WEST HOUSTON CHAPTER OF RWA – 25 YEARS OF HISTORY
The stars over the Houston skies burn a vivid blue and silver bright in 2006 joining in the celebration of West Houston Chapter RWA’s 25th Silver Anniversary year.
We’re twenty-five years old and proud of it.
So, how did it all begin? With a few good people!
Soon after the first National Conference held by the then-fledgling Romance Writers of America®, the West Houston Chapter was born. In 1981, booksellers Jean Wisner and Marilyn Staggs (Jea-Mar Books) got together with Kim Ward Reeves and V J Melton to found the chapter. Kim became the first president, and a small but enthusiastic group met once a month at the Hillendahl Library.
In January 1983, V J Melton was elected president. The chapter began to meet in the congenial atmosphere of the Jea-Mar Bookstore on Long Point.
Among the early members were Barbara Dawson Smith and husband-and-wife team, Rick and Sharron Harrington. These three later became our first published authors. In 1984, Barbara also was our chapter’s first Golden Heart winner.
Chapter members worked enthusiastically with Jea-Mar Books to host the Autograph Extravaganzas of 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1987. These grew from small signings to enormous efforts featuring up to 100 published authors, including such names as Judith McNaught and Nora Roberts, from all over the country.
For health reasons, V J Melton resigned as president in August 1984. After a gallant fight, V J lost her battle against cancer and we all mourned her.
In August 1984, Joyce Bell was elected president and held that office until January, 1987. Elements of change began to manifest themselves during 1985 and 1986. More dedicated writers joined the group and the enthusiasm level rose higher by the month.
Arnette Lamb was elected president in January 1987. Arnette instituted the self-introduction of members, which added both familiarity and dynamism to the meetings.
Pat Kay introduced the idea of and founded the chapter’s newsletter. Pat gave it the name it still carries, ‘Happily Ever After’, and published the first issue in May 1987. Pat served as the first editor for seventeen months before handing over the reins. Susan Wiggs wrote a monthly column at that time and for several years after.
In 1988, the chapter moved to a new site, the Spring Branch Community Center. Also in 1988 came the beginnings of our very own conference, then called Foundations of Fiction.
The first conference was held in 1989, with newly-elected president Alaina Richardson presiding. The conference’s success led to annual conferences, increasing in interest and attendance. In 1990, the First Chapter Contest was added to the conference, and the first Emily awards were given out. During Alaina’s administration, and spearheaded by chairpersons Linda Posey and Joyce Warwick, the chapter’s first money making effort came to fruition. The Writer’s Project Planner attained great success at the national conferences.
Alice Shields became our sixth president in 1990, and instituted an excellent budget system for both chapter and conference funds. But larger duties began to call. Pat Kay had been elected our regional advisor earlier, and became the first member to serve on the national board. Then Alice Shields accepted the nomination and became treasurer of RWA® in 1990.
During these years, the number of published writers in our chapter grew by leaps and bounds. Among the more recent are Jane Almquist, Linda Barrett, Jane Perrine, and Kerrelyn Sparks.
Victoria Simmons took over as president in 1991. She geared up new special interest workshops and started our awards program.
That same year, the first President’s Award was presented to Mary Jane Selle, and the Lifetime Achievement Award to Joyce Bell. Vikki also initiated our “Night of the Roses.”
In 1992, Pat Kay received the second President’s Service Award while serving as V-P under Vikk Simmons. Pat again took over the duties of newsletter editor in January 1993 and held that position for another year.
In 1993, Heather MacAllister began her term as president and set a standard for fiscal responsibility. Under her leadership, the most successful ever of our chapter conferences, chaired by Bonnie Tucker, came into being. Barbara Dawson Smith received the President’s Service Award.
In July 1993, Pat Kay received RWA’s regional service award at the national conference in St. Louis. She was the first chapter member so honored.
Anne Dykowski was president in 1994-95. She carried the “Roses” to new heights and worked closely with the board to answer the needs of the membership. The President’s Service Award went to Susan Wiggs in 1994 and to Joyce Bell in 1995.
In 1994, Pat Kay took on the job of Editor for Pandora’s Box, the newsletter for PAN, RWA’s published author network system. Susan Wiggs was Assistant Editor and later became the RWA® Pan Liaison for 1995.
Jane Perrine held the position of our tenth president in 1996. Her vision for the year was one of nurturing authors. She opened up the meeting rooms early for informal groups to network. Ellen Watkins served as V-P, Vicky Dreiling as Secretary and Janet Clementz-Garza as Treasurer. Valri Hamilton was newsletter editor. Jane also worked hard all year long revising the Bylaw’s, which were not voted in until 1997.
