…we're keeping our name but expanding our offerings!
So, we checked in with you back in August, and things were sounding pretty exciting. How did it go???
It went really well! Thanks for asking. :-D It was a busy day of conference activities, plus we had a packed bookstore reading the night before and some meet-up events. For those interested, we have more of a run-down of the day on our blog, as well as links to other attendees’ posts with their thoughts.
To sum up though—2013 was good, especially for our first conference, but 2014 was a great event. More attendees, around 200. More comprehensive programming and offerings, including panels, writing discussions, pitch sessions, and a reader meet-up. More authors and readers from across the queer romance spectrum. Way more free books and swag! A lot of people came up to us during and after the event and told us what a great time they had, which for a volunteer-run conference (and one on a really low budget), that really made our day, and everyone felt that all the work had been worth it.
What where some of your favorite parts of the day?
Oooh, tough one. Let’s see…
1- We had a really great audience at our bookstore event the night before, around 50+ people. The readings by E.E. Ottoman, Jordan Castillo Price, Radclyffe and Rick R. Reed were awesome, and it was so great to have attendees for that. We have to deal with venues who are skeptical about doing queer romance events, and who don’t think people will come out to them, so it was REALLY nice to have such a bright example that people WILL attend a reading (and buy books!)
2- So many free books! Thanks to authors and publishers, especially to Riptide, Dreamspinner, Blind Eye Books, and Bold Strokes Books, who donated HUNDREDS of free books to give away to attendees. Like…over 600, I think. We had them out on some tables during our reader meet-up in the morning, and I think my favorite part was just seeing readers go up to them and ask, “…Can I really just take these?” And we’d be all, “YEAH!” And they’d get this wide-eyed look on their face, and then start picking up books.
For us, being a really low-budget event, it was nice to provide that experience to readers, especially since we had a lot of readers who attended who can’t always make it to the bigger conferences. So, being able to give them a good experience and some cool books was really rad.
3- We had a really nice keynote address where 5 writers shared messages to their past and future selves. You can read them all here. I still think about E.E. Ottoman’s comment to their future self:
“I hope that you are proud of the person and the artist that you have become.
I know I am proud of you and I haven’t even met you yet.”
I get teary every time I think about it. Really meaningful pieces.
4- A lot of books were added into the community. Not just by the free books handed out, but attendees donated over 200 books to our book drive for the Gay City LGBT Library, which was awesome. That, and the Seattle Public Library, on their own impetus, added over 100 new LGBTQ romance books to their collection last month. That was really amazing to see.
4- Character Type Love Match – For the first time, we had a reader meet-up in the morning, and we did this game where attendees had to pick their fave character types. Like “Firefighter” or “Cop”, and the types would progress forward in this NCAA-like tournament, until you get to the last, most voted two types, and that would be “the couple”.
I was really nervous because we had never done this before. “Would people play? Would they think it’s dumb?” But it was SO MUCH FUN, and you could feel the pain in the room when we got to a really hard choice, like Navy SEAL vs. Cop, and you had to pick one of them! There were a couple times we would get to a choice, like Highlander vs. Explorer, and the attendees were all, “Can’t they just go and be their own romance novel?” (…I wonder if any writers in the room got a few ideas from that game…)
In the end, the final couple that won was Navy SEAL/Military and Tattoo Artist. It was a hard fought battle for them! But our hope and challenge for authors next year is to take these types, and create a story for them, about how they fell in love. And since these types are genderless, it can be any kind of queer romance story.
Those were some of my favorite parts, although truly, the whole day was special, and all the writers and readers that came made it truly an awesome experience. We’re very grateful to our attendees. Without them, we would just have an empty room.
It must be pretty challenging to put on an event like this. Were there any challenges that surprised you?
There are always little challenges that pop up. For instance, the place where we did our after party was doing kitchen remodeling weeks prior, and didn’t have a working kitchen then. I was biting my nails a little bit to see if that would get fixed in time, but it did!
For me, probably the biggest and most surprising challenge was working with RWA chapters. GRNW has sponsors, but we also have community partners—organizations in the community, both regional and in the overall “queer community” that support the event. We love community partnerships because it’s been a great way for us to connect better to the greater community and learn more about how we can better connect LGBTQ romance to LGBT, arts, and literary organizations.
Community partnerships aren’t about financial support. We don’t ask them for money or for capacity support. The only thing we ask them is this: “Can you publicly say that you’re happy that this LGBTQ romance event exists?” That and do they feel comfortable putting their logo on our site under “community partners”. Do they feel comfortable being public with that?
