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Category: Writers

Author Friends

Yesterday I headed out to meet up in the city for lunch with some author friends. We meet on Southbank, on the banks of the Yarra River, in Melbourne. It was a perfect sunny summer day, warm but not too hot, and with a lovely breeze.

 A lot of people assume that authors must be quite competitive and that that there’s a fair bit of rivalry between us. That’s not at all the case in my experience. Maybe it’s the nature of romance writers — we do, after all write the literature of hope — or maybe it’s that most of us are women, and women tend to be more cooperative and helpful, but whatever the reason, I’m blessed in my writing friends.

I belong to a number of writers’ organizations, and a number of informal groups. Yesterday’s  group is from Melbourne and surrounds, and we meet several times a year for lunch, always at the same place, which has a wonderful smorgasbord and yummy desserts. First there’s a bit of personal catching up, because we’ve known each other for a few years now, and then, inevitably the talk turns to books and writing. 

Pic: from left: Sarah Mayberry, Alison Stuart, Melanie Scott, Michelle Conder, me. On other side of table, from rear: Carol Marinelli, Keri Arthur, Marion Lennox, Joan Kilby

We talk about what we’re writing and what we’re reading, we do “show and tell” showing our books and new covers, and sharing things around. Most of the talk is about business — because we’re all professional authors and make our living by writing. We started as all traditionally published authors (ie published with large international publishers) but several in the group have now become fully self-published, and are doing very well. And the business is always changing, so that’s  always fascinating. And a little bit unsettling — for me, anyway.

Another informal group I meet up with is a little “historical” group. There are just four of us, and three of us write historical romance and one is the official biographer of Georgette Heyer, Jennifer Kloester. Julia Byrne and Stephanie Laurens started out writing for Mills and Boon Historicals at the same time. Julia then left writing for many years for family reasons and has only recently recommenced her writing career, but they have remained friends and each others’ crit partners for all that time. Isn’t that wonderful?

Pic: from left me, Julia Byrne, Jennifer Kloester (standing) Stephanie Laurens. 

Another of my writers groups is called the Word Wenches, a group of mainly historical romance writers, mostly from the USA, but with one Canadian, one Brit and one Australian (me.) Being so far flung, we rarely meet face to face, but most days we chat on email, and even though I can count on my fingers the number of times we’ve met, we know each other pretty well. I’m going to the USA this year for the Romance Writers of American conference, where the Word Wenches will be presenting on a panel, and afterwards, we’re heading off to go on a small writing retreat. I can’t wait!

Speaking of retreats, I attend a writing retreat every year with another group of writers. It started around twelve years ago as a way of breaking down isolation between romance writers — we come from four different Australian states, and one is from NZ (and now lives in France) The first time we came together, we were relative strangers — some had never met — but now, with daily email conversations and annual retreats, we’re all very close.


Pic: From left: Carol Marinelli, Trish Morey, Marion Lennox, Kelly Hunter, me, then on the right from the rear: Barbara Hannay, Fiona McArthur, Meredith Webber. Missing: Alison Roberts.

We help each other all the time — we brainstorm plots, talk over scenes, share information and advice, and offer feedback and encouragement, especially  when times are tough.  And of course, since most of our communication happens on line, when we finally do meet up face to face, what better thing to do than share a meal? 

I’ve only shown you the tip of the iceberg of my romance writing friends here. When I first started writing, I never imagined I’d make so many friends — and some are the best friends I’ve made anywhere. And I haven’t even touched on the readers who’ve become friends —I’ll save that for another post.

Romance Writers of Australia conference 2018

I’ve just posted a report of the RWAust. conference over on the Word Wenches, but I wanted to post more photos of the fabulous costumes that people wore to the cocktail party that always kicks off our conferences. We always have fun, and there were so many brilliant costumes that I couldn’t fit on the wench blog, so I brought them here. Even so, this is only a small proportion of them. 

