When my oldest son was born, he screamed all the frickin’ time. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was part of his handicap, and it was miserable. He was inconsolable, especially with strangers. I lost my first teaching job because I lost childcare providers. Nobody could deal with him. When your best friend calls you up in tears and says “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. We just need a break!” you know it’s not just you. Staying home with him was, well, mentally challenging to say the least. Julie Garwood was my only salvation.
She didn’t act alone. She had some help from Amanda Quick (and all of her aliases) and Sharon Sala and a bevy of Harlequin Historical authors whom I adore to this day, but Julie Garwood, she was my gateway to the long romantic novel, and gee, I wish I could thank her.
Okay, so I didn’t get a chance to thank her this week—I saw the line of people who did, though, as I sat at my table and smiled through my allergy haze at anyone who visited. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t appreciative of the opportunity to sit in that ginormous room and breathe the same air.
Cons are exhausting. They’re confusing. They’re not always cost effective. The contented den mammal such as myself is not always happy in an environment which requires a two block walk for a breakfast bagel, or a gauntlet of cheery faces to run through to just buy that Diet Coke. There are more opportunities at a convention to embarrass yourself publicly than there are closeted gay men in a sports arena. They are a hotbed of germ and allergen warfare, and if you’ve ever encountered someone who sounds like Marge Simpson’s chain-smoking sisters but doesn’t smell like smoke, just ask if there was a con in the recent past and I’ll bet you get a resounding and affirmative “Croak!” in response.
So yes. A giant pain in the ass. Why go?
We write for people.
I know, that sounds like really simple idea, but it’s one we can never forget.
The U.S.A. Today Blog has a book review portion—one of their main contributors is Jessie “The Book Taster” Potts. Those of you at the con may have seen Jessie—she’s adorable. Straight blonde hair, delicate as a demitasse china cup, pretty blue eyes in business skirts and pearls, she appeared to be the epitome of the heterosexual romance reader, but you know what? She loves it all. Down and dirty vampires, Regency het, and, yes gay romance.
I was excited to meet Jessie—she’s been very good to writers in our genre, and we’ve gotten a lot of mention in U.S.A. Today Blog because of her enthusiasm and eclectic taste.
She was excited to meet us too—Mary Calmes and I were not the first authors she’d approached when she arrived at RT, but we were the first to not disappoint her. The first two writers she approached had dismissed her, rudely, and she was left, stung, wondering if the rest of the convention was going to be sort of a misery of ego abuse.
She brought out the protective mommy thing in Mary and me like nobody else. We had to invite her to lunch, sit with her friends, be kind. We were excited to be there—we wanted to share. Her friends, as it turned out, were two other writers for the blog, and we had a lovely lunch together.
We would, in fact, run into each other through the entire con.
At one point, she was bored at a luncheon (don’t ever bore a journalist, people—they always have other things to do) and ditched out to join Mary and me at our lunch, because we were glad of the company. We happened to be having lunch with Ethan Day, Z.A. Maxfield, Tara Lain, and Carol Lynn.
The next morning, there were all six of us, happily mentioned on the blog.
We weren’t nice to her for mention—we were nice to her because she was nice, and we like nice people. She helped make lunch pleasant, and, well, she hadn’t heard all our stories yet. (I know I’m always looking for new victims, right?) But that didn’t stop magic from happening.
And that’s the thing about all of that exciting talent and enthusiasm gathering together in the same literary storm. You don’t know when magic is going to happen. The day after that lunch, I was supposed to meet a fan for coffee. Because I have no sense of time, I’d scheduled that meet right on top of the Over the Rainbow event, so I grabbed the fan by the scruff of the neck and said, “Come here—there’s somewhere you want to be!” The fan—who had spent all of her available money for a parking pass and a one day ticket for the signing, was suddenly surrounded by some of her favorite authors giving away free books and a T-shirt she loved. She got to talk to people who loved a genre she was afraid to talk about in her home town and she walked out of there with enough reading for a month—and all because she wanted to meet me for coffee.
I was so proud of that moment of magic.
Another event that surprised me was the Broken Heroes Panel that I spoke on along with Belinda McBride, Z.A. Maxfield, and Kate Pearce. I loved speaking, and I was with other wonderful, knowledgeable speakers, and I think the entire thing went rather well. And I realized, as I was speaking, that most of the people attending the panel were strangers. That’s something, in our small community, because we are, very often, familiar with most of our fans. We don’t want to preach to the choir, we want to convert the disbeliever, and to see all of those unfamiliar people meant we had a chance to do just that. During the panel, I had a chance to talk about one of my most damaged heroes, Chase, from Chase in Shadow. Sure enough, I sold two copies of Chase at the next day’s book signing. I can’t promise anything will happen, but the fact that two people who hadn’t been m/m readers in the first place were now buying a book set in the world of gay porn? That’s a little bit of magic right there, right?
One of the climactic moments for my publisher was the Fan-tastic Day event that Dreamspinner sponsored Saturday night. Elizabeth North spent a month picking out the items for the baskets that Dreamspinner gave away, and Damon Suede hosted the giveaway with his usual stunning aplomb. One of the baskets was full of premium yarn, pattern books, a set of needles I would actually kill for—all stuff that Elizabeth and I wanted to see go to a good home.
When Jessie Potts turned up with a winning ticket, I was sure of it: magic. She’d already won a stack of free books at another event, and there it was, instant karma. That much niceness and a genuine love of literature could not go unrewarded, and we were thrilled to see it happen.
That’s why you go. You never know who you’ll talk to, whose book you’ll sign, whose hand you’ll shake, whose day you’ll make. You never know if the person you sit next to will hook you up or give you a tip that will change your career—or if you’ll do the same for someone else. All you know is that a whole bunch of people who love books as much as you do will be in the same place, and that that anything can happen.
And that’s why you go.