Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's Always Hard to Say Good-bye

I've been on the fence for the last two to three years about leaving RWA - Romance Writers of America. They were there for me when I couldn't find a writing group to help me hone my craft.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's I started writing mystery books. I loved Grafton, Christie, Gilman, Francis. Mysteries were all I read and I devoured every book in the library when I discovered a mystery writer I liked.

After reading several of Sue Grafton's books, I decided to try my hand at writing a mystery. I worked on it for a couple of years, writing after the kids went off to school and banging away on an old typewriter I'd scrounged up. Then a relative died and left me some money. Not much but it was enough to buy a "home" computer. I started inputting my story into the computer and when I finished I did what I'd read in the Writer's Digest, go to the library and get their book on agents and editors. I spent hours combing through that tome to find agents to send my manuscript to because I'd tried to contact the mystery organizations to join to learn more about writing mysteries, but they wouldn't allow anyone in unless they had already published a book. How was I to learn what I needed?

I made one of may newbie mistakes. I had an agent write back to me. I was so excited!! He said if I sent him X amount of dollars he'd see if my book was worth representing.  Not having anyone to tell me different I thought this was how it was done. I sent the money and the manuscript. He wrote back saying some good things about the ms but told me mystery books weren't written in first person. I was gobsmacked! I was reading Sue Grafton and it was all in first person. But he was the agent and he would know. I rewrote the whole ms in third person and resent it. All this time I was working on the second book in the series. He replied no I didn't have what it took to be a mystery writer. I was crushed because mystery was what I wanted to write.

But...I'd taken enough community ed and college level writing classes to know I could write in an entertaining fashion. I'd read several Nora Roberts and LaVyrle Spencer books and an article about how romance books were the biggest selling genre. I hadn't read much romance until those two authors, but I decided to try my hand at historical western romance. I wrote the first book. It was about a mountain man in the Blue Mountains and a woman who came by wagon train and was left at the Whitman Mission when she no longer had a husband or belongings left.  Anyway, I still hadn't connected with any other writing groups that worked. I'd tried a local group but they were mostly poets and turned their noses up at my attempt at romance.

I heard about Fish Trap. It's a large literary week that is held at Wallowa Lake, my stomping grounds, every year. I could stay with my parents and attend a class or two.  I signed up for a class with a New York editor. We all gathered for the class. I looked around the conference table and smiled at the other people. They nodded, some smiled back. The editor asked us to each read the first two pages of our work(that we'd been asked to bring). The first person read.  It was pretty, flowing prose that painted a picture. Nice! The second person read. I didn't understand what they were saying with the long words and staccato sentences. The next person had a story all about a rock. I was getting more and more nervous. These people were all reading literary writing. I had a historical western romance. It was my turn. I started reading and about half way everyone started physically drawing away from me. The editor stopped me and asked if I'd ever heard of RWA. I said no. She told me to see her after the class.

Afterwards, she explained to me about Romance Writers of America. How they help a writer hone their craft, learn the business of writing, and help them succeed in a writing career. She gave me their website.
Janet(the tall woman) who saved me at my first RWA conference brought groupies to a RCRW Reader's Luncheon
I went home looked them up on the computer and joined. This was in June. I received my first RWR- Romance Writers Report- a monthly magazine the organization sends out to members. I saw in the back that they had a conference in Bellevue, Washington in October. I pleaded with my husband that this would be a good place for me to learn more about writing. He agreed I could go. I signed up!

In the RWR were listed contests held by the various RWA chapters across the U.S., Canada, and in Australia.  I sent the love scene of my first romance book to one of the contests. It was a finalist in the contest! I was so excited. I'd found the genre I was supposed to write.

Winning the EPPIE with Salem Chapter members Jim Ciaramitaro, Chis Young, Genene Valleau, and Barbara Ray
I attended the Emerald City Romance Writers conference in October. I was stoked from the contest and ready to learn what I needed to know to continue growing as an author.  The people at the conference were so friendly, helpful, and giving!  I couldn't believe so many writers were so willing to help other writers! I was a bit of a wallflower not knowing a single person and not understanding a lot of the jargon being tossed around. WIP, chapter(I thought they meant in a book not the local chapters), POV. A wonderful lady named Janet took me under her wing and made my first conference special by introducing me to everyone.

A book signing with other RWA members- Lisa Hendrix and Minnette Meador
At the conference, I learned there were two chapters in Oregon- Salem and Portland. I visited the Salem chapter and ended up joining. Chris Young, Genene Valleau, Rosemary Indra, and Chris York were such a welcoming group that I made the trip once a month to the meetings for nearly ten years. The group grew and I made more lasting friends through the Salem Chapter. When the chapter folded I joined the Portland RWA chapter but didn't make it to as many of their meetings.

