The Craft Workshops of #RT17

The RT Booklovers Convention is an industry trade show more than writers’ convention. As a result, there are more bloggers, publicists, readers, and vendors than you’ll see at an average RWA event, which takes some focus off the craft of writing in favor of the business and marketing side of things. (And there’s lots of fangirling. See my previous post.) But RT does have craft workshops, even if these tend to be author discussion panels rather than instructional presentations. Learning happens! Let me prove it to you:

What's In A Name Piper Huguley Romantic Times Atlanta

Piper Huguley lead a solo workshop called “What’s in a Name?” in which she discussed onomastics, the linguistic field that studies the origins and history of personal names. She discussed considerations in naming your characters, but she went well beyond online tools—though she gave some of those, too, and I’ve added a few to my character tools site. But her sociological lessons captivated me most. For example, she talked about the history and derivation of gender crossover names. Did you know that Ashley, Beverly, Shirley, and Joyce were originally boys’ names? Many only crossed over to girls in the latter half of the twentieth century. Some are just crossing over now, like Mackenzie and Wyatt. Why? According to Huguley, names can be a symbolic armor or protection. If you have one child, and you want to give her the strongest chance at a successful life in a male-dominated society, you might give her a boys’ name. And there are “born to win” names, taken up by the African-American community when their children could not get the respect they deserved in white society. Earl, for example. Or Lloyd (for Lord). Or Piper’s relative, King Huguley. Or her character Champion Jack. Or Prince. “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” was a legal name change forced by Prince’s dispute with Warner Bros music, but Prince itself was born that way. Prince’s father had the stage name Prince, and he gave it legally to his son—Prince Rogers Nelson—because “I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.” Shivers, right?

Heroines You Can Have It All Alisha Rai HelenKay Dimon Sonali Dev Romantic Times Atlanta

Alisha Rai, HelenKay Dimon, and Sonali Dev led a workshop on “Heroines: You Can Have It All.” They brought up an issue that has always been prickly to me: the “TSTL” (“too stupid to live”) criticism. Readers can be hard on heroines, especially ones who make mistakes. Yet, as HelenKay pointed out, sometimes our characters have to make the wrong choices, especially if those errors fit the character or situation. The key is to allow your heroine to be strong in other ways. Alisha talked about this in terms of “competence porn,” à la My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In that wonderful show, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is an utter mess with relationships, but she is a bloody brilliant lawyer. Actually, she is a casually brilliant lawyer because it almost seems to take no effort. She’s just that good. She puts relatively little thought into her job until she needs to save the day, and then—whoosh, she’s stunning. When the show goes back to her personal life, though, she is still a freaking mess. She’s a relatable heroine, but still one we admire (most of the time). Sonali Dev talked about a different problem: turning the reader’s knee-jerk pity into a heroine’s weapon. Instead of making her heroine Mili a stereotypical child bride, she let Mili own it. Mili essentially says, “Okay, I’m a child bride—promised but not yet married. And instead of pouting about it right now, let me use that status to get educated and do what I want to do first.” This kind of nuance is really inspiring.

Bangin Hot Betas Karen Stivali Vanessa North Annabeth Albert Tamsen Parker Romantic Times Atlanta

Another great workshop was “Bangin’ Hot Betas” with Karen Stivali, Vanessa North, Annabeth Albert, and Tamsen Parker. They write hot, hot books—and they give good workshop, too. The big point was that beta does not mean boring. In fact, you can mine more complexity with a beta character but still get all the feels. The “let me teach him a thing or two in the bedroom” is pretty sexy, if you think about it. Betas can be more self-aware, more concerned for their partner’s needs, and more vulnerable. The authors acknowledged that pitching a beta hero is difficult, but their advice was to focus on what is awesome about the hero. Don’t highlight the beta bit—just write it that way. Like any book, get the tension and stakes high. Write it with the best dialogue and the hottest romance, and use those attributes to market the book. The reader may not even know why she loves the hero so much, but the point is that she does!