The Adam’s Mark Hotel was chosen for the Emily Luncheon & Workshop in 1996. Brenda Chin of Harlequin was the featured editor; Barbara Keiler and Christina Dodd were the speakers. A new mold for the Emily pin was approved.
In 1996 the President’s Award went to Carolyn Allen and Heather MacAllister for their outstanding service to the chapter.
In 1997 Ellen Watkins took over as President (Number 11), Julie Pitzel as V-P, Linda Barrett as Secretary, Lee Brown as Treasurer and Jane Perrine as Chapter Advisor. Ellen continued with Jane’s efforts to involve membership. Ellen also followed Jane’s efforts with the Bylaws revisions, getting the current Bylaws approved and voted into effect to better meet the needs of the chapter.
Lee Brown resigned as Treasurer in May 97 and Becky Adkisson took over the position. Dues were raised to $25.00 a year to cover the rising cost of newsletter mailing.
In 1997, the Emily Luncheon and Award ceremony was moved to The Hess Club, a charming (and private) venue enjoyed for several years by the generosity of Susie Nickson’s husband. Jan Freed and Heda Christ both received the President’s Service Award in 1997.
Pat Rosen took over as newsletter editor and did a fantastic job. Barbara Dawson Smith handled Who’s in the News, while Sandy Weider and MJ Selle saw to book reviews. Jennifer Burch scheduled pre-meeting workshops. Jerre Ferns handled the tape library and critique group arrangements. Jane Perrine coordinated the Emily contest in 1997.
In a 1997 Brainstorming Session, Jerre Ferns, Jan Freed, Jolie Kramer, Julie Pitzel, Pat Rosen, MJ Selle and Sandy Weider outlined ideas to revitalize membership. One of these ideas was to provide PAN appreciation (business perks as well as social) to honor and maintain our valued published author membership. Another idea was to develop and maintain a chapter web page. Also this year, the idea of changing location days and moving to another venue came up and was discussed.
In 1998 Sandy Weider took the position as our twelfth President. The idea of co-vice-presidents (with only one Board vote), to share the responsibilities of program management came into fruition with Jolie Kramer and Susie Nickson as co V-Ps in 98. Linda Barrett returned as Secretary and Robin Popp came on as Treasurer. Pat Rosen received the President’s Service Award.
Also in 1998, Ellen Watkins began her very successful reign as the Emily Contest Coordinator. In 2006, she still handles this most critical fundraiser for our chapter.
At the beginning of this exciting year, the decision was made to move the meetings from Tuesday nights to Saturday lunch meetings to stimulate attendance. Sandy bravely led the group through meetings at the Steak & Ale on Wilcrest & I-10, a library on Wilcest between Westheimer & Richmond, Ryan’s Steakhouse and then on to the Rose meeting at Ninfa’s on Memorial.
The website was established in 1998. Rene Rivera became our first web master and his beginning ideas were then taken up and fully developed by Elaine Bartlett. Elaine did the groundwork for the first extensive, working chapter website on Geocities. When Elaine moved out-of-state, Susie Nickson took over handling the updates while she was president.
On a sad note, our fourth president, Arnette Lamb, died of cancer on September 17, 1998. She will be remembered.
Sandy Weider continued as president in 1999, and the meetings moved to Chancellor’s Racquet Club. Jolie Kramer continued as VP with Jerre Ferns, June Faver became Secretary, and Robin Popp returned as Treasurer. Jan Freed and Heather MacAllister acted as our co-PAN Liaisons. Sandy instituted the Rose pin for a completed manuscript. Pat Rosen took 4th place in the Division 3 – large chapter newsletter contest.
Jolie Kramer moved out-of-town in June 99 and Kerry Sparks took over her position of V-P. Jolie, who would be sorely missed by the chapter, was awarded the President’s award for all her hard work. Jane Perrine received the second President’s award presented in this year for consistently being there for the chapter.
A committee (Jane Perrine, Ellen Watkins, Anna Phegley and Jane Almquist) was formed to look for a new meeting location.
Susie Nickson became our thirteenth president in 2000, with Kerry Sparks and Jerre Ferns continuing as co-VPs. Jane Perrine served as Secretary, Ellen Watkins as Treasurer and Jane Almquist took over the newsletter. Paulette Heidbreder assumed the position of webmistress.
In January 2000, the chapter voted to move the meetings to our current location, the Memorial Drive Christian Church. The rent has been well spent, as the location has brought us stability and a comfortable, yet professional venue. Jerre and Kerry presented the concept of a ‘food chairman’, now known as our hospitality chair, to handle ordering, receiving and set-up of meals during workshops.
In August 2000, Jane Myers Perrine resigned her position as Secretary when she and her husband moved to Central Texas. For over seven years, Jane served this chapter faithfully. We are blessed that she continues her membership, and comes into to town now and again to attend a meeting.
