August 2, 2017

postcards from orlando

Last week I spent an action-packed week in Orlando attending the Romance Writers of America's annual conference. RWA provides days of workshops, networking opportunities, agent/editor meetings, and more, all while offering a supportive and creative space for romance authors and readers. This was my first time attending and my head is still spinning as I process everything I learned.

I'd be writing for days if I covered it all, but here are some postcard snapshots of my time at #RWA17.

Never one to pass up a party--or a chance to get some work done--I used my flight from Omaha to Nebraska to work on my book and some blog posts while sipping on a mimosa. There's no better way to work.

The conference was held at the Dolphin Hotel and Convention Center at Disney World in Orlando. While I didn't hit up the parks, I did see a lot of mouse ears.

Our room offered us a truly majestic view. Yeah, not so much. My sister tried to dress it up by saying it was very The Little Mermaid-esque, but my roommates and I called it something else that isn't entirely PG. ;)

I attended a couple of workshops on Wednesday afternoon--one on marketing and one on planning and releasing series. There were a lot of great takeaways from both, and I'll hopefully be putting those into action in the coming months (or years if I go really slowly, which is possible, sigh).

That night, I was thrilled to meet--in person--some of the writing friends I have made online over the years. This is the Chick Lit Chat, crew. From left, that's Rich Amooi, Jax Abbey, Silvi Martin, Becky Monson, Kathryn R. Biel, Melissa Baldwin, Kayla from Book Lover in Florida, moi, and Jennie Marts. After talking to these ladies--and our gentleman--for years, it was fantastic to have dinner with them. The friendships and their support have always felt real, but there's just something about finally getting to meet.

The next couple of days were full of workshops and networking opportunities. So. Much. Good. Information. I also held a couple of meetings with other authors and industry people. The networking alone made this whole conference a win. Everywhere I went, I felt like people got me. And after a couple of drinks during happy hour each evening, I turned into a regular social butterfly. 

I need to give a special shout-out to the women behind Twitter's #RWChat and HBIC Nation. They all made me feel so welcome, and I can't wait to connect with them more online in the months to come.

One of the thrills from this conference was getting to celebrate other authors' success. That included getting to see my local chapter-mate and friend Victoria Alexander's face on boards and screens throughout the four days. She was honored with a Service Award, and I couldn't be more proud of her and everything she does to support other authors and the organization.

Thursday night, I attended the RITA Awards with my date/conference roomie/local accountability buddy. If you aren't familiar, these are basically the Oscars for romance authors. And just like when I watched the Academy Awards, I got a little choked up. It was hard not to with little vignettes celebrating friendships playing throughout the evening and watching so many talented writers receive much-deserved accolades.

And holy smokes, if you ever have a chance to hear Beverly Jenkins speak do it. Don't walk, run to wherever she's talking. She's done so much for the industry and was one of the most genuinely compelling and inspiring people I've ever heard speak. I feel lucky to have stood in the same room as her.

(I also saw her into a hall during the conference, and like a proper awkward fangirl, I promptly walked in the opposite direction mouthing "OMG." I might have worked up the courage to say, "You're amazing," but she was in another conversation, and I didn't trust myself to keep cool while waiting my turn.)

On Friday, I attended an author signing where I had a chance to meet more authors including the funny and sweet Lauren Layne. While I'm a fan of her books--and her weekly newsletter, The Clutch--I had to snap this photo for our mutual friend, Liberty Kontranowski, who unfortunately wasn't able to attend this year.

Also, you can't talk about RWA without mentioning the books. I had to practice serious restraint in picking up freebies to take home. While shipping options are available, I was determined to keep my suitcase under the required weight limit with my books and swag. And, friends, I did it. With a few pounds to spare.

I'm looking forward to discovering new stories from favorite and new-to-me authors. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be passing along some of these stories to some of you readers in the near future...

Friday night was the first time I set foot outside of the hotel room since arriving. We went for a brief walk along the nearby Disney Boardwalk to seek out dinner only to learn our destination was on a super long wait. We ended up walking back to the hotel for pasta, but it wasn't a bad view while it lasted!

On Saturday, I was one of 400 authors who participated in the Readers for Life Literacy Autographing. This annual book signing raises funds to support literacy, and I was honored to be included. I also met a couple of readers while I was there--as well as made friends with new ones. What a wonderful event.

Another highlight from my trip to Orlando didn't include books, but was equally wonderful. I had a chance to hang out with one of my best friends from college, who lives in the area. I hadn't seen her in years and it was my first time seeing her home and meeting her little girl. I spent an evening at her house and then we met for lunch at Disney Springs. This woman has always been one of my greatest supporters since Day 1. I hope we don't wait so long to see each other again.

It probably goes without saying, but I missed my little fur babies quite a bit while I was away. Fortunately I had my sister and mom looking out for Jane and Bingley. They were also good about sending me regular "proof of life" photos to help mitigate any FOMO I had about what was happening on the home front. Can you believe the cuteness in this photo my sister took of Bingley? I swear, that baby angel is the love of my life.

And as we've reached the portion of the blog post where I'm referring to my cats as baby angels, it's probably time for me to get some more rest.

To everyone else who attended RWA, I hope your experiences were just as rich and wonderful. If you weren't able to make it this year, I hope you will in the future. It was a truly rewarding and inspiring experience.

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