class participation

Because I am a total sucker for a clearance sale, I bought these beautiful shoes that are too nice and summery for the gray, slushy New York City winter we’re currently having. Because I am a writer, part of me thought, “That’s a really great metaphor for an essay I’ve been meaning to write.” Basically, a lot of us pay for opportunity—pink Fluevog pumps that can’t be worn until spring, say, or a membership in a professional organization—without fully taking advantage.

As you may be aware, I’m currently serving as president of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance special interest chapter of Romance Writers of America. It’s an online chapter, as opposed to a local chapter (for example, I am also a member of RWANYC). All exist to serve the interests of career-focused romance writers.

I get asked frequently whether joining RWA is worth it. “What’s in it for me?” writers want to know.

Here’s my answer: Maybe nothing. Or maybe a great deal. It depends on what you put into it.

My first year in RWA, I paid my dues and then… did nothing. I’m not sure I really understood RWA’s mission or how it operates, so I mostly waited, figuring the value would make itself apparent. It didn’t. I joined my local chapter, which has an active email loop, but I mostly ignored that. I didn’t attend any events. When it came time to renew my membership, I almost didn’t, because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be getting out of the organization.

But then I renewed and also joined Rainbow Romance Writers. I volunteered for RRW projects and started attending local RWANYC meetings. New York City actually has a wonderful, thriving community of romance writers and fans, and I had no idea until I started going to events.

Anyone who has ever been to a convention knows that feeling of walking into a room and feeling like you’ve found your people. That’s been my experience at RWA events, at conventions, at readings and signings. I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to get involved in person. Because it’s not just meeting your fellow tribe members; every chapter of RWA has writers at all stages of their career, from “pre-published,” in the parlance of RWANYC, to bestselling. Everyone’s experience has been unique. I find it tremendously valuable just to talk to other writers, to learn from their experiences or to spitball ideas or even just to talk about books we love or tropes we could do without. I actually spent a lot of time this past weekend having meals with other writers and talking about the biz. It’s inspiring.

My local chapter, probably primarily because of its location, also attracts a lot of industry people to our meetings. We get editors and agents and librarians and lawyers and publicists and bloggers and so on as guest speakers. That’s been educational. I’ve gotten to meet and have great one-on-one conversations with some of my favorite writers. Hell, meeting Nora Roberts at last year’s RWA conference and gawking at her shoes was basically worth the price of admission if you have been reading her books as long as I have.

One of my first acts upon joining Rainbow Romance writers was to volunteer for a chapter project, which also turned into other opportunities. The most notable thing I did was co-write a survey of romance readers and then later analyze all the data. I learned a ton. That work apparently convinced the powers that be that I was board material, so I was persuaded to run and now I’m sitting here wearing the proverbial tiara as president.

A lot of what RRW does is probably not obvious to its membership, but I can point to some tangible things that happened before my time on the board (helping to get reviews of LGBT romance in RT magazine being the big one) or things I had a direct hand in (like the Writers Workshop at GayRomLit).

My project for my presidency is bookstore and library outreach—I want to see more LGBT romance in those places, to raise the profile of LGBT romance writers and get books into the hand of more readers. That’s maybe a lofty goal, but I believe it’s doable. I’ve already talked to bookstores and I’m doing a panel at a library next month and I’m hard at work as president. Library outreach in particular has been a pet project of mine for a while, particularly since I learned via the aforementioned survey that many, many readers discover new books at the library. That’s a huge opportunity our community might be missing out on.

I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I hadn’t gotten involved. I wouldn’t be having these experiences, and I do believe my life and career have been greatly enriched by my involvement with RWA. My dues money would be like throwing a fistful of cash into thin air if I hadn’t started going to meetings and volunteering.

RWA, RRW, local RWA chapters, all of these things can do a lot for you, but only if you get in there and take advantage of what’s being offered.

controlled chaos

The theme of this week has been controlled chaos.

I cannot explain to you why this is true, but I seem to be the most productive and do my best work when I’ve got a million other things going on. I think part of it is that I’m so revved up from being busy that when I sit down to write, I channel all that energy into my stories. This week has been like that. I have so many balls in the air that I’m worried I’ll lose a few, but my writing stuff is going really well!

A lot of the stuff I’m working on now is stuff I can’t talk about yet or it’s minutiae you don’t care about, so it’s hard to really convey just how insane this week has been, but I can say that literally every day since last Thursday, I have received an email along the lines of “Remember that thing we talked about months ago? I need you to do something about it RIGHT NOW.” I got THREE of these on Tuesday. For the most part, it’s good: planning out what I’m doing at conferences this year, Rainbow Romance Writers business (I’m the president now, god help us all), cover specs for my next book, etc. This chaos is all on top of my day job, so it’s been… not the best week I’ve ever had. And yet I’ve somehow conquered the draft of the contemporary novel I’d been working and struggling with all last fall and am getting ready to send it out to betas. Crazy.