Historicals Welcome to Americana Beverly Jenkins Alyssa Cole Piper Huguley Joanna Shupe Kianna Alexander Kate McMurray Romantic Times Atlanta

I also loved the “Historicals: Welcome to Americana” workshop, but my notes were a little more sparse because I was too awestruck to really process everything that was being said. Why? Let me tell you the panel: Beverly Jenkins (our 2018 NECRWA Master Class presenter!), Alyssa Cole, Piper Huguley, Joanna Shupe, Kianna Alexander, and Kate McMurray. The latter two I have not read yet, but I plan to. They talked about all sorts of issues I care about, including the need to allow for a more representative slate of characters in more varied time settings, especially in American history. Ms. Bev said that a reader once told her that she couldn’t imagine an HEA between African-Americans in the nineteenth century. Ms. Bev rightly pointed out: “Even in the toughest times, people still love, still have birthday parties, still have picnics.” So true. While we all love our Regency historicals, we have to acknowledge that the real Regency period was one engulfed in war. We don’t get that in our costume dramas, which are significantly based upon Georgette Heyer’s description of the Regency rather than real history. For example, even Jane Austen spent much of her life not in the bucolic countryside—or even in Bath—but in Southampton, a “dock town filled with public drunkenness, street prostitution, and violence.” If you, like me, appreciate a little real history thrown into your entertainment, Camille Hadley Jones and I discuss this kind of thing in our new Facebook group, History Ever After. Come on by!

Smart Bitches Trashy Books Reader Recommendation Party Sarah Wendell Romantic Times Atlanta

There were many great reader events, but one that really stood out was the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books Reader Recommendation Party. Here’s how it went: the Bitches gave a book recommendation each—with reasons—and then we readers got a chance. Sarah Wendell came around with her mic and briefly interviewed us on what we liked and why. Here’s the thing: Sarah is funny. Correction: Sarah is freaking hilarious. I imagine that doing a podcast for so long has sharpened her quick wit, but part of it is talent, plain and simple. What fun! Those who made recommendations got extra raffle tickets. (We had each started with one, if you were keeping score.) After a bunch of book recs, raffle prizes were awarded. Then rinse and repeat. I got to give one recommendation—just one, and it was so hard to choose! But I had to pimp #romanceclass, so I chose one that had both Manila and millennial feels, so I went to one of my favorites: Mina V. Esguerra’s Iris After the Incident. There was a lot of good book noise (“oooohhh”) when I described it, so I hope lots of people bought it! If you want to know more, read my review here.

These were just a few of the offerings in Atlanta. If I did not mention a panel or workshop, I probably just could not get to it. Despite all the awesomeness above, I actually spent most of my time at marketing or industry workshops, which will be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned!

Save the Date: New England Chapter RWA Conference April 7-8, 2017

I’m a planner of novels but not an event planner. The whole idea frightens me, in a flying-through-a-narrow-trench-on-the-Death-Star-to-find-its-only-vulnerable-point-while-there-are-TIE-fighters-everywhere kind of way.

But when friends in NECRWA, the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America, came forward with great ideas for next year’s Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference, I wanted to be a part of their success. With a group like this, how can you go wrong?

An Inside Look at the Committee

These are only a few of the full-length novels produced by this talented group. Follow author links below to buy books. I recommend them all!

The real leader of our charge is Kristen Strassel, one of the most innovative and prolific independent authors I know. We joined NECRWA the exact same month: January 2013. Since this time, she’s published at least 26 books by my last count, in both the paranormal and contemporary subgenres. (In contrast, I’ve published two books in one subgenre.) The woman gets shit done, so it is not surprise we asked her to take the reins. She’s also a talented makeup artist by day (and sometimes by night, too).

I’m the vice chair, which means I give encouragement on vice to the chair. Okay, I can do that.

Jen Doyle is the registration chair. Before you say, “I’ve read Calling It, and this is one funny woman. Why did you give her such a boring job?” please do know that she wanted it. She’s got day job skills, you see. And she’s organized. I mean, have you seen her Facebook parties? If not, join her and two other great authors this Monday, August 29th, here, for the release of her second novel by Carina Press. Jen writes sexy and clever sports romance with small-town feels.

