Romantic Times Convention 2000
by Linda Hurst
Recently I went to my first Romantic Times Convention in Houston, Texas. To my delight, RT lived up to it's billing as "the party of the century." This is a light-hearted view of my step through the looking glass into the world of Romance. One thing I discovered quickly is that the guys are better looking on the other side of the glass and that it is nirvana for the bookaholic.
As an RT "virgin," I was wide-eyed as I entered the Radisson Hotel lobby and immediately encountered some of my favorite authors. My roomie and I had barely arrived at the convention when we encountered Sharon Sala (correctly pronounced SALE-uh not SALLA) who invited us to dinner in the hotel restaurant. Sharon is a friendly and funny lady who had our table of readers in hysterics. I immediately realized this weekend was going to be special when other writers came up to us at the salad bar to introduce themselves, including Evelyn Rogers and Constance O'Banyon. Easy access was obviously the key note of this convention.
For a reader, this convention was truly an adventure in paradise - authors everywhere and all that I encountered were open to meeting and talking with readers. But, RT has done a good job of capturing the dichotomy of the Romance community and incorporating it into a truly fun convention.
On the one hand, the convention treats the authors and their work with respect and created many opportunities for inter-mingling and recognition of their talents. But, RT also devotes a lot of time and space to those gorgeous guys who adorn the covers of our favorite books. The bringing together of these two elements creates an atmosphere that's both rewarding and playful. It's kind of like reading Playgirl for the articles, but I did enjoy both parts of the mix.
I heard rumors and actually saw a schedule of seminars that were held on many topics of interest to readers, booksellers and writers, but I did not find any of them compelling enough to actually attend. I spent most of my time in the "Reader's Carnavale" room. The RC room had authors sitting at tables on a rotating basis and one could talk with them one on one, get books signed, and visit with other readers about books. And during the day the cover model contestants "paraded" into the RC room and visited with readers and tried to get their votes for "Mr. Romance." Parade was one word for the cover models entrance, but strut might be a better one, for strut they did. The old expression of "if you've got it flaunt it" seemed to be the motto of these guys, but it also seemed to be done tongue in cheek and thus lots of fun. I talked with several of these cover model wannabes - they're a group of great looking young guys hoping to get a break into modeling. They all seemed to get into the spirit of the convention.
Just prowling the halls and sitting in the publisher's suites was heavenly, watching the various name tags go by and feeling so lucky to have a chance to stop and visit with some of my long-time favorites was great. But, I also met new-to-me authors who were so terrific that I am already out hunting their latest books. Frankly, being nice to readers never hurts an author and rumors of those who aren't so nice do spread rapidly. Every author I met without exception seemed very open and anxious to talk about both the books they write and those they read. It is kind of dumb to come to a convention like this with an attitude and diss readers, but it has been done by people who should know better. Luckily, they must have all stayed home.
It is completely shallow, but one of the best parts for me was meeting my all-time favorite cover model. Ever since I started reading romance 6 years ago I have been drawn to covers that featured the ever gorgeous John DeSalvo. When I found out that he was going to be at the convention I immediately promised my on-line buddies that I would get my picture made with him. This proved to be easy as he was booked for a photo session with fans on Friday. Only problem was that his time was during the luncheon featuring Sue Grafton and I had to make a choice. I heard Ms. Grafton was a very funny speaker.
Getting off of an elevator and seeing John DeSalvo standing 6 feet away is a breath-taking experience and thankfully I did not pass out at his feet. John proved to be a very nice gentleman who went to a lot of trouble to see each portrait subject was happy with her experience and we all got to giggling because each lady who left John had a big grin on her face. It wasn't his fault that he was the best looking part of all the pictures either. It has been mentioned that I have a glazed expression on my face in my picture - who wouldn't? We were all impressed that when Cherif (who is also gorgeous and very nice) was 15 minutes late, John stayed and posed for free until Cherif arrived. It is always nice to find that someone who is that good looking and well known is not a big jerk!
Nor is he air-brushed, the guy really is even better looking in person - when his face is animated and he flashes those dimples. . . .All of the name cover models were available during the week end and really raised a lot of money for charity during the various activities.
One night's dinner featured a costume contest that ranged from the absurd to the hilarious - most memorable was Marsha Canham and Connie Brockway's portrayal of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. Marsha was such a hit that her hat brought big bucks at the auction at the end of the convention. Connie's sucking her cheeks in to vamp Gloria-style had the announcer in such hysterics she could only snort Suzanne Sommers-style in the microphone. Truly memorable!
Dara Joy gave a reception before the costume party and I did find out good news for the Matrix of Destiny fans - while her next release is not part of the series, she has begun work on the next Matrix title and may just dedicate herself to getting the series finished. Tareq's story will be the next one and I asked if it was perhaps a beauty and the beast story, but her lips were sealed. I told Dara I was afraid I wouldn't live long enough to see Traed's story, but she assured me that even though I am older then dirt, I should make it. Since so many people pronounce her name differently I asked her for the correct pronunciation - it is DAHR-UH and not DARE-UH.
The Reviewer's Choice Author awards ceremony began with a touching memorial to Melinda Helfer, complete with bagpiper and Melinda's family. Melinda had been with Romantic Times for so many years that many in the audience knew her well. She will be missed by the entire romance community and the thoughtful memorial to her drew us together as a group.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how fast one wanted the awards ceremony to go, many authors were not actually there to claim them. But, those who were there were roundly applauded and seemed to be happy to have won. One author's name was mis-spelled on her award, but it struck her as hilarious and she didn't take RT up on their offer to fix it.
One of the winners was Catherine Asaro, who was thrilled with both her award and her acceptance by the Romance reading community. It is wonderful to see authors who are pushing the envelope - both from within and the outside of the genre - receiving acclaim and awards.
One thing about RT is that the activities are non-stop and there was always something to do - even if it was just sitting at a table and talking books with another reader. In fact, the lounge in the hotel lobby became my second favorite place to hang out - large circles of readers and authors would pop up and the book discussions and laughter were rampant. What was fun was to discover that many of the authors are also prodigious readers and we discussed what we liked in favorite authors books. It was so much fun talking books with people who don't suffer from the MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) syndrome that my family does when I mention a book I am reading. I especially loved visiting with other JAK and Garwood fans and revisiting favorite moments from their books.
I took every opportunity in both the lounge and readers room to spread the word of some of the things readers have mentioned they truly hate seeing in a book. Namely, the Big Misunderstanding and the Long Separation (check the index page for ATBF for more discussion on this). Authors to a man (or woman) advised me that they don't like writing BM's but that editors want them to put BM's in to give more conflict in the book. So, somehow readers have got to make editors and publishers understand we hate BM's! I also found to my delight that many of the authors have wicked senses of humor and I think I laughed more in 4 days then I had in a year.
Kensington books gave a luncheon that proved to be a roast of their President Walter Zacharius by RT and the Kensington authors. The highlights of the roast included a song by Kathryn Falk, a chorus line that included Deb Stover and Shelley Bradley singing and dancing to a special version of Hey, Big Spender and best of all was Heather Graham dressed as Marilyn Monroe singing"Happy Anniversary, Mr. President.
Saturday night I went to Heather Graham Pozzessere's private reception before the Vampire ball that she sponsors for charity. My roomie and I got upstairs to the Celestial Suite to find it packed with lots of authors, other booksellers and cover models. I was looking for an empty chair and ended up at a table filled with the Mr. Romance contestants - all of whom were young enough to be my sons - and who, although nice and friendly made me feel like a veritable thorn among the roses.
I got a chance to visit with Suzanne Brockmann, who had brought her mother - both were extremely friendly. When I advised Suzanne with some trepedation that I was chairman of the "Worst" covers for the annual Covers Contest and that her Get Lucky cover was a "top" nominee, she was thrilled! She is hoping for a "win"! Suzanne was even giving away a smiley face fix-it kit at the book signing - obviously a lady who has a great sense of humor.
While I was hobnobbing with this crowd, I missed the wildest party of the three day weekend. The Indigo/Genesis party featured local Chippendale dancers in a vigorous performance. So vigorous that apparently the Houston police department nearly closed down the party due to the ribald actions of the dancers. I guess one can't be everywhere and see everything but the reports were rife of the "talents" of the dancers. Apparently some of them were "glad" to see our readers and happy to show it!
Sunday's book signing was the perfect wrap up for the week end - table after table of authors with their latest books and in many cases time enough to share a few words or mention a favorite book. Frankly, walking in the ballroom and seeing table after table of favorite authors was almost overwhelming. It was like being a kid in a candy store and hard to decide where to go or who to see first - but Mary Balogh won out and she patiently signed the large stack of vintage books I had toted in.
The book signing was the one activity that non conventioneers could attend; it was fun to meet some on-line friends who came for the book signing. I was exhausted at the end of the 4 hours from hauling around a large suitcase and multiple bags of books I either bought or brought for the signing. This was absolute nirvana for a bookaholic like me, but totally exhausting.
The only disappointment on Sunday was losing out on the drawing for John DeSalvo's loincloth from his famous calendar. I was green with envy, but John did tell me that he will have a new calendar in 2002, which should provide more items to raffle off to lucky fans. I am obviously not the only kooky fan - he and Cherif brought in their pillowcases for the auction and raised a considerable sum!
This is one RT "virgin" who will definitely be back next year. Good food, good friends, good books, authors, cover models, and John De Salvo. What more could one ask for in one week end?