July 24, 2018

Highlights from RWA18 (Including That Speech)

Angela Quarles, Buffy Armstrong, and Jami Gold with text: Highlights of RWA18

I’m back from the RWA Annual Conference, and I want to thank Monica Corwin again for filling in for me last week with her two fantastic posts about how authors can make the most of Instagram. If you missed them, check out part one with her insights into what content will help create our brand on Instagram and part two with her advice on how to grow our brand with Instagram.

After a delayed flight, I didn’t get home from conference until 2 a.m. this past weekend, and I haven’t yet had a good night’s sleep to recover from a week’s worth of sleep deficit. So rather than a big, in-depth post today, I’m sharing a jumble of thoughts and memories from conference. *smile*

(Note to Newsletter Readers: Click through to the post to see pictures!)

Finding Comfort in an Uncomfortable Situation

As usual, I met a ton of fantastic people last week. Even though my panic-attack-level introverted nature makes conferences difficult, a writing conference is an unbeatable situation for “finding our tribe.”

I also discovered—on this, my fifth Annual Conference—that some things really do get easier with experience. This time around, I didn’t long to crawl into a deep hole for the entire hour of the Librarian/Bookseller/Blogger Mixer (only for a few minutes here and there *smile*), and I found it much easier to interact with potential readers and talk about my books at the Indie Book Signing.

Jami Gold signing Stone-Cold Heart at RWA conference

Finding New Readers

BookFunnel’s new print code feature that I helped beta test a few weeks ago worked fantastically for sharing copies of Treasured Claim and Stone-Cold Heart at both the Indie Book Signing and the Librarian Mixer.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, the postcards I designed looked great, and they were big enough to sign for readers. Even better, by the end of conference, all 100 cards I’d made found homes with new readers. Woo hoo!

Picture of my BookFunnel cards

Finding Advice Worth Learning

As a professional conference, RWA often features phenomenal workshops, and this year was no exception. The highlights for me were sessions about the psychology of fiction and how stress interrupts our creativity.

I’ll be writing follow-up posts—and inviting several RWA presenters to guest post here—in the future to share some of the great information I learned. (I took about 19 pages of notes in the psychology session alone!)

Finding Progress in Unexpected Places

During several of the big workshops, a live-caption transcriptionist typed every word of the presenter to display on a screen to one side of the podium. Although I’m a hearing person, I appreciated this service for deaf or hard-of-hearing attendees.

My auditory processing is sometimes slow, and when I struggled (or just zoned out for a bit as I thought about how to apply some tidbit of advice *grin*), I was able to refer to the screen and catch up on the last sentence or two of information. In addition, the captioner provided one of the many laugh-out-loud moments of the conference during a presentation by Amazon.

One of the Amazon presenters started his speech and stopped to watch the caption screen, commenting that maybe he could just read his whole presentation from the notes. The captioner “replied” on the screen with:

CAPTIONER: I don’t know what you know.

That got a laugh, and the guy from Amazon and the captioner continued for several minutes, riffing off each other, complete with the Amazon guy speaking as fast as he could to see if the captioner could keep up. Answer: Yes. *smile* We were all impressed and entertained.

Finding Joy in Others’ Success

The romance author community is amazing for being supportive of one another. When we discovered Kait Nolan, who was up for a prestigious RITA award, was also a first-timer to the conference and didn’t know many people, my roommates (Angela Quarles and Buffy Armstrong—with me in the photo at the top of this post) and I volunteered to be her cheering section.

We ended up the lucky ones when we got to be there as she won the RITA for her short contemporary romance story, Second Chance Summer! This is now the second time in a row that the RITA finalist I was sitting next to at the ceremony won the award, but I can’t take credit for being a good luck charm, as both Kait and Angela Quarles (with her RITA win in 2016) fully deserve the recognition. *smile*

Kait Nolan holding her RITA statue

Finding Success in Our Tribe

In other phenomenal news, my writing bestie and conference roomie, Angela Quarles, won the PRISM for Fantasy Romance from the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter of RWA for Must Love More Kilts!

