A wise friend recently told me that he didn’t like to use the word “losing” in regard to virginity as losing implies something you accidentally no longer have whereas, in good situations, virginity is something that is actually given away freely. That certainly applies to my virgin status at Romanticon. I’ll admit, much like when I “lost” my actual virginity, I thought I knew what to expect, but in reality I didn’t have a clue. I figured it would be fun—most conferences are at least a little fun—and I knew I’d get the chance to meet a lot of people who I’ve been chatting with online for a long time, which is always great—but I still had no real concept of what my first Romanticon experience would be like.
I have a very vivid imagination. It comes in handy a lot. When I’m bored. When I’m planning a party. Certainly when I write. Even my imagination couldn’t have come up with a more fabulous experience than the one I actually had at Romanticon this year. Not even close. Best. Deflowering. Ever.
Some of you may know that in addition to my general tendency to worry about travel (I hate flying and it often wreaks havoc with my ears) and others may know that I’m currently being treated for Lyme Disease (which means I have to be on an annoyingly strict sugar free and gluten free diet for the duration of treatment and means that I have fluctuating bouts of flu-like symptoms and joint pain as my body heals). None of that is conducive to traveling, so I had some legitimate concerns.
I shipped a bunch of things ahead (swag, costumes and food I can actually eat). I arrived in Canton after 11pm on Wednesday night and shot an email to Valerie Plucinski around midnight, just telling her I’d arrived and asking where I should go to pick up my boxes in the morning. Within fifteen minutes I heard a knock at my hotel room door and opened it to find Val, in her PJs wheeling a dolly with my two boxes. She didn’t want to risk me going hungry overnight so she brought the packages straight to my room. Val is awesomeness embodied. That is literally one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for me (thank you, Val!) and it got Romanticon off to the most positive start I could imagine.
One of my favorite things about all conferences is that I attend them with Karen Booth, my amazing critique partner, sometimes co-author and frequent anthology buddy. Not only is Karen B tall, blonde and blue-eyed while I’m short, brunette and green-eyed, but she’s a Southern belle while I’m a Northern gal, so we don’t get to see each other too often. The twice a year conferences we’ve gone to have doubled as our girls’ getaways.
Karen and I started this getaway the night we arrived. I’d traveled with the lovely Frances Stockton (a fellow Northern gal) and we three shared a limo from Cleveland to the McKinley Grand. I think our driver was a bit intrigued to hear that he had a car full of romance authors. No sooner did we arrive than we met two authors I’ve “known” online but had never had the pleasure of meeting in person—the fabulous Sidney Bristol and Voirey Linger. Karen and I both share two publishers with Sid and Voirey, Ellora’s Cave and Turquoise Morning Press, so it was doubly awesome to finally spend some face (and boob) time with these wonderful women.
The next morning Karen and I woke early and met up with the lovely Sabrina York. A fellow special-needs diet writer, Sabrina had rented a car and graciously offered to take us on a field trip to buy some gluten free food. Loaded up with apples, cheese, gluten free bread and some new mascara (hey, I have other needs, you know) we returned to the hotel and wound up having a lovely lunch chat with Kelli Collins. Karen and I had had the pleasure of briefly meeting Kelli at the RT Booklovers convention in Chicago six months ago. We were about to introduce ourselves again but that wasn’t necessary—somehow Kelli remembered both of us and said our names before we even had the chance. Talk about making authors feel like they matter. I’m in awe of how she manages to know everyone and keep them all straight. It’s just one of many ways that Kelli is an amazing woman.
Karen and I knew that we were going to be signing paper copies of Long-Distance Lovers (our co-written novel and both of our first full length novels to appear in print). What we didn’t know was that our handsome hunk of a cover model was none other than newly crowned Alpha Caveman Nick. That night at the meet and greet we not only had the undeniable pleasure of watching Nick move (and I don’t think anyone can disagree that watching Nick move is pleasurable) but we got to meet and chat with him. He’s as sweet and charming as he is fun to look at. It’s no surprise that he’s from Dallas, the land of handsome, sexy Southern gentlemen. In fact it’s no surprise that a full 1/3 of the Cavemen hail from Texas. Is it something in the water there? And if it is, can someone ship some of it up North for us, please?
I can’t possibly name everyone I got to talk to that night, but a definite highlight was that Karen and I finally got to meet our crazy-cool editor, Jillian Bell. It’s so nice to be able to put a visual with the woman who’s helped me edit more sex scenes than I can count—and the woman who offered me my first ever publishing contract (thank you, Jilly!). The rest of the evening was spent laughing, chatting and posing with Cavemen (one nicer and hotter than the next) and other amazing authors.
Karen and I had been looking forward to seeing super-sexy Sasha Devlin again (we’d met at the RT Convention) and she was even sweeter and funnier than we remembered. We were also thrilled to finally get to meet Piper Trace, who is somehow even sexier and more hilarious in person than she is on Twitter. The four of us closed down the bar that night analyzing plot ideas, dissecting storylines, and comparing sexy boobs and sexy butts—just a normal Thursday night, right?
Everything beyond that night has become a blur of busyness. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners with more fabulous authors and fans than I can possibly recount. Dancing ‘til all hours. Laughing so hard I’m amazed I never snorted anything out my nose. I got to take a lap dancing class with Shoshanna Evers and Cait Miller. I met the supremely sexy Syneca, who has designed all three of my smexy EC covers. I’d be bragging and name-dropping if I listed all the other fabulous people I got to meet—suffice to say there was awesomeness everywhere and I enjoyed chatting with everyone more than I can say.
