Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reminiscing about ARRC09 - Saturday

Before I get too far into this, I need to make the following comments!

1. I can not read my own writing! I did take notes on a few of the sessions, but not all of them. The big thing though is that some of those notes just look like scrawls! (Note to organisers - perhaps a note pad next time for disorganised people like me!)

2. I have spent years avoiding having my photo taken, so that now it is natural. Unfortunately that is probably not a great thing for events like this. The other thing about photos is that I either (a) need to learn to take better photos or (b) buy a new camera! I think you will be able to click on the image to make them larger and hopefully clearer!

3. I have been a couple of other people blogging about ARRC09 so there may be a couple of times where I direct you to other blogs for better details than I can provide!

The first ever Australian Romance Readers Convention (ARRC) officially began on Friday night, but I didn't attend the opening reception as I thought that I should probably spend that time with my son which kind of happened, but kind of didn't! (Book Thingo has some details about Friday night and general things about the conference) so Saturday morning saw me up and in the city by 7.30am. We won't talk about the fact that I struggle to leave by that time every morning during the week but that I was up and ready to go early for this particular event. Must be the motivation factor!

The room was packed to capacity as the conference proper got under way. The first speaker was Mary Janice Davidson. Once she realised that she was in Australia and not in Alaska, MJD was an awesome speaker to start the conference with. She was hilarious, talking about why being a writer sucks! Among the things she talked about were things like choosing to have the first Betsy book self published and then getting picked up by the New York publishers, about having limited control over things like book tours and covers. She also gave some really hilarious anecdotes about her own fan girl (or should that be stalker/deranged fan) behaviour towards Charlaine Harris, and an insight into a couple of her upcoming books and a future idea or two that sound great!

At this point it is probably right for me to confess that I have only read two of MJD's books, and they were both from the Fred the Mermaid series, and it's fair to say I didn't love them. I do think that perhaps I may give some of her other books a go, because now I have heard her speak, I think I can see how her humour is reflected in her writing!

Following this there was a panel discussion titled "What academics really think about romance fiction". Whilst this was a good discussion it had a very different tone to the opening talk. A few of the topics that were discussed were

  • The idea of romance as emotional pornography
  • The criticism of readers of romance who are predominantly female and the idea that these women should be doing something other than sitting around reading romance
  • The role of media in terms of how they view the male/female relationship
  • Books as a product, especially focusing on the covers, and titles.
The last point generated quite a lot of discussion, particularly around the Mills and Boon/Harlequin titles. It was at this point that the person who started off sitting next to me stood up to talk about titles - turned out it was Stephanie Laurens, talking about the way that there are certain words that sell books and therefore they are the words that marketing departments liked. She gave the example of an upcoming book of hers where the word Bride is in the title but there is no wedding in the book! Cristina Lee, Sales, Marketing and Publishing Director of Harlequin Australia, then reiterated those comments. As much as we may roll our eyes at titles like Ruthless Billionaire, Inexperience Mistress, (I didn't pick this for any particular reason, just needed to find a title to use as an example) the fact is that they tell the reader what they can expect and they sell!

During this discussion there was a slideshow of some romance covers from the 1950s and 1960s and there were some truly astounding covers and titles amongst them! (Click here to see some examples) One of the members of the panel was K S Nikakis. I had picked up one of her books from the library before mainly because she either does live or used to live in my area, but I didn't get around to reading it! Now I own it, although I will confess that I didn't buy it until Sunday afternoon and so it was too late to get it signed.

After morning tea, it was time for the first of the concurrent sessions, and I chose to attend the Paranormal session which was subtitled "The Immortal who loved me - why vampires, shifters and demons are so sexy". The short answer to this was basically because they are hot! The session was moderated by Kate Cuthbert (who runs The Australian Romance Reader website) on the far left and the participating authors were in order in the photo from left to right Keri Arthur, Sara McKenzie (who also writes historicals as Sara Bennett) and Mary Janice Davidson.

