New Orleans was the host city for the 2014 Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention, held from May 13–18. On Saturday, May 17, some 3,600 readers gathered for the RT Book Fair to meet 750 authors, roughly 100 of whom were YA, who signed books and chatted with readers in the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street. The convention’s Teen Day, which took place after the Book Fair ended, offered workshops, YA author speed-readings, and a party where readers had the opportunity to mingle with their favorite authors. “Teen day was amazing! I met so many young readers – many of whom were aspiring writers themselves,” said C.J. Redwine (Deception). At the party, she said, “There was a photo booth, a dance floor, and a room full of free books for the teens to grab. Teens and authors circulated the room taking pictures, dancing, and signing books.”
The interactive atmosphere between readers and authors helped RT stand out among attendees. “Romantic Times is one of my favorite conventions because there is so much unvarnished enthusiasm, from readers, and also among authors,” said writer Gayle Forman. “One YA author pointed out that the Lorde lyric “we’re on each other’s team” basically describes our community, and I really felt that at RT.” Forman brought a surprise guest to her Saturday panel, “From Publication to Adaptation to Production. “Liana Liberato, who plays Kim in the If I Stay movie, was in town, and she took a bunch of us authors to Cafe Du Monde – and then she showed up as a special guest on a panel. The excitement was enormous from the readers, but also from my YA colleagues. And that means a lot. Team indeed.”
The hotel was jam-packed with attendees, but the throng did little to deter the personal feel of the convention. “The size and scope was definitely overwhelming, but it was incredible meeting authors I admire but only know from social media,” said Sarah Fine (co-author, with Walter Jury, of Scan). “My favorite moment from the Book Fair was getting to sign a copy of one of my books that a teen had brought with her on her trip to RT just for that purpose. It was neat to know it mattered that much to her.”
As authors fanned out for workshops and panels after the Book Fair, they often found themselves playing tour guide. “Teen Day was tremendously fun, and the best part was helping some of the teens find their favorite authors to sign books for them. Like, ‘Claudia Gray? Ooh! I know her! She’s right over here.’ Seeing their enthusiasm for books and reading was so energizing.”
The authors, too, demonstrated terrific enthusiasm. Sarah Rees Brennan (Unmade) took her responsibilities as moderator for a speed-reading panel quite seriously, tackling Jennifer Lynn Barnes (The Naturals,) to keep her reading under the two-minute mark.
For her part, Brennan was so impressed by the teen readers’ energy that she coined a new name for the convention. “They were brimming over with enthusiasm, rubbing shoulders with adult romance fans, and looking forward to a future of being passionately delighted by fiction for years to come. Not that I’m saying that we should change the name to Passionate Times. Or am I?”
Along with passion, a certain level of transparency and honesty emerged from authors and young readers coming face-to-face. “I love that younger readers don’t pull any punches,” said Leigh Bardugo, who was given fan art by one reader and credited by another with inspiring her to study Russian (the setting for Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series was inspired by Tsarist Russia). “After the Stump the Author panel, I had two girls come up to me and say, ‘We think you’re funny. Are your books?’ All I could do was laugh and sputter, ‘Uh, sort of?’ ”