We seldom think “beauty walk” when considering a writing conference, but just before the Chicago Spring Fling Conference – sponsored by Chicago-North’s chapter of the Romance Writers of America – novelist Elizabeth Kingston will escort interested attendees on a morning walking tour of beauty boutiques such as Sephora, while discussing skin care regimes and products. “I’m there to steer everyone away from bad decisions and make sure everyone goes home with an SPF plan,” Kingston quips.
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Spring Fling takes place at the Sheraton Grand Chicago downtown, surrounded by museums and architectural boat tours and shopping and restaurant districts. Pamala Knight, co-chairing the conference with Shannyn Schroeder, has put together a list of landmarks for writers to explore when they’re not participating in workshops and master classes and celebratory events. Out-of-town participants may want to stay an extra day to visit the American Writers Museum and Love’s Sweet Arrow, a bookstore with new and used romance titles.
Those who write in genres other than romance will also find plenty to love about the conference; most of the workshops explore craft and marketing topics applicable to authors working in fiction of any sort. “All writers can do with learning about world-building and characterization and pace and voice and things like that,” Knight says.
What you’ll learn
Beginning writers can take workshops on how to deepen point of view as an author, how to overcome writer’s block, and how to build believable worlds. Author Virginia Van Vynckt will teach a master class on how to use Scrivener to organize manuscripts, notes, and ideas. Attendees receive both discounts on the software and on a related Udemy video course.
Brenda Murphy and Megan Hart will lead a workshop titled “Writing Queer Sex: Getting it Right.” Measha Stone and Livia Grant will teach “Heat Up the Pages: A Deeper Look into Erotic Romance.”
Adriana Herrera will teach “Domestic Violence in Romance: Write the Story Survivors Deserve.” Sasha Devlin will present “Beyond Diversity 101: How to Check Your Privileges, Examine Our Biases, and Move Forward,” which examines how romance and marginalization intersect with the goal of making the genre more inclusive.
Romance reviewer Danielle Dresser will teach participants how to create strong relationships with those who work in romance media to promote one’s book. Other advanced courses teach authors how to build a fan base, how to build a career in both traditional and independent publishing, and how to self-publish with success.
Alyssa Cole, award-winning author of the espionage Civil War romance An Extraordinary Union, and Washington Post columnist/bestselling historical romance author Sarah MacLean are headliners at the 2020 Spring Fling.
USA Today bestselling author Kathy Lyons (who also writes under the pen name Jade Lee) will teach a master class on identifying childhood trauma and behavior patterns as motivators that can hurt or help the writing process. Avid romance reader and reviewer Jen Prokop will teach “Write Better White People,” a master class for romance authors eager to become allies to authors of color and interested in learning how inclusion strengthens the genre.
Author Damon Suede will teach a pre-conference master class titled “Tropetastic: The Key to Genre” in which writers will learn how to use fiction tropes to grab a reader’s imagination and shape compelling stories.
Advice for first-time attendees
“Hydrate and take a deep breath,” Knight advises first-time participants at the Spring Fling, citing the wealth of workshops and classes, the Friday night Gala and the Saturday night cocktail reception, and booksigning with well over 100 authors. She advises participants to plan their conference schedule ahead of time with details available on the organization’s website. “We’ve made it ridiculously hard to choose which sessions to attend, but don’t worry if you can’t get to tall of them,” she says. “The ones you do attend will be fabulous.”
She suggests that participants sign up for the dedicated Yahoo group – also available on the website – in order to meet people and build community long before the actual event. “If you want to travel into the conference with someone else, the group is a good way to connect,” Knight says. “One year, we had a whole contingent of young adult writers who arranged to meet each other at the hotel bar. This conference is so much fun,” she adds. “I find it magnificent.”
Attendees at Spring Fling come away with new lifelong friends and critique partners. Some even come away with a literary agent and a book deal. “We have tons of success stories,” Knight says.
She describes how one year, historical romance author Courtney Milan donated a chapter critique to the conference’s silent auction and ended up recommending the winner – Susanne Lord – to her own agent. The agent then landed Lord a book deal with Sourcebooks, which published her Victorian-era historical romance series. “We’re all about writers helping writers in the industry,” Knight concludes. In the case of Spring Fling, this can mean recommending an author to an agent…or recommending a lipstick.
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram @WildMelissaHart.