I walk into the crowded convention hall, tables littered with brochures and scheduled lined along the tile in rows and columns, banners flying from strings beneath the ceiling as the endless noise of a cacophony of chatter drowns out everything but the circle of people around me.
I look up, grimacing as a rotund woman in green flannel pushes past me, cake in one hand and three books in another. The letters painted plastered across the wall as a marquee greet me once I make it to the middle of the room; red and purple, outlined in a tasteless yellow with superfluous flourishes: “Romance Writers of America”.
I can't help but groan, a gaggle of middle-aged women cackling to my left over what must have been a joke. Why was it that my agent couldn't get me out of this part of the contract, exactly? Mandatory attendance every year was becoming unbearable. I think, smiling (the first time in hours), that a nice trip to the guillotine every year would be much more enjoyable. And cheaper.
The witches cackle again. Dear God, let me go home, I think.
I meander between the exhibit tables, smiling as those who recognize me across the way occasionally wave. There is the Historical table, the Contemporary, the Blazing Heat shorts, the Harlequin Press. Then there's genre's, of course. Mystery, erotic, regency, vampire. Anything, no matter how archaic or virtually illogical, if you could somehow maneuver unrealistic sex into it, could be a romance novel. And practically every instance was on display here.
“Oh, I know,” and older lady – Jennings? - chirps to her red haired companion to her left as I pass them. “Men are just so tricky to write, aren't they? My word. I'm sixty years old and I still can't understand the little devils!”
“Who needs to understand them?” her friend asks, elbowing her. “Men are only good for two things, am I right. Oh, Cheryl, over here -!” She waves over a blond.
Getting out of the conversation quickly, thank you very much. I slide up to the refreshment bar, getting a water in the hopes of looking busy and therefore unapproachable. Half an hour until panel, and then you can leave.
The four women on the other side of the bar nod knowingly at one another. “Oh, let me tell you! My editor,” a short brunette leans in, wrinkling her nose as she whispers, crows feat bracketing her squint, “does jack shit. I ended up letting her go.”
“No editor?” a young thing asks, confused. New to the game. Very new, barely in her twenties by the looks of it, though that god awful sweater adds a good forty years to her. God save her, I think.
“No,” replies the matron. I raise an eyebrow over my drink, hiding a smirk. “She didn't have anything to edit! My manuscripts are looked over personally by myself and my husband. There's nothing left for her to do! And when the flighty bird did have input she'd want to change very soul of the story! Can you imagine? Messing with my words!”
“So unnecessary, Mary. Your books are wonderful!” Another pats her on the hand, reassuringly.
Oh, to have my words spring effortlessly perfect from the page without nary an err. What magic she must weave! ... Right. Enough of that, I scoff.
The line forming outside the panel room is growing, and I head over there, ready to be inside, answer my questions, and get out. Rather with the fans than with the “peers”. Twenty-eight now and still not infected by the virus – I eye a woman in bright pink pants inspecting her stack of preview books meticulously, eyeing her fellow authors passing by without stopping to admire her work as she so loves to do with open contempt. I'm sure I can make it to my retirement sane, I reassure myself stepping into line. Please.
“Long hair definitely,” the tall middle-aged woman in front of me nods, her companion joining in on the gesture of approval.
“Well that's what I said. You can't have a rakish duke with cropped hair. What will we run our fingers through?” They both laugh, odd chortles that are reserved more for livestock.
“It does get in the way sometimes though. Always having to take care of it in the writing: make sure it up, describe it blowing in the wind, getting it tangled in the sheets...” More chortling.
“Alright!” a loud, assertive voice calls over the speaker system, all cheer. “Panel C in five minutes. Please take your places or review your schedule for your time! Carry on, authors! And remember – make those connections, sell those books, write those best-sellers!”
“Ugh,” a woman behind me sighs to no one in particular. “Those industry people.” Frustration laces her words.
I couldn't agree more.
AN - As you know, I LIKE romance novels. I just cant stand their authors.