(If you’d like to see the video of Angela and I receiving our honors from the PRISM contest (where I was also a finalist for Stone-Cold Heart), our Fantasy category is up first in the stream video, where we kind of hilariously credit the other for the quality of our stories. *grin*)

Finding Bravery in Our Truths

Another big moment was Suzanne Brockman’s speech when she accepted this year’s Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. RWA is still working on sharing the video from her speech, but in the meantime, we can read the transcript.

(Update! Here’s the recording of the RITA Ceremony! It starts with her son’s introduction at the 46 minute mark, and the speech itself is at the 56 minute mark.)

The vast majority of the audience was cheering and supportive, but with a speech about the importance of diversity so fiery, it’s no surprise that some found points of disagreement with her views. However, many of the complaints I’ve seen are off the mark.

Some complained about her use of the F-word, accusing her of being too uneducated, unrefined, or lacking in taste to deserve a special invitation to RWA’s conference. By that measure, even the one-and-only mega-author Nora Roberts wouldn’t qualify for the Lifetime Achievement Award named after her, as La Nora dropped several F-bombs in the speech she gave at the very first RWA conference I attended in 2010.

Others complained about the focus on diversity, believing the topic itself is political (as though someone’s mere existence should be seen as a political statement) or that progress happens without people actively pushing—even though the long story of human history proves that false. (One post making the rounds with that complaint is by an author who writes Nazi heroines, so… *cough* yeah.)

Finding Hope in Our Progress

Like the rest of the world, the publishing industry is filled with inherent biases that have historically caused the silencing of some voices. Fixing that issue won’t happen without a conscious effort to change.

It’s only been the last couple of years that LGBTQ+ stories were accepted in RWA contests. These issues aren’t ancient history, and without awareness, we could too easily backslide into erasing some stories.

Heck, I recently had to block someone on Facebook because he kept commenting on my posts that “female orgasm” is a myth. So the entire genre of romance—with stories about heroines going after what they want and believing they’re deserving of respect and pleasure—is radical to some.

We all have biases, and if we don’t push ourselves to be more aware of them—if we’re not conscious of the need to push, to question—we’ll never reach our potential as authors, able to use empathy to delve into our characters, much less make progress in other aspects of humanity. And that’s what Suzanne’s (and Kristan Higgins’ and others’) speeches at RWA were all about:

Pay attention to our biases so we can do better.

That’s not an offensive statement unless we think we’re perfect and don’t need to change in any way. I, for one, know that I’m not perfect and that I can always improve.

Encouraging people to listen and hear those who have been marginalized hurts exactly no one. In contrast, the opposite approach can, in fact, hurt those who are too often hurt already. Especially when we consider that a genre about love should want a happy ending for everyone.

So even if we disagree with some aspects of the speech, I hope we can all do a little self-examination and question our biases and see how we might do better. *smile*

Did you go to RWA18? Did you follow any of the stories on social media? What strikes you as some of the highlights? If you went, was there a particular lesson or insight that resonated with you? What’s your reaction to the complaints about Suzanne’s speech?

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Bran Ayres

I am so glad you had such a good time! I hope next year I can attend as well. It would be lovely to meet you in person!

Honestly, I left RWA a couple of years ago because as part of the LGBT+ community I felt unwanted and unsupported. Even their sub-chapter Rainbow Romance Writers wasn’t welcoming as the majority were white cis-women who talked over the rest of us (and please don’t get me started on why there was a sub-chapter segregating us from the rest of RWA in the first place). Though it seems now things are slowly changing for the better. I suppose I should have done as Brockman said in her speech and not backed down and dared to rock the f*cking boat. But that’s neither here nor there now.

