Back in the day, I used to be a conference and meetings person – professionally. Those of you who have had that job know how challenging it is, akin to herding cats while each cat is wearing a magnet. Sometimes they all line up and head off in a group. Sometimes, all those magnets face the wrong way and everyone is repelled into different directions. Sometimes, people forget to clean the litterbox.
A few people have emailed me to say, “OMG, did you HEAR about the CRAZY that went on with one of the Mr. Romance candidates?” Several emailed me eyewitness accounts of what was really a scary and altogether sad situation, and really, there’s only so much crazy that can be attributed to the the sleepless, hardworking conference organizers. RT and the folks that run it had no idea that this particular individual would cause such a scene in the midst of 1500 people causing a more entertaining scene. But, it does make me think of the more OMGWTF moments I’ve seen and heard of in conference planning.
Hotels under construction? RTsters just finished that experience, and my sources tell me the hotel assured the organizers that the reno would be completed. Yeah, that wasn’t quite true. By a longshot. As for me, I’ve been to other conferences where the hotel was under construction – and the time difference was such that I wanted to sleep while the sledgehammering was in full swing. Hotel and convention staff work hard, but one person with the wrong intentions or who’s just having a dumb moment can foul up things like damn and whoa. My very worst conference experience isn’t even remotely funny, but oh my, there have been some much, much worse happenings at conferences that would make your eyes bug out.
Heather Graham emailed me her worst-ever conference experience, back in the early days of the first Florida Romance Writers conference:
We all killed ourselves for one of our first FRW conferences, trying to make everything just right. Lunch was chicken—undercooked. But it was served, and at my table, people had taken bites of their sides, cut their chicken—many had tried it until we realized it was raw chicken.
The waiter came around and irritably picked up all the plates—then returned with them and just set them down anywhere! By then, of course, time for lunch to be over, and everyone just went ugh! drank a lot of water, and headed on back to workshops. Not good, not good at all! But I think we were all too dumbstruck to make the fuss we should have!
Holy freaking crap. If that happened today, and the fuss was made, there’d be no end to the free drinks at the hotel bar. I can’t even imagine the shades of purple the General Manager would turn upon hearing that story.
However, there are some cool concepts on the conference calendar, too, from this weekend’s Washington Romance Writer’s Retreat, and next month’s science-fiction-feminist extravaganza, WisCon. Graham also gave me the heads up about her own Writers for New Orleans Conference:
we started Writers for New Orleans right after Katrina because friends told me they were grateful for handouts, but what they really wanted was to get back to work. We managed to get it up in about four months. The Hotel Monteleone was chosen very purposely. My sister, who came to New Orleans every year, loved it, and it didn’t make any sense to go to a chain hotel. We needed a local hotel. I later discovered that we made a good call—our banquet man told us that there is still a Mr. Monteleone, and after Katrina, he paid all his people for the weeks ahead, and also picked up utility bills for them.
The French Quarter is back up as if nothing happened; it didn’t really flood. But the outlying areas are still trashed. After Hurricane Andrew, there were areas down here that stayed devastated for a decade, so that’s what we’re figuring. We’ll do it for ten years. Our proceeds go to the library foundation, but the idea was really to get people in, and get them spending money. The idea was to offer some great classes, a Friday fun dinner, and a chance for people to help out by just being there, seeing why the city (yes, Bourbon Street can be a true den of decadence) is so important to the U.S. No handouts from everyone, just everyone shopping, having lunch out, etc.
Most romance conferences I’ve attended have literacy signings or other fundraisers for local not-for-profit organizations – yet another example of how the romance community is incredibly altruistic and can move huge mountains of cash money in innovative and generous directions (two words: Brenda Novak).
So what’s your worst – and best – conference experiences? Share, share!