2006 RWA National Conference
by Sandy Coleman

Okay, I’ll spare all of you the day by day report and just get straight to the good stuff.

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The Headline:
Loretta Chase (who wasn’t at the conference) has left Berkley and returned to – bet you didn’t see this coming – Avon. This was told to me by someone in a position to know and later confirmed by one of Ms. Chase’s closest friends. Care to discuss amongst yourselves?

The Buzz:
Historicals are “back” and editors are actively looking for good manuscripts.

The Highlight:
The RITAs. Unquestionably. With a funny, charming, and savvy host in Nora Roberts – who clearly is in far better accord with RWA president Gayle Wilson than with last year’s model – the ceremony was fast, funny, and enjoyable as hell. Gayle Wilson’s “bio” of Lifetime Achievement Award winner Susan Elizabeth Phillips (including her past as a former street prostitute) was nothing short of hysterical. And how cool was it to have none other than Linda Howard present the RITA to Ms. Roberts? Trust me – it was very cool, indeed.

The Zoo:
The literacy signing which seemed more crowded than ever before. And, based on the fact that this year’s signing generated a record donation to benefit adult literacy, I’m thinking that my impression that this year’s event was the most crowded I’d ever attended was, indeed, correct. Note to romance readers everywhere: if you haven’t ever attended the annual literacy signing, don’t miss it if you ever get the opportunity to go. Imagine table after table filled with romance authors – from debut writers to an always impressive array of bestsellers – there to meet and greet readers. If you have even the smallest degree of romance fandom in you, it truly is an unforgettable event.

The Up and Comer:
An Aussie woman who told me she’s been writing for twenty years deserves this honor. Karen Schwartz is a regular AAR reader (“it’s my favorite website!”) who finaled in the Golden Heart for Long Historicals and who earns this designation because of information given to me by another published Avon writer. Apparently, the Powers that Be were so impressed with her sensual new voice that her first book is being brought in at the Avon Romantic Treasure level, a designation that gives the book a higher print run and greater promotional support than is usual for a debut author. I’ll be anxiously awaiting her first release to be published under the name Anna Chancellor in Spring 2007.

The Big Complaint:
The bar. Or rather the lack thereof. In my two previous conferences, the bar has always served as a central meeting point and, as everyone knew, cruising through at any time of the afternoon or evening led to many unexpected opportunities to chat with people you might not otherwise see. Inexplicably, the bar at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis didn’t open until 5 pm (!) and was decidedly un-cruiseable due to the fact that it was set at the top of some kind of weird mezzanine reached only after climbing a set of alarmingly steep steps that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mayan temple. As a result, casual “run-ins” at this conference were restricted to the lunch café and, in my case anyway, the bathroom – where I actually ran into none other than Lisa Kleypas and Kathryn Smith.

Personal Big Moments:
Meeting Julie Garwood, who is as beautiful and charming as you think she would be and who revealed that she is writing a Medieval romance (yeah!). Also – big thrill here – attending Nora Roberts’ fabulous pre-Rita cocktail party for the first time. Standing in that beautiful suite and seeing the likes of Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jo Beverley and Jennifer Cruisie and, of course, Ms. Roberts herself, was pretty darn thrilling to a long-time romance reader.

Who can it be now?:
The author who, in a major conference speech, stated that any one-star Amazon reviews of her books were solely motivated by envy? The author who gave this reviewer The Cut Direct throughout an entire luncheon motivated by – hey, you do the math – a less than stellar review in direct contrast to yet another author at the same table in receipt of same who introduced herself in a forthright and friendly manner and who actually shook my hand? And, last but decidedly not least, the much-beloved author who, to my eyes, anyway, seemed to be just a bit out of the loop following her recent change of direction? Any guesses?

With no perceptible train wrecks (a la last year’s controversial RITA ceremony), this year’s RWA conference was a fun and exciting event for this intrepid reporter – as evidenced by my exhaustion when I finally dragged myself home on Sunday afternoon. I just hope they get that bar thing back on track.

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