Thursday, April 19, 2012

RT Reflections

What a hive of noise and industry the Chicago Romantic Times Book Reviews Convention was this past weekend. Women strode here, there and everywhere with great determination—most of them in sensible shoes, but quite a few wearing skyscraper heels that will make fortunes for podiatrists in about 20 years. Many were writers, but readers, booksellers and librarians were also present in great numbers. Their focus was the various workshops and panels available, also the two book signings, but they didn’t miss out on the publisher and author parties!

(From Left) Jennifer Blake, Diane Stacy and Christina Skye in the RT Goody Room

And how grand it was to see familiar faces, including Kathe Robin, long-time reviewer for RT (who told me she still has a copy of BAYOU BRIDE, one of my early light romances on her keeper shelf) and Christina Skye, whom I ran into in the “goody room” of the RT office and who shares my passion for knitting. There was Sherill Boudine, who helped make a three-hour book signing speed past by treating me to a margarita and having it delivered. Leigh Greenwood and Roseanne Bittner, Loretta Chase and Lorraine Heath, Sue Grafton, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Francine Pascal were all there, not to mention Kathryn Falk and Kenneth Rubin, Carol Stacy, Jo Carol Jones, Jill Brager, and all the rest of the great RT crew. Added to this list was the personable young writer I met on the train to Chicago, Heather Rainier. In the way of such things, I ran into her and her husband Richard often, and enjoyed their company each time.

The Author Chat I sat in on with Loretta Chase and Sarah McLean drew a nice crowd. Mary Balogh was supposed to have been on hand, but bowed out due to family illness. Lorraine Heath took her place in quiet and composed fashion, and we all answered questions until they chased us from the room so the next panel could be set up.

Chicago being the home of Sourcebooks, Inc., this amazing publishing house sponsored an office tour for their authors. What a fun jaunt! Transportation was by special limo—buses the size of small living rooms, with curving leather seats, stocked mini-bars and multi-colored flashing lights. We felt like rock stars! Publisher Dominique Raccah guided us through the many departments while recognizing personnel. She even introduced Bessie, the Well-Read Cow, a huge cow statue resting on books which she had bought at auction, outbidding Oprah who also wanted the icon. Lunch of pasta, chicken parmesan and decadent brownies was enjoyed, after which gifts of handmade bath and beauty products from Lush were handed out. Before our departure, all authors used large permanent markers in various colors to autograph a blank corridor wall. Leigh Greenwood (Harold Lowery), being the tallest, capped off all the signatures by making a banner heading of his "John Hancock.”

On Friday, Roseanne Bittner and I sat in on a panel discussion with Kathryn Falk. Our retrospective of the romance industry over the past thirty years, and the passion of authors for their work that has driven its success, was well received. I also spent time with Kathryn, Roseanne, Kenneth Rubin and Leigh Greenwood at the Bookseller and Librarian appreciation event, and heard interesting things being planned for the Kansas City convention in 2013.

Passion was a constant at this convention—the passion for erotica, that is, or erotic romances. The authors with the most fervent followings seemed to be those with the boundary-pushing stories. The only genre to give erotica a run for its money was paranormal, with its vampires and shape-shifting animals, ghosts and ghoulies. Both are certainly interesting trends, though it's impossible to say how long they will last.

Another thread for this convention was self-publishing, or indie—independent—publishing, as it’s labeled these days. The presence of such e-industry heavy-hitters as Mark Coker, Bob Mayer and J. A. Konrath stoked the interest of attendees. Bob Mayer encouraged authors to gain control of their backlists and self-pub the books as soon as possible. The thinking here is that traditional publishers are sitting on absolute gold mines of out-of-print titles but, like elephants squatting on eggs, are oblivious to the potential rewards.

Special guests for Saturday’s gigantic Book Fair were Anne Rice and J. R. Ward. Anne was reportedly seen striding the hotel corridors in company with her bodyguards. Extra security also had to be brought in to keep order among the fans waiting for signed books from Anne and J. R. The other spot of great activity during the autographing was the section cordoned off for YA authors. Fans of tales that tap into the Twilight and Hunger Games mystique congregated there. Business was brisk for the rest of us, as well, and the lines at checkout were long. The state of the book industry seems less gloomy than has been depicted.

The convention was a time of renewal in many ways, of getting back to why I write, how lucky I’ve been to be able to make a living at it and excitement about the digital future. I came home with the urge to start a new book. Seeing old friends, making new contacts and taking the pulse of the industry was great—but recapturing the anticipation of a new story? That's priceless.


Since publishing her first book at age 27, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to write over 65 historical and contemporary novels in multiple genres. She brings the story-telling power and seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her 8th-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.


Landra said...

Ooh, how I wish I could have been there. Phoenix shared her fun times and experiences on her blog as well. It sounds like a wonderful place to learn, and enjoy the company of other authors and readers.
Can't wait for Kansas City 2013. I'm going to start saving pennies, nickels, and dimes (maybe several 20s) so I can go.

Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer Blake said...

You'll enjoy RT, Landra, as well as learning more than you may want to know about the writing business. I'm not sure yet if I'll make Kansas City, but maybe we can get together for coffee or lunch if we're both on hand? Should be fun!