Overwhelmed in Atlanta

I finally met Rhett Butler.

I walked into a bar and there he was looking suave and dangerous, the kind of man who should have swept Scarlett O’Hara off her feet from the moment they met. Instead she spent half the time chasing after that wimpy Ashley.

Scarlett was there, too, looking demure—not at all the fiery, stubborn woman of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.

The two life-sized cardboard cutouts decorated the bar area of an Atlanta restaurant called Miss Pitty Pat’s Porch. The restaurant served Southern cuisine and was happily only a block and a half from the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention where I spent this past week.

I choose one bookish conference a year, one that has a giant book-signing and a lot of classes relating to craft and marketing. The signings are done in a huge ballroom with long tables lined with authors, each given a seat with three feet of space. In my space I had three different books, a bowl of Hershey’s kisses, and paper bookmarks. I sat between a woman who writes very naughty books and one who writes military thrillers. We’re seated alphabetically and we were all G’s.

I like this convention for several reasons: the nearly three thousand attendees are divided almost equally between those who read and those who write. Authors, both published and aspiring, sit in classes and learn everything from improving their characters to where to advertise their books to get noticed. Readers attend the games sponsored by the publishing houses who provide free books to winners and every person who attends.

And that’s why readers fly in from all over the country. There’s a sponsored party every night, sponsored games every day, and boxes in the mailing center for them to ship home all of their free books. If they’re fans of certain authors, they get a chance to hang out with them, get a paperback signed, have their picture taken. The lines for Sylvia Day, Iris Johansen, Julia Quinn, and other A-list authors were quite long.

It’s all a big show with benefits. The huge number of craft and business sessions can be enlightening and quite overwhelming. And when strangers come to your table at the Giant Book Fair and tell you they love your books it’s quite humbling.

For me the best part was having that encounter with Rhett, even if he was my mother’s first book boyfriend. I think my first book boyfriend was Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But there have been so many others since.

And there will be many more in the future.

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