Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Books, Authors, and Readers - Oh My!

Many gazillion moons ago - or two weeks ago if you use a more traditional calendar - I participated in the Suzanne Brockmann readers gathering known as "Storming into Atlanta". It was held in Atlanta since the timing put it a few days before RWA. I have no intention of trying to recap the whole experience, other than to say it was fabulous. But I am going to share some moments that stick out for me.

But first some notes and disclaimers. This was my first "Suze" event. I do not actively read or post on the SB bulletin board so I went in knowing no one. I had met internetically one person and we agreed to be roommates. I was aware that there would be other authors there, but other than Ed Gaffney (who happens to be married to Suze) I had somehow missed hearing of any of them (except in Suze's acknowledgements). And I had not yet bought or read either of Ed's books. So, Suze was the only author there I had read. (I have since corrected this).

So, registration began at two, and my flight go me into Atlanta around one thirty, so I was at the hotel a bit after two. Our room wasn't ready yet so, I went off to register and was apparently the first non-volunteer there. So, while I was registering this nice woman comes up and says, "Hi, I'm the author!". And I shook her hand. Meanwhile my internal dialogue was something along the lines of, "Oh my god! She looks different from her picture. I'm not ready for this! I'm not prepared yet. I have questions. Or maybe I shouldn't. Oh my gosh my mind just went totally blank. ---" (Yes, it was Suze - in the flesh).

So there was - as we came to call it - the yellow sheet game. (Also known as a getting to know you game.) I sat down to fill it out. Many of the volunteers and others in the suite were tearing tickets for the raffles into sets of ten. (I mention this because apparently there was much discussion over what the best denominations to divide them into was.) And as I sit down I'm checking out name tags. The tags had our names, our locale, a job title and a category. The title was not the job I do when not at author events. It was in my case Troubleshooters Linguist. (Cool! How did they know I took linguistics in college. Or that I keep learning new languages. Not that I'm fluent in much of anything other than English.) Some people were FBI. Others were Navy. That determined the meal you got to share with the authors. Then the tag had the category - I was a team member. Volunteers were sharpshooters. And VIPs - authors, speakers, and relatives were commanders. All very cool.

So, as I'm checking out tags and chit chatting while I fill out my sheet, I notice that the nice woman I'm speaking to, seated across from me, her tag says Lee Brockmann. Oh - it's Suze's mom! And, it turns out most of the lovely volunteers I sat and chatted with had been in Suze's acknowledgements.

A couple of us did at one point pull out "Apples to Apples" and even though I was the only one who had ever played, we ended pretty evenly. (Although Beki beat us all). Later that evening - after checking in and all that - I met Eric! Hey - I remembered him from the acknowledgments too. (Hey, I do read these things, and besides he's in more than one.) And Tom-the-Navy-SEAL was there too. But he had quite a crowd around him so I didn't meet him until later.

So, for those of you who may not be familiar with the story, Suze was writing category romances. She wanted to do something with characters that would naturally last over several books. A trilogy or something. So she was trying to come up with how that would work. Well, her friend Eric went to the dentist. And there, while waiting, he read a Newsweek article about Navy SEALs. They profiled one SEAL in particular, Tom Rancich. Eric called Suze after the appointment and told her to go read this article - that he had found her hook. And so, the Tall, Dark and Dangerous Team Ten group was born. (And yeah, it ended up going a little bit farther than a trilogy too.)

The other authors were Catherine Mann, Alesia Holliday, and Virginia Kantra. There were a number of panels with the authors. And Eric. (We'll count Tom as an author, he isn't published yet. But he's working on something.) We discovered that authors tend to be control freaks. Eric played host as each author came up so we could do Two Truths and a Lie with them. Everyone had filled out three sets, and Eric was picking the best. The authors got a bit snippy since they had created themes within each row, and he was messing up the theme. (Editor issues, anyone?)

Alesia's first book, E-mail to the Front (out of print, but I hear fabulous things so go hunt it down, or email her publisher), was about dealing with her Navy husband being in Iraq - their first wartime separation. During one Q&A, the subject turned to how 24/7 news had changed being at home in wartime. And Alesia talked about seeing that a ship had gone down about where her husband Judd was supposed to be. And that for several hours, she didn't know if it was his ship. And then she got the call that it was not, and that she remembers every moment of that phone call. Well, there were a few tears. Hers and others. Possibly even mine. So then there were a couple of jokes about how do you follow that!

Alesia, Tom, and Catherine (Cathy), along with Catherine's husband Rob took part in a panel about military life. While I won't name names, let's just say there were tears again, at one point, along with some lovely pronouncements about the honor of having a husband who did such great stuff, and due to the seating, the mike was getting passed from female to male, so the running joke for the guys trying to follow something emotional was to say, "So I was killing this guy..." Alesia said people said to her - especially after she wrote Email to the Front that since her dad had been in the service she knew what she was getting into. Except that, as she said, having a dad who goes away is very different from having a husband who goes away. But certainly she knew enough that she originally wouldn't date Judd, but he was persuasive and hot. Apparently. (Judd had planned to come to the event, but ended up getting shipped out. Which led to a few, "too scared to even show up" comments from other panelists.)

