Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the “Let Your Imagination Take Flight” conference held by the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America. It was the first conference I’ve ever attended, either as an author or as a reader, and it was AWESOME!
I’ll admit, I was nervous. Mainly because there were some very well-known authors attending. In the big sea of romance writers, I am a small fish. However, everybody was so warm and inclusive that I didn’t have long to worry. It was refreshing to be among my “tribe” and have the opportunity to talk craft and industry with people who were just as excited about the topic as I am.
The workshops were AMAZING. Yes, I was “that person” sitting in the front row madly scribbling in my notebook. (Just goes to show that passion and interest can make a good student out of anybody.) I attended workshops discussing nitty-gritty subjects such as SEO and research, craft talks about secondary characters and big picture revising, as well as more philosophical discussions about inclusivity and representation.
There were some notable standouts. The master class with Beverly Jenkins on world building and American settings was everything I wanted it to be and more. She had the room in stitches on numerous occasions. Not only did I have a chance to meet a wonderful author, but I found Ms. Bev to be funny, gracious, kind, and so, so knowledgeable. Truly a beautiful human being inside and out. I especially appreciated her insights regarding self-publishing and it’s ability to open up the publishing industry and bring more marginalized voices to market.
Olivia Dade conducted a workshop called, “Big Love: Fat Representation in Romance” that was the most powerful, poignant workshop of the weekend, in my opinion. The topic of representation and inclusivity typically revolves around race and LGBTQ matters – which are absolutely worth having – but she pointed out size representation should ALSO be addressed in the world of romance. She was at once vulnerable and frank when it came to her own experiences and her courage inspired me to re-examine my own writing and thoughts on the matter.
Another moment that really stuck with me was not a workshop at all, but a speech given by Skye Warren during the Saturday night dinner. She talked about how people have called her books “dangerous.” She mentioned that doing what she wanted and being successful at it as a woman can be a challenge, but that it’s absolutely one worth fighting. That we must not compromise ourselves to fit into what society deems appropriate. That our most authentic stories need to be told and we must have the courage to do so – even in the face of fear or ostracism. She ended her speech saying, “Society considers a woman with a voice dangerous.”
Truth has a way of ringing simply and clearly. In a room of two hundred, I think every person there could relate to what she was saying. Her speech brought many to tears, including myself. And in that half-beat of silence that followed her speech, we all seemed to take a collective breath before springing to our feet and filling the air with applause. It was a highlight of the conference that I will be thinking about for quite awhile.
Needless to say, I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference!