This was a very special year for Celebrate Romance. Due to many personal matters the previous organizer was unable to plan the 2004 event. Luckily Leanne Davis and Karen Wheless picked up the torch and, with a mere 10 weeks, put together one of the best CR's yet!
Celebrate Romance is not your usual conference. It isn't about profit (far from it!), models, and mayhem. It isn't about learning how to write, finding an agent, or getting published. No, CR is about fans sharing their love of romance with each other. It doesn't matter what you do, or who you are. Both authors and readers come to CR as equals to discuss the romance genre and how it has touched their lives. No genre is left out, and everyone always leaves with more books than they expected to. For CR2004 I was glad to see that under the new leadership it kept its original values completely intact.
The event was held at the Chicago Oakbrook Hyatt from May 14th-16th. As usual it was a very intimate affair which was made more so by the set up of our meeting area. It was like we had an entire side of the hotel to ourselves! We had two rooms and unlike other years we could use them anytime we wanted!
CR kicked off on Friday night with a Chicago deep dish pizza party and carnival games. I don't know whose brilliant idea it was to bring games like a bean toss, pin the ring on the finger, and air guns but as corny as it sounded we all had WAY too much fun! Prizes were handed out to everyone who participated, and I know that there were many a tired attendee pulling themselves out of bed the next day because most of us didn't stop partying until well past midnight!
Saturday started with a wonderful continental breakfast with some of the best fruit I've ever had. After mingling a bit and joking around with Josie Martinez at registration I bought some raffle tickets and browsed the gifts. This year's raffle was incredible. Not only did we have a plethora of prizes, but you got to select what prize you wanted to have a chance to win! I didn't go home with anything, but I was happy to see that the Rakehell "Regency starter kit" containing goodies like Chase's Isabella and Balogh's The Trysting Place went to a good home. :)
At around 10am we all gathered in the meeting room and listened to speeches. I especially liked listening to newly published author Jennifer Stevenson speak on her journey from reader to writer to author. As usual it was an energetic morning, so when lunch came I think we were all ready for it.
I usually don't like to talk about con food since it's reliably terrible, but I must make a quick comment on how GOOD the food was. Even for someone like me with a million and one allergies I was always happy and well fed. Lunch was a fresh Mexican-style meal, and the tea Writerspace put on had wonderful cakes, fruit, and crustless sandwiches.
After lunch we broke into discussion groups to talk about what our favorite books are, what we hate see happen in books, and what makes us pick a book up and give a new author a try. Most of us weren't ready to stop talking but knowing that we had the General Book Trade and a tea with Susan Elizabeth Phillips coming up we all managed to tear ourselves away.
I sped through the book trade being sure to pick up some of the books we had just talked about in the discussion sessions and made my way to the main room for tea. I've never read Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but I can tell you that she is a magnificent speaker and VERY personable. She spoke a bit about what it was like for her to write, and how becoming a mega success has changed her. She then answered questions, chatted with fans, and signed books.
That evening 40 of us went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Nothing changed though! We were still a loud, energetic, group of women chattering about romance novels.
Sunday is a bittersweet day for me. It contains my favorite part of the con and my saddest. The book signing is the time to buy books, have old books signed, and make sure that people are reading your favorite authors. It's a time to see well-established authors sneak a few books out of their bags and blushingly ask their own favorite authors to sign them. It's a time for meeting authors like Susan Carroll, Jade Lee, Victoria Alexander, and the ever dynamic writing team Tori Carrington. It's a time of chaos, noise, and general goodwill. But it all has to come to an end. As lunch bags for the road were passed out and the last raffle numbers called, I knew that I would see all my friends, new and old, next year. But a year seems so far away when you're hugging those friends goodbye.
Until next year…
Cybil Solyn – Fan