Home from RWA 2018

Home from RWA 2018

I hadn’t originally planned on going to the Romance Writers of America 2018 annual conference, but I’m so glad I did.

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From the hotel window

Denver was beautiful and a western urban bohemian paradise, and HIGH. (No, I didn’t partake, as I wanted to actually remember my weekend, though I admit being curious about the “Pot Rocks” candy.)
By Friday I was getting the altitude wobbles and on Saturday I woke up dizzy–I’ve never been that far above sea-level outside an airplane.
The food was lovely everywhere. Yes, avocado toast is a thing, and it’s great. So is strawberry-rhubarb jelly/pastry/cheesecake sauce.

Like last year, the best part of the conference were the conversations with writers in all stages on a variety of career paths:

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Tiffany Reisz signing The Night Mark

I had a blast hanging out with Original Sinners author Tiffany Reisz while she did RITA finalist (for The Night Mark) stuff, and got to eavesdrop on Andrew Shaffer’s phone interview as his new book (Hope Never Dies) hit the NYT bestseller list.

Had my assumptions gleefully spanked by an octogenarian author in the elevator.

Jenn LeBlanc talked about her photography and publishing process on her illustrated romances and introduced me to the Lovestruck interactive story app.

Had drinks with two other pink-haired erotica writers and laughed over phrases like “It’s like D&D but with sex,” and “I’m not afraid of fluids.”

Thien-Kim Lam (check out her subscription service Bawdy Bookworms) and I were often table mates and she is so. much. fun.

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Feeling the elevation: 1 mile above sea level

(Even briefly took the wrong train to the airport because I was gushing with a romantic suspense writer who’d been asked for a full manuscript for the first time, rather than paying attention to the station map.)

Brenda Jackson told us about how her fans have helped her choose cover models. (How fun would that be!?)

To the two women at our table who were offended by Suzanne Brockmann’s incredible speech, I’m okay with the door hitting your homophobic ass on the way out.
Love is love is love, and yes, I’m done with being nice.

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Dancing bronzes in the hotel courtyard

I went to a bunch of workshops:
The mystery whodunnit dessert party was both silly and cool–comedy and lots of explanations of forensic terms.
The session that really rocked my brain was “The Psychology of Fiction,” by YA author  Dr. Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
She talked about what elements of bestsellers are the universals that readers want. I can’t wait for her book on this to come out.

Self-pubbed covers are getting GOOD, y’all, but I only saw three women of color at the indie book signing. We have to do better.

If last summer was eyeglass porn, RWA 2018 was the year of beautiful business card cases and gorgeous plus-size fashion–sooo many bold prints and sassy skirts and all-body-love dresses.

And, I found out that Beverly Jenkins listens to Robert Plant, which makes me happy.

(…dusts this thing off…)

rwaStill here.
Still writing!
I’ve been researching scent and perfume again–I scribble about it over here, if you like reading about stinky stuff.

Had a busy year! I took a big step and converted my sewing studio into a writing room. Words seem more where my energy is flowing lately, rather than fabric.

Been doing a bunch of beta-reading and contest judging. Feels good to give back a little.

rwa1I went to RWA 2017 in Orlando, and it was overwhelming but wonderful.
I spent a lot of time with my agent, grilling her about how the whole publishing industry works, and I got to meet a bunch of awesome people I’ve known online for almost a decade.
Carina Press treated me like a rock star.
Authors and romance books and panels and classes and So. Many. Desserts.

(there *might* be an outline of a pâtisserie romance on my desk right now…)

A costumer’s thoughts upon the recent appropriation of Safety Pins:

safety_pinSafety pins are not meant to be passive—a furtive steel prick of conscience—hidden on a lapel like a secret handshake. They are tools of healing, kinetic kindness given to strangers, a means to spring into action.

They are to be freely offered in the name of Girl-Code:
To secure a hijab slipping from grace, and pull up restaurant restroom zippers on skinny jeans stressed to self-destruction, to raise the brim higher on an Easter Sunday crown, and bridge that third button gap in every blouse designed by man.

A pin in stasis rusts closed.

Reattach a ruffle of a neighbor’s quinceañera gown, tend to a yarmulke where the satin has slid from the seam, extend the strap on the stiletto of a size fourteen queen.

Wear them with responsibility, with a woman’s vigilance, a first-aid-kit used long before the shine is noticed on a collar. Safety pins are not a dormant decoration to define your clandestine tolerance—they are a conscious means to a mend.

Elie Wiesel and a child’s fear

elieWhen I was little my father took me everywhere with him. I was a reasonably well behaved kid, and could be tucked in a corner with a book while he conducted a rehearsal or gave a voice lesson. Once, as we went to a meeting with someone about a concert his orchestra was playing, he gave me the usual spiel: please and thank you, sit still, don’t say fuck or shit, and if I was offered sweets, accept if I wanted it or not and say I’d save it for after dinner.
Fundraising is tricky. It is important to say yes, to welcome all gifts, no matter how small.

