I love being a reviewer. I love books, I love reading, and I adore the romance genre, so getting to read books, discuss books, talk to other people who love books—it just doesn’t get any better. Or so I thought—because I also had the wild good fortune to be able to attend RomCon 2011 in Denver, August 5-7. RomCon is a fan convention, which, in its own words is “dedicated 100% to romance and women’s fiction”, where readers from all ages and from around the world can get together with their favorite authors and indulge their love of romance. I had heard some terrific things about RomCon, and was thrilled to be able to attend, and I’d love to be able to share my weekend with you!
Of course, into each life a little rain must fall, and my proverbial rain storm came in the guise of an airline that really had no enthusiasm for getting me from Boston to Denver in a timely fashion. So after a travel adventure in the friendly skies that I would much rather forget, I landed in Denver on a cloudless summer morning and made my way right to RomCon.
Now, I am almost always The Quiet One. I love listening to people’s ideas and their stories. Which I think makes me a pretty good historian and an avid reader, but it doesn’t always make me the best New Kid In The Room. So I admit that I entered the Opening Remarks with some nervousness. Nervousness which, I am pleased to say, was totally pointless. Because I immediately realized that I was in a room of kindred spirits, who has not only read the same books that I had, but who were here because they loved them as much as I did.
Following a great welcome from Michele Callahan, RomCon’s fantastic founder, and several authors, we broke for our first official session of RomCon. I attended the Historical Romance Author panel and proceeded to gape as some of my favorite authors stood up and spoke not only about their love of romance and writing, but of historical research and costumes as well. It turns out that Delilah Marvelle has just made a visit to the Museum of Sex in New York (who knew?), and that both Isobel Carr and Mary Wine had spent years as historical re-enactors. Since I spent most of my childhood and teenage years as a re-enactor myself, it was fascinating to hear their stories and the finer details about costume-making, period survival skills, and how to ride a horse in a corset. It was fascinating to hear about how a romance author goes about getting inspiration and information on the spicier side of history, and how they go about creating the world of the past in such lavish details.
From then on, I stopped being nervous and focused on all the incredible opportunities that were in front of me. I attended a similar panel held by contemporary romance authors, including Carly Phillips whose books I’d really like to start reading, and Shayla Black, whose Doomsday Brethren is one of my favorite paranormal series. It was really interesting to hear their opinions on cover quotes and the publishing industry today with the rise of eBooks. In fact, there was a great deal of discussion over the course of the weekend regarding the digital publishing market, from comparing notes on Kindles and Nooks and Kobos and the like, to the digital vs. paper book conundrum, and on further to the future of publishing with the explosion of eBooks. While I will have to be buried clutching my worn and loved paperbacks in my hands, it was quite enlightening to hear the range of opinions on the subject.
After our lunch break, I headed off to “Monsters & More Semi-Charades”, hosted by a spate of terrific paranormal authors. I was lucky enough to sit with Erin Kellison—if you haven’t read her Shadow Series, for goodness sake, start reading them soon!—and Gabi Stevens, whose latest book, As You Wish, I decided to start reading after listening to her muse about potential characters at our table in between rounds. It turns our that although our table (perhaps incongruously named ‘Team Awesome’) came in last in the Semi-Charades game (essentially Taboo, although with self-imposed time penalties that our team may have adhered to a bit more rigidly than others), we still had a exceptional time, and I laughed harder at our attempts to get others to guess “Tristan and Isolde” than I have in a long time.
The Historic Authors Tea was an absolute blast. Each table boasted a huge stack of free books for those of us attending, and I was lucky enough to sit with Mary, a librarian from Florida who regaled me with stories from Rom Con 2010. We made plans to attend several of the historic session the next day together, and I became insanely jealous of Mary’s Library’s patrons, who no doubt get to hear all her great book recommendations on a regular basis. Julia London joined us, signed books and told us not only about her research, but her experiences in the world of publishing. Her books are so lyrical and her characters so realistic that it’s often difficult to remember that this sort of creative enterprise is actually work that requires a lot of hard work and luck to pull off.
