Lessons from RWA’s National Conference

This past month has been a whirlwind of activity – professional development, a family wedding, Babycakes’s third birthday…

Oh yeah, and a trip to Disney World for RWA2017 (AKA National).

About five years ago, I informed my husband that I was going to the National Conference in 2017 – yes, because it was being held in Disney World. Plans to attend the 2014 conference in San Antonio were scuttled because I would be eminently due to give birth. NYC in 2015 didn’t happen because we’d just moved to Charlotte, and 2016 in San Diego wasn’t doable for a variety of reasons.

So not only was attending this year sort of a goal-met moment for me, it was being held in the Happiest Place on Earth and we could roll a fun family vacay into the whole deal.

I cannot express what it felt like to walk into the conference center. The energy was through the roof – inescapable when so many creative minds gather under that roof. Because of said family vacation (I mean, I didn’t want to miss ALL the magic of Babycakes experiencing Disney for the first time), I gave myself Thursday and Friday, the two “full” days of the conference. And I jammed them full.

Prior to leaving for Florida, I read the very wise advice of fellow Soul Mate author Rebecca Heflin, regarding the challenge introverts face at writers’ conferences. I can’t say I followed her advice well, but I definitely learned some lessons for myself – and maybe for others – that I can take to heart the next time I have the opportunity to attend RWA National.

  • Do not try to do everything. I planned to attend three sessions each day, plus the Golden Heart and Keynote Luncheons. By the end of the second day, my head was pounding. Not sure if it was from being inside all day or from the sheer amount of fantastic information I’d been digesting. But if I had to do it again, I’d pace myself better. Many of the handouts/resources are available at RWA.org, as are the recordings (for a price).
  • Stay hydrated. I brought a water bottle with me, knowing the importance of fluids during a marathon day. I consistently forgot to drink from it, and by the end of the day I was definitely feeling it.
  • Bring snacks. The luncheons were a fabulous way to meet other authors and editors, and snag a “free” meal (technically I paid for it with my registration). But I should have brought some things to munch between sessions.
  • Decide on one method to take notes, if any at all. I tend to be one of those note takers who can jot down a few key phrases and then just magically remember what the presenter said about those phrases. The first day I lugged around a spiral notebook, the second day I used a small pocket notebook, and all the while I thought about how much easier it would have been to just bring my Surface and type. I can’t read my chicken scratch anyway.
  • Get people’s names and contact info. I was fortunate enough to run into several colleagues and friends, but I also met some new people. At my first session, I sat beside a woman who also worked in education. I remember she lives in Houston, but that’s it. I wish I’d gotten her name, or at least given her my card. We could have connected on multiple levels.
  • Coordinate with people you know, so you aren’t alone (applies mostly to introverts). I am a painful introvert in new situations, especially when surrounded by a LOT of people. It was really hard for me to introduce myself, even if I got into small-talk convos. And after running into several colleagues from my local RWA chapters, I felt like an idiot for not coordinating better with them to meet up. I think when you’re with people you know, as an introvert, it’s less scary to be introduced to someone new.
  • Just make it be about the conference. While I wouldn’t give up Babycakes’ first trip to Disney for anything, it was hard not being immersed in the conference full time. I mean, there was a write-in! People were meeting up for dinner! I totally skipped the RITAs in favor of a little couple time with my Romantic Hero of a Husband out at the parks. I did tell the hubs that the next conference, I should really just go on my own and do the conference properly. Stay at the conference site, with other conference goers, and be immersed in the amazing experience that is RWA.

If you’re not an introvert like me, maybe these lessons don’t apply to you. We all have different professional needs, and finding your stride, figuring out what your conference mojo looks like, is valuable.

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The Perils of Ignoring Self-Care

So it turns out burning the candle at both ends is really, really, REALLY bad for your well-being. We’re talking physical, mental, emotional burnout.

I thought summer break would be a chance to recharge, as it always has in the past, but it’s turning out not to be the case. You see, I recognized around mid-March that I was dangerously close to hitting the proverbial wall. At some point shortly thereafter, I apparently decided to haul myself and the metaphorical 50-pound pack-of-everything over that wall, instead of admitting to myself that it was time to take a true break.

In years past, I always made a point of doing little things for myself. Having a mini-spa day. Sleeping in. Watching a movie or seven that I’ve seen a billion times over. Reading a book in close to one sitting. Playing the piano. Wandering around the house singing at the top of my lungs. Exercising, even if I hated every second of it and only kept going because, yes, there is that euphoria when you finish.

Now, working full time and having a small child, I realize that a lot of that stuff isn’t going to happen much anymore, and I have an amazing support system. But the problem is that, in the past couple years, it’s not even so much that I don’t do the things that replenish me, it’s that I, somewhere along the line, apparently convinced myself that it wasn’t necessary for me to do them anymore.

There’s a lot of research out there on the importance of self-care.  Self-care is, in fact, so important and so often ignored that Ted-Ed actually has a whole series of TedTalks about it! I need to start figuring out a way to build it back into my life. Without it, I’m finding myself short-tempered, easily irritated, overly sensitive, constantly exhausted, and continually struggling to remain focused and effective in my work (both the teaching and the writing).

