Conference Re-Cap: Florida Romance Writers’ Cruise With Your Muse

Book CoverA few people emailed me to ask why I was going on such a short cruise, and it was super short. I hadn’t heard of a cruise this brief-  we left Thursday at 5pm and docked and disembarked by 9am on Saturday. Really, it was brief. I felt like I’d unpacked and repacked in less than 24 hours – probably because, now that I think about it, I had.

One thing that wasn’t brief? My wardrobe. I’d packed for Florida. But as I seem to be The Bringer Of Cold Weather, it was beyond chilly there. The high on Wednesday was barely 55F. I wore the same sweater every day. It practically walked to the laundry basket. The cold was not at all fun.

But the Florida Romance Writers’ Cruise With Your Muse Conference was freaking marvelous. It was well organized and despite the changes created by the cruise ship’s insistence, it wasn’t too difficult to find one’s way around. Well, except that the 2nd floor conference center was only accessible by one bank of elevators and one set of stairs, but once I figured that out, I only made the same mistake twice more. The group enclosed a miniature conference schedule in the name badge holders, which was SO smart. Conference mastermind Aleka Nakis deserves mad props for the effort. She looked ready to drop overboard just for some peace and quiet by the end of the cruise, but she did a great job.

Here in convenient sort-of-a-list formation are my highlights:

I posted a picture of the book signing minutes before my cell phone lost all service, and yes, it was cool because the book signing was on the main promenade of the cruise ship, allowing passengers to take a look at the books on the tables and meet the authors. Unfortunately it didn’t seem that too many books were purchased, but it was a unique venue to catch casual readers. And what else do people like to do on cruise ships than read books? And drink, I mean, but still. Reading is one of my favorite vacation activities.

Book CoverI met Pearl Wolf, who is a debut author with Kensington. Her first book comes out in March, and though it wasn’t on hand to sign, she was terribly excited about it. Wolf has writing for years, and is so pleased to have her debut contract.

At age 79.

No, that’s not a typo.

She told me her age and told me I could tell you. I’m so impressed. Lesson from Ms. Wolf: it is never too late. And if you ever have a chance to meet her, grab it, because she’s a hoot. Her story about going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem nearly caused me to snort my beverage.

Book CoverI was traveling with my friend Rangeley, who is a reader of romance and a happy fan of the genre, and who had never been to a romance writer’s convention. It was not like any conference she’d been to, cruise ship notwithstanding. At dinner we found ourselves seated with Kathy Love and Erin McCarthy, and it was hard to tell who was more squeeful, me or Rangeley, since we’d both read Flat Out Sexy and loved it. I confessed to having a wicked girl crush on Kathy Love’s childhood friend Julie Cohen, which Kathy totally understood, and forgave me for. I think.

We also sat with Rose Hilliard, to whom Candy and I are in great debt and in whose honor we have already erected a turgid, shining altar, complete with heaving bosoms and man titty.  Rose rules. An unpublished author named Jasmine, and her husband and daughter, were also at the table. It was a great group for a long dinner. Book Cover

I always forget until I’m at a romance conference or convention how fun it is to talk to fellow romance readers. It’s a huge base of Something In Common upon which to build a fun dinner conversation, and the first night, even though the waiters sang for about 10 minutes, was a total ball.

A word about cruises: generally I like them. I’ve been on a few with Hubby’s family, but I have two main complaints. No, three. First: it is so difficult to get water. Go to a bar, annoy the bartender because you aren’t spending money. Get an exceptionally small glass of water. Drink it all. Repeat. Even when I tip the bartender and get a refill with a smile, I’m always thirsty. And I don’t drink a hell of a lot of alcohol, but I drink a ton of water. Second: the nickel and diming shit. $4 for orange juice. $5 for a Coke. For a 36 hour cruise the unlimited soda pass, if I could have found it, wasn’t worth it, but for the love of smack, that’s bullshit. Absolutely, to be sure, NOT at all the fault of FRW or anything to do with the conference, but that’s one thing about hosting a conference on a cruise that some folks, if you’re not familiar with The Way of the Cruise Charge Card, could be shocked about. I’m well familiar with it and it still tees me off.

And third: it is always true in my experience that most of the time, romance conference attendees are kind, considerate, and aware of how hard everyone around them is working. But my gosh, the FRW attendees were far and away the most polite people on the ship. Not once did I hear other passengers say “please” when asking for things, not when ordering food, not when requesting anything – it was disgusting. Every time I was around the FRW group, people were wonderfully polite. Dear Rest of the Passengers: you’re assholes. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ If children who have less than 100 total words of vocabulary can swing it, you can, too. God almighty.

Yet another way in which Romance Fans are far, far superior to other mortals – we are polite!

