Today’s entry was meant to be part two of two for what you can do to grow the gay fiction genre, but I’m deferring it for later. A trip retrospective is long overdue, so here it is! Join me on my rambling re-creation of the journey.
On Friday the 13th, my best friend and I made the four and a half hour drive from our home base in Oregon up to Seattle, Washington. The goal: Gay Romance Northwest, a one-day event presented by Old Growth Northwest and sponsored by a number of gay fiction presses, including my publisher, Less Than Three Press, for whom my friend also works as an editor.
We got off to an erratic start. After planning on leaving around noon, I woke up and decided instead of going into work for four hours, I wanted to take it easy that morning and get on the road sooner. We planned on having dinner with a friend up in Seattle who I haven’t seen in years. Leaving at noon to meet up for a six-thirty dinner would cut it awfully close.
There were also other events and socializing that sprang up around the event on Friday, and I wish I’d kept a closer eye on all the information coming from the group discussions on Goodreads. A four-author reading event took place, books by all the attending authors were sold at the university bookstore, and it sounds like a great time was had by all. Next year I’ll hopefully be more on point!
I’m going to divide this up into the three days of our adventures and try not to get too wordy.
After a quick lunch at Falafel King, our favorite local purveyor of shawerma (the Yemeni owner always corrects my pronounciation, no matter how hard I try), we climbed into my new bb Prius, Calypso, for the long haul. From our home base about an hour and a half south of the border to Seattle itself, we only made one stop, and that was for coffee. At Starbucks. On our way to Seattle. I know.
We arrived around five-ish, hitting a slow crawl of traffic at two points, which really was not bad for a Friday and totaled our journey around four and a half hours. The Hotel Monaco, where we stayed, was very spacious, better than your average Hampton I guess, but after recently staying at L’Hermitage in Vancouver it was obvious it wasn’t as upscale as it wanted you to think. Still, location, location, location. Kitty-corner to the library where the event took place, a stone’s throw from a Starbucks, a bar/restaurant, and any number of great places to eat or hang out, we could not ask for more from the price we paid. (Which made my eyes bulge when I checked out, but that’s another story).
Leaving early was the best of all decisions, because we got there with enough time for each of us to take quick showers to cleanse the sweat of our travels and relax a bit before heading over to the restaurant where we’d arranged to meet my friend.
On the .9 mile walk over, my poor BFF threw her back out. This would be a physical harbinger for her weekend.
Still, we made it to Sitka and Spruce on time, met my friend, and discovered the restaurant had an hour and a half wait. Um…well, we’re in a foodie town, let’s check out our other options. We ended up at Terra Plata on the corner, and merriment was had. I only remembered to tweet a few pics, because we fell on our shared plates like ravening foodies. We had a roasted grape dish with walnuts and blue cheese to start, a risotto that I plated out for the three of us, salmon tartare with house-made chips and a dill puree, and pork belly with an Asian pear slaw. Sooooo good, so yummy. I also had a couple of drinks, including a Seattle Rain Drop that was similar to a lemon drop.
Afterward, I walked and my poor friend limped back to the hotel and we tweeted back and forth with the LT3 ladies, arranging to meet in the Hotel Monaco’s lobby because of mobility reasons. BFF and I had fully expected the LT3 ladies to crash after their long day, and the events they’d gone through, but they met up with us to hang out and have drinks!
Trace, across the street, was maybe trying too hard and the music was a little too loud, but the drinks were great and the company even better. I have to say, for me, meeting LT3’s Meg, Sasha, and Samantha was the high point of a pretty darned awesome weekend. They are gracious, great to hang out with, and I felt like I’d known them for years. Next time I’m in NC to visit the parents and aunt and uncle, I hope they’ll let me crash their doorstep and bring them treats, or something.
After drinks, across the street at Hotel Monaco we made a few drunken tweets, using my phone’s wifi hotspot because the hotel wanted to charge us a daily wifi fee, and fell asleep watching the Food Network.
Day One: totally a success, except for that whole backccident. (Look, Meg, I made a word.)
Although my iPod would not dock with the hotel alarm clock, probably a sign I should upgrade but why would I when the Classic still works, I did get the alarm set and woke at a reasonable hour to get ready. We had plans to meet up with one of Amanda’s Tumblr acquaintances for brunch, then line up (because free books!) before the event and meet my lovely friend from the night before.
Sazerac’s was a great corner restaurant tucked along one side of the Monaco. We went out for Starbucks first, given there was an hour and a half between brunch and getting up and moving, and split a pumpkin croissant while we got our morning caffeine fix. Later, Finn Marlowe and her friend told me they had spotted us and thought we were “their people” but the book on the table was surely too thick to be gay romance. Turns out they were talking about Appetite, my pride and joy. I am long-winded? The pumpkin croissant was delightful and, I’m sure, contributed to my 5+ pound weekend gain.
For brunch, I jumped at the chance to enjoy eggs benedict over griddled corn cakes and thick-cut country ham. Bliss. Everything a vacation brunch should be. I also liked the restaurant’s bottomless coffee.
Across the street, we rendezvoused with friends and rediscovered the LT3 ladies, only for all of us to find there wasn’t much of a place to queue up outside the event location, given the library fire marshall’s code and all. Still, we were at the head of an increasingly long line as more people filtered in. Aside from the fact that the auditorium was roped off and one of the volunteer staff directed us not to block access to the escalators or through-way, there wasn’t much by way of queue management, and people had arrived early–probably for first crack at the free books! The LT3 ladies brought bagsful of stock for the Gay City book drive donation, and headed up the queue. Registration opened slightly past noon, and we poured into the Seattle Library auditorium.
There were some minor bobbles, probably due to communication between the volunteers. The badges were grouped into roughly alphabetical, but not strictly alphabetical, so it took the volunteer some searching to realize my “Andor” badge, which should have been on top, was simply part of the “A” pile. The attendee swag was handed out later, rather than at the door. But the donation drive, free book table, and bookstore table were all clearly visible and easy to access.
After perusing the free book table, we secured excellent seats third row center and settled in to await the opening ceremonies.
Opening ceremonies were some words from Tracy Timmons-Gray, the very capable organizer, and Alexander Haddad, Executive Director of Old Growth Northwest, the event host and organizer. We also had a fabulous keynote from Marlene Harris, which I already expounded upon in an earlier entry. She is the technical services manager for technical and collection services, and spends a vast amount of time reading and reviewing books. She urged us all to return to our communities, recognizing we were from far-flung places, and request the books we want to see at our local libraries. It’s best if authors don’t request their own books, she counseled, as the library will often cotton onto those kinds of requests and they may frown on requests that are clearly a conflict of interest (the author profits off the sales of their book). Friends and fans who live within that library’s community are more than welcome to place requests for the books, but the library does pay attention to usage, and may not purchase more books from that same author if the book isn’t checked out very often.
Following the keynote, the first panel was moderated by the lovely Megan Derr (pronounced “Duhr,” we learned at Trace the night before), and covered the topic of the ins and outs of gay romance with panelists Astrid Amada, Stormy Glenn, Daisy Harris, Ethan Stone, and Anne Tenino. A wide-ranging discussion on topics from the writer perspective ensued, though as an author starting out, I’d have loved to hear more about what it takes to become successful as opposed to getting over first-time jitters and submitting a manuscript. What sort of struggles did the authors have to overcome? What kind of approaches to networking or sitting back to wait and see ended up working for them? All the authors’ answers revolved around clearing the first hurdle, submitting, and not anything beyond that. The answer on reading reviews of their work was interesting, too–the uniform answer was “Don’t, or let your friends vet it first.” Personally I find it useful to read reviews even if I disagree with them. What I am 100% behind: never, ever, ever engage with negative reviews of your own work.
The second panel was Behind the Curtain: Editing, Publishing, and Cover Art, moderated by Tracy Timmons-Gray, the event coordinator, and the panel was composed of editors and cover artists. L.C. Chase, Samantha Derr, Lou Harper, Nicole Kimberling, and Devon Rhodes were in attendance. Some interesting discussions, but my main takeaway was that I was frustrated that questions about diversity of submission got minimalized to “we don’t publish f/f, it doesn’t sell,” and ignoring bisexual and trans*. I am very happy that LT3 accepts the entire queer spectrum. One of the big messages of this panel, beyond an amusing defense of the headless torsos on gay romance covers (truth in advertising, yo!) was for readers to pay attention to house standards, and research their potential publishers before submitting to make sure the publisher and their standards, and their cover artists, will be a good fit.
The third panel was on Diversifying and Evolving the Genre, moderated by Laylah Hunter. Panelists were Heidi Belleau, Kade Boehme, Ginn Hale, Rick R. Reed, and Andrea Speed. This panel contained some of the biggest highs and lows of the event. There were some challenging questions asked, including author Rick Reed turning a question on the audience regarding effeminophobia, or, why do gay romance authors shy away from portrayals of effeminate men? The resounding answer was that authors are either told they’re writing a stereotypical gay man, a woman in a gay man’s body (I won’t use the trans* offensive term that was yelled out), or flat-out told by editors to rein in or alter portrayals of effeminate men. I was warned by my own editor to expect some backlash for my portrayal of a male beauty blogger who wears makeup and is very much into fashion. Yet these men exist, and editing them out or criticizing women for portraying them is rooted in effeminophobia, which many authors traced back to its root cause–misogyny. There’s a dismaying amount of misogyny even in our reader/writer base, where you’d hope and think that we, women and gay men, could be past that.
There were good discussions, but not enough time. Questions about the lack of diversity, limiting queer fiction to male/male, and shutting out lesbians, bisexuals, and trans*, were not fully addressed. There was an overwhelming amount of material and topics to mine, and no shortage of lively discussion.
Afterward, I picked up some titles I’d been eyeing during the breaks, and was pleased to bustle right up to Heidi Belleau to snag an autograph. We went from the Seattle Library to Happy Hour (actually happy three hours) at the Hotel Monaco across the street and ouch, I thought happy hour drinks were supposed to be discounted – these weren’t. Still, I grabbed my rum and coke, filled my plate with an array of delectable nibbles, and sought out my seat.
While it was great to have an author seat at the table, I ended up ditching it (after getting the Irregulars signed by the very personable Astrid Amara), to hang out with my friends and the LT3 pillars of editing and author/tech support, Sam and Sasha.
A few tidbits of feedback from the newbie author perspective–there was very little by way of new author support for Gay Rom NW authors. It seemed tilted a great deal more toward established authors, leaving it completely contingent on me to a) figure out what the expectations were, and b) drum up any interest in me or my books for the event. I’m sure I missed a great deal not being as active as I possibly could on the Goodreads forum, but if there was some kind of handy checklist for attending authors, means of asking for more promotion, or call to action that would have gotten me better involved, I either missed it or believe it’s very much needed. Overall my impression of the event was the famous authors knew what they were doing, and I was there to take notes and try to figure out what to do better next time. Also, the Goodreads forum was somewhat difficult because it was extremely active and hard to keep up with, and it was intimidating because everyone participating was so much bigger and more confident. This little fishy will try to do better for Rainbow Con 2014.
At some point I suppose that means trying to procure self-promoting swag.
Another note–the author/reader ratio seemed very high. If the attendee total was where I remember it, it seemed like authors and writers were at or around half of the total attendees. In my own personal opinion, this can hurt the dynamics of such an event for reasons I won’t expound on, this entry already being too long, but I can’t suggest capping author attendance either because I’m not sure that’s the solution.
Happy Hour involved circulating with authors, nibbles, drinks, and later on there were author readings, unfortunately after most of the crowd had thinned out. There were only a few devotees left by the end of the evening, and for me it was easy to see why–I was starving!! If our dinner reservations hadn’t been until 9, I would have begged for us to leave early, too. The snacks were most welcome, especially healthy options like fruit, but ultimately not enough to sustain me from brunch all the way to a 9 pm dinner. I’d thought about keeping snacks in my purse before leaving, and dismissed the idea as being too food-obsessive. It was a fun event, maybe a little long. Marlene Harris spent some time with our little group, and it was great to sit down and talk video games and book reviews–she reviews a loooooot of them! Tracy Timmons-Gray also checked in, and she looked so exhausted I wanted to wrap a blanket around her. Conversations continued in all directions on subjects ranging from the event and topics from earlier in the day, to all the kinds of things you’d discuss with friends.
Regarding the readings–I was on the fence about whether to do one or not, but it turns out there was either a sign-up for them, or they were invite-only. Another thing I must have missed, not being as active as I should have on the Goodreads group. Either way, I wish that had been a little more clear on the day of. Though I still can’t decide if I would have done it or not, because everyone was doing erotic readings, and mine would have been a UST-laden moment.
Afterward, we went with the Less Than Three ladies and Piper Vaughn and our friends to Benihana where they made us wait, grr, and we were all starving! At last we were all seated, though, and it was a good if somewhat subdued time. By that point, most of us were very tired. When I told Kitty that the chef flips shrimp tails at people, she looked at me with disbelief and asked if I was serious. I grinned at her when, sure enough, the chef flipped some shrimp tails around some of the table’s occupants, including me.
It was a long day, we came away from it with our heads buzzing with information and our bags bursting with swag and new books, and once again fell asleep to the Food Network on television.
A little less exciting–brunch, then homeward bound! One of the notifications on my phone was for discussions from the Goodreads forum, where I discovered there was dim sum and other stuff going on in the area. The Less Than Three ladies had to be airport-bound by three in the morning, and my heart goes out to them. And Amanda and I had to decide if we were going to make our way to Pike’s Place, or get brunch and go.
Turns out Amanda had pulled her leg the night before, on top of her already-out back. So we conferred with friends, and ate at Sazerac’s again before heading out. I had wanted to go to Pike’s Place and hit up a charming French bakery and get some macarons as a souvenir. However, I wasn’t willing to drive there. When we checked out, that was it–we were hitting the highway or bust. So instead, we met up with Kitty, Liz and her husband Alex, and had a really nice brunch. Once again, conversation was excellent and wide-ranging. I wish I could meet up with all of you lovely folks more often!
The trip back was much shorter, about three and a half hours compared to four and a half. We stopped twice, once for a horrible McDonald’s pumpkin spice latte which I ended up throwing out, and then for a late lunch at Panera on the way home. We talked more about the panels we’d attended the day before, and some of the issues we personally experienced with the genre.
It was a good experience. They will be organizing a Gay Romance Northwest 2014 for September 13th, and I will definitely go again. I’ll make sure to utilize all of the resources I can in advance to try and be better prepared. And my utmost gratitude to all of the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and attendees who made it possible!