Among the highlights of the conference were the insanely well-choreographed dance performances by the ever-talented Cavemen, the themed evenings where everyone was decked out in spectacular costumes and stunning outfits, the awards ceremony and incredibly touching tribute to the beloved Angelo and the book fair.
Book fair was nothing short of incredible. To see an enormous ballroom crammed full of readers who were there because they read and love our books was extraordinary. I get a lot of questions from people about the content of my books. In addition to writing erotic romance for Ellora’s Cave I write contemporary romance for Samhain and sexy women’s fiction for Turquoise Morning Press. There are two things all of my books have in common, they’re all love stories, and they all have sexual content. It’s how I write, it’s what I write and I’m proud of that.
I write about relationships and I try to keep my stories as realistic as possible….and real people in relationships have sex, so it’s in my books. It’s that simple. I never want to offend anyone with the content of any of my stories, but I so often feel like I’m being judged for what I write. Not how well I write it, but the fact that I “go there”. There’s no closed-door sex in my books. It saddens me that some people look down at that.
Being at the book fair at Romanticon I had to laugh because there were readers who stopped and asked “So, what are your books about?” and when I told them they were sweet love stories with steamy sex some of them said “Okay, I prefer the kinkier stuff, but my friend here likes your kind of stuff.” Instead of feeling bad, Ellora’s Cave makes you feel good (about being a little bad). That’s invaluable.
There were a few stand-out moments for me during the signing. Signing the first paper copies of my book Long-Distance Lovers and sending readers up to get Karen Booth’s autograph on it too. Having my kickass cover model Nick stop by and sign copies for me. Being told by a reader that she’d read everything I’ve written and wanted to buy the paper copy anyway. And, the most unexpected highlight, having a reader stop by and tell me that when she saw my name on the list of authors in attendance she was so excited because she’d loved my (recently released) women’s fiction, Meant To Be, and couldn’t wait for the sequel. I’m so happy that I got to speak with her and sign a cover flat for Marry Me for her. I worry about reader reaction to my writing in different genres and having someone appreciate both kinds of stories was so validating. (Thank you, Eileen, you made my day!)
Oh yes, and let’s not forget the photo shoots. Dear God, the photo shoots. When I read in the program that there were photo shoots I assumed that meant we’d get to watch while the Cavemen posed for cover shots. I had no idea they’d be posing with the conference attendees. I am notoriously reluctant to have my picture taken, ever, under any circumstances, but this conference was such a safe, encouraging, empowering atmosphere that even camera-shy me stepped out (way out) of my comfort zone and I did a shoot. I was lucky enough to have Nick there to talk me through and,with Rodney in my line of sight laughing and telling me “you’ve got this”, I managed to giggle my way through.
Speaking of comfort zones. I love to dance and haven’t been able to for months (see above Lyme disease woes) but the music and surroundings at Romanticon were too enticing to ignore so I wound up on the dance floor every night. As much as I enjoy dancing I’ve never been a lap dance lover (no pun intended, well, okay, maybe a little bit of a pun intended) and I’ve certainly never been one to bump and grind with men I don’t know. Once again the safe, warm ambiance of this conference changed all that.
I’ve been asked by several people who’ve seen the photos from Romanticon “Wow, what went on there?”, “Don’t people’s husbands mind?”, even “How could you do that?” I wish I had an answer eloquent enough to do justice to an explanation. Writing is fun and we all do it because we love it, but writing is also hard, stressful, never-ending work. You’re never “done” with any project, there’s still editing, or promoting, or waiting for reviews, or responding to comments, or blogging. It’s an amazing, fantastical job, but it’s still a job. We Ellora’s Cave authors write (amazing, steamy, mind-blowing sex). A lot. We spend a good deal of our time creating characters and exploring their sexuality. Well, guess what? We get to be sexy ourselves once in a while. Besides which, we’re a damn smart group of women and if we were doing anything shameful or inappropriate we sure as hell wouldn’t do it in a room with a few hundred people who are all holding cameras.
Anyone who thinks that Romanticon is sleazy or slutty clearly hasn’t attended the conference. There’s nothing wrong with a talented group of women, a sexy bunch of avid readers and a dozen to-die-for cover models spending a few days celebrating, laughing, talking, dancing and having an overall blast together. Did I get a lap dance from Caveman? Hell, yes. First one of my life. And it was more fun than I could have imagined. Not just because my dancer, Nick, has an awesome body and moves to match, but because I was comfortable doing it—something I never would have imagined possible.
What’s the difference between this and going to any old strip club? Tons of things. Less stripping, for one—these were men in pants (pants they looked super sexy in, but pants nonetheless). These also weren’t strangers. My lap dance came from someone I’d talked with several times (not to mention that he’s my cover model). It wasn’t threatening—there was a clear level of respect. I was surrounded by people who were being supportive (hell, I was pushed into the chair) and didn’t for one second feel like I was being judged or doing anything in the slightest bit wrong or inappropriate. It was just another let-your-hair-down, live-a-little moment.
I don’t get enough of those in my everyday life where I have a million responsibilities on top of all my writing commitments.
I’m beyond thankful to Romanticon, its planners and its attendees for giving me the opportunity to pack so many wonderful new experiences into a few short days. I left with new friends, incredible memories and feeling more relaxed and revived than I’ve felt in a long time. Priceless.
Until next year….Cheers! And here’s some more random awesomeness in case you haven’t seen enough.