, a marvelous book that everyone should read! Every book is better than the one before. How does she do it?

But the ceremony and chocolate-laden reception ended as well as the conference and I dragged myself off to bed. The tour would begin early the next day.

1 | 2