Last weekend was a great time in the Midwest for the romance genre! Every two years the Chicago North chapter of Romance Writers of America hosts their popular Spring Fling conference, and this year their headliners were Kristan Higgins, Mary Balogh and Lauren Dane.

Since I live in Madison, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to meet some great authors and have at leastRomance 1 a couple of fan girl moments. I mean, who doesn’t love those writers?!

Kristan Higgins gave the Gala speech on Saturday night and gave away copies of The Best Man (one of my favorite books of 2013) to all the attendees. The address was just like her writing, both funny and touching. Last year she gave the keynote speech at the RWA national conference, which had the huge audience laughing and crying—including her firefighter husband, known affectionately as McIrish. If you’re a romance fan, it’s worth watching.

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Mary BalRomance 2ogh was a delight to hear and meet. (Don’t you think our outfits make a striking match?) I have been a longtime fan of her historical romances, but I’ve been especially impressed by her recent Survivor’s Club series, with its handful of truly wounded heroes. Last year’s The Arrangement was delightful, and I look forward to this summer’s release of The Escape.

Finally, I didn’t get a picture of just Lauren Dane, but I caught up with her and two other wonderful writers on possibly the prettiest day we’ve had yet in this part of the world. (from left to right, Molly O’Keefe, Lauren Dane and Megan Hart) If you’re looking for some great books from these authors, try Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O’Keefe, though I’m really anticipating her Boys of Bishop series coming up this summer. I loved Lauren Dane’s paranormal worldbuilding in Going Under and the Bound By Magick series, but the librarian/ex-rockstar sexy romance in the upcoming The Best Kind of Trouble looks hot, hot, hot! Finally, Megan Hart writes more women’s fiction than romance, and explored complex questions in Tear You Apart. Her new release, Flying, looks like it has similar themes of erotic passions coupled with confused emotions. Intriguing.

 

The Chicago North team did a great job on this conference, and their wel

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coming attitude and friendly helpfulness made it a grand success. I only wish I could mention all the wonderful planners and amazing writers who were there!

Meanwhile, in an embarrassment of Midwest riches, on Saturday in Milwaukee, friend-of-romance Barbara Vey hosted her popular Reader’s Appreciation Luncheon with over 50 authors taking part. Milwaukee is only a little over an hour from Chicago, so I drove down I-94 to meet another set of writers.

This event’s speaker was the inimitable Debbie Macomber, who charmed and entertained the crowd with her speech on how she stays humble. I was particularly amused by her account of the sales clerk who corrected her pronunciation of “Macomber.” While all of her best-selling novels are crowd pleasers, I am especially fond of her Christmas Angels, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. Here’s Debbie with Barbara:

I had a chaRomance 4nce to meet a lot of favorites, including Elizabeth Hoyt (love her Maiden Lane series!), Jade Lee, Eloisa James (be sure to read Three Weeks With Lady X, one of her best ever), the hysterical Eileen Dreyer, Sharon Sala and so many others! (Great job, Barbara!)

For me, though—and with all due respect to Debbie Macomber and all of these wonderful authors—the highlight of Barbara’s lovely luncheon was the chance to meet another author. Now, I’d have a very hard time ever picking a favorite writer, but if someone, say, put a knife to my throat and demanded an answer or risk-pain-of-death, one likely reply would be Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I was honored to interview her for Kirkus a couple of years ago when her last book, The Great Escape, released. Her next book, Heroes Are My Weakness, arrives in August. (I can’t wait!) It was a true pleasure to meet her. (Here I am, looking joyful anRomance 5d maybe just a little starstruck and fan-girly...)

The weather here is chilly, gray and rainy again, despite the fact that’s it’s almost May, but for just a blip in time we had a peek of spring in Chicago and Wisconsin—and our spirits were warmed as some of the best writers and nicest people in the industry talked love, books and romance in the Heartland. 

I only wish I could mention all the wonderful planners and amazing writers who were there! (Though I should say I did finally have the pleasure of meeting Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, who also writes a romance blog for Kirkus—so we were well-represented in Chicago.)

 Bobbi Dumas is a freelance writer, book reviewer, romance advocate, and founder of ReadARomanceMonth.com. She mostly writes about books and romance for NPR, The Huffington Post and Kirkus