We had a discussion about The Wedding Dress by Virginia Ellis. I enjoyed the book but it isn't in my keep pile. It's a lovely story about three sisters in the post-Civil War South, trying to get by. The middle sister, who narrates the story, decides that the youngest - who is about seventeen and the only sister who didn't get married before the war - should have her chance at marriage and happiness. So, using a bit of what I call the Potomac Mills attitude (due to some ads that ran a lot in the nineties) they decide to start sewing a wedding dress. Despite the fact that they barely have money for food, aren't sure how they are going to hang onto the land, and they haven't seen a single man since before the war. It's the "get the dress, the occasion will come" attitude.

But it was very interesting having a fairly large discussion. It was also really interesting hearing the authors discuss it with their appreciation for some of the crafting of the story. Not to spoil too much of the story, but at one point the horse dies. It is early spring, so the dead horse clearly can't sit in the barn. So an elaborate scheme involving ropes and people and a hole and a donkey is put together to get the horse into an appropriate grave. Cathy said she thought that was a little sentimental of them, because she would have eaten the horse. (Much laughter followed that).

There were, of course, discussions about writing. And of writing a series - since particularly Cathy and Suze have ongoing series. (As do Alesia and Ed.) Cathy talked about (spoiler alert for the Wingman Warrior series) how she had a character named Lance. She had named Lance after Lancelot - who she always thought was a weenie (I agree) - and he was a big playboy, cheating on his girl on his temporary duty (TDY) assignments. So, her plan had always been to kill him off after a few books. And people are writing her, asking when she'll do Lance's story. Cathy also said that Rob - when he read where Lance died - told her he got the message.

Suze said it was wonderful that so many people loved her characters as much as she did. But that we all needed to remember that, in the end they were hers. That people would write her and ask her to promise this. Promise that this wasn't really true. That she was going to later reveal that this didn't happen. Or how could she have done this? And while she got it that it was amazing to have readers who are so caught up in these stories and these characters. But that she couldn't make choices based on that. And that she planned things pretty far out, so we just had to trust her. (Or not.)

There was the Cammies and Sequins party where both Cathy and Suze sang. And they all participated - including volunteer/reader/fan Laura - in Eric's "Famous Skit" - an abridgment of all of Suze's Troubleshooters series. (It was amazing).

Eric read from Alesia's to be released next year paranormal book, Atlantis Rising. Tom read from his book - a work in progress. Suze read from Into the Storm (in stores August 15th). Cathy read from Blaze of Glory - part of her new series. (In stores now - buy it it's great!) Virginia read. (Don't remember which one, but I just read Close-Up - in stores - it's great).

There were signings galore. (They let everyone bring backlist, in addition to having new ones available for purchase.) There were raffles. (I won a copy of Identity Unknown - with the man-titty cover). There was a silent auction. One person gets to be in one of Suze's books. (I'm not jealous. Really. Not at all.) I won a basket of Alesia stuff - including Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) versions of three of her books. Which have now all been signed. Squee!

And there was the Reader's Guide which we all go copies of. And - there were extras (and Border's has now requested them, so they will be available, as well as being on the web now). I mentioned to Suze that I had gotten my manager hooked on the series and would like to give her one. Not only did I get one for her, But Suze signed it, to my manager from me and Suzanne Brockmann. So cool!

Oh, and in addition to getting Ed to sign my new copy of Premeditated Murder, he's on my yellow sheet since his favorite show is "Veronica Mars". He and Suze got hooked when the DVDs came out, but by the time they finished them the second season had already started, so they are anxiously awaiting those. (Coming soon!).

Tom gamely agreed to be the sole panel speaker for a discussion about life as a SEAL. He said one of the big things is that his life in the Navy, and as a SEAL has given him a lot of great stories, so some people tend to get a little annoyed. When he was studying for his MBA, his group all met and discussed their goals. He said, one by one they all talked about how they wanted their group to get the best grades, As weren't enough. A pluses for everyone. And then he said that he had been in a helicopter crash where one of his buddies didn't make it and he had broken his neck. So, for him, breathing was a great accomplishment. (He has recovered well from the accident.) And so, while he was there to learn he wasn't going to spend a lot off time worrying about whether it was an A or an A plus. And one by one, they all went back around saying, "Oh yeah. I didn't really meant it before."

I had a great time. I think everyone did. I got to meet all these wonderful people - authors, readers, and combinations thereof. And I now have more authors to read. (I would say in my TBR pile, except that I've finished all but two of the ones I came home with.) And it was completely worth missing a few days of apartment hunting (although when I left I didn't know I was trading that.)

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