Once upon a time, I was scrolling through Instagram (you know the way…), and I happened across a post from Eloisa James.
And I was like, SYKESVILLE?!?!?! ELOISA JAMES AND SARAH MACLEAN AND LISA KLEYPAS?!?!?!?! SIGN ME UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (For real, probably 25 exclamation points all told. I am excitable.) And then I immediately texted Ingrid and Holly and I said, “Ingrid, we are going.”
This all occurred in July, so after all the excitement surrounding signing up to hear from and meet some of the authors I love the most…we waited. Fortunately, my life makes waiting feel not-so-terribly-bad on account of it’s completely bananapants, and September arrived!
First, let’s talk about a library and an independent bookstore sponsoring this event. Were y’all there with me in August for the first bookstore romance day? A Likely Story is the only local independent bookstore in this area, and here it is, co-sponsoring this event. Independent bookstores in particular have earned a reputation for erudite snobbery and for snubbing the entire romance genre. Independent bookstores seem to think that romance is actually smut. Libraries, now–libraries are a treasure trove of smut books. But my libraries seem to have smaller and smaller romance sections in real life and bigger and bigger romance selections in their online portals. But the Mt. Airy branch of the Carroll County Public Libraries… There was an entire room for romance (where we very appropriately held the author talk). There were posters on the wall that authors had signed. It was, like, a celebration of romance. Knock me over with a feather.
Anyway–substance, Erin, substance. Right?
The organizers introduced our three authors and then simply handed the conversation over to the MacLean, James, and Kleypas, which was apparently a surprise to all of them. This could have been a disaster, but… When all was said and done, I concluded that the thing about Romance is that we like to talk about it, and there’s a lot to talk about.
James took the bull by the short-and-curlies, getting the ball rolling by asking MacLean, as the Washington Post romance columnist, to provide us all with an update on current trends in Romance. To which MacLean responded, “WHAT?!” and everyone in the room loosened up a little bit. I wish you all could have been present for the conversation, because it was…it was just like talking smut with your besties, except that in this context your besties were Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, and Sarah MacLean. (In my dreams, right?) Really, when we were trading books in high school or during our TSR meetings now, part of the fun of reading romance has always been talking about it with like-minded individuals.
Think about it. If you follow blogs or Twitter or Instagram, you see it happening. People in this genre take it seriously. Writers take their craft seriously. These are not bored women slapping words on a page and selling books to other bored women. (And, yes, it’s primarily women, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that men can–and do!–read and write romance, too!) Our conversation, therefore, was all over the place.
We talk about feelings! (MacLean: The genre has spent a lot of time focused on how people feel…)* We talk about tropes! (James: Historical romance is interesting because the tropes change based on the year a work is written, but things like PTSD and opiates (two current-events issues discussed in her recent novels) are not really new, so historical romance allows us to explore these topical issues from a more removed, historical standpoint.) We talked about characters! (Kleypas: We sorta want a hero who needs reforming. If he’s nice, he’s got nowhere to go!) And Love! Of course!
But more than that, we talk about the substance behind the choices authors make in these (see tropes above, for example) and other areas. In the genre, we are assured of a happily ever after (and God help you, author who doesn’t deliver on this, because you will have some ANGRY readers), so the read is about the journey, not the destination. That means everything going into these books is an exploration of our humanity, which is so big and so cool! For example, on this sunny Sunday with three fabulous historical romance novelists, Kleypas raised an issue that I’ve heard a couple of times also from interviews with Beverly Jenkins: Personal struggles exist, but even so, love still happens. We were talking historical romance at this particular event, but if you’re a prolific reader like us, just think of all the different books you’ve read. Everybody has a problem, whether it’s external or internal or both, and they are all over the place. It’s kind of the point, right?
I could write a whole series of essays based on soundbites I got from James, Kleypas, and MacLean. Maybe I will. There’s so much to get excited about! We are definitely going to more author talk events. These are our people. Romance lovers 4eva!
When the talk was over, we all took our books (one from each author!) and formed a very well-behaved queue (Americans are very good at standing in line) and met each author in turn. And each of the three authors had a little conversation with each of the guests. And I was a little bit floored. I mean, I knew how it was going to work, more or less, but as I thought about it…the whole situation is pretty awesome. These women are writers (James is also a professor, but still), they’re not sales or marketing professionals. So they have made this choice to write, which is a hugely solitary profession, but which also requires them to put themselves out there in scenarios like this in order to push their product. I imagined myself in their shoes for a moment, and thought, “Yeah, having a bunch of people thrilled about my work lining up to tell me how amazing I am sounds great…and totally nerve-wracking and exhausting.” I was even more profoundly grateful, then, for this experience. All three authors were focused on the individual (or individuals–Ingrid and I approached each table together and were suitably awkward each time) in front of them. All were kind. I took away some fantastic memories.
Thank you, Eloisa James, Lisa Kleypas, and Sarah MacLean for giving your time and talent! And many thanks to the Sykesville independent bookstore, A Likely Story, as well as the Carroll County Public Library. I hope was so successful they’ll do it again next year (and again, and again)!
*I paraphrase. Recording anything exact = impossible.