The man was thin and taller than my dad, with bushy gray hair and pale skin and an accent like a vampire movie. I thought he looked like a ghost, but the room was full of books, wall to wall to ceiling, and ghosts didn’t read.

When their meeting was over, the man offered me a doll.
I panicked–dolls had always scared me, with their dead eyes and lax limbs–and I misbehaved. “Daddy, I don’t want it!”
My father was embarrassed, and told him I had always been a little afraid of dolls, and the man smiled and said, “That is a good fear for a child to have.”

I never saw him again, or even thought about him, until high school and my English teacher passed out NIGHT, and there was his photo on the back cover, looking exactly the same. It was only after I read the book that I understood how lucky I was, that my kid fears were only of ghosts and dolls.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” -Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

Personal Confessions and Tiffany gems.

41GtTg20zcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_One of the things I love about Tiffany Reisz is how personally her writing hits me. Beyond the wit and the banter and the sexy feels, there is always a theme that grabs at a deeper internal level. Sometimes there’s a kink that pushes my curiosity and makes me wonder if my hard limits have cracks in their rigid walls. Sometimes I get a new understanding of doctrine and faith. Nothing is left untouched in her frank discussions of sex, feminism and religion.
THE CONFESSIONS delves into this almost exclusively. Two short stories-conversations with one of my favorite characters, Father Ballard (from POINSETTIA)-and an author interview. It’s a quick companion to the Original Sinners series.

The first story, THE CONFESSION OF MARCUS STEARNS is a lovely peek into Søren’s mind, and probably the closest we will get to his PoV. His interaction with his Jesuit friend and confessor-an insightful and liberal priest with good taste in music-is hysterical. The descriptions of Eleanor are melting.
The second story, THE CONFESSION OF ELEANOR SCHREIBER, is Nora’s unloading on the same priest, a look at choices and hidden desires that stabbed me sweetly in my barren guts as she discusses her decisions about childbirth.

The last third of the book, THE CONFESSION OF TIFFANY REISZ, is a conversation with romance critic Cyndy Aleo. The interview is hilarious, running the spectrum of Catholicism to kink. The two discuss the Church and the biblical parallels of the characters in the Original Sinners, gospel passages and other Christian Literature. They also talk about the distinctions between “safe consensual” play and “risk aware” play, and pushing the limits of dubious consent. Another thoughtful conversation delves into the age of teenage sexual agency-again, a topic hitting close to home for me-I’ve also written on that particular knife edge of moral discomfort.
This section was a special treat. I met Cyndy online in 2009, and fell in love with her writing, her endless pursuit of the sexy off-beat and sensually creative, and her acerbic honesty. Recently, she has edited four of my manuscripts, so in a fashion, she is also my confessor. Three years ago, Cyndy was also the one who said “You must read THE ANGEL, or I’m not speaking to you again.” I did, of course, and then looked up the author on twitter, and said, “Wait–I’ve met you!”
A few years previously I was at a book event at Joseph Beth, my favorite local bookseller, and a friend of the featured author was there-a vivacious woman, jubilant because she had just signed on with an agent for her literary erotica.
Turns out, Tiffany Reisz lived in my hometown. Fast forward to 2014-she invited me to a writer’s crit group at the library. Afterward I met her and her guy (Andrew Shaffer) and had one of the funniest, most encouraging and inspiring conversations over a cup of Starbucks I’ve ever had. (They promptly moved across the country.)
So I confess I have to agree with Cyndy, despite the author’s protests, when she says that Tiffany is the embodiment of Nora: petite, dark haired, clever and funny, with an unrivaled boldness about sex, God and writing. But that’s only a little sin, and I’m sure Father Ballard would forgive me.

THE CONFESSIONS is quite spoilery, (there’s even an Easter egg Fun Fact appendix at the end) so I would recommend reading the entire series before grabbing this little jewel.

Echoes

loanaI saw The Name of the Rose when I was sixteen, in the theater, and so began my love of Umberto Eco and Christian Slater. The movie led to the book, which was-unlike the movie-about books, and their meaning and the written communication that can shape a culture.

The semiotics at the core of the book brought me to the terrifying and delightful realization that books have the power of time travel and telepathy. An author from centuries ago still marks the mind of those reading their words today.

Decades later I read Foucault’s Pendulum, during my Forgotten Year-so I shall have to read it again-but I do remember being struck by the notion that people want to believe conspiracy theories. We want our stories to connect, to have a purpose and great import, a life of their own.

A few years ago, I read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, ironically enough about a man who loses his memory and searches through the literary mementos-books, magazines and comic books-that shaped him growing up, to discover what he has forgotten.

Umberto Eco’s books always give me a deeper understanding of the power of language, of words, the transference of thought through time. I am sad that there will be no more them, but I love the idea that his books, because they have shaped me, will have,  somewhere, a mark on my own.