The FRW throw a good party, too. Heather Graham rocks some serious karaoke power, but the highlight was totally unexpected. One drunk dude who wasn’t with the group got SCHOOLED in a major way by a woman who, after he asked for someone to sing a capella with him (never a good sign) jumped on stage and did lung blasting soul drenched version of a song I didn’t know and certainly can’t hum a few bars to fake it. She was belting out some outstanding soul.

He was mooing.

So what was the best part? The coolest part of the conference was my presentation!

Ha. I kid. I did present on Friday about Online Promotion for authors. I had a very happy interactive audience – which was awesome because I wasn’t sure anyone would come since it was mid-morning on the day the ship was docked in the Bahamas. But that wasn’t the coolest part.

The coolest part of the conference, really, was Floridian Idol. Attendees were asked to submit 2 pages of anonymous fiction. Each piece was read aloud to a panel of 7 editors and agents, and three of them would respond. No one knew who the author was as each piece was read and critiqued, and the editors and agents didn’t respond to anyone’s face while they gave an honest, succinct reaction and critique. I thought it was awesome. I understand that this feature has appeared at other conferences, sometimes to the tune of 2+ hours of entries and critiques (oy) but this was the first time I’d seen it.

Some of the entries were heavy on the info dump, wherein the writing would focus on the shoes of one character squeaking and then the POV would fly away like the writer pressed the zoom out button too hard and suddenly the reader/listener was treated to a full account of that character’s employment history. I wondered at the time (I was taking notes on a receipt) if the writers had been trying to compress their whole story into two pages, given some of the overabundance of detail in the samples, or if they simply had an overabundance of detail in the first two pages of their chapters.

Most of the comments dealt with timing, detail, suspense, world building, descriptions (as in, too much or too many) and similar issues. It was fascinating that you really could get a sense of a story or of a writer’s voice in two pages. Rose Hilliard made a very, very sharp point by saying more than once that details aren’t the point: it’s choosing the right detail. As someone who gets very irritable at too much info dumping, I say, “Oh, hell yes.”

At one point, someone bumped the microphone sound table, and suddenly HQN/Mira editor Adam Wilson’s voice was loud and echoing, like he had taken on divine powers. That was ironically funny given that he was in mid-critique of a piece that didn’t work for him.

Note to any aspiring authors: if you are a writer submitting to Mr. Wilson at Harlequin, I suggest you include many, many references to pepperoni. As many as you can. Trust me on this.

Book CoverI didn’t say anything to anyone except Rangeley at the time, but I had submitted two pages of fiction when I registered. I had read the request in so many email messages from the organizer that I thought that entries might be slim pickings. I was wrong – ultimately the hosts were reading only one page of the two page entries because there were so many, but I was not the only one who was thinking there might be a shortage. When Miriam Kriss responded to a particular entry that whoever wrote it should query her, a voice sounded from the back wall “I’m already your client!” Writer Toni Andrews had submitted a sample piece because she’d been told they were short. HA!

I didn’t think I was going to hear responses to my piece, since I was late getting to the Idol lounge, but before I headed off to find more sunscreen (I burst into flame in the sun, even when it’s barely 65F) I heard my title announced. Let me tell y’all: that is some scary shit, to hear your own words read out loud and then responded to by three editor- and agent-type professionals. Holy shit. I was suddenly cold all over. I have a lot of respect for all the writers who tossed their entries in the hat because it is nerve-shuddering anxiety to listen to immediate feedback.

I’m used to it here on the site, where within seconds one of the Bitchery will tell me I’m full of shit – I can totally handle that. But every now and again I try writing fiction, and it is hard, hard, hard for me. Prose is a writing muscle I’ve used for years online. My fiction muscles are much less robust and to say I find writing fiction difficult and often disastrous is an understatement. But I do it since it reminds me, obviously, how fucking hard it is.

So having the product of those less—than-turgid muscles critiqued is like having the gym’s most sculpted personal trainer watching you work out. In a word: Eeeep. So mad props to the writers who participated – I know firsthand what you went through. The experience was supremely fidget-inducing.

(If you’re curious: Miriam Kriss liked what I’d written, as did Adam Wilson, who said he was very curious about the world and thought the dialogue was realistic. The third editor, and I could only see the back of her hair so I think it was either Kerry Donovan or Holly Root, said she had little emotional connection to the characters and wasn’t that into it. Ouch!)

Christina Dodd gave the keynote in a room with a broken microphone, so everyone had to gather close to hear her talk, which gave the event a much more intimate feel than your typical keynote address. I heard several authors at the cocktail party afterward saying how much they enjoyed it, how inspiring it was, and how impressively friendly she is. Totally true.

Book CoverSpeaking of friendly, I have to say, Rangeley had such a good time meeting authors and aspiring writers, and because everyone was so friendly and both networking and relaxing at the same time, she got to see that rarely-glimpsed bit of awesome that is the romance community: we are terribly, terribly interesting. She was so impressed with author M.A. Ellis that she kept talking about her even after we left the ship, and wanted to read her book asap. It wasn’t that Ellis spoke constantly about her book – it was more that she was kind, interesting, funny, and a boatload of fun to talk to at the cocktail party and at conference events, and her impression made a curious reader out of my friend and me as well. Plus Ellis was wearing a Steelers shirt when we disembarked, so she’s automatically Good People in my book.

