Schmoozing with a Smart Bitch and a vulgar amount of name-dropping

Up until last week, I had not attended a high tea since 2000. 12 years ago I had the good fortune to attend a high tea in the Queen’s Ballroom whilst journeying through the Whitsunday Islands along the North East coast of Australia on a leg of the millenium world cruise of the QE2, as one does. There were marvellous sandwiches, petit fours and loose leaf tea served in fine bone china teacups. It was all very very proper. A string quartet played while well-dressed couples danced to music from the early twentieth century when I was asked if I would like to dance and I found myself doing the cha-cha with a gentleman host beside the Queen’s bust.

This is a travelling highlight for me and I had not felt the need to go to another high tea as it would be a hard act to follow. But last week I finally attended one as Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches Trashy Books was attending along with a number of romance readers, writers and bloggers. It was a loud and raucous afternoon spent with some fabulous women and a lot of fun was had by all. Sarah Wendell was in Sydney as an international guest for the inaugural Genre Convention and I was fortunate enough to be asked to be on a panel discussion with Sarah. The panel was called Not Just a Narrator where, along with Sarah, speculative fiction author Kirstyn McDermott and Harlequin Escape managing editor Kate Cuthbert, we spoke about the many people who promote books and reading, on and offline, from authors, bloggers and librarians *cough* yours truly *cough*. I spoke about the collaborative work NSW librarians and the NSW Readers’ Advisory group are doing to promote readership in developing their monthly themes, facilitating a monthly twitterchat group and blogs Love2Read2012 for the National Year of Reading and next year’s readwatchplay. As the sole librarian speaking at the convention, and only my second non-library talk, I was eager to see how libraries fit into the broader reader, author and book industry discourse. In my opinion, the library aspect was well received and it intersected well with the blogger and author experiences being relayed by the rest of the panel. I think that we need more librarians being part of readers conventions, literary festivals and book fairs as there is a natural overlap for these industries.

The convention itself was fantastic. With a swathe of amazing Australian authors discussing their readership and their craft, the atmosphere was exciting. I heard several of the speakers discussing that we are in an era of writing abundance and it was evident with the number of aspiring, emergent and established authors present and the fabulous editors and publishers that enable their work to be distributed broadly. There were so many fabulous people I spoke with such as Anna Campbell, Shannon Curtis, Christina Brooke, Kat @bookthingo, Rosie @fangbooks, @Rudi_Bee, Kate Eltham, Peter Ball, Denise Rosetti, Bronwyn Parry, Nicky Strickland, Kylie Mason, Haylee and Lilia from Harlequin, Caitlyn Nicholas and many more (and my apologies if I didn’t mention you).

However, I cannot be blasé about Sarah Wendell. Sure, I’d be much cooler if I didn’t gush all over her on my blog. But I have never been a cool kid and I think Sarah was lovely and funny and so generous with her time despite her concerns for her family and friends in the wake of hurricane Sandy. Back in 2008, I gave a Romance 101 presentation at the NSW Readers’ Advisory annual seminar where I introduced the Smart Bitches blog (and a number of other romance literature resources) to over 140 librarians. So to find myself four years later, onstage speaking with Sarah has been a career highlight.

There was no Queen’s ballroom or Queen’s bust, there weren’t any views of the South Pacific or tropical islands and there were no gentlemen hosts or string quartets. But we did have Tim Tams and lamingtons, and there was snark and there was awesomesauce. And it ranks up there with my high seas high tea cha-cha.

The reader, social media, exosomatic stores of knowledge and a brand new made up word

I have been thinking about social reading, the move from an information society to a communication society and the impact that this shift has on our understanding of the exosomatic stores of knowledge. Karl Popper’s third world, his “Objective Knowledge” explains that exosomatic stores of knowledge have an existence independent of those who created them. I’m going to go all “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” here and point out that exo comes from the Greek word meaning out and somatic comes from the Greek word for body thus exosomatic being knowledge no longer contained within the body. In the mid 20th century Karl Popper conceptualised objective knowledge as the knowledge that is held in books, libraries, galleries, museums, archives and records. Once these creations were independent of their creator they could not be controlled by their creator and the user could interact with objective knowledge anyway they chose.

