Australian Romance Readers Convention 2011 – Part 2

In my day to day life, I have a few acquaintances who read and enjoy romance novels but it is a rare occasion to be surrounded by romance novel enthusiasts and authors and attending the Australian Romance Readers Convention gives you a chance to talk talk talk about romance novels without the fear that you are getting tiresome.

Here is the second part of my twitter influenced take (that is: 140 words or less per session)

Dinner – Bling and the 2010 Australian Romance Readers Awards – Winners

The ARRC2011 dinner was a dressed up, blinged up affair. An unofficial bling off had been issued and everyone came dressed to the nines. I felt that my tiara might give me the edge on others but unfortunately, Christine Darcas out-blinged everyone in her ballroom dancing, white sequin dress. It was bright & beautiful and her win was well deserved. For more pics there’s Bookthingo and ObsidianTears13 Flickr sets.

As for the favourite authors – there really was a strong Australian/New Zealand bias. Congratulations to Anna Campbell, Nalini Singh, Paula Roe, Jess Dee, Kandy Shepherd and Helene Young. For more details on the winners go to ARRA or Bookthingo.

The food was lovely and the company was splendid. There was much talking and cheer amongst all that attended.

DAY 2

Keynote: Cindy Gerard

Coming from Iowa, corn-fed Cindy Gerard had no idea that romance was the ugly step-sister of the publishing world. She (naively) sent her manuscript to LaVryle Spencer to critique who suggested CG send it to RWA .

Cindy addressed that she knew that she was talking to readers not writers so her talk was not going to be on her craft. She spoke about how, regardless of what you undertake in your life, it is the ability “to confine, control and dominate self-doubt” that will help you succeed. “Self doubt is a sneaky bitch” and can derail any career.

Cindy Gerard was funny, friendly and a lovely person throughout the convention. Stupidly, on each day I kept forgetting to bring my Marriage, Outlaw Style fave Cindy Gerard Silhouette for her to autograph but we did talk cowboy heroes!

Contemporary – The Resurrection of Contemporary Romances

Cathleen Ross, Amy Andrews, Lisa Heidke, Christine Darcas, Ros Baxter

Moderator: Kandy Shepherd

I was excited about this session as it’s my fave sub-genre. Unfortunately, the title was a misnomer as only 2 of the authors wrote contemporary romance. The rest were chick lit authors writing in the first person not the third. This difference was evident when asked for their fave authors. The contemporary authors listed SEP, Rachel Gibson, Crusie, Roberts whereas the chicklit authors listed Marion Keyes & Maggie Alderson.

That said, discussion was fun and lively. Authors articulated their craft, drawing on life experiences. Lisa Hiedke openly admitted to stealing from her own life, Amy Andrews & Ros Baxter on collaborative writing, the use/non-use of children, how much sexual description is enough (at which point Denise Rosetti’s books were described as 3 knicker reads) and the use/non-use of condoms in romance (do they get in the way or is it necessary).

Overall, a great session which would have set different expectations if it had been named Contemporary Romance vs Chicklit.

Category Series – 100 years and still going strong

Kelly Hunter, Melanie Milburne, Michelle Douglas, Paula Roe, Haylee Kerans (Harlequin staff)

Moderator: Annie West

I adore this sub-genres’s short, intense, contemporary stories so attending an intimate talk with these authors was a bonus. Annie West opened questions not only to the panel but to the audience too. Everyone discussed their first ever category read and why they chose to write in the genre.

The authors discussed how satisfying it is to read about alpha males who are at the mercy of the heroine. Kelly Hunter finds the power balance in relationships is important. Paula Roe is still mourning the cancellation of Harlequin Temptations.

Other topics were male virgins, the economy of words and tightly delivered emotions in the short story, tackling issues and the 40 year shift from low sensuality yet broader moral views to high sensuality with more conservative views.

The love promise has stayed core to the category series. The authors said criticism is fine – the reader always owns their response to the story.

By invitation – delegates panel

Cindy Gerard, Helene Young, Anna Campbell, Nalini Singh, Lexxie Couper, Keri Arthur

Moderator: Pamela Diaz (Convention Co-ordinator)

I chose to not take notes at this session. I enjoyed listening to the authors banter with each other about their writing experiences, their favoured genres, what they imagine they would be doi

ng if they weren’t authors. Bookthingo asked them whether they read the last page of a book (I won’t steal BookThingo’s thunder here but I will say that it was a fifty/fifty response). For more details please go to her website!

The convention was wrapped up at this point. It was another fantastic, intense weekend full of romance reading suggestions. My highlight of the convention has to be meeting all the wonderful Twitter folk I have been tweeting with over the last two years. Authors, bloggers, booksellers and readers….oh – and meeting Cindy Gerard, author of one of my favourite ever category romance rereads.

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The Rule of Five

1. Choose a book based on its author/title/cover design

2. Read the blurb

3. Read the last pages #afairydies (optional)

4. Read the first five pages

5. If you don’t feel compelled to read page six – move on to another book. If you have looked up and it’s page 36 – this one’s a reader!

