Friday, July 24, 2009

Blog 5 of 5!

PLEASE NOTE! This series is about to end. Feel free to pass it along to anyone who needs a good laugh and is considered a conference for the first time.

Now, before I tell you about my experience at pitching to an unknown editor, let me tell you about the Harlequin Ball the night before. Each year, my publisher puts on a ball. They go all out, and this year, it’s extra special because Harlequin is 60 years old. And it’s always held at the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz Charlton. A bunch of us authors climbed into a cab and off we went. Excitement was as high as the heels and nerves were as weak as our bladders. A stop in the restroom was in order.
Whoa. Stop. Pause. Hold on to the moment. The restroom was the fanciest I’d ever been in. They even had towels instead of paper, with which to dry your hands. I asked a fellow author to take my picture.
“Would you like it on the throne?” she quipped.
“No, but this Queen Anne chair in front of the marble make up table and gilded mirror would do just fine.”
Pictures were taken, and we went off into the ballroom. Some incredibly talented and inventive person had chosen the decades theme, with each small bar featuring a bevy of fancy cocktails from that decade. Beside them was a selection of famous desserts from that time period. I had tapioca pudding from the fifties, chocolate fountain from the eighties, and crème brulée from the nineties.
One gal sat down at our table, a long red drink in her manicured hand. “It’s a Singapore Sling! I haven’t had one of these since grad night!”

(Those of you concerned for my well being please note that I did NOT drink any of those that night.)
We danced, sang, “Fame, I want to live forever,” yakked and talked and had a fabulous time.
But at midnight, and each of us being our own Cinderella, we were finally kicked out of the room. I danced my way into the cab, and up to my room, waking up those patient roomies of mine as I sang out “It’s raining men!”, until they shoved me into my jammies and into my bed.
The next day brought a definite need for coffee. I had that editor appointment for which I had been so well prepared. Now, just to find that piece of paper and head off into the bowels of the hotel.
And I mean bowels. It had a row of loading docks, and the first day, we’d all been down there for the literacy signing. Remember me mentioning that? Two thousand plus romance writers, about a third signing books, and line ups for the likes of Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber rivaling Russian lines for soup shortly after the war.
But today, tables upon tables, each a few feet apart, covered in snowy tablecloths, with two chairs. At the near end, the parade marshal trying to keep order. We were to line up, five rows, ten minutes before our appointments, and marched down the side of the echoing room, the sergeant major keeping time. One author, not a retired soldier like me, likened it to a cattle call. I can see that. But I know my army husband would have loved it, despite the fact he told me he’d rather watch paint dry than attend a romance writers’ conference.
I met the editor, a nice man young enough to be my son.
I pitched four projects.
I got four rejections.
Oh, well. It wasn’t for lack of preparation. Or maybe it was. Who knows? I didn’t mind, and was kind of secretly glad that part of the conference as over and done with. Mind you, there wasn’t much of the conference left. The grand finale, the awards night went nicely, with more glitter and sparkle than the Oscars. Heck, even the old ladies polished up their walkers for this one.
But remember I mentioned that rich food, and my simple system’s reaction to it?
It caught up with me. Big Time. Heartburn hotter than all those feet shoved into sling back heels for several hours. I had to escape as soon as the evening ended, but found myself stuck behind some glittery lady whose walker wouldn’t allow much more speed than the thickening crowd would allow.
Upstairs at the reception, the food needed better access, and many authors got nothing for their patience. I however, found the buttered shrimp and Beef Wellington hidden behind a large support pole, but the heartburn won out. I had to return to my room.
And apparently, so did my roomies. And their friends. So, clad in jammies, I sat and chatted and schmoozed some more, until everyone was tired.
Then I checked out. Yup, checking out at one a.m. beats fighting the crowds at seven, in order to catch my ride to the airport, generously supplied by another author and her gentleman husband.
My first conference was over. I thought I was schmoozed out, until I met some other authors at the airport. But I did learn a lot, one good thing being how the lovely southern ladies, “Bless your heart,” and what it really means. Thank you, Lenora!
But most importantly, thank you, roomies, who shall remain nameless at their own requests, because of that big foot of mine heading for my mouth at the worst possible moments. I loved it. I loved Washington, and I loved meeting all those gals I’d only talked to on line.
Thank you all of you, for making this newb’s memories so delightful.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My First Conference, Blog 4 of 5

WARNING! Deer in the headlights crossing ahead!