This was another highly entertaining session with lots of laughs and some fun snippets. One of the interesting discussions was about following the rules that you create for your world, and what happens if you box yourself into a corner in your world, but also that there is a lot of freedom in that you want to do something that sounds really silly or different then there is nothing to stop you when you are the one creating the world. There was also some discussion about where ideas come from (Keri Arthur mentioned having dreams) and then the authors discussed whether they work on more than one book at a time (MJD) or whether or not they can only be working on one book at a time (Keri Arthur and Sara McKenzie).

It was at this point that I was wondering how the heck is it that I haven't yet read Keri Arthur in particular!

After lunch it was time for another concurrent session, and this time I attended the Historical Romance. Anna Campbell led a discussion featuring (from left to right) Alison Stuart, Stephanie Laurens and Sara Bennett.

There is a really good summary of the discussions from this session over at Book Thingo (about half way down the page) so instead of recovering the same ground, I thought I would mention a couple of things about the three authors! Alison Stuart's books were two that I brought and got signed over the weekend, simply because they sounded so great as she described them in this sessions. Romantic fiction set against the English Civil War - not a period of time that you often hear about. One of her books won an Eppie award as well (for books that are e-published), so I am really looking forward to a good read when I do pick them up eventually.

I do feel like I am letting myself down as a historical romance reader when I admit that I have never actually read any books by Stephanie Laurens. She is definitely passionate about this as a genre and had very strong opinions on many of the topics. One of the more interesting points she made was about the term "bodice-ripper" being used to describe the whole sub-genre. She pointed out that technically these types of books were published only for a very short period of time back in the late seventies and early eighties, but that the reputation still tarnishes the sub genre even now.

Sara Bennett also writes paranormal romances under the name Sara McKenzie, but it was obvious that these are both pseudonyms because everyone on the panel kept on calling her a different name! I wonder if remembering who they were was an issue for the authors at the conferences who do use pseudonyms!

The final keynote speaker for the day was Stephanie Laurens who spoke about "The books we love to read", specifically genre fiction, whether we are talking about romance, crime, sci fi or any other kind of genre fiction, as opposed to literary fiction or general fiction. The question she asked was do we love to read books for the story, for the language or the subject. In short, genre fiction is all about the story and therefore as a genre reader the main question we need to ask ourselves is "is it a good story" and if the answer is yes, then we are likely to be satisfied, especially seeing as we read for fun, enjoyment, entertainment and because it makes us feel good. Genre fiction provides escape, enables us to use our imaginations and provides affirmation of many of the important elements in life thus empowering ourselves. Of all the keynote speakers, Laurens was the most intellectual in terms of content.

Laurens then officially launched Tempt the Devil by Anna Campbell, and Anna explained where the term regency noir came from (courtesy of Stephanie Laurens).

There is still loads to tell, but it will have to wait until tomorrow night as I am still trying to recover from the weekend! Need to get some more sleep.


  1. Thanks for a great recap of the event. Sounds like you had a great time.

  2. Laurens spoke at the librarian event at RWA last year and I developed a bit of a girl crush. I picked up Devil's Bride, and naturally haven't gotten around to it yet.

    Sounds like you had a wonderful time!

  3. About starting Stephanie Laurens: DO NOT start with The Promise In A Kiss. This was the first Laurens book I read, and I haven't been able to read the Cynster series since. I know you like to read series books in order, but trust me when I tell you that you should NOT start with this one. (If it makes a difference, I believe she wrote this last even if it takes place before the others.)

    Though I suppose if you're not fussed about the HEA, then you may not have the same problem I (and a gazillion other readers) had.

    Now you probably want to read it. LOL

  4. I was really interested to hear about Alison Stuarts book because the English Civil War is a favourite period of mine. Not enough is written about it although it was a time of great social, religious and political upheaval. Plus Charles II believed in having fun, fun, fun.

    I see you're doing the Stephanie Meyer challenge. As I'm in the UK and not a teen reader, I've not really come across her. Coincidentally, just this morning, I heard her in a podcast interview and she was absolutely wonderful. I'm ordering her books right away.

    If you'd like to catch it, search itunes for Nancy Pearl, Booklust podcast from last year. I downloaded ages ago so I hope its still around.

    Great post

    Laura Essendine
    The Accidental Guru Blog

  5. Thanks for posting about this - really enjoyed reading your recap!