**Please welcome Jessica Nathan, who attended Fresh Fiction’s Readers & ‘Ritas event in November! She has put together a wonderful overview of her time at the event, meeting authors and other readers. Look for more articles from Jessica soon, discussing the things she’s been reading and loving lately…**
It is no small thing to feel welcomed. To feel as though you have arrived in a space where you are not only safe, but with others who not only appreciate your company, but enjoy it and would seek it out over others. And to create this with a group larger than three is rare. (Even more rare for a group of women)
This was my first-time attending Readers & ‘ritas (RNR). I have attended numerous smaller Fresh Fiction (FF) gatherings at restaurants, member homes and the monthly tea (this year, almost everyone attended by an author). My initial “hook” for attending the two-and-a-half-day conference was the allure of the elusive and legendary author Christine Feehan. For those unfamiliar with her work, I will not spend time berating you and simply let her numerous best-selling series, one of which is over 30 books long, speak for themselves. For those who are familiar, Feehan rarely travels due to her grueling writing schedule, and when she does travel, she rarely visits Texas. As a Feehan reader for over 20 years, I was not going to let the opportunity slip through my fingers.
I struggle to find singular words or cliched phrases to encapsulate my experience at RNR because it fulfilled my expectations for a wonderful time and yet exceeded them exponentially with the sense of friendship and fun. From the starting activity of the scavenger hunt, readers were able to interact one on one with authors in a relaxed atmosphere; and I say “interact” with purpose. We were not simply talking. We were playing games, we were laughing, making jokes; and as I made my way through the activities, I came upon two women sitting alone at a table and I asked one her name and she said, “I’m Christine Feehan.”
Yes. I freaked out.
Feehan was beyond kind and patient with my fan-girling. I was beyond annoyed with myself for leaving my phone at another table, so I could not take a picture. But she patiently listened to me go on and on about loving the Carpathian series and how I loved her and was beyond grateful for what she did. Yes, a line was growing behind me, but this was a “moment” for me. The moment I got to meet an author who provided me with so many hours of joy and numerous other emotions whenever I needed an escape from my own life over the past years. I have shared my enthusiasm for her books with countless others, but this was “the moment” I got to meet the creator of the source of my experiences in person. I was only able to extract myself from my chair by telling myself I would be having dinner with her in a few hours. Yes, I was one of the lucky ten who were selected to sit with her for dinner the first night. I had been telling myself all day that, that would be when I would finally meet THE Christine Feehan.
Authors are authors for a reason. They have creativity oozing from every pore. From the games during the scavenger hunt to their table settings during meals and their book-themed raffle baskets, every interaction seemed to have a personal touch.
Case in point: my place setting at Feehan’s table was beyond fabulous. Her daughter, Domini, pulled out all the stops with beautiful bags made from covers of Feehan’s books, scarves and gloves with text from different series, and fabulous chocolates. It was truly a Feehan Fan table. Below is my out-of-this-world place setting for dinner with Feehan.
At the panels (and everywhere else) I asked every question I had without reservation: the publishing industry, cover art, what authors like to listen to while writing, and author goals. The sense of freedom and open friendship came from the atmosphere cultivated by FF staff; they made it clear from the beginning that truly everyone was a “winner” because everyone was literally going home with bags of books and other fun goodies (seriously, this is a reader conference so all we really care about are the books). Raffle baskets were icing on the cake, which I participated in with relish. FF worked with Genesis, the Dallas-based women’s shelter and support organization, as this year’s charitable cause. A portion of raffle ticket sales go to the shelter and assist the organization in its mission in helping women rebuild their lives after escaping abusive situations. Participants knew they were assisting a worthy cause while having a chance to win a prize. For me, all weekend I had my eye on a bunny-themed basket, so I ended up dropping a majority of my tickets in that bag, et voila! Fortune smiled on my Saturday evening and I walked away extremely happy.
I was smiling and laughing the entire conference with authors I was either already familiar with or authors I can now not wait to read (cough, C.L. Wilson). I was able to talk and joke with friends I already had from previous FF meetings, and I was able to meet and make many new friends, some who had even traveled from out of state. My only moment of sadness was the end; when I knew it was time for me say my final goodbyes. Not goodbyes to authors, but goodbyes to friends, in particular, the organizers and the wizards behind the curtain, Sara and Gwen Reyes. They always make me laugh and give their full heart to every event they host, making sure every attendee feels their importance as a guest. It made me feel a special kinship when an attendee approached Gwen and said “I just wanted to say “Kudos” for a job well done. This was a great event.” I did not know the attendee and I slowly backed away as I did not want to intrude on her “moment” of reflection on the wonderful time she had or the realization that she was about to depart the lovely space of “reader tribe” and kinship we were all feeling. Logically, I knew Gwen had to be dead on her feet and would rather be in pajamas, fuzzy socks, and at home. Similarly, Sara had to be exhausted and ready to see everyone gone so she could go home and relax in the tub for an hour before getting back to the typical “after event” work of accounting (of everything). But at this moment, I just knew the feeling of sadness one experiences when you have to say goodbye to someone whose presence you have missed in your life (I recently moved from the local area and am no longer able to attend local events. I used to see the ladies of Fresh Fiction on average once a week. Now I will not see them at all except on rare occasions.) Yes, the books, goodies aka alcohol, and baskets were all very fun takeaways, but I treasure the time I was able to spend with all of the women.
Feeling strong, safe, and empowered can come from many different sources, and RNR is an event I found managed to encapsulate all of those qualities. I hope FF will continue to host RNR for many years to come so many others can experience the fun and kinship I was fortunate enough to experience.
Some of the items I received from RNR above (I was a nice daughter and sister and allowed my family to raid the baskets prior to taking a photo of my entire haul from the conference. Lesson learned.)
**Thank you again to Jessica for her incredible recap of Readers & ‘Ritas! We are so happy she had a fabulous time. Looking forward to another awesome event next year! Be sure to check out our Events page to see what is coming up.**