I Will Not Be Afraid of Women: Thoughts on RWA

Eating hard-boiled eggs at breakfast: Cara McKenna, Serena Bell, Ruthie Knox, & Del Dryden's hand.

Eating hard-boiled eggs at breakfast: Cara McKenna, Serena Bell, Ruthie Knox, & Del Dryden’s hand.

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.

At the Wonkomance Karaoke meet up: Jackie Horne (Romance Novels for Feminists), Del Dryden, Ruthie Knox, Sarah Frantz (Riptide Editor), & Cara McKenna. Pretty sure Cara has just heard the karaoke machine calling her name.

At the Wonkomance Karaoke meet up: Jackie Horne (Romance Novels for Feminists), Del Dryden, Ruthie Knox, Sarah Frantz (Riptide Editor), & Cara McKenna. Pretty sure Cara has just heard the karaoke machine calling her name.

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.

Shelley Ann Clark & Carolyn Crane, looking fierce in red

Carolyn Crane & Shelley Ann Clark, looking fierce in red

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.”

A helpful diagram drawn by Mary Ann Rivers for Serena Bell to illustrate some sex thing we were all talking about.

A helpful diagram drawn by Mary Ann Rivers for Serena Bell to illustrate some sex thing we were all talking about.

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.

About Ruthie Knox

Ruthie Knox writes witty, sexy romance novels for grownups. Read more >
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64 Responses to I Will Not Be Afraid of Women: Thoughts on RWA

  1. Agreed! And YES! And THAT – exactly all of that. It’s truly truly in my experience the best of us all. The big stuff and small stuff. Kristin Higgins checked to see if I had nose-laughed boogers all over my face before the rita presenting. I held hands with Sweet Lady Rivers (how i refer to her…so she knows…) while we talked about how hard this shit is. And how great. But hard too. I had fan girl moments, and got fan girl moments and ate great food and rested my head on my agents stronger tougher shoulders. And I danced. I danced like a kid.
    How is this not the best thing?

    • Oh, god, Molly, stop. You were so exactly what I needed in a moment when I didn’t even realize I needed anything that it was a paradigm shift.

      Smart and fierce women need other smart and fierce women in some ineffable way, to understand self. RWA is a collective acknowledgement of that need.

      It’s *asking* for something, demanding something. A declaration of needs and wants that is more than a statement–a celebration, I think.

      The week was such a frank and naked and gorgeous recognition of how it is, exactly, we’re changing the world–and love each other for it.

      • “Smart and fierce women need other smart and fierce women in some ineffable way, to understand self.”

        YES. Yes yes yes. This statement sums up so much about why RWA is so important, and why the national convention is, on every level, awesome.

    • And it was the best dancing EVAR!!!

      • Shelley says:

        At one point, I realized– I’m up here on the dance floor doing the Wobble with Cara McKenna and Tessa Dare is RIGHT THERE and then I died but came back to life because I was having too much fun to be too worried about it.

    • Ruthie Knox says:

      It *is* the best thing.

  2. Shari Slade says:

    Thank you for writing this, for articulating so much of the “fucking awesome” that I’m still trying to process. I can’t even.

    You are awesome, Ruthie. You ALL are awesome, Wonk-o-mance. EVERYONE IS AWESOME, RWA.

    And HOT. OMG.


    Okay, I’m still having a hard time making words. Just…thank you.

  3. Brunette Librarian says:

    Congratulations Ruthie! I was one of those people who saw you in KC and had “read all your books” You were adorable, sweet and totally handled all my fangirlness in stride. You deserve all of your success!! Rock on!

  4. Shelley says:

    First of all, you just had to go reference my favorite Dar Williams song in the title, didn’t you? Because that’s the sort of meeting of minds that happens at RWA. The people who you meet who just get it. All of it.

    I called my mom after I got home from RWA (and slept for 8 hours straight), and there was this little hesitation in her voice, fear maybe, from all those years of tragic slumber parties, when she asked, “And there was none of that mean girl stuff?” And first of all, I love that at 32, my mom is still worried that the other girls will be mean to me, and secondly, there wasn’t. There just wasn’t. There was so much love and intellect and also GORGEOUSNESS because these ladies are so freaking beautiful in person.

    And I kind of wish there was an extra week, just of time to hang out and meet people and write together, because there were so many people I only met for a few minutes who I want to know better, whose brains seem so fascinating, whose work I admire or haven’t read yet but know I will admire.

    More than any other gathering I’ve ever walked into, I stepped into the hotel room at RWA and thought, “I’m home.”

  5. It’s been years since I’ve been to RWA. My first experience wasn’t the best and at the time I blamed the conference when really I was just in a weird place as a writer.

    But this year…oh it was amazing for all the reasons you said. HUGS!!!

