This year's Romantic Times convention was, I thought, pretty spiffy. The crowd was larger and the hotel wasn't as ideal as some previous years, but the location in New Orleans made it extra special and the people who attend are always some of the very best. The lobby was LOUD, and if there was a line for something, people got in it and met new people (I did, anyway).
One thing I find interesting is that the more conventions I attend, the more I realize how much of a difference the facility can make in terms of how the crowds move and how the attendees see the group as a whole. For example, last year's RT hotel in Kansas City had an open lobby with the convention areas on the first and second levels, both of which opened onto the atrium where the lobby was located. This meant that you could see what was going on – a bit of it anyway – upstairs, even if you were on a couch in the lobby. The New Orleans hotel had no atrium, so you couldn't see what was going on on the 4th, 3rd, or 2nd floors, which were all visually separate from the lobby. Obviously every hotel is different, but it's curious how something like lobby layout can make a large group event seem different year to year.
The best part of this conference, though, was the location: New Orleans is a pretty unique place, and since the Marriott was at the edge of the French Quarter, if one wanted fresh air (as opposed to hotel air), a walk was going to show your eyeballs some incredibly beautiful things. Ready for pictures?
Here are some pictures of the French Quarter:
Many art galleries in the French Quarter have cats, specifically cats that sit in the window and give exactly zero shits about all the people passing by. Morpheus lives at the vet clinic, and also sits in the window and gives no shits.
There were boutiques with mardi-gras jewelry for sale, and dresses both new and vintage in shops that were unique to that area. The best is the hat store, Fleur de Paris, which sells one of a kind hats and couture, but forbids picture taking inside. Never have you ached to take a picture as when you're inside that store. You can see some of the hats on their website – incredible, one of a kind (and expensive).
The French Quarter is eye candy, even if you're not shopping. The wrought iron balconies and all the topiaries and plants make each one different, and the way they look sometimes makes me feel like I'm in another time period.
Your corset and costume needs will be met in the French Quarter on Royal Street. Also, I'm not sure how this shop keeper knew, but the leather steampunk-style corset and matching shoes were attracting a LOT of attention from the RT crowd. Apologies for the blurry window – New Orleans is also among the most humid places ever.
Unsurprisingly, if you need leather voodoo dolls, there are some of those, too. A higher shelf had some naked human ones, including a dude with a floppy felt peen, but they were so high in the window I couldn't get a photo without reflecting the sky in the glass and thus obscuring the fine felt parts.
So that's the outside of the conference, the surrounding area if you will. Ready for conference pics?
The hotel keycards celebrated 40 years of Kensington Publishing with a full set of abdominal muscles. Like you do.
And each elevator had a poster inside, so I regularly rode in the Lauren Dane elevator, the Jaci Burton elevator, and the Entangled abdominal scratch elevator. As I wrote about last year, the large scale signage makes the lobby into an event-specific space, and this year at RT was no different. There were posters everywhere, some so striking people would stop to look at them and take pictures.
Here are some pictures of the events I was in, or at, or both:
My favorite shoes of the conference: Marie Sexton's completely fantastic heels.
Last year at RT, my inner 13 year old was flipping our at being in a room with Jude Deveraux and Julie Garwood. This year, I attempted to rein in my inner 13 year old while doing the Q&A with Lisa Kleypas, which was, despite my nervousness, VERY fun. Definitely one of the highlights of RT 2014. Lisa answered questions about her older books, how she crafts heroes and why intimacy that's difficult for the characters makes for a more effective story. She also talked about her upcoming series with Avon, which will be historical, and about her upcoming contemporary from St. Martin's, Brown Eyed Girl. I proposed her historical series be about a Regency biker gang, which you would TOTALLY buy, right? I would. Anyway, according to Lisa, bicycles were called velocipedes, which is perfect because Viscount Velocipedes would be the BEST SERIES NAME IN THE HISTORY OF EVER.
Someone at Avon is rolling their eyes right now.
Readers stayed afterward to meet Lisa, including one who brought vintage Kleypas novels for Lisa to sign. That guy on the cover on the left kinda looks like Bob Costas.
Two years ago at the RT in Columbus (or was it three? I have a terrible concept of time), I called bingo for Bad Boy Bingo, hosted by a group of authors. Bingo is self explanatory, but if you won a round, you'd have to read a specific scene (ahem) from one of the author's books before you claimed your prize. This year, we did it again, with more prizes, scenes to read, and general candy-fueled mayhem.
I've said before that the best sessions for me at RT are the games. Not only is RT already a pretty large equalizer in terms of allowing authors and readers to hang out together in the bar like friends, but the games increase that leveling, so that everyone at the table, regardless of whether they're an author or a blogger or a reader or an employee of a publisher or romance-related organization, can play together.
