In a Romance Desert

Celebrate Romance–MC speech 2005

Good morning everyone, and welcome to Baltimore—the setting for the Orioles, the Inner Harbor, and some really neat Barry Levinson movies. This is one of those gems of smaller cities on the East Coast that tend not to be mentioned as often as New York, Boston, or DC. But as we’ll all discover over the next couple of days, Baltimore’s got lots of charms of its own.

And, in many ways, that’s what Celebrate Romance is like, too. It’s got a lot of charms, even if it isn’t the biggest or fanciest convention out there. Those of us who’ve been here before know that we’re in for two days of fun, conversation, and bonding. Those of us who’ve never been are about to embark on a wonderful ride!

Celebrating romance is something we need to do whenever and however we can. We know our genre, despite its inroads, still suffers from a stigma in the eyes of the general public and, heck, from most readers, too. For every moment of glory, like Eloisa James’ marvelous defense of romance in The New York Times editorial section this month, there’s a moment of gloom, when someone looks down their nose at you in the store as you purchase your month’s selections. Or perhaps, you’ve had experiences like me, where someone said, upon finding out that I read romance, “wow! I thought you were smart!” So finding opportunities like this one, where we share and rejoice unabashedly, are what we need to capitalize on whenever possible!

Romance reading brings us joy, contentment, and a release from the everyday aspects of our lives.

Romance reading brings us joy, contentment, and a release from the everyday aspects of our lives. It lets us escape from our routine, or relieve the pressures of stressful lifestyles and jobs. For some of us, romance is an occasional thing, something we might pick up every once in a while as part of a larger reading habit. For some of us, romance is the core of what we choose to peruse, the heart of our reading experience. Some of us go through cycles, reading a lot of romance, then reading something else.

For me, the past year offered a challenge in romance: I went through my first major romance reading slump since I truly embraced the genre over ten years ago. For whatever reason, nothing appealed to me. I’d pick up a book to read, get through a chapter or two, then put it down and not pick it up again. And this was happening with all types of romances—historical, contemporary, series, you name it. About the only thing working for me were my absolute favorite, tried and true authors. Those, I could read. Otherwise, I was in a romance desert.

Mind you, that’s a romance desert, not a reading desert. Instead, I found myself drawn to science fiction and fantasy, to nonfiction, even to some bestselling novels (hey, it was hard to escape The DaVinci Code last year!). I was reading a lot of young adult fiction as well, and both that and the scifi/fantasy offered a good touch of romance itself. But the pure romance novels? Couldn’t find many to intrigue me.

I do wonder why this happened. I know many of you may have gone through a slump every once in a while. But I bet you’d be hard-pressed to explain why it happened yourselves. If we did understand the logic and science behind reading slumps, we’d make a lot of money marketing a pill that could be a cure-all.

But slumps happen in almost anything you read. I could almost argue that when I stared reading romance ten years ago, I was actually entering into a prolonged slump of science fiction reading! So, perhaps, as Milo said in The Phantom Tollbooth, it’s all in how you look at things.

I think the interesting part of being in a strict romance slump was discovering a lot of fine romantic writing in young adult fiction. I’ve read a number of these books where the gentle romance was just as interesting as any other element of the story. If you haven’t looked at a young adult book since you were, well, a young adult, you might want to glance at this category and see how it’s evolved over the years. For many of you enjoying this year’s hot ticket—the paranormal romance—well, you’d be impressed by what’s happening in young adult fiction. Check out Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel and Court Duel. Or Clare B. Dunkle’s The Hollow Kingdom. I bet you’ll be surprised at what you find. I know I was!

So what have I learned from my reading slump? That perhaps my relationship with romance reading was like a relationship in real life. I went through the first, intense bonding with my romance novels, where I blocked out interest in any other types of writing and concentrated just on my new love. Then I reached a mellower stage, where I might read other books, but where I always came back to romance as my focus. Now I’ve reached the stage of remembering things once loved and brushed aside when I was focused intensely on my new relationship with romance. Perhaps I’ve reached that stage of being so comfortable with it that I can rest assured that romance novels will always be there for me, and that it’s all right, and even healthy, to make sure I have interests and activities beyond my primary love.

Now, if anybody had told me years ago, when I started reading romance, that one day I’d find many friends through reading books, I’d have wondered about that person.

One factor that’s been maintained throughout all of this, however, is the friends that I’ve gained through romance reading. Now, if anybody had told me years ago, when I started reading romance, that one day I’d find many friends through reading books, I’d have wondered about that person. After all, I usually read alone; don’t you? Heck, I’ll even bet a fair number of us would confess to my seven-year-old daughter’s latest passion, reading in the bathroom. Talk about something you do when you’re alone! After all, it’s hard to resist those moments when you might have more time to read a great book.

But I have made fabulous friends through reading—friends I email, friends I call, friends I go book shopping with, friends who visit me from around the country and whom I visit as well. The internet brought us all together, in various ways and means, and it also brought us Celebrate Romance, a conference spawned from online communications, promoted only online, and celebrating the fact that romance readers are fantastic people that it’s great fun to spend some time with!

Romance celebrates relationships and bonds

Celebrate Romance brings us together to share our reading, to enrich one another’s reading experiences, to make one another laugh, to sigh with empathy at someone’s opinion of a book, or to argue over whether what happened in one book was right or wrong. Romance celebrates relationships and bonds, and many of us have forged those types of bonds through attending past Celebrate Romance conventions. For those of you attending for the first time, you’ll see it in the conversations you’ll share over the next two days.

And many of us are returnees. For some, it’s an annual ritual and they do whatever they can to get themselves to the geographically shifting locations that Celebrate Romance finds each year. For others, it’s been a long wait for Celebrate Romance to return to the East Coast, and the Northeast at that. But the patience of some and the perseverance of others has been rewarded again this year, as we gather in Baltimore!

So take time to enjoy, to savor, to expound, to enlighten, to debate, and to do all the things that make Celebrate Romance so much fun. Enjoy the presentations this morning. Feel free to share your opinions this afternoon in our discussion sessions. For many attendees, this is often the element of the conference they remember the most! Be ready with your tickets for the book trade after the discussions. Enjoy a dinner out on the town tonight. Be ready for random discussions in the lobby. Be prepared to give up on sleep entirely tonight. Remember to bring your pens and business cards to the signing tomorrow.

And above all, let yourself go and have fun. This conference is a celebration, a cheer of joy for an experience we share that brings joy to all of us in return.  So revel in what’s to come over the next two days. I am sure that, for all of you, it will be wonderful!

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