This year it was a “royalty” and “Tuxes and Tiaras” theme as the conference hotel is one where royalty has stayed when in Sydney — including Prince Charles and Princess Di when they were still together. But people riffed off that theme in all kinds of great ways — from the glamorous to the silly. Guess what direction I tend?
Yes, so this is me, in my evil queen outfit — the tiara is a cheap one onto which I glued rubber rats, snakes and spiders and “jools,” I made the necklace as well, so those spiders are attached.

The three zombie brides below (Clare, Tanya and Kerry) won a prize for their outfits, as did “Prince” (TJ Hamilton) and in the middle is the new RWAust President, Joanne Boog.

Not everyone dresses up, and that’s fine — this is about fun, not pressure, and in this pic we have a gorgeous bride in her own wedding dress, a “lady-in-waiting” kind of outfit, or maybe she’s dressed for a garden party, and someone who is dressed up gorgeously  but not in costume as such. And they all look beautiful.

Here’s two agents and two authors , looking very glam and gorgeous.

And here’s a lineup of authors, including one from the USA and one from New Zealand. And believe it or not, that redhead in the middle claimed to be Megan Markle. LOL.

Here’s a snap of the crowd — and don’t you love that a member of Chinese royalty is represented, as well as someone possibly from Queen Victoria’s court?

Here’s a little piece of pure glamor and good taste. Doesn’t she look gorgeous? Definitely a visiting royal, possibly from a Scandinavian country.

And what royal gathering would be without Princess Fiona, (Fiona Marsden) who this weekend took out a positive fistful of prizes, including the NZ Koru, the RWAust Emerald — twice! — and I don’t know how many more.  Congratulations Fiona.

Below her is a fabulous couple stepping straight out of Wonderland — the mad hatter and the Queen of Hearts, looking scarily in an “off with her head” kind of mood. And what a brilliant riff off the “royalty” theme. 

There could so easily have been a whole tribe of Princess Di’s — which would have been hilarious — but the variety and inventiveness of these costumes just blew me away.

And to end, a good queen/evil queen photo — I’ll leave it to you to work out who is who. And is that supposed to be a corgi? I don’t think so. LOL

It was a brilliant party, so thanks to Harlequin for sponsoring it,  to the RWA conference committee who organized it, and to all the wonderful people who attended, making it so much fun.

The Author Photo

For some of us the quest for the Author Photo is a thing to be dreaded, embraced with all the joy of a root canal. For others, it’s a breeze, a delight, a skippety-do-dah romp in the sunshine. If you are in the latter group, this article is not for you. 

The Author Photo is, pretty much, you naked. Only with clothes. But naked in a much more lasting way, not a mere flit from bathroom to bedroom, but you, exposed and leering from the back cover of a book, or the bowels of the internet, forever–yes, forever. Because nothing ever dies on the internet. The Author Photo, in its many ghastly incarnations, will always come back to haunt you.

Some people achieve The Author Photo with a mere click of a shutter, or perhaps three, and then it’s, “Hmm, which of the three shall I use? They’re all soooo good.” Again this article is not for you. 

For others it’s a quest, a saga, a never-ending journey. Certainly that’s been the case for me. Half of my family is extremely photogenic. The other half is not. Guess which half I belong to? I’ve never liked having my photo taken. For years I pulled faces at cameras or avoided the wretched things altogether.

But once you become An Author, there is this horrid—and completely unreasonable— expectation that you will provide An Author Photo. What difference does it make what I look like? Will it enhance your reading pleasure? I think not.

But still various powers-that-be demand one.

The tendency at first is to look among your snapshots for A Nice Photo. You quickly discover there is no such thing. You discard all the ones with your tongue poking out, or your eyes bugging or squinting or popping. What is left (in my case) is a snap someone took of me when I was in a band. In it I looked relatively normal, happy and was wearing a pink feather boa — all good for the romance writer look, don’t you think? Ignore the fact I appeared to be doing unspeakable things to a big, black microphone — well, it is romance — it was the only picture I had. 