Ignoring self-care has affected my relationships, how I behave as a wife and a mother. It has affected me physically, as I haven’t managed to get myself back into an effective workout routine to maintain my weight and fitness. I’ve become a stress eater for the first time EVER, when stress used to make me lose my appetite. My skin has gone crazy in ways it hasn’t since I was a teenager, and even then I’m not sure it went this crazy. I continue to have flare ups of postpartum anxiety (something I struggled to identify at all for months before finally seeing a therapist).

And I’ll be perfectly honest – the current events we’ve seen since the start of 2017 have not helped. It’s been a real challenge to not only maintain a sense of sanity as I try to keep up with those current events – being a world history teacher to students who also see this stuff and constantly ask “WHY?”, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring them or even just perusing a shortlist of what’s happening around our planet. I actually ended up taking an unintentional media fast during the last couple weeks of school, and when I finally resurfaced I felt like I’d missed a boatload of imperative information that just stressed me out more. The kicker with keeping up with those current events is that needing to know, and the inundation of constant “what NOW?” moments, almost kept me from completing the first draft of HE TAKES THE CAKE.

It’s incredibly hard to write lighthearted romantic comedy when you feel like the country and the world is falling down around your ears, and your anxiety is on overdrive because of stuff you have absolutely no control over.

I digress – a little – but the point in this ever-lengthening venting session is that one day, I looked in the mirror and realized how ignoring my own self-care has slowly whittled me down. My willpower, my self-image, my confidence, my energy level, my ability to be present to the people who need me to be present.

Now to come up with a plan…

And the Winners Are…

I’m pleased to announce the winners of the HE TAKES THE CAKE Release Day Giveaway!

Sometimes it just takes a little spark to reignite an old flame…

Grand Prize Winner of the $25 Amazon Gift Card is: JANE BASSETT-NELSON

And the winners of a copy of HE TAKES THE CAKE for Kindle are:

  • Amber Ag
  • Gabrielle Smith
  • Ally Swanson
  • David Holder
  • Gina Marie

All winners have been notified. Thanks, everyone, for entering the giveaway!

And remember, if you’ve read BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE, WHEN IN ROME,  and/or THE ONE I’M WITH, please don’t forget to leave some reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and of course tell your friends!

If you would like to stay in the know about future giveaways, releases, and other announcements, remember to sign up for my email newsletter, and follow me on my socials, Goodreads, and my Amazon Author page!

HE TAKES THE CAKE – Meet the Main Characters

It’s been about a week now since HE TAKES THE CAKE hit Kindles. There are still a couple days left to enter my Release Day Giveaway, for a chance to win a $25  Amazon Gift Card or a Kindle copy of HE TAKES THE CAKE.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Tess and Ty’s story, here’s a little intro to our main characters.

Meet Tess Gardiner

Baking has been important in Tess Gardiner’s life since she was a child. But until her college years rolled around, she never considered making a living by doing what she loves most. Between her business degree and a baking certification course, she soon turned her love of confectionery into a thriving bakery and cafe in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia.

 

 

With her focus on local and regional success, Tess doesn’t have much time to pursue romance. She’s content in her corner of the world, surrounded by friends and family who support and love her. Tess’s ambitions have never been about far-flung fame, but she’s worked hard to gain recognition. If there’s one thing she can’t stand, it’s feeling left in the shadows when she deserves a share in the accolades.

Unfortunately, that’s what ultimately led to her parting ways with the person who convinced her to pursue culinary arts in the first place…

Meet Tyler Brinks

Tyler worked hard his entire life to achieve his goals. First culinary arts school, then Le Cordon Bleu. Now, between his two restaurants in Charleston and Hilton Head, South Carolina, he’s become something of a regional celebrity. Charismatic, well-liked, and talented as can be, Ty is always on the lookout for a challenge and new opportunities.

Success has come easily for Ty, and has given him the chance to hone his skills in countless ways. But if Ty has one regret, it’s the way his relationship with Tess ended after they graduated from college. She remains the one who got away, and he’d give anything to at least figure out what went wrong.

HE TAKES THE CAKE is now available for Kindle!

Sometimes it just takes a little spark to reignite an old flame…

HE TAKES THE CAKE Release Day Giveaway!

Release Day for HE TAKES THE CAKE is only a couple days away – and so is a chance to win either a $25 Amazon Gift Card OR a Kindle Copy of HE TAKES THE CAKE!

To celebrate my upcoming release, I’m holding a Rafflecopter Givewaway. Starting at

HeTakesTheCake2_850

midnight on Tuesday, June 20th, you’ll have the chance (or really, several chances) to throw your hat into the ring to win:

  • $25 Amazon Gift Card (1 Grand Prize Winner)
  • The Kindle Edition of HE TAKES THE CAKE (5 winners)*

*Just a reminder that as long as you have a device that will run the free Kindle reading app, you’ll be able to enjoy HE TAKES THE CAKE.

