Think of a weekend with Thelma and Louise but without the guns. Then imagine 1,200 romance novelists gathered in New Orleans to bolster their careers and keep their publishers honest. They may wear aqua pumps, pink polyester pantsuits, and flowered hats, but these women, in town for a meeting of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), are as fervid about their calling and as ferocious about advancing it as any delegates at a NOW convention.
And why shouldn't they be? As the engines of a $200 million business with 22 million readers, their books represent 40 percent of all mass-market paperback sales. If romances are the lucrative heart of the publishing industry, the New Orleans Marriott Hotel on this steamy summer weekend is Romance Central.
In a chandeliered hall with floral carpets, best-selling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Fancy Pants, Hot Shot) is wearing an elaborate openwork-embroidery blouse and describing the romance novel as an expression of female empowerment: The heroine takes on a domineering hero and by the end of the book she has turned him into a sensitive human being. ''In other words, she has turned him into a woman,'' Phillips says. The audience cheers.
A panelist in a seminar on sex scenes proclaims, ''We know the thing that makes the penis live is women.'' There is uproarious laughter.
A female official of the RWA announces that all the restrooms on two floors of the Marriott are reserved for Women Only. More cheers.
''My family sucks up all the energy out of me,'' one unpublished writer remarks to a companion. ''Here I'm filled again, reenergized.''