Our big winter event, Adventures in Fiction, was held on February 15th—yes, Valentine’s Day weekend. What better time for romance readers to meet and mingle with authors and fellow readers than on a day when we celebrate romance? Actually, it wasn’t my idea. But it did work out! The night before, the hotel was filled to the brim with happy couples dancing and enjoying Boney James. To be honest, though I found the name familiar, I had to go home and consult the Internet to find out who he was. Yes, I was right: This was definitely my husband’s kind of music. The crowds were dressed in their nicest outfits, women in beautiful dresses and men in suits. If we went back 200 years it could have been a ton ball!

See, I’m definitely a romance reader. But I digress.

Our Adventures in Fiction event was a jam-packed afternoon and evening of books, authors, readers, bloggers, husbands and fans as well as an occasional passerby. Our bookseller, Barnes & Noble Stonebriar, was there with as many books as they could bring for our signing authors, and in addition many of the authors brought and sold books too. It’s a sign of the changing times, with the growing popularity of e-books and self-publishing, for authors to sell directly to the reader. As author Kay Thomas writes in her AvonRomance.com review of the event: “Saturday I signed more leather ereader covers and canvas book bags than print books.” So it made sense for us to sell bags and covers as well as books. Readers want to remember the chance they had to meet authors—their old favorites and the new ones they plan on trying.

Speaking of new authors, let’s talk about Liliana Hart. She was at our Readers & ’Ritas event in November whereAdventures in Fiction 1 she made a huge impression on some of our readers who had never read her books before. These same readers were back at Adventures and brought friends who bought more of Hart’s books. As some authors are only published in e-book format, it’s sometimes hard to find great new authors. Adventures in Fiction was designed to give readers a chance to meet new authors and give their books a try. Author Traci Andrighetti introduced to her new mystery series set in New Orleans, which follows the adventures of a transplanted Austin gal Franki Amato as she tries her hand at the PI business in the “big easy.” Andrighetti met us with a bottle of Limoncello and boas to talk about Limoncello Yellow (Gemma Halliday Presents, January 2014). She promises each book title will incorporate a drink, so we not only have a great mystery with romance but a new cocktail to uncover and sample.

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Some favorite authors at the event included Sharon Sala and Jill Shalvis, who spent as much time as readers wanted to talk about their books and characters. After all, those characters are old friends who’ve seen readers through thick and thin, through good days and bad. The thrill of meeting an author celebrity and commemorating the occasion with a photo can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Authors can feel like friends as readers become familiar with their stories and characters and enjoy their company in person at events such as Adventures. Winnie Griggs, who writes heartfelt American historicals was there, as well as Connie Cox. Her contemporary romance Contractually Yours is one of our favorites. We also got to chat with Sylvia McDaniel, who just finished up a series in a perfect manner by finding the best man for her matcAdventures in Fiction 2hmaker momma. Fun-loving Jade Lee made us laugh and gave us all a little guy to take home who’s useful for making us smile, and he holds a smartphone very handily! Jay Crownover had the best set-up with her skull mugs. I tried very hard to snatch one for my own mug collection, but alas she only had the two and needed them for her next event. Next time!

Candace Havens had a colorful table with a special secret club you could join. Heather Long’s Marine teddy bear was a huge hit as was Kathy Bennett’s flashing EMT light which perfectly matches her book series featuring LAPD detective Maddy Divine. Bennet served 21 years with the LAPD and knows about what she’s writing. As does ER nurse Suzanne Ferrell—be sure to check out her Edgars Family series. Giveaways included special dog tags, candies, treats and books.

We capped off the evening with a dinner and masquerade ball. To celebrate the release of Rachel Caine’s Prince of Shadows (NAL, February 2014), our masquerade theme was Italian Nights. Each party goer received a favor including a colorful Venetian-style mask to match the outfits of our hostess and host—Rachel and her husband, Cat Conrad, a noted artist. And let’s not forget that Prince of Shadows cake! Our entertainment also included a sword fighting demonstration. First they swordsmen fought a fierce duel, and then talked us through it movement by movement, followed by the duel agaPrince of Shadows cakein in fast motion. It was intriguing to see how the balance of control passed from fencer to fencer. To see what we only read about in novels being performed in front of us was an enlightening tableau.

With nearly 60 authors—only a few canceled due to the awful weather in other parts of the country—it's nearly impossible to mention all who were in attendance. But for those who came out, it was a balmy 75 degrees on the 15th, the book signings were a joy and all will be talked about for a long time. I’m already getting requests for who should come in 2015. You should mark your calendar now: It’s scheduled for February 7, 2015.

Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors Adventures in Fiction in February, an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.