The giveaway will run from midnight on June 20th to one minute before midnight on June 30th (all times are EST). All winners will be notified no later than 11:59pm EST on July 1st.

Click the link below to enter starting June 20th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As always, be sure to sign up for my email newsletter, and follow me on my socials, Goodreads, and my Amazon Author page!

Stay tuned over the next couple days for my usual “Meet the Main Characters” post!

Take a Sneak Peak at HE TAKES THE CAKE

Can you believe it’s less than a week until HE TAKES THE CAKE hits Kindles? I know I’m excited for the latest, and final, installment in my Sweet Somethings series.

Keep an eye here on the blog, as well as my socials, for an announcement this weekend about my Release Day Giveaway and Facebook event, as well as a “Meet the Main Characters” post that will pop up Monday or Tuesday.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak at a sample chapter.

Preparation

On a Sunday evening a month later, packing checklist in hand, I stand over the open suitcase on my bed and mentally run through the itinerary for the convention.

“Do you think I should bring anything else?” I ask Carmella, who sits on the accent chair in the corner, flipping through the organizational packet I got in the mail last week.

“Maybe another cocktail dress,” she says, frowning at the last page of the printed schedule. “The dark green one you splurged on after you finished your ACF coursework would look awesome with those copper highlights you just had done, and it complements the mahogany tones of your skin so well. You should wear it to the soiree.”

I brush my palm over my hair. The highlights were a last-minute idea. There are two semi-formal receptions I’ll probably attend over the next week, and I love how highlights look when I style my hair into chunkier, relaxed curls instead of leaving the tight, corkscrew ringlets that form when I let it go natural.

Approving the clothing suggestion, I cross to my closet and pull out the green dress. After carefully folding it, I cast a sidelong glance at Carmella. “If anything happens while I’m gone, anything at all, make sure you call me. Okay?”

“You do realize I have at least a month before my due date, and you’ll be back well before then. But yeah, I promise.” She flips open the convention booklet that arrived on Friday. “Did you get to proof your bio before they printed this?”

“No. I just copied and pasted from the bakery’s website, so it’s short and sweet.”

Carmella glances up. “The website doesn’t have anything about your new ACF credentials.”

I shrug and focus on shifting the contents of my suitcase so the green dress doesn’t get crushed. “It’s not a big deal. They’ll probably ask for something more inclusive to use at the panel discussion.”

“I’ll remind Lily to update your bio while you’re gone.” The booklet pages make a slight fwip sound as she flips to a different section. Then she gasps. “Tess!”

“What?” I spin, a pair of running socks in each hand.

“Did you see this? The final list of featured presenters?” Carmella turns the booklet and holds it up. A look of surprise etches itself on her face. “You must have.”

When I realize what pages she’s showing me, my stomach twists. I hide the accompanying grimace by shoving the socks into a side pocket of my suitcase. “Yeah, I saw it. So what?”

“What do you mean, so what?”

She stands and comes to my side, laying the open booklet across the suitcase and jabbing her finger at a bio at the bottom of the right-hand page. A small headshot, of a handsome black man in his early thirties, accompanies the short paragraph. He’s smiling—no, smirking—at the camera.

Tyler Brinks.

The man I told in no uncertain terms about seven and a half years ago that I never wanted to lay eyes on him again.

Who, exactly, is Tyler Brinks, and why doesn’t Tess want to see him? Read the rest of the chapter, and check out HE TAKES THE CAKE on Wednesday, June 21st!

HE TAKES THE CAKE is Now Available for Pre-Order!

The past couple months have been absolute insanity around here. But fans of Sweet Somethings will be happy to know that, at long last, HE TAKES THE CAKE will soon be here!

Sometimes it just takes a little spark to reignite an old flame…

Life is good for Tess Gardiner: Her Savannah, Georgia, bakery and cafe is thriving. She’s earned Master Pastry Chef status from the American Culinary Federation. And she’s attending a regional culinary convention in Charleston, where she’s been invited to sit on a small business panel discussion. The opportunity to tout her success will, hopefully, lead to bigger and better things in her professional life. As for her personal life? The relative contentedness she’s enjoyed for years receives a sudden jolt when she comes face to face with Tyler Brinks, the ex-boyfriend she summarily dismissed from her life eight years ago.

Tyler’s success as a highly-trained chef has launched him into the stratosphere. He already owns one ridiculously successful restaurant, and he’s aggressively working on plans for a second. But he’s never quite gotten over Tess, and he’s never really been sure what actually went wrong between them. So when a pastry and baking competition is announced for the week following the culinary convention in Charleston, Ty jumps at the chance to tempt Tess with the challenge of being his partner, giving him the perfect opportunity to remind her how good they once were together.

As the competition heats up in the kitchen, it soon becomes clear to Tess that Ty has more than cream puffs and cupcakes on his mind. And she can’t deny that her feelings for Ty never truly cooled, but have been simmering all these years, despite the way their relationship ended. Now Ty’s attention has her wondering—is this just the path to final closure? Or could this be a second chance at true love?

Coming June 21st from Soul Mate Publishing!

Soul Mate Publishing

Preorder Now at Amazon.com!