Writing Wednesday – The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival

Usually, my ‘Writing Wednesday’ is an opportunity to force myself to publicly admit how much (or how little) I’ve been getting done on my novel and/or short pieces since a week earlier. The short answer this week is this: not much, because I went to New Orleans for the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. A slightly longer answer would, however, include that I did send off a short piece for March, so I’m still on track with Jeffrey Ricker‘s challenge.

Instead, let’s talk Saints and Sinners. Mostly sinners, though there are some saints. Okay, a few. Okay, one or two. Okay, the saint is Paul, for doing so much organizing, and his volunteers, who make the whole shebang happen.

But you’d rather hear about the sinners anyway, am I right?

S&S aftermath

That pile there gives you some idea of the last few days. Most centrally, the festival handbook.

Now, there’s no way I’ll get everything into one post, but I will say it’s a good thing that my husband and I got there a day or two early, as it turned out a lot of other wonderful people we wanted to hang out with had done the same, and it let me learn that I am many things, but a drinker of more than two Sazeracs is not one of them. There was a “Sazerac hunt” with J.M. Redmann and her brilliant wife Gillian, and the group of folk that came and went throughout said hunt were wonderful. I got to meet Mark Merlis, who joined Rob Byrnes, my husband and I at the very start of the hunt. We were joined by Candice Detillier Huber, who owns the nerdgasmic Tubby & Coo’s Midcity Book Shop (which is going to be a separate post in and of itself), one of her friends (I want to say Rob, but if I’m honest with myself, I just thought of him as ‘Candice’s hot straight friend’ most of the time), the abovementioned Jeffrey (and his husband, Mike), Stephen King (no, not that one), my wonderful editor and friend Jerry L. Wheeler and Ron Suresha (another fellow I’ve been lucky enough to work with, who edits me for Bear Bones Books). About the time our numbers had dropped to around eleven, I stopped feeling my lips (see above, re: not a drinker) I swapped from Sazerac to beer, but by then, I’d already deserved the fireworks the city so lovingly put on for us all after our successful hunt.

No, seriously, there were fireworks.

New Orleans Hijinks

The festival itself was superb. On the Friday, I made up for my inability to score tickets to the John Waters event by letting my husband abscond with my festival pass and pose as me to enter the interview of John Waters by Laura Lippman (which he said was fantastic), and then did my best to twinkle at the ‘Glitter with the Literati’ opening party at the beautiful Gallier House. Here I saw some of my favourite people, including Jeff Mann and his husbear, John. It was also fantastic to see Marie Castle, who I adore and met last year at the panel we were on about the paranormal and horror genres. We were the crossover people standing betwixt the lesbian discussions and the gay discussions, and personally I think we both deserved more fireworks for bridging the gaps once again.

I tried valiantly to talk to everyone before our dinner reservations, but I’m fairly certain I failed. That’s always the downside at this event – there are so many wonderful people; authors, readers, editors, publishers – and I never quite have enough time to talk to all of them as much as I wish I could.

On the Saturday, it was time to put on my former-bookseller-turned-author hat and be a respectable human being with knowledge and stuff. Happily, I’d only had one Sazerac the night before, and even then, I’m such a lightweight it’s unheard of to get a hangover. That’s how, at 10:00am sharp, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to talk YA with my fellow panelists, Jeffrey Ricker, Greg Herren, and Bridget Birdsall, alongside our fabulous moderator Ruth Sternglantz, to discuss our topic: Forever Young: Writing for the Teen Market. To say it was a great time would put it mildly, and thanks to Ruth’s steering the ship, we stayed on topic and the audience seemed quite engaged. It was a great discussion, and as always, I ended up leaving feeling quite inspired. It was also my first time meeting Bridget, and I finished her book, Double Exposure the day before the panel – I try to do my homework – which was both a good thing and an intimidating thing. I’ve only ever written short pieces for YA, so I relied on my bookseller role in the discussion, given the other three had novel(s) under their belts.

At 11:30a I hit my first major agonizing choice. There were people reading I wanted to hear. There were also two panels I wanted to see – one about LGBT romance, and one about LGBT history (and the writing and researching thereof). I ended up relying on my usual rule of thumb in these situations: do the thing you’ve had the least exposure to and know the least about. I’ve written only one short piece that might barely be considered to have some historical content, so I went to the brilliant Historial Outings: Keeping it Real or Making it Up? Here, panelists LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Jamison Currier, Clayton Delery-Edwards, and Jeff Mann were guided by David Swatling in what I have to say was my favourite panel of the whole event. Again, I know nothing of writing history, but the glimpse these four gave into their world of writing was fascinating, and I even left with an idea for a historical novel – and a much greater appreciation of how much work it would be to do such a thing correctly. More importantly, I’ve learned of multiple new books I need to read, despite knowing that I will feel such rage and sadness at the LGBT history and what was that led us to what is. In particular, Clayton Delery-Edwards’s book about the fire at the upstairs bar in New Orleans is one I need to read.

I also made a rash decision to make it to something at every time slot, so I dashed out for a banana, and a pre-packaged sandwich and then ran back in for the 1:00p slot, in time to hear Bridget Birdsall, Scott Bailey, Clayton Delery-Edwards, Jeffrey Ricker, James Russell, and Shawn Syms read, as well as one other fellow – I didn’t catch his name fast enough, unfortunately, and he was a late addition to the program. All the readers were fantastic (more books to add to my list!), and Evil Mark didn’t have to blare the buzzer at all.