Book signing at Powell's Books Portland OR with Karen Duvall and Vanessa Gilfoy
I also sent my second historical western romance to more contests. One of those contests I had a judge who explained what I was doing wrong rather than just marking up my entry. She put her email on my entry and I contacted her to thank her for her explanation. We chatted back and forth and discovered she wrote historical western romance and was in need of a person who knew the difference between a hock and a withers on a horse. We forged a wonderful long distance friendship. Because of Nicole D'Areinzo's friendship and pushing me- I became a published author.

I've been published now since 2006, eight years after I joined RWA and nine manuscripts later. Yes, it was my ninth manuscript that I wrote that finally had all the right elements to become published. Since 2006 I've published 20 books. None of this would have been possible without the editor at Fish Trap all those years ago telling me about RWA.

And that is why it is hard to say good-bye to the organization, but I have to use my money and time wisely. I've joined groups specific to the books I write; historical westerns and mystery. Those are my two favorites genres to write and where I need to focus.

One of my favorite events hosted by Rose City RWA the Reader's Luncheon
I didn't renew my dues with the Portland Chapter this month and I won't renew my national dues this summer either. They are an excellent place for a new writer to learn the craft of writing and the business side of writing. I would recommend them to any person writing in any genre. For where I'm at now, I belong to enough online groups and local groups to get the ongoing learning and growth for my writing that I need.

So long, RWA, you were exactly what this writer needed for seventeen years!


Nancy said...

Wow, you've packed so much into this blog post. When I joined RWA, you were one of the ladies I followed and still do. Like you, I've been to two or three conferences. Like you, I left my local RWA due to having to go back to the work force. I also feel that some of my subject matter is not what my local groups looked for or wanted. Fish out of water seems an excellent term. As always, your courage and your honesty is what pulled me to your stories. Like your hero's and heroine's you reflect these qualities and I am grateful. Write on and carry it through, you know it may not be easy, but it's always the cowboy way.
Nan O'Berry

Paty Jager said...

Nan, Thank you! I have made so many friends through RWA that it was a hard decision to make. I know most will still keep in contact, but it's missing out on the new people that join that also made me linger over this decision. Thak you for your friendship and fanship.

Christine Young said...

Paty, I made that same choice last year. Quitting RWA for me, was so difficult but in the end it was the right decision. RWA just didn't meet any of my needs as a writer. It was so good for me and I learned so much in the beginning but I needed a new direction.

Good luck with your writing career.

Marian Lanouette said...

Paty, Good luck with your endeavors. I'm hearing a lot of this lately. Marian

Jane Gorman said...

What a great post, Paty. Your story is inspirational, in many ways. Thanks for sharing, including explaining why you made this difficult decision.

D'Ann said...

Great post!
Many years ago, here in W CO, I had a similar experience. But that chapter folded. The sad thing is I've lost touch with most of that first group. Sigh. I've tried to revive the group a couple times, but it's not feasible.

Now it's a 5 hour drive one way to Denver. I go to their min-confs when I can, but it's not practical to be a RWA member.

So no RWA for me.

Paty Jager said...

Christine, It was very hard. You were one of the first in RWA to welcome me and become a friend. Luckily this day and age we can keep in contact much easier.

Marian, There are more places now that help out a writer and easier to access.

Jane, Thanks for stopping in! It has been a long, fought for journey. But I had to make a decision.

D'Ann, It has opened many doors for me, but now I feel like there are other ways to better spend my money. Like advertising.

Judith Ashley said...

Sad news but not surprising, Paty. I love your mysteries and am glad I'm connected to you through Windtree Press! Keep me in your email address book!

Carol A. Strickland said...

I'm so happy for your success! May it continue, with or without RWA. It's just a shame that we can't join our local chapters without having to join national, since the local chapters (at least mine) are filled with helpful, inspirational writers, as well as people who need help/information. It's always a pleasure to chat with them.

Paty Jager said...

Judith, Yes, I hope to stay connected with as many RWA friends as I can. You are definitely in my address book. I'm glad you enjoy my mysteries!

Hi Carol,
Thank you! I agree! I loved both the local chapters I was part of. They inspired me and helped me so much a long the way. But it just seems like it's for the best.

Sarah Raplee said...

I know this was a difficult decision for you, Paty. You not only got a lot out of RWA membership for many years, but you also gave back by teaching and mentoring and encouraging other writers. I'd say 'the books are balanced' in that regard. It makes sense for yo to use your money to belong to the writer groups that support your current direction.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Collette Cameron said...

You're following your heart, Paty, and that's what matters!! Hugs.

Cheryl said...

This decision is one I'm pondering. I've renewed recently, but I'm not sure my money can't be better spent elsewhere. The local chapter I first joined had wonderful writers there who helped me immeasurably, but the national RWA wasn't as significant. I'm thinking it's time to cut the cord and next year that might happen.

