Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Relatability at RWA Nationals

This post isn't going to be what you might think from the title. I'm not going to blog about writing relatable characters... Rather, it's a blog about the things that struck me the most at last week's RWA National conference.

#1. Janet Evanovich

She did the opening session and it was a Q&A. Since there were nearly 2000 of us in the room, the questions were on index cards, but she hadn't seen them ahead of time so it was lovely and spontaneous. And what slayed me was finding a moment when I could totally relate to her. No, it wasn't when she talked about how her make up artist was going to kill her because she blew her nose on stage (although that was funny) and seriously? she travels with her own hair and makeup people? Could not relate to that. ;-)

What I could relate to was the reason she had to blow her nose. One of the questions was: How long did it take you to get published? Her answer, more or less, was: it took 10 years after she seriously started writing and submitting romance novels. Makes me feel better about my current 6-7.

When she described the moment she found out she'd sold her first ms (for $2000) she started to cry on stage. I felt so connected to her at that moment. Here's this huge bestseller. A multimillionaire. And it took her AGES to sell her first book, and she still remembers that moment so well it makes her cry. Wow.

#2. J.R. Ward

Whom I adore. She did a 2 hour talk with her CP Jessica Andersen (whom I also adore) and, as usual, they were funny and informative. Such intelligent women who know who they are and are in such command of what they're doing.

But the moment that slayed me in this talk was when pal and frequent DWT visitor Stephanie Doyle, asked J.R. and Jess to talk about the transition of their careers from midlist and/or category into bestsellerdom. And that's when J.R. cried.

She cried because she says she doesn't yet understand "why her"? (her readers could tell her, but that's another matter) But it was so great to see (and have her show) that she's so humble about it all, and understands how hard it is for all of us in this business, no matter at what stage we're at, and that she realizes how lucky she is. She said that the person who sits down each day, at her desk in boxer shorts to write, is still the same "Jessie" who wrote all her other books, but this new persona has emerged who's J.R., and you could tell that, at times, it's still all a little overwhelming for her. Made me tear up, too.

#3. Eloisa James

The strange thing about this one hitting me, is that I've seen Eloisa give the exact same talk before. Her DC speech might have been a combination of two different talks I've heard, but I'm sure I'd heard nearly every main section of the talk. And it's a great talk. The difference for me this time was how emotional she got telling her story and in particular the part about how her mother never accepted what she chose to do for a living.

Her mother, like Eloisa (in her Mary Bly persona), was a professor of literature. So her mom approved of *that* career choice. The difference is that the fiction writing her mother chose to do, in addition to her teaching, was literary short stories, while Mary/Eloisa chose to write romance novels. And it's clear, hearing her talk, that she chose to write romance because she LOVES romance, in spite of her occasional, "I write for money", claims.

I have a similar disapproval thing going on with someone in my family, right now, and it hurts so, so much to have someone you love disrespect what you've chosen to do with your life, and find all these ridiculous arguments to refute your every attempt to explain why you think what you're doing is valuable and not what she thinks it is. That she refuses to even consider that the literary education she got in the early 1980's was not only biased against the genre, but totally out of date. To have someone tell you that the thing that makes you happy isn't worthy or is trash, is so hard. But enough about me.

Eloisa says for years she hid behind the excuse of "I'm just doing it for money" but now admits, that's (mostly) a lie. She writes romance because she loves it. The money's a bonus and has provided a nice justification against all the disapproval from her family. (And, of course, we all know that even in genre fiction, only a very few writers really make much money.) Eloisa says she's Simon and Garfunkel born into the Bach family. Loved that. (Although... wasn't Bach writing popular music in his time??? Still, I get her point.) While she was telling us how her mother, on her death bed, told her she felt sure Eloisa would write a "real book" some day, it was the closest to tearing up I've ever seen this very strong woman, who I've seen speak to groups about emotional events in her life before. I teared up, too.

All in all. It was amazing to find that I had something in common with, some way to relate to, each of these three NYT Bestselling authors. Awesome.

Worth all the money I spent to go to DC? Well...

I won't talk about another highlight (lowlight?) when a certain Pocket editor said she liked the bra I was inadvertently flashing. And I'm not talking straps. Not as bad as it sounds. I hope. You had to be there. At least it matched my temporarily unwrapped wrap dress.


Stephanie Doyle said...

I still can't believe I made her cry... but what was better was her CP basically telling her she was too emotional and to suck it up.

Loved it.


Alli said...

Wish I had been there - I especially would love to have seen Jessica and J.R. bantering. Lucky you! Thanks for posting this. I think when we are unpubbed or at the beginning of our pubbed career we look at those who have "made it" and put them up on a pedastel. But they were us once, and thank goodness they remember how it was and are happy to share their stories. I wonder if many other industries have the strong connection for all people on all the rungs of the ladder. We are in a great industry, and it's nice to be reminded about the human side every now and again. Thanks.
PS - You weren't pitching an erotica MS at the time of said bra flashing, were you?

Maureen McGowan said...

Steph it was so great to see you last week.

Alli... LOL. No. Just drinking in the bar. Actually, I wasn't drinking, but everyone else was. With any luck she won't remember...

Eileen said...

I KNEW I SHOULDN'T HAVE LEFT THE BAR SO EARLY!!!! I can't believe I missed that.

I know what you mean about Janet Evanovich. I loved that moment, too. I am, however, still a little disturbed about my creative jelly squirting out the romance writer hole of my doughnut self.

Also . . . did I miss a chance to meet Stephanie? Darn it all anyway!

out of the wordwork said...

Great post, thank you Maureen. Almost makes up for the pain of not being there and witnessing the talks )and bra flashing!) in person.

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, I think you might've still been around when I was accidentally (and then possibly intentionally) flashing said editor... Just maybe standing and talking to someone.

My bad for not introducing you to Stephanie. She was sitting at the bar that evening, when you guys were over on the sofa thing.

Maureen McGowan said...

Oh, and yes, Eileen. I've been trying to erase that jelly doughnut analogy from my mind. Thanks for putting it back there. ;-)

Kimber Chin said...

Wow, Eloisa had one harsh Mom. I think we all have folks who don't approve of what we do but then, I always figure those folks wouldn't approve no matter what.

Kwana said...

What a beautiful post. Thanks Maureen. Its so good to know that those of us still fighting thru do have so much in common with the bestsellers. And like the others I'm bummed to have missed the flashing!

Flo Moyer said...

Maureen--great post. It gave me goosebumps, and I feel for you with the family thing.

Sara Hantz said...

I wish I'd been there.... plans are already being made to get us to Nashville next year.... hope you'll be there!!!

Eileen said...

My bad. I should have told you that I wanted to meet Stephanie. I'll make sure to mention jelly doughnuts to you once a month or so just to keep the visual fresh.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Hey I got drunk while reading that and it was like I was there! Great post -- great moments. And I must say Maureen - the Mammoth book of Time Travel Romance looks fabulous on this blog! Congrats again!!!

Gail Fuller said...

Thanks for sharing these conference moments. I really enjoyed the post.

I agree – The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance looks amazing. Congrats!

Gail :)

Amy Ruttan said...

Very cool recap Maureen!

Sometimes its nice to know that the huge superstars in our industry are people too, and struggle like we struggle.

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