Do you like conventions?
A lot of writers I know are introverts, and a sizable percentage of the readers to whom I speak are too. I’m actually not, I’m a confirmed extrovert; but just because one is an extrovert does not mean that one loves large crowds. Enough of my acquaintances have commented about being ill-at-ease at large events that I thought I’d talk about it for a moment.
A convention sounds so romantic – meet new people, liaise with one’s network, make connections, meet famous people, and above all, sell books. Let’s face it, that’s the reason that these conventions were invented, isn’t it?
Well, maybe not. See, before my current writers’ group Writer Zen Garden became a Meetup group, I helped found another local group. We filed for, and successfully were granted, non-profit status. Our vision was to become a multi-genre writing group. While that group is now functionally defunct, it taught me a tremendous amount about running a business, especially a non-profit; and it brought me in contact with some amazing people – famous authors, generous people who gave of their time and expertise, and other entrepreneurs.
One of these is Kathryn Falk, the founder of RT. Kathryn was our keynote speaker in 2011 and she spoke about the romance genre and so-called “women’s fiction.” When I went up to thank her for her time and support of our fledgling writers group, we got to talking about my vision of the writing community and my place in it. I found her engaging and she asked penetrating questions. It was like talking to the many other entrepreneurs I’ve been privileged to meet throughout my career. One thing struck me – she seemed wistful for those early days of her own business, and stunned me with her next question: “Could I come help stuff bags with you?”
And thus began one of the most amazing weekends of my entire writing career. Kathryn came with us to my cofounder’s house and helped us stuff conference bags, and we talked about the drug war with Mexico. She gets interested in topics, she told me, and it’s clear that she studies them at a very deep level. On a whim, I invited her to the sex toy party (where a consultant comes with a catalog of different, fun toys, games, and garments for sale and shows them to party-goers) that I was hosting the next night, and to my utter shock, she accepted my invitation.
I will be forever grateful for my time with her, and for the unique glimpse into the mind of one of the romance genre’s most famous movers-and-shakers. From its tiny beginnings over thirty years ago, she told me, when they had a volunteer staff of just two or three people working on a romance review magazine, to her storied friendship with cover model Fabio, to where it is today – an international cornerstone of the romance genre – Kathryn Falk has been at the epicenter of the industry.
What this experience taught me is that despite the glitz and the glam, the parties and the craziness, the cover models and the books-books-books, at its core conventions are about relationships. We meet other people, some famous, some not, and we share this love of romance that we’ve been developing our whole lives. I found my first RT overwhelming and, at times, struggled with anxiety attacks. But I’m so glad that I went because I got to see what comes of starting small, of believing in a dream, and of working hard.
– E.E. Cummings
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