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This fall, writers and readers of LGBTQ romance have another good excuse to visit Seattle’s striking Central Library at the corner of 4th and Spring, in the middle of the city’s bustling financial district. On Saturday, September 14, in the library’s 275-seat auditorium, fans from around the region will gather to celebrate the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up, the first conference in the Pacific Northwest to focus on the rising genre of gay romance fiction.
Hosted by the Seattle writing nonprofit Old Growth Northwest, the mission of the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up is to provide a local forum for readers and writers to convene and discuss gay romance fiction. Topics range from the practical, such as best practices in submitting manuscripts to publishers, to the erotic (how necessary is it to include explicit sex scenes in stories?) to the forward-thinking, such as the rocketing expansion and demand for LGBTQ romance fiction and the increased awareness of the genre by mainstream publishers.
Following the Lead of GRL
The Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up is not the first conference in the U.S. to focus on LGBTQ romance fiction. That honor goes to the GayRomLit Retreat, the annual professional convention for LGBTQ romance writers and readers, and considered the flagship, must-attend event in the genre. After successful meetings in New Orleans in 2011 and Albuquerque in 2012, GRL will convene its third conference this October in Atlanta. Tickets for GRL 2013 have already been sold-out for several months.
Celebrating Local Resources
What sets the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up apart is its focus on local writers, fans, and community resources. The goal of the Meet-Up is more low-key than many professional events within the romance genre, a mood matching its earthy Pacific Northwest roots. Basing the event at Seattle’s iconic Central Library was a purposeful choice—to celebrate the genre of LGBTQ romance fiction at a public space that symbolizes the city’s dedication to providing an open, warm, and welcoming resource for its residents.
GRNW has invited the Seattle Public Library’s Marlene A. Harris to serve as the keynote speaker for the conference. Ms. Harris, who blogs about romance books outside of her library work, will discuss what ways authors and readers can work with local library systems to both boost awareness of LGBTQ fiction and expand library LGBTQ collections.
Spotlight on Local LGBTQ Romance Authors
Focusing on local resources also includes tapping into the robust community of gay romance authors who reside in the