By this time in my life, I should be way more observant than I am. I wish I had a dime for each time my roomie poked me and said, “Don’t you know who that is?”
I’d give her a blank look, and again she’d patiently tell me it was some famous agent or author or editor. I have a confession to make, though. The names usually went over my head. I’m pretty sheltered, I guess. My own doing, I imagine. I’ve been too lazy for too long and have rarely bothered to learn the names and faces of all the people with whom I should be schmoozing.
I did meet a very nice, good-looking man from He used to be an editor and I innocently asked him why the switch. Apparently, it’s practically a promotion. I don’t know. He must own or something, because I didn’t figure it would be moving up in the world. Regardless, he was uber nice, so my early foray into schmoozing must have been a success.
In fact, my schmoozing went pretty well throughout the conference. I met agents and authors, chatted with veterans and new recruits. I ate rich food, drank good wine, and recharged my batteries each morning with sharp and strong coffee.
Then came the day of my meeting with the editor. Okay, I’d been too busy with my life beforehand to bother with the pitch. As expected, my roomie insisted I write something legible down. She practised her marvelous pitch on me, and I scribbled down a few words in a notebook with an old pen. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t anything but wide-eyed with extra caffeine, fighting cronic heartburn from all the chocolate, and right after lunch, at a workshop, I sat down in a warm room, filled with other romance writers, a panel of editors and veterans, all soft spoken, discussing the pros and cons of inspirational writing, and bang, it came.
The noise. At soft snore, followed by my forehead hitting the back of the chair in front of me.
I had fallen asleep.
I threw up my head, meeting the eyes of the editor. She could probably hear the crack and see the growing welt on my forehead. I did manage to stay awake the rest of the workshop, thankful that they were all being recorded and I could purchase them in the front foyer for a nominal fee. They take all major credit cards.
One great thing about the conference, like I mentioned before, was meeting some pretty cool people. I met a gentile Hungarian woman, ZsuZsa Simandy, whose life was so interesting she’d written her memoirs, so delightfully entitled, Gathering Roses, Thorns and All. And she was also impressed with me. She was to have an interview with my old editor, and I wished her the best. It turned out that she dropped some names at her interview, mine, of all people, and received an invitation to submit. Whoa, she dropped my name, as if I was someone special. How cool is that? Now, I’m really rooting for her. To the right is me with my roomie, and Zsu Zsa. Roomie Lina Gardiner is in the centre. Oops, cat's out of the bag, my roomie's been disclosed!
Back to the conference. But I still had to print out my pitch for the editor. I headed up to the business office, only to discover the printer was broken. It turned out to be a good thing, as the cost of using the computer was a mere $25 an hour. In fact, the quality hotel was getting infamous for charging for every small convenience. Thank goodness those of us on the sixth floor could pick up the McDonald’s wifi for free.

Tomorrow, the conclusion of my blog series.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My First Conference! Blog 3 of 5

CAUTION! Pictures of many romance-loving ladies ahead. All men should be prepared to be overwhelmed.

I’d registered, slipped the conference lanyard around my neck, and toured the Goodie Room, a place where promo items are given away. A gal can’t have too many bookmarks, right? My conference tote was designed by Harlequin, and featured an old Harlequin, back when men wrote the adventure stories of that time. The cover featured boasted a scintillating title. “You never know with women.”
How true. And this being my first conference, well, I didn’t know. Women of all shape and size were there, all styles, and all talent. And I learned you can fit 2500 romance writers in a basement loading area of the Marriott.

I did learn something else pretty quick. The more famous you are, the thinner you are. Nora Roberts is a size double zero, I figure. If she sells another book, she’ll disappear. Me? I’m a size fourteen, so I have a lot more books to sell, I see.
I wanted to go to the Newbie’s meeting, (or Newb’s meeting, as my teen son would have called it) but was told I wasn’t a newbie, that I knew the ropes, so I took their word for it. And, surprisingly, I did know more than I thought. Not being a shy person, I simply walked up, sat down beside and met many people just by shoving out my hand and introducing myself.
And I discovered that many people know me. Mostly editors, which begs the question on how they know me. Hmm. My brilliant, clear, concise prose?
Or my obsessive nervousness that pretty much seeps into my emails and phone calls? I guess I’ll never know.
My roomies were impressed, saying it was my writing. As I was up for a Daphne award, we went to the Death by Chocolate party. Okay, everyone. I like chocolate as much as the next person, but to be frank, am I supposed to eat that much? I am a little out of practice, here. But the stalwart soldier that I am, I gave it the old college try. I didn’t win a Daphne, but met an agent to whom I had spoke years ago. I joked about a bomb back then, and she remembered me. (Remember my roomie poking me when I shoved my foot into my mouth? She was at another table.)
Well, I didn’t win the award for which I had been nominated. But I eat a ton of fresh fruit, including black raspberries the size of large strawberries, and little cheesecakes drizzled in chocolate. I couldn’t leave without smothering my sorrows in sugar. Okay, there wasn’t any sorrow, but I gave it the old college try, remember?
The next day there was a breakfast, and I learned that you have to get to the food before all the other starving artists got there. Coffee is exceptionally valuable. I’d brought my own meal replacement bars, but with a complimentary continental breakfast, which included cheese and those giant raspberries again, those bars got shoved into my suitcase.
And I was discovering something else. My tummy isn’t used to rich food. It better adjust quickly, though. I’d paid for three more rich meals.
Well, it didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted it to…

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My First Conference Blog 2 0f 5

WARNING! Moments of Country Mouse in the City ahead. No laughing at my expense allowed.

