The Glamour, the Excitement – the Pools and Palm Trees!

When I posted this particular picture to Facebook, my mom commented, asking what was with me, pools and palm trees.

What can I say? I’m consistent!

(But not a foolish consistency – fie on you hobgoblins!)

So, the second day of conference was still pretty laid back. The Wednesday of RWA is largely for special interest events. There’s the leadership retreat for chapter presidents and some of the chapters have “mini-conferences” and so forth. A lot of people were arriving that day. The big event is the Literacy Signing, which starts at 5pm. If you’re signing, you might consider getting there the night before, just for the frazzle-factor. Yes, that’s a real thing. Especially if you’re flying!

But I didn’t have a lot of obligations that day, which was lovely. After a morning of day job phone calls (necessary ebil), I hung out and socialized with the incoming frazzleees in the lobby and dropped by the Carina Press Digital Day session.

I know I tend to wax on about Carina, but this is one of the things I love. As a digital publisher, they’re committed to giving us the tools to deal with the digital world. In the conference room set aside for this, they had tables set up for various stations – Facebook, Twitter, Websites, Pinterest, etc. You could go from table to table, ask questions of the lovely, vivacious and charming Carina staffers and get personal lessons and feedback. I went in thinking I pretty much knew All The Things already and came out having learned several very interesting tricks. Those gals spent the entire day on their feet, too, coaching all of us. Just one of the many things I love about Carina.

My website designers, Liz and Sienna from Bemis Promotions, attended the conference, so Sienna and I had a late lunch and talked about the website. Since I’m handing out praise, I really like that Liz and Sienna are at RWA and know the pool I swim in. Makes everything so much better!

The Carina authors met up early for the Literacy Signing, to meet each other and for solidarity, and we all got helium balloons to tie to our chairs. You’ve already seen the pic of me at the signing.Here’s one of CP and roomie Marcella Burnard at her table.

I had a wonderful time – much better than I expected. I figured with all the truly fabulous and famous authors in the room, no one would notice little ol’me. Several of you have asked how I signed books, being Digital Girl. Carina put our books on CD, with this lovely packaging. I signed the CD covers like, well, a Rock Star!

Vivian Arend, who is so wonderful in so many ways, had “Autographed by Author” stickers for all of us first time signers. (She’d asked us to rais hands on Twitter.) Here she is at the Harlequin Ball, later that same week.

As I was leaving the signing, the lovely and so-smart Courtney Milan said she liked my jacket. (Told you she’s smart!) We chatted on the walk back to the hotel. Vivian and I sat at the lobby bar after that, having wine and snacks, and talking to the 50 bajillion people who walked by.

So, I’ve heard some of you making high-pitched noises about wanting one of those Rogue’s Pawn buttons. If you want one, leave me a comment here and I’ll email you for your address. Buttons for everyone!!

Whales, Dolphins and Why I Love My Twitter Friends

I arrived at the RWA conference early Tuesday morning, expressly to spend the day with my Twitter friend, Branli Caidryn.

Not that Twitter is good for anything but talking about what we had for breakfast. (Blueberry pancakes, thank you – with pineapple on the side.)

At any rate, Branli, whose sci fi book, Project Horizon, will be coming out ANY MINUTE NOW, picked me up at the hotel for a day of yakking about writing and to see whales. Now, I’ve been on a few whale-watching tours in my day. (You can imagine me saying this in a wheezy voice while you pretend you didn’t see me pour whiskey into my coffee mug.) I’ve been on tours out of San Francisco, Oregon and Alaska. I’ve glimpsed some whales. I’ve seen dolphins, too.

Nothing like this.

The morning fog burned off leaving us out on the water on a gloriously sunny day. And we saw blue whales feeding. Now, it’s kind of hard to see whales because, you know, they’re under water, duh. But you get pieces of them. That I tried to capture on my iPhone 4s, without dropping it in the water. Quite the feat, I’ll have you know. 

The video doesn’t capture how fabulous this was. We watched the whales feed for what felt like hours, their backs and flukes churning into sight.

On the way back to port, dolphins escorted the boat in.


Afterwards, we enjoyed a fabulous lunch overlooking the ocean. Just the kind of thing I love.

Thank you, Branli, for a perfect day!

RWA and Agents on Twitter

I’m back from sunny, palm-tree-y California! I’m considering buying this bench and living on it. Likely the only real estate in California I can afford…

I’ll be posting pics and doing conference gossip catch-up over the next few days. It was a great conference this year. Like the hotel in Orlando, the bar areas were beautifully situated so people could sit, socialize and catch people walking through, as well. I wonder if it’s a Disney design thing? I felt like I got to see and talk to so many people over the few days of the conference – just ideal.

