Virginia Festival of the Book 2014 – Or, When I Met Sabrina Jeffries in Person!

With the Queen of Regency Romance, Sabrina Jeffries
With the Queen of Regency Romance, Sabrina Jeffries

This past Saturday I was lucky enough to get to take a day to myself and head over the mountain to Charlottesville, my old grad school stomping grounds. Only I wasn’t there to visit the University of Virginia; instead, I was participating in the annual Virginia Festival of the Book.

Although the Festival has been around for 20 years, this was my first time attending. I picked a great one. I heard Jane Friedman speak on changes in publishing, especially on the digital front, and then laughed along with Sabrina Jeffries, Cathy MaxwellLauren WittigDeanna Raybourn, and Gail Barrett, all of whom spoke intelligently, engagingly, and hilariously about Hell on Heels: Bad Girls, Feminism, and Rebellion in Romantic Fiction (those women are a hoot, y’all). I attended a second session specifically on romance and publishing, and finished the day with an agents roundtable question and answer session.

All in all, it was a marvelous day. I learned a lot, laughed a lot, and took copious notes. By hand. Just like back in grad school (yes, I’m old). Best of all, I got to meet one of my romance novelist idols, the fabulous Ms. Sabrina Jeffries, who was warm and engaging and just seemed a delight to be around. In fact, all of the romance novelists in the Hell on Heels panel struck me as women I’d want to hang out with. They were witty, smart as heck, well-spoken, and truly seemed excited to be there and in love with their craft.

I felt… at home. Sure, at times I was nervous, wondering if I weren’t a bit of a poser, trying to hang out with the cool kids. That’s O.K. I hear anxiety is common among writers. But mostly I felt as if I were where I ought to be, talking (well, listening) about things I was really interested in, and just delighted to be surrounded by people as drawn to words and language and books and writing as I am.

I know the road ahead is still long. I remind myself of that as I gear up to send out my first query letters this coming week. I realize that most likely a great deal of rejection lies in my future – it’s a given in this industry. I’m sure it will sting, but I will keep forging ahead, writing, editing, revising, submitting, researching, plotting, outlining, writing more, rewriting, doing it all over again…

Because it feels right.

My cousin Joy told me once years ago, “You are a writer!” She’d said that in response to some long emails I had sent her while abroad working on dissertation research in Germany, in which I apparently waxed somewhat poetic about life. She told me she didn’t know what I would do with the skill in the future – whether I would write for others or just for myself, but it was clear to her that a large part of my identity could be found in writing. I’ve never forgotten that. It was powerful to hear someone label me as a writer, and powerful to be able to open myself up again to that idea. Sure, it took another ten years before I actually wrote a book. But I did it.

I realize the path forward to publication will likely be longer, windier, and more labor-intensive than I can imagine, but I’m still taking that step. One foot in front of the other. One word after another. Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing, writing, writing. Or, as author Laura Kaye reminded us on Saturday, BICHOK, people! (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.)

I’m still learning the ropes, stumbling along a steep learning curve of balancing family needs alongside writerly needs. I’m still battling inertia and procrastination and anxiety and sometimes just sheer frozen panic in not knowing the right next step to take. The siren song of the internet certainly derails my best intentions on many a day.

It’s all good.

Malcolm Gladwell tells us it takes 10,000 hours of experience/hard work/practice to become an expert in any given area. Sometimes that’s overwhelming to think about – when/where am I going to come up with that many hours to hone this craft? Other times it’s freeing. I’m nowhere near 10,000 hours (although I probably have more under my belt than I know given that I’ve written stuff, sometimes even good stuff, off and on since, what, high school?). Which means I’m nowhere near an expert, which means I don’t have to be perfect and it’s fine to be a newbie because then I get to have the joy of soaking up tons of new knowledge as I figure it all out. Right?

This long, rambling blog post is actually a love letter. It’s a love letter to the people in my life who support me, who’ve told me to go for it, who’ve read my book and provided feedback, who encourage me when I hit those walls of self-doubt. It’s a love letter to my husband, who’s O.K. with me pursuing this dream, even though it means I’m not out bringing home any bacon (yet). It’s a love letter to all the romance novelists who’ve inspired me over the years – and I will be naming names soon as I chronicle my favorites in an upcoming blog post. And it’s a love letter to me, for finally doing what I’ve said I wanted to do since the age of 12: write romances.

Thank you, Virginia Festival of the Book, for such a fabulous day. Woo hoo to Sabrina Jeffries for continuing to be an inspiration to me. And whee haw to whatever comes next in my writing future.

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