A few weeks ago I attended a local RWA meeting and met Eric Randall, an intern at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who was writing an article on romance. Eric attended a class at Yale “The Historical Romance Novel.” After the meeting, Eric showed up at the Southeastern Wisconsin Festival of Books to sit in on a Romance Panel to gather more information for his story. Here’s what appears in the paper today (for those of you who didn’t see my Tweet yesterday):
Romance novelists network
Steamy story writers meet for advice, exchange of ideas
By Eric Randall of the Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin romance novelists had Milwaukee Police Department spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz right where they wanted her.
Schwartz had come to the monthly meeting of the Milwaukee chapter of the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America to advise the 16 women (and one man) in attendance how best to incorporate crime into their work. After presenting her bit on how best to befriend police officers and incorporate their stories into a romance, Schwartz opened up the floor for questions.
But these novelists wanted more than advice. They wanted Schwartz.
“In case one of us uses you as a character . . . ,” began one audience member.
Schwartz is just one of the many speakers who have faced the creative minds that make up the Milwaukee grouping of the Wisconsin RWA since its founding in 1984. As the statewide chapter of a national organization Romance Writers of America, Wisconsin’s RWA has provided a focal point for the state’s scattering of published and aspiring romance authors. Though the members bring widely varying career backgrounds and writing experience, each comes seeking two things: advice from fellow writers and a sense of community in a world sometimes hostile to their genre.
As popular romantic fiction has taken a hold of the American publishing market – romance makes up more than a quarter of all books sold in the United States, according to the RWA website – more and more women, and some men, nationwide have tried their hand at it. And for those just setting out, it can be a confusing world. To be defined as a romance novel by modern standards, a manuscript needs to follow only two rules – the plot must focus on a romantic relationship (usually between a man and a woman, although gay romantic fiction is a burgeoning genre), and it must have a happy ending. But beyond that, pretty much anything goes. Sub-genres range from “paranormal” to “Christian inspiration.” And one can find titles as commonplace as “Chasing Perfect” or as odd as “The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl.” (Both are recent releases from genre-dominating publisher Harlequin.)
Nationally, RWA boasts 10,000 members, 1,885 of whom have published a book-length romance novel, according to the organization’s website. That means there are still a lot of unpublished novelists trying to break in. Romance novelists interviewed said the advice of the Wisconsin branch of RWA proved invaluable to them as they navigated the writing and submission processes.
Sharon Antoniewicz, a Wisconsin-based author of historical romance novels who writes under the name Shari Anton, said she joined RWA in 1993, when she was writing her first novel. She joined a critique group that helped her point out the boring parts of her manuscript and guided her in finding out how to submit to agents and publishers.
Wisconsin RWA has roughly 120 members, only about 30 of whom have published a novel. Young upstarts come to the meeting seeking the advice of old hands. Antoniewicz, who has occupied both roles in the group, said the dynamic changes once a member becomes published.
“All of a sudden they thought I knew what I was doing,” she laughed.
Muna Shehadi Sill, a Wauwatosa-based novelist who writes under the name Isabel Sharpe, began writing romance when she had young children and was stuck at home. RWA meetings provided her with needed advice and “exciting” criticisms, but also an escape from the house. She agreed with Antoniewicz that things changed when she began publishing her work. She attends meetings less as her children grow older and as the questions she encounters, such as how to get a publisher to print more copies of a book on the first run, begin to differ from those of other chapter members.
“There’s a feeling that there’s less to learn,” she said. “The problems are different.”
Still, she and Antoniewicz said they could not have done without the RWA’s guidance, and the group remains a strong community for them. It is a community that comes together outside of chapter meetings at well. A panel at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books brought four published romance writers to the stage at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, and several Wisconsin RWA members sat in the audience to listen. Barbara Vey, a member of Wisconsin RWA who blogs on romance for Publishers Weekly, moderated the panel.
“To know that we have these great homegrown writers in Wisconsin is so great,” Vey told the audience. Though her blog deals with national trends in the industry, Sill said Vey makes an effort to highlight Wisconsin writers. And the comment boards on her blog make for another meeting point where RWA members can discuss everything from new releases to their opinion on rape scenes in romance.
But the core of the group’s socialization is the monthly meeting, which for Milwaukee-area members takes place at Mayfair Mall on Saturday mornings. After Schwartz presented her advice on crime at this month’s meeting, several members adjourned to a P.F. Chang’s to have lunch and talk romance. Together the women chatted about their favorite recent reads, their shared hatred for the made-for-TV adaptations of Nora Roberts’ novels, and their reasons for coming back to romance time and again.
Vey said she went through a bad divorce, and once she discovered romance, she began to read a book a day. (Impressed with her pace, a friend at Publisher’s Weekly suggested she begin her blog.) For her, that surefire happy ending required of all romance novels provided a sense of comfort.
“They give me hope,” she said.
Thanks to Eric for his very positive representation of the romance industry.
Bottom Line: I went out and bought the newspaper, cut out the article and pasted it in my scrapbook.
My upcoming events:
Lady Jane’s Salon – July 5th
Thrillerfest – July 7-10
San Diego Comic Con – July 22-25
Romance Writers of America – July 28-31
DragonCon – September 3-6
Eagle Library Author Event – September 25
Emerald City Writers Convention – October 1-3
New York Comic Con - October 8-10
Readers ‘n ‘ritas – November 12-14