Everyone has different approaches for how they will read a book.  Some people insist on reading everything they choose from cover to cover regardless of whether they like the book or not. Others will use Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 of which I am a major fan – how can I not be a fan. I was fortunate enough to meet Nancy Pearl a few years ago and while we were chatting discovered that we both wanted to be Miranda Melendy in The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright when we were kids (I digress). But I have lately found that I can’t even apply this rule. I have found that I am now applying my very own Rule of Five in which you judge a book by its cover, get hooked by its blurb, discover the outcome and let those first five pages lead you to a more permanent reading decision.

Of course, there is always an exception to the rule: if you have been told that a particular book is set reading for school/university/work – suck it up and read the bloody thing.

Now for all the bookgroups out there chanting “Exempt me! Exempt me!” – bookgroups are not exceptions to the rule. Life is too short even for bookgroup members. If page six is unbearable download the cribnotes, even if the book had been your choice. If your bookgroup members disparage your choice to not continue reading I would suggest that you find another bookgroup.

So what has led me to this Rule of Five? Late in February, I decided to read Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Kiss. Many people I know have praised her books to me. They love her and adore her writing but, as I am not a big fan of paranormal romance (I have previously read MaryJanice Davidson, JR Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon), I have not pursued reading much in this sub-genre. In March, however, I was attending the NSW Readers Advisory Seminar on Fantasy and though I had read several fantasy titles in preparation I thought it would be best that I attempt a title that crossed over with my favourite genre – romance. I was quite enthusiastic in reading this book as I looked forward to discussing it with friends. It starts in a train station, there was some sort of gadget involved in the capture of an errant (was it) angel, there was narrative comparing her capturing tactics with her friend’s tactics etc etc. And then I vagued out and I can’t remember anything beyond that. I was on page five when I gave up and moved on to read a fab kids fantasy book called Urgum the Axeman by Kjartan Poskitt.

Once I gave up reading this book I tweeted the following:

Only one person objected. The other five who answered all agreed and felt that it was fine to give up and move on…and in one case, seemed to suggest that five pages were admirable.

A week later, I was struck again by the importance of a book engaging the reader in those first pages while I was listening to Brent Weeks at the NSW RA Seminar answering an audience question on how to make books appealing to reluctant readers. He spoke about how he consciously has action in the very first page of his books as he knows that this is a hook for many readers, himself included.

This led me to think of my favourite books and there isn’t a single one that I would say I struggled past the first pages. I remember reading Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi in a single inhalation and I did the same with Jennifer Crusie’s Charlie All Night, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, Matthew Rubinstein’s Solstice, Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score, and the list goes on and on. I was not distracted after opening these books. I did not feel the need to put my book down and call a friend just to have a break and, in some reading cases, I wholly forgot to feed my children.

Another point I’d like to make is the attention given by the literary world to the first line of highly regarded books. There are books published on first lines, there are websites dedicated to them and there are infinite trivia quizzes on that all important first line. That first line is the hook and those first five pages are the bait that should draw you into the rest of the book.

I then think about the books that I have picked up, I have liked their covers, I have liked their premise based on a good blurb yet for some elusive reason, be it the writing style, unlikeable characters, too much violence or some vague intangible element, I have decided to move on to a greener reading pasture.

Giving up on a book in its opening pages does not mean that the book is not good. It may have some wonderful qualities and you may decide to revisit the book, or some other book by that author, at some later stage, as I plan to do eventually with Nalini Singh’s books. It just wasn’t the right book for you at this point of your life.

So I beseech you all to not slog through a whole book; don’t labour the first 50 pages. Let your senses take over and make a snap judgement on whether to read on in those introductory five pages.

Procrastireading

Procrastiread / prô’kræstairid/ verb (procrastiread, procrastireading) – 1. to delay finishing a book: I procrastiread my last book for three days. 2. purposely reading slowly so as to not reach the end of a book: the reader was procrastireading because of an emotional connection with the characters of a book in such a deep-felt way that to end the book would result in severing the relationship. [Latin]  – procrastireader, n.

Have you ever found yourself reading a book whose characters endear you, become your friends, become your soulmates and envelop you into their lives to the point that soon you realise that you are half way through your book? And with every page you are getting closer to the end of your relationship with these people. Sure, you are the passive person in this relationship where all others are walking, talking and interacting with each other yet ignoring you. But you are the one who is setting the pace, you are the one that decides when the next words in their story will be read. You are the one that can evoke a procrastiread.

The other day, on Twitter, I took part in a short exchange where @stephjhodgson tweeted that she was stretching the ending of the Stieg Larsson series, @Wateryone asked me if there was a word for that.

I couldn’t find an Oxford Dictionary word or definition for this behaviour . But now, there is a word that we can all use – procrastireading/procrastiread

Over the years there have been few books that I have procrastiread. For the most part, if I am enjoying a book, I need to finish it quickly. I fly through it. I stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning with my obsessive need to know how it finishes despite the fact that I read the ending before I started the book and despite the fact that I will be a mess at work that day. But once in a while I am captured. I am enchanted by every word and phrase. I am lost within the book and I just don’t want it to finish. So I stretch out my reading experience over a number of days.

