The Thousand FriendsThey're off and running! Or if not, they will be within hours. Almost everyone I know is headed to Atlanta for the nationasl RWA conference. Special interest chapters like The Beau Monde will begin activities on Wednesday, and excitement will continue until late Saturday night, climaxing at the awards ceremony when we will finally know who this year's winners of the Golden Hearts and RITA are.
I've always loved the conference. Since 1995, I've only missed one, in 1997. True, they're huge and sometimes overwhelming, and there are times when I just have to go off to my room and be quiet for awhile just to survive. But from my first one in Hawaii, I've been hooked on going every year. Now, I believe I know a thousand writers, editors, agents and other publishing professionals from all over the world, most of whom I've met at national conferences. But this year I'm not going. Why?
For me, personally, the excitement was even greater, once being a Golden Heart finalist became a habit. I finalled first in 1998, then not again till 2001. I went through several cancellations of my category, and my favorite manuscript, His Majesty, the Prince of Toads, was twice disqualified when the Snail mistook my intentions and sent it to remote destinations elsewhere in the world. But from that point on in 2001, the real whirlwind began. I had two finals in 2002, then in 2003, 2004 and 2005, I won the Golden Heart in my category. A total of seven finals and three wins. Every time I finalled, I became part of a new and exciting group of people, the current year's finalists, many of whom have become dear friends I see only at conference. And every time I won, I looked out on the audience and wasn't the least bit nervous as I spoke, because I felt like I was talking to a thousand friends.
But this year I didn't even enter. Why? If I know a thousand people, and their freindships are dear to me, why am I staying home?
Well, I didn't enter the Golden Heart again because it was time to quit. Seven finals and three wins is an achievement no one else can claim. Let someone else break the record if she can.
Actually, I hadn't planned on entering last year, but, as had happened a number of times before, we feared we wouldn't have the minimum number of 25 entries in the Regency category. (Turns out, we had plenty.) But I had nothing to enter, since my previous winners and published E-Books weren't eligible. So when I returned from England in October, I took my only available manuscript, a Regency historical, and whacked it down to Regency size. Took all the sex out, since Regencies are traditionally sweet. Removed any viewpoints of secondary characters. Squeezed and trimmed and butchered, until my beloved story was cut down exactly to 85,000 words. I had a story nobody could love. Didn't matter. I already had two Golden Hearts.
It won anyway. Unfortunately, in the meantime, both of the major publishers had dropped their lines. And nobody was interested in a historical that had no sex scenes, or was only 85,000 words long. (So, yes, I will revise once again, using the best of both the old and the new versions.)
That's discouraging, but it wouldn't have kept me from going to conference. Yet here I am, at home, while so many of my friends are headed for Atlanta, filled with breathless excitement. Why?
Well, frankly, I reached a point when I needed to re-evaluate. Everything about my life just seems to be on a brink, where it's been sitting far too long. And sometimes change can't happen if things keep going on in the same old ways. Time to stop, and look, and test new things. I'm looking at everything about my life, not just my writing profession. I'm wondering about going back to the old job (probably gave it at least twenty minutes' thought). I'm changing things about the house that I wouldn't have time to do if I were preparing for conference. Everything from renovating bathrooms down to moving the fruit basket in the kitchen. I'm traveling, and making more travel plans. I'm looking at my relationships with distant relatives, spending more time with close family, finding old friends I haven't seen since high school, strengthen relationships that have been weakened by the passing of time. And in my writing life, I'm trying new genres and combinations of genres. I've confirmed I don't have the right touch for writing contemporaries, but I'm finding great fun in moving more into paranormal, and combining it with the Medievals I've always loved, but haven't written in a long time. I'm even looking at the way I do research, and wondering if I might love it too much.
Not going to conference has given me a different perspective on my writing career as a whole. For a number of years, my writing year rotated around the yearly conference, and I wanted to put it into a different spin for a change. I've spent a lot more time actually writing, and sticking to a regular schedule that hasn't been set aside to shop for clothes, plan schedules and speeches, or print up business cards.
But more than that, looking at what I'm not going to have this year has given me a chance to understand just how much I value what I'm missing. And I've learned that some of the things I took as necessities, I don't need. I've decided I don't give a rotten rip about editor appointments, except for their social and networking value. I only rarely managed to make workshops, and haven't taken more than a few hours to listen to CDs of the workshops I've missed.
But I miss the people. I can see some of them at smaller conferences, but people like the wonderful Wet Noodle Posse from the 2003 Golden Heart finalists, the GHophers (Golden Heart '04 finalists), and the Wild Cards (2005 finalists, Reno), the Beau Monde (Regency Era writers). The Golden Network, a chapter consisting entirely of present and former Golden Heart finalists. There are people like Alicia Rasley and Judie Aitkin, who I almost never see any other time. My dear friend June Ulrich who writes as Sophia Johnson, one of the 2002 GH finalists. Deb Yates who writes as Jenna Stuart, a friendship that began through a contest entry, who I didn't meet face to face until the conference last year in Reno. Friends who come in from Australia, New Zealand, England and Germany. Many authors I've come to know and love because I read their books, then met at the Literacy Booksigning. It's a chance to see my terrific agent, Jenny Bent, although it seems almost impossible to actually do business. And editors and agents who I simply look forward to seeing again, just because we like each other. I need all those hugs and the kisses blown past cheeks. I need their support, and I need to be giving it out to them. It really is true, I have a thousand friends.
No, now I really understand. National conference means too much to me. I will be in Dallas next year. I need my thousand friends.