Day two dawned bright and sunny. My writers’ group was unable to get the White House Tour, so I decided to do something even more exciting. My all time favourite painting in the world is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. And it was just down the road from where I was staying. With a free subway pass in hand, I hopped the Metro and trotted up to the small gallery called The Phillips House.
It was closed til 9, forty-five minutes from there. I decided to walk around the neighbourhood, admiring the variety of old money townhouses and embassies, not realizing until then that my knowledge of foreign flags was sadly lacking. But it was cool just the same.
Needing to practice my schmoozing, I started up a conversation with a young gal who was also waiting for the gallery to open. She was a British art student, splitting her time between DC and London and who was as friendly and charming as I knew the British could be. But too soon the gallery opened and I flew in, preparing myself to finally view the Luncheon of the Boating Party.
It was there, all right, its own lighting, bench and room. Gorgeous. I can tell you honestly that the postcard, prints and such don’t do the colours justice. And big, one of the biggest paintings I’d ever seen. A coup for the Phillips Collection, indeed. I’d finally completed a life long dream.
It was on to the next one. A wander around the Smithsonian. It even had its own Metro stop.
Speaking of the Metro, it’s hot down there. And the escalators were the longest I’d even seen. I took a picture of them, being the country mouse I am. But the trains are clean, and everyone appears to behave themselves. Or maybe they were on edge because of a recent train collision on their red line.
I exited the Metro at my stop, and found myself on the Mall. Okay, it’s not the mall I visit back up in Canada, and the lawn was being reworked, but how many malls have you been to that have an Egyptian obelisk named for George Washington, at one end, and the Capitol building at the other? Why, not even the Champlain Mall in Moncton can boast that much.
Pictures were in order. I didn’t see the reflecting pool, and still don’t know where it is, in relation to where I was, but pics were still needed. And after the appropriate snaps, I was off. Smithsonian forgotten, I wanted to see the White House. And according to my map, it wasn’t far away.
I pity the poor cops on Pennsylvania Avenue duty. Standing in the middle of the barricaded section of street. One bicycle cop was checking his email on his smart phone. I still got a couple of good photos, despite the tourists, cops and cement barricades. Enough to say I was there.
With tummy rumbling and guessing that the hotel food would be expensive, I noticed a Subway restaurant icon on my map. I was off down the street to the Ronald Reagan building for lunch. I figured I arrived at his airport, so I may as well eat at his building. Then I could tell everyone I had lunch on Penn Ave. It ended up being a wrap from Great Wraps, but who needs to know that?

Tune in Tomorrow for my official start to the conference.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My first conference! Blog 1 of 5

WARNING! May contain moments of lapsed memory, proof of conference head, and symptoms of chocolate withdrawal. Reader discretion advised.

I’m going to attempt to blog about my trip to Washington, DC this past week. I went there to attend the Romance Writers of America’s national conference, and I must say the experience was well worth it. First up, I got a terrific deal on the flight, and then I finaled in Daphne, a contest showcasing excellence in mystery and suspense. How cool is that? It was accompanied by a Death by Chocolate party. Well, if you can’t die peacefully in your sleep at age 100, death by chocolate would be a great alternative.

I arrived unable to meet up with a friend to catch a shuttle to the hotel, but decided to brave the subway. How hard can it be?

I’m proud to say it wasn’t hard at all. The biggest problem was trying to figure out the vending machine that spits out subway tickets if you manage to decode the instructions. Just as I was feeling a bit like Tom Hanks on an adventure to save humanity, a very nice couple walked up and offered me a pair of tickets, good anytime until Thursday. I snatched them out of their hands in a flash, and was off. I actually met up with some fellow writers and we traveled to the hotel together. I’d begun my conference!

You see, I went there for the schmoozing. I roomed with a pair of veteran conference goers and wow, they really know what to do. One gal, and she knows who she is, took me under her wing. Because she knows me, she told me she’d nudge me when I was in danger of putting my foot into my mouth.

I’m bruised all along the left side of my body now. But I did manage to shove that size 9 into my mouth one time, telling a strange man waiting for the elevator beside me that he looked terrible. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect, right?

Of course, too late did I realize that I could be telling the man with whom I had an editor appointment that he looked awful, but I have to live dangerously once in a while.

We stayed at the Marriott near the zoo. One roomie did her research and discovered the older part of the hotel was the best deal. It sure was. On the sixth floor, you could pick up the local McDonald’s wifi, which was more than others could do.

I personally don’t think that a hotel of the Marriott’s caliber needs to charge for wifi in their standard rooms. The room was lovely, with a dressing room and spacious bathroom, and yet, oddly, two three-quarter beds instead of double. And you can’t tell me that’s the US double beds are smaller than in Canada. You Americans aren’t any smaller than us Canucks, and being from the Great White North, we need to cuddle in the night to keep warm, so if anything, we’d take the three-quarter beds, not you down in sweltering DC.

Tune in tomorrow when I begin my first full day in the US capital.

Switching Gears to Gold Cream and Big Bang Theory

Note: I may earn a small commission on these items.  I usually natter on about books or even weirder stuff like my life. I'...