As I start this post, I’m sitting before my computer, coffee in hand. I’m surrounded by ghosts. It’s the memories of New Orleans and Gay Rom Lit that are haunting me, dancing in my mind like the ghosts in The Haunted Mansion, at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
When I first heard about GRL being held in New Orleans, I thought, oh no. Not there. Any where but there. And not because of spirits. Most of you reading might know why; I’ve either told you in person or you read about it in a former post. For those who might not know, I had a very bad experience in New Orleans the first time I went and vowed never to return.
There were other reasons why I was concerned about going; money worries and the belief that I’m still too new a writer being at the top of the list. Yes, I still doubt myself after three books under my belt and will probably always continue to do so, though I’m trying to get past that.
Up until the very last week before leaving for New Orleans, I still wasn’t sure I would go. In fact, when I purchased the plane ticket, I added travel insurance, just in case. I was even counting down the days on the calendar, knowing I could cancel the hotel a few days prior without being charged. I kept telling my partner I wasn’t sure about the trip, that it was a bad time for me. He just patiently continued to put up with me and point out all the reasons why I should go. As did Treva, Michele and a handful of others.
Then the day finally arrived and I found that what I feared most wasn’t that I’d experience a bad time, or fall, or who knows what; it was that I was going alone.
I should have guess it would be a great experience when, at the Atlanta airport, I found my connecting flight to NOLA to be in the same terminal. How many times does that happen, if ever? In fact, even upon my return home, I never left the terminal. My connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale was at the next gate!
Oh, me of little faith who doesn’t dare to hope or dream. And yet, somewhere along the way I must have dared. I must have dreamed. I must have hoped.
The experience at GRL was truly amazing. I met some wonderful people, both writers and readers alike, who were not only warm and welcoming; they were passionate about the genre we were all there to celebrate. Getting to connect the face with the names of people I’ve chatted with on Facebook and Goodreads was great. Getting to know them -- if only for a short while -- was even better.
While chatting with a few of the writers one night, it occurred to me that we, as writers, have a very unique opportunity. We have the opportunity to help change the way people think and feel about m/m relationships. Yes, what we’re doing is telling stories that entertain and allow the reader to escape or resolve their own issues as they see themselves reflected in made-up characters and plots. At the same time, it’s also a form of protest. Even if it is, as Belinda McBride put it -- at least I think it was her -- protest at it’s most subversive.
Looking back, the French Quarter of New Orleans was probably the most perfect place for the first Gay Romance Lit conference. Just like the m/m stories we write, the city is full of mystery, danger, and allure. Just about anything can happen there, some of it frightening. If you don’t believe me, just ask Treva about her experience overlooking Bourbon Street where someone asked if one man was dead while another demanded that he take off his pants.
Or better yet, think back to that moment when you were walking alone. You turned a corner then looked over your shoulder because you thought someone was there. Tell me you didn’t suddenly pick up speed without realizing, just so you could get to the other side of the street.
And weren’t you just the slightest bit aroused when the breeze came in off the river to caress your skin and laugh softly in your ear?
To me, the Quarter is a 98-year-old whore who dares to go out in daylight. She’s dressed in faux diamonds and garish make-up because she doesn’t give a crap what people think. She’s coy, full of charm, sexy, and quite dangerous. She’s a gritty ole gal who sometimes smells bad and thinks she’s still the glittering belle of the ball. But she's also full of passion and high spirits as she shows off the beauty she once possessed, with the hope of unconditional and requited love she still needs. In the end, isn't that what keeps us all going?
Because I had such a great experience and enjoyed the conference so much, the last day was full of bittersweet moments. I shared a few tears with several people, made some wonderful contacts and gained new friends.
Looking back I realize I spent an awful lot of energy focusing on a past, negative experience that I almost didn’t enjoy the present that unfolded before me while I was at GRL. I had been so concerned with the “what ifs” that I almost missed some wonderful memories. Memories of all the people I met. Memories of their warmth, their hugs, their laughter. Memories that will last me a lifetime. And when I stop to think about it, missing all that truly would have been haunting indeed.
See you all again next year.