And, for those of you who’ve gone in the last couple of years? That atmosphere of dread and despair has dispersed, replaced by excitement and optimism. Legacy industry “experts” were finally giving the talks they should have started giving two years ago. They’re all finally catching up to the concept that the publishing industry is not dying, it’s changing. And that these changes can be good, happy and lucrative!

Something else I learned at RWA? You folks are out there reading this blog! Who knew???

I was amazed how many of you came to the signing because you read this blog and/or Word Whores. All week people were telling me they read faithfully, but never comment. I think that’s just wonderful. Thank you for reading – and for coming by to say hi! So very fun for me.

At lunch one day, a “social media guru” told me that Twitter isn’t good for authors and you can’t sell books there because all the readers are on Facebook. I may have laughed in her face, but at least I didn’t spit out my salad. When someone tells me something like that, I immediately know they don’t understand how Twitter works. Are “BUYMYBOOK BUYMYBOOK BUYMYBOOK” tweets effective? Hells to the no. Have I met all kinds of people on Twitter who I consider friends and part of my support network, who talk about my books and recommend my reads? Oh yes, yes, yes.

In fact, not to bury the lead or anything, but I have news along those lines: I have an agent offer! And it started on Twitter.

About a week before RWA, someone I’ve been following for a long time on Twitter, DM’d me (direct message, which is private, for those not in the know) and asked if I was represented yet. She’d been reading some of the book blogger reviews and conversations about Rogue’s Pawn. Plus, another of her clients suggested me (thank you, dear!). We set up a time to talk at RWA, along with one of her senior agents, and she made the offer.

I know this should be the SQUEEE moment, but it’s funny – though I’m excited about the future, this feels very much like a business decision at this point. This was my 5th RWA conference. Amazing for me to consider, but five years ago, I flew to the RWA conference in San Francisco, where I knew not one person, pitched to an agent and an editor, and flew home again. I’ve learned and grown so much in that time. The agents I talked to this year asked if I thought I could keep up, if they got me a contract for a new trilogy, along with the other series I have going. I was able to say, with confidence, yes. Yes, I can.

Something I would not have known – and likely could not have done – five years ago.

So, right now I’m in the process of contacting the four agents who’ve had the full of the new novel for a while now. If any of you don’t know this, mark this well: if you receive an agent offer, you must attempt to contact any other agent who’s requested materials from you. This is a basic business courtesy. I know writers who have not done this and people were angry about it. They won’t forget, either. A lot of writers change agents along the road. Never burn your bridges. PSA over.

One agent “revisited” the book that night. One is so swamped she gracefully “bowed out of the race” with good wishes. Two more haven’t replied and I suspect they’re reading. It confirms what I often suspected: they request the manuscript from you, but often sit on it, in favor of more urgent tasks, until a request like this moves it up the list for them.

But, I really like the agent who offered already – and I really like the agency and the agency agreement. I also love that she’s an active blogger, available on Twitter and understands the digital world in the same way I do.

Stay tuned!

Signing at RWA and Thoughts on the Aurora Deaths

Sorry – it’s not a pretty picture. And I suspect I don’t really have “fans” out there who will be looking for me in the wild chaos that is the RWA Literacy Signing. BUT, if you are out there and and want to plan ahead – you can find me at table 105, right by the cashiers. See? I put a little red smiley on it.

I leave on an early, early flight tomorrow morning and will be at #RWA12 all week. I’ll try to post pics, but you regular readers know how well I do at that. Best bet is to look for posts on (@jeffekennedy) or Facebook – Author.Jeffe.Kennedy lets you see stuff without being my friend. To see posts on Jeffe.Kennedy, I’m pretty sure you have to be a friend. But who understands how Facebook works anymore?

On to less frivolous topics…

I debated all weekend whether to say anything about the theater shootings in Aurora last Friday morning. I’m not sure I have anything substantive to add and it annoys me when people turn a tragedy like that into being about them. I don’t want to be all “look at me.”

But I feel like I want to say something.

I grew up in Aurora. My mom bought a house there in 1972, just before my sixth birthday, and she owns it still. When we moved in, the address was Denver, but the City of Denver ceded a section to the City of Aurora, as part of the redistribution of taxes in the rapidly growing metro area. These days you can’t really discern that you’ve driven from Denver to Aurora. Like many big cities, the metropolitan area of Denver incorporates many smaller cities and towns.

