I went out and spoke with some RT staffers, and some folks who were present at the session, and really, what actually happened is not that interesting or dramatic, except for the fact that James is, in fact, at RT. According to the kind sources I spoke to, who asked that I not identify them, it seems that Ms. James is here, and the RT staff had no idea it was her – she registered for RT under a different name. After she stood up and identified herself, she went to RT's staff desk and asked for a new badge. She's is now registered officially as EL James.
I asked whether James was going to be signing at the book fair, and as of right now, the answer is no. RT is hoping she'll participate, but currently, James is not part of any official panels or signings at RT and is attending as an audience member. She's turned down requests for interviews, and is here to be with Abbi Glines, with whom she's very friendly:
— Abbi Glines (@AbbiGlines) May 2, 2013
James identified herself as the YA panel was discussing 50 Shades of Grey, self publishing and New Adult, and the correlations between them. James stood to identify herself, and corrected the suggestion that it was self published. Any reports of flouncing, pearl clutching, table throwing, ninja turtles, archery tournaments, Gallagher-esque watermelon smashing, fist fights, and wild west showdowns are false. She didn't tell people to stop talking about her book, from what my sources tell me***. She identified herself and corrected an inaccuracy.
***ETA 9:15 pm CDT:
Tonight at dinner I learned from my tablemates some important things:
1. EL James did, according to the folks I was sitting with, ask people to stop talking about her book.
2. All people present in the discussion who were in the room at the panel absolutely agreed on one thing: she mumbles.
So there's a big disparity in the information, and, as Jami Gold said in the comments, some report that she did tell people to stop talking about her book.
(In other news, we're getting 3-5″ of snow tonight, and it was 80F on Monday. That is the most baffling thing of all.)
The reaction, however, has been dramatic. I am sort of fascinated by the descriptions and reports on Twitter, and the variations of that reaction. Some are like, “Whoa, cool” or “holy shit,” and others are rancorous. I overheard one person saying, “I wish she'd leave. She's done enough damage.”
I can understand that feeling. She's the author who brought everyone's — and I mean pretty much everyone on the planet's — attention to BDSM in romance. But celebrating BDSM romance and its community of readers has been part of RT for years now. This was one of the first conventions to not only acknowledge that BDSM romance is a thing, but to intentionally try to connect BDSM romance writers with their fans.
My source in the RT organization confirmed my recollections that there have been official panels at the RT convention specifically about BDSM romance for the past two years, but that BDSM romance authors have been attending RT for more than a decade. My source recalled a panel at least nine years ago where the topic of the panel was erotic romance, but the specifics of writing BDSM romance accurately were a major part of the conversation.
This isn't news to us as readers, of course – we know BDSM romance and erotic romance have been popular for many, many years. That EL James is here at RT leads to some expressions of bitterness from authors who feel a bit overshadowed and thus grumpy.
That said, this is a huge event for RT as a convention, and they are very excited to have her here. I'm not sure if James' role or presence at the conference will change, but right now, she's here with her friends, declining interviews and hanging out with the rest of us.
Meanwhile, the reactions and jokes on Twitter are as outlandish as the actual incident was benign.
— Blythe Harris (@blythe_harris) May 2, 2013
— Laura Kreitzer (@LauraKreitzer) May 2, 2013
When EL James tells a book convention panel to stop talking about her book, I fear that Alanis' head will explode from too much irony. #rt13
— MHarvey (@mharvey816) May 1, 2013
— Steph and Kat(@Cuddlebuggery) May 1, 2013
— The Book Vixen (@TheBookVixen) May 1, 2013
So EL James showed up at #RT13, donkey-punched a panelist, overturned a potted plant, and then took off from the roof in Charlie Tango?
— Andrew Shaffer (@andrewtshaffer) May 2, 2013
“Imma let you finish, but my book is the greatest book of all time” (paraphrased) EL James, the Kanye West of #rt13
— MyFictionNook (@MyFictionNook) May 2, 2013
It will be interesting to see if her presence here has any lasting effect on the buoyant enthusiasm here, or if the news will fizzle as the rest of the conference proceeds. I've long said that RT is among the most friendly and welcoming of conference communities, and that new attendees are never strangers for more than a few minutes. I hope that James experiences some of that friendliness and welcome while she's here.