We intentionally have this (in our mind) really low barrier because we knew when we started in 2013 that we would meet skeptics. People skeptical about romance, about LGBTQ stuff, about LGBTQ romance, etc. So we wanted to take all the reasons why people usually say “no”, because of money, time, capacity, responsibilities, etc, and take those reasons off the table. And have the only requirement be, “Can you publicly say that you’re happy this LGBTQ romance event exists?””
I’m surprised with how hard it has been to get local RWA chapters to say “yes” to that question. And I’ve had chapters, two years in a row, refuse to be seen with us.
With that said, I really want to highlight the three chapters that said, “yes.” I have a feeling that there’s a lot of pressure to sit down, to not stand up about queer romance, and really, to ignore us and hope that we go away and stop bothering them. Or there’s a feeling that we should be happy with what little we get, and stop asking for more. The pressure may not be coming from the national level, but I’ve definitely felt it on the chapter level.
So, for those chapters that are visibly supporting, they really are *standing up* and leading for change, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am that they’re doing that.
So, I’m here to give a big shout-out and THANK YOU to the Rose City Romance Writers, the Inland Empire Chapter of RWA, and the Rainbow Romance Writers, which is the amazing LGBT chapter for RWA. We really appreciate that when we asked that question, they said “yes” and have been truly supportive of this event. To us, they are leaders in the field.
The thing is, we can’t dismiss RWA. We can work in parallel, queer romance and RWA, but not forever. And really, we will be better the more we connect and support each other, because these are two groups that support love stories and romance writers, and the more we can join forces, the stronger we’ll be.
So, I’ll going to hijack this wrap-up interview with a call-out. If you are a RWA member, and if you think your chapter would support the existence of a LGBTQ romance event, we welcome you to be part of this. We’d love to have more local chapter support, but it doesn’t have to be local. We’d just love to show more visibility for RWA, and show that there are chapters standing up for LGBTQ romance and for all that it means for the romance genre.
And we encourage queer romance authors to join RWA. I know what you might be thinking. “Why, after this experience that you had, should I join RWA?” Well, I will tell you that all the chapters that are supporting us all have LGBTQ romance authors as a part of their membership. They stood up because they believe in what we’re doing, and also because they have members that care. If a chapter’s membership doesn’t include LGBTQ romance authors, it’s even easier for them to continue to sit down and not think about inclusion. In order for change to happen, we really need representation and visibility “on the inside” and not just from irritating regional events that won’t shut up and be quiet.
For anyone a part of RWA now, we’d love to have your support–we’d love to have you be happy that this event exists. We’d love for you to be able to stand up with us. We can’t do this alone. We need your help. Please let us know if you’d like to help.
Now that 2014 conference is done, what’s next? Will there be a GRNW 2015?
YES. There will very much be a 2015 event, and we’re narrowing in on the dates now. Think late September 2015.
For the rest of 2014, we have a few events coming up. We’re co-hosting a panel of six queer sci-fi and fantasy authors at this month’s GeekGirlCon in Seattle, and that will include Astrid Amara, Ginn Hale, and Nicole Kimberling. We have another queer sci-fi event, “Guardians of the Gaylaxy,” this time at the Seattle Public Library, on November 17, and that will be free. It will feature five writers including Laylah Hunter and Langley Hyde. And THEN, we’re excited about hosting two authors visiting Seattle—Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt. We’ll have a free event with them on Friday, December 5.
(*Speaking of that Voinov/Witt event, we’re wracking our brains for a good event title. “Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt Unhinge the Universe”? We’d love ideas if you have some!!)
And then, more plans in the works, including our first Portland reading event on Valentine’s Day, 2015. :-)
And for GRNW 2015, we planning…
1- We’re going to do panel submissions for the first time, and that process will open up later this month, and we hope to have that concluded by late 2014. Our goal is to have authors work together to plan out discussion topics, and we’re encouraging them to think how best to include the many diverse voices that make up the whole queer romance genre.
2- We’re going to open up author spots after that. Since we’re a shorter event than other conferences, we don’t have panel spots for all authors, but we do have other opportunities, such as our book festival and short readings. We’re going to open things up after panels are finalized so when people sign-up to attend, they’re happy with what’s being offered.
3- And we’ll be back at the Seattle Public Library. It’s so great to celebrate LGBTQ romance books, readers, and authors in a place that’s all about celebrating public access to books. They’ve been a great place to hold the event the last two years, and we can’t wait to go back.
That sounds amazing! Keep us posted on how things go?
We definitely will, unless you get tired of our incessant talking about “how to work with communities.” I almost started my opening remarks with introducing the “GRNW Drinking Game”, where every time I said the word “community”, people could take a drink, but then I realized it would have been too weird to see 200 people taking a sip of water at the same time, so I didn’t do it. :-)
But there’s always next year. We’d love for you to join us in Seattle in September 2015!