  6. I have no brain or voice yet post-RWA and can barely hold my head up even after a full night of sleep, but I needed to say I kinda love you for this. :)

    • One of the highlights for me was listening to my roommates Amber Lin and Shari Slade talk about your presentation, Eden. They were awed and so overcome and had this incredible energy and gladness talking about it. I meant to stop and tell you at the BBD cocktail party and didn’t get a chance, but it was lovely to see their excitement and to know that this was the kind of love getting passed around.

  7. Doren Cassale says:

    Actually…that was a great metaphor. I quite enjoyed it, anyway.

    As to Everything Else, which was just so perfectly stated, I can’t wait to go next year. In the meantime, keep on rockin’ all y’all’s awesomeness as writers and women.

  8. Nancy Hardy says:

    Thanks for this! Atlanta was amazing. I’ve been to many RWA national conferences, but for me, this one was special, because in the past year I’ve finished MSs and sent them off. An agent requested a full at the end of June. I am doing this. All of the women I met were supportive and smart and INTERESTED. Even the published authors I met at signings asked ME about my project and when I described it, one dear woman told me MY story gave HER chills. Sorry for the caps, but I feel that’s what makes this conference so special: everyone has been where we each are (newbie, pre-pubbed, etc.), and the successful ones want you to be like them. Because I know these people: “…romance is ghettoized, run down, slagged off, constantly.” One was giddy (not to my face, but to my husband’s) when a full I had with a pub was passed on. Primarily because she doesn’t read that “garbage.” She was happy I failed. But I’ll never find that at RWA. Because each and every one of you ladies and gents there rock!

  9. “I could teach her how to dance when the music’s ended.”

    Lovely post, Ruthie. I had such a brilliant time with everyone at RWA this year. New friends and old. Just amazing.

  10. “…. 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.”
    Yes, this! I was just blown away by the profound generosity and kindness of my fellow writers, I still feel all lovey. But also, it’s so damn funny our genre is derided when its actually where you can find the most mind-blowingly talented, brilliant, and savvy women ever.

  11. This! You talk about being that fan on the elevator–me and Gina Maxwell were that fan in the elevator each time we saw you.

    We talked about you constantly. Your books, your fashionable clothes, your gift at singing karaoke, and your wit. In our heads you can never get any better, because you’re the best there is.

    It was Gina’s and my first time at RWA and both had warm, fuzzy experiences. We both left with a surprising lack of business cards, because we weren’t making business connections. That editor or that agent or that writer is now a friend or acquaintance, so we swapped social media and phone numbers instead.

    I bonded more with my local chapter (which is incredibly easy to do, because they are so awesome) and may have cried when I met Amber Lin. But no one cared, and I think Amber was flattered instead of scared. Success.

    It was lovely fan-girling you. It was even more lovely meeting you.

    And I have a video of you wearing a sequin dress pulled over a long-sleeved shirt, rocking tennis shoes, while singing karaoke. I’ll email it soon, but know Gina and I are already looking for outfits exactly like it.


  12. Kate Meader says:

    Yeah, all of this times infinity. It was my first, and every time I walked into a room or elevator or bar expecting awkwardness, I just felt a wave of unmitigated support. I was a bit worried I’d got off on the wrong foot after I fan-girled Mary Ann Rivers (I had broken down like a wuss on the plane out to Atlanta while reading The Story Guy) but she was so freakin’ cool. It was just awesome to meet author heroes and the future stars of romance. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Elizabeth Hoyt professing her love of “cock” to a packed audience, and everyone laughing riotously but not batting an eyelid, even the one, brave guy in the room. And to Christine d’Abo, who brought wine to the Forever Romance signing, you rock, lady!

    • I wish I could have talked with you more, Kate! It was so good to meet you. I didn’t even get a chance to tell you how much fun I had with your Wonder Woman costume heroine! With her scooter! And just general awesomeness.

    • Ruthie Knox says:

      I wish I could have talked to you, too! We will just have to keep going and going so we get to talk to all the people.

  13. How jealous am I? I spent the week reading everyone’s tweets feeling horribly envious at missing out on this. I’ve never been to RWA, but it’s on my wishlist for next year because I so need this :)

  14. I think I’m gonna need more than a stick figure drawing to understand what Mary Ann and Serena were talking about. ;-)

  15. I haven’t been to the national RWA yet, but I did go to RT last year in Chicago. It was my first national conference ever, and my first book fair, and Maisey Yates gave me a disposable toothbrush because I had spinach in my teeth. And I tweeted something to a Twitter-friend during a talk, and she responded, and then we realized we were actually sitting right next to each other without knowing it, and then we went to the bar. There were some ups and downs (I got seriously peopled out toward the end) but it was one of the most astonishing and welcoming weeks of my life. I absolutely love being a part of the romance community.

    Can I put in a request for karaoke during the RT conference in New Orleans? I have some serious karaoke envy at present.

