Are you heading to a romance writing conference next month? Do you have a group of friends you meet up with there? Heidi Rice and Carolyn Hector reveal how they found their tribe.
Heidi Rice - How I Found My Tribe
Way back in 2008, a year after getting published by Mills and Boon, I somehow managed to final in the RITAs with my second book (something I was more excited about then than I am now, but that’s another story). As soon as I got the call I decided it was the perfect excuse to go to my first RWA conference. I’d never been to any other writing conferences before and I knew this was going to be a baptism of fire. I didn’t really know any other M&B authors, I was going on my own to San Francisco and I was too cash-strapped to stay in the conference hotel so I’d booked a budget hotel opposite…
Now, I’m a pretty confident person, I love travelling – particularly in the US - and I’d been to SF before, but my first day I was TOTALLY OVERWHELMED. In a good way – it was exciting, and exhilarating, and the workshops were cool – but also in a crap way, because I was hideously jet-lagged and I was lonely… All these writers knew each other and were hanging out in groups and I did not know anyone. Cue the violin solo… Plus, I didn’t really consider myself a proper writer… I mean how the heck had I actually got published, and that RITA final, total fluke!?
Then I met Daisy Cummins, aka Abby Green.
I think we originally got chatting at a meet and greet arranged by Harlequin. She’s Irish, my Dad was Irish. She wrote for Modern, I wrote for Modern Heat. She had got the call a scant six months before me. She used to work in film production, I was a film reviewer. This was her first RWA conference too. Seriously if Tinder had existed at the time we would have been an obvious match. Most important of all, we made each other laugh, we loved to gossip and she was as out of her depth as I was with the whole ‘let’s pretend like we’re proper authors’ thing. Daisy though, also knew tons more M&B peeps than I did. So I latched onto her like superglue and she took me under her wing, introduced me around.
An amazing four days ensued. We went off to visit one of her non-writer friends for a really cool evening in the hills. We spent far too long each evening in the bar chatting and got into some bother behaving badly at the Harlequin Party which almost ended both our careers prematurely – well, there was free-flowing fizz and a man in a kilt, what the heck did they expect in fairness!! I didn’t win the RITA thank god, because when the prize was actually announced I so did not want to have to get up on stage and manufacture a speech from thin air…
Ever since those halcyon days in Frisco, Daisy has been my wingwoman, my bitch, and my best writing mate. And I hope I’m hers. We’ve been on pilgrimages to Inverness to stalk Diana Gabaldon, to Connemara to stalk Nora Roberts, to writing retreats in Wexford and Wales, hung out in luxury hotels in London and her house in Dublin drinking far too much prosecco and been conference buddies everywhere from Sheffield to San Antonio. She’s there whenever I need advice, a hug when my career hits a rough patch, if I need a really good laugh, or to help get us both lost because she can’t read a map properly.
I couldn’t have got this far without her and if either one of us ever actually wins a RITA, apart from it being a miracle, she’ll be the first person mentioned in my thank you speech (and I better bloody well be first in hers!)
Since meeting Daisy in that first ever conference experience, we’ve managed to expand our conference buddies group to include the wonderful and wise Iona Grey, the fabulous Fiona Harper and the equally fabulous Susan Wilson. Not to mention the inimitable Sharon Kendrick. Frankly I could not survive in this business without them all for laughs, brilliance and support.
So my advice to any new writers out there considering going to their first conference? Find a friend who makes you laugh and who has the same view of this game as you do, then hang onto them. Writing is a solitary often challenging profession, you need your tribe with you to survive it, and especially when you go out in the wild.
Heidi Rice's latest book, Claiming My Untouched Mistress, is out now. You can find out more about Heidi's writing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and at HeidiRice.com. She also tutors an online course for writers called Writing Romance.
Carolyn Hector - To Buddy Or Not To Buddy
My buddy story is a bit different than most. I’ve gone from reader-buddy groups to writer-buddy groups.
Picture it! Orlando, 2017… I attended my first RWA…. Wait… let me back this up… we’re talking way back, over sixteen/seventeen years ago...
