Jen: As some of you may know, I am based in Spokane, Washington. So, when I heard that the upcoming Historical Romance Retreat was going to be held here I knew I had to get involved. I reached out to the organizers and am pleased to say that Romancing the Book will be teaming up with HRR to bring you interviews with all the guest authors and we’ll have plenty of pictures and stories to tell once the even arrives in September 2016. To kick things off, we welcome Renee Bernard to Romancing the Book. Renee, will you share a short bio with us?
Renee: Bios are hard! Isn’t that amazing? A person can write entire novels, craft worlds and crank out dialogue until the sun sets…but talk about herself? I feel like I need a cocktail. I’ll pretend no one is ever going to read this and say that it’s very true that my father was a chaplain in the Navy and that he once swore to never read a word I write (not that this kept him from telling everyone he saw that his daughter writes romance novels that are too hot for him to read. By the way, he has broken that vow to read my tamer comedies but still…) See the humor? If you’ve ever met me, or heard me on Tuesday nights on my internet radio show, “The Romance Bookmark with Renee Bernard” that last bit makes a lot of sense.
My mother, however, does read my books (all my books!). And while I find this far more frightening, it balances the universe out beautifully and makes me very grateful for that sense of humor mentioned above.
It’s also very true that if you’re not supposed to do something in search of a career in writing, I seem to have accidentally done it. Seriously, all the brilliant advice about not quitting your day job, etc.—those people know what they’re talking about! Not that I meant to quit my day job, but comedy abounds in my life and I’ve simply learned to embrace it. To maintain my sanity, I write.
Another truth: Yes, I can write scorching hot sex scenes and yes, I’m too shy to wear open-toed shoes in public. I didn’t say it made sense. I said it was true. There. I think that says more about me than where I live or a list of my food allergies. (I don’t have any, but I keep thinking that perhaps that isn’t a good thing since being able to honestly say “She never met a food she didn’t like” doesn’t bode well.)
I currently live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California with my patient and long-suffering husband, my two gorgeous little girls and too many cats (because I heard that the best writers are crazy cat-ladies and I didn’t want to miss a step that might lead to fame.) And for the record, the proximity to wineries is purely coincidental.
Jen: Tell us about the Historical Romance Retreat. How did it come about? I’m in Spokane, so I think it’s awesome it’ll be held here. But we’re not a large city. Why pick Spokane for the Inaugural event?
Renee: A reader, who later became a very dear friend, lived in Spokane and made the offhand comment in an email that “no one” ever came to Spokane for book signings or events but that she was willing to drive to see me in Seattle or Portland or anywhere the fates landed me for an event—and I was dumbfounded. So I deliberately traveled to Spokane to see her and I fell in love with the city, the settings, and then, the Historic Davenport Hotel sealed the deal. I sat in that lobby and wanted to cry, dreaming of a romance reader and writer event that could come to life in that place!
And then I dug in. I really feel that once readers and even our authors walk into this hotel, they’ll understand that we couldn’t be anywhere else. The venue is not only stunning, it is downright awe-inspiring. Readers won’t have to strain their imaginations to pretend that they’ve stepped back in time. They will be in historically romantic settings and every corner, column and ballroom will make their hearts beat faster. The amenities are world-class and we’ve negotiated a very affordable stay for our attendees, so no one is left behind!
Spokane is special and friendly and beautiful. For a little city, it certainly has a big dose of charm. I’m excited to be a part of luring so many newcomers to the area for the first time so that they can see that sometimes the best things do come in smaller packages.
Jen: Is this going to be an annual event?
Renee: Our current vision is for the Historical Romance Retreat to take place every two years. That gives us time to recover and plan between each one (and write more books!), keeps it fresh and vibrant so our attendees have time to look forward to the Retreat and make their plans and hopefully time for us to build and improve each and every event.
Eventually, if we are lucky enough to find that the Davenport Hotel has a doppleganger on the East Coast, this may change to an annual event that flip-flops between coasts, but for now, I hope to make Spokane the Must-Be-There location for the HRR for years to come!
Jen: How did you get so many great historical authors to commit to attending?
Renee: It was a leap of faith. I took an informal poll (on Facebook of all places) and asked, “If you were going to your dream fantasy Historical Romance reader/book event, which authors would you most like to meet?” The responses gave me about seventy names. So, then I just jumped and approached each one of those authors. I described the unique event I had in mind, told them how and why it would be different, tried to reassure them that Spokane was in fact not as remote as they might believe and then sent pictures of the Davenport. I asked them to dream with me and before I knew it, the slots started filling up and then suddenly I had authors who were not on that original list raising their hands and asking to be a part of the event that they’d heard vague rumors about…
Jen: How is this event different from the others?
Renee: Where to begin? Other reader/author events seem to focus on being about specific heat levels in various genres or about celebrating a single specific author; or they are very general in all the romance genres that they pull together and can be overwhelming to navigate. What I saw happening was that those events were becoming more and more about industry professionals from all over and less about the readers. And it was a double-edged sword as authors expended more and more energy to try to stand out in a sea of faces or to meet the readers they most wanted to see. Historical romances were getting pushed to the corners as a niche but I knew they could take center stage if given a chance. There really wasn’t an event aimed at historical romance readers and authors we wanted to remedy that with the Retreat.
The Historical Romance Retreat is different because we’re putting Readers in the VIP seats and every party and moment is geared toward making it as memorable and magical for them as possible. We wanted to let our authors relax, drop the pressure to market themselves and push product and simply enjoy meeting their loyal fans, talk about the books we love, the heroes we can never forget, the heroines we want to keep close and remember why we love historical romances and why they are Never Going Away.
We’re going to dress up in costumes, try absinthe, enjoy a classic black and white film in the Bing Crosby Theatre, have high tea, dance, laugh and even gamble as if we’d stumbled into a rakehell from one of our author’s books. Books and gift baskets will be plentiful, prizes will fly and I think Delilah and I have quite a few surprises planned that will probably make all our registered attendees sign up for 2018 before they’ve even packed to go home!
There will also be a wonderful Book Fair on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, that will be open to the public (tickets will be available online and on site) so that everyone can experience some of the fun. We will have prize basket drawings just for the Book Fair attendees and perhaps a hero or two on hand for photo opps. All of our authors will be there to sign books as they meet and greet all the wonderful fans of historical romance in the area!
Jen: What’s next for you? Upcoming releases?
Renee: I’m currently working on a new Historical Romance series called The Duchess Club set in Victorian London, that launches where a previous series (The Jaded Gentlemen) left off. I’m also working on the next installments in The Eternity Gambit, my contemporary romantic comedy series. And who knows? There might be a Regency Christmas anthology in my near future…a television pilot…a lottery win… (I don’t like to place any limits on myself.)