Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back from Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up 2014

First off I have to say that I had a fantastic time at GRNW!

It was my first ever writing con and I was pretty nervous about it, because a) I'd never been to one and b) I was scheduled to do a reading, giving part of the keynote and sitting on a panel.

I flew out early Friday morning, transfered at Newark airport and then flew to Seattle. As always happens when I travel I was a ball of anxiety but everything went smoothly. I landed in Seattle to discover sunny weather significantly warmer than the freezing temperatures we were enjoying in New York.

I got checked into my hotel room fine after only getting lost once. I was staying at the Moore Hotel which was lovely in a kind of old, quirky, Art Deco way. I took a shower, checked my email, and got ready for the meet up that evening.

The meetup before the reading was a lot of fun. I met a lot of great people, authors, reviewers and readers that I'd known online and a bunch of people I didn't know. I also got to say hi to the Less Than Three crowd, all be it briefly.

About half way through the meetup my nerves kicked in big time.

I have multiple and severe information processing disabilities that affect (among other things) my ability to read out loud. I tend to stammer when I do, stumble over even words I know, stutter and slur words together. I've worked hard to filters some of this out, to get a more natural, smoother style. I've also gotten a lot of criticism about it over the years though, quite a bit of it harsh and mean spirited. Thus reading out loud is pretty anxiety inducing for me.

When I was asked to do the reading I'd hesitated but I do really feel like the fear around reading out loud in public is something I need to try and over come. I need to be more accepting with how I read and the fact that I'm never going to sound like other people and that's okay. 

I'd prepared a lot but I was still nervous when the time came. At least I went first, so I didn't have time to stew in the nerves. Once I started though I got into it.

courtesy of GRNW
I didn't do the smoothest reading that evening but I felt like I did well -- everyone laughed at the right parts -- and most of all I enjoyed it. I read Selume Proferre and felt really good about that choice and the whole experience. I definitely feel like given the opportunity I'd do a reading again. For me that's a big deal.

Also reading that night was Jordan Castillo Price, Rick Reed, and Radclyffe, all of whom were amazing and did some great readings. I hope I looked attentive at that point because I was really enjoying their readings but while it was only about 7:30pm in Seattle my body was telling me it was coming up on 11:00pm in New York and jetlag was setting in.   

The really great questions we had during the Q&A revived me somewhat and it was great meeting readers afterwards and signing books. I was told Selume Proferre sold out really quickly, and I want to say a big thank you to everyone who bought it.

There was a meetup (that I was told went great) after the reading but I skipped it in favor of going back to my hotel and passing out.

I slept late (in New York time at least) got up, had a huge Nutella mocha coffee and a bagel at the Moore Coffee Shop and headed off to the Seattle Central Library for the days programing.  

In the morning I went to two workshops: The Wonders of World Building and Writing Diversity.

Both were great. I enjoyed them and everything the authors on them had to say. It was so interesting to hear other people's takes on two topics I think a lot about, to hear what process they go through when addressing these two parts of being an author. Both workshops included authors I knew very well and authors I didn't know at all so that was cool too.

After the workshops I finally got to donate the author's copies of the books I'd managed to stuff in my carry-on.  One of the volunteers at the table recognized me from the night before and asked if the book I'd read from was in the pile and got excited when it was.

Then about fourteen of us went out for a HUGE lunch of dim sum. I sat on the end of the table with Alex Powell, Megan and Samantha Derr, and Isabella Carter. It was a nice relaxing time to chat and hang out before going back to the library for the afternoon.

Straight after lunch Jordan Castillo Price, Rick Reed, Radclyffe, Tracy Timmons-Gray (reading for Rose Christo who sadly couldn't make it) and I gave the keynote address, with a nice forward by Tracy which was based off of her article here.  

I was much more relaxed for my part of the keynote in which I read a letter I'd written to my future self, than I had been for the reading. I did realize right before I went up to the podium that the printed out copy I had was actually an older pre-revised copy but I think I winged it pretty well.You can watch a recording of it here and you can read it here.
 courtesy of MtSnow MtSnow

 After the keynote was the afternoon panels. The first panel was Writing the Rainbow-Exploring Queer Romance Writing, moderated by Anne Tenino with Jove Belle, Ginn Hale, Jordan Castillo Price, Rick R. Reed and Karis Walsh. Everyone one the panel was great, both funny and touching by turns. There were silly answers given and very serious ones. All together it was enjoyable. 

We had breaks between each panels and during one it occurred to me that I didn't know if there was any gender neutral bathrooms at the library and didn't really have time to go looking. It might be something to look into for future years that way GRNW staff can just let attendees know where the closest gender neutral/single person restroom is in case they need it. 

I also had a really interesting (if unfortunately brief) conversation Emmett Scout about how we wished there was a way to distinguish between trans romance/erotic romance/erotica that is basically fetish literature and the ones where the trans characters are actually people with agency. I've thought about this a lot and I've too noticed the problem especially (sadly but predictably) when it comes stories with trans women or trans feminine main characters. The use of trans women as fetish objects or scenarios like forced feminization/sissyfication/male submission portrayed as synonymous with trans female experience is so common that I now hesitation to read erotica/erotic romance/romance with trans women characters. And that is just sad. 

I know in the porn industry there has begun to be trans women led discussions about how to make T-word porn and porn in general healthier and safer for trans women. Including how to stop it from contributing to the narratives about trans feminine identity that are literally killing trans women. I think that conversation really needs to happen in erotica/erotic romance/romance sometimes soon.

Anyway back to GRNW, the second panel was A Discussion with LGBTQ Publishers, moderated by Tracy Timmons-Gray and including Len Barot (Bold Strokes Books), Laura Baumbach (MLR Press), Megan Derr (Less Than Three Press), Tina Haveman (eXtasy Books) and Anne Regan (Dreamspinner/Harmony Ink Press.) 

I feel like I could write a whole post just on things that were said on this panel and my feelings about them (I still might.) I'm going to touch on my first reactions to things that really stood out to me. 

First off kudos to Tracy for making so many of the questions about "diversity." Also I found Len Barot's comments about readership really interesting and would have loved the opportunity to talk more with her about lesbian romance readership and LGBT romance readership in general. I liked that Tina Haveman (I believe it was her) came right out and said that while the assumption was that her press' readership was mostly straight women they had no way of knowing this for sure. The implication being that might be changing. 
There was also some "back in the bad old days, m/m romance..." Which I understand came directly from the question Tracy asked but is a narrative I've heard A LOT in the m/m romance usually in response to questions of "diversity" or issues of homophobia/transphobia in the genre. At this point it tends to come off sounding to me like whenever the geek community gets called out over something shitty and someone crawls out of the woodwork to be like "But this one time in high school the football team laughed at me for wearing a Star Trek t-shirt so .... Shut-up!" So in general it's a narrative I don't love to hear unless it's a clever introduction to "and that's why I have chosen to work for the representation of a fuller spectrum of queer identity in romance!" That being said I do understand why it was brought up. 

Kudos to Megan Derr who brought up how the rest of the GLBT spectrum still struggles to find a place in romance even before Tracy asked the question about it. Megan spoke really directly about this and how far we still have left to go in the romance community in a way I really appreciated. She also pointed out that in order for things like trans romance or romance with asexual characters to succeed people need to buy them. Because having writers being willing to write is one thing, but unless readers buy the books we're not going to be able to keep on producing them. So if you like trans romance, romance with bisexual or asexual character or even support the idea of having these romances available than buy them. 

Also reviewers and review sites need to step up. Gone might be the days when m/m romance had to beg for reviews but I can still testify to the fact that those of us who write non-m/m, queer romance are still very much living that reality. 

Given all of this coupled with the fact that I am an author who has written m/m romance and routinely critiques it, I didn't really know how to take Laura Baumbach's "don't blame m/m romance" comment. I'm still not sure how to take it actually. 

Lastly I've noticed multiple people commenting that all of the publishers on the panel said that if authors wrote more "diverse" LGBT romances they would consider publishing them. This is not actually true, Bold Stroke Books, Less Than Three, eXtasy Books, and Harmony Ink Press said this. Dreamspinner Press and MLR Press did not, in fact they didn't address it at all. (please correctly if I'm remembering this wrong. Because I know Dreamspinner didn't speak to this but I don't think MLR did either)

Now Dreamspinner and MLR have historically been m/m only presses. That's fine, it's a decision they've made and as much as I would love to see all m/m only presses consider queer romance they don't have to. BUT I do wish they'd said that. 

When everyone was like "Yeah, if you sub queer romance and we'll look at it" they should have been like "actually we only accept m/m" and then defined what m/m to them means: does it include bisexual/pansexual men? Asexual men? Does it include trans men, trans masculine people, or nonbinary people? 

When I didn't hear any of that it made me feel like they weren't owning their decision to be a m/m only romance press, because they felt like it wouldn't have gone over well with that particular audience. At least that's how their silence read to me. Coming right out and saying they wouldn't accept a wider range of queer romance beyond m/m might not have been popular for that audience, but they should have addressed it anyway. 

I feel like if they had it would have allowed for much needed transparency because other people did walk way from that panel thinking that the only thing standing in the way of a fuller spectrum of queer romance was authors' lack of interest in writing it. Which is not entirely true.  

Like I said, I have lots of thoughts and feelings. 

courtesy of GRNW
The next panel was The Evolving LGBTQ Romance Genre, moderated by Nicole Kimberling, with David-Matthew Barnes, Lori L. Lake, Pearl Love, me and Alex Powell. I was tones of fun to be on this panel. I thought everyone had such interesting answers and I kind of loved how into talking with each other about the topics we got. It almost felt like the seven of us should have made time just to hangout and talk about "diversity" and the future of the romance genre. Maybe we should at some point. 

I was seated between Alex Powell and Pearl Love both of who were amazing, intelligent and classy. Pearl Love was a particularly hard act to follow and all in all it was just a really great panel to be on. 

After the panels GRNW Meet-up was technically over but we all headed over to the Hotel Monaco for the GRNW Book Fest. I was seated next to Alex Powell again which was great because we got to chat a lot and hang out. I was giving away postcards of the cover art for some of my trans titles: A Matter of Disagreement, Song of the Spring Moon Waning and Selume Proferre, all by the talented Aisha Akeju
courtesy of Alex Powell

It was pretty amazing how many people stopped by to talk with me and take postcards. I loved that authors and other industry people took the time to touch bases with me. I also got to hear from some amazing readers. So many trans and queer readers or loved ones of LGBTQ people came up to me over the course of the weekend to tell me how happy they were that I do what I do. It was truly wonderful and touching. 

Finally we all headed over to the Rendezvuous Bar for drinks and 5 Minutes in Heaven readings which ranged from hot to hilarious. Kudos to Heidi Belleau by the way for stepping in last minute and knocking it out of the park. 

After the readings I headed back to my hotel and caught a couple hours sleep before getting up at 3:30am (thank God my body was telling me it was 6:30am) to pack and catch my 6:00am flight back to New York. 

Then I was stuck in Newark NJ for about four hours, but that's another story.

Overall I loved going to GRNW. I loved the readings and penal I did, I loved meeting readers, authors, reviewers, cover artists and activists. I am definitely planning on going next year. 

I guess my only criticism of the event was that Flowers Bar and Rendezvous didn't seem to have the staff to deal with our sheer numbers. The young woman at Flowers was extremely over-whelmed trying to take all of the orders for the table I was sitting at and people had to ask over and over where they're drinks and food were before any of it was brought out. On Saturday by the time we got to Rendezvous the place was so swamped by authors and readers of queer romance that me and Alex Powell never even got the food we ordered. I understand why both venues were chosen. At the same time I'm kind of hoping next year has us meeting at places with bigger dinner menus and more staff. 

Also as fun and hilarious and thoughtful as it was, the first penal, Exploring Queer Romance Writing, felt kind of generic. I would like to see something a little more out of the box and maybe more LGBTQ specific next year.            

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