My first gig as a featured author at a conference took place last month in Tampa. Back in October I dropped by a similar event — the Gay Romance Literature retreat (GRL) in Atlanta — to scope things out. Meeting and hanging out with publishers, reviewers, readers, and other writers was great fun! I heard about RainbowCon and, rather than registering as a reader, was thrilled to get in as a writer.
Attending events isn’t cheap. Between promotional items, registration for the conference, the hotel room, meals, gas for my car, and a new wardrobe, I spent a fortune for the four-day event. The short-term expense is an investment in my writing career to hopefully pay-off in the longterm. Besides, money isn’t everything. Getting away from home for a few days was nice, and the added enjoyment of time with friends old and new more than justified the cost.
I left my house at seven Wednesday morning for the 400-mile drive and pulled into the hotel at two-thirty. After checking in, I changed into my brand new Speedo and hung out around the pool for a couple of hours. You can see pictures on my Facebook page. I looked pretty damn good if you ask me.
Shira Anthony invited me to dinner with a small group of writers. I invited Charlie Cochet along. By the time we left the hotel, there were enough of us for two big tables on the patio at the restaurant our hostess, Jodi Pushkin, had selected for us. I finally got to meet Sue Brown and Elizabeth Noble — both guests on my blog in the past — along with several authors I’d heard about but never had the chance to meet. We had a great time and posted lots of pics on Facebook.
The hotel, located in the heart of the University of South Florida, provided a very nice free breakfast buffet with cooked-to-order eggs and lots of choices. After going for a run with Shira (2 1/2 miles) Thursday morning, I joined Charlie Cochet and her roommate, Lexi Ander (and her delightful niece), for breakfast. Panel discussions about marketing (including my pal, Charlie) and pantsing vs. plotting (with Lexi Ander) were interesting and informative. So far, so good.
My first spot on the program was a Q & A panel Thursday afternoon with Lexi, Andrew Grey, Jordan Hawk, and Anel Viz. The thirty-minute session went fast. Many of the questions were for all panel members, but with 88 books out, Andrew got a lot of questions. As the newcomer on the panel, the exposure to everyone else’s fans was a plus for me.
Thursday night, Becky Condit (of Mrs. Condit Reviews) invited me along for dinner with fellow reviewer Brandilyn Carpenter (Prism Book Alliance) and authors Michael Murphy and Jamie Fessenden. We had the little Mexican place to ourselves — rarely a good sign. I enjoyed the company too much to notice the food.
We barely made it back to the hotel in time for the grand opening session. The organizers welcomed everyone, handed out our swag bags, and stepped aside for a pair of dancing firemen who ended up in briefs stuffed full of paper bills of unknown denomination. I kind of liked the dark-haired, bearded dude. Check Facebook for pics.
Shira and I kicked off Friday with another 2 1/2 mile run through campus. I always run solo, but would be happy to run with Shira again. She’s as slow as I am and, unlike moi, has a great sense of direction. Running made me feel a bit better about the doughnut I had with my bacon and eggs every morning. Like I’d ever pass up free doughnuts. The miracle is I stopped at one (per morning). Just ask Charlie or Lexi.
I did a reading from After Christmas Eve after lunch on Friday and had a table for signing. The reading went well — I didn’t cry like I did when I practiced at home. I also had a table in the exhibit area, which I didn’t recall until late Thursday when I dumped postcards for each of my books and a stack of business cards on the table. Charlie cleaned up my mess and made my table look downright professional.
Later Friday afternoon, Charlie Cochet and I were on a panel about historical fiction with Dean Pace-Frech and Martin Delacroix, moderated by the incomparable Lisa, from The Novel Approach. We had a good crowd and a great discussion. I even made a new friend, a reader from the Tampa area with an interest in historical gay fiction.
The highlight of my responsibilities for the conference was a panel called, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job” with Geoff Knight, Isabella Carter, W.S. Long, and moderator Jeff Adams — all at very different places in our careers. I was the old guy, looking forward to a not-too-distant retirement when I can write full-time. Our discussion helped me to appreciate how lucky I am to have so many options.
Exhausted from a long day, Charlie and I slipped off together for a quiet dinner for two. Don’t ask me why, but we may as well be joined at the hip at these events. We’re talking about collaborating on a project or two on down the road when our schedules open up a bit more. Saturday I hung out around my table for most of the day, tagging along with Charlie, Shira, Elizabeth Noble, and Lisa T. from Attention is Arbitrary. While there, I squeezed in a discussion with a Dreamspinner Press editor about my upcoming trilogy and picked up lots of great advice.
I’d planned on hanging around the conference all day Easter Sunday, returning to Athens on Monday. But with so many people leaving early, fatigue, and my anxiousness to get home to my little dog, I checked out early and was back home by three o’clock. I had a great time and met lots and lots of really nice people who I look forward to seeing again. Soon.