This weekend I’m attending the Put Your Heart in a Book writers’ conference sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers. Three hundred plus writers, agents, and editors are gathering to celebrate writing. It’s a much anticipated, much loved regional conference. Many arrived Thursday to hit the ground running early Friday morning.
In Friday’s three-hour Pre-Conference workshop, NY Times and USA Today best-selling author Brenda Novak spoke on Emotion: The Heart of the Novel. A few highlights from her talk – Creativity happens in a series of tiny sparks, she said. The more ideas we have the better. Take risks. Expect to make lots of mistakes. Develop a network of colleagues. More than anything, she said, creativity is about hard work and sticking with it. I especially enjoyed her words on subtext in our writing. We write who we are, she said then told of a writer who’d written a stellar lighthearted contemporary; every part was technically perfect – the plotting, dialogue, character development. But the inherent negativity of the author bled through and the manuscript never sold. Subtext, she said, will leak through.
After Brenda Novak’s superb presentation, I joined up with three writers I’d met last year – Laura Thomson, Marta Bliese, and Laurel Wanrow. All are members of the Maryland Romance Writers. We stepped out into the chilly October air and across the parking lot to the Kona Grill for lively conversation over lunch.
Friday afternoon was divided into three forty-five minute workshop sessions. Each time slot provided a choice of six workshops to attend. For my first session, I chose to hear Brenda Novak again, this time speaking on Networking: Sowing the Seeds of Success. The equation for writing success, she said, is to present a quality product (our writing), have an eye for opportunity, a credible source (can you deliver?), and the right networking mentality. She gave pages of helpful info in a short amount of time.
My second session was given by award-winning author Annette Blair who writes single titles and vintage magic mysteries. Annette spoke on Stuck in the Middle – A Life Raft of Solutions. She recommended reading Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY (several times), and referred also to workshops by Barbara Wallace and Deborah Hale. The more conflict in your story, the more pinches and twists, she said, the stronger your middle will be. She passed out a worksheet that she advised using as a template for our sagging middles and which we reviewed in detail. Incredibly helpful.
My third and final Friday workshop was NY Times bestselling suspense author Laura Griffin. Her topic was How to Make Any Book a Page Turner. We need to open our book with a character the reader can care about then immediately introduce conflict into the story. One of her many suggestions: Each chapter must end with a hook. Beyond that, she said, end each chapter with a powerful and vivid word. Instead of “a pool of blood on the floor” write “on the floor was a pool of blood.” More vivid, more emotional.
At 6 pm we all gathered outside the Diamond Ballroom for a cocktail reception before the awards ceremony. Midway through wine and pasta, fire alarms blinked and blared, although the sound was muffled by our conversations. We were asked to vacate to the parking lot and front lobby area. Fire trucks arrived and firemen trooped into the building. The adventure sparked some writers’ imaginations and provided fuel for some future scene. 😉 Within several minutes, though, we were allowed to return and resume our reception.
Each year, NJRW honors its contest winners in an awards ceremony. The Put Your Heart in a Book award is for unpublished writers. This year’s winners:
Put Your Heart in a Book
- Short Contemporary – Judith Wherett – RUNNING FOR HER LIFE
- Single Title Contemporary – Jeanell Bolton – PASSION
- Historical – Dianna Quincy – TEMPTING BELLA
- Paranormal – Dawn Groszek – ROSE OF HOPE
- Romantic Elements – D. B. Schuster – BREACH OF CONTRACT
The Golden Leaf is awarded to those contest winners who are published with an RWA recognized publisher. After each category’s finalists are announced, an intriguing snippet of the winning entry is read by sultry-voiced Anne Walradt. This year’s winners:
- Novella – Sally MacKenzie – THE NAKED PRINCE
- Short Contemporary – Christine Bush – CINDY’S PRINCE
- Historical – Lauren Willig – THE ORCHID AFFAIR
- Single Title – Lisa Verge Higgins – THE PROPER CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF FRIENDSHIP
- Romantic Suspense – Jeanne Adams – DEADLY LITTLE SECRETS
- Paranormal – Laura Kaye – FOREVER FREED
- Long Contemporary – M. Kate Quinn – MOONLIGHT & VIOLET
- Best First Book – Laura Spinella – BEAUTIFUL DISASTER
When authors succeed in winning three Golden Leaf Awards within a category, NJRW inducts them into the Golden Leaf Hall of Fame. Friday’s ceremony was crowned by inducting two such authors – historical author Hannah Howell for her award-winners in the Novella category, and Cara Summers for her award-winning Short Contemporaries.
After the awards ceremony I was invited to attend a late night gathering hosted by the group from Maryland Romance Writers. Several of us sat talking, laughing, sharing our stories, and working through two pitch sessions. Saturday would be another full day.
Writers, what did you find most valuable about this conference or another you may have attended? Please share your comments. ♥