I am happy to report that a great American institution, the pajama party, is alive and well and will thrive in the Millennium.
Several months ago when I announced my intention to attend the first "Beverly Jenkins Pajama Party Weekend," the reaction from friends and acquaintances was mixed. "A pajama party? Cool!" "Aren't you a little old to be going to a pajama party?" "Hmmm. A bunch of women sitting around in pajamas for a whole weekend? What are you going to do?"
I am thrilled to say the pajama party was cool. Despite having celebrated a landmark birthday just days before the event, I am not too old. We didn't sit around in pajamas all weekend. And we did what girls have always done at pajama parties: Eat, laugh, play music and talk about guys we all know. (Of course in this case, the guys were Chase Jefferson, Nathaniel Grayson, Galen Vachon, Dixon Wildhorse and Raimond LeVeq -- the heroes in Beverly Jenkins' five novels.
The Beverly Jenkins Pajama Party Weekend was organized by the author's fan club and held at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The location was the only obstacle during the weekend that I had to overcome. You see, I am a Michigan State University graduate, a Spartan. And no self-respecting Spartan would ever be caught dead in Wolverine country...It is a testimony to the lengths Beverly Jenkins fans would go to come to the event.
And come they did. From Texas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. Seventy-five women of varying ages with nothing else in common but the enjoyment of Beverly Jenkins' work and the opportunity to attend this unique event with their favorite author. But not all the attendees were romance readers. A handful had accompanied friends and relatives. However, by the end of the weekend, a few were seen clutching familiar-looking paperbacks.
Hope Hart, of nearby Ypsilanti, Michigan, has never read a Beverly Jenkins novel. For that matter, she's never read any
romance novel. (We still allowed her to stay!) The urban planner
met the author during a book signing at a Barnes & Noble and was "enthralled by Beverly's personality and her explanation of the research which goes into each book." When Hope learned of the pajama party, she "just wanted to be a part of the weekend."
Registration began Friday evening at 7 p.m. Fan club members and party organizers Ava Williams and Gloria Larkins greeted guests as they arrived. At a check-in station, participants received their name tags and purple canvas goody bags that included a program of the weekend's activities, a menu and assorted goodies. On each bag was printed, "Beverly Jenkins Pajama Party Weekend," the date and the titles of the author's books.
Each registrant was asked to stick a small push-pin into the spot on a map to indicate where they were from. There were lots of door prizes: for the person who registered first, for the one who registered last, for the one who came the greatest distance. Oversized cotton T-shirts, night shirts with wonderful color reproductions of the covers of Beverly's books -- including The Taming of Jessi Rose, which will be released in October.
We began to meet the women we would be spending the weekend with over buffalo wings, Swedish meatballs, a veggie dip, lemonade, ice tea and some of the best bar cookies and treats around.
Absolutely nothing could have prepared us for "The First Fan," Rochelle Hardy of Wilmington, North Carolina. Rochelle has the distinction of being Beverly's first, and perhaps most unique fan. Shortly after the publication of her first novel, Night Song, Rochelle sent the first fan letter the author received. A correspondence and later a friendship developed. Rochelle is mentioned in the dedication and author's notes of Beverly's third novel, Indigo.
On the first night of the pajama party, Rochelle enthralled the group with a story about how acting out scenes from Night Song with her husband was ultimately responsible for birth of her son! No, they did not name him "Chase." However, the search for a name, did lead to the name "Galen" for the freedom fighter-hero in Beverly's novel, Indigo.
Catina Colson had come to the event from Pensacola, Florida. "Tina" began reading Beverly Jenkins' romances in Turkey, where her husband was stationed in the Air Force. "I was surprised to find Beverly's books in the PX," she said. She started recommending the author's work to other women on the base. Like Rochelle, she began a correspondence with Beverly. She is acknowledged in the author's notes of Through the Storm.
At approximately 8:30 p.m. we were sent to our rooms to put on our pajamas and return to the conference room. The chairs had been rearranged into a large circle that allowed us to see
each other. Music played in the background while we regrouped. Those who came back early were singing softly along with a CD that would become the unofficial theme song for the event, "This is My Promise," by the Temptations. The love song was appropriate for this group of romance readers.
Beverly sat in the circle at the front of the room. In true pajama party fashion, she told us a horror story about her fourteen-year struggle to get Night Song published and some very funny tales about her life as an author. The group launched into a spirited discussion of Beverly's first three books: Night Song, Vivid and Indigo that lasted long past midnight. The giggling went on for much later. Grudgingly, we all headed off to bed.
Saturday was a morning of choices. After breakfast, we could either head for Briarwood Mall, in walking distance from the hotel or we could attend a workshop for aspiring writers led by Beverly Jenkins. Spouses and significant others were invited to play golf with Beverly's husband, Mark.
After the workshop, the group was joined by author Bette Ford, who writes contemporary romances for Arabesque/BET Books. The Waldenbooks at Briarwood came armed with books and quickly sold all of Jenkins' and Ford's novels. There was time for photographs and a book signing. I stood in line to have After Dark, my favorite Bette Ford novel, signed by the author. Local vendors were invited to sell their wares.
It was lunch time. Beverly's mother and two of her sisters were introduced. As we ate seafood pasta, the luncheon speaker mystery
writer Lee Meadows talked about the relationship between mystery writing and romance. Lee is the author of Silent Conspiracy, a Lincoln Keller mystery set in Detroit during the 40s and 50s.
Who is Lincoln Keller? "He is not John Shaft. There is no theme music. Isaac Hayes is not going to sing to you," quipped the author. The story deals with the mysterious disappearance of a Detroit singing group "The Cinnamons."
Lee also discussed how more African-American men were turning to fiction writing as a way to fight stereotypic images of Black males. "We need more men to start to tell our stories. That leads to healthy debate," he said. "I would like to see African-American men join Beverly and write historical romances from a male point of view."
After lunch, the members of the group had an opportunity to take pictures with the luncheon speaker and have their books autographed. Then it was time to hear about the West from a male perspective. The men, who had reappeared for lunch, stayed for a presentation by Michigan State Police Inspector Shelby Slater and Detective Lorenzo Veal. (If his name sounds familiar, it's because he's mentioned in Night Song as a character. "Page 8, second line from the bottom," he says. "I'm `Trooper Lorenzo Veal,' Chase's second-in-command.")
Night Song, Beverly's first novel, is the story of a romance between a Kansas school-teacher and a Buffalo soldier. Detective Veal provided research assistance about the Buffalo soldiers during the writing of the novel. A character was named for him to thank him for his help.
Inspector Slater and Detective Veal are members of the Black Western Historical Society of Michigan. They travel to schools and community groups throughout the state to talk about the African-American presence in the West. Dressed in authentic Western gear from the 18th century that they use in reenactments, the men brought a display which included pictures and narratives about lawmen, outlaws, the role of women and the relationships between African-Americans and Native Americans in the Westward movement.
We heard the stories of Mary Randolph, a forerunner of Rosa Parks who was traveling from the East to Denver in 1861. She was put off in Kansas because she refused to stay in segregated accommodations. And of Aunt Clara Brown who sponsored wagon trains and also found 34 of her relatives who had been dispersed as a result of slavery.
After the presentation, we broke up into small groups and headed for the mall. The break gave us a chance to talk, assess the weekend and shop! Surprisingly, we didn't do a lot of shopping. Everyone wanted to get back to the Marriott.
The early evening promised a strolling museum of historical sites and information from each of Beverly's books and a silent auction of cover art from Beverly's books (including Jessi Rose), a tea set, and copies of Beverly's out-of-print books. Proceeds from the silent auction went to the building fund of the church where Beverly is a lay minister. The auction went well until the First Fan began a bidding war for an 18 x 24 blowup of the Topaz cover, a cover that would look wonderful in the home of a certain TRR contributor! Strong-arm tactics prevailed over couth and decorum and the First Fan was "convinced" to drop out of the bidding!
After a Louisiana Cajun dinner, there was a raffle in which more books were signed and given away. Then, it was time for "The Hustle King," who boasted that he could teach anyone to dance. True to his word, the group learned five different versions of the "Hustle," or the "Electric Slide," as it's known in Chicago and other parts of the country. After more than an hour of serious line dancing, we were again sent to our rooms to don our pajamas.
Shortly after midnight, the circle was re-established and we talked about Topaz and Through the Storm. We also got a glimpse of Beverly's forthcoming novel, The Taming of Jessi Rose. Griffin Blake is the train-robbing brother of Jackson Blake, a secondary character in Topaz. Marshal Dixon Wildhorse offers Griffin a chance to get out of jail if he will help ranch owner, Jessi Rose Clayton and her young nephew save their property from land grabbers. Beverly also talked about the book she's currently writing. It, too, is a Western.
Then came the time the group had been dreading. It was time to say formal goodbyes. Bonds had been formed. Addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses were exchanged. Women from throughout the country, came together and shared what we all knew was something special. After each woman shared their thoughts, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Mark Jenkins, whom Beverly once said, is the model for her heroes, comforted his wife in true romance hero style. After hugs all around, we went to bed about 2 a.m. After breakfast on Sunday and a last round of shopping and autographs, we waved the queenly wave Cyndi Louis of Dallas taught us. Then we went home to await the release of The Taming of Jessi Rose or the next Beverly Jenkins Pajama Party Weekend...whichever comes first.