Eileen Dreyer joined our table next, and, once we both realized that our families originated in nearby counties in Ireland, we were soon chatting like magpies. Since Eileen is a ‘hands-on’ type of writer, the stories she has about her ‘research’ were astonishing. A registered nurse by profession, she has gone through SWAT Team Medical training in order to create a character for one of her earlier contemporary novels, along with passing an FBI firing range course in order to learn about all the weapons one of her characters would utilize as an Agent—turns out she was actually won the highest scores in marksman ship among those in her course! It was great to learn her theories on characters and about the choices she made in her current historical series, which includes Never a Gentleman. I had a lot of trouble with that book when I first read it, but hearing Eileen discuss her characters, and how deeply she cared about matching them with someone who would ‘better’ them (even if they weren’t strictly “good” or “honorable” in the conventional sense of the word) that I know I need to read it again with new eyes. She also took part with us in a ‘getting to know you’ event with the authors. It turns out that Mary Wine, along with being an exceptionally talented writer and costume-maker extraordinaire, also holds a second degree black belt, and Delilah Marvelle’s first language is actually Polish.
I have to confess that I wasn’t able to stay awake for the evening events (being awake for 22 hours will do that to you!), but from those I spoke to later, the Wild West Event was a colossal amount of fun, and the After Hours event…well, let’s just say it was the kind of night that will live in legends for some time to come…
My first session on Saturday was the Paranormal Panel, where, among numerous talented authors, we heard from Darynda Jones, whose next book, Second Grave on the Left was just released and promises to be even better than her debut, Jeanne Stein, and Erin Quinn. I also had my first authentic Fan Girl Moment when I saw that Lynda Hilburn was also in attendance. Her book, The Vampire Shrink, was the first romance that I ever read, and has remained one of my favorites to this day. So imagine my joy when I heard it was updated and is being re-released in September! I did a little happy dance at my table, and actually got a chance later to discuss the book (in its previous incarnation) with Lynda in person after the panel. I’ve already pre-ordered the book as a birthday present to myself, as it sounds like there’s quite a bit of new wonderfulness in store.
Next came one of the highlights of the weekend for me. I met up with a group of fellow historic romance fanatics for the Historic Author’s Victorian Fashion Host, hosted by the charming Deeanne Gist. Our historic romance authors doubled as costume specialists and models for the event, showcasing garments ranging from about 1805 to 1910, and everything from dinner wear to travel wear, from ice skating frocks to bathing costumes. We were also graced with the presence of several costume experts who discussed the myriad layers of clothes that women typically wore in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, as well as a scandalously handsome (and quite debonair) escort to make sure each author made her appropriately grand entrance. All in all, it was an event to be savored from beginning to end.
A historic mixer followed after lunch where I got to meet some more great readers and speak to a number of fantastic authors, some of whom I’d been reading for years, and some who I was fortunate enough to discover over the course of the weekend. It was great to realize that the authors at Rom Con were enjoying meeting their colleagues and discussing the romance genre with us as much we were to meet and chat with them.
I sat in on an Intimate Chat session with Shannon K. Butcher, who mentioned that she got her start as an author writing after reading so many of her husband’s drafts (her husband being the marvelous Jim Butcher) that she felt she knew the industry inside out before beginning her first book. Shannon has a wicked sense of humor in person, but it was fascinating to see how devoted to her characters she is, and what thoughtful planning goes in to each of her books. They read so easily that it appears to be an effortless performance! I also got a chance to meet with Jory Strong, whose Ghostlands series I had only just discovered at my local library. I’ll be honest and say I scooped them up because they had some of the most stunning covers I’d seen in ages, but was astonished to find a whole new, dark, stunning and erotic world between those covers that had me spellbound. It was a real surprise to know the lush and intense the world of the Ghostlands, and then to meet Jory, who is genuine, sweet, unassuming, especially considering her formidably powerful imagination, and loves to talk about her horse farm as much as she does her books. She’s just a natural-born storyteller and I think she has as much fun creating complex worlds for her characters as her readers do experiencing them.