So a book would get published and sent into the bookshops, libraries and homes of readers and potential readers. As soon as that author signed off on their final manuscript they no longer had any control over their book and its use. If groups of people wanted to meet up at their local library to talk about the book, unless the author lived in the next town or was on tour and invited to attend, the discussion was purely about the users relationship with the author’s exosomatic brain (the object that he/she conceptualised and produced). Even a published correspondence between an author/artist/creator and a critic became a part of the exosomatic knowledge store.

However, with digital media exosomatic stores are much more vulnerable. Creators can make changes through the removal or editing of information through DRM (which ends up being an even bigger topic but for the purpose of this blog piece, only a tangent) but they can also influence changes that cannot be tracked. That is, the creator blurs the exosomatic knowledge stores. Last week, @Liz_Mc2 posted about authors misusing their influence to get readers and reviewers to change their negative reviews and that she doesn’t feel it is good customer service to contact the reader/reviewer. Read her post “Hey Author, I don’t want to be your ‘Customer'” As I have been known to do, I start a comment on Liz’s blog that ends up as a slightly related blog piece over here. Thankfully, most authors have the good sense (and possibly their publisher’s advice) to never comment on reviews or reader discussions. However, a small minority of authors view approaching readers and reviewers on third party social and commercial aggregators such as Amazon and goodreads as “good customer service”, others take the simplistic view of “If you don’t agree with me you must be simple so I will explain it to you a gazillion times – as an author I can intervene in any conversation about my work” without realising that it curtails dialogue. In the example that Liz disucsses the author in question feels that through approaching the writers of negative reviews and coercing them through dialogue to give her books a higher rating she is performing a “good customer service”. This is loaded with problems. The first of which I will illustrate with a hypothetical question I posed to my 14 year old son and his friend:

You create a Facebook group to discuss your favourite TV show. You post discussions about the show and one discussion has you bringing up some lines that you both hated. The writer of the show joins in and explains why he wrote those lines. How do you feel?

BOY 1: Flattered!
BOY 2: That would be really cool!

The writer has very politely told you why you are wrong for disliking those lines he wrote.

BOY 1: That’s cool too. You can defend your work.

The writer has told you that as he has explained why you are wrong that you should delete your comments (on your FB group not the TV show’s). How do you feel?

BOY 1: I’d consider him a dick.

Would you do it?

BOY 2: No. And I would probably stop watching his show.

I love teens. They understand the implications quicker than most adults (though they might not be able to articulate them without the use of genital expressions).

The implication is that a creator can try, and in many instances succeed, to control his/her product when it is no longer somatic. And the more concerning problem is not whether readers, reviewers, recommenders, bloggers or commenters choose to change their opinions due to undue pressure from the creator but the lack of being able to follow the thread that led this decision to be made. In most cases the original work is being altered rather than a postscript stating the changing view. I have no issue with people changing their mind about a piece of work. Hell – my Goodreads profile states that I reserve my right to make changes at a whim. But then I put my Information Science cap on and I start grappling with the implications of these unrecorded changes. Whether they are due to a whim, a genuine change of mind or due to intimidatory practices that vary from passive aggressive to outright stalker behaviour from a creator there is no way that a dissenting voice can be researched by future historians. The only record they will see is the last one that was edited. Digital records may be preserved such as through the Pandora project but emails on individual creator’s computers are not likely to be attached to digitally preserved sites. The process of thought, the growth of knowledge and understanding, dissenting views, open dialogue and even the pivotal moment where a view has been changed is no longer traceable.

In an age where we are shifting from an information to a communication society, I believe we have transcended the exosomatic stores and we have shifted to a metasomatic (and yes – I made up this word for the purpose of my blog) stage where we need to question the pathways that led to digital information and opinions on social media and commercial review sites and their veracity. Metasomatic stores, in my mind’s definition is where the knowledge has exited the creator but the creator, through digital interactions can still manipulate it’s use but without hard evidence. Can this behaviour be halted? I don’t believe it can be halted. But it can be acknowledged and understood. Unless it is published by a source independent of the creator and third party aggregator, such as digital publishers, due to the poor behaviour of the few intimidatory creators, reviews from unknown persons will always be read with cynicism and doubt. Let’s just hope that future historians will be aware of these issues and will take the same stance.


