Last weekend Rob, Toni and I were all at the Romance Writers of America National Conference in San Francisco.
Now wait, you’re saying to yourself. This is a MYSTERY blog, right? And you three are thriller writers, aren’t you? So what were you doing at a romance conference?
(Rob of course has an easy answer – it was 3000 women to maybe 20 men.)
People continue to look at me askance when I say that I attend the romance conferences and am a member of RWA, and that’s fair enough. I read Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, Ira Levin and Ray Bradbury while I was growing up and even though I did pick up some gothic romances because of intriguingly spooky covers, I never had the slightest interest in the Harlequins with their “clinch” covers.
But I read everything Anne Rice ever wrote for years. “That’s not romance,” you cry. Oh, really? I submit to you that that’s exactly what Anne Rice wrote. Romance is a huge umbrella for many subgenres, and RWA knows that that includes thrillers and mysteries and supernatural – and authors like Allison Brennan and Lisa Gardner and our own Tess Gerritsen. It’s the rest of us that seem a little slow on the uptake, here.
This was my biggest clue that I needed to investigate the romance community and business: Our publishers go to the romance conferences in droves. I have never seen such a presence of editors, publishers and agents at any other genre conference. And they put much more money into the events and giveaways and promotions – it’s very clear that THEY think RWA is important.
And it’s not so scary. Really.
Here’s a quick summary of my time.
Arrived Wednesday afternoon, not having completely realized that the conference STARTED on Wednesday, so raced straight from Oakland airport to the SF Marriott, arrive just in time for librarian/bookseller mingler (for my money, that in itself was worth the whole conference). My case of THE HARROWING disappeared in five minutes, and the rest of the time was spent chatting, fueled by copious amounts of iced tea and lemonade.
The mingler was followed by the mass Literacy Autographing – there must have been 400 authors there in that ballroom, lined up at tables in alphabetical order. Other cons could take a cue from this arrangement – it is a LOT easier to plan to come to just one or two huge signings where you know you can easily and quickly find your favorite authors and browse all the others at leisure. Plus a mass autographing can be advertised to the public – and believe me, readers come – the line to get in to the hall snaked down one whole floor of the hotel, up a staircase, and down another floor.
I was surprised at how many people I knew there – this was my first RWA but I did know a lot of people from Romantic Times, Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans, and even my Raleigh RWA chapter (now that was a trip, to see Raleigh friends in San Francisco).
It was a staggering program, really. There were sessions with the buyers of Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books a Million, there were spotlights on all the publishing houses, all of whom had 4 to 6 editors in attendance, talking about the specific needs and policies of their houses as well as their personal taste in books, genres, queries and pitches; there was a half-day screenwriting workshop with Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat!, there were pitch prep sessions and agent/editor appointments all week long. The only thing missing was, well, men – which meant RGB and Matthew Shear were at a premium.
I went to a lot of the publisher spotlights, which I found fascinating, and got a lot out of Lisa Gardner’s rewriting workshop (she broke down how she took two years to turn THE PERFECT HUSBAND into a breakout, mainstream thriller when the book she’d initially written was a Harlequin… um… Silhouette? One of those lines).
Friday was party day – starting at 4 pm at the authentic SF speakeasy, Bourbon and Branch, for thriller author Kelli Stanley’s launch party (not part of the RWA program but a happy coincidence). What a fabulous venue and fabulous party, in the secret library (revolving bookcase and all), with its stunning tin ceilings, antique bars, Deco glass chandeliers that looked like enormous sea anemones (you wouldn’t want one of those things falling on you, let me tell you…). Suddenly I was surrounded by mystery writers our Simon Wood, RGB, Michelle Gagnon… Kelli was her noirish self and it was great to see Diane Kudisch of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore and Janet Rudolph of the Mystery Readers’ Journal… Janet was skeptical when I kept telling her she HAD to come to the RWA parties but she was a total convert by the end of the evening.
Because RWA knows how to party, and publishers spend the big bucks to entertain there. The St. Martin’s party was at a very stylish Asian Fusion restaurant called the E & O. Mouthwatering appetizers and St. Martinis… way too good, but I knew the minute I hit the Harlequin party I’d be dancing all that alcohol out, and so I did. The HQ party was at the Four Seasons and it was fun walking into the ballroom with Rob and seeing his chin hit the floor – you really don’t get it until you see it, how all out Harlequin goes. And what I really love about the HQ parties is that they don’t even pretend it’s about anything else but the dancing. They’d brought up a DJ from LA who just GOT it – he happily spun his way through the classic dance songs – Raining Men, Play that Funky Music White Boy, Lady Marmelade, Brick House, Dancin’ Queen, and hundreds of women never left the floor for the entire evening.
Saturday was another signing with St. Martin’s (the publishers all donate cases of books to give away to readers…. think about it) and my paranormal panel with Heather Graham, and then Nora Roberts’ pre-RITA award cocktail party. Heather and I managed to sneak out and get into the Frieda Kahlo exhibit at SF MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art, which was also worth the whole trip right there… they always publish the pretty paintings in those coffee table books, and Frieda is not about pretty. It was a knockout exhibit.
I had a great time seeing my brother, who lives in SF – one day for lunch on the pier, and again on Sunday (foggy and chilly) for a field trip to the Chihuly glass exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park – psychedelic, translucent pieces that made me feel I was underwater half the time and in Wonderland the other half. Then caught up with my friend Siegrid from Berkeley and ended the night in a biker bar, because SF is about nothing if not about contrasts.
All in all a wildly productive and wildly wild time.
Try it some time – you may find you like it.
So the question of the day is – what’s your opinion/impression about romance novels? Do you read them? Wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole? Have you taken any notice of how romance-driven the publishing industry really is?