I’m sitting at the Atlanta airport, running on three hours of sleep and a Snickers bar, thinking back on the past four days, which I spent in the company of hundreds of writers and publishing professionals at the Romance Writers of America conference.
This was my second RWA. Last year, I was adjusting to the novel experience of having an editor, an agent, and more than one person telling me, “I read your book!” This year, I was adjusting to the novel experience of two RITA finals, a huge amount of publisher support, and getting fangirled in the elevator by people who told me, “I read all your books!”
Which is pretty awesome, but it’s not the point. It’s basically impossible to get a big head at RWA, because (a) you keep running into people whose work you fiercely admire, which means you end up being the person in the elevator saying “I’ve read all your books! Oh my god! That one with the thing! You are so awesome!” and (b) the collective intelligence, experience, and fierce amazingness that gathers together at RWA is so vast that you can do nothing but float along as a happy amoeba among the primordial soup.
Or something. I don’t know, that wasn’t my best metaphor, I haven’t slept much the past four nights. I was too busy talking.
Because here is the thing about RWA: in the run-up to conference, there are a lot of nerves. People worry about who they will talk to, what they will say, whether they will fit, if they will manage to get through a meet-and-greet / a panel / the literacy signing / their RITA speech without having a complete mental breakdown. They worry about what they’re going to wear and if it will be “good enough” and whether they weigh the right number of pounds and if their pitches will tank and whether their roommate / editor / agent even wants to suffer through dinner with them, much less what they will say to these exalted personages.
But here is the more important thing about RWA: none of that matters. Everyone wants to talk. There are a million things to say, and none of them are “right” or “wrong.” You fit. We all fit. There is support for every crisis, more experienced practice partners for every pitch, thousands of outfits on hundreds of bodies that are skinny and chunky and round. My god, the bodies. All the bodies are amazing. I think I have a permanent crick in my neck from double-taking at all the hotness, in every possible physical guise.
RWA isn’t a contest. It’s a love-fest. Not the sort where people hug and pointlessly build each other up for days, but the sort where people who are smart and passionate — people who know things and think hard and care and approach their work with energy and joy — gather together for a few days to be collective. We share knowledge, we share drinks, we share beds, we share so much hilarity, oh my god. So much hilarity that sometimes you’re hanging off the edge of the bed with your hair dangling, clutching your stomach, because you can’t even take it. So much enthusiasm that you’re dancing barefoot, bumping hips with someone whose book you read last week and whose brain you admire so hard, it kind of hurts. So much knowledge, affirmation, empathy, shared experience, and power that sometimes you have to cry a little bit, or clutch hands, or nod really hard and lock eyes and just think “Yeah, yeah, she gets this. She so gets it.”
Also, Carolyn Crane karaokes Led Zeppelin in a skirt with deer on it. Vicki Lewis Thompson tells your friend that she’s going to write more nerd books, and you squee a little. You meet everyone from your publisher and realize, my god, these people are sharp and cool and passionate. You wander through a crowd of people dressed like it’s prom so you can sit in a room for the RITA ceremony at one table among more than a hundred, and you laugh and nod and smile and applaud and applaud and applaud.
It’s fucking awesome.
I don’t care what people who aren’t romance writers and readers and editors and agents say about romance. I know romance is ghettoized, run down, slagged off, constantly. Just this morning, I got the most condescending email, I didn’t even know what to say about it. And don’t get me wrong — I hate that. I do. I got my angry pants on and wrote back. But this morning, I can’t really care very much. I can’t. I’m proud of what I do, I’m proud of RWA, I’m proud of women. I love this conference. I want to wrap my arms around it and squeeze it until it squeaks.
That’s the thing about RWA. It’s just so fucking awesome.