By 2:30p, my banana and sandwich were gone, and I raced over to Make ‘Em Laugh: Humor for Escape and Survival. Here, I got to hear Rich Barnett, Ken O’Neill, Rebecca Chance, and Russ Gregory talk about humour and I basically spent the entire time laughing, gasping for breath, or scribbling down madly in my little notebook. Two major delights here – one was discovering Rebecca Chance, who is so over-the-top funny you’ll want to make sure you’ve done your ab crunches before speaking with, and Ken O’Neill, who has the most brilliant comic delivery I’ve seen in ages. I’ve got books by them both and can’t wait to dive in.

At 4:00p, it was time to put on my grown-up hat again, and go read. Now, I shall preface with saying that it went well, because it did, but I did make one small, minor, itsy-bitsy mistake. At no point did I mention the title of the book from which I was reading.

Yeah.

So, if you went to that reading, the book I read from was On the Run, and my novella from that collection is called “In Memorium.”

Right.

The other authors readings also went wonderfully – N.S. Beranek, J.D. Horn, J.M. Redmann (who Evil Mark buzzed), Cindy Rizzo, and David Swatling gave stirring readings (and once again, I added more books to my pile of ‘to be read’) that pleased the crowd. And they even told the crowd what they were reading, which was pretty clever of them.

At this point I was feeling light-headed, but the 6:00p launch party for the Short Fiction Contest (and the induction for the Hall of Fame, and the Emerging Writer Award winner) was soon, so we hoofed it to the top of the hotel, got ourselves some wine and nibbles, and the festivities began. I finally got to chat some with Greg Herren, watched the wonderful Carol Rosenfeld get her due with her entry into the Hall of Fame alongside Mark Merlis, and we got to listen to some of the short fiction contest winners read before we had to dash off to a bear leather bar.

No, really. We had to.

See, at The Pheonix Bar in New Orleans, we had a ‘LitBEARy’ event – a bunch of us did a reading from The Bears of Winter or other Bear Bones Books titles, and it’s a bit of a hike to get there. We made it, and myself, Jeffrey Ricker, Jerry L. Wheeler (that man can perform!), Ron Suresha, Jeff Mann, and Lewis DeSimone (who, by the way, does a wicked Hepburn) got up on a totally unsafe “stage” and read our hearts out as the puppy play leather boys arrived for their contest. The bestiality donkey-sex stories Ron read between each performer really added to the general ambiance of the night.

No, really.

Actually, it was pretty awesome, except for the smoke (which I’m not used to) and once the reading was done, we grabbed a small group and headed out for late night beignets and hot chocolate with Stephen King (no, still not that one) and Ken O’Neill (seriously, his comic timing is sheer perfection) and the Ricker-Wallersteins. By the time bedtime rolled around, I pretty much keeled over.

Sunday, I paid for my mistakes. I had a decent breakfast from the Clover Grill with my fella, because I’d woken up with that hollow feeling I get when my blood sugar is way off. Here he is: isn’t he adorable?

New Orleans Hijinks

I made it to the 10:00am The New, New Publishing: Navigating the Industry Right Now, where I got to hear David Johnson moderate a panel with Bill Lavender, Benjamin Morris, Michael Allen Zell and Radclyffe that touched on the world of publishing, marketing, and how things are not cataclysmic. It was refreshing, and honest, and while it didn’t pull punches, it was certainly not depressing. Also, I got to see Sandy Lowe again, which was nice. Apparently, she has finally bumped into someone who said their first impression of her was more “off” than mine (I may have intimated that I was surprised she wasn’t an Angry Librarian the first time we met), in that William Holden said he thought she’d be a weathered older woman, worn down and broken by life. I felt bad for her, but then she told me I write really slowly, so I got over it. (Sandy, I’m kidding. You’re awesome.)

At 11:30a, I dashed over to the Love and Murder: Writing Romantic Suspence panel with Rob Byrnes, Rebecca Chance, David Holly, and Radclyffe, once again moderated by the wonderful Ruth Sternglantz, and proceeded to laugh so much I’m fairly certain I snorted a few times. Also, I may have brayed like a donkey. Radclyffle still somehow managed to find a way to dish out phenomenal advice on pacing and structure in between entertaining the audience alongside the never-stop-joking Byrnes and Chance (who need to be an act you can see off Broadway). By the end of that session, I added another few ideas to my list of stuff I could work on if I wasn’t a writer who wrote so slow (thanks, Sandy!)

And then I crashed.

To be fair, I knew it was coming, and the whole beignets for dinner after a day of just-a-sandwich-and-banana was setting myself up for failure, but my hands were shaking, my vision was going sideways, and it was time to admit I wasn’t going to be able to keep going. So I didn’t get to hear Rebecca Chance, Greg Herren, Jerry L. Wheeler, Jeff Mann, or Carol Rosenfeld read, because I had to go stuff my face at the Gumbo Shop alongside my husband, Jeffrey Ricker, Ken O’Neill, and Stephen King (no, still not that one). By the time I’d had rice, my hands weren’t shaking, and I could see properly again. Bless Candice for telling us of a nearby place where we wouldn’t have to wait too long.

Speaking of Candice, at 4:00pm, I gathered a small group to take a road-trip (or, actually, a Streetcar-trip) to go see her bookstore. But that’s a post for another day, as this one is already a bajillion words longer than anyone would bother to read and I want to make sure everyone sees how awesome her shop is.

And after that? Well, after that we had to head back to the hotel for our ungodly early flight the next morning. We had to say goodbye to the wonderful New Orleans.

Until next year.

New Orleans Hijinks

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