Robin’s Daily RWA Journal
July 26th, 2000

Wow, what a night! My first ever RWA Conference and I had a babysitter. I was thrilled but you know what? Nothing really prepared me for showing up at the mega book signing that RWA held for Literacy this evening. There were so many authors just sitting around like…regular people.

The event was held in a ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. Since I live in Bethesda (right outside of Washington) this was a boone to me. The first celeb I got to meet was AAR reviewer and editor, Nora Armstrong, who met me at the entrance. Nora and I hit the floor like two kids spotting stars on Hollywood Boulevard.

As I walked in I saw row after row of long tables lined with romance authors. There were four hundred and fifty authors participating in tonight’s conference. With the exception a few best selling authors, writers sat in alphabetical order each with a place card and a pile of books in front of them. For a romance fan it was amazing. In just a few minutes I had shaken hands with Miranda Jarrett, Patricia Oliver, Madeline Hunter, Barbara Samuel (aka Ruth Wind), Jo Beverley and a host of others.

What to do first? Well, the Nora Roberts table, with its line of fifty people, looked out of the question. Especially when I could walk right up to shake hands with Loretta Chase and compliment her on Lord of Scoundrelscolor=#000000″>. Much as I wanted to go over and gush about the J.D. Robb books I decided to wait until things quieted down. Jennifer Cruisie? Again, too many admirers. I happen to be one of them but I’ll try to catch up later.

What to ask? What to say? This was an embarrassment of riches. So I introduced myself to lots and lots of authors and asked virtually everyone I met the same random romance question. Where did they see the future of the more experienced romance heroine, as compared to the more traditional virgin heroine? On those whole the answer I got was that more and more readers seem accepting of experienced heroines, including readers of historicals, although in historicals virgins made a certain amount of sense. One writer, whose name somehow got erased from my tape (arrggghh!) told me that being a physical virgin was relatively unimportant. What was important was having one thing, perhaps something emotional that was new.

Here are some hightlights of comments by other authors:

Adele Ashworth, who’s recent Winter Garden earned DIK status:
“I think the trend is going to be to present more experienced heroines because readers like them. In historicals there is more of a problem because you have to explain what makes them experienced. In Winter Garden that was Madeleine’s way of life. Other than that you’re going to have to have widows. In a contemporary, you expect it. I also think that readers don’t expect to see experienced women as much in historicals as they do in contemporaries. However, they like it when they do.”

Madeleline Hunter, whose debut romance, By Arrangement, received DIK status:
“I think people don’t care as much as some people think they care. I think that as long as the character is three dimentional, is rich, has brains. If she has character and personality she can be a virgin. She can be an experienced woman. She can be a widow or somebody who has had a lover in the past. I think that readers are, for the most part, very accepting of any of those scenarios. There is something special about the virgin. I certainly have written virgin heroines. But there are also a lot of opportunities if you have an experienced heroine. . . But I don’t believe in trends. Whether or not we are going to see older experienced heroines is the question.”

Patricia Oliver, author of the DIK-awarded The Lady in Gray:
“I try to go for the experienced woman. I can’t deal with seventeen year old virgins. Its too long ago since I was one. I prefer women who have their wits about them. They know what they want and they sacrifice and fight for it.”

Best-selling author Jo Beverley, who has been awarded DIK status three times:
“I think there is probably more space for the experienced heroine but I don’t think she is going to take over from the virginal heroine because I think many romance readers, myself included, get a lot of pleasure out of the idea of the first time. Not just the sex but the whole first time of love. It’s a bit scarey and that very special. I don’t think there will ever be a time when that is not part of the romance genre.”

Multi-award-winning author Mary Jo Putney, who has received DIK status five times:
“Historically I think that the virgin heroine makes a lot of sense. Sexuality was a dangerous thing. With lack of contraception and disease it could utterly destroy your life, so I think there is historical precedent for the virgin heroine. In historicals widows make a lot of sense. (This type of heroine) probably has a future and its probably growing.”

Nora Roberts, who’s received DIK status a staggering 14 times, most recently for Tears of the Moon:
“No I don’t think about stuff like that. I just don’t. I don’t think about trends or types of characters. It’s the person who comes to me at that time…the dynamics between them and what is happening to them at that time. I don’t analyze. I’m not an analytical writer.”

I had lots of great little conversations with people I admire. Nora Roberts impressed me with her enthusiam and energy. By the time I made it to her table she had signed literally hundreds of books and shaken as many hands. Yet she smiled at me anyway and dove right into the question, which she freely admitted was not her kind of question. We talked for a few minutes about Eve Dallas and how involved she is with her work, more in the way a real person would be, than the way most romance heroines are. “Eve’s work defines her,” said Nora.

Barbara Samuel told me how her new historical will have an experienced heroine whose experiences have been bad. She is releasing another series title next summer with an experienced heroine.

Mary Jo Putney talked about the re-release of Silk and Shadows, which is one of her favorites of her own works. She also discussed how satisfying it was to write books with exotic locations, such as the one in China Bride.

Standing in line with my purchases it was nice to hear how happy everyone seemed just to be there. The woman standing next to me grinned ear to ear, her arms loaded. “I’m amazed at how modest they all are, “ she said and I had to agree. It was a bit of a shock to see Loretta Chase sitting quietly smiling at readers, not to mention Linda Howard’s chair among the alphabetically seated authors.

Then I had a great experience on the way home. A fellow subway rider turned out to be Preeti Singh, founder of the Bookstore Junkies and on-line romance reader. Not only was it a great ride, Preeti gave me lift home from the station. Talk about a great night.

This was my first night at the conference. Tomorrow there are lots of workshops and Mary Jo Putney’s luncheon speech to look forward to. I’ll be sure to write and let you all know how it went!

— Robin Nixon Uncapher

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