Attending conferences, workshops and seminars is a great way to learn about our craft, make great friends and, in the case of the ARRC, meet our readers. As usual, I was in the wrong place, but my good friend and friend of many writers here in Oz, Janine Kimberley, offered to share her insights and experiences. Pics are courtesy of the ARRA Facebook page. Thanks, Janine, hopefully next time I’ll get to join you…
REPORT ON ARRC CONFERENCE – MELBOURNE FEBRUARY 20
I arrived promptly at Rydges Melbourne at 8.15am to find the conference check in area buzzing with lots of people. I checked in and received my personalized lanyard and a program handbook. I was told to check the handbook in case it contained a coveted ‘gold ticket’ which meant I could participate in a private luncheon with my choice of keynote speakers. I wandered away and recognized a lady I had met the day before at the High Tea at Zumbo’s in South Yarra (divine of course). Eventually I opened my program handbook and lo and behold there was a ‘gold ticket’!
Feeling like a participant in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory I returned to the check in desk where the ladies were so excited for me, and I was told to select which keynote speaker I would like to have lunch with.
As I was only attending one day of the conference I chose Kristen Callihan – a US author I had not heard of, but that’s ok. When I returned to my new friend I discovered that she had also won a coveted gold ticket so we would both be attending lunch.
We ventured into the conference centre and sat ourselves down ready for the conference to begin. There were probably about 200 readers alone there and also around 80 authors so the room was buzzing – such enthusiasm abounds! I had a look around and recognised quite a few authors – how exciting!
After the introduction and housekeeping our first keynote speaker was introduced – Courtney Milan from the USA – again not heard of her but she did point out some interesting things in her talk:
- Ruthlessly breaks apart premise that all romance novels are alike and happy endings are not easy.
- Talked about her parents’ HEA – being of a mixed marriage and how mixed marriages were illegal in 23 states in the USA – referring to the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia to give context to her own parents case.
- They have now been together for 55 years – her mother is Chinese – in the best romance novels the happy ending doesn’t feel like the end, it feels like the beginning.
- Romance novel heroes are not unrealistically good, they’re often unrealistically bad. Most of us know guys who put the toilet seat down, help with the kids, treat the women in their life well.
- She listed all the ways her mum is a romance heroine and how at times she lied when needed.
- Romance books lie back – our books celebrate our triumphs – that’s why they’re so dangerous.
- Still much work to do to share that happiness with all cultures – there are still challenges in finding diversity in romance. The sad thing is there are people who are not represented in mainstream romance novels even today.
- She is sick of writing historical romances that are set in Britain. She’s working on something that pulls in the opium wars!
When writing there will always be something people won’t like but you should write what seems right for you.
- She doesn’t want us to read her first book but to read Alyssa Cole’s next book.
A very interesting talk – the audience seemed to love it.
Morning Tea followed – lots of chit chat and a chance to browse the display tables. Booktopia offered me a choice of one of their books – all recent releases – for free!! RWA had a stand as well, and there was an indie author’s display with books to buy.
We were then back in the conference room to watch a screening of the US documentary “Love between the covers” – very enjoyable – explains the whole romance phenomenon in USA and some of the author’s journeys from the beginning – many names I recognised including Nora Roberts who pumps books out like they are going out of fashion – but her philosophy is she is a writer, does not spend time on social media and other distractions. It also mirrored the relationship that authors have with each other here – how supportive they are and what a close-knit community they have. Author signings at bookstores and at the US RWA conference are massive.
A romance novel is sold every 7 seconds – it’s the largest selling genre by far and is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Well worth watching if you get the chance.
Meanwhile in the other room you could choose to have a Speed Dating session with a group of authors – you get 4 minutes with 20 different authors – real fan-girl stuff – I was happy to watch the film! What if I had nothing to say to someone – how embarrassing would that be.
Lunch followed and 8 of us had our private lunch with Kristen Callahan – nice lady – still don’t know anything about her books, but it was an experience.
In the afternoon there were several panel sessions you could choose to attend –
- Tropelicious – Exploring our favourite tropes
- Shining a light – social issues
- Try something different
- Book Boyfriends
- Sports themed romance
- Turning the tables – Publishers asking readers questions
I chose the Shining a light session with Courtney Milan, Emily Madden, Fiona Lowe & Rachael Johns – with Amy Andrews the moderator (complete with a glass of wine on the lectern!!). Very good panel discussion!
I then had an afternoon tea with the lovely Alli Sinclair – who had a lovely goodie bag and told us about her upcoming novel release in July 2017 and the research that she has done – very fortunate to have finally met her.
Then I ventured into the Sports themed romance panel discussion with Amy Andrews, Cate Ellink, Kristen Callihan and Melanie Scott – Women seem to love romance novels about baseball players, football players who get down and dirty – hilarious!!
The massive book – signing session was next – I took along 4 books to get signed and swore I wasn’t going to buy any more – haha – I bought 5 more, including 2 indie authors books that I paid cash direct to them (I love that, you know it’s going straight into their pockets) – one was sitting next to Fiona Lowe – her name was Lena Lowe – no relation to Fiona, but we got chatting and her Nashville romance book sounded interesting. I’m a fan of the TV series so bought book 1 in the series. Some people literally had brought dozens of books with them to be signed!!
So nice to chat to authors who up till now have been Facebook friends – Lisa Ireland, Jennie Jones, Tea Cooper, Cathryn Hein, Catherine Evans (who also writes under a pseudonym – hilarious lady), Victoria Purman, Amy Andrews, Emily Madden and of course my dear friend Rachael Johns – who kindly let me stash my gear in her room – so generous. And these lovely authors say I’m their favourite Librarian!! What an honour! It was too hard to explain that I’m not a librarian – I just ran with it.
The awards dinner was next – I was fortunate to sit on a table with Aussie authors Bronwyn Parry and Kerrie Paterson – again lovely ladies. The awards were like being at the Oscar’s Rachael Johns was the MC for the evening and did a fantastic job. Anne Gracie was the big winner with many statues on her table – Favourite Heroine, Favourite Couple, Favourite Historical Romance, Favourite Continuing Series, Favourite Australian Author – she really scooped the pool.
All in all – I really enjoyed it – the organising committee did a fantastic job – from what I could see there were no hitches. The people I spoke to were very friendly – all likeminded – and the authors just loved chatting to everyone – after all they said without us readers they would not exist – so true when you think of it that way.
It’s a pity that this will be the last conference – lack of volunteers and a drop in attendance plus the enormous amount of work that goes into it has taken its toll.
I for one will be disappointed, but at least I got to go to one in my home town. It was a great way for readers and for writers to connect, network with one another and share their time and experiences.
As an aside – so many people read these paranormal romantic suspense books – I’ve never read one – they just don’t interest me – also the really sexy spicy books seem to be so popular too – just not really my cup of tea. (I must have been living under a rock or something!)
I told you it was turning into a book!!