Both Vikk Simmons and Ellen Watkins were awarded the President’s Service Award in the year 2000.
In October 2000, Kerry Sparks set up the WHRWA ROM Yahoo loop, giving members a fun and easy method of communicating sales, book signings, contest finals and wins, and other industry news. This important bit of electronic technology has revolutionized our industry, as well as others, making an already tight-knit community even closer. In November, Kerry started the WHRWA Board loop, enhancing Board communication in the same manner. Kerry also first initiated the idea of having a ‘Special Day’ at the monthly meetings for published members when their new releases came out.
In 2001, MJ Selle became our fourteenth President. MJ’s vision for WHRWA included a higher degree of professionalism and more national recognition. Jerre Ferns and Linda Leung handled the co-VP job, with Linda Curtis as Secretary, Donna Grant as Treasurer and Kerry Sparks taking over as PAN Liaison.
In August 2000 Rachel Farrell took over as newsletter editor for HEA. At that time, Julie Pitzel formatted the newsletter with articles sent to her, then forwarded the pdf file to Rachel for final editing and distribution. Rachel continued with the newsletter in 2001. In addition to doing an excellent job as editor, Rachel defined the rising costs of newsletter mailing, with her concerns leading to the need for an electronic newsletter.
After more than ten years of reporting the “Who’s In The News” column for Happily Ever After, Barbara Dawson Smith retired in August 2001. Thanks, Barbara! We’re lucky to have you. In September 2001, Kerrelyn Sparks took over the fun and informative column.
In February 2001, after a year of hard work and planning, our chapter, along with NW Houston RWA, joined Houston Bay Area Chapter 30 in their Annual Literacy Luncheon Fundraiser. Jan Freed, along with many chapter members, worked diligently to make this the best Literacy Luncheon ever. Linda Lael Miller was Keynote speaker. The fundraiser, which was also the venue for our Emily award celebration, raised $8,200.00 for the Fort Bend Literacy Council. This chapter salutes everyone involved. Good job!
The National Conference was held in New Orleans in 2001, and WHRWA rented a bus for the trip. Thirty excited members partied on the way over and slept on the way back. Lasting friendships were formed. The chapter hosted a Suite Party at National. Kerry Sparks chaired this event. We had more than 100 editors, agents and writers in our suite mingling with members and people were talking about how great our chapter was during the whole conference (and afterwards!)
Sandy Weider and Monica Barnes both received the President’s Service Award in 2001.
MJ Selle realized the importance of support, not only within this chapter, but also within the romance community. The chapter’s co-efforts with Houston Bay Area in the Literacy Luncheon attest to this. In addition, MJ reached out to NW Houston RWA, offering WHRWA’s October day-long workshop, featuring New York Times best selling authors Connie Brockway, Christina Dodd, and Barbara Dawson-Smith, as a venue for that chapter to present their Lone Star Contest’s awards.
The first WHRWA Policy and Procedure manual was drafted in 2001 and became effective January 1, 2002.
In January 2002, Robin T. Popp became fifteenth president. Mary O’Connor and Georgia Ward were co-vice-presidents, Donna Grant served as secretary, Robyn McKenna was treasurer, Kerry Sparks was PAN Liaison. Jane Brown took over as newsletter editor and Paulette Heidbreder continued as webmistress. Courtney Burkholder was Membership Chair.
In 2002, this Board implemented the Published Author Liaison (PAL) program proposed by Jesica Trapp and Babette DeJongh. The PAL program matched a non-published member with a published author. When the PAN author had a new release, their PAL reviewed the book in the newsletter, at the chapter meeting, and even on amazon.com and B&N.com. In return, the relationship between PAN author and their PAL allowed for mentoring opportunities, which could be as involved as the author and PAL wanted. The PAL program continues today, with its successful perks to both PAN member and PAL.
This Board also formalized book signings for PAN members with new releases. A relationship was formed with a local bookseller, who would come to each meeting with the latest fiction releases – including member author releases.
In 2002, Jane Brown, as editor of Happily Ever After, did lots of work toward the successful conversion to a totally electronic newsletter, discontinuing the distribution of paper copies, thus saving lots of the chapter’s annual budget for programs rather than mailing. Paper copies are still provided as requested by members who are willing to pay extra for the mailing costs.
The President’s Service Award for 2002 went to Kerry Sparks.
In 2003, Robin, Mary and Georgia continued as President and Co-VPs. Shane Bolks took over as secretary, Robyn McKenna remained as Treasurer and Linda Barrett became PAN Liaison.Christy Janisse took over hospitality.
In 2003, the Board did away with the Rose Ceremony, which was timely, expensive and not well attended. In its place, certificates were awarded for individual members’ goal achievements.
Jane Brown was honored with the President’s Service Award in 2003.
