You know when spring arrives thanks to two things: We lose an hour of sleep, which I’ll always hate, and South By Southwest occurs. But what does “South By” (or SXSW) have in common with books, or even more pertinent, with romance readers? Well, I’m here to provide my thoughts.
Romance readers are a curious bunch: We’re different from mainstream readers since we’re predominately women, and we’re also very inquisitive. Romance represents the cutting edge of fiction with stories and tales that push the boundaries of what’s real. Yes, our fiction is considered by academics and others as escapist. But who cares? I love when I’m buried in a great romance. I don’t care if the book’s universe is off-planet or inhabited by shapeshifters or even filled with historical situations and characters that would never have existed according to some know-it-all. I’ve got my real-life feet planted firmly on the ground, but I LOVE my times when I lose myself in a book.
So back to Austin, Texas. And South By.
A little background: South By Southwest started in 1987 as a music festival. Hundreds and then thousands of musicians descended on Austin during the University of Texas’ spring break. After all, what better to do when the kids leave town then to fill the air with music? After a few years, the film people wanted in on the action, especially the home-grown filmmakers of Texas, to gather and discuss the making of more innovative independent films. Then the techies wanted in. Now, South By is a mixing pot of tech, music, film, games and art: a conglomerate of creative thinking.
This year, two things were very apparent. First, authors, like other creative artists, need to learn to adapt to changing technologies. Second, fans are never going to go away. For this, authors should be excited. The only thing really changing is how to connect the fans with the books. Last week, I wrote about bookstores and how they are evolving to play a different role than just being a place to discover books. So, with time to explore a bit during my South By adventure, I met one of the biggies in popular fiction, Neil Gaiman, who was a keynote speaker at SXSW. Gaiman is a favorite among romance readers for his novels Good Omens, American Gods, Coraline and the award winning The Graveyard Book. He’s able to cross genres easily and bring the willing reader along for the ride.
Marketed to younger readers, Graveyard hooked many romance fans as well. Gaiman interviewed one of the kings of television, Chuck Lorre. Lorre, the creator of television shows including Dharma & Greg, Grace Under Fire, Cybil, Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly, has a new book, What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Bitter: the collection of all his vanity cards published in a coffee table–style book retailing for $100. It was a treat to listen to two authors at the top of their game discuss their careers and the changing reality as they find the business. Here are two guys, well-known to millions, that still worry about how to get the word out to their readers in a world where communication has changed drastically. The charm for me, though, is that while technology may be affecting and changing the way we receive our stories, it doesn’t change the basics.
I also attended an exciting panel on a collaboration of filmmakers and novelists in Denmark who are creating an online storytelling game. Cloud Chamber mixes a thriller with the technology of a game. I learned that a thriller or romantic suspense fits nicely into transmedia storytelling; much more effective than the better-soon-forgotten attempts by publishers a few years ago to turn romance novels into games. The concept is interesting, and I’m willing to give it a try when it comes to the States. Unfortunately I don’t speak Danish, so I can only admire the production beauty and look forward to something similar in English. I can imagine a great game in Laura Griffin’s books. Griffin has created a series, The Tracers, over the past three years that combines CSI technology with action packed plots and romantic couples you’ll love to read over and over. From the first book, Griffin manages to create stand-alone novels, but also keeps series fans happy by including enough of the previous characters and situations to be satisfyingly familiar.
Her last book, Scorched, takes us on a forensic trip to Southeast Asia to begin the mystery, but spends most of the book back in the familiar environs of Texas and the Delphi Center. Highly recommended by our reviewer, Scorched is a great introduction to the Tracers. It’s a fast-paced, non-stop suspense that could adapt easily to transmedia. Moving from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the plains of Texas with twisting action, and with bad guys never far behind, makes for great reading and could also be a fascinating game.
So, what do you look forward to in the upcoming months? Do you like to play games or are you happy with your book and e-book reader format?
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 an annual readers conference, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.