So you’ve joined the RWA, and are enjoying the information and advocacy your membership entitles you to. But National’s a long way off, and RWA headquarters is in Texas, and you’re starting to get a little lonely. So what do you do? You join your local chapter. Where I live, that means the Toronto Romance Writers.
If writers’ groups were governments, then the TRW would be themunicipal version to the RWA’s federal. Residency in the GTA is not a requirement to join the TRW, but it is a bonus. Because that means that in addition to enjoying the monthly newsletter, online critiq ue groups, and active message boards, you can also make use of
their book and audio library, participate in their programs, and hear their guest speakers. Best of all, you can interact with other TRW members face to face.
The TRW was started in 1986. At the time it was called the Romance Writers of America Ontario Chapter (seriously). Founded by three local writers, the first meeting had about twenty-five attendees. Today, their membership roster has expanded f ivefold. And of their130-odd members, more than thirty are published authors. They write everything: from historicals to futuristics; from the chaste to the erotic, from light-hearted romps to suspense-filled page turners. And they have a while blast doing so.
Kate is one of the original charter members. She was there at the first meeting, and she continues to attend today. In between, she has sold eight novels, two novellas, taught dozens of workshops, and presided over the TRW during many of its formative years (among her many triumphs, Kate was instrumental in the name change from RWAOC to TRW). “I joined because I wanted more information, and more contacts.” Twenty-four years ago, those were not just a mouse click away. But even given the information-rich internet environment, Kate absolutely believes in the value of the gathered group. “The TRW has not just maintained but grown its sense of warmth, of
camraderie, of sharing. And that’s really important.”
Paula,who joined the TRW when she returned to Canada after several years in
Bermuda, agrees. She says the TRW is “the most amazing, supportive bunch of real-life ladies ever.” A writer of contemporary romance who has just landed an agent, Paula credits the TRW for helping her focus her writing. And she lauds the generosity of its members.“The successful writers work with one hand forward, and one hand back…”
If you check out their website, you begin to understand what Paula’s talking about. Their monthly meetings often feature workshops led by members, past or present, who are currently very successful in their own writing careers. There are sessions on plotting, on opening scenes, on revisions. That nuts-and-bolts approach is one of the TRW’s strengths. As Susan, a member for eight years, says, “what we learn here is applicable to almost every type of writing. We learn about writing techniques, about publishing, about the industry in general. And that information applies whether you’re writing romance, or mystery, or anything.”
Other meetings have concentrated on genre analysis, or on the business side of things. I attended the February meeting, and the guest speaker, Forensic Tax Accountant Anita Van Zeeland, discussed tax strategies for writers*. It was an excellent session, full of practical, helpful advice, and delivered with a calm humour that took the mystery out of the process. It also assumed that attendees took themselves and their writing seriously.
That’s one of the hallmarks of the TRW. Published or unpublished, you will be warmly welcomed, so long as you take the romance genre seriously. As one should, considering its serious market share, and the potential for serious money. Gradually, the genre is gaining some more serious attention, beyond that of its devotees. TRW member Deborah was Writer in Residence at the Toronto Public Library late last year. She gave talks and workshops, kept an active blog, and read and critiqued dozens of manuscripts for aspiring writers. The Library was thrilled with the rush of public interest. And the TRW is interested in librarians. Just recently they hosted a Tea forlibrarians, serving up information and advocacy along with refreshments.
But serious doesn’t mean humourless, and while the TRW is the former, it’s the opposite of the latter. Because in addition to education, the TRW is all about encouragement. Every meeting begins with introductions, in which the TRW warmly welcomes guests and new members into the fold. Later on comes the Accolades session, when members get to announce their writing successes, be they large (selling a novel, say) or small (finishing a scene). Chocolate is involved. Members also have a chance to mention rejections and disappointments. Good news celebrated is doubled; bad news shared is lessened. The empathy is real, and the support is inspiring.
In the end, that’s possibly the TRW’s greatest achievement: its rock-solid support. Of course, it’s a chicken-and-egg proposition: individual members are supported by the group… which consists of individual members. Eve, a best-selling novelist with twelve books and three novellas on her CV, sums it up perfectly. “In the early years, I came for the support and inspiration. Now I come for the camraderie, the friendships. And to pay it forward.”
*Van Zeeland’s number one tip: keep thorough and well-organized records. Her number two tip: auditors get bonuses proportional to the amount of additional revenue they bring in, which means they’ll want to deny your every expense, so see tip #1
Chris Szego won a prize at the meeting. Yay! Free books!