It’s been a couple of days since Romancing the Capital ended, and I’ve gotten my voice back (finally!) so I thought I’d sit down and try to give you an idea of what it was like (if you weren’t there) and why I can’t wait to go back, assuming Eve Langlais is willing to put herself under the stress of being the sole conductor for the insane train again.
Before anything else? She needs to be called out for the incredible job she did in organizing and setting everything up. In my past life as a bookseller, I spent twenty years going to various book events, and I have to say that for readers, Romancing the Capital is so reader-focused—not to mention overflowing with prizes, swag, and fun—that I’m not surprised it sells out so quickly. When you’re dealing with hundreds of people (all of whom have the wide and varied reading tastes that romance encompasses) making everyone happy and energized should be impossible, but everyone was jazzed and moving and laughing throughout.
I adore romance.
I didn’t manage to make the “bonus” Thursday events for those who’d gotten into town early (His Fluffy Lordship requires me home for evenings), so for me, everything began Friday. First thing on the schedule was our LGBTQ romance panel. Kristine Cayne, Elizabeth Lister, Kayleigh Malcolm, Angela Stone, and myself chatted about the areas of LGBTQ romance that we love (and maybe some things we don’t love so much, such as ‘Gay-for-You’ and a few other clichés, misinformation, and unintentionally erasing stuff), how we started writing it, then notion of “own voices,” the joy of menage stories where—as Kayleigh put it—”the swords cross,” and so much more. There was a lot of laughter, which is huge and always one of my main goals, and to say we have five chronically under-caffeinated authors at the opening panel, I daresay it went well. The author chemistry was awesome (like sitting down with people and thinking, ‘Oh, hi, you’re my new best friends!’), which is always a bonus, and none of us were high-structure people, so basically we ran it by the seat of our pants, and it was far more Q&A-focused than lecture in style.
After that, I went to hear Angela Stone give her Q&A session on “The Science of Sex” and it was freaking fantastic. She’s a brilliant speaker, comes from a position of passion and knowledge (she’s a nurse) and has exposure to and has worked with youth, adults, people with disabilities, LGBTQ folk… Basically, the breadth of knowledge on display was titanic, and her approachability and humour meant no one was too afraid to ask a question. I learned quite a bit, as did everyone around me, and if you asked a question, you won a sex toy, which was just icing on the cake. She was sort of like Sex Oprah. “You get a sex toy! And you get a sex toy! And you get a sex toy! Everyone gets a sex toy!”
After that, I got to listen to Opal Carew, Anne Lange, Sasha White, and Zoe York talk to the room about erotica at their panel, “Erotica to Make You Sweat.” These ladies sure knew how to talk smut, and I have to say I was really impressed a the range of discourse, heat level, formatting, indie/trad range the authors discussed, as well as their own personal paths from where they began.
It’s not often you get to hear that much experience in one place, and I know I came away more the richer. Also, last year, I didn’t get to hear Opal speak once—we were directly opposed to each other at every panel/time-slot we were involved with—so it felt like putting things right. Opal was one of my hand-selling go-tos for so long, it was lovely to have more than a moment to say “hi” in passing.
A break for lunch (where I got to catch up with Elizabeth Lister, since even though we live in the same city, we suck at socializing and not being introverts), and then I dove back into the mix with renewed energy and a full tummy, heading into space for “Space, the New Romantic Frontier” with Viola Grace, Susan Hayes, Eve Langlais, S.E. Smith, and Jessica E. Subject. Oh. My Gosh. My nerd and geek mind was having so much fun with this, and even solely from a point of view of exploring “how much science to mix with how much romance” it was fascinating. To hear some of the experiences of the authors with their brushes with the Science Fiction communities and conventions was also illuminating (as well as depressing and definitely reminded me of the same conversations I have when I mention I write gay speculative fiction—oh, sorry, no, we prefer real science fiction.) These ladies rocked it out of the park, and I want a purple alien, a cyborg, and maybe an abduction would be nice. (Also, I want Susan Hayes’s hair.)
Then I made a mistake that turned out to be a lot of fun. I know a lot about book covers from the point of view of being a bookseller and knowing what can work from a bookshelf, but not so much from the point of view of an indie author—which I’m thinking of becoming for some short novellas. So I went to Cora Seton‘s “Crafting Covers with Cora” thinking it was about cover design but…
Turns out it was actually crafting covers. Like, physically. So I used a glue stick (I am not good at glue stick) and grabbed a few things from the word pile and some magazine cut-outs and a pair of scissors (also not good at scissors) and… TA-DA!
After that I hung out in the corridor and then outside with some authors and readers I wanted to touch base with—I should point out there were still people I missed during this weekend, that’s just how full the darn days are—and headed home to his Fluffy Lordship while everyone got ready for their Cowboy themed dinner.
