Of God, love and other relevant matters
I have spent the weekend at a writers’ conference, more specifically the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual do. And no, the RNA Conference wasn’t all pink and fluffy – romantic novelists do have the odd streaks of darkness in them – but it was very warm and welcoming.
Some writers live under the misapprehension that they’re in cutthroat competition with all other writers – i.e. it’s a “my book or your book” world. Hogwash, IMO. Writers don’t compete with other authors – there’s not one single author out there who can singlehandedly keep a reader in books. Well, unless said reader reads at most one book a year. No, writers benefit far more from being generous to their fellow writers than from viewing them as nasty competitors. Promoting and encouraging an author who writes books similar to yours may well have encourage an interest in the entire genre and thereby benefit your own book. Plus, being generous feels nice.
The RNA collective is nice. The RNA chairperson, Nicola Cornick advocates generosity, reminding all of us in her short Gala Dinner speech that once upon a time we were all newbies and in need of support. Well-known RNA authors are happy to share tips and advice with wanna-be’s. Whether you’re published or not doesn’t really matter when 250-odd writers get together for a weekend of book talk. No, what matters is the shared passion (most apt, considering we’re talking romance authors) for the written word and for storytelling in general. And for wine. And for late-night conversations.
I shared accommodation with four ladies who go by the name the Paisley Piranhas and the somewhat less intimidating Henriette Gyland. The four Piranha ladies – Claire, Gill, Kate and Pia – were more paisley than teeth, so there were no bloody intermezzos when we talked over late night tea/wine/other stuff. Instead, we ended up talking about God, well, rather faith in general, this due to the surprise visit of Eva Balgaire who entranced the lot of us when she shared the premises of her WIP. My lips, of course, are sealed, but central to the story was God – or maybe that should be religion – and how our relationship to God – or religion – shaped human life, especially in the past.
I think we ended up concluding that us humans need something to guide us and give us hope. And for those with no faith, maybe believing in love can be an alternative? Yes, we all agreed (once again, rather unsurprisingly as all of us believe in the power of love) should God be absent, Venus is a good replacement.
Other than dissecting existential issues, the conference offered ample opportunity to learn more about social media. Thing is, social media is something of an ever-growing behemoth. No sooner has the not-so-techie author mastered Facebook, but everyone is talking about twitter. And once the writer is getting nice and comfy in the world of 140 characters, Facebook is back as the it-thing, with Instagram in its wake. It’s hashtags and platforms and clickable links and graphic identity and “interesting content” and interacting with your reader, and…Exhausting, to put it mildly. After a couple of sessions at the conference, I came out with a long to-do list (thank you Anita Chapman, my fantastic social media consultant) but also with some very solid ideas as to what I need to prioritise. Now I just need to find the time…
Writers don’t really want to hang about on social media. We want to write! We want to create characters whose journey grips the reader and drags them along, and Fiona Harper gave an excellent talk on how to do this, starting with defining the Goal, Motivation and Conflict of the character and ending with short questionnaire regarding the main character.
“Questionnaire?” Alex Lind, the reluctant time traveller lead of The Graham Saga leans over my shoulder. “My inner goal?” She nudges me. “Well, we both know what it is, don’t we? That you make sure I stay here in the 17th century with my Matthew.”
“Your goal, honey,” I tell her sweetly. “Maybe my plot ideas fall in the category of conflict, i.e. obstacles you need to overcome to get what you want.”
“Huh.” No matter that she doesn’t exist, Alex pinches me hard. “And maybe your motivation for ensuring I get what I want is that otherwise I will go on a strike. Permanently. Fade from your head and never, ever return.”
I obviously need to talk some more to Fiona to see how she suggests one handles rebellious and vociferous characters who tell you to shove conflict somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine…
For me, the high point was all the spontaneous discussions about everything from head-hopping (pet peeve of mine: if you’re head-hopping you’re a lazy writer) to how to handle cliff hangers and how best to kill of your characters. (Yes: romance writers do kill off their creations. I did tell you we have dark streaks in us) We talked about who really reads YA, if book trailers really sell and how many men read romance. Consensus was MANY men love a good romance – but they prefer it if it isn’t labelled romance. Truth be told, us lady writers sometimes suspect that the truly romantic creatures on Earth are men, not women. We don’t always have time for the pink and fluffy stuff in our busy lives – juggling children, homes, work, ageing parents & whatnot is quite as lot of work – which is why, of course, we so love escaping into the frothy petticoats of a good romance. But just so you know, we don’t mind a bit of blood and gore to go with it!
P.S. A major, major thanks to Jan Jones for pulling off an excellent conference. This may have been my first, but it will definitely not be my last, RNA Conference!