    • Ruthie Knox says:

      Strangely, I talked to someone holding a disposable toothbrush this weekend. I can’t remember now who it was.

      We’ll see what we can do about 2014 karaoke!

  16. Oh hell, you made me cry again. I love it. :) This was absolutely the most amazing RWA I’ve ever attended and you captured the essence of it perfectly. Thank you.

  17. Rachel says:

    AHHHH! I love this post!! Thank you for it!! Such a beautiful recollection of what sounds like an absolute blast of a trip! I’m so thrilled that all of you had so much fun and found what you wanted/needed while you were there!! It is certainly a goal to make it to RWA one year.Maybe next year!

  18. This was my first time attending nationals, and it was just so…everything you’ve articulated above that I can’t even come close to describing. It was amazing, and it was amazing because it’s poluated by women (and men!) who embody that word fully. I was never among strangers, even when I didn’t actually know anyone else in the room. It’s an experience I will never forget, and one I hope to repeat again soon.

    And thanks for being so gracious as I tried to repectfully fangirl you, but mainly just managed to stutter, sqeak, and flail :)

  19. Alexandra Haughton says:

    I want to wrap up last week, this post, and all the attendant joys to peer at when I’ve a case of the bloops.

    • Shelley says:

      Agreed, and I love your use of “case of the bloops.” I shall now make this phrase happen.

  20. It was the best conference ever. I’m sort of glad to see so many people saying that here, because there were times I wondered if I was the only one having that days-long moment of wonder. I’d put off going to RWA because I’d always heard it wasn’t as much fun as RT, more professional and muted. I now think it’s just like RT but with slightly earlier nights and lighter luggage (no costumes).

    And of course, while others only got to fangirl Ruthie Knox in elevators and whatnot, I got to sleep with her. HUGE BONUS.

  21. I so totally agree with all of this! When the keynote speaker at a professional conference thanks her husband for the great sex, you know you are in the right job. And you know you’re with Your People.

    I remember noticing that when one woman would walk out of the room, the others would talk behind her back about how awesome she was. They’d actually put their heads together and whisper. “Isn’t she great?” “I know. I love her so much.” It was the opposite of backbiting – backkissing? Backpetting? I dunno.

    I came away just loving all the strong, passionate women out there who believe they deserve success, however they want to define that, and are unapologetically reaching for it. And who understand that another woman’s success does not lessen our own, but adds to it.

    It was so hard to go back to the real world and deal with normal people. Sigh.

  22. Jessi Gage says:

    What an energizing post, Ruthie! Glad you had such a wonderful time. If I ever get off my patoot and go to Nationals I will SO do karaoke with you!

  23. Laurie Evans says:

    I *must* go to this convention someday! Sigh…

  24. Kate Pearce says:

    Every year as my lovely husband drops me off at the airport I get all quiet and he sighs and says, okay “say it” and I go into my usual speech about “what if no one wants to talk to me?, what if my friends all hate me? My publishers have forgotten me, my-” at which point he usually says “you’ll be fine” kicks me out of the car and barely hears from me for 5 days because I’m too busy to talk to him.
    So I loved this post. There is no where else in the world where I meet people who get me like RWA or who want to talk books, or who I end up sitting on their beds at 2 in the morning laughing like a drain.
    This was a very special conference,
    P.s. I love your books!!

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  26. Love, love,LOVE this post!

  27. I really loved this Atlanta conference. It’s the first one I’ve been able to make since last time in New Orleans (don’t ask). The bottom line: Romance novels make the world a better place.

  28. This is the first RWA I’ve been able to make since last time in New Orleans (don’t ask). It was simply packed with wonderful people and wonderful programs. It’s true: Romance novels make the world a better place.

  29. Gayle Wilson says:

    Thank you for encapsulating all the things I have loved about RWA and RWA members through the years. What a lovely tribute to the organization and all those amazing women!

  30. But then I repeat myself. Getting old is stinkeroo!

  31. You nailed it! Thanks for your ‘fucking awesome’ post.

  32. Wonderful blog post! You captured the atmosphere of the RWA conference perfectly! Loved it!

  33. Teresa Hill says:

    Fierce awesomeness was everywhere this year. Joy. Excitement. I came home so fired up to write. I heard a ton of people say they were fired up to get home and write. I did come home and write like crazy.

    RWA is fan-girl moments, whispering behind someone’s back about how awesome a certain writer is, both as a person and a writer.

    It’s laughing until your ribs hurt and you fall off the bed and figuring out if weird sex positions will work, with people who understand why you need to know if it will work. I mean, how many places can you go and ask, “Is sex in a hammock possible? Because it seems really tricky. It’s hard enough to just get in a hammock without falling out.”

    But people at RWA will take that question seriously and someone will have an answer. Not many places like that.