Mastering Romance: My first Writing Conference!

Buckle in, everyone. This is a long post!

I am taking advantage of the fact that my lovely niece (a year and two months and the cutest little girl who will ever put your brand new phone in her mouth) is asleep to write this–I haven’t even been home 24 hours and I am already left in a position of responsibility, babysitting baby, home and large dog! (ETA: my niece did not stay asleep which is why this is being posted now rather than when I started writing it!) But as promised, here is my account of the 23rd Annual Writers Conference, presented by the Romance Writers of New Zealand.

All You Need is Love … And A Great Story.

I don’t think anyone can disagree with that, right?

I was not sure what to expect at all. I heard about the conference on facebook, and thought it would be a great way to break up my travel from Japan, since my flights were stopping in Auckland anyway, and also a nice reward to myself for successfully moving. I did not do my homework. I did not research the guest speakers, I just picked workshops that sounded good and went with that. The most work I put into the conference was looking up bus routes there and back. My goal going into the conference was to make writing friends and hopefully learn something new.

I’m starting my con report on Wednesday, when Emma Sea kindly took me out for coffee, introducing me to Little and Friday, the most amazing cafe in Auckland. Emma blogged about it, but for me, although my lamington was very, very good, the real highlight was touching base with a writer who is in the same boat as I am in a lot of ways. Emma was amazingly easy to talk to and I came away from our chat feeling that the trip to Auckland was already worth it.

It got better.

Thursday evening, a bonus workshop was held at the Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre for those of us enrolled on Friday. The Speaker was Kathryn Burnett and her topic was Crafting Cinematic Ideas. There was also the opportunity to meet up with other conference goers, and a couple of us newbies had decided to meet up at the bar before the workshop.

We were not alone in that plan! The conference is an opportunity for writers all over New Zealand to get together and a lot of the writers hadn’t seen each other in person since last years conference. Every table was full with women and a few men wearing name-cards and holding distinctive red harlequin gift bags, presented to us on registration. I was quickly invited to join a table and everyone was kind, encouraging, and inclusive–even after I mentioned I write LGBTQ romances.

Kathryn’s workshop was really great. Her central point was making sure that you have a cinematic idea–one that will work well as a script–before you spend years on that screenplay. Although focused on film, she pointed out how her ideas could be adapted for novels.

I was not looking forward to the bus and train ride home, but the lovely Toni Kenyon gave me a lift! She’s a self-published author who writers straight rock star and billionaire romances, and it was great having the chance to get to know her. I enjoy one on one conversations more, and I discovered that the romance writers of New Zealand are very willing to share where they are in the writing journey, what sort of success they’re having and where they want to be. I went to bed Thursday night, full of ideas and enthusiasm–but also exhausted! My brain was still somewhere in Japan I think, and the jump to being in a lecture environment, taking notes and meeting so many new people on top of that just fried it, I think! I slept very well–after I was done unpacking my goodie bag.


Friday was, in many ways, the main event. Michael Hauge, a Hollywood Script Consulatant who coaches novelists, film-makers and all sorts, helping them make their stories stronger and giving them greater impact, talked about Story Mastery. On Friday he talked about key moments within story structure, explained how to make them resonate by working on the hero’s inner journey, then applied those principles to romance. He included lots of film clips so that we could see examples of what exactly he was talking about, and talked several members of our audience through their stories so that we could see how to apply his principles to our own works in progress as well as how to problem shoot our own stories. It was amazingly useful, and definitely something I think that I can use in my own writing.

What was really cool is that, like Kathryn, who specializes in film and TV, Michael was not a romance specialist, so their talks attracted an audience that was broader than you might think from the words ‘Romance Writers of NZ.’ We had a couple of YA writers that I spoke to, some people who work in television, a lady who has published one mid-grade children’s book and is adapting it for film, and so many more. Not only that, but there was a small contingent of M/M Romance writers there! Ada Soto, who is published with Dreamspinner, actually gave me a lift into the conference Friday–and again, the chance to talk one on one with Ada was probably as valuable as anything I got at the conference! There was a 60s theme cocktail party Friday night, but I went to bed and slept for nine solid hours.

Saturday, the romance really got underway. The conference officially opened. There were cold reads, but coming in by bus I missed those, and was just in time for the special ribbon awarded to those of us who had published our first book in the last year! This meant that I got my photo taken at the front of the room with the other first time published writers. Unfortunately, it rained and so I’d arrived at the conference looking an absolute disgrace … Always the way!


First Book people with their ribbons! That is me on the left. Photo courtesy of Wendy Vella–Thanks, Wendy!

