As I'm sure you already know, there's more to romance and more to Romantic Times than man titty. Much like a romance novel, there's a lot happening on the surface of the conference, and a lot more interesting things going on behind that surface.
For example, CNBC was broadcasting live from RT, and focusing lightly on the business numbers of romance as an industry while showcasing shirtless men, women gathered, sometimes in white boas, generally conveying a rather awkward party atmosphere.
And of course, erotica, and “mommy porn” was brought up.
Of note: one of the most hilarious visual compositions is the news reporter with a giant headless pectoral bouncing along next to the her in the near-background. Floating man titty!
I saw the gathering and took pictures of it and felt oddly let down, disappointed that outsiders were once again only getting the feather boas and man titty. But I also can't say honestly, “That's not RT.” Because part of RT is the parties and mixers, the costumes and the cover models. There's also hanging out at the bar and chatting with readers and authors, having comical and serious conversations in panels about writing and reading, and the craft, currency and comedy of romance: it's all part of RT.
The man titty, gloss, boas and erotic content are, as we know, only a part of the genre. I don't fault CNBC for not showing any of the business elements, such as the well attended self-publishing seminars, or the publisher spotlights and reader discussion panels, because it frankly makes for really boring television. Sessions on PR and marketing would not make for great live shots. And if you're going to grab one image from RT, the shirtless men and feather boas are certainly more interesting visually. And it's not like the cover models aren't here, despite the Mr. Romance pageant being cancelled.
So while that image isn't inaccurate, it's also not the entire thing, either, and publicists from publishing houses who bust their asses to portray romance authors as intelligent women operating businesses based on courtship narrative were probably rolling their eyes mightily as each CNBC segment aired and more boas and nipples went out to represent romance. In the quest to engage in any discussion with someone who isn't familiar with the genre, there's always the perennial and expected questions about pornography, sex, and whether the writer's life echoes the stories of her books (and how does she do her research, wink wink nudge nudge).
Recently PW's Rachel Deahl said to me that she thought romance was the most misunderstood genre even within publishing. I think that's certainly true. It can be a challenge to really describe how diverse the genre is. It's not just one thing. It's not just erotica, and it's not just Amish inspirationals, either. It's part nipples and feather boas, and part extraordinary stories and emotionally wrenching character portrayals, part mysteries and moral dilemmas, and many other parts of many other things.
If you're not familiar with RT and you were watching CNBC, man-titty and boas were the visible image you were seeing, but there's also the un-visually-amazing but quite awesome parts that aren't on tv.
The most well-attended sessions are those that bring authors and readers together, whether it's games and activities or sessions about a favorite genre or series. There are a number of authors who are very curious about and actively researching self publication, and what it means, how it works, and what it does and does not do. Those topics were also covered at RT.
In that respect, RT is a bit like Comic Con for romance fans: there are costumes and fun and games but there are also sessions that are like miniature master classes on genre fiction. One session I attended was about writing sex scenes, featuring four male/male romance authors. I storified my tweets and you can see the power point of their presentation at tinyurl.com/RTssw . The session was funny and sometimes bawdy, but it was also incredibly informative as a discussion about writing and reading intimacy.
The number of tweets and Facebook posts from authors about meeting a reader who loved and bought every single book was awesome. The messages from librarians and authors connecting and mutually squeeing at each other were equally awesome. There were many curious readers eagerly looking for a new book to try, a new author to read.
There is man titty, certainly. And outrageous costumes, and fabulous shoes and silliness. There's also an annual family of romance readers who take almost a week off to travel away from family, children, jobs, parents and responsibilities for a four-day vacation about books and reading. That makes for really boring tv, I presume, but it makes for a really freaking awesome group of people to chat with in the hotel lobby. When I first attended RT, I didn't get it. I didn't understand it. I'm not the costume type, and I don't want to dress up for any themed party or session. But that was, and is, okay.
Everyone interacts with the romance genre differently. There were plenty of readers like me who wanted to meet authors and find new books to read — without putting on a corset. Not that there's anything wrong with someone who does. What I like about RT is that I think there's room for everyone because the common language is the familiarity with romance and a love of reading it.
So, in list form: things you will absolutely do at RT if you attend:
Possibly drink too much.
Certainly stay up too late.
Make a new friend.
Match faces and live conversations to the screen names and online chats you have every day.
Make fifty new friends – to quote someone who came up to me at a panel: “Come to RT so you can find the 500 friends you haven't met yet.”
Laugh so hard you – never mind.
Find yourself having six conversations in two hours without moving from your seat at the bar.
Discover you're two tables over from Charlaine Harris, across the room from Loretta Chase, and possibly at the breakfast buffet with Jeaniene Frost .
Decide to try new books, new authors, and a new genre you've never read before.
Share the elevator with someone like Anne Rice. Twice.
Spend time waiting for the elevator and make new friends every time.
Have a drink with one person that turns into four drinks with a posse of 15 people, all discussing books and authors they love.
Find out you're fluent in a language shared by other romance readers.
Go home with a suitcase full of books and no idea how they all came to be in your possession.
Refuse to part with any of them.
There is a difference between laughing at parts of romance even as you love it, and laughing at it without knowing the first thing about it. I laugh at and love romance every day, and bristle when only a small portion that isn't representative of the whole is held up as the image of the genre, and of course laughed at. But if you saw the CNBC images and were thinking of attending RT, I wanted to make sure you knew what else was going on at the conference.
So, did you attend RT? Do you think you'll go next year to the conference in Kansas City? Does the idea of a romance reader convention intrigue you a bit?