Monday, September 8, 2008

Finally, A New Post

I've just returned from a long holiday overseas and my brain is beginning to warm up...

Back in July, I flew over to gorgeous San Francisco (picking up four lovely and talented NZ writers Sara Hantz, Amanda Ashby, Ellie Huse and Shelley Munro in Auckland on the way) for Romance Writers of America's annual conference. Shelley's husband had organised for us to travel from SFO to the Marriott in style--with a stretch limo. (A sharp contrast to the shuttle bus I was herded into after the conf.)

In the following five days raged a battle between me and an invisible foe called Jet Lag. However, I still managed to have a terrific time at my first American conference. Most of the workshops I attended were run by YA writers, including the gracious and talented Trish Milburn, who'd recently critiqued my work.

Screenwriters from All My Children and Guiding Light provided memorable insights into writing soaps that translate well into other genres:

* Give your characters a secret--it doesn't have to be revealed to the audience, but it affects the way they see the world and interact with others.
* Make characters dark and find a way to redeem them.
* When you're developing a scene, think of the best and worst things that could happen to the character.
* On soaps, head writers devise plots for a three- to six-month time frame, then breakdown scriptwriters write the episodes. (And sometimes breakdown scriptwriters verge on breakdowns themselves when they have to reincarnate characters who have died in previous seasons.)
* Soap operas were devised by Procter and Gamble to promote their products.

In another workshop, I learned the fundamental differences between a suspense, a thriller and a mystery:
* Suspense novels are all about the anticipation of danger
* Thrillers are about the future
* Mysteries are about the past.

I can't remember who said this, but there's a gap in the YA market for mysteries, thrillers, and books for boys. I also believe Jennifer Klonsky from Simon Pulse is on the lookout for superhero, paranormal, commercial, and fun novels.

Cindi Myers, who's always so generous in passing on market information to fellow writers, had this to say about amping up productivity:
* Don't know where all your time goes? Chart your time on a calendar or planner and ID blocks of time that could be better used for writing.
* Use a ritual to trigger writing time. (For instance, you could play a certain song that inspires you; eat a set number of chocolate bars; whatever works for you.)

Of course, it wasn't all work and no play. The Australian/New Zealand contingent numbered around 30, which I think is a record. One of the biggest highlights was the exclusive Harlequin cocktail party. I scored an invite from Laura, Nora Roberts' publicist, after we volunteered at the registration desk together. And I got to meet la Nora herself! (It was a brief meeting, but a meeting nonetheless!) Harlequin Spice author Cathleen Ross forced me to dance to Bon Jovi and ABBA songs after our indulgent visit to the chocolate fountain.

The conference culminated in the RITA Awards, which really is the equivalent of the Oscars. Sparkly gowns galore. My treasured friend Anna Campbell was up for two awards for Best Historical, and NZ author Emily Gee was also nominated for two awards.

Thank you to:
* Sara, Amanda and Ellie for inviting me to dinners and brekkies, and being wonderful travel companions.
* Marley Gibson for telling me about her ghost-hunting trips. Spooooooky!
* Trish Milburn, Christine Wells, Anna Campbell and all the Banditas for inviting me to their party.
* RWA for a fabulous conference. Great workshops and great people.
* The housekeepers at the Marriott on Fourth Street.
* San Francisco, where I left a piece of my heart and almost lost my wallet.

What I wish I'd done:
* Arrived a few days earlier to get over the jet lag. The last day of the conf was the first time I felt even slightly human.
* Worked up the courage to introduce myself to more authors, especially those I'm in awe of. There's one author I really should've said hi to, but I felt like such a dork.
* This list could get long and boring, so I'll hold it there. Have a look at some pics instead.

The delightful Christine Wells,
whose new release,
The Dangerous Duke, is out now.

Sara Hantz and Wendy Toliver.

Paula Roe, Harlequin author, my website designer,
and all-round fabulous person.

Two Aussie icons: Denise Rossetti and a Tim Tam
(that chocolatey thing on the champers bottle)

(L-R) Shelley Munro, Ellie Huse, Sara Hantz in the limo.

Amanda Ashby, with whom I have so much in common it's scary! 
(But nice!)

The streets of San Francisco.

Me and Anna Campbell.

We're the A Team--crit partners. (L-R) Anna Campbell, 
Cathleen Ross, brand-new Berkley author Kandy Shepherd,
and me wearing an accessory that is more tragic than tres chic.


Trish Milburn said...

Hey, Vanessa. Your post showed up on my Google Alerts. It was lovely to meet you in San Fran, even if it was only briefly. I felt I had about two seconds with everyone.

And didn't I see you'd finaled in a contest this past week, perhaps the Stiletto? Congrats! Your work deserves it.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, V, what lovely memories your post brought up. Wasn't it a fun conference? Glad you had such a great time - wish we'd had more time to chat, though. I kept passing you on the way to somewhere else (the story of my conference!). And congratulations on the Stiletto conference final! As Trish says, you deserve it! Oh, and I'd definitely recommend getting in a little bit early if you possibly can - it makes a huge difference to the conference experience as I discovered after I arrived an hour before the literacy signing for my first conference. Never really found my feet there.

Denise Rossetti said...

I'm an icon, hmm? Pretty funny feeling, let me tell you! LOL It was a great conference, wasn't it? But I felt like it whizzed by at a mile a minute.

Now what you mean about swanning up to the Great and Famous. My Beloved introduced himself to Nora at the Berkley do and did a genuine fanboy thing because he so enjoys her J.D. Robb books. After which, I actually found the courage to slink over and say hello. She was lovely.

And mega-congrats on the Stiletto final. You go, girl!

Authorness said...

Hi, Trish! Thanks for stopping by. I *love* the Caution: Writer at Work mug you sent me. As part of my writing ritual, I fill it with chai tea and get cracking.

Authorness said...

Yes, arriving from Australia an hour before the festivities begin is cutting it a little fine!

I think you and I spent a total of 20 minutes together at the conference! Despite that, It was still a lot of fun, and I was so happy to cheer you on at the RITA Awards.

Authorness said...

Denise, how cool about you, Nora and your hubby! I'm reading a JD Robb too right now.

Thanks for stopping by and for the congrats on the Stiletto! I do wish I got a shot of your famous red heels at the conf. They're gorgeous!

Marley Gibson said...

Hey Vanessa! So wonderful meeting you at RWA and I'm glad you had a blast at your first conference. Dinner was fun and I'm glad you enjoyed the ghost hunting stories! Good luck with your writing!

Marley = )

~ Paula Roe ~ said...

Hey Ness! What a nice surprise to see your familiar face at nationals :) (in and around about 40 other Down Under gals LOL). Good luck on the Stilettos! (oh and what's going on with Denise's leg in that photo??)

Denise Rossetti said...

Hi there, Ms P. Leg? What leg?

I think that's a reflection of my arm. I know for sure I couldn't get my leg (or any leg for that matter) into that position. *chuckle*

Authorness said...

Marley, I was covered in goose bumps when you told me about the spirits in the sanitarium--eeeeek!

Hiya, Paula! It was fabulous to see you there. I have forgiven you for refusing to dance with me and Cathleen. Thanks for the good wishes!