On the Road to and fro Celebrate Romance 2001

by Linda Hurst

As May rolls around every year I begin to look forward to the annual romance party/conference Celebrate Romance. This year CR2001 was held in Atlanta, but for me the fun began here in Dallas, TX as three of us set out on a road trip. We decided to bookhunt and booktalk our way to Georgia. We set out on Tuesday, May 1st, and started to hunt books right away. We experienced a unique "drive by" booksale within a few miles of picking up our last passenger - we noticed a garage sale being set up, rolled down the window, and asked if they had any books. The gentleman picked up a box of books and proceded to hold them up for our perusal. It was great that we didn't even have to leave the convenience of our car (don't you wish there were drive-thru bookstores?), there were, unfortunately, no interesting romances to be had, so we rolled on to Shreveport.

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Our luck changed quickly enough, however; at one of our first stops I found one of Nora Roberts' first romances - Promise Me Tomorrow - for a dime! I was lucky the other two didn't leave me behind after that, but they too found some excellent books as we progressed very slowly across the south.

After my lucky find I suggested we try one of the Shreveport Casinos; this suggestion was greeted with much enthusiasm. After I won $125 on the slots, I knew this was truly my lucky day. We did decide that we couldn't call LaVerne's hubby and tell him we had only gotten to Shreveport (a mere 60 miles) and so pushed on to Monroe, LA (167 miles), where we called it a night.

We spent half of our second day on the road in Monroe with a great many finds; I ended up having to mail two boxes of books home. It was either that or one of us would have had to have been strapped to the roof, and after all my good luck, I was sure jealousy would rear its ugly head and it would be me. We made it as far as Vicksburg and yet another casino. All three hubbies expressed amazement at our slow progress and our proclivity for gambling when we called home.

We realized we had to get our act together on Thursday, ignore all the tempting bookstores, and press on to Atlanta so as not to miss the Ghost Walk and goodie bag stuffing scheduled for that night. We got there just in time for one of us to make the Ghost Walk but in time for all of us to greet our online friends. I was amazed at the amount of material that had been sent for the goodie bags and helped stuff them until after two in the morning. Would it have gone faster had I not been gabbing with all my friends? Of course, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun!

Friday night was the opening reception, with several speakers scheduled. Originally Margie Wilhelm - the intrepid organizer for CR - had asked me to do a presentation on Friday night. After listening to the hilarious presentation of author Stephanie Burke, I was grateful she had switched me to Sunday - Ms. Burke would have been an impossible act to follow and I am sure gained 103 new readers that night. Her presentation was "10 things not to say to an Author" and was based on a conversation she had with an elitist waiter. It was obvious the waiter was out-classed, but Burke had us literally LOLROF. If her books are half as funny as her speech, they will be hilarious.

After the official party everyone moved to suites where junk food and cookies were devoured as we talked books. For those who haven't been to a convention like this, you just don't know what you are missing - the opportunity to sit down and discuss favorite books and authors with others who share your interest is fabulous. Friday night resembled a large floating slumber party, with very little slumbering.

Saturday began with speeches by Mary Jo Putney, Stephanie Bond, and one of the readers in attendance. It is obvious that Putney and Bond have an excellent handle on what romance readers want - they are also excellent speakers. Saturday afternoon featured rotating seminars on various subjects, with the readers staying in place and the authors moving from group to group. For me, the highlight of the day was meeting Diana Palmer at a tea put on by an online romance site. Ms Palmer is one of my favorites and when I told her that her alpha males are one of my guilty pleasures, she roared with laughter. We discussed several of her books as she signed a few of my favorites. We talked about how the alpha heroes are bearable for me, because in her books they make amends and "grovel" so nicely. She said that she liked them to grovel at least half the book, but that her husband and son thought "grovel" was something you put on the driveway!

Saturday afternoon also was the book swap. Prior to the convention, online requests for out of print books had been made and 1,400 of these mainly very hard to find books were found by attendees. We received tickets for each find and then got to "shop" in the general trade, where again there were lots of goodies and many happy ladies departed with armfuls of books.

Saturday night more than half the attendees went to the Blue Willow Inn in Roswell for dinner. The Inn is an old southern mansion that serves a buffet of southern delecacies. The food was wonderful and the wait staff terrific, but the highlight was watching a 6'4" cook come out and ask Mary Jo Putney to sign a book "for his Mama" - it was so sweet, and gracious lady that she is, Ms. Putney rose to the occasion. I sat with Linda West, who is writing as Linda Kay and soon to write as Dixie Kane. Her story of how her new nom de plume came out of items in her pantry was hilarious.

Sunday morning featured a buffet breakfast, which I coudn't eat as I was too nervous about giving my presentation on Beauty and the Beast. Thankfully, I got through it without becoming too tongue-tied and then could enjoy the rest of the morning's activities. A bookseller was on-site to sell us the authors' latest books and we were able to buy them and have them signed immediately, which was fun and gave me a chance to meet many authors who had not attended CR before. We also had the drawings for the door prizes and their were enough baskets and prizes that no one went home empty handed. I was glad I didn't win a basket as the driver of our car, Pat, had decreed any baskets won had to be worn as hats, because of lack of room in the car.

We regretfully set off for home on Sunday afternoon, with a detour to Savannah, which was out of the way but definitely worth the time. We found a wonderful UBS and many more goodies and were glad we had mailed several more boxes of books home or we wouldn't have all fit in the car! I didn't realize how bad our over-stuffed SUV looked until Pat asked a lady at the Good Will for directions to another Good Will and she looked at our car and asked if we wanted to make a donation! She seemed shocked that we didn't want to unload, but werre hoping to find even more books.

We finally rolled back into Dallas about midnight on Wednesday night and having been gone for over a week. A week of books, friends, good food and fun - life doesn't get any better then this. Celebrate Romance is unique in that the attendees pitch in and help with putting the conference on and has fostered a "community" atmosphere. Stuffing goodie bag and matching booktrade books turned into parties with lots of book talk and eating going on. Locations for CR2002 are already being debated on-line and wherever it ends up I will definitely be there.

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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