Which is why I always just say I’m from Denver. My mom was born and raised in Denver proper, and that feels no different to me than my own growing up. But my high school boyfriend and first love, Kev, who comments on here from time to time, often gives me grief for saying “Denver” instead of “Aurora.” For him I suspect it’s a loyalty thing. For me, it’s a “no one has ever heard of Aurora” thing.

Until now.

Once we saw the news Friday morning, the internet network fired up. I figured Kev wouldn’t have been at that showing, because he’s not big on midnight showings, since he works early in the morning. And what were the odds, really? Finally, I texted him and, to my relief, he was fine. Then he said that he, his wife and son had gone to the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises – but at a different theater.

So close.

We all sent Facebook messages among my old gang of geeky friends who love things like Batman premiers and, amazingly enough, it seemed no one we were connected to had been there. Of course, our little burb has grown considerably over the years.

Yesterday, I looked at the list of the dead that the police finally released and found myself weeping over it. I didn’t recognize a single name. And I was grateful for that. It’s a strange place to be – thankful that the people you love aren’t the ones who died.

When I see those videos of the lionesses carving out a hapless gazelle from the herd while the others dash away, I wonder if they have a sense of gratitude, those luckier gazelles, that they can go back to grazing in the sun, because their number wasn’t up that day.

I don’t know what the take-home message is. All the conversations now are about controlling this – banning guns, carrying guns, anti-terrorist training, more security, more psychiatry. But, really, these things are the attacks of the monsters in the dark. It seems there will always be monsters lurking, taking a cut from the crowd. A choice as simple as preferring one theater over another can determine fate. There’s no controlling that.

Maybe all we can really do is enjoy the sunshine and the sweet green grass.

Networking and the Value of Writing Friends

Forest fire season is starting here and the skies are filled with smoke this morning. The flip side to this is that the sunsets should get pretty spectacular.

We’re also hitting summer conference season. I have RomCon in June and RWA National in July. I was considering DragonCon in August, but decided against it and am waffling on World Fantasy Con in November. For me, it’s mainly a question of time commitment, though going to conventions can be pricey. A lot of writers (or their spouses!) try to parse out the return on investment (ROI) for going to conventions. They try to calculate if book sales increase in proportion to the expense of going.

This kind of math is impossible to do.

A number pre-pub writers have told me they’re not going to a convention until they have a book to sell. I usually nod understandingly, but I usually want to take them by the shoulders and shake some sense into them.

Because you don’t go to conventions to sell books.

You go to make friends.

And, not to sound like a famous advertising meme, these kind of connections are beyond price.

That’s what networking is all about. It sounds like this very dry thing, which I suppose it can be. But in truth, networking is about forming friendships, finding your tribe, developing that extended family of choice. In reality, it’s the least dry effort there is. Those friendships become your greatest support. These will be the only people in your life whose eyes don’t glaze over when you weep over your 49th rejection and who rejoice right with you when that 50th query strikes gold. They will pet you when those edits seem too difficult to contemplate and understand why it’s just SO VERY WRONG that your heroine on the cover is holding a knife. They are also your first and best cheerleaders.

Today, there’s an article in USA Today on the Happy Ever After Blog with a list of recommendations from authors for books like Fifty Shades of Grey. Two of my friends recommended my books – one said Petals and Thorns and the other cited Sapphire. I owe them big time for this and will find ways to pay it back. But I also know I don’t have to, because they’re my friends.

Beyond price, I tell you.

Why Pitching is Never a “Make or Break” Deal

Here’s another shot of the eclipse that you can’t tell is an eclipse. Still kind of pretty though.

This week on the group blog I share with other fabulous speculative fiction writers, the Word Whores, we’re talking about the one that got away. It’s the idea that someone or something slipped through your fingers, an opportunity forever lost, the ship sailing away without you.

And I just don’t believe in this.

More, through my career as a writer, I’ve come to see that there really is no such thing as a lost opportunity. You see this advice all the time from editors and agents, e.g., don’t think your pitch appointment is your make or break moment. This is a difficult piece of advice to understand, because it FEELS like it is. Especially at first.