As you said, it's a difficult decision.

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

Some flashbacks for me in your post, Paty! As we've chatted through emails, I went through this difficult decision too. Took me several years to decide not to renew my membership in RWA. However, I still recommend RWA to anyone who seriously wants to learn the craft of writing. The writers who do presentations at their conferences are so giving of their knowledge, and are also honest about challenges. I was always in awe of you making the trip over the mountain pass to come to meetings in Salem. Your dedication to writing shows in the books you write and in promoting those stories! Just keep writing!

Bronwen Evans said...

A big decision but obviously right for you. Not sure what I'm going to do moving forward as there are now so many conferences you can attend to learn about the 'business side writing' which is now what a lot of published authors need. If you are just starting out in writing then RWA is fabulous. But I sort of agree that I'm now not getting much from my membership except it allows me to be a member of The Beau Monde chapter which is invaluable. The annual membership is not a large yearly fee to pay so I can belong and I feel that as the only official romance organisation I should support it. I can't physically attend any Chapter of RWA as I live in NZ. I have to pay additionally for RWNZ too. There are many good publishing loops and I can understand why you are leaving. Good luck.

Paty Jager said...

Sarah, Thank you! I held positions in the chapter and dealt with issues I wasn't comfortable with, but I grew and my writing grew. I'm glad you were there along the way.

Thanks Collette!

Cheryl, it is hard. It's taken me several years to finally make the decision. I've been contemplating it for some time.

Genene, I know how you also struggled. It's hard when an organization has been such a good thing in a life to make the split. I agree. Anyone wanting to be a writer can't go wrong by joining RWA.

Thanks Bronwen!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Paty,
I completely understand where you are coming from. I wrestled with leaving RWA (romance Writers of Australia) for months before I finally resigned. I think sometimes you sort of "outgrow" these organizations, especially when they are so expensive to belong to.



Maggie Lynch said...

What a wonderful compliment to RWA and to all the others who have helped you in your career. I completely understand your dilemma. I stayed with RWA for three to four years because I loved my local chapter and I felt I owed all of them for my training and success.

When I joined RWA more than a decade ago, it was actually recommended to me by two bestselling SF writers as the best organization for any writer who wanted to improve craft and learn business. However, as I strayed more and more from the romance genre and became involved in the indie ublishing world, it seemed that my goals no longer easily meshed with the national organization. Two years ago, some membership rules changes around "publishing companies" and an increased focus on "the career romance author" helped me make the decision to leave.

Like you I still highly recommend RWA membership and local chapter membership to anyone writing romance. I do think they are an amazing organization with women who support each other throughout their career. They also do keep up with the changing publishing landscape and offer many workshops to assist everyone from beginners to experienced authors.

I have found a way to keep connected to those who are still members and yet find additional support in other organizations that better match my vision and goals for my career. So, welcome to the group of those who still love RWA but are no longer members!

Paty Jager said...

Hi Margaret, I agree about the outgrowing. I know I need to keep growing as a writer but I also need to be surrounded by the people who also write what I write and that's westerns and mystery. Hoping this is the right step for me. I believe it is. Thanks!

Hi Maggie, I've become part of Indie writer groups, as well as the others and feel that's the way I'll be headed.
I agree about other writers not just romance can get a lot out of being part of RWA. I was at an RWA conference in Spokane five years ago. Half of the attendees were men. When I asked what they wrote they said Sci fi, mystery, suspense. They appreciated the workshops on writing and craft that helped them hone their genres. That's why I love RWA. They do encourage everyone and have great workshops and conferences filled with classes that help the average person become a better writer.

Marie-Nicole Ryan said...

I just made the same decision this month. Joining RWA helped me become a published author, but I now live 3 hrs from the nearest local chapter so it's no longer feasible to hit the road once a month.

Siera London said...

RWA is a blessing to so many writers, but there is a season to everything. All the best to you.

Diana McCollum said...

Thanks for sharing your journey, Paty. It is a hard decision you've made and one I've considered, but decided to stay with RWA at this time. I get a lot out of the RWR and the free online classes. There's nothing local that can compare to the classes offered.

Thanks for sharing and good luck with your new direction!! :))

Paty Jager said...

That is where I'm at. I love RWA and it helped me so much, but I need to move on. Thanks for commenting!

Hi Siera, Thank you! I hope this decision works the way I hope.

Hey Diana! It has been a tough decision. I've been contemplating it every since last summer when I renewed. But it just feels like this is the time to move on. Thanks!

Jessa Slade said...

So glad we had you while we did. And I know we'll still see you online. Happy trails!

Paty Jager said...

Jessa, We will see one another. I'm staying connected to self-pub loops and events and am an social media junkie. ;)