I’ve been a romance reader since I was in high school, but during my school years, I read alone. I didn’t know anyone else who read romance – a few of my friends might pick up a Nora Roberts book a couple of times a year, but that was all. That all changed in the early 1990′s, when I discovered the fledgling internet, and found reading groups filled with romance readers. How exciting! But I was hoping to meet some of these readers in person – to see the people I’d only talked to online, and talk to people face to face, instead of just by email.
I attended my first romance event when I graduated and moved to New York. The other readers online told me about a huge booksigning in New Jersey. (The annual NJRWA book signing.) I got on the Garden State Parkway and headed for New Jersey. When I walked into the hotel, I couldn’t believe it – there were crowds of people, and all of them were fellow romance readers! There was a huge ballroom with rows of tables, all lined with romance authors.
I timidly approached some of my favorite authors, and had my books signed. That was fun, but I found myself more interested in the other readers – when did they start reading romance? What were their favorite books? Did they have any good recommendations? A group of readers and authors went out to dinner after the signing, and for me, that was the highlight of the day, because I got a chance to talk to everyone. Whether we were talking about books or about our lives, it seemed like we had a lot in common – after all, we all loved reading! Dinner was over far too soon.
Not long after that, I heard about Celebrate Romance, which had held it’s first meeting in Las Vegas the previous year. It was an entire weekend of the things I’d liked best about the dinner after the book signing – a chance to talk to other readers, discuss books, and meet authors. And as a bonus for me, the next meeting was in Philadelphia, only a few hours from home. I couldn’t wait to attend.
The experience was even better than I’d expected. The first day I arrived, I stayed up until midnight, eating Philly cheesesteaks and swapping stories with other romance readers. The next day, I listened to speakers talking about my favorite subject – romance novels – and joined in enthusiastic group discussions about favorite plotlines and tacky covers. And on Sunday, I even got to have breakfast with one of my favorite romance authors – Mary Jo Putney – although I think I was too shy to say much. I exchanged email addresses with dozens of readers and authors, and had so many great chats with people that I’d met online, but finally met in person. By the end of the weekend, I was ready to sign up for next year.
Since then, I’ve attended CR almost every year, and it’s always been a terrific experience. A few years ago, I even got involved in organizing the conference. I had gotten so much out of CR, I had to do everything I could to help keep it going. It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since I attended my first one – and I still have a great time, every year.
This year’s Celebrate Romance conference is being held in Portland, Oregon, from Friday February 27th to Sunday March 1st. The keynote speakers are Cathy Maxwell and Jane Porter, and other attending authors include Elizabeth Boyle and Lisa Hendrix (and too many others to list). There are going to be speakers, discussion groups, dinners, and lots of chances to just kick back and relax. I can’t wait! Even though I’m busy with all kinds of behind the scenes details, in my heart I’m still that eager reader, waiting to get a chance to share my love of books with everyone else at the conference.
You can find out more at the CR web site, http://www.crspring.com