I have to say, if conferences are that much fun, with that many interesting people, and that involve that much food, I’m going to be a conference harlot before long.  FRW is a tough act to follow, though, because even with a giant cruise ship of distractions, they had a legendary conference. Someone is going to steal Aleka Nakis for her conference planning prowess, and it’ll be a battle royale.

Coming up: my review of the goody bag. Sneak preview: what I put in the goody bag was lamesauce compared to everything else!

If you’d like me to speak at your conference or chapter meeting, please do let me know (sarah @ I’m always eager to meet more RWA chapters, and can give remarks on a variety of subjects, including online marketing, self promotion, blogging do’s and holy-crap-do-not’s, and Dealing With Evil Reviewers Mwahahahaha.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Julie Cohen says:

    Kathy was on a friggin’ cruise and didn’t take me?!?!?!  Right, that girl is in trouble.

    Glad you had such a good time, Sarah.

  2. 2
    Teddypig says:

    Dear SB Sarah,

    What’s a blog?
    You are telling em to handle evil reviewers you send us free books and good chocolate right?

  3. 3
    Aleka Nakis says:

    Sarah, did you make this such a long post so that I’d have a hard time coming back with a quircky comment? I bow down…you’ve succeeded.

    We’re so glad that you found FRW to be a good host. We love blending work and play for it produces the best kind of results for all! Hey, we’re romance writers:-)

    As for the conference center access, I think I’ll ask RCL to put in a few extra lifts or supply gorgeous hunks to direct us to the proper ones for the 2011 conference.

    Thanks for joining us, Sarah. It really was a ‘productive and inspiring’ blast. Just, next time, leave the cold up north. We sailed on the coldest day of the year for South Florida! Me thinks you Northerners packed it in your cases and brought it along. lol


  4. 4
    traci says:

    I’m so glad you had a great time!!!!Aleka kicked ass, and nobody gets to steal her…I have bribes in place, lol

  5. 5
    Jane says:

    The Toni Andrews / Miriam Kriss story is funny.  Good to know that Kriss’ tastes are so consistent. Or Andrews’ writing is.

  6. 6
    Phyl says:

    Pearl Wolf is 79? That is so beyond awesome. I am making a note right now to buy that book.

  7. 7
    joykenn says:

    Boy do I agree about the workout your cruise card can get even in a non-alcoholic way!  I kept close watch on mine (and especially on my kids cards!) on my first cruise.  While waiting to disembark I was sitting next to some folks who had run up over a $750 bar bill! YIKES.  Cheap cruise my ass!

    Hey next time you do a cruise of such awesomeness let the rest of us know about it in time to go! Especially when it is below zero here.  I’ll take 55 any day!

  8. 8
    Kimberly says:

    I also had a fabulous time at the conference.  The on board distractions provided alternate things to do when there were not workshops and the variety of entertainments meant there was something for everyone. 
    I actually purchased the Beverage package (or whatever it is called), and got my moneys worth but then again I am a Coca-cola addict…..

  9. 9
    ev says:

    Dang- sorry i missed it! So many of my faves were there too.

    Someone want to post the info for the next one when it is up? I would love to go!

  10. 10
    M.A. Ellis says:

    That cruise will undoubtedly be one of this year’s highlights. The workshop topics offered something for every level of writer and I was so impressed with Aleka’s mad organizational skills that I felt compelled to call her on my drive home and offer my thanks. The fact I could hear her ever-present smile on the other end of the phone…when I would have been three steps away from a complete meltdown had I been the one wearing the coordinator tiara…says a great deal about the woman. She’s amazing and it was a wonderful, informative trip.

  11. 11
    Jennifer says:

    Wow, this sounds neat. I wanna go on a conference cruise now!

  12. 12
    Jessa Slade says:

    2 out of 3 editors liked your stuff? I’d say win. How fun to have editors, agents & fave authors all stuck within a paper umbrella’s throw. 2011, hmm? Making note…

  13. 13
    Tae says:

    sounds like it was a blast

  14. 14
    R says:

    It was so awesome!  Thanks again for inviting me!

  15. 15
    rayvyn2k says:

    When I lived in Ft. Lauderdale, I attended the FRW converences whenever time and finances allowed.
    I still say they were the best.  I’m so happy to hear that they are still awesome.

  16. 16
    Nancy Cohen says:

    I am glad you had such a terrific time at our FRW conference. RE drinking water on the ship, I totally agree. Here are some tips I’ve learned on my 21 cruises:
    Pack a few water bottles in your luggage
    You can usually buy water bottles in the gift shop where they sell snacks
    Water is available in the 24 hour cafe; You can take a glass to your room

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