It’s Friday morning. I wake up to a text message that reads “Paris Next Week?” Um. “Yes.”
I’m in Paris!
What have I signed up for? A weekend in Paris and an invitation to attend the annual Festival of New Romance hosted by the French publishing company Hugo & Cie.
Festival of New Romance in Paris!
What is that? It’s a book fair. It’s access to workshops hosted by the HOTTEST New York Times best-selling authors. It’s a beauty bar. It’s a chance to not only connect with fellow lovers of sexy, steamy romantic novels, but to make friends for life. It’s a celebration of feminine desire and fantasy. It’s a surprise chance to hug and get photographed with a movie star. It’s one of the most glamourous galas I’ve ever been to, right on the sparkling Seine.
What? You are asking? That is crazy!
Yes, it is.
I must admit, that when I first signed on for this experience, I was very nervous that it might be disappointing. What if the authors were shy and wouldn’t open up? What if the fans wouldn’t talk to me?
Cut to a few days later and I’m sitting down with my Hugo & Cie. colleagues at our hotel in Paris to interview the authors. Within 3 seconds I know that I was worried for nothing. These writers are bold, opinionated and smart.
Once we wrap up the interviews (more on that to come soon), we head over to the La Cité de la mode et du design. The festival is set to start at 2PM, but they have opened the doors early to accommodate the long line-ups of readers. I see girls leaving with stacks of 30 books stuffed into their backpacks and festival tote bags.
Sparkling chandeliers are hung throughout the room. The room is pulsing.
I see that the people manning the cash aren’t just any cashiers, they are Hugo & Cie.’s executives who have stepped up to serve the long line-ups.
I see eager fans waiting at the booths before the authors have even arrived. This is Comicon, for lovers of sexy romance novels. It’s Rom-icon!
It’s time to bring in the authors. An animated well-dressed French man announces each author by name and the screaming begins. Each author is accompanied to their booth by an usher. Readers are clearly full of anticipation and can’t wait to have their moment with these authors. Authors chat with each reader. It’s very sweet. This continues for three days. The authors are surrounded like Hollywood stars.
Once I get a sense of the passion of these fans, and we take our photo in the fun Cosmopolitan selfie booth, it’s time for the first workshop entitled Professions in Publishing. We hear from a Hugo & Cie. Editor, Social Media Manager and PR Director. We have an “aha moment” when we realize that they publish 360 books a year!
At the end of Day 1, it’s time for dinner with the fabulous people from Hugo & Cie. at a gorgeous brasserie next to our hotel. You know those people that have so much charisma you feel hyper engaged all evening? Everyone who works at this company has that quality. I think it’s the secret sauce that gives this event its x-factor.
Day 2 starts off with a bang. It’s a Saturday morning and the crowd has doubled since yesterday since everyone has the day off. It has become utter madness at this point.
It’s time for the workshop called Sexuality and New Romance. It’s a nice breather to get away from the crowds, but with this topic, it’s not going to cool off any time soon.
This workshop is hosted by Christina Lauren, two American best friends who write together as a team. Christina Hobbs is the cutest redhead with the perfect ringlets and the shiniest lip gloss. Lauren Billings is the outrageous brunette. They reek of Hollywood. Their book “Roomies” is being made into a movie by Producer Jenna Dewan, Channing Tatum’s ex-wife! There is no question they won’t answer. (The translator works fast, but she can’t help but laugh throughout.)
When asked if her husband enjoys their books, Lauren unabashedly shares that “One night, after the book was published, he said to me ‘I’m going to rip those panties off!
Lauren is openly bisexual. It’s liberating to hear them talk so freely about sexuality.
The other author hosting this workshop is 22-year-old Parisian Morgane Moncomble (who is so cute I want to put her in my pocket). When asked by a woman in the audience if any of the 3 authors will ever include asexual characters in their books Morgane says “You must be psychic because the book I’m writing now has a character who is asexual in it!”
My favorite quote from this workshop is from Christina Hobbs who says “So much of social change starts with romance novels.” I have to agree. This genre has no boundaries. The only rule is that you have to write a happy ending. Apart from that, no topic or group of people are excluded. Like author Christina Hobbs says, “Everybody should feel represented.”
How do you write a sex scene? All the authors I spoke to say that as long as a sex scene is true to your characters, that nothing is off the table. Christina Hobbs suggests closing your eyes while you type.
It’s one of the most empowering workshops I’ve ever attended where I start to comprehend the power of these romance novels.
Then something happens that brings down the house.
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Hey guys, so today is the 3 year anniversary of After being published!! Three years!! How is that possible?? It has been the best three years of my life and I’m constantly being blown away by you guys and your love and passion for these books and even now, three years later I feel it still. I never imagined a life where I had my dream job and I definitely didn’t imagine a life where I got to travel the world for that job. This sooo doesn’t feel like a job and I’m so lucky to be able to do what I love. Thank you guys for changing my life and I hope you will continue to love my words the way you have for the last three years.
I don’t know what rock I was living under, but before this weekend, I had never heard of Wattpad. I had never heard the name Anna Todd who Cosmopolitan magazine called a “Phenomenon.” Why? Her book “After” was released through Wattpad, an on-line community that boasts 65 million authors and readers. Anna released a chapter a day that she wrote on her cell phone. “After” received over a billion clicks. Needless to say, Paramount was eager to turn “After” into a movie that comes out in April 2019. (Just to give you a sense of the power of Wattpad, “The Kissing Booth” written by 15-year-old Beth Reekles, is one of Netflix’s most watched movies ever, and was originally published on Wattpad.)
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“After” is about a college student named Tessa who falls for bad boy Harry Styles from the band One Direction. Anna later changed his name in her fan fiction novel to Hardin. The book hit a major nerve with fans. “After” has received criticism because Hardin and Tessa’s relationship (aka #Hessa) touches on abuse, but I can tell from talking to fans that they don’t care what people say. Many girls have tattooed themselves with an infinity symbol because they feel so connected to Hessa’s story.
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At 1:45PM that afternoon a change is announced in the schedule and we are told that Anna Todd will be hosting the 2PM workshop. The room fills up fast. They are promised a surprise. We can hear fans whispering “Maybe we’ll get to see a new movie poster! Or, maybe she’ll show us the movie trailer!”
Imagine a room full of young women when it is announced that writer Anna Todd has brought actor Samuel Larsen (“Glee”, “After”) who plays Zed Evans in the movie, to the festival as a surprise! Girls were screaming and crying. Anna tells everyone to put away their cell phones “If you want the really juicy details, no phones.”
Samuel knows how to play the crowd. He apologizes for his appearance and says “I just showered after flying into Paris last night, so that’s why my hair is wet.” He says this as he runs his fingers through his floppy hair. The girls love it.
After the secretive workshop takes place, they sign books and pose with their many fans. Most are women, but there are a few guys as well. Some girls gush, some tear up, and some jump up and down.
Author Audrey Carlan then hosts the workshop Feminism and New Romance. She has written a staggering number of #1 New York Times best-sellers. YES! to everything she says. “We are so hard on ourselves. We need to look in the mirror and see something beautiful and perfect just as we are, and not look to society to decide that for us.” She is an inspiring outgoing writer known for writing juicy and funny love scenes.
The room was already uncomfortably hot. They managed to crack the windows open, but when authors Stuart Reardon and Jane Harvey-Berrick host their workshop Men Reading or Writing New Romance, the room becomes almost unbearable. Stuart Reardon was a professional rugby player. He is such a gentle quiet guy who carries his muscular body with a contrasting humility. It’s fascinating. Ahem. His wife looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones, so the two together are a bit much. “It hurts my eyes”, like Carrie Bradshaw would say. But I digress.
Jane Harvey-Berrick and Stuart Reardon met at an event when she was writing romance novels and he was posing for the covers. When Jane heard Stuart’s story that an injury ended his professional rugby career, her writer’s instincts knew it would make a great book.
“He’s a great writer” says Jane. “He’d send me voicemails where he would act out his stories for me.” Jane gets animated now for the crowd recreating his voice messages, “He’s running down the field, he throws the ball and he will be forever… UNDEFEATED!!!”. She yells and the audience claps and hoots wildly. She then invites Stuart’s shy wife up on stage. Stuart shares that the love scenes in the books were written from his point of view. A moment passes between Stuart and his wife that is part embarrassment, and part, this is our life now. “It’s what I was thinking and feeling” he says. It’s no wonder that their book “Undefeated” was the most sold that weekend. To be fair, it was the only new book that was just released at the festival. He is also the first man to write New Romance novels, but he won’t be the last. Their next book will be called “Gym or Chocolate?” What side are you on?
Now, it’s time for the gala. I wear full sparkle, aka the fully lit up Eiffel Tower. Hey, I’m on the Seine. In Paris. I am now backstage as the authors eat before they will rotate tables so that the 500 women who bought 150-euro tickets will get a chance to dine with each author for 30 minutes. I can hear stomping upstairs. It sounds like a horde of elephants just ran over my head! We are told that the women upstairs are already dancing on the tables and the host of the night has whipped the crowd into a frenzy. The authors are gathered into the room next to the ballroom for photos. Again, they look like glamourous stars. Posing, sparkling and excitedly talking amongst themselves.
Now, it’s time for them to enter the ballroom. The air is electric. The doors open and, well, I’ve never heard screaming like this. The authors are announced and led to their table two at a time as the fans stand up and clap. They are filming every moment. They are jumping up and down. It’s mayhem!
We settle in to eat and then the dancing continues and doesn’t end until early in the morning. Jumping, girls who just want to have fun, lose their minds. During dinner, Stuart (the former rugby player) serves the women wine like an expert Maître D, complete with a linen napkin folded over his tattooed muscular arm, and they love it. Later he gets onstage and dances with the women and they surround him as they bop.
Once the awards start, I don’t know how these women still have voices left over the next day for the amount of screaming that takes place as their favorite authors receive accolades for 3rd to 1st place in 3 categories. The authors get very emotional when they win. Even more bittersweet are their tears as they remember Hugo & Cie. President Hugues de Saint-Vincent who recently passed away. It’s impossible not to think of this man who groomed a new generation of voices. Some employees of Hugo & Co are still crying the next morning.
I can’t help but notice that this is not just a book fair. This is a family. This is a community connected by a shared love of freedom and fantasy. In Paris. Next to the sparkling lights on the Seine…
At the Festival of New Romance, fantasy… becomes reality.
You can visit some of our Hugo & Cie. friends at the Hachette stand at the Salon De Livres de Montreal from November 14th through to 19th!