Michael Hauge picked up where Friday’s workshop left off, with The Anatomy of a Love Story, a workshop that usually takes him two and a half hours, but that he condensed for us. Since a lot was what he’d convered on Friday, it was nice to relax, let the brain recover a little from the deluge of information. Then we split up for our special workshops. I chose Jaye Ford‘s Getting Romantic with a Gun at Your Head, a workshop about how to successfully weave the romance and crime elements of your thriller together–I think this will be especially useful. After lunch, I heard Rachel Bailey speak about The Black Moment when all is Lost, an absolutely brilliant counterpart to Michael’s workshops.

After afternoon tea, we were all back together for the Keynote speakers, delivered by Heather Graham, a romance novelist who has written over 200 books, Courtney Miller-Callihan, an editorial agent who started her own literary agency, Handspun Literary, talked about the importance of self-care for writers, and shared tips gathered from the authors she represents. Finally, author Keri Arthur gave an amazingly frank account of her journey to becoming a best seller, and what happened after that. Inspirational, all of them!

Saturday evening, two other conference newbies and care-taker extraordinaire Carole Brungar, and myself went into central Auckland for a newbies dinner. It was great to be able to share impressions and ask questions and just learn more about the other first timers! What was really interesting is that although we’re all ‘new’, we’re all at different stages. One of us has an agent and is polishing her first novel, aiming at a traditional debut. Another has ghost written two novels and paid for the conference from her writing earnings! And I’m quietly enjoying what I do! I think the fact that we all want different things and are going down different paths is actually really cool as it means that our perspectives on things will be very different. I hope we will continue to connect and support each other!

Sunday. I don’t think I could have handled Sunday if it hadn’t been for the night out Saturday night! Michael Hauge kicked off the day with a no-holds barred workshop in which he asked us to apply the principles of story-telling to our own lives. Basically we had to figure out what we are most afraid of doing–and do that. During this workshop, I sat next to paranormal romance author Steffanie Holmes, and I had such a good time talking to her that I actually switched my next workshop to attend hers– Indie Publishing — The Power of 3 (I also picked up two of her books during the morning tea break, and am enjoying them!). Again Steffanie got really personal, sharing what she’d tried and what had failed as well as what had succeeded. I am really impressed by the generosity of all the authors who spoke at the conference, openly sharing their failures as well as their successes! I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but it was really inspirational.

Sunday afternoon, we had the last of our workshops–I went back for more of Rachel Bailey, this time speaking about Sexual Tension–the Undertow of Romance. Sarah Younger delivered the keynote speech, explaining what High Concepts are and they can help us market genre fiction. After afternoon tea (they fed us extremely well throughout the entire weekend), we reconvened for an announcement about next year’s conference (going to be in Wellington–cannot wait!), and a Question and Answer session with our International Guests. The panel consisted of authors, editors and agents, as well as Micheal Hague. I asked the first question of the session, and it got an amazing response–everyone answered it and answered it with personal answers … it was great!

Then the conference closed about the same time my cousin arrived to pick me up. I rushed out–leaving my bag of purchased books with my wallet in it behind. Good job, me! I didn’t realise it was missing until we were all the way across Auckland. Luckily my cousin who is absolutely too kind to me drove me right back to the Waipuna, and I was able to retrieve it! And while I was doing that, I ran into Michael Hague, and was able to have a quick chat with him about what I’d learned over the weekend! It was a great end to what had been an incredibly nerve-wracking hour (my wallet had my passport and all my NZ cash in it), and I only hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much talking to Michael as at that point, I was operating on pure panic-filled adrenalin.

All my expectations about the conference were exceeded. I learnt a lot of stuff that I am already using in my writing, met some incredible, inspirational people, and picked up an incredible amount of books! Some were giveaways from the conference sponsors–primarily Harlequin–and others were written by authors I met or heard speak or had four different people all recommend to me on four separate occasions! Apologies for readers of this blog who only read M/M, but I will probably end up talking more about these authors and their books! I am just that excited about them.

Next year’s RWNZ conference will take place in our capital Wellington and I have already decided that I’m going to be there–the experience was that good. But next time round, I will hopefully not be moving house and country the week before!


  1. Holy moly! That is amazing! This is the kind of stuff I’m looking forward to do next year. I’d actually love to attend RWNZ, even though your blog post is the first time I’ve ever heard of it and I honestly think I missed what the acronym stands for. Silly me. It sounds like you have an amazing time and I wish you luck next year when you attend again. 🙂 I can only hope to have similar experiences at some of the conventions I plan on going to in the next couple of years.

    1. Did I forget to put it in the post? Silly me! RWNZ= Romance Writers of New Zealand. If Wellington is too far, I know that Romance Writers of America has a really good reputation–perhaps they do something similar?

      I’ve always really enjoyed your convention reports, Skye! I look forward to you attending those conventions and hope that you find them really worth while!

  2. Wow that swag bag is amazing. Loved your blog post – thanks! I’ve always wondered what these conferences were like. And cool that this is in Wellington next year – I’ll have to go! Actually we should go together.

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