Panel: Life Lessons from RWA Legends

This represents my (Renee Dahlia) notes on the presentations at the 2018 Romance Writers of Australia conference. Please consider my status as an imperfect recorder of verbal presentations (ie this is not a transcript). This blog uses affiliated links.

Life Lessons from Romance Writers Australia Legends

The panel consisted of Valerie Parv, Kaz Delaney/Kerri Lane, Melanie Milburne, Alison Stuart, with questions from Tess LeSue.

Tell us your pathway to becoming a legend.

Valerie: I became a legend by not dying! I’ve always written stories, submitting to the kid’s section of the local papers from early on. All I ever wanted to be was a writer.

Melanie: I always want to write. I had fabulous teachers, especially my Yr11 teacher. Thank you for seeing the potential in me.

Kaz: A legend means I’m old! I always wanted to be a writer, and did the same pathway as Valerie.

Alison: I was determined to be a writer, sitting in a tree at school with friends and plotting away as a kid. My career started when a skiing accident meant I was stuck inside for the weekend while others skied. I wrote my first story, and after finishing it later, a friend told me to join RWA.

How did RWA help with the challenges along the way?

Alison: This is my 21st conference. Each one gives me renewed vigour. Thank you for being my tribe.

Kaz: By the time I got to this conference, I had a trail of dead publishing houses behind me, but always the support of these people. I’ve been contemplating self-publishing and am using this conference to learn. So many people have helped and I’m going home ready for a new adventure. This is why we formed RWA. I love you people.

Melanie: I’m the wife of a surgeon, and it consumed my life. I finally gave myself permission to write for me and wrote 17 books. All of them terrible. I joined RWA and RWA showed me how much I had to learn. My advice is to never stop learning. This organisation will help with that – reliably.

Valerie: I belong to a lot of writer’s organisations and none of the others have the generosity of this one. My advice to writers – there are two elements to your story.

  1. What story you choose to tell is unique to you.
  2. How you tell it to others to guide them through the story. They need to understand the story you are telling.

Don’t let anyone take away the core message of your story.

What do you share across sub-genres and markets?

Kaz: A desire to tell stories. There has been a bit of a conversation about giving up lately among newer authors, and I overheard Rachel Johns say that it’s harsh, but if it (publishing) is too hard, maybe you should give up. If you can’t give up, then you are a real writer.

Alison: We are all united by genuine happy stories. The vehicles of distribution have changed, but at the heart of it, we are romance writers.

Melanie: Fifty Shades of Grey did a favour to romance, and digital helped too, by bringing it out of the shadows. We tell a strong and positive story of women.

Valerie: We are story tellers. It is a basic human tradition. Publishing is turbulent – this is difficult but there is also opportunity in that. We are no longer limited to certain markets with certain expectations. We can be open to all possibilities, and to my favourite question “what if?”

How do you find time for yourself? Has your process changed?

Melanie: School hours were handy when I was starting out. Be kind to yourself.

Valerie: Be kind. You are your own well spring. Nurture yourself.

Kaz: If you ask my friends, I have no work life balance. I attract drama in my life, but I continue to write. I find the time because I can’t stop. I will never retire.

Alison: I spent so long as a full time lawyer while building this career. I’m the overnight success that took twenty-five years to make. Recognise that you can’t do it all. The stories will always be there. Now that I’m retired from full-time work, this has created a space in my life and the world has opened up. I always persisted, before retirement, at a slower pace. Now I’m juggling crazy deadlines. Be careful what you wish for. (laughter).

Valerie: Never compare yourself to others.

Kaz: Yes. My five year old grandson told me he was a better author than me. I was just the writer, he did the pictures too.

Melanie: Be aware of career envy. I’m blown away by all the young talent. I want to congratulate you all. Remember that career envy is real – get over it, someone will always be better.

What have you gained from volunteering for RWA?

Valerie: I have the annual Valerie Parv award and now have 18 minions who I’ve mentored. I have such fun dealing with my minions. It’s a privilege, and a symbiotic relationship. I get as much from them as they get from me.

Melanie: I love judging. As a judge, you always have to be aware of your bias. Writers use competitions to improve, and judge’s comments must be helpful not hurtful.

Kaz: I’ve been with RWA since the beginning, and anything I’ve given has come back a million fold. Every year I come here and have 200 people I can trust and who will have my back. Volunteering improves your industry profile. Back in the day when we did paper entries for competitions, my husband used to collect the mail, remove the front sheets, and all the writer’s details and record them in a little book. He’d hid them from us as we read all the entries. I never did find his hiding place! The best part was ringing people with their results – the screams of joy were more than worth the work.

Alison: I volunteered to take on the presidency when no-one else would because I couldn’t imagine a world without RWA. This is our heart tribe.

What is lightbulb moment for your career have you had at an RWA conference?

Alison: understand you have a core story. You can do it if you are true to yourself.

Kaz: (Kaz told a story about one half of the Emma Darcy writing team which I’m not going to reproduce here as it didn’t come out quite how she expected!). The point Kaz was trying to make was that writers need to elicit sympathy for the heroine in the reader’s mind.

Melanie: RWA is your professional development. This isn’t a hobby, it’s your career.

Valerie: The fear of the blank page never goes away. Don’t expect it too. Write in spite of it.

Renee Dahlia volunteers as the Secretary for Romance Writers Australia.
Her new book, The Heart of a Bluestocking, will be available through Escape Publishing (Harlequin Australia) on 20 October 2018.

When an uncommon lawyer meets an unusual doctor, their story must be extraordinary…

September 1888:
Dr Claire Carlingford owns the bluestocking label. Her tycoon father encouraged her to study, and with the support of her two best friends, she took it further than anyone could imagine, graduating as a doctor and running her own medical practice. But it’s not enough for her father. He wants her to take over the business, so he can retire. Then his sudden arrest throws the family into chaos and his business into peril.

Mr James Ravi Howick, second son of Lord Dalhinge, wants to use his position as a lawyer to improve conditions for his mother’s family in India. When an opportunity arises to work for Carlingford Enterprises, one of the richest companies in the world, Ravi leaps at the chance to open his own legal practise. But his employment becomes personal as he spends more time with Claire and she learns the secret that could destroy his family.

Both Ravi and Claire are used to being outsiders and alone. But as they work together to save their respective families from disaster, it becomes clear that these two misfits might just fit together perfectly.



  1. Hi Renee, gosh, you did a brilliant job of getting all this down! So well done! And I must send a very heartfelt thankyou for not elaborating. You’re a star. And I have to say, nice site!! Hugs to you. Xxx

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