Tuesday, February 23, 2010

San Francisco, Part One

Hello, and Welcome to the inaugural Tuesday Authorial posting on the Authorial Mom blog!

(Don't panic. That was as formal as it gets around here. Tangential humor still rules.)

So, I packed up the Husband and the Kid and went to San Francisco last week. On Thursday, I'll talk more about what we did as a family on our vacation. But I didn't go just for the vacation. I went for the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Hosted by my agency, Larsen Pomada Literary Agents, the San Francisco Writers conference was at the top of Nob Hill in (surprise!) San Francisco. And when I say the top, I'm not kidding. That hill was freaking huge.

I didn't walk around it too much for a few days, though. The Mark Hopkins hotel, where the conference was held, was a beautiful place, and it was full of all sorts of people! Writer people, agent people, and even editor people! In other words, my kind of people!

Well, sort of. Most of these writer people write 'literary fiction,' which is good stuff, but tends to have fewer steamy sex scenes and greatly reduced chances of a conventional happily-ever-after ending. I write romance. I'll be honest, I was worried about getting funny looks. I don't handle confrontation well.

Turns out, I didn't need to worry. The only problem came at the session entitled "Putting Passion on the Page" with Rachelle Chase, Elizabeth Jennings, and Margaret Marbury. It was the only romance-focused session at the conference, and about half the people in the very crowded conference room were men. It was the last question of the session, and a woman asked "Yes, could you tell me what the difference between pornography and erotica is?"

That is, hands down, the worst question in the world. And about the most commonly asked one.

Rachelle, Elizabeth, and Margaret were great, though. They stuck the landing with a perfect 10. And, in case you were wondering, the answer is that pornography is a sex act. Tab A into Slot B. Nothing more, nothing less. Romance is about a relationship between two people, of which sex is a natural, emotional part. Emotion is the key word there, people. Emotional as in love. As in happily ever after.

I digress. I did get some funny looks, as in I personally found them funny. I sat between two gentlemen at the first lunch, Raymond Edge and David Shapiro. Raymond writes anthropological fiction, set in early American Indian periods, while David has an awesome natural history graphic novel aimed at middle-school boys. And the conversation went like this (in between bites of less-than-awesome salmon):

"So, what do you write?"

"New western romance."

It's not easy for one's eyebrows to shoot up and backward at the same time as one blinks slowly, but it is doable. "Well . . ." and then something interesting happened. "What does 'new western' mean?"

So I did my elevator pitch, "Where the cowboys are the Indians, but they often have cell phones, pick-up trucks, and advanced degrees."

And then something even more interesting happened. "Do you have a particular tribe in mind?" Now, it turned out that Raymond also writes about American Indians, but this was a common male-based question. I answered it six times in three days.

When I went to the Romance Writers of America conference last July, not a single person asked about the tribe. They wanted to know about hunks on horseback, which is totally fine with me. But the men want the non-romance specifics they can wrap their heads around. They want details. Real facts.

So I had a variety of interesting conversations with men (who would not be considered my typical reading audience) about the authenticity of being a white woman writing about Lakota Indians. It was weird, in a good way. I think the fact that I actually do my research (as opposed to just making stuff up, which I got the feeling people sort of expected me to do as a romance writer) earned me some writing respect.

So while I didn't feel like I was being attacked for writing romance, I did feel like I was representing the entire genre, so I better make it good. I talked to a lot of women who weren't sure if they wanted to call what they wrote 'romance' or not because of that aforementioned 'pornography' stigma.

Like Laurel Levy, who writes urban fantasy/paranormal. . . romance. I think. I haven't read her book yet (but will some time next week), but it sounded like the romance between the two main characters played a pretty major role. Or Lisa Slabach, who writes women's contemporary fiction and also has a romance sort of on the side. She's originally from Chicago, so she's cool, and by the time the conference had ended, she'd already made contact with her local chapter of RWA. Sarah Harian, who has an awesome sounding urban fantasy for young adults, was less concerned with labels, but I think that's because she's one of those 'young people' you hear about so much today who just do what they do and don't care what anyone else thinks. (I kid, Sarah!)

Look, I know that 'people' like to dismiss the entire romance genre as trashy, light-weight drivel, and, honestly, there's some stuff out there that is, in fact, trashy, light-weight drivel. But a lot of it isn't. A lot of it is good. Really good. These same 'people' also blow off other genres, like science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, horror, detective . . . pick a genre, they get dumped on. But the fact of the matter is that readers like romance, sci/fi, horror . . . all of them. Readers buy these books. Lots of these books. Romance alone counts as almost half of all books sold alone.

I'm an author. I write romance. I want to sell books.

I'm so glad we went to San Francisco. I met so many great people, plotted the next step of my journey with my agent (more on that next week), and saw a hell of a lot a great city (more on that Thursday).


lucylucia said...

I am so glad you help your own at the conference!

Sarah said...

"Most of these writer people write 'literary fiction,' which is good stuff, but tends to have fewer steamy sex scenes and greatly reduced chances of a conventional happily-ever-after ending."

I kind of died laughing here. ;-)

Thanks for the mention, and I really loved the romance insight. SO funny that the passion on the page panel was made up of mostly men! Lol!

And you can just say it--I really don't care what people think. =P

David Shapiro said...

I loved doing lunch with you! What fun it was to compare notes with so many other writers! Our three way conversation about Indians and the West was a hoot.I love that kind of cross genre talk that you only get at a writers conference. And btw...I enjoy the tribes and the facts, but I do love me some steamy romance scenes too!

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Thanks, Lucy!

Sarah, it was funny about all those men in there, wasn't it?

David, I officially count you as a future reader now. You're on the hook.

Laurel Levy said...

Thnx for the heads up.
Well, I think you and I are on sort of the same issue here. It irritates me to no end that people poo-poo romance or any genre.
That said, if there has to be a mascot for romance writing, I think it was well served having you.
I had a bunch more ideas about what to write, but somehow they decided to go for a walk in the park. hmm...

Blythe Gifford said...

Late to Tuesday's party, but just loved your comment about no, we don't just make up stuff. I spent more than an hour this week trying to document the status of postal service in Scotland in 1661. Who knew I could just invent airmail for my purposes?! (For the curious, yes, there WAS postal service in Scotland at that time.)

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Blythe, you're never late to my party! I can't tell you how much time I've spent trying to find someone who can translate Lakota for me! The research takes almost as long as the book!