I sat down at the bar this evening and wrote the following: a somewhat poetic word summary of my first six hours at Romantic Times:
mantitty is everywhere
chocolate gauntlet of author giveaways
bookmarks attached to chocolate (nom nom nom)
also, hooray bar!
1500 people?! Are you fucking kidding me?
SQUEEEEEEE in the elevator as long lost friends unite
4 days of par-TAY
i can has more mantitty? YES I CAN.
I’ll be honest: when I arrived I queried anyone who was sitting down (pity my captive audience) my most befuddled question: What the FUCK is going on here? There are readers, avid, dare I say rabid, romance fans, running around in costumes and formal dresses, paying to pose for pictures with the Ellora’s Cave models, squeeing left and right and getting their groove on like nothing else. What IS this place?
You’d understand my confusion. Never in my life have I read a more confusing conference schedule, and I’ve been to popular culture conferences, composition conferences, fiction conferences.. you get the picture. Judging solely by the 2008 agenda, I can’t tell if this is a conference meant for writers, fans, readers, aspiring authors, or what. There’s sessions on how not to piss off your editor, and sessions all about this author or that author and I couldn’t tell you what the purpose of this gathering is just by looking at the schedule. Not to mention, the technicolor madness of the actual schedule is impossible to read unless one has ingested many, many tiny squares of funny paper.
Someone finally explained it to me: you know the sci fi conventions for sci fi fans, and the fantasy conferences for fantasy fans? This, it seems, is the romance equivalent. There’s costumes, parties, more parties, and sessions on all different things – and I suspect there’s a strong element of the “all romance fans are aspiring romance authors” attitude inherent in the selection of the sessions – but in essence, this is a four-day party all about romance. Romance fans get to meet up with other romance fans that they might only see once a year at RT. (Let me tell you – there was some squeeing in the elevator every time I was on it and long lost friends hugged it out at alternate floors.)
In prior years, I’m told, it was a party to celebrate romance, and now there’s a writer’s track, a reader’s track, booksellers track – and the layout of the program is like a migraine on paper. But bottom line: it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. If I were a more party-oriented person, I’d be way into it. I might have even brought a formal gown – as it was, I was hideously underdressed for the Ellora’s Cave party this evening.
EC, while I’m discussing it, is a major player at this here partay. The EC men, and I believe there are 10 of them but I didn’t count, are everywhere. When I arrived, they were holding court to a line of countless people waiting to have them sign the EC calendar. Later, there was another line of women in formal gowns waiting to pay $10 to have their picture taken with them.
Between you and me? I felt kind of sorry for them. They were oozing charm (emphasis on ooze) but it was very much an act that was eagerly consumed by many of the women waiting in line for them. But every picture? Flex the muscles. Every spare moment greeting fans? Flex the muscles. These are not men who are given a second to relax and let the gut hang out. Every moment was flexed. I’d be exhausted – I’m tired just thinking about it.
The EC party (pictures coming as soon as I get them off the camera and see if they’re any good) was a whole other story. First the EC authors were escorted one by one across the stage to much cheering, each author led by one of the EC gentlemen, as usual without shirts on. Man, it is a tit nipply around here, if you catch my meaning.
Then, there was a show. Or a skit. Or something. Picture a throbbing sound system playing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” while the individual Ellora men lip-synched a verse. No, really. Picture that in your mind. Now add 1000 lbs. of OMGWTFBBQ and you will have an approximation of the expression on my face. Beefcake with added patriotism! Cover models who were proud to be an Americans! I was not aware there was a Yay USA Track here but apparently so.
So first there was a guy in a construction vest, then a dude in dress whites who pulled off the military posture marvelously well… and then another gentleman in dress blues that were at least three sizes too big for him. Major demerits. And each time a new costumed man appears on stage, they lip sync another verse of the song, and salute, and pose, and more flexing, and the crowd goes wild. Seriously – I was absolutely sure I’d stumbled into a strange universe where there was not a single soul who could taste the absurd floating on the air. It was one of those moments that I suspect I’ll have more of: this is clearly for fans of romance, but I am not among the group who “gets it.”
Then I found a conference attendee in actual dress blues – an actual member of the military. Being the shameless nosy woman I am, I asked him a few questions, and he was kind enough to answer all my nebby questions.
Staff Sergeant W., who is in active duty and on leave presently from the 101st out of Ft. Campbell, currently stationed outside of Baghdad, is here with his wife Annie Marshall who writes for Dark Castle. SSG W. is home in the US for a little over a week or so, celebrating his daughter’s birthday, enjoying some leave time, and… attending Romantic Times. Now that is a hero right there: vacation from service in Iraq, and he’s drinking watered down mimosas at the EC party watching cover models pretend to be military personnel.
So I asked SSG W. what he thought about the men on stage saluting and posing as Navy and Army service men. He was the one who pointed out the exceptionally oversized dress blues, and he was rather irritated that they folded the American flag completely wrong – but then he said, “They don’t come to Iraq and tell me how to do my job, so I’m not going to tell them how to do theirs.”
He definitely didn’t know it, but he adjusted my attitude right quickly: this may not be how I choose to be a fan of romance, but this conference sure makes a huge number of people really, really, REALLY happy.
While I am definitely not the target audience for the models and the Mr. Romance (one of whom campaigned HARD for my vote until I had to tell him I couldn’t stay for the pageant) and the costumes and the formal gowns (I didn’t pack one – lame of me!), there are 1500+ people here who are still downstairs having a ball dancing at the EC party, and that party will go on until after midnight. It’s like a bar mitzvah only everyone is older than me instead of younger. It’s a hedonistic celebration of romance, and I don’t honestly understand a lot of it, though I can tell there are some people here who look forward to this all year.
Meeting SSG W., for me personally, was much more inspiring than any of the men on stage pretending to be military or lip synching to God Bless the USA, and the ten minutes I spent talking (ok shouting over the music) made the rest of the EC party totally worth it. That and watching this one woman’s endowments slip their surly bonds while she jump-danced to “Come On Eileen.”