Okay, so I said I was going to go to two marathon Michael Hauge workshops on Friday. I wound up only going to one, but it was excellent. “Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories” was the title, but it was really, as I understood it, more about turning points, inner and outer conflict, and basically how to build and pace a story. Author Jami Gold did an excellent two-part writeup of it on her blog, here and here. Go check it out if you’re interested.
I was sitting next to Erin Satie, a twitter-friend (we’d bonded over our shared dislike of “the grovel” in romance) whom I finally got to meet at RWA, and we grumbled together a little about the presumption – common among non-romance storymeisters – that every story has “a protagonist” and “a love interest.” One of the defining characteristics of the romance genre, IMO, and one of the things that makes it a challenge to write, is that a good story has two protagonists, whose journeys are of equal weight. (Erin also did a good writeup of the workshop in her post here.)
I might have gone to the restroom after this workshop. Anyway at some point on this day I went into one of the commandeered men’s restrooms, which are a traditional feature of RWA conferences, and snapped this photo of the artfully screened urinals:
Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books tells me previous conferences have gone all-out, decorating the urinals with fresh flowers and bunting, for example.
I went out to lunch with Alyson and Janine of Dear Author, and also the writer Bettie Sharpe. Alyson (she mostly does interviews for DA) has a double identity: she’s also soon-to-be debut novelist Alison Atlee, and since we share an agent we were already a little bit acquainted. I ran into her the day before and she invited me to lunch, so that’s how that happened.
I have a whole post’s worth of mixed feelings about fraternizing with reviewers (Janine in this case), but 1) it doesn’t seem like most romance writers try to avoid being friendly with the big blog reviewers, and 2) we (writers) really face that same issue with any casual social-media acquaintance now, in this age of Amazon and Goodreads. I’m still not 100% sure it’s a good thing, but I guess we’ll all figure it out as we go along. Anyway Janine is well read and full of interesting opinions, as you might gather from reading her stuff on DA, so it was good to meet her. Also I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Bettie Sharpe, since I loved her book Ember and I got to tell her why, in some detail. (This turns out to be one of my favorite things to do: meet an author who wrote something I loved, and tell them specifically what I loved about it.)
I got back a little late and so missed part of the second Michael Hauge workshop I’d planned on attending. This one was about story structure and was built around an analysis of the movie “Pretty Woman.” (I rented & watched PW for the first time, just for this workshop, and I have at least a post’s worth of thoughts about PW, too.) I snuck in late, listened for a few minutes, and decided it wasn’t going to cover enough different ground from the morning workshop to make it my best use of time. So instead I went to “Secrets of eBook Publishing Success,” led by Mark Coker of Smashwords.
Coker had a lot of interesting things to say. If I hadn’t already been convinced that I oughtn’t to worry about piracy, I think this workshop would have convinced me. (Also, like lots of speakers I heard and lots of people who’ve talked about this online, he was very big on the importance of backlist. Write a good book, write another good book, then another and another. Best advertising for your last book is your next book, and/or best advertising for your next book is your last book.) He has a free e-book with the same title as the workshop, so if you’re interested in his ideas, that’s probably worth a download.
After Coker’s workshop came the one I’d circled in biggest, boldest red on my schedule: “How to be Your Own Lead Title,” by Courtney Milan. Courtney Milan has done darn near everything right, as far as I can tell, when it comes to self-publishing, and she’s breathtakingly generous in sharing what she’s learned. She talked a lot about the importance of covers, the importance of the first page after the end of the story in your book (useful for things like “Here’s how you can find out when the next book is out. Here are some other books by this author,” etc.), the importance of honest reviews (lots of them), and the importance of backlist. (Seriously, one of the biggest takeaways from the conference as a whole was get more books written!) She said she believes the single best thing you can do with promo money is get your book into the hands of people who read and talk about books; as many such people as you can. Lots to mull over; luckily I took detailed notes.
That was it for Friday workshops. I had dinner with author Rose Lerner, with whom I’ve been friendly ever since I first read and fell for her debut, In for a Penny. Bear with me a minute while I gush about her.
Something I adore about Rose Lerner is her committed eclecticism. She’s quick and thoughtful both; knowledgeable about poetry, history, Russian novels, and arcane kinds of math… and she unironically enjoys TV shows like Teen Wolf, and can speak passionately about which contestant on America’s Next Top Model was sent home too early. I particularly admire her broad taste when it comes to romance. She’s one of the most committed researchers I know – one of those writers who works really hard to weave in historical details and get the basic social fabric and period mindsets right – but she doesn’t demand that same level of accuracy in all her reading. She’ll never dismiss something as “wallpaper.” Anyway whenever I spend time with her, I come away resolving to be more open-minded about the things I’m not so open-minded about now.
That was Friday. I went back to my hotel room and browsed some of the photo websites from which Courtney Milan gets her cover images (did you know she makes her own covers?), wondering whether making my own cover is beyond me.