On Saturday I was once again bright and early guy, hosting a chat on LGBTQ Characters. My goal was to get readers (and authors) thinking about what inclusivity means and how to do it and what it might take to do it well, and I have to say the whole hour flew by and everyone was fantastic. I was stunned at the turnout—I had twice the people as the year before, so I couldn’t quite do my “draw the chairs into a circle” so much as a big banana and the conversations never stopped.
We started by drawing out a pretty basic idea for a typical romance with a lady and a fellow, and I have to say it was a blast brainstorming this part with everyone. For the record, the group came up with this:
- Heroine: a CEO of a large PR firm.
- Hero: a younger man, a hockey player from a legacy hockey family, who is a part of the firm and has a reputation (which the PR firm is working on) for being a bit of a player and a party animal.
- They meet, sparks fly, but of course his family isn’t cool with her (especially the age difference and the fact she can kind of hold part of his public persona over his head), she has to worry about the other people in her company and her reputation.
- They meet, spark, give into temptation before they learn who each other is, then put everything on hold once they realize what’s at stake, until, of course, they realize how much they mean to each other and the fight for every inch they can get to be seen as the couple they wish to be.
First off, I love the room gave her more power and made her older. Just sayin’.
So, then we took that story, and made the romance a gay one. Two men. The insights flew fast and furious about all the things that were different, even if the core narrative remained the same.
- This would be the first openly gay NHL player, if it happened.
- Are his parents aware? (I loved that the group decided they were, and although they were supportive, they thought it best he get settled into a career with a team before he came out, as the father would know full well how hard a road ahead his kid would have).
- The PR Firm heroine (now a hero) didn’t need a lot of tweaking. Likely he didn’t suffer sexism on the rise up to the top, but he would have had some homophobia to deal with, but all in all, a PR firm seemed like a fairly safe environment—though, likely he’s not super-out to the sports teams and sports contacts he has.
- Their spark and meet and one-night-stand would play much the same, as would their realization of who each other is.
- If the hockey player was bi, rather than gay, there’s the extra pressure to choose a life that would cause less ripples (and find a girlfriend)—this also led to the dangers of the “Gay for You” tropes and “Bisexuals are Sluts” tropes. Also, I went off on a tangent about how the B in LGBTQ is not silent. Bisexuality exists and needs to be spoken of.
- Whereas the CEO as a woman might have had a kind of cachet as a “Cougar” and the young hockey player being seen as rather studly in the original story, when you put an older gay man with a younger gay man, likely the press (and the public) are more likely to paint a more “predator” tone about their relationship.
And so on and so on. By the end of that exercise, I think I’d achieved what I’d set out to accomplish, which was to point out it’s not just a matter of deciding a character is gay and otherwise everything else doesn’t change, but that a character being queer in any way means there’s potentially a lot of different thoughts to have in the confines of a narrative, even if most of it doesn’t necessarily see the light of day on the page. There was some solid discussions of race and intersectionality, too, and that was flipping awesome (Hat tip to Kadian Tracey for some brilliant insight here).
From there, we basically just did Q&A and it was fantastic, with a lot of people sharing some great real-world examples, and really supporting the notion of “own voices” as the best kind of research for those wanting to include queer folk. Hopefully, we busted some clichés and made the room a bit more confident in approaching their writing with a queer lens. And, as always, I’m totally open to questions and follow-through for anyone who’d like to chat.
I have no idea how to describe this beyond organized chaos. It reminded me of being at the height of Christmas Retail, where you’re lucky to have more than two minutes with a customer before you have to help the next person, only you get to sit down. Basically, in the space of two hours, I spoke to sixty readers, all of whom moved one seat along the loop every time Kayleigh Malcolm’s husband Chris yelled “next!” (That man is a joy, by the way.)
So it was something like a mix between an elevator pitch and an author chat, and I had the time of my life even as my voice vanished. By the time it was done, I was hoarse. The readers were amazing, super open-minded, and quite a few offered to take a chance on some gay romance after our chat, so I owe Kali and Kacey a huge hug. It’s rare an author has an opportunity to meet with sixty new readers, I’ll tell you.
From there, I had a silent lunch (no voice!) and two cups of hot tea with honey (voice slightly returning!) and then it was time to set up for the Bookfair. The Bookfair was open to the public, and oh my God! When the doors opened, the place filled up immediately and it was more organized chaos. Both myself and my table-mate Elizabeth Lister sold down to a few copies before it was over (So! Awesome!) and it was fantastic. I handed out bookmarks and magnets aplenty, and people were, once again, super-nice. One of my former co-workers brought me cupcakes, so I nearly cried on the spot. It was amazing, and I signed so many books.
After that, even though I’d have to miss the 80’s Night dinner to follow, I had to head back home for His Fluffy Lordship once again, and to be honest, given the state of my voice (nearly nonexistent!), I really, really wanted another cup of tea. Most people were deep in discussion with others (though I did get to have a quick chat with Opal Carew, who was as awesome as ever) and as such I didn’t quite manage a proper goodbye to most, but that meant I didn’t blubber like an idiot, so there’s a positive side.
Eve’s already talking about next year, too.
Me? I can’t wait.