Or, as an example of how things are going: I must have entered a drawing for a book giveaway in December, and somehow I won—I never win, and I rarely enter giveaways, so when the blogger who ran the contest emailed me, I was genuinely shocked—and this huge box of books showed up on my doorstep earlier this week. [Aside: I live in a Brooklyn apartment. Space is not abundant.] Unpacking the box was fun because a) I remembered entering the giveaway once I saw what was inside, and b) it’s an interesting mix of authors I like, authors I’ve wanted to try, and authors I’ve never heard of but whose books look interesting. So that was exciting. But there were twenty books in that box, you guys. Where on earth will I put them? (If you answered, “On the floor of your bedroom,” you may be right. I tried to put them back in the box, but the cat had already claimed it as her new fort.) Then yesterday, I got my box of books for RITA judging. (The cat does not fit in this box, much to her consternation.) So that’s eight more books. If you’re keeping track, that is nearly thirty books that arrived at my home this week.

I love new books, but yikes.

It feels like a metaphor for how my life is lately. I have an embarrassment of riches in terms of new opportunities and exciting stuff happening, but doing all the work for it is tough. It’s hard to complain about, because most of this is stuff I want and that I willingly signed on for. Just… maybe it could not happen all at the same time?

So that’s about where I’m at right now and why I haven’t been blogging.

So my plan for the weekend is to follow up on the eight or so things that need my immediate attention (not exaggerating) but then I’ve got a ticket to a knitting convention. I’m almost hoping there’s crappy phone reception inside so I can just escape and pet yarn for a while. Sometimes you need to take a break. (My heart rates goes up every time the icon in the dock flashes that I have a new email. It’s a problem.)

It’s good. It’s busy. I hope that this doesn’t end up being how all of 2014 goes.

5 resolutions

I’m actually pretty good at resolutions. I think the trick to keep them both specific and realistic and for them to be things I actually want to do. Like, resolving to take up yoga this year is probably not a great idea, because although I think yoga would be a good thing for me to do, I have disliked yoga classes I’ve taken in the past, so I keep dragging my heels on signing up. (I have no excuse! There’s a yoga studio ON MY BLOCK, a thirty-second walk from my apartment, and the people who work there seem very nice! And yet!) But there was the time in my late twenties when I went to a classical music concert, thought, “I really miss playing the violin,” and then the following January resolved to do more of that. That very month, I went out and auditioned for an orchestra and signed up for refresher lessons. In 2008, I resolved to finish a novel, which I accomplished. The year after that, I gave myself until the end of the year to actually submit something for publication; I sent In Hot Pursuit to Loose Id that summer.

Basically, I’m the sort of Type A who does what she sets out to, most of the time anyway.

Here are my resolutions for this year:

1. Spend more time acknowledging what I’ve accomplished instead of fretting about what I have to do.

Here’s what I mean by that. At New Year’s, a friend’s husband asked about my writing career. “How many books have you written now?” I couldn’t even remember. I was like, “Uh, I think I have nine published novels now?” This blew my friend away. He said, “That’s a lot for a short amount of time.” Well, I said, these are the books I’ve written over 5 years or so. He pointed out, “That means you’ve written two novels each year! That’s incredible!”

It’s hard not to get caught up in the rat race. Publishing is a tough industry, and I’ve been working in it in various capacities for twelve years. Everyone’s always worried about what’s next. I’m always worried.

But it’s good to remember that one novel, let alone nine, is more than a lot of people will ever write, and it’s no small feat. Those books represent a lot of hard work on my part. I should take the time to, as Damon Suede often says, feel that fact.

2. Make a real schedule.

My whole life is in my iPhone calendar, and I wish the engineers or software developers or whoever at Apple would leave well enough alone, because I HAAAAATE the new calendar in iOS7. So, for the first time in probably five years, I bought a paper calendar. It has pretty vintage New York City photos on it. So far I have found a place to hang it and taken it out of the plastic.

Anyway. This is kind of more a personal growth thing, but I want to not get so overwhelmed by the great many things I have on my schedule in any given week. I think breaking it down into reasonable chunks and being prepared for what’s ahead is the key. Otherwise, I just look at all those little dots on the phone calendar and silently scream.

3. Be the best damned Rainbow Romance Writers president I can be.

Self explanatory, I think.

4. Finish reading all those damn books in the pile next to the bed.

I have a terrible habit with nonfiction, in that I very frequently start a book, get about halfway through it, put it down, and never pick it up again. I’ve got five of these on a variety of topics—namely, the American Revolution, Theodore Roosevelt, Greenwich Village, homosexuality in Victorian England, and personal finance—sitting in a pile next to my bed, and I do want to finish all of them. They are all really interesting! I will do that this year! I will!

5. Moar Reading!

I read about 70 books in 2013, if you count shorts and novellas, plus another 18 for contest judging, so I still fell short of the 100-book goal I set for myself. That’s not an issue per se. But I had a few months this year where I had so many other commitments that I didn’t really read purely for pleasure, which made even reading for my book club feel like a chore.

I’d like to set aside more time to just read for fun. That will certainly help with Goal #4.

This is on top of the usual “write a really good novel” and “learn something new” goals I usually set for myself.

So there’s a short list of what I aspire to in 2014. Do you have any resolutions?