*Added a day later*

I realise that I have muddled up my exosomatic brains and knowledge and stores. My only excuse is that I wrote the comment-turned-into-blog at midnight. At this stage, I am not inclined to change anything as I was playing with an idea and not writing a factual essay.


R*BY Award Finalists and the availability of the shortlist in Australian Libraries

The Romance Writers of Australia Awards were announced today. These awards are voted on by readers and I was pleased to see so many of my favourite Australian Women Writers listed. As I am saving all my pennies to get my bookshelves built, I thought I’d borrow some of the titles through interlibrary loan so I searched through Trove (the National Australian Library’s database for the uninitiated) and I thought I would share the results with readers of this blog.

Short Sweet
Molly Cooper’s Dream Date – Barbara Hannay (18 public libraries/4 State or National)
How To Save a Marriage In a Million – Leonie Knight (1 public library/2 State/National)
Abby and The Bachelor Cop – Marion Lennox (19 public libraries)
Single Dad’s Triple Trouble – Fiona Lowe (16 public libraries/1 State/National/1 University)

Short Sexy
The Fearless Maverick – Robyn Grady (1 State/National/1 University)
The Man She Loves to Hate – Kelly Hunter (12 public libraries/1 State/National)
The Wedding Charade – Melanie Milburne (19 public libraries/1 State/National/1 University)
Her Not-So-Secret-Diary – Anne Oliver (7 public libraries/1 State/National/1 University)

Long Romance
Midnight’s Wild Passion – Anna Campbell (39 public libraries/2 Universities/3 State/National)
Boomerang Bride – Fiona Lowe (0 holdings – this seems very odd to me)
The Best Laid Plans – Sarah Mayberry (11 public libraries/1 university/National)
The Voyagers – Mardi McConnochie (53 public libraries/4 Sate/5 universities/National)

Romantic Elements
The Trader’s Wife – Anna Jacobs (52 public libraries/2 State/National/2 University)
The Shelly Beach Writers’ Group – June Loves (63 public libraries/3 State/3 Universities/National)
Busted In Bollywood – Nicola Marsh (0 – this seems very odd to me)
Shattered Sky – Helene Young (54 public libraries/4 universities/3 States/National)

I’m not sure how anyone else feels about this list but, with the exception of 5 of the titles, it doesn’t feel as though there are many loan choices. At first glance 15 might seem a lot but break that down by State and it doesn’t represent many holdings. I’m not sure how the authors themselves would feel about this. Is it a case of “Good – they’ll go out and buy my book instead” or “For heaven’s sake! Will librarians start buying up in romance! I want my books to be read by library borrowers who ultimately become buyers”.  Hopefully, now that libraries have a shortlist to select from, this list will look quite different by August when the awards are announced.

NOTE: I know that, in terms of ILL’s libraries do have other avenues to search for titles, but as a reader searching from home, I rarely explore these other options. If it isn’t listed by Trove I either don’t read it or I buy it. I also understand that Australian Librarians can’t all buy every single title that comes out – and perhaps this is where I sometimes get all nostalgic and bemoan that libraries no longer have schemes such as the wonderful Sydney Subject Specialisation Scheme – Fiction Reserve program in place. This scheme gave each library in the Sydney region a Dewey span and a Fiction letter span to specialise in – for example, one library I worked at had the span of authors with surnames Koc – Let (cheeky librarians). The loss of this program has resulted in everyone catering to the middle ground and some less well known, less read but still interesting books are not being purchased.

Australian Romance Readers Convention 2011 – Part 1

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 my twitter influenced take (that is: 140 words or less per session)

Friday Night Cocktails


The cocktail party was an intimate affair overlooking Bondi Beach with readers, bloggers, tweeps and authors mingling and schmoozing. The funny thing is that I didn’t look out at the view even once. The company was so engaging and enjoyable.