Our workshop chair is Stephanie Kay, who just released her debut novel, Unmatched, to great acclaim: 4.9 out of 5.0 stars on Amazon! Holy reviews, Batman! Steph’s biting sense of humor comes through in her writing, but it also makes her a lot of fun to work with. She’s passionate about bringing together the most innovative and helpful workshops possible. If you’re interested in presenting at our great conference, email her at conference_workshops@necrwa.org or submit an online form here.

Our agent and editor chair is Tamsen Parker, who writes emotionally intense BDSM erotic romance, or “elegant superfilth.” Believe me, it delivers on all those promises. Her experience as an agented hybrid author gives her great insight into all facets of our industry, which is why she was the natural choice for A&E. And if you could just see her desk calendar and washi tape, you would know that she has her act together. She puts the elegant in superfilth.

Kari Lemor is our book fair chair, when she’s not working as secretary of our chapter! She had her first novella published as a part of the Beautiful Disaster Anthology, and she has three novels coming out soon from Kensington. She’s one to watch, and she’s a super sweet person, too!

Finally, you’re not going to find this on our conference webpage, but here’s a scoop for you. We have two more committee members-at-large: Teresa Noelle Roberts and Alexa Rowan. Both have been incredible supportive to me over the last few years. Teresa is a veteran author of fantastic paranormal, science fiction, and erotic romance, yet she was kind enough to take newbies like me under her wing. I’ve beta-read her latest release, Buck, Naked, and it is a cheeky, suspenseful sci fi interracial romance with loads of sexy. Just dreamy.

Some newbies make a splash: Alexa won the 2015 RWA Golden Heart award (a big effin’ deal for unpublished romance writers) for Best Short Contemporary Romance. Check out the winning book, Winning Her Over, for yourself. She writes swoony romance for the professional woman featuring hot lawyers, sexy massages, and smart plots. She’s our resident perfectionist, too, so any typos in this post are mine and mine alone.

That’s the gang. We write different stuff. Some of us are cat people. Some are dog people. At least a few of us are bird people (including chickens). But you’ll have to trust me on this: we get on really well. It’s awesome how much we like each other, and this chemistry will infect every minute of the conference. You gotta come.

The Speaker Teaser

Did I mention that we have an amazing line up? First, there’s Joanna Bourne, our keynote speaker, who has no idea that she was a key influence in my own writer-origin story. Her Spymaster Series takes place in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars—and, as a professional historian, I have to tell you, these books are amazing. I have one name for you: Hawker. You’ll find out.

Joanna’s latest novella is in a delightful anthology called Gambled Away, and guess what? Our Master Class teacher, Molly O’Keefe, is in it with her! (And check out that cover below. It’s one of my favorites of all time. I wish it was mine.) Molly writes historical, erotic, contemporary, and category romance—all sizzling. She’s won two RITA awards (a big effin’ deal for published authors) and some Romantic Times kudos, too. You don’t want to miss this chance to pick her brain.

Last but not least, we will be wowing you at lunch with Zoe York. What a repertoire this woman has. Small town romance? SEALs? Vikings in Space? Yes, please. And, if you want something a little more naughty, check out her alter ego, Ainsley Booth. This woman has got you covered…um, literally. I mean, check out those covers!

Sign me up, you say? Stay tuned at our Facebook page for all the latest information on registration and the workshop program. See this and more links below. We look forward to seeing you in April.

It may be premature for thanks, but who cares? Thank you to all the great NECRWA committees that paved the way, and a special shout out to the Board of Directors for their guidance, support, and enthusiasm. The current board includes Myretta Robens (president), Patricia Grasso (vice president), Jackie Horne aka Bliss Bennet (treasurer), and Kari Lemor (secretary, as linked above).

I could go on and on, but those books in your pile are not going to read themselves. Or maybe you’ve got audio editions and they will. Just go do it!

Conference & Chapter Links

Conference Facebook page

New England Chapter of RWA Conference Page

Conference Twitter: @NECRWA

Conference Instagram: necrwa