Okay, okay, it’s been almost two weeks since the RITA & Golden Heart Ceremony, but I will blame the 32 hours of travel home, my 26-week pregnant self, the necessity to be lucid at my day job – and the fact it still doesn’t actually seem real – for the delayed post.
For those unfamiliar, the RITA is “the highest award of distinction in romance fiction — [it] recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas”. It is a peer judged award, and to even final is a huge honour. Past winners of the RITA include Nora Roberts, Diana Gabaldon and Liz Fielding – and many other amazing, amazing authors. So of course, when I finalled I had to go to the Romance Writers of America conference in San Antonio, because, quite frankly – this may never happen again! My sister Annie, who was a huge influence on Why Resist a Rebel? (and the book is dedicated to her) came with me. It was incredible having her there with me, and we had a fantastic time exploring Texas (and hitting the outlet shops!).
I did have a few hiccups on my trip. I’ve spent a grand total of one night away from my 19 month daughter – ever – so 10 days away was really, really hard for me. I totally underestimated that part! Even though I knew that my husband was doing a wonderful job looking after her, and even though we Skyped, I basically didn’t sleep at all for the first five nights. So much for my luxurious week of sleep ins!
After a few days of touristy bits and pieces and shopping, the “work” side of my trip began. I met with Bryony Green from the Harlequin UK office (Senior Editor for KISS) to talk about my career post-KISS (now that the line has sadly ended). It now looks like I’ll be writing for Harlequin Romance (where my books started) which I feel is a good fit for me. That evening was the KISS farewell dinner with all the KISS authors who attended the conference – and that was great fun! (and great Mexican food on the Riverwalk).
The next day the conference began! I had an agent pitch one morning, which I’d like to think went well. I pitched a single title idea, as I would really like to write longer stories that will (hopefully) reach a broader audience than my category romances. However I still want to keep on writing my category romances, too 🙂
I attended quite a lot of workshops across the conference. The sheer volume of workshops is pretty overwhelming – there are something like 12 concurrent sessions on at any one time, so VERY hard to decide what to attend. I did purchase the recordings of all the sessions, as it was of course impossible to attend all the workshops I wanted to see.
By far my favourite workshop was from the amazing Sarah MacLean on Mastering the Art of Great Conflict – and this advice (possibly poorly paraphrased) really resonated with me: Don’t write from a place of fear. Don’t be scared to get to a place where you don’t know what to write next. That’s a problem for future you!
I LOVE this idea. I don’t feel I’m always the bravest writer – particularly with my single title ideas. I have a few high concept ideas that I keep thing “that can’t possibly work!” – but, why don’t I just have a go? Future Leah will work it out! 🙂
Amongst the three days of workshops, I also had lots of parties and RITA celebrations to attend! As always, the Harlequin Party was great fun, and as a RITA finalist I was invited to attend a pre-party event where I had my hair and makeup touched up (and my sister and I made up some yummy lolly bags at the lolly buffet).
So after all this conferencing and partying, finally we arrive at the RITA & Golden Heart Ceremony, on the Saturday night. It was only when we had the RITA rehearsal at lunch time that day that I began to actually feel nervous – and for the first time to imagine what it might feel like to win. I guess standing on a stage with all those bright lights would do that 🙂 However I’d met some of my fellow finalists – and read their books – and I honestly, genuinely did not feel I had a chance. Tanya Michaels has finalled FIVE times before! That was my competition!
So that was why, despite being prompted very nicely by RWA to have something prepared “just in case”, I dot pointed who to thank as I sat at the Harlequin UK table at the actual ceremony. I wrote my notes on my VIP ticket, actually, and did a single practise run in the (thankfully empty) toilets.
Thankfully the Short Contemporary Category was announced first of the RITA Awards, so after the Golden Heart Awards I only had a few minutes for my heart to start pounding madly. My sister was in charge of taking a photo of my book on one of the four big screens when it was announced – as that may well have been my only moment of fame.
But as it turned out, a few moments later it was my book announced as the winner. MY BOOK! MY NAME! I said “sh*t” (so classy!), grabbed my VIP ticket with it’s dot points, and headed for the stage. I forgot all about Bryony (as my editor Meg’s representative) – sorry Bryony!
Apparently my speech was lovely, and sounded calm, which I’m very grateful for. I made a point of thanking the other KISS authors. I said something about being so sad that readers couldn’t find our wonderful books. Which is so true. I wish things had been different.
The rest of the night is a blur. I had a fabulous time at the bar – even if I couldn’t drink – and just loved carrying my wonderful RITA statue everywhere. She’s huge, and heavy, by the way.
Thank you to everyone who congratulated me that night, and since – both in person and online (via Twitter, Facebook, email…). The support I’ve received has been overwhelming. I arrived in San Antonio feeling quite disheartened about my writing career. The death of KISS and a few other things (in particular the (negative) response I received from a government department when I – as a romance author – dared to apply for an Arts grant) had me in a “why do I even bother?” kind of place.
But let’s just say that RITA and I left San Antonio feeling much more positive about my writing future!