A lot of vampires this year.
I mean discussion of vampires (though since it was Anne Rice's home town you never know) at the annual meeting of the PCA/ACA (Popular and American Culture Association) last week in New Orleans.
And of course a whole lot of discussion on romance novels, including presentations from fellow hoyden Lauren Willig and myself, on panels sponsored by the Romance Subject Area of this scholarly organization.
All a little bit new to me, since although I'd signed up for last year's PCA in San Francisco the conference wound up conflicting with my Amazing Three-Week Revision-turned-Rewrite of The Edge of Impropriety, so all I did was limp in to deliver a limp presentation and limp back home to the computer. Other than which my
conference-going has been mainly limited to Romance Writers of America's annual national extravaganza and (deep in my past) a few extramural meetings of software developers.
But I do know enough to predict a few inevitabilities re myself and big meetings...
- First, that I will start out shy, convinced that no one will talk to me. It'll be RWA 1999 all over again, I tell myself, when I genuinely believed (now it can be told) that the point of getting a book published was so you'd have somewhere to go on the Friday night of RWA National when the publishers gave their parties and the published girls got all dressed up.
- Next that I will discover (again!) that people are really quite nice and friendly -- whereupon (wired by the opportunity to talk face-to-face with all entities I've hitherto only encountered online or in books -- or in the case of Lauren, both) I talk way too much; toss around in bed thinking of what-all I could additionally have said; wreck my health (at least temporarily) by agonizing over my own panel presentation and falling to pieces after I give it; finally to stagger happily onto an (inevitably) germ-infested airplane and cough and sniffle my way through my first days home.
- And finally that the conference hotel elevators will never be up to the task of getting everybody where they want to go as fast as they want to get there, so it's best to learn to make elevator friends.
All of which were true of my experience at PCA/ACA -- including a great conversation during a long elevator wait with a very very
young man who'd just given a presentation on The Wire
, which I would have gone to if there weren't so many romance panel discussions. Still, it was great to connect with a non-romance pop-culture homie, greeting one another in the local patois, viz, "are you into Omar or Stringer Bell?" (It's Stringer for me, of course -- evil, gorgeous, and heartbreaking in his glasses and lonely doomed dreams.)
While as for wrecking one's health -- I did tell you the event was in New Orleans, didn't I? It was my first time there, and though of course I was looking forward to the food, I didn't expect that for my first lunch, wandering around the city before the conference got underway, I'd eat the single most delicious thing I've ever eaten in my life -- a fried oyster po' boy sandwich at Parasol's Restaurant and Bar
(yeah, it's as funky as the picture -- and wonderful) in the Irish Channel Neighborhood near the Garden District (found with Lonely Planet's help).
Nor did I have any idea that New Orleans cooking is so good and skillful that you can ingest more grease, sugar, carbs, meat, and alcohol than you'd have imagined possible and it doesn't catch up with you until sometime after you get off the plane back home and start in on the hacking and sniffling.
But by now the coughs and sniffles are almost gone, I'm sure that any day now I will return to my Weight Watchers regimen, and I had a terrific time, mostly due to the energy and enthusiasm of the romance scholar contingent. You can find out more from and about this smart and lively, warm and wonky bunch at the Teach Me Tonight Blog
, and most particularly about their missionary zeal that romance fiction should get the same scholarly attention that all the other popular culture forms (like detective fiction, sci fi, etc etc) get. Which means conferences (check out the big news about this upcoming do -- Love as the Practice of Freedom, at Princeton
), an academic journal
, and attention paid to research and classroom teaching.
And though missionary zeal isn't my favorite stance on anything (in any roomful of head-nodders, you'll find me knitting my brow), I'm happy to report that at PCA my yes-buts
and calls for explanation brought forth interesting, respectful responses and much to ponder. Some snippets being...
- The roundtable on pedagogy where I learned that many college students (including, sacre bleu, English majors!) don't immediately understand that a text is a structure that can be taken apart like a car engine. Who knew? But given that that seems to be the case, it makes good sense to teach them literary analysis is with a book they know they like -- like a romance.
- An ad hoc to-be-continued-I-hope conversation I had with An Goris, who's doing her dissertation on Nora Roberts, as we tried to find words for what, stylistically, makes Nora Nora -- typical and exceptional, creator and participant of the genre at the same time. No conclusions, but I was fascinated by how interesting and challenging a question it was.
- A terrific presentation on British and U.S. takes on the Regency -- from Professor Maryan Wherry -- which began with a quote from The History Hoydens Blog.
- You've already gotten preliminary taste of Lauren's presentation here -- it was even better extended and out loud, and the only problem was that she was the only historian presenting (her panel-mates talking about the psychology and sociology of romance communities -- interesting all, but not the same thing). Yo, romance scholars! Get more historians! Lauren's discussion of how romance readers understand history needed more stuff to bounce off. Re-enactor culture maybe, Kalen? Hoydens, what do you think?
- As for my presentation -- it was about time. By which I mean that I talked about how time works in the the romance novel (with some help from Jane Austen and the genre's ancestors in drama and religion). Which was fun to think through and which taught me something about the romance form as I'd been using it even before I knew I was doing it. Because before I prepared this paper I hadn't entirely realized that all of my romance novels end in the same space they begin, as per the loopy shape of the romance story as I understand it, the ongoing plot making its way along a great circle route through the past. And I'm grateful for the comment from the very lovely Professor Julie Moody-Freeman, that for journeys through the past I should look to the work of Toni Morrison (whom I haven't read in years but whom I will soon again, now that I've got a new hook to hang her work on in the lumber room of my musings).
And, as they say, much much more -- including, I see, an extensive set of reports on the vampire panels at Professor Jessica Miller's fascinating and new-to-me blog, Racy Romance Reviews
(it was also great to meet Jessica at the conference) -- a gazillion books to resolve to read -- and plans for the future... if they'll have me... 'cause I'm sort of thinking of taking on space
But I left out so much. Thanks again, romance scholars! And all input from participants, would-be participants, vampire fans, hoydens and theory-groupies, and anyone with a hopeless crush on Stringer Bell... all welcome.
Labels: IASPR, New Orleans, Popular Culture Association, The Wire