Romantic Times Day 1

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:

more mantitty.
mantitty is everywhere
chocolate gauntlet of author giveaways
bookmarks attached to chocolate (nom nom nom)
hooray bar!
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.”


General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Allllll par for the course.  And it gets nuttier before the week is out.

  2. 2
    Cat Marsters says:

    It sounds…terrifying.

    All I can say is: you don’t get that on this side of the pond.  Although I’d dearly love to see the Mr Romance pageant at the Oxford Literary Festival.

  3. 3
    Joanne says:

    *sigh Staff Sergeant W—-
    Congratulations on finding a real Hero for us romance lovers.
    Oh, and for the update from the conference!

  4. 4

    Thanks for the report. See…I always thought I’d feel a little like that and that has been a big contributor in my decision to hold off on attending RT. I love hanging with romance writers and readers, but I’m not so big on the mantitty. The one time I went to a male strip club when I was eighteen, I spent the entire time hiding behind my drink (um…non alcoholic of course since I didn’t have fake Id, ehem), praying the guy wouldn’t come shake the schlong in my face.

    But like you said, I realize that’s just me. If everyone else is enjoying themselves and having a great time, more power to them. I’m never one to rain on a parade, even one that trips my “I think I just took some crazy pills” switch.

    Anna J. Evans

  5. 5

    I was going to say, it sounds like the cons I go to, where gamers rub elbows with furries, and cranky Urban Fantasy pioneers sit on panels with Eager Young Authors, and stormtroopers pose for pictures with Galadriel.

    I may have to give RT a try, when I actually get a print novel out. Or is this another GLBTQ Authors NOT Welcome type of romance convention?

    Have a blast.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    Oh no. GLBTQ authors are a-plenty here, as are reps from every e-pub you can think of.

  7. 7
    Tina says:

    It sounds like something I’d have a blast at—but then I’ve always wanted to attend some sort of sci-fi con, too.  I know I wouldn’t be dressed appropriately for either, but it sure would be interesting to see!  (Besides, I was in the SCA for years, so how much more out there could it be? :)  )

    Thanks for the report!

  8. 8
    Shannon says:

    And here I was thinking it might be fun to attend RT in the future. Um… I would be like you, walking around with a perpetual WTF look on my face.  Wow.  Thank God for SSC W.  le sigh!

  9. 9
    DS says:

    I always thought it might be fun (in a former anthropology student sort of way) to attend an RT convention.  I think it’s probably better just to read about it.  If Sgt Will’s wife writes for the publisher I think she does (Dark Castle Lords), he is a good sport.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    Speaking of GLBTQ authors, I had lunch with Selah March last night and she and I had a really interesting conversation about the state of the gay romance author, and the disadvantages faced by straight women who write gay romance. More on that once I’ve caffeinated. WHERE IS THE COFFEE?!?! Oooh, THERE it is.

  11. 11
    SandyW says:

    First of all, SSG Will sounds like a really great guy. What a way to spend his time home.

    Second of all, one little thing seriously reduces my desire to participate in the madness that is RT – “God Bless the USA.” I hate that song. Hate it. I have a tendency to get up and walk out whenever it’s played. All because of one line in the chorus, ‘the men who died.’ That’s right, all those women who have served in the military and died for America? They don’t count. Sorry, personal trigger of mine.

    Otherwise, sounds like fun in an over-the-top sort of way. More power to those who like cheerful pandemonium and mantitty.

  12. 12
    Donna Rosenbloom says:

    Sarah, I was chuckling while reading your post.  Then I got to the “It’s like a Bar Mitzvah, only everyone’s older than me.”  LMAO! 

    And I needed a good laugh this morning too.  One child home from school unexpectedly today (says he is sick, but I think he is faking because he didn’t finish all his homework). 

    Thanks!  And LOVE the new website look!!!

  13. 13
    Cat Marsters says:

    Wasn’t it RT last year where there was a massive hoohaa over a GBLT author who’d paid for promotions and had them taken down?  The hotel didn’t like them, or something.

  14. 14
    Donna Rosenbloom says:

    Oh yes, forgot to say:  I’ve never been to an RT convention.  But if John DeSalvo (My Favorite Cover Model) is planning to attend next year – Count me in!

  15. 15
    Rinda says:

    I’ve never been but have been warned that if I do, I need to keep a few feet from the mantitty.  Nice clothes.  Body oil.  Nuff said.