The main thing is to keep moving forward and keep striving and I will forever be thankful to have you as an excellent ally. <3


Hey Bran, Argh, as a fellow LGBT author, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. 🙁 Yeah, I would imagine that they would improve their attitude over the years, but it’s frustrating to see marginalization and voice-silencing in the first place! Hey your comment on the subchapter reminds me of an issue I’ve always found interesting. Why do we have a separate subgenre called LGBT romance? (Sometimes called “gay and lesbian romance”). It may sound exclusionary since we don’t need to label cishet romances as “cishet romances”. However, as a reader who only likes reading queer and trans romances nowadays, I appreciate the labels of “LGBT”, “MM,” “FF,” “F/NB” or any other labels that tell me automatically that it’s queer. Then I can read the blurb and see if it strikes my fancy. So this separate “LGBT romances” subcategory could be helpful when it comes to appealing to readers who only want to read queer and trans romances. Btw, I find it very puzzling how some people (including a lesbian friend of mine) believe that gay romances are highly sex-focused and have no emotional depth… But I have read more than a hundred gay romances by now, and with the exception of very few, they all had a decent amount of emotional and meaningful content. The amount of sex I see in modern adult LGBT romance novels, is about the same as the sex I see in modern adult cishet romances. So I don’t know if the stereotype of gay…  — Read More »

Marlene Relja

Congrats on final-ing in the PRISM! Stone Cold Heart is a fabulous story! You and Angela’s acceptance speeches were hilarious. You two are so cute. Sounds like you had a great time. I’m sad I missed it (but I told myself I couldn’t go unless I managed to publish something, and I didn’t soooo… LOL). I LOVE what you just said about Suzanne Brockman’s speech and about people’s reactions to it. I want to print your words and just hand them out whenever someone says something stupid. 😀 😉

Romy Sommer

Hi Jami – I read all your posts but hardly ever comment, but this time I just had to pop in to say thank you for sharing your experiences of the RWA conference, and also of Suzanne Brockmann’s speech. I loved that speech!

PS: If I’m ever nominated for the Rita again I am so making sure I sit at your table!

Angela Ackerman

So glad you had a great time, and so happy for Kait! I was interested to see how your card-codes went also, so thanks for updating us on them. 🙂

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks for a great post, I will have to read it again at my leisure.
Swearing seems to be okay if Billy Connolly does it, when audiences know in advance to expect it. In books, I’d confine it to works for mature readers and try to make it clear in the blurb that some stronger language may occur. A crime book – such as Nora Roberts often writes – does reflect real life and we can expect the odd swear. On stage it is not usual, but if she had a mature audience, I am sure it is something they have all heard, maybe in that Hollywood film they watched last night. Personally I’d rather not hear strong language but I’m not going to freak out about it.

Naomi Bellina

I didn’t make it to Denver, but I do want to tell you how much I enjoy your posts. Thanks for taking the time to write them! Maybe I’ll see you at a future conference, because one of my reasons for going is to meet authors I only know virtually.


Hey Jami! I loved how you put it– as if we should see people’s existence as mere “politics.” On including diversity, I met one cishet author who said he doesn’t feel comfortable writing LGBT characters, because he thinks that if his book becomes famous, he would be taking the credit away from actual LGBT authors. While I get his concern, especially as some LGBT folks are wary of cis straight authors writing queer or trans characters, I still think it’s worth writing about diverse characters even if you are not in that social demographic. We can never have too much trans and queer representation! Nevertheless, this “stay in your lane” point is notable, because some authors may fear criticism from minority folks for writing the character wrong, stereotyping the character, etc. I read a popular novel about two trans teenagers, written by a cis author. She has actually done her research, as she volunteers at an organization that serves trans youth, and she has interviewed some trans kids before publishing the book. But despite her research efforts, there were some readers saying in their reviews that they don’t trust non-LGBT authors to write LGBT characters. :/ (They also just assumed she was straight because she has a husband…). I mean, I am transgender myself, and I enjoyed this book about trans adolescents written by this cisgender author. Also, one reader critiqued the author for “not doing her research,” as one of the trans teens in her novel said it would…  — Read More »

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Hi Jami,
I was interested by what you reported on the aid for hearing impaired attendees, and as I blog on disability access, I have quoted you and linked to your post. I hope this is okay.
Here is the link to my page.

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