Thursday, July 23, 2015

Finding the Romance Genre & RWA Literacy Signing

Times Square in 2011

While I'm a bit nebulous about when I first started reading romance, I know when I became a real fan of the genre that searched out new books. Every Christmas I visited my parents in Florida and I needed a book to read on my travels. My local Harris Teeter grocery store has a book section. A purple and green cover caught my attention: Amanda Quick's Perfect Poison from her Arcane Society series.  I had never read her before, but something about the blend of psychic powers and Victorian mystery appealed to me. I blew through that book in a week and wondered what else had she written. Er, quite a LOT apparently! I had not realized that Amanda Quick was the prolific Jayne Ann Krentz with multiple psuedonyms and styles. The Arcane Society made me appreciate all my years of comics collecting and crossovers, because certain trilogies would start in historical, jump to contemporary and end in futuristic.

And so my discovery of historical romances began. Ironically I've never been all that interested in 19th century history, but between Victorians and Regencies, I slowly started finding authors I liked. Mostly I followed authors I liked and started reading sites like SmartBitches and Heroes & Heartbreakers for suggestions. 

But romance is in some ways different than other genres. Romance Writers of America (RWA) is the national trade organization for the genre, encompassing writers, editors, etc involved in creating romance novels. Even the local chapters are geared towards would-be writers, not so much for the regular readers and fans. 

So each time I've seen opportunities to meet other romance fans, I've grabbed them, because they don't happen as often.  SmartBitches Trashy Books' Sarah Wendell had a reception for romance fans to meet and mingle at a cheese shop in DC before the preview of the "Love Between the Covers" documentary at Library of Congress. By chance, someone had a spare ticket to the preview and offered me the chance. I am so glad I went to see it. Laurie Kahn, the director, interviewed a ton of people, and gave a solid behind the scenes view of the romance industry from familiar authors to not-so familiar ones. Kahn explored why romance was so popular and what went into writing the books and sadly the stereotypes surrounding the genre. I loved that she included African American and GLBTQ romances along with the usual suspects. I learned that Beverly Jenkins was a force of nature and good god do not choose against her in the DABWAHA (basically think of "Sweet Sixteen of Romance") event because she knows how to muster her fans. The whole documentary was a positive message of "everyone deserves an HEA" no matter who they are or what they look like.

After that event, I lucked out in that my local library was hosting a romance swap event. The librarians were both romance fans and they were eager to share their favorites and show us where to find them in our catalogs. It sounds obvious, but when you consider they'd had to cut their mass market collection completely and romance is predominantly published in that format, you begin to appreciate the issues involved. What I learned was a) when the ebooks were updated b) the Harlequin Presents large type editions are bright pink/fuschia and easy to spot on the shelves.  I already used Overdrive heavily, so for me, it was more meeting other like-minded people and seeing what they liked.

Then Elisabeth Lane of Cooking Up Romance decided to put together a DC Romance meetup group. We meet once a month at a local coffee shop and we talk about what we're reading. Sometimes we also talk about the genre in general and our experiences. The group has grown with each passing month as new people see the meeting notices.  We do seem to have a plethora of librarians, both public and academic.  

I hadn't planned on attending RWA conference in New York City, because I am mostly a reader at this point, and it's quite expensive. But then I learned about the literacy signing on Wednesday. Open to the public, the signing included 480 authors, with the proceeds of the books going to literacy charities. I started to waver when I looked at the list of authors with so many of my favorites. I had done whirlwind NYC trips before. Maybe I could swing that budget wise. And Elisabeth allowed as how she'd love the company on the train up. So I took the plunge.

The adventure started early on Wednesday morning when I took a Metro over to Union Station. I found Elisabeth and her husband after the boarding had started. The Northeast Regional train took three or four hours to finally roll into Penn Station. Then after examining the map on the way up, we determined we just needed to walk ten blocks up to where the Marriott Marquis was in Times Square.
On my last daytrip to NYC, I had effectively dodged Times Square, so I never appreciated the level of sheer chaos involved, filled with big screens and shouting ticket vendors. (I didn't take any pictures this trip, but I did take one of Times Square four years ago. I even went into that large Walgreens!)
The Marriott Marquis was right next door to the Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre, so I could see the whole theatre district laid out before me. The hotel was crazy. Hotel registration wasn't even on the ground floor. The smart elevators were ingenious (punch a number, it'll tell you which elevator to use), but working slow by the end of the day. I imagine as the conference wears on it'll get even slower. 

Elisabeth picked up her registration materials (lots of books!) and we went in search of her friend volunteering at the Goody Room. Elisabeth had arranged a lunch gathering with a few friends and graciously allowed me and her husband to tag along. The others were writers she corresponded with on twitter. The hotel restaurant did not have the speediest service, but they managed a serviceable burger. I had completely skipped breakfast, so I was famished. With the signing in the evening, I wasn't certain when I'd eat next, so it was good to have one big meal. 