After a number of rude comments about said photo, I decided it should be replaced at the earliest opportunity. I got a friend to take some photos in her back yard— she’s an artist, so I was sure the shots would be suitably artistic. They were. The resulting photos could have been entitled “Variation on the Theme of Broken Capillaries,” with a secondary series called “Waterfall of Chins.”  (And no, I’m not going to share!)

Obviously I needed something more professional. I went along to a local suburban studio — let us call it Reservoir Brides. The photographer was elderly, dapper, and very sure he knew exactly what I wanted. “Just put yourself in my hands, young lady.”  The “young lady” should have been a warning sign, but no. . .

He sat me on a high bar stool. “Cross your legs. Now, lean forward. Stick your neck out, yes, that’s right, now chin down a little, head up, tilt your head, smile and … look sexy!” 

I looked like some cross-legged female quasimodo grinning maniacally while not falling off a stool.

My next attempt at The Author Photograph was in a very much more cool environment, at an inner-suburban studio where a young photography graduate was starting his career. I should have walked out when he produced The Hat, but going to a photography studio, for me, is a bit like going to the dentist — once you’ve got yourself there, you just need to endure until it’s over. 

I quite like hats, so I donned this one and proceeded to do all those things photographers tell you — chin up, head down, look here, look there. I came away feeling almost positive. Like when the dentist hasn’t hurt you.

And then I saw the proofs. The hat was lopsided. Severely so. I looked utterly and completely demented, like I’d dressed while drunk from a selection at the op-shop. (And no, you’re not seeing those ones, either.)

The next attempt was at a big conference in the US. Heaps of authors get their photos done there. It was the obvious choice. We met. She was jolly, very jolly. She cracked jokes and made me laugh and encouraged me to ham it up even more. No problem, there. I’m already on edge getting my photo taken. The photo shoot was a laugh from beginning to end.

The photos? Completely demented. Plus we were all laughing so much nobody noticed my blouse had popped open — and not in a good or sexy way.

Next was after a TV appearance where they’d done my make-up and hair. A friend rang me after the show — it was live — and said, “You look great. Go and get your photo taken.” So I rang a photographic studio and made an appointment for a few hours hence. I had time to kill so I sat in front of my new computer and played with the Photo Booth program. Click click click. The photos came out great.

I headed off to the professional photographer feeling confident. If my computer could make me look good, what could a professional do?

Make me orange, that’s what. And highlight every wrinkle I had. I looked like a science project; “Close-up of Middle-Aged Decay.”

I used the computer photo. That’s it on the right. The only problem is, it’s not high resolution enough for most purposes.

I’ve had quite a few newspapers take photos of me. They pose me — I’ve lain on a floor, a rose between my teeth and I’ve been draped with feathers — romance writer, see? I always come out looking demented. Don’t believe me? Here’s one of them.

Some of the best photos have been taken by friends, when I’m dressed up (usually in costume) at some conference. Here’s one that a friend  took of me at a romance readers convention where we dressed up as . . . something, I can’t remember. I’d use it, only it looks as though I’m about to attempt a pirouette, or graciously knight someone with a quill, or burst into song.

Then there was the photo shoot Penguin Australia organized for authors. They even hired a make-up expert (so-called) to do our hair and make-up. I ended up with strange brown eyebrows.

In my most recent attempt to scale Mount Author Photo, I tried another professional photographer, a woman who’d taken some gorgeous shots of an author friend. I showed her the computer photo and said “One like that, please.” 

“Oh, we can do better than that,” she said. She did my makeup and hair. She
posed me here and posed me there, all the time encouraging me to smile, and laugh, laugh, laugh! You guessed it. High resolution demented woman. There’s one at the top of this page, and here’s another. But it’s what I have, so it’s what I use.

Meanwhile, the quest continues…