Monday, July 31, 2006

Helen's Conference Experience

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”

Okay, maybe my experience wasn’t extreme enough to invoke Charles Dickens, but for me RWA’s national writer’s conference does tend to be a mixed bag of highs and lows. I cry. I laugh. I swing, within the span of a few minutes, between feeling totally anti-social to incredibly lonely for no identifiable reason. One minute I’m exhilarated over a meeting with an editor and the next feeling incredibly insignificant in the face of so much talent.

Sound familiar? I’m glad to know I have company.

This conference was actually a bit different for me in that it was my first as a published author. I was privileged to wear that pale pink first sale ribbon below my nametag. I attended PAN workshops for the first time, met with fellow Superromance authors and my editor, and attended the Harlequin party. While I enjoyed almost each and every minute of it, trust me on this, it was work. I’m now a published author. Everything I say and do can and might be used against me in an editorial meeting.

Dang! I hope no one saw me sneaking that cigarette!

Don’t get me wrong. There were some absolute positives. I got to see friends I haven’t seen for ages, like Debbie Phieffer (pictured left), who I met on a shuttle bus down in Dallas back in 2004. She and I were Golden Heart finalists in the single title contemporary category . This was The Golden Network's booting out reception. I got this cute little golden boot for selling this year!

On top of that, I enjoyed wonderful food and even better wine. Atlanta has great restaurants. Here I am with some friends at an Italian restaurant called Veni Vidi Vici. In the back row from left to right, it's me, Inglath Cooper, and Susan Kay Law. In front, Monica Pradhan, Lisa Hughey-Underwood, and Lisa Gardner.

The Superromance editors took us new authors out to lunch at the South City Kitchen where I had my first fried green tomatoes and enjoyed what must be another southern favorite, buttermilk fried chicken. Needless to say, I was too full for dinner. From left to right, Darlene Gardner, Jeannie Watt, my editor Johanna Raisanen, Kimberly Van Meter, and me.

The speakers were wonderful, the awards ceremony perfect, especially with regard to length and humor, and the people watching was incomparable. To top it all off, I met soooo many wonderful new people. I wouldn’t even know where to begin on that topic!

And even though I was ready to come home, I’m already looking forward to next year and my first book signing at national. Crazy, huh?


Betina Krahn said...

Wow, Helen, I'm impressed! The first day back from conference and you're not only ambulatory and taking nourishment, you're coherent! Great summary of the terrors and delights of conference. And how do you manage to get photos and actually be IN them at the same time?

anne frasier said...

oh, helen. i so remember those violent and frightening conference mood swings!! we should come up with a name for them, exclusive to rwa conferences.

laughing, crying, laughing, crying. even when things are fun the stress level is in the red the entire time. at least for me. combine that with hardly any sleep and look out!

great photos!

i'm glad you're back!

Helen Brenna said...

Betina, hand your camera to waiters, waitresses, and other conference attendees. The pics don't alway work out, but digitals make it so easy to retake.

And Anne, I love your idea of coming up with a name for those mood swings. Maybe the CEOs, Conference Emotion Overload!!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Ah, Helen, your report brings back such memories!

It's been at least a couple of years since I attended National, so the gamut I'm running as I read your post swings from nostalgia to feeling sadly distant.

Those first few conference I attended were much like you describe. I was a double GH finalist the first time, then skipped a year, then a very wide-eyed and excited newbie looking forward to book #2 coming out. I've made so many friends, still working with the same editor I met at that first conference--actually met my agent at that conference, but it would be another 7 years or so before he would come to represent me--had a different one then. I think there were about 500 attendees the first time I went, and the awards banquet was SO disorganized. But my mother was there to see me win my GH.
After the early conferences I did was a regular on the Rita list, did my stint of Board involvement, made more friends. Ah, the memories.

Now I face that old quandry--it's hard to go back after you've stayed away a while. I know it will be fine once I make the commitment and just do it, but each year it gets easier to opt out. And then I feel left out when everyone else is getting ready to go and wishful when they come back.

Does it sound like I'm struggling with being part of the "old guard"? Or is it like falling of the exercise wagon? Once a creature of habit gets out of the habit...

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy, I missed ONE year and felt out of the loop. I can tell you, there were a million old friends there and all kinds of new energy. It wasn't "old guard" time at all! You'd have loved it. Plan to go next year and tear up the town! You'll have plenty of company. . . from writers of "our generation."

anne frasier said...

betina -- i'll bet you don't know that you and i sat at the same table at the awards banquet in st. long ago... well, the year of the big flood, whenever that was.

beth de guzman was our host editor. or whatever. she kept getting up to smoke and the waiter would clear her food so it was always gone when she got back. so she'd just drink another beer. i've never seen anybody put away so much beer without passing out. i was impressed. you told a story and made everybody cry.

Helen Brenna said...

St Louis was my first conference!!

Anne, LOL on that Beth De Guzman's story. I can picture that.

Saturday night everyone kept passing their little wine carafes over to me. And then later when I had to say goodbye to a friend I started sobbing.

I'm glad I'm home!

anne frasier said...

LOL, helen! i do the SAME THING! everytime i had to tell somebody goodbye i would start sobbing like i was at a damn funeral!!! WTF? i even cried when i told an editor goodbye, which is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY embarrassing. like advertising that i'm too unstable to write for them. :O

and st. louis was your first conference? we maybe rode the elevator together! wow. strange to think about.

Helen Brenna said...

It is weird to think about crossing paths with people.

My second conference was when I was a GH finalist in 1994 in NY. Anyone remember me with my 2 1/2 month old baby in tow?

Betina Krahn said...

Yes, Helen, I remember! I had ordered a limo and it turned out to be a stretch limo. Several of us piled in together and we piled your stroller and everybody's luggage in back and set off into the wilds of Manhattan. And everybody wanted to hold the baby!

Helen Brenna said...

Boy, you got that right, Betina. I never had any problems finding someone to hold Dylan. In fact, I almost didn't get him back from Connie Brockway!