My most memorable procrastiread has been Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. Not only are the main characters Cal and Min perfectly matched with their sharp banter from the beginning of the story but their friends also became my friends. I felt captured by them. I was engaged and amused by the narrative and the dialogue. I was invested in these people and as I felt the thickness of the book’s pages in my right hand lessen, I realised that I no longer would have these wonderful friends with me. They would cease to exist. But not if I read only sections at a time. Slowly, savouring each exchange and every nuance. And once I came to the end of the story, I was thankful to Jennifer Crusie who gave me a snapshot epilogue of “Where are they now” for each wonderful character.

I really do miss them.

Have you ever found yourself procrastireading?

 

 

On why more fairies will die

It is a well known fact that every time someone reads the ending of a book before they start – a fairy dies.  I am not making this up. It is true. If you want to know more about the origins of fairies dying you must read BookThingo’s Spoiling a Happy Ending where the whole idea is explained, in depth.

Readers, in general, fall into two categories – those that can’t bear to know the ending of a book, who enjoy a story unravelling around them and read in anticipation of the final moments, and then there are readere who like knowing how a book ends so that they can enjoy the journey without the page turning anxiety of needing to know if the hero and heroine will make it in the end. I am of the latter proclivity. I will read the ending, assure myself that ends in a way that satisfies me and then I will start the journey. It is particularly good for me to read reviews with *spoilers* so I don’t have to read the endings.

In the case of spoilers, a fairy is only maimed. Perhaps a missing limb.

But let me tell you why I am this way:

I started reading the end of books at about 12 years of age. Up until then, for the most part, I had grown up reading children’s fiction which was funny, positively conclusive, life affirming and, in general, a happy read. Then I started entering the world of tear jerkers. Books where you are torn apart with grief.

I remember sitting in Marrickville Children’s Library reading Lois Lowry’s A Summer To Die horrified that Meg’s sister Molly dies. Horrified! Firstly, I was reading and sobbing in a public space that I was not comfortable in. (That may sound odd but, in actual fact, my local library branch The Warren Library in South Marrickville had been closed down a year earlier. I no longer visited the library daily but could go only once a fortnight)…..so anyway….I’m sitting in the corner sobbing with red blotchy eyes but yet unable to stop reading a compelling, touching story.

I learnt my lesson that day. I never again read a book in the library. All books were to be consumed at home. Reading was no longer public.

By the time I read Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved I became used to the idea that crying was just part of the story, as were dying people, manipulative relationships and finding your own way in life. To counter-balance these sadness filled novels I discovered the wonderful world of romance novels. And in particular, Mills and Boon.

Short and contemporary, they were easy to hide in your foolscap folder so that your father couldn’t see them when he was checking that you were doing your homework. And best of all they ended happily.

That is, until Anne Weale’s A Portrait for Bethany. In A Portrait for Bethany, Bethany ends up with the WRONG man. WRONG MAN! YES I AM SHOUTING! IT’S IS NEARLY 25 YEARS LATER AND I STILL HAVEN’T RECOVERED. After traumatic Bethany, I never trusted a book again.

So it would have been about…ummm…let say…..25 years ago that I started reading the back page of every novel I read. I read about 100 books a year so that comes to approximately 2500 dead fairies. Now, I did slip into complacency at one stage and stopped reading the last pages of any Harlequin Mills and Boon that I purchased. They were a given Happily Ever After. Guaranteed. The “formula” said so. I was safe! (let’s quickly re-calculate that number. Perhaps drop it to 1800 dead fairies).

Then disaster struck. Late last year, I purchased an auto-buy Harlequin Mills and Boon author, Lynne Graham. Now I adore Lynne Graham’s books. They have incredulous plots with engaging, emotional narratives leading the reader to be enthralled at how she manages to pull it all together. I was on the edge with The Pregnancy Shock but when it ended without closure I was horrified. I would have loved to have thrown the book at my wall but my wall has some lovely prints hanging off it so the floor had to do.

How could the author, editor, publisher, marketing group, janitor and building supervisor do this to Harlequin Mills and Boon readers. How could they do this to fairies? How could they misunderstand the reasons that any woman will tolerate those awful titles and mostly stupid covers is because the HEA is king. Forget Content is King. HEA is the absolute rule here. As romance readers, we will tolerate awful plots, shocking phrases (I’m looking at you Miss Paullina “she looked up at his face but it was as closed as a bank on a public holiday” Simons), ludicrous premises and sometimes Alpha-Brutes that you wouldn’t let approach you with a ten-foot barge pole. We readers will put up with all that for an HEA.

(Please Note: most romances are beautiful, brilliant, well constructed , wonderfully researched, emotionally charged and full of snappy dialogue that would make Al Jaffee proud).

The thing is that since The Pregnancy Shock I now distrust Harlequin Mills and Boon again. I now read their back pages just as I read the back pages of all novels. And sadly, I have come across several that end in an “…there’s more to come” way. And even more sadly, more fairies are dying than needs to be the case.

PS. Should you be a fairy killer and use twitter, remember to use #afairydies.