The Early Days of ORA

A guest blog by founding Ozarks Romance Authors Member, Kathleen Garnsey.

In December, 1987, on my way to Christmas shop at the mall, I dropped my sister-in-law, Flora Opal, at Shoney's on Battlefield and National for a meeting of a new writer's group called Ozarks Romance Authors. There were several other groups at the time, but none of them wanted to work with romance writers. A woman named Weta Nichols decided the Springfield, Missouri, area needed a romance writers’ group. 

Romance writers back then were looked down upon by other groups, and not recognized as legitimate writers. There are some writers, even today, who don't give romance authors their due credit, but it has gotten better.

Weta, a prolific romance author, wanted a group that catered to romance writers only, whether published or upcoming, so she began ORA. At the time we were a chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) and all our members had to belong to the national organization. So in 1988, I joined ORA and RWA and began learning how to write a romance.

Weta Nichols, founder of ORA

Weta Nichols, founder of ORA

ORA soon became a viable alternative for anyone interested in writing. It was Weta's intention for ORA to cater to the art or writing the romance, since no other group would. If you write romance, you quickly learn it is a unique genre that requires certain elements not required in other genres. In a romance, the relationship is the main plot, and everything else belongs to the secondary plot. Everything revolves around the hero and heroine, and their passion to find everlasting love with one another while they work through problems and adversity. The ways in which that happens are unlimited, but the relationship is the primary reason for the story. With that said, good writing is good writing, no matter the genre, and the learning process is always necessary.

In the early days, we had speakers who educated us on writing the romance, and how to use plot, characterization and conflict to create an exciting book that included adventure, and the happy ending of true love found.

We learned how to write love scenes with the secret formula revealed: What is happening in their heads is more important than what their bodies are doing. Once I learned that, I was able to write those scenes effectively with the proper impact for the reader. Many of the presentations were by very successful published members who joined ORA, including:  Lois Kleinsasser, aka Cait Logan/Cait London, Lori Copeland, Norma Brader, Laura Abbot, Carla Kelly, Suzann Ledbetter and Terri Valentine. These ladies contributed a lot to ORA at meetings and conferences and we owe them a vote of thanks and gratitude.

The group decided it needed a newsletter, so Flora Opal and I accepted that responsibility—yes, pre-Microsoft Word and Publisher. We typed, cut and pasted together an eight page newsletter which we took to the copy shop for printing, then folded, addressed and mailed them to our members and supporting RWA groups. The first ORA newsletter was created and mailed in April 1989. Oh, the good old days. We included articles from other RWA groups, and they used articles we wrote, so there was a lot of "how to" articles which everyone enjoyed. Those were fun times, typing and gluing everything for fliers, posters, and anything else necessary for newsletters and conferences. It was a time of learning and creating a writer's group that would survive the years and grow into what it is today.

Our first conference: I was on that first committee and did so many jobs I'm not sure what my title was, but we all worked hard to put on that conference. The date was September 16, 1989 and we called it "The Heart of the Matter." We held a Friday evening wine and cheese party in conjunction with a book signing at the mall. We hired a trolley to take attendees from the Sheraton Inn, where the conference and party was being held, to the mall for the signing. We even managed to get Bantam Books to pay the cost. We had so little money then that we had to beg our members to pay their conference fees early so we could pay for printing costs for conference mailers! We all worried how we would pay the hotel bill if we did not get enough attendees, since there was a minimum charge to use their facilities. I don't have the exact number, but it was a major success with more people than we dreamed possible, over a hundred. We were able to pay the hotel bill and pocket a bit for future endeavors.

At the time we had no idea how many conferences we would have, or who would attend. All we knew was there was a basic need for the information only we could provide for those writers who wanted to write romance, and create a book to be proud of, a book a publisher would accept. We had speakers that addressed query letters, agents, rejections, and success stories. The information has changed drastically over the years—with paper publishers falling by the wayside and electronic publishing taking over the industry in a dramatic and all encompassing way—a giant sweep no one saw coming.

As much as things change, they also stay the same. All of the writing elements we learned "way back then" are being presented to you today. The teachers and presentations may be different, but the information is timeless and necessary. We have the same appetite for writing and creating stories that people want to read. We have always had members from rank beginners to authors on the best seller lists, and every level in between.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow have blended together to form a group that has made a real name for itself, that has developed and grown from a handful of women to the number of authors we have today. We began the Weta Writing Contest at the time of our second conference, although it was not named after Weta until after she passed away. We wanted to honor our founder and thought that would be a fitting tribute since she was so extremely proud of her group and the way it had grown.

The 2016 Weta Nichols Competition is now accepting submissions

The 2016 Weta Nichols Competition is now accepting submissions

I was asked how romance writers were looked at way back then and how has it changed. It may be just me, but I feel romance authors receive more respect today than in years past. The romance genre has a massive readership, and a large part of the book market. Romance novels have been around forever, and will continue to be a viable genre to write. Romance writers should be proud of their genre, and the ability for the romance market to maintain and grow readership.

There are very few "early" members still in ORA, but those of us who are, have truly enjoyed the journey of beginning something that has endured and grown into the fantastic organization it is today. All of our hard work paid off, and as one of those "early members", I want to welcome everyone to the finest writer's group I've ever belonged to, and the one I hold near and dear to my heart. Please enjoy everything ORA has to offer, and know that many came before you, and hopefully many will come after you. My favorite greeting, "Welcome to ORA—the best writer's group around!"

Kathleen Garnsey—Member since 1988