Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the West Houston Romance Writers of America, a fabulous group that continually reminds me of why, in the days of long-distance Internet networking and (alas) way too much electronic book and self pimpage, real-world relationships are what matter most.
After dispensing with the business stuff as quickly as possible, the group moves onto the first component of its real business: introductions. Newbies are encouraged to share their names, what they're writing (or just thinking about writing, since we come to the table at every level of experience), and are welcomed to the group with not only applause but a small stack of beribboned books written by members. Afterward, we each have a moment to state out names and any writing news we might have have that month. In a business with so many negatives, the group's collective positives remind us of the good that can and does happen when we persevere. Among this month's announcements were contest wins and finals, several new sales (including my latest to Harlequin Intrigue and Harlequin Romantic Suspense-yea!), a number of new or upcoming releases, white-knuckle deadlines, and, the icing on the cake, Amanda Steven's deal with ABC TV for the development of The Restorer from her marvelous new Graveyard Queens series.
Such is the stuff that dreams and hopes are fed on. And every step is celebrated, from a writer getting up the nerve to show up to her first meeting to another completing her first novel-length manuscript to someone sending out that first submission to an editor or agent. (How many would-be authors are stopped in their tracks by those steps?) Here, a personal, handwritten note on a rejection or helpful contest feedback (even on a non-finalling entry) is seen as what it is: a sign of forward motion.
Before the speakers step up to share the educational portion of the meeting, we take a break for snacks, restrooms, book signings of new releases, and (mostly) visiting. Here is where we get to know each other, where we learn to trust enough to commiserate over the dropping of a series, the departure of an editor, or maybe a rejection that cut us to the core. We buoy each other through the hard times, sharing stuff you'd never want to commit to e-mail or announce to strangers. Here, we forge alliances on acts of amazing generosity.
Yesterday, our speakers, bestselling authors Nina Bangs and Gerry Bartlett, demonstrated one of the best examples of such an alliance. Critique partners for more than twenty years, each is the other's greatest champion, bolstering her friend through the tough times and cheering her through the good. Hearing about what the two had learned along the way was fascinating, for each of us has a different journey, and we learn as much (probably more) from brave and honest stories of mistakes, even disasters, than we do from the inspiring stories of successes.
We realize that if our glamorous, successful friends overcame such tribulations and went on to prosper, maybe we, too, can muscle through the tough times and be up front, speaking wisely of our experiences later, from the vantage of bestsellerdom.
Or maybe we'll just grow wise and gather a bunch of great friends who not only understand but truly share our dreams. But it seems to me, that's not such a bad goal either.
It's also why I continue to believe that showing up in person really matters.
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