Picture it! Orlando…2001…Romance Slam Jam. I once reached out to an Amazon reviewer to recommend other books since we seemed to love and devour the same authors. She introduced me to this Yahoo group called Color of Love. It was a chat group that introduced me to a bevy of smart, sophisticated, professional women who also loved romance books mainly of the African-American kind because there weren’t as many authors way back then. We all chatted. Some of us read the posts right then, some the next morning. It wasn’t instant but it was, at least for me, my first experience with social media.
The woman I met, Betty Williams, opened my eyes to the world of romance conferences. Romance Slam Jam. Talk about star struck! Brenda Jackson was the author host, Brenda Woodbury the reader aficionado helped and I got to meet Miss Emma Rodgers (read the history of RWA). Gwen, Jeanette, Lisa, Angel, Phyllis, Pat, Trinette, Michele and Betty (may these last two RIP) are my girls. The ten of us have met up off and on over the years, exchanged Christmas cards, and we know all about each other’s families. We make it a point to stay in contact. These ladies are my rock and I’ve dedicated a book or two to this group. To this day we all think of each other when we hear Whitney Houston’s song, Shoop Shoop. Ahhh, good times good times! They brought the extrovert out of me. But when I am alone... I revert back to the introvert.
Case in point, my 2nd Romance Slam Jam that took place in Atlanta. Here I am, an introvert (until you know me) arriving alone at RSJ. I walked into the room and felt the daggers thrown my way from a lot of the tables, the music coming to a halt like as if the DJ scratched the album to stop it, conversations ended, the room grew hot and I truly tested the strength of my antiperspirant (okay okay, maybe I am a little self-conscious about how it all happened). What I do remember was Brenda Jackson coming directly over to me to embrace me in a hug and welcome me back. My reading buddies had a seat waiting for me. Words cannot express that wonderful welcoming feeling.
After that I took my writing career serious—twelve years later I found myself published. I attended RT (Romantic Times) for the first time in Atlanta. It was great. I saw all my favorite authors at their book signings, met up with my Shoop Shoop Crew, and soon realized, I needed to do more, because the friends I met up there were like me, readers. I needed to do something with writers.
Picture it! RWA 2017, Orlando Florida (side note—I just realized all four of my conferences were in just two cities. This year I’m going to change it up and attend #RWANYC).
So the other conferences were readers bonding with authors. RWA is authors bonding with authors, publishers, editors, the establishment, and workshops. My first conference I was out of my element. I had that same new girl feeling all over again. I realized just how much of an introvert I am. The local writing buddies from my area ended up not going to RWA so I walked in alone. The insecurities took over the first day. OMG these are totally all my favorite authors (my real first imposter syndrome experience). Everyone is better than me. No one knows me. The people I do know don’t have time for me. I legit had a friend tell me just outside the luncheon to go on inside and find a spot to sit anywhere. The group I did know already had seats together. Everyone I “knew” from Facebook and Twitter who said they were going and looked forward to seeing everyone was busy catching up with their friends that THEY made years before. It is a vicious cycle. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. All it took was one friendly extrovert (Dana Nussio) to basically say, “Hey, you… come dance with me!”
Do you have to go with a buddy to a conference? No, but it does help to have that friendly person. But RWA is for other writers and there are so many different workshops to attend that unless you and your buddy are writing the exact same thing, you can’t realistically be joined at the hip. It is nice to know there’s someone you can stand next to. My goal for this upcoming conference is to be someone’s Dana.I am tempted to grab a flag like a camp counselor that says, “Introverts & Ambiverts Meet Here!” Oh wait! I did sign up to do a write up for PHS for thoughts after the national conference, maybe I’ll use that as my super-hero cape to speak to people. Woo hoo!
I look forward to meeting everyone! And y’all can stand by me, sit at my table, or whatever you want when you see me!
Carolyn Hector's latest book, His Southern Seduction, is out now. You can find out more about Carolyn's writing on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and at CarolynHector.com.
Have you found your conference tribe? Are you heading to a conference next month to meet up with them or are you a first-timer who is a little nervous about going? Let us know in the comments or join the #MyTribe discussion on our Social Media