Robyn McKenna became the sixteenth President in January 2004 and held the position for the next two years with the help of a very able and creative Board. Shane Bolks and Courtney Burkholder shared the position of Vice-President in 2004, and planned an informative and dynamic year of workshops. On the roster for March of that year was our successful Editor and Agent Extravaganza, co-hosted by the Northwest Houston Chapter of RWA. When Courtney moved out of the area, Sharie Kohler stepped into her talented shoes late in 2004 and helped Shane plan another great year of speakers for 2005.
Also on the Board for these two years were Jo Anne Banker as Treasurer and Paulette Heidbreder as Secretary. Linda Barrett served as PAN Liaison in 2004 and passed the job along to Christina Hergenrader in 2005.
Christy Janisse took over Happily Ever After from Jane Brown in 2004 and continued the fine tradition of WHRWA’s HEA. Also in 2004, after five great years as Webmistress, Paulette Heidbreder passed the job of overseeing the chapter’s website, www.whrwa.com to Sarah Schroeder.
Virginia of The Book Scene, our bookseller, retired in 2004. We then began our successful relationship with Katy Budget Books, who make it possible for the Chapter to continue to honor our published authors with book signings for their new releases.
The PAN loop was established January 13, 2005. It took the place of an informal email list previous PAN liaison Linda Barrett had used. It’s used to alert PAN members to promotion opportunities, poll members about issues related to the chapter, and to ask questions about aspects of publishing (galleys, copyedits, etc.).
Ellen Watkins was the recipient of the President’s Service Award for 2004 for her dedication to the Emily Contest. Shane Bolks received the 2005 President’s Award for her continued hard work for the Chapter.
In 2006, West Houston RWA’s twenty-fifth anniversary year, Jo Anne Banker took over as the seventeenth President. Sharie Kohler and Tera Lynn Childs remained in the Co-VP spot. Leslie Shores was Secretary; Kay Hudson, Treasurer; and Shane Bolks, PAN Liaison.
Christy Janisse continued as Newsletter Editor and Sarah Schroeder as Webmistress. In tune with our 25th birthday, these ladies mirrored the logo of WHRWA (created by Paulette Heidbreder) and a color scheme with Silver Anniversary charm on both the newsletter and the website.
Ellen Watkins continued as Emily Contest Coordinator. Sarah Castleberry took on Membership Chair. Linda Krzywicki did a bang up job handling hospitality. Linda Curtis continued as our Publicity Chair. Tera Childs had the tape library until she relocated, when Sharon Forret took over its care for us.
In February 2006, WHRWA kicked off its 25th anniversary year by hosting Donald Maass, acclaimed agent, presenting a daylong workshop based on his book, Writing the Breakout Novel. It was a great success! This workshop was achieved through the efforts of many, spearheaded by Linda Barrett.
Then, as the grand finale of this auspicious year, in November 2006, WHRWA hosted Susan Wiggs, a WHRWA success story, when she returned to her original RWA chapter to present an all day workshop. Susan joined WHRWA in 1986. This NYT Bestseller now lives on Bainbridge Island, with her business manager husband Jay.
2006 was a very successful year for the chapter, with an increased membership of 10%. Sarah Schroeder won a final in the non-professional category of the RWA National Chapter website contest for the whrwa.com website.
In 2007, Jo Anne Banker continued as President, with Lark Howard and Fleury Sommers coming on board as Co-VPs. Sarah Andre took over as Secretary, Kay Hudson continued as Treasurer, Shane Bolks as PAN Liaison, and the faithful Ellen, Christy and Sarah continued as Emily Contest Coordinator, HEA Newsletter Editor and WHRWA webmistress respectively.
Going into 2007 we are 110 members strong, 39 of whom are published by RWA PAN approved publishing houses.
At the Emily Luncheon meeting in February of 2007, WHRWA hosted two agents, Paige Wheeler and Helen Breitwieser, for the benefit of our members for pitch sessions.
At the time of this update, we’ve got other exciting plans for the year. Besides our fabulous lineup of local speakers, we have NYT bestseller Julia London coming in June and NYT bestseller Sharon Sala in November.
No one person or Board is responsible for the history and success of an organization like WHRWA. Countless individuals (too many to mention) have given many, many hours to this chapter. If you served, we honor you and appreciate you, even if the two of us who’ve worked on this history failed to find you in our memory banks.
If this chapter adopted a motto, it would be something like ‘Support and Succeed!’ Many of our members have attained writing success. One-third of our membership is published. Many more will follow. But all our members benefit from the loving, understanding, and enthusiastic support we share with each other.
Here’s to another 26 years of WHRWA success! WHRWA – we salute you. May your brightness continue to light up Houston’s sky!
This history has been compiled by Joyce Bell, Past WHRWA President, and by Jo Anne Banker, current WHRWA President. There will be more to come!