I admit it. My next event was titled ‘Strip A Hero’, featuring the wonderful, and really quite excessively handsome cover model Brooks Johnson, who was kind enough to assist several authors in acting out some scenes they had penned for the event. Mostly send-ups of various genres of romance, Jade Lee, Jennifer Ashley and others narrated while our favorite cover model…anyway. I’m going to leave this one to your imagination, but I heard from a few authors later that some parts of this event made it to YouTube that evening. And I’m willing to bet the visual will trump anything I could pen here…
The Paranormal Tea was a hoot, as we learned even more fun facts about our author panel, and took away some incredible new books! The authors at this event have created worlds full of vampires, shape-shifters, mythological gods and Fae princes, and to have them all in one room, sharing ideas and future projects was a dream come true. There were also crème brulee cupcakes, which I think need to be mentioned here, as well, since they were the stuff of which dreams are made.
Avon Publishing was good enough to host a pre-dinner cocktail hour, with champagne and chocolate mousse (another dessert worthy of poetry), and hosted by none other than Liz Carlyle and Loretta Chase. I shook hands with both of these charming ladies and took my seat beside a young lady who had been at several other historic romance events over the course of the weekend. Those of us at our table started some ‘literary getting-to-know-you” questions, which in such a great group often leads to some fascinating new books.
“Favorite hero of all time?” Asked the bookseller from Arizona.
“Rochester!” Said the young lady beside me and I at the exact same time. We looked at each other and smiled at the preponderance of good taste.
“Favorite recent historic hero?”
There was a longer pause…
“Sebastian Ballister, Lord of Scoundrels.” Not quite as emphatic, but again in chorus. And right as Loretta Chase herself (the creator of Sebastian) sat down at our table. She said, and both of us had to mention one thing:
“The Glove Scene.” My companion said.
“Best scene. Ever.” I said.
And that was that. We were Book Twins and spent the rest of the night comparing our favorite reads, favorite characters, favorite authors…And that right there is the beauty of Rom Con. Bringing together long-lost book twins and avid (perhaps obsessive) readers with the authors who are just as passionate about the genre and the experience of reading. There weren’t the confines of the ‘Meet and Greet’ with strict time limits, or the barrier of a signing table. This was the ability to chat and debate and recommend and share. And I enjoyed every minute.
Dinner that night was a paranormal theme, with a terrific talk given by Jacquelyn Frank, and complete with fortune tellers, aura photographers and palm readers. My Book Twin and I kept up a running conversation about books for the whole of the event, and between the free books we received and all her terrific recommendations, I don’t think I’ll be lacking for something to read for years.
The night was rounded out with a Reviewer’s Reception with a terrific group of authors and fellow readers. It was great to put faces to the blogs and review sites I’ve used for recommendations in the past, and to hear about some new sites I can check out for more. As if the offer of ARCs for review isn’t enough to make my heart go all a-flutter, the surprise of a whole new collection of books to take home (and review, of course!), meant a terrific end to a phenomenal day.
It with great regret that I had to leave early Sunday morning in order to get home for work on Monday, so my time at the Pajama Party was lamentably brief. It was a great send-off, though, and while I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by how expertly our authors and readers could craft a good ghost story, they were cooking up some spine-tinglers as the night wore on! From what I’ve heard, the closing events were an absolute blast. Which is completely to be expected with such a great group as we had. I had a phenomenal time, met some great people, had crème brulee cupcakes, got winked at by a romance cover model (sigh) and came home with 30 new books in my backpack—who could ask for anything more?
Note to self, though: next year, bring a bigger suitcase….