by Nancy Martin
Last weekend, I went to Florida to receive a Lifetime Achievement award from Romantic Times magazine. It's the kind of recognition you get, maybe, when people figure you're over the hill, right? Next stop--my obituary?
I hope the hell not. This particular award was for the mystery novel category--amateur sleuths, donchaknow--and I was nominated along with the likes of Edna Buchanan and Carolyn Hart, both of whom have been writing mysteries much longer (and better!) than I have. But in addition to solving crimes, my characters tend to take off their clothes and have wild monkey sex, which I think made the crucial difference to the RT folks, so I took home the statue. (The statue looks a lot like Oscar, by the way, but smaller. My daughter started calling him Humphrey, and it stuck. He's on my mantel at the moment.)
Twenty-six years ago, I attended the very first Romantic Times convention in New York. I was a young mother who was so desperate to avoid going back to teaching junior high English that during my maternity leave, I had pulled out my portable typewriter from college and tried writing a book--a long historical romance that was more Jane Eyre than bodice ripper--and by some miracle, I managed to sell it to a New York publisher. Trouble was, I didn't know anything about the publishing industry. And I lived in a very rural, isolated part of Pennsylvania with no resources for an aspiring popular fiction writer, so I knew I needed help. I spotted a tiny ad in a writing magazine that spurred me to send money to register for the first ever Romantic Times convention, which was going to feature agents, editors and publishers, plus a chance to meet other authors who would surely help a newbie.
I packed my Samsonite and went to New York for the very first time. The hotel was crowded with women like me--all a little intimidated, but eager to learn more. It was also thronged with panting media (the goddesses at Romantic Times have always known how to draw a crowd of reporters) who were ready with cameras to record what they obviously thought was a silly bunch of women making fools of themselves over love stories.
Well, 26 years later, who's smirking now? Romance novels sell 1.375 BILLION DOLLARS EVERY YEAR. Romance Writers of America is the go-to writers organization in the world. (If you don't know exactly what a romance novel is, go here. And if you don't keep an open mind, more the fool you are.) And I know fans who keep spread sheets of the books they've read (Debby, are you there?) and timetables for books that will be soon released. This genre may be single-handedly keeping the publishing business alive.
After my first workshop at that long-ago RT convention (I took frantic notes during Bertrice Small's session on historical research) I worked up the courage to approach the woman who was going to publish my first book in a few months' time.
She shook my hand rather coldly and said, "Oh, I remember that book. I didn't like it. But we'll publish it anyway."
I would have been devastated by her cruel remark, if I hadn't found myself standing in the center of a phenomenon---that exciting convention of women just like me.
From the very beginning, Romantic Times magazine set out to create a supportive community of writers and readers. (The close interaction with readers, I think, has always made the romance genre more quick to respond to the market. Surely one of the genre's strengths.) RT's staff of reviewers has been unapologetic about their love of romance and encouraged fans to branch out and read widely. The enthusiasm generated by the RT organization has surely been a part of that $1.3 billion in sales. And they have pried open closed minds with a silk-covered crowbar. (What became of that cold publisher, you ask? Well, she's no longer with us on this earthly plane. And I've written nearly 50 books since the day she tried to cut my heart out.)
I have been very grateful for what Romantic Times has done for me for these 26 years. Oh, it's nice to receive an award, and Humphrey's going to stay on my mantel for a while, but I'm much more thankful that Kathryn Falk, Carol Stacy and the rest of the RT staff have created a community where writers like me can flourish.
I'm skipping the Malice Domestic convention this week, and I don't plan on attending the Edgar festivities next week, either. I'll miss the fun, of course. But I'm not heartbroken. Because my homeys are at Romantic Times.
PS. You can find us on Twitter now! Look for Lipstickblog. I think.