After a quick trip to Midtown Comics at W. 40th street, I grabbed suitable caffeine and came back to the Marquis in search of the Broadway Ballroom to wait for the signing. The huge ballroom had been laid out with rows and rows of chairs, each with a roomy tote bag and a letter. The letter signified what section you were in (A,B,C, etc.) when they started sending people into the room downstairs. I was Dubious when I read the staging area would be on a different floor with all the hotel discussions, but surprisingly the whole thing went quite well. No one complained or bitched about their place. Compared to some bookstore signings, it went quite smoothly.

I sat down with some other romance readers and enjoyed going back through the list while I waited. The other fans were cheerful, even squeeful at meeting their favorites. I was struck by the range in age and demographic and everyone had their personal favorites, but wouldn't judge you if yours didn't line up. Two young women in headscarves behind us spoke with fannish glee over Sarah MacLean's books. I flagged down Sarah, an academic librarian I knew from the DCRom meetups. I am grateful for those meetups because as I confessed, I probably wouldn't have tried this, if I didn't know anyone. As it was, most of DCRom crowd were here, either for the conference or just the Librarians' Day event. Even Sarah spoke glowingly about how important it was to have these connection points to other readers.

Entrepreneurial writers, sensing a captive audience, came through with a pile of swag, usually pens or bookmarks/cards with free offers. Most were unfamiliar-to-me contemporary writers, although one was an urban fantasy writer I recognized that wrote with Sherrilyn Kenyon.

My signing loot
The massive Westside ballroom had most of the big stars at the corners, while the rest were lined up alphabetically. Sarah and I got in line to see Jayne Ann Krentz (aka Amanda Quick) first and I bought her newest hardcover "Garden of Lies". Krentz was a former librarian and she'd spoken at the Librarians' Day event, likening it to the Marines where once one, always one. I thanked Krentz for her part in getting me into romance and she said "Reading or writing?" Thinking about it, I said reading, but I might try writing sometime. "Maybe someday you'll be on this side of the signing table." So many hearts. I'd heard how frankly encouraging and supportive RWA was and I was getting some firsthand experience, even before dipping my hands into the writing side. 

Next was the lovely Tessa Dare, a favorite of mine. Tessa Dare had her two Castles Ever After books for sale, because "When the Scot Tied the Knot" doesn't come out until August! I bought a copy of "Romancing the Duke" because I didn't own a physical copy anymore. I remembered to introduce myself as one of her twitter followers.

Then Sarah and I split up to go find our various authors. I bought "Dangerous Books for Girls" from Maya Rodale and told her how much I enjoyed watching the livecast of the events on feminism and erotica. I met Julie Anne Long and bought one of her Pennyroyal Green books because a librarian friend keeps touting them. After taking her Regency politics class and chatting on twitter, I was also glad to meet Rose Lerner and get one of her books. 

That left two on the end for my tour – Courtney Milan and Sarah MacLean. Having followed them on twitter for awhile, it was nice to interact with them. I hoped I wasn't being too ridiculous asking Courtney how her blue streaked hair was holding up in the room. I'd recognized her at lunch chatting with an author and editor earlier.  

I only regretted not meeting two authors. Nalini Singh's line went clear back to the other side of the room at one point, almost rivaling Nora Roberts' on the other side. I knew I'd be there til nearly the end of the signing, if I stayed. Tiffany Reisz's line was also crazy busy, practically blocking the aisle. I was curious about her books, but not enough to stand in the crush of people.

I only grabbed a handful of buttons and swag from the writers I saw. I have my own "Doubt Not!" button from Tessa Dare's "Romancing the Duke" because I am a fair maiden of Moranglia… er… an unrepentant fangirl. I also grabbed one of Rose Lerner's saucy "Spoiler: The Butler Did Her" as a promo for her upcoming Lively St Lemeston book. 

I paid for my purchases and discovered I had made it under my budget. I had nervously worried I might go over with some of the higher priced trades. Luck was indeed on my side. I met up with Sarah after she was done and we spent some time chatting on the 8th floor concourse area before it was time to march back up 7th Ave to Penn Station. 

Or so I thought. I discovered that there was a demonstration/rally being held at 42nd street, so I couldn't go any further.  Undeterred, I remembered that NYC was like DC and built on a grid system, so I figured I could simply go over and around. My legs were dying by the time I reached Penn Station. I was relieved to still have an hour to find a quick bite to eat and then wait for boarding call.  DC's Union Station is fairly straightforward compared to Penn's maze of Amtrak and commuter rail.  But I somehow managed to find both my gate and the lovely lovely Amtrak quiet car for my blissful ride home.