It was very exciting to meet up with friends from 2009 and even more so to meet friends whom I have met through Twitter and with whom I have shared many a twitversation. Some were instantly recognisable due to their twitter pictures and names but others who use a pseudonym or pseudophoto would sometimes be talking to you for a while before you realised who they were.

After the cocktails there was an impromptu meet-up in BookThingo’s room where we continued to talk books, romance fiction and bling.


Keynote: Anna Campbell

Anna Campbell loves reading about intense relationships. Her first romance was by Joyce Dingwell, a Mills & Boon which she read at 8. Anna gave us a who’s who of Australian. Helen Bianchin, Margaret Way, Lindsay Armstrong, Valerie Parv, Emma Darcy. Up until this point, authors were published out of London by Mills & Boon. Then Harlequin published Bronwyn Jameson along with Annie West, Rachel Bailey, Amy Andrews, Michelle Douglas, Paula Roe, Sarah Mayberry and Melanie Milburne.

Australian single title authors are Stephanie Laurens, Anne Gracie, Mel Scott, Keri Arthur, Erica Hayes, Denise Rosetti, Helene Young, Bronwyn Parry, Anna Campbell and many more.

Anna ended her talk saying that Australia is a good place to be as a romance author because it is culturally aligned between the US & England therefore appealing to a very broad audience.

Book Launch – Helene Young’s Shattered Sky

Helene Young launched her new romantic suspense book Shattered Sky set in North Queensland.

This One Time – Panel discussion

Jess Dee (erotic), Anna Campbell (Historical), Shannon Curtis (Category), Helene Young (Romantic Suspense)

Moderator: Erica Hayes (Urban Fiction)

This one Time:

Discussion ranged from where authors get ideas. Both from their life experiences and their reading influences.

All the writers seemed to draw from their own experiences. Helene Young had the tragic misfortune of finding a dead body on the beach which years later acted as the foundation for her latest book Shattered Sky. Anna Campbell though has never met a Spanish duke in the 19th century and finds that she pulls a lot more out of her captive years at a Dickensian boarding school. For Shannon Curtis trying to get published was turned on its head when she took her blind father’s advice to sex up her writing though she w=ould prefer that he didn’t listen to audiobooks of her writing. Australian’s take blaspheming lightly but the American’s don’t. She gets a lot of complaints about the JC’s but not the fucks. This is a stand out in cultural differences.

This was a funny session with some lovely anecdotes from all the authors.

Romantic Suspense – panel discussion

Cindy Gerard, Helene young, Karlene Blakemore-Mowle, Shannon Curtis

Moderator: Bronwyn Parry

The authors talked about character development and the research they did so they can ensure their story was an entertaining escape and researched with sensitivity and authenticity. Keeping the romance story present in the romantic suspense can be difficult. There is an intensity that lends itself to adrenaline when lots of characters are dying that warrants hot sex quickly for others.

Cindy Gerard has a lot of military fans and her characters tend to be ex-soldiers. She’s vulnerable to her readers that have become friends and feels a responsibility in writing for them.

Research for all the authors plays a large role. Helene Young, also a pilot, needs to keep the flight information realistic without boring the layman yet not dumbing it down either. Cindy uses travel guidebooks and Bronwyn loves Google Earth to work out just how isolated can she make her settings.

Another interesting session.

Auction Booty

I bid on several items at the auction. I missed out on the retro Mills and Boon notebooks and Kathleen O’Reilly books. However I won the following

Kandy Shepherd:

Yay, for Kandy! Despite being an Australian author (and Sydney based) Kandy had been published in the US but not in Australia. I fell in lover with her book covers and she is a funny, scream of an author who was just as excited as I was when I got the winning bid *cheering*

Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses and An Affair Before Christmas because she’s one of the author’s I suggest for romance novel sceptics.

Sarah Mayberry’s Her Best Friend, Home for the Holidays and A Natural Father because I wanted to trial an author I hadn’t yet discovered.