When I was first trying to sell Rogue’s Pawn (Book 1 in the Covenant of Thorns series! Out July 16!! Muppet Flail!!!), and this was several years ago now, I joined RWA expressly so I could go to the National Conference to pitch my book to an agent and editor I couldn’t access otherwise. I signed up, nagged them to give me my PRO status (if you don’t know what that means and you want to, go here), so I could get the early opportunity to snag an appointment. I only went to the conference for a couple of days – flew in from a day job trip and flew out again two days later, right after my pitch appointments. Both requested to see more, the agent 100 pages and the editor the full manuscript. Afterwards, I sat in the bar by myself (because I didn’t know anyone) and drank a glass of champagne, congratulating myself for seizing the opportunity.

Both said no.

I sat on my metaphorical dock, watching that ship sail off into the sunset without me and wondered what to do. Should I sit there for another year, until the next National conference? What if that ship sailed, too.

Clearly that’s just not an option if you’re not the type who’s fond of sitting on her butt, doing nothing.

So I dug up other opportunities, found many avenues to pursue. I can talk about those sometime, if anyone wants me to. But the point I’m attempting to make today is, I’ve talked to SO MANY editors and agents now, that it’s no longer a big deal. Some of them I count as friends. They’re interesting people with jobs relevant to my field. Some I work with directly, some I don’t.

But there’s no longer this huge charge over pitching a project to them. Maybe it will be a hit with them, maybe not. One agent has now read three of my novels and I know that each time she hopes it will be something she can fall in love with. Maybe that will happen. Possibly it will happen with someone else first. But I’ve talked with her about projects for years now. None of those conversations were make or break.

That’s the thing: ships don’t really sail away, never to return. If you frequent a busy port, there are ships coming and going all the time. The idea that just one is for you is ridiculous and self-limiting. We live in the modern era. There are lots of ways to get to India.

And lots of fish in the sea.

Respecting the Tropes

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that I wouldn’t normally pick up.

That’s because I’m judging for the Romance Writers of America (RWA) RITA awards. This is the romance genre’s version of the Hugo or the Oscar. Yeah, there might be some out there already snorting in disdain, but for our genre, this is one of the highest awards you can get. The first round is entirely peer-judged. As in, if you want to enter your book for the RITA, then you must judge. Thus, in mid-January, I received eight novels to read by the beginning of March.

We do get to pick categories, but otherwise I am reading books by authors I have never read before. All of them are a bit of a stretch from my normal pleasure reading. We’re asked to judge the book entirely on its quality and not whether or not we enjoy that particular kind of story, which is also a different lens.

It’s been interesting. And I’m over halfway through my pile, amazingly enough.

One of them is a new author discovery for me now. I gave her book a perfect score and look forward to reading more. Another, in a sub-genre I rarely read, I ranked very high. I don’t know that I’ll pick up her books again, for myself, but I could recognize how well she executed her craft.

One book, though written decently, failed as a romance, in my opinion. Oh, she had all the plot points in there. She faithfully followed the tropes, but they continued to feel empty to me. Contrived, even, which romance is so frequently accused of being.

So, here’s where I make a leap into a series of assumptions. I’m theorizing and obviously have no hard data to back up my ideas here. 

It’s no secret that the romance genre is making big bucks these days. A fact that seems to seriously annoy all those who consider romance not worthwhile. Latest stats from RWA: $1.36 billion in sales each year, the largest share of the consumer-book market, more than a quarter of all books sold are romance. What writer doesn’t want some of that pie?

More and more, I’m seeing writers of other genres coming over to the romance field, to pump up their sales. Or adding touches of romance, in order to sell it on that shelf. And sure, sometimes this is the work of the publisher or marketing department, trying to slide in under that umbrella.

The thing is, it’s difficult to wield a trope you don’t love. See, a trope is like a cliché or an archetype. They can be powerful devices or cardboard dummies. A good romance embraces the full emotionalism of people coming together, with all the silliness, hearts, flowers, flying cupids, spats, passion, grand gestures and breathless, intimate moments that implies. It’s not easy to write  clichés in a new, vivid and heartfelt way. But if a writer doesn’t tap into that deep store of energy that fuels the tropes in our hearts and minds, then all of that becomes cliché in the worst possible sense.

All of us romance readers love to giggle at the tropes. There are great blogs out there that encourage these discussions. We laugh at the impossibly virginal, feisty heroine and the alpha-male hero who also cooks and loves to brush her hair. And yet, when it’s done right, we also sigh in dreamy delight, and follow their story with fervent attention.

Why? Because the author takes the tropes and breathes life into them.

That doesn’t happen if the author, deep-down, doesn’t respect the tropes.

We might poke fun at the tropes like we roll our eyes at our husbands not being able to find anything without us, but if someone else makes out like our husbands are worthless? Oh no no no.

Use the power of the trope, young author.

But beware of taking it lightly.

Volunteer Slut

Another socked-in, stormy day for us. I know if we move down south, we’ll have lots more of this kind of weather, but for here it’s very unusual to have day after day of it. Yesterday afternoon it cleared off, so much so that I put the top down on the convertible and enjoyed the hot autumn sunshine.

I don’t mind the cozy, rainy days, either.

I’m wrestling with not volunteering lately. There’s something going on – a pretty big something – that I’ve been peripherally involved in. Right now the planning is floundering and there are no clear leaders. They desperately need help and I could do it.

I’m trying not to.

I’m a Volunteer Slut, but I’m trying to reform.

Please read that as being someone who can’t stop herself from volunteering, rather than as someone who volunteers to be a slut. Though the latter sounds kind of fun.

See, I was raised with the idea of service. My mom volunteered for political campaigns and charitable organizations. My stepfather was an election judge and started a foundation to encourage kids to graduate from high school. I was in, and was president of, service clubs in school and joined a sorority in college which, as opposed to common (mis)perception, is largely about service, to your sisters and to the larger world. It’s part of my belief system, that we should give of ourselves and our time to improve other people’s lives, both personally and professionally.

However, I tend to overdo.

Yes, I know. You shake your heads in shock. It’s true. I know it. This is why I’m trying to reform.

Once my two-year tenure ended as president of an enormous online chapter, I promised David I wouldn’t be on any boards of anything for at least a year. I’m 3/4 through 2011 and so far, I’m making it. I did not run for regional delegate for RWA. I did not agree to take a board position for my local chapter. I did chair a party and coordinate a contest, but I figure those don’t count.

And it has helped. I’m getting more writing done and am able to focus energy on marketing efforts for it. The day job isn’t killing me. (Sweet peas for the win!) I even get to read books.

I have to remind myself that just because I can help, doesn’t mean I have to. Or even should.

Then I see a plaintive email. I start thinking, how much time would it really take?

My own version of White Knight syndrome.

Help me stay strong!

With a Little Help from My Friends

The first morning at the RWA conference saw us playing. There’s not much going on that first day, until you get to the Literacy Signing that night. (There’s a great video of the madness that is the Literacy Signing here, if you care to see.)

So, with no need to attend the business meetings, we took off on a long walk with my roommates. The lovely Tawna Fenske already did a blog post (she’s so efficient) about me and Marcella as bunk mates. The thing is, we had a great time together. I wanted to see Rockefeller Center, Tawna wanted to see Central Park.

Of course we did the carriage ride.

Our driver had a lovely Irish accent, too. Amusingly his patter consisted of him pointing out sites where movies had been filmed. Most of which we’d never seen. I finally asked him if he’s a movie buff and he admitted that, no, it was just part of the job. He seemed surprised to be carting around a carriage-full of romance writers, particularly when I told him what I write.

More and more, conference for me is about spending time with friends like this. People I usually only “see” online. Laura Bickle is one of those. She arrived later that day, with just enough time to tie a little wine on before I had to work the registration desk before the signing.
Turns out that’s a great time to work the desk, because a lot of the big authors arrive right before the signing. The best part? They’re all registered under their REAL names.

So when Eloisa James stepped up and I couldn’t find her packet, I had to ask her if she has another, legal name. At this point, they look abashed and glance around to see who’s nearby. She leaned over the desk and said, “…” See, I swore not to tell. But I learned at least five secret identities. And yes, it’s totally enough just to know that I know the secrets.

The other funny thing was that the big speakers, like Diana Gabaldon, were done the great favor of having their registration stuff put in their rooms. Only a lot of them hadn’t BEEN to their rooms yet. Ironically, they couldn’t enter the signing without a name badge. When I told Diana her stuff was in her room, she gave me the terrified puppy-dog eyes. This was half-an-hour before the signing. She was afraid that, if I sent her to check-in and go to her room, she’d never make it through all the people in the lobby.

I ranted once before about how writers will never be rock stars. But Diana Gabaldon at a huge gathering of romance writers and readers? Totally a recognizable rock star.

We printed her up a special name badge. She was charming and grateful.

As I do every year, I also attended the Secrets of the Best-Selling Sisterhood seminar with Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This time I asked how they’ve maintained their friendship over all these years – if they have strategies. They seemed taken aback by the question and I wondered if maybe it wasn’t always easy. Finally they said that they don’t live near enough to irritate each other.
See? Just another reason to value those online friendships.

But it was really lovely to spend some in-the-flesh time with them, too.