Liza Palmer’s latest, Girl Before a Mirror, takes inspiration from romance novels and even leads two friends to a romance convention to help them pitch a campaign at work. Nine years ago, Palmer herself was a first-time RomCon visitor. Here’s a look at seven things she learned at that convention and why it was the first of many.
The first book convention I went to was the 2006 Romantic Times Con in Daytona. My first book had come out in 2005 and a friend of mine suggested we check it out. Before this, I’d never read romance novels or been part of any fandom, having been a bit pop culturally feral growing up. And while my books were for women and about women, the powers that be in publishing advised me that they did not fit within the romance guidelines. But even so, the romance community welcomed me, nurtured me, and guided me. That first RT convention and the Romance Writers of America conventions I would attend every year from then on molded me into the writer I am today. Here are some things I’ve learned:
1) Writers need other writers
Conventions feel like “writer camp.” You see the same people year after year in a land with communal lunches and planned activities. And you’re around people who get you. Finally. Your schedule can be all about writing and not about making sure everyone else is taken care of—something that especially burdens women. You can geek out about craft and talk about the stresses of publishing and just soak up the energy of people who care about writing as much as you do. Being around people who see you, being around people who don’t put down your dream: That’s transcendent.
2) Romance novelists are the most welcoming group ever
First and foremost, romance readers and writers are fans. They’re erudite and voracious. The fact that this cannot be said for those who disparage and belittle the genre is glaring. If you love stories, if you call yourself a reader, why would you purposefully cordon off whole swaths of books as being beneath your notice? You never know where a lesson will be found. Or maybe that’s the lesson: Sequester yourself among the same kind of people and the same kind of books and you will remain the same. In dismissing an entire genre, you mute the voices and stories of those within it.
3) No, you can’t write a romance novel in a weekend
I was at a book signing and the husband of a romance reader, who was waiting in line to get her book signed, muttered to his wife that maybe he should spend a weekend writing a romance novel to make extra money. She gave him a look, but… he truly believed he was on to something. I wanted to say, Why don’t you? First, why don’t you tell me why you love your partner? Put that love into words. Now do it for 300 pages. Oh, and while you’re at it, why don’t you artfully conceal how your book is going to end, but keep readers guessing and not frustrated or manipulated and on their toes the entire time? Just because something is easy to read doesn’t mean that it was easy to write.
4) There’s power in a protein bar and a tea kettle
These conferences hit you sideways with exhaustion, hunger, and thirst. You’re so excited to be there and running around and… cut to: cranky and taking to Twitter raging “WHY IS EVERYONE SO EFFING STUPID, YO?” Have a protein bar in your bag. I also travel with an electric kettle and my own tea (but you could just as easily pick up some of that VIA from Starbucks, it’s pretty good, too). These little electric kettles are only about $19 at any big box store and you’ll save that in the first day in just private vs. public caffeine consumption.
5) Be the writer worthy of your audience
Romance novelists are especially good at being writers worthy of their readers. They taught me about community and giving back. They taught me to be a fan first. They taught me how one single moment can mean the world and to govern myself accordingly. They taught me that my books come first and I come second, and that my job is to enhance the reader’s experience with the novel, not distract from it. They taught me about gratitude. But first and foremost, they taught me that it is an honor to be able to write for a living.
6) Writing is a business
I went to a talk Nora Roberts did once and someone asked how she wrote with very small children. She said she had the “blood and fire rule.” Was there blood or fire? No? Then we’re fine, and on she’d write. You can’t be dramatically shutting yourself away in a shack in Vermont for several months to write your great opus, there are children to be fed. Viewing writing as a job that you show up for during normal business hours means that you can still keep the house and pick up children from school and roll your eyes at the ridiculous expectations put on women. When time is so precious, you learn to get down to business without the usual histrionics one might find in other corners of the literary world. Although, there’s always room for a little histrionics.
7) I will never be as cool as Diana Gabaldon
I was once at a conference with Diana Gabaldon. I had breakfast with her* (*sat at the same table and took pictures of her when she wasn’t looking.) She was everything I dreamed she’d be. But, what made her magic? She had these scarves, tapestries, swaths of silken gorgeous fabric that she’d drape over herself and… it was glorious. I was sitting with fellow writer Eileen Cook as Gabaldon swanned past one morning and Eileen spoke for all of us when she said, “I’d look like a dinosaur if I wore that.” But, I can aspire. Someday, Gabaldon. SOMEDAY.
Liza Palmer is the internationally bestselling author of Conversations with the Fat Girl, Seeing Me Naked, A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents, More Like Her, and Nowhere but Home. An Emmy-nominated writer, she lives in Los Angeles, and is hard at work on her next novel and several film and television projects.