I should be doing about a million things on my to-do list, but I just had to write a quick blog to set down some of the incredible things that have happened over the past week. Last Wednesday I flew out to Kansas City for the 30th Annual Romantic Times annual convention. It has a reputation for being (as Eloise would say) rawther wild. What an adventure!
First off, I ended up finding a roommate through some mutual friends on Twitter. I know this sounds like some sort of weird online dating (we did share a bed one night), but I am starting to deeply believe that you can get a very good read on someone in 140 well-chosen characters. In any case, my roommate Sasha is a romance reader and blogger (http://caribbeanaccentbookreviews.com) who had never been to a romance conference before. She was not only there to solidify her contacts for work, but she was meeting tons of her favorite authors for the first time. She was wildly enthusiastic.
This turned out to be such a boon. After three years (I know! Can you believe it? I started writing A Royal Pain on June 1, 2010), it’s easy to begin to feel a bit jaded. It’s hard not compare where I am to where other writers are. So much has happened in the past three years: the publishing industry is barely recognizable; everyone is doing something different; there is no longer one right way. Everything is possible! This can be exhilarating or terrifying, depending on my mood.
Initially, RT was a business convention for me. I had meetings with my editor and spent time with my publicist and lots of other publishers and editors and agents who were also there. I felt like I had to be “on” or that I had to “project my brand” all the time. (I have no idea what that really means, so I put a martini glass clip art on a neon pink business card and hoped that conveyed sparkle and wit.)
Anyway, the thing about rooming with Sasha was I (mostly) forgot about sales numbers and marketing plans and platforms and remembered how much I adore romance novels. I love to read romance novels. I really never have a bad time when I read romance novels. (Okay, there was that one time that I was really expecting a lot of sex-on-the-page because a book was listed as erotica and I didn’t get any *pun groan* until the final chapter, but even then, I loved the time I spent reading and sending nasty emails to the close friend who’d recommended it and getting her replies, “Just wait! Just wait!”). Anyway, it’s so good to be reminded of this sort of gratitude because it applies to everything.
I’m not happy when I have to fight our version of the Death Star Battle every time I ask my six-year-old son to clean up his Legos (the equivalent of doing a third round of revisions on a 300-page manuscript), but if I can do something else that day to remind myself that the only important thing I really have to do for my son is make sure he knows I love him, then it’s a great day. The RT Convention put me right there in the all-I-have-to-do-is-remember-why-I-love-it space.
Meeting readers, especially the readers who are lovingly referred to as “In The Wild” readers, was such a life-changing experience for me. I have been incredibly grateful for all of the love and support I’ve received from family and friends (seriously grateful!), but there was always that little voice in my head that said, “Well, she just read my book because she knows me…or she knows my aunt…or she knows my mother-in-law…” And I know that’s a stupid self-defeating inner monologue, but, well, there it is. So, when someone—some random stranger, some “In The Wild” reader—comes up to me in person and says, “Hey! I loved your book!” There’s something magical that happens. It’s like the universe is this incredibly connected wonderful place, and people will find what they want to find in it. And connect!
I’ve written before about how my characters tend to be polarizing and how that’s supposed to be a good thing. I think it is. I believe that it is. They’re strong and different and all that. But it still hurts a teensy bit when I read a review that says Bronte is a stupid bitch (@monicakaye’s emphatic Twitter hashtags aside), because it’s painful in a different way. A reader, Landra, came up to me at RT and told me how much she loved my book because she loves to swear and she could totally relate to Bronte’s bitch factor. It made Landra feel better as a person to read a character like herself. Her mother had tried to drill into her that no one was ever going to fall in love with her if she was so tough and had such a potty mouth. Then, she looked me in the eye and held up her engagement ring with the most wonderful glowing smile: “I’m getting married in August and my fiancé loves that I swear and that I’m a bitch!”
Honestly, I don’t care if I ever sell another book (well, of course I do! because I want a house in France, duh!), but in the grand scheme of things, that smile of Landra’s will keep me afloat for years and years. Because that’s what romance novels do. They make us find things within ourselves that are loveable. Even the things that other people try to tell us are unacceptable or that we should try to change. I just finished Colleen Hoover’s Slammed (because a reader at RT looked me in the eye and said, “You have to read this book!”) and there was a line in there that says it all:
“This thing about you that you think is your flaw – it’s the reason I’m falling in love with you.”