This year, Shane, one of the RT cover model pageant (aka The Mangeant) contestants from years past, arrived mid-way through the game and started reading the scenes. You can see him reading above, reading from HelenKay Dimon's Mercy.
The really interesting thing about reading the sex scenes is how different they are, but also how curious they can make you to find out more about the book. Several times after each round of bingo, readers would ask “WHAT BOOK WAS THAT?”
Then there was the Pub Crawl:
Alas, my pictures from the pub crawl were mostly blurry or just crowded with people and didn't make much sense (except for the sign that says “HUGE ASS BEERS” which had nothing to do with the pub crawl except that it was on Bourbon Street).
The good parts of the pub crawl: the mother-daughter team above, dressed as a devil and an angel. The angel was very proud to show me that she had some very comfy white sneakers on under her dress. That right there is one of my favorite images from RT this year. The mother-daughter teams, the groups of friends and family who come to RT – it's so, so cool to see so many people traveling together to hang out on a vacation all about books. I love that. Book vacation for all!
The pub crawl was a sort-of-good, sort-of-not-great activity. For starters, it was very quick. I was calling it a “pub sprint,” because the goal was to go from pub to pub in a very limited amount of time – about 90 minutes once you got going from the hotel. Participants would get beads from each stop, some of which were hosted by groups of authors and some of which were hosted by publishers, like Penguins, whose beads are pictured above, and bring those back to the hotel to claim a prize (I didn't go back to claim it but I heard it was a shotglass – did you get one?). While the point was to make sure people returned to the hotel for the publisher-sponsored party that followed the pub crawl, and I totally understand that, the limited time meant that few people spent a lot of time in one spot to meet or talk to any of the hosts – and the bars made it really hard for me to do that because the music was so loud I couldn't talk to anyone (I know, loud music is part of the scene, but oh, my voice hurts when I strain it!).
Plus, the varied bars had different experiences for the people doing the pub sprint. Penguin's spot, The Beach, was really terrific, and there were a ton of authors there, plus staff wearing Penguin t-shirts handing out drink tickets – for a drink that was served in a Penguin hurricane cup. There was another spot, which was from Atria, that was… not so awesome. This was totally not in control of the publisher and authors present, but when we walked in, there was a guy in a barber chair in the front of the bar. His friends punched him in the crotch, then poured beer on him, after which a waitress hopped onto his lap, poured some kind of alcohol in his mouth, then lifted his head and motorboated him against her breasts. I don't think the people involved had anyhting to do with the publisher at that bar; I think that was just part of what that bar does normally. It was just very… strange.
The thing I thought was very cool about the pub crawl was that it got the conference attendees who wanted to do the activity out of the hotel and onto Bourbon Street which, if you haven't been to New Orleans before, can be a bit intimidating. There's no requirement that you get drunk or visit any of the bars on Bourbon, but if you've never been, seeing everything on Bourban can be a little…scary, I think. The pub sprint provided a frame for people to see Bourbon Street, but to also have a time limit to do a set of specific things (collect beads, no flashing necessary) and get back to the hotel. Activity: all good!
Short time period: not so good, as it created a lot of crowds packing into small bars (some of which were serving food to people who were wondering why all these romance fans were arriving in waves) that would grab beads and move on – not optimal for those who'd paid for a spot on the pub crawl to meet readers and promote their books.
My own reaction aside, I think the pub sprint was a great idea. I wish that people had more time, and that the spaces were a bit larger to accommodate the crowd of people who were bead hunting, but it was a really unique opportunity to use the locations outside the hotel that were as famous as the city itself.
This entry is already so long, I'm going to post the pictures from the RT book signing and my annual Overheard at RT round up in a separate entry. BUT! Before move on – I have a giveaway! My RT bag!
Each year attendees get books in a conference bag, along with bookmarks, swag, gifts and little promotional pieces, and I brought mine home so one of you could win it!
Standard disclaimers apply: I'm not being compensated for this giveaway. Void where prohibited. Open to international residents where permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18 and in the viscinity of some beads to win. Winners must when possible generally allow the good times to roll, or at least rock on a bit. I'll select the winners at random on Friday 23 May 2014 at 12pm ET.
You can enter using the Punchtab widget below – please email me if you have any problems with it!
You can enter in the widget to win the bag, which includes a ton of promotional items, plus a handful of paperback books, all pictured below:
Plus, I'm including a CD titled “Rag Band” from a band called Tuba Skinny, whom I heard playing on Royal Street on Friday afternoon.
Here's a brief video (:26) I took of their performance:
You can find other videos of Tuba Skinny on YouTube – they're terrific.
If you didn't get to attend RT 2014 in New Orleans, I hope this gives you a bit of the sights and events, plus the sounds of some French Quarter musicians. Good luck with the giveaway – and stay tuned for images from the book signing, and the annual Overheard at RT collection!