Blythe's Daily RWA Journal
July 20th, 2002

I was a little nervous as this day began; at 9:00 it was my turn to co-host a round table workshop on netiquette with Cissy Hartley (who runs Writerspace). This was a PAN seminar for published authors only, and I did have vague fears of disgruntled, panned authors circling like a pack of jackals. Fortunately, the discussion was very friendly, and most of the authors who attended were brand-new authors who wanted to learn about netiquette and web site ideas. Cissy and I both offered tips for web conduct (number one rule: don't post anything on a message board or list that you don't want the entire world to know within five minutes.) Although Cissy and I came at the situation from completely different angles (she considers herself a writer advocate, and I would see myself as an advocate for readers) we had very similar advice on how authors should handle a negative review. I could have gone on for even longer than I did, but time was up, so I headed to the other side of the hotel for SEP's workshop.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips' workshop was called Love Without Murder and Mayhem: Writing the Big Romance. This was one of my favorites of the conference; for one thing, SEP reminded me of my mom! She spoke just like her. But what was really interesting was that her workshop was completely different from Suzanne Brockmann's. Both are authors I really enjoy, but their approaches to writing could not be more different. Brockmann said in her workshop that her pre-book outlines run about eighty pages long. She knows everything that is going to happen in the book before she sits down to write. SEP, on the other hand, said that synopsises were tools of the devil, and she thought it was torture to have to write one; She'd rather just write the book (there was a huge cheer from the audience at this point). Unlike Brockmann, SEP isn't exactly sure which direction her characters will take or what they are going to do. The point of the whole workshop was how to write a romance without a villain. SEP said she didn't write romances with villains because she thought she was terrible at it! She cited her two worst characters ever as the villains in It Had to Be You. SEP's willingness to admit her own weaknesses and writing mistakes she had made in the past was both refreshing and informative. I also liked her take on reviews, which for some reason seemed to be a huge concern of her (mostly un-pubbed) audience. She understood clearly that every book would have its fans and its detractors, so she enjoys the good reviews and mentally flips off the writers of the bad ones. Fine by me.

Following SEP was the luncheon. Walden Books awards winners were announced, and by far the most touching win was Judi McCoy's for Dreaming of You. Since the earlier winners were Julia Quinn, Nora Roberts and Sharon Sala (the first two pretty much took their wins in stride, and Sala wasn't there), Jen and I were debating about whether the authors had known they were going to win in the first place. McCoy was clearly very surprised and thrilled. Awards like this certainly aren't old hat for her! Following the awards was Suzanne Brockmann's key note speech. If you get her newsletter, you've already heard part of it - she began with the words she'd shared at Christmas about September 11. She also mentioned how she had felt depressed and discouraged about writing for awhile, but was reenergized when she read a terrific book (Virginia Ellis's The Wedding Dress, a review in progress at AAR).

After lunch I headed to a seminar called The Library Review Market, which discussed tools that librarians use to build their romance collections. The panelists were three librarians who wrote for Library Journal, Book List, and What Do I Read Next. Guess what? They informed all the authors present that librarians make their selections entirely from Library Journal, Book List, and What Do I Read Next. When I asked about the lack of negative reviews in these publications, they all looked puzzled. Negative reviews? Why would those be useful to anyone? Their attitude was that a review was in itself a recommendation; if they didn't like a book they didn't review it. Obviously that differs significantly from my philosophy, and the primary problem I see with their method is that there is no way to differentiate between the books they hated (and therefore didn't review) and the books they never got around to reading (and therefore didn't review). They also assured the authors present that no librarian, ever, would use a site like TRR or AAR as a tool to build their collection. One presenter, John Charles, said that this was because our reviewers had questionable credentials (we could just be bums off the street! We probably knew nothing about romance at all!) and our reviews were mostly synopsis and no analysis. I found the latter comment pretty funny, since that is how I would describe the very short, one paragraph reviews from LJ and BL. I chalked their impressions up to bias and ignorance; we have no less than five librarians on AAR's staff, and they and countless others have told us that they use websites like ours as a resource.

The library seminar ended somewhat early, so I was able to sneak into Sabrina Jeffries' workshop on writing the hip historical. She downplayed the importance of historical accuracy - as she did in a column segment for us some time ago. Do we really want to know about the servants that came to empty our hero and heroine's chamber pots at night? Come to think of it, do we want to know that our heroes and heroines used chamber pots and might have been missing some of their teeth?

Her impression was that readers wanted more of a costume drama. This was a bit of a contrast to conversation I'd had earlier in the week with another author who hates the light costume drama. I'm actually somewhere in the middle. I can appreciate a Stephanie Laurens book, with a heroine who has sex at will and hang the consequences, for the type of read that it is. But I really relish juicy historicals that I can sink my teeth into; books by authors like Madeline Hunter or Carla Kelly, who provide all those wonderful period details, but then again, Kelly's print runs, since they are for traditional Regency Romances, are smaller than those for historical romance authors such as Jeffries.

As the Jeffries workshop ended, my phone was ringing. My husband and four kids (who had been farmed out to friends and relatives for the past four days) were waiting up in the lobby, and they were dying to see me. I loved hanging out with authors I'd met online, meeting new faces, and watching the mix of wannabes and "already theres." I loved hearing the advice authors had to give aspiring writers, and I loved listening in on all the intrigue with the RWA board and the "Sunshiners" who were unhappy with the boards' actions. But I was starting to miss my kids, and I had a pile of AAR work waiting on my desk at home. I ran upstairs to meet my family, hugged them all, and walked out of the Adams Mark Hotel. As I left I glanced back, thought about what a great experience it had been, and felt a twinge of jealousy for whomever gets to cover the conference in New York.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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