  16. 16
    Silver James says:

    SandyW, remember that when “GBtUSA” was written and recorded (1984), women weren’t really anywhere close to the front lines – as a rule. There was the occasional pilot, nurse, support staffer, etc. who got caught in the cross-fire. Yes, now more women have now made the supreme sacrifice, as have many more men. VA hospitals now have more women patients and the service organizations who serve and support the military are slowly making the adjustments needed. Change in vernacular and mind set doesn’t happen overnight. My husband is a disabled veteran. Friends of my daughter (bright, wonderful young women AND men) are serving with distinction in the war zones and here at home. I still catch myself saying servicemen.

    Pardon my soapbox for a moment. I don’t give a flip if anyone supports the war or not but by everything honorable, I hope they support our troops. I remember troops returning from Viet Nam being spit on and worse. I would hope that we’ve matured as a country since then, but I’m not sure we have.

    Unless Ellora’s Cave books have changed a lot, I do find the juxtaposition of patriotism and blatant eroticism a bit…jarring. Interesting. But that’s what it this all about and what so many people don’t get. Freedom isn’t free – it’s paid for by blood, sweat, and tears. RT gets to happen (along will all the other fandom cons), we get to read (and write) the books we want because we live in a land that’s free.

    *looks sheepish*  *climbs down from box* Uhm…carry on. Sarah, and anyone else at RT – have an absolute blast! And keep us posted! Inquiring minds want all the dirt. :)

    [spaminator word: trade88 – Nope. I wouldn’t trade life here in the USA for 88 anythings.]

  17. 17
    MaryKate says:

    Now that sounds like some quality people watching, Sarah. I’d have found a seat in the lobby and just watched.

    Think of it more like a science experiment. A really hilarious, costumed, interesting science experiment.

  18. 18

    Mantitty-heavy Village People mishandling the American flag while flexing to “God Bless the USA”?

    Gee, I can’t believe I missed that.

  19. 19
    Esri Rose says:

    Wow. Great report. SSG W is clearly a husband and a half. Hell, make it three husbands. He gets my vote for Mr. Sane Romance.

    I’ve never been to RT because I just couldn’t understand what it was for.  You’ve given me a better idea of that. We here at home appreciate your sacrifice.

  20. 20
    Jody W. says:

    I like the idea of dressing up and wearing costumes.  I look much better in costume.  However, the idea of the rampant mantitty and the rampant squeeing over said mantitty…not so much.  It’s a tough balance of things I like and things that would make me flinch.  However, I don’t scoff when someone’s preferences are different than mine and they either love it all or hate it all, as long as they don’t scoff at me :)

  21. 21

    I’ve never been but have been warned that if I do, I need to keep a few feet from the mantitty.  Nice clothes.  Body oil.  Nuff said.

    Haha.  Exactly what I was thinking.

    RT sounds radical!  Will Fabio be there?  Have a great time Sarah!

  22. 22
    Leah says:

    Same here.  Love costumes, but find the idea of middle-aged women (of which I am one) squealing over half-naked men (to whom they are not married—or even dating)  really decadent, and not in the good, chocolate-y way.  But then, I didn’t go put posters of Shaun Cassidy all over my wall, either.  It would be something to see, though!  I do think SSG W deserves many, many “great, supportive husband” medals for spending his time off here, and more for the efforts he is putting in for our country.  Let’s pray that he and all of our military can come home safely very soon.

  23. 23
    Terry O. says:

    Thanks for the update.  People keep telling me to go to RT, but it hasn’t worked out.  I’ve only got so much money, and there’s a conference in Colorado Springs next week, where the draw is family including a new grandbaby.  Wasn’t a hard choice. 

    I do know that last year, the husband of an author friend was on leave from military duty and he surprised her by showing up at RT. 

    I think next year, RT is going to be in my home town, so I might break down and attend.  But, like you, I think I’ll be in a fog and hiding in my room a lot.  I’ve always been the wallflower type.

  24. 24
    Elyssa says:

    Wow.  It sounds like you were Alice in Wonderland, of in this case ManTittyLand.

    I know I would feel out of my element, too but hell, it might be fun after a few drinks, too. 

    Can’t wait for the pics.

  25. 25
    snarkhunter says:

    That sounds kind of…demeaning. For the guys, I mean. I don’t know. Am I being totally humorless here? I just keep thinking about how I’d feel if it were women being paraded like that.

    SSG W. sounds AWESOME. Also, I’m pretty sure he’s serving with my cousin, who is also with the 101st and stationed in Baghdad.

  26. 26
    SandyW says:

    Silver James, I will cheerfully admit it’s not a logical reaction on my part. Pretty much everyone knows that women serve in the military and ‘front lines’ is no longer an accurate expression. I suspect most people, if they think about it at all, think ‘men’ as in ‘mankind.’

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to sidetrack the discussion. And I am really looking forward to Sarah’s photos.

  27. 27
    Rachel says:

    That sounds very, very scary to me. But then, like Anna J. Evans, I do not enjoy the mantitty all up in my face, and the idea of a bunch of women squealing while said beefcakes lipsynch to GBTUSA, a song I hate, hate, hate more than I can ever say (my husband is in The National Guard band, and they tend to close concerts with that song. I’ve heard it more times than any human being ever should)… yeah, that’s the stuff of nightmares for me. I think the idea of cons like this is great, but they’re definitely not for me.

  28. 28
    Jody W. says:

    I assume the guys on parade know what they’re getting into and hopefully don’t feel demeaned when they get squealed at, gushed over and otherwise turned into walking, perhaps talking, oily sex objects *heh*.  If an unsuspecting fellow such as SSG W were to receive the same treatment, he might feel differently.  Maybe there are some dudes who do it once and say, NEVER AGAIN. 

    One of the models contacted me prior to the conference (he’s on the cover of one of my Red Sage anthologies) to see if me or any others in that volume wanted him to sign books with us.  He seemed very enthusiastic about the whole conference, but he was also businesslike and polite.

  29. 29
    snarkhunter says:

    Well, I assume the guys themselves aren’t demeaned by it. I mean, why else would they do it? But I was thinking on the larger scale. Again, if it were women, even if the women themselves didn’t find it demeaning, I would be disturbed by it.

    Or maybe not. I don’t know. Like I said, I think I’m being humorless. Ignore me. :D

  30. 30
    Tina says:

    “God Bless the USA.” I hate that song. Hate it. I have a tendency to get up and walk out whenever it’s played. All because of one line in the chorus, ‘the men who died.’ That’s right, all those women who have served in the military and died for America? They don’t count. Sorry, personal trigger of mine.  -SandyW

    I’m an Air Force veteran, it doesn’t bug me at all.  I was out of the military when the first Gulf War started, but I was still married to my ex and he was still in the Air Force.  We were stationed in Germany and I worked in the NCO Club.  That song felt like a very personal anthem for everyone I knew.  It was also the first conflict that people of our generation were actually involved in.  There were some short-timers that could remember Vietnam, but they were a rare breed.  Granted, the tours weren’t like they are now, but people I knew were being sent to Saudi for 6-9 months in the heat and the sand.  They were away from their families and it was the first time that women were also going in fairly large numbers.  In the midst of all that, there was Greenwood’s song, telling us that what we were doing was right and that we were all heros.  “God Bless the USA”. 

    On Friday and Saturday night, the dj at the NCO Club might play that song as many as 4 times—and no matter how many times it was played, no matter how late it was, no matter how drunk everyone might be, EVERYONE stood when it played and swung their drinks in time and sang, loud and proud.  The closest I’ve ever seen to that phenomenom is when the National Anthem is played before the late show at the movie theater on base—half the audience drunk off their collective asses and still all standing, at perfect Attention, during the entire thing.  So, yes, I know that women have served and some have given their lives for this country in every war we’ve been involved in and that the line that you object to isn’t entirely accurate.  But the sense of the camaraderie and belonging that the song evoked among those of us stationed at Spangdahlem AB at the time trumps the accuracy of one line, at least for me.

    SandyW, remember that when “GBtUSA” was written and recorded (1984), women weren’t really anywhere close to the front lines – as a rule…Change in vernacular and mind set doesn’t happen overnight.  -Silver James

    The civilian vernacular may change, but the military vernacular probably never will.  I was an Airman.  If I’d been Navy, I would have been a Seaman.  The DI (Drill Instructor) said on the very first day, “You are an Airman.  If you last long enough and work hard, you might someday be a Sargeant.  It’s not a gender, it’s a title.  If that bothers you, you are in the wrong place.”  Granted, that was over 20 years ago, but I doubt that the military has changed it’s position on the subject.  :)

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