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I’ve got an adventure on the horizon, me hearties. Yes, I’m navigating RWA13 coordinates, but have yet to man the helm. First, I’ve got to prepare my trunks for an adventurous time with my youngest grandson and two darling daughters, and then the RWA Conference in Atlanta. Needless to say, I’m a very busy pirate these days.

Have you ever been to the Romance Writers of America conference? Do you attend? If so, you’ll know my heading is Atlanta! Atlanta brings back nostalgia because it was the site of my very first BIG RWA gathering. A greenhorn pirate I was back then, mateys, with only a smaller RWA conference under my belt, the beloved Georgia Romance Writers’ Conference, Moonlight & Magnolia. I was completely unprepared for the gathering of the Brethren Court, let me tell you. From a first-timer’s perspective, I humbly admit to being a bit starry-eyed as I met and spoke with authors I’d admired over the years. And I had the great fortune of meeting new authors on the cusp of stardom that I now call friends.

Though my return to Atlanta is a hallmark in my career as a serious writer, it was the beginning of eventful journeys that included Dallas, San Francisco, Orlando, Washington D.C., New York, and Anaheim too. You could say I’ve come full circle, couldn’t you? Except I don’t want this Atlanta trip to be the last. (Pirate!)

While attending RWA is a great deal of fun, so much attention to detail comes with preparing for the voyage. This year, I’m collecting promotional giveaways like bookmarks, postcards, stress bones, chocolate doubloons, and my new Rogues, Rebels & Rakes pins. Woot! (Ask and ye shall receive, me hearties!) And that’s not all! I get to autograph my very first paperback, Duke by Day, Rogue by Night, at the RWA Literacy Signing on Wednesday night. Raise the signal flag!!!

Am I nervous? You bet. Am I excited? Phenomenally so! Am I ready? Shoot that undead monkey!!!

If you’re in the same cutter I’m in, here’s ten tips to help you prepare those trunks and yourself for shipboard duty:

1. Pick outfits that can be mixed and matched, especially if you’re traveling by plane. Roll clothing as you pack because it helps prevent wrinkles and saves space.

2. *Bring sweaters, jackets, and especially pashminas for chilly conference rooms. (I highly recommend pashminas because they’re like Regency shawls for modern day ladies!)

3. *Your feet are your best friends! If you plan to wear high heels, pack extra padding for ball, heel, and arch supports. I especially recommend Dr. Scholl’s Miracle Shield/Rub Relief Friction Sticks (which you can reapply throughout the day) and Moleskin. Also, have blister bandaids on hand or you’ll feel like pirates have placed salt-peter between your toes and lit them on fire. (A favorite torture of days gone by.)

4. Pack the various shoes needed for your adventure in bags and stuff socks and other items inside each shoe to keep fancy shoes from flattening. Pack these in the bottom of your suitcase so as not to wrinkle clothes.

5. Don’t want to carry a big purse? Put what you need in a small wallet and carry that in your conference bag.

6. Place business cards in your conference badge holder so they’re easily accessible for expanding your brethren court!

7. Bring snacks like Power Bars, Nuts, and Granola Bars for a quick protein and energy fixes between meals.

8. Make use of the water stands throughout the conference area. Don’t get dehydrated!

9. Bring Imodium D or Pepto Bismal IN CASE food disagrees with you. You don’t want to end up hanging your head over the side of the ship. Most unbecoming!

10. And finally, the worst advice I’ve ever been given? “Don’t attend something every hour.” I say, “Do!” (Pirate!) Why? You’re at conference to learn and experience, me hearties. Make great use of your time. Attend workshops. Take notes. Absorb like a wet sponge. There will be time to rest later. Conference is your best opportunity to make an impression on other professionals like yourself, make new friends, and meet old ones. You are never too old, too established in your career, or too smart to LEARN!

There you have it. Words and rules I live by, rituals I follow every year. Tips that have made my conference experiences better each and every RWA conference. Of course, there is so much else to tell. Unfortunately, not enough room to share without boring you to tears. And pirates don’t cry… Well, unless they are out of rum.

Is there something you do every year that helps you get through a conference?