Category Archives: Conferences

From The Heart

Susan-Mermaid-avatarSeveral weeks ago I sort of volunteered to give a talk at our school’s annual faculty retreat. The day is filled with breakout sessions, much like the typical romance writing conference.  Usually, the experienced teachers are quick to propose their pilgrimages, their prayer retreats, their journey of faith through the study of art… anything that might help fill a day of Teacher Detention.  They’re the wise ones of the faculty:  they know how to fill time.  I’m not a popular teacher:  I sit in the peanut gallery.

So why, this time, did I put myself in the hot seat?  My work BFF, raised in the evangelical Christian tradition, summed it up:  “You have been Called. Do It.”  I thought for a second, told myself stop thinking, and shot off a possible topic to the organizer.

My proposal, on Finding God in the Midst of Suffering, was accepted immediately.  What? No argument?  No questioning?  No “gee, we appreciate your thought, but…”  Nope.  In this game of Tag, I was It.

Librarian that I am, I started with marathon research, viewing the topic from every conceivable angle. The results were depressing.  With good reason:  how could the human experience of suffering, with all its dimensions of pain, anxiety, despair, and agony not be depressing? We’re not talking about build-your-own sundaes here.

I printed out pages and pages of learned examinations of suffering.  Those genius brains had written volumes that avalanched down the high hills of history and buried unassuming teachers alive.

Every single time I tried to read these papers, my eyes glazed over.  I couldn’t do it.  I had nothing.  Do you hear me, world?  Nothing!

Worse, I was facing off against a more experienced teacher.  His talk was on Gratitude.  Great, I complained at home.  I get the widows and orphans.  He gets the cool people, the ones who are easy to please.  Who doesn’t want to be happy?  Having been programmed against the Catholic high school equivalent of Kristan Higgins or Nora Roberts, I printed out 15 handouts.  Nobody would come, I figured.  I stopped trying.

When the hour of doom came, people trickled in, picked up the handouts from the chairs, and, to my surprise, didn’t get up and rush to find a seat at the (better) (happier) (more fun) celebrity talk. More people came in. We ran out of handouts. The room filled. What were they thinking?  Didn’t they know they were in the wrong room?

Raymond introduced me.  I was petrified, mortified,  A Beautiful Mind come to life.  “It’s not my job to make you feel better,” I said, to start. “ Or solve your problems. And everything that goes wrong in this talk—“ I pointed at the friend who’d put me here “– is all his fault.”

They laughed.  Then, as I assured them we didn’t have time to cover all my stories of suffering, they began to quiet.  When I touched on my problems with post-partum depression, the room went dead still.  Nothing I said was complex or earthshaking.  It was me sharing, my own sad, stupid experiences.  My own struggles to find my way back to the light.  And three verses of Scripture I hoped would guide them, and me, through the shit-storm.

And somehow, it worked.  This presentation, weak and ill-prepared, this testimony, touched my peers. Not just immediately, but every day for a full week, people shared their own experiences privately.  And thanked me. Praise can be humbling.  Disconcerting.  Confusing.

I found myself in a conversation with a fellow teacher, a woman I admired and feared.  Her congratulations were difficult to take, and I’m afraid I blurted out how bewildered I was.

“Are you kidding?” she said.  “It was so completely different from anything we’ve ever had at retreat before.  And you said what you felt, and you were honest.  And you said things that were real.

Now, taking this back to the perpetual Mermaid topic, how does this story speak to writing?  We writers put ourselves out there, every day.  We kill ourselves to tell stories.  Our audiences compare us to award-winners, childhood favorites, geniuses of the craft, and the other writers who inspired us to take up our pens.  I can’t compete with the Greats.  But I can tell stories and this is what readers look for…  the fresh, new, personal voice.  We can’t compete with the Noras and Kristans in RomanceLand, but we can entertain.  We can share our stories and touch people.  All we need to do is speak from the heart.

RWA Nationals, Research, and I Think I’m Writing a Book about Firefighters:)!

One of the things I enjoy about RWA Nationals is that each year I not only meet new people and connect with old conference friends, but now I’m joining RWA Chapters and actually know why I’m joining them. And yes, it has taken me a while to get with the program.

Today, I’m writing about the RWA mystery/suspense chapter, Kiss of Death – KOD. Where have you been all of my life?

I joined KOD a couple of months ago after fellow Waterworld Mermaid Avery Flynn (the organization’s President-Elect) suggested I check them out since I was polishing my contemporary romantic suspense, CHASING DAMN. Well, I spent yesterday with the gals and guy from KOD, participating in the first leg of the KOD Conference – the TOUR (which was spectacular) and attending the annual meeting and dinner last night.

DSC_0284I believe I may be in love with RESEARCH – as well as the fantastic firefighters we met at the Station in Atlanta. To the left is my favorite photo taken yesterday (kind of dark, I know, but if you were there, you’d know this photo captures the energy of this man). The fire fighter was entering the building after returning from a call, taking off his coat, but the metallic-like fiber in his suit, caught the light.

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What is the biggest thing I learned about fire fighters and research? You don’t  need to be writing about fire fighters to get a lot of story ideas when doing research. The emotional toll of a profession, the sense of pride, and if you listen carefully, the conflict – passed off as humor or apologies for ‘getting too intense’ communicate a lot. So no, not adding a new contemporary about fire fighters, but hope to add the emotional context I heard and felt from all of the captains and lieutenants and fire fighters we met yesterday.

Then at the annual meeting that evening ran I sat next to another Washington Romance Writer (WRW) member – Gwen Hernandez. Also, at the table was the dinner’s special guest speaker New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author, Jenna Bennett (Fortune’s Hero) – see Avery Flynn and Jenna to the right.

Today is Literacy Day here in Atlanta. I will get in some swimming, shopping and writing. Will be back tomorrow with more news, and up very early – tomorrow the conference ups the volume to a roar! If you’re here – give me a growl:)!

#RWA 13 National Conference in A.T.L – Day 1 (A Day Early:)!

Denny's MermaidsReporting from Atlanta and the RWA 2013 National Conference – it’s Mermaid Denny! Here we go, people!

Okay, I was supposed to post yesterday, but after a long drive (started our Road Trip Saturday from DC to Greensboro, NC to Savannah, GA to Atlanta), we did dinner and went down! I did, however, take a couple of iconic shots (yes, I am labeling them as such), which you will see bunches of (I’m just betting) online. Those shots – the hotel lobby ceiling (space ship futuristic and wonderful) and the cool elevator promotions – last year’s signage inside the elevator has given way to a whole new bag of book/author promotion that I just LOVE (the marketing girl in me Salutes RWA for this very cool signage).

Even this early in the AM, I give you the unexpected:

I won’t be able to share these photos because CRAZY Instagram doesn’t give you access to your own photos after you’ve uploaded them to the magic Instagram portal. Oh, I found them on my phone! (Obviously since you’re looking at them. I had to go get coffee and now I’m better).

My website crashed (the Denny S. Bryce website, not this one, thank goodness). So far, it’s still visible, but I can’t post from it because the dashboard went bonkers. (Okay it’s 7:30 AM, and I’m trying to get this posted So I’m a little scattered here!)…

Denny S. Bryce

My First Day:

I’m up early to get some writing in, but also because I’m participating in the Kiss of Death (KOD) Conference, which kicks off this morning with a tour. It’s a bit hush-hush (or I just didn’t read the fine print, so I’ll share later). So today is all about KOD!

RWA Registration opens today, so later expect photos of the conference bag and all of the goodies. I’ve gone through my schedule for the week like six times to make certain I have it blocked the way I want it. Let’s see how close I stick to it.

Are you here? When do you arrive? What do you want to see?

(Gosh, I already feel breathless…:).

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Mermaid Blogoversary: Contemporary Day!

by Carlene, Dana, Diana, Robin and Susan Mermaid


Carlene: Holy abalone fishy sisters and friends!  The Waterworld Mermaids are two years old which means it’s been two years sinceMermaid Carlene what was easily one of the best experiences of our lives—The 2011 Washington Romance Writers Spring Retreat.  Which in turn means it’s been just as long since we made these precious memories at that retreat.  Keep in mind…we were all FIRST-TIMERS!  The Contemporary Genre Mermaids hope you enjoy our trip down memory lane:

Played Romance Jeopardy for the first time…with Roxanne Rustand as my teammate!  I jotted down something beautiful she said at the Unpublished Author Roundtable: “God doesn’t give the desire if he doesn’t give the talent.”

Pitched for the very first time…to Jenny Bent, who was awesome and let me know it was totally okay that my book was driven by the characters rather than the plot.  Seriously important because as a newbie, you’re not sure if these sorts of things are okay or not!  They are!

While attending fellow WRW member Michelle Butler’s “Healthy Writer” session where she referenced Bridget Jones’s Diary, I totally thought she was the real Bridget Jones who the movie was based on!  She looks remarkably like the gorgeous Renee Zelwegger so of course my newbie self jumped to that conclusion!

Cried.  A lot.  Cried even more when I saw that Kristan Higgins was also crying while Sherrilyn Kenyon gave the most beautiful and inspiring keynote speech I will ever hear.


Dana MermaidDana: What did I take away from my first WRW Retreat…


WRW Retreat was a much more intimate conference than anything I had attended before. I loved having the opportunity to sit down and chitchat with other writers, editors and agents. It was so great finding a group of people who didn’t think I was crazy for having conversations with fictional characters.

I kicked off that retreat by assisting my friend and critique partner, Anita Clenney, at her very first book signing ever at Turn The Page bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland. I’ll never forget it, because she sold out. I also met Alethea at that book signing. I was awestruck with her glitter princess awesomeness.

I am a huge Sherrilyn Kenyon fan and had a huge fan girl moment when I accidently wound up sitting by her in the bar one night and talking about her car collection. She is apparently as much an autophile as I am.  Then, the next night, Sherrilyn was our keynote speaker. She was so incredibly poignant as she spoke candidly about the obstacles she faced before getting published, and then the long road she traveled and hard work it took to be where she is today. I remember looking around and realizing there weren’t many dry eyes in the place. So now, every time writing gets hard, the words won’t come or some obstacle lands in my path that makes me question what I’m doing, I mentally go back to that night and remind myself of all the reasons to keep writing.

Romance Jeopardy is NOT FAIR! But so much fun!

And the best thing I have taken away from that first WRW Retreat is all the great friends!


Diana: I remember feeling totally overwhelmed that I was among such incredible writers and people.  The women at WRW were smartdiana mermaid — I mean Ph.D smart, funny, talented and beautiful.  It was like being thrown on stage at the Miss Universe contest (times 10!) — at the last minute and totally knowing you couldn’t compare.  But, they made me feel so very welcome and I am thrilled to be part of this chapter and this group.  I’ve learned so very much and am very grateful to everyone at WRW.




Robin MermaidRobin: – Rooming with someone you do not know can be a wonderful experience. I roomed with my soon-to-be fishy sister Pintip and she helped me with my first pitch.

-Everyone at the retreat was so supportive and took the fear out of pitching and submitting your work to American Author.

The speakers were awesome and they taught me that the definition of success is different for each person and you need to find your own definition and make your own goals.


Susan: I’m incredibly grateful to be a Mermaid.  How can I be anything else?  This was a pack of newbies, all coming in on their very SusanMermaidfirst conference, many of them new to writing, who bonded over two days and decided it just wasn’t right to let that go.  They even accepted a past-published Mermaid who’d clipped her own fins years back and was finally dipping a fin back into the waters.

They kept writing, not just their own stories, but excellent blog posts and emails to one another and here we are, two years later!  My hat’s off to all the lovely Mermaids who swim in this pond.  Happy Anniversary!


Thank you so much for swimming at our party today!  Do you have a favorite contemporary romance book or author?  Let us know, we’re always on the lookout to make new memories.  What better way to do that than with a good, tried and true love story?


Mermaid Anniversary Prize Pack









The Prize Pack!  Books, A Nightie, $25 Amazon Gift Card and a WWM Bottle!

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The Naked Truth About Conferences


Veronica Wolff, Brooks Johnson, Kim Killion, Cathy Maxwell and Katharine Ashe at a workshop.

April is always busy in my household because it’s birthday month. Between my immediate family, siblings and grandparents we have six birthdays between March 31st and April 19th. But April has been crazier than normal this year. Why, you ask? Conferences! Two of them in one month!

Writing is such a solitary endeavor, just you and your computer, and in my case, diet coke and a large black and white cat who thinks lying across my keyboard is the perfect way to get my attention. But, regardless what your normal writing routine is, it’s nice to get out into the world once in a while. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to go to my first conference three years ago and discover there are other people in the world that talk to fictional characters as if they are real people. And for the most part,these other people are completely sane!

At the Foxy Dames Speakeasy.

They are also kind, considerate and some of the most supportive people you’ll ever meet. They understand how important a kind word of encouragement can be for a new writer, or how someone who has been writing for years may be going through a rough patch with a current work in progress. Writers, by and large, are happy to offer support and advice to all those around them. To sympathize over that latest rejection letter or celebrate your new release, to share what promotional tools have worked best for them or lament over painful rewrites and edits.

The Clan McFae Magical Scottish Fling and Costume Competition.

Every year I try to attend one or two conferences. Some big, like Romance Writers of America (RWA) Nationals, and some small, like Washington Romance Writers (WRW) Retreat. I love going to writing conferences because they are a great way to meet people who understand the challenges of balancing writing, family, and that stupid day job many of us depend on to pay the bills. Conferences allow you to network, promote your latest release and can be a great way to get in front of agents and editors.

I can’t say conferences are particularly relaxing because every time I come home from one I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation. Most conferences offer a wide range of workshops on craft, promotion and trends in the industry during the day, followed by an opportunity to cut loose with friends, old and new, at socials, mixers and parties in the evenings.

RT and Heather Graham’s Night of the Stars Gangster Cafe Talent Quest

Two weeks ago I attended The RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago. What a blast! This one is special because it is not only open to authors and other industry professionals but also caters to librarians, booksellers, and readers. There were a ton of fabulous workshops offered, a Pitch-A-Palooza that gave writers face time with as many agents and editors as possible in a 2 hour period and multiple theme parties every night sponsored by publishing houses like Kensington Books, Carina Press, Harlequin, Samhain Publishing, Avon and Ellora’s Cave. And as you can see from the pictures, writers love to play dress up!

Cover model, Brooks Johnson and Dana Rodgers.

This weekend I’ll be attending the WRW Retreat in Maryland. This is the same Retreat where the Waterworld Mermaids met as “first timers” last spring. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already! I can’t wait to hang out with my sister mermaids again but what I’m really looking forward to is a fun-filled weekend full of workshops and opportunities to make even more new friends.

Do you attend conferences? If so, which ones have you found to be the best and why?