On the Road to and fro Celebrate Romance 1999

by Linda Hurst

Margie Wilhelm has scored another great success with the second annual Celebrate Romance Reader's Conference. The conference was held in Philadelphia this year, from May 21 through May 23, and there were 76 readers and authors in attendance. One of the nicest parts of the gathering was that the writers were also wearing their reader's hats. In fact, Jo Goodman signed up for CR99 as a reader and Margie only found out later that she was the Jo Goodman. Jo was in one of the panels with me and has an absolutely delightful sense of humor (that is also quite apparent in her books).

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Many of us arrived in Philly on Thursday and a dinner expedition known as the great seafood hunt ensued. We went to a neighborhood fish restaurant in downtown Philly, with only a few tables at the back of a fish market. The $10.00 lobster dinner on the menu was astounding to this Texan - those of you who don't live on or near the northeastern seaboard don't realize how expensive lobster is to the rest of us! Although the company was excellent and many laughs were shared, we were driven from the restaurant by an awful smell. Alas - reader Sara Reyes' reputation for closing down or getting thrown out of restaurants grew that night and she was blamed for the entire episode. No one really cared, however, because of the cameraderie and inside jokes which originally began online and developed in our face-to-face meetings. I think the fact that we had all "met" on-line gives this convention a unique quality. We are probably precursors of many similar special interest conventions to come.

Friday many of us boarded a bus to tour Amishland. Sara Reyes grew up Mennonite in that area and gave a detailed and very interesting travelogue as we toured. She had arranged for us to have dinner in an Amish home and it was like stepping back into my childhood, having Sunday Dinner at my Great Grandmother's. I would recommend taking the pre-convention tour to everyone. Our group bonded during the day and we got a chance to really visit with some of our on-line friends.

We returned to the hotel Friday night to find the rest of the group there and Philly sandwiches ready to eat en masse. Also, the wonderful cookies that Karen Wheless brought to the party were a huge hit and she is being besieged on-line for the recipes or even better - to send them out to hungry cookie monsters nationwide.

Saturday our program began in earnest. Margie had everything well organized and we quickly picked up our goody bags, dropped off our "trade" books and began our program. Falcon was our Mistress of Ceremonies and her ad libs and double entendres were priceless. Falcon is able to think quickly on her feet and she did a very good job of keeping the program moving along.

The keynote speaker was best-selling author Jo Beverley. Jo set exactly the right note for the convention and her quick humor, intelligence, and obvious respect for her readers shone throughout her presentation. I have the impression that Jo is really enjoying teasing us about both her new Malloran book and the next one due in May 2000 (featuring the divine Rothgar). She refers to the hero of Secrets of the Night as Brand, the love slave of Yorkshire. With a credo such as this, I for one will not be able to resist. And the fervor growing for Rothgar 2000 has taken on a life of it's own and Jo is very good at giving just enough clues to whet our appetite for more.

Shirley Hailstock, an author specializing in ethnic romance, was another terrific speaker. She is witty and made an excellent point that good stories can be told with a wide cast of characters, including those of color or ethnicity.

Miranda Jarrett gave a delightful presentation on the perils of writing and speaking. She stressed that riches are not automatic for authors and that the early returns were small. She has beautiful long blonde hair and told an amusing story involving bats in an old cathedral in England. She thought she had the obviously rapt audience in the palm of her hand, only to later discover that a bat had been circling her head all during her presentation. The audience thought her most brave and she was blissfully unaware.

Susan Bontley, whose specialty is paranormal romances (she wrote a book about the, as a matter of fact), gave an informative talk on what makes a romance collectible and how to rate the quality of paperback books when describing them for others. I found her talk very helpful when trying to evaluate my own collection and selling duplicates.

Sara Reyes and I were the comic relief for the morning. Sara is extremely TBR challanged (she actually reads all the books she buys!!) I, on the other hand, have a TBR mountain and have developed special equipment to further my bookhunting. Especially useful is a folding stool that one can sit on (for seeing low shelves), stand on (for high shelves) and lastly if someone else reaches for the book you wanted, you can whack them with it. Luckily, our audience was kind enough to laugh along with us.

Our last presentation of the morning was made by Linda Cutler Smith, Suzanne Coleburn and author Gail Link about starting a reading group. There was a lot of information from the bookstore point of view and how to get the most out of your local bookstore. Their main advice was to ask for what you want and keep asking until you get to the right person. Suzanne's presentation on her bookclub made me very excited about the budding one we have started with our local Border's. To see how it can grow and enrich our reading experience was really interesting.

We then broke up into Reader/Author Discussion groups. The readers stayed in one room and the authors rotated. The topics were:

  • Inside the Industry
  • What is a Romance Novel?
  • Plots - Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down

The group I was in got a bit off subject on Plots; we ended up talking about covers more than plots. Inside the Industry gave us some real insight into how a book makes it's way to our shelves and the sizable obstacles an author has to overcome. What is a Romance Novel? generated a lot of discussion. A happy ending and a love story were the obvious needs, but then we discussed sensuality and nature of the characters. Jo Goodman had us in stitches discussing how much sex she, as a reader, looks for in a book. She likes it!!

The afternoon was finished with a very well-arranged book trading session. Even Sara acquired a book for her non-existent TBR pile.

Sunday began with a book sale for the authors present. It was a rousing success and I'm sure Barnes & Noble were very pleased with the outcome. Romance readers make an ideal audience for booksellers.

Breakfast was followed by three guest speakers. Stephanie Mittman was a 1998 RITA nominee and is very enthusiastic about books. Her love of romance shines through both as an author and as a reader. Her obvious humor has made me look forward to reading her latest book, which was given to us in our goody bags.

Mariah Stewart and Lori Foster rounded out the program for the day, followed by author signings and prize drawings. So many prizes had been donated by various author groups and publishers that everyone won a prize (AAR's prize was won by Karen Wheless).

We all enjoyed the convention so much that immediate discussion began on where to hold it next year. Since the conference was more than double the size it was last year, next year we hope even more online friendships can become more traditional in scope. It was also decided to continue the e-mail list that was set up for CR99 at onelist. All in all, I can hardly wait till next year.

LLB: While AAR is not directly related to this wonderful readers conference, I do feel proud to say that it grew in small part out of AARlist (when it was the Prodigy Romance Listserv), and readers wanting to meet face to face so that cyber-relationships could grow into more "real" ones. Margie Wilhelm's taking her idea of bringing readers together has grown phenomenally, and I envision this conference continuing to grow in the future. I hope to be able to attend myself one year!

 




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