Cinderella at the Ball: my first RWA conference

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ShannonMcNear CROPShannon McNear is author of Defending Truth from A Pioneer Christmas Collection (Barbour, 2013), which had the honor of being a 2014 RITA novella finalist. Her unpublished full-length colonial novel, Loyalty’s Cadence, placed second in the 2013 Fool For Love contest (Virginia RWA). Her second novella, The Highwayman, will be released May 2015 as part of The Most Eligible Bachelor Collection (Barbour). She writes for Colonial Quills and does Sunday devotionals at The Borrowed Book.

She’s a military wife, and a mother of 8. When not sewing, researching, or leaking story from her fingertips, she enjoys being outdoors, basking in the beauty of the Dakota prairies. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Even after two weeks of “real life,” I’m still feeling a bit of lingering magic from the recent RWA National in San Antonio. As far as favorite conferences, it ranks a close second to ACFW two years ago, when I was surprised with a first-time author contract from Barbour for my novella, Defending Truth. This year was not only my first time attending RWA, but that first contracted novella had the honor of finaling in the RITA.20140726_215422

After attending several smaller conferences, all of them Christian, this felt way out of my comfort zone. But I wanted to be there, to savor the experience, despite my trepidation—so I took the plunge and went.

So much was familiar: arriving at the conference, the registration process, the feel of a conference in full swing with people milling about. But—there were no familiar faces. I alternated between thinking, “okay, I can do this,” and “wow, I am NOT at ACFW anymore.”

But the talks and workshops were excellent. I attended “Write Faster, Write Better,” the keynote luncheon with Sylvia Day, “Writing for Both Teen and Adult Audiences,” “Writing at Hospitals, Through Heartache, and Despite Kids,” a breakfast talk with Cindy Ratzlaff, an expanded talk by Cindy that opened the PAN retreat—the rest of which I missed because of that dratted RITA/GH reception. 🙂 I had appointments with an agent and an editor, both of which were fabulous, and then attended that publisher’s spotlight. Many of us found the session with Karen Rose inspiring, a great reminder of how we never know the hope our stories might offer to readers. I also attended a pitch workshop unexpectedly helped me knock the “history nerd” off my pitch, and later a wonderful session on character motivations. (A weak area for me.)

20140726_213521More—I made some new friends. A darling roommate who I met via email on FHL, and the two RITA inspirational finalists. Half a dozen others with whom I found an unexpected connection. I was blessed with some amazing conversations: during a pitch workshop, standing in line for agent/editor appointments, after my appointments, with fellow RITA nominees, with RWA’s president at the reception, with a particular agent hours after my appointment with her, and with a fellow RWA member while standing in line to get on my plane.

What a phenomenal experience, to have my first published story final in a contest like this. I really did feel like Cinderella at the ball! But what struck me deepest was that for such a huge conference, and a not specifically Christian event, God was everywhere. I heard Him speak to me in nearly every session. After the intense high of the awards ceremony, where I did not win a RITA but was honored to share a table with inspirational finalists Elizabeth Byler Younts and Carla Laureano, I was in tears of awe at His letting me have these few days.

And at how much bigger He is than we give Him credit for.



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  1. I’m glad you had such a good time at Nationals, Shannon. That conference can be a bit overwhelming due to the sheer number of attendees, but it sounds like you took it in stride. Congratulations on your RITA final! What a way to begin your writing career.

    • shannonmcnear says:

      Thank you so much, Keli! and my apologies for the slowness in responding … I’ve been blazing through the end of the first draft of my next novella and literally forgot this post was up! Sometimes the crowd was daunting, and once I had a bit of a panic attack and didn’t want to leave my room. 🙂 But that thankfully didn’t last long!

  2. It was lovely to meet you there, Shannon! It was also my first RWA conference, and I agree, God was there with us, orchestrating meetings and moments. I loved every minute!

    • shannonmcnear says:

      It was wonderful to meet you, too!! And wasn’t that just awesome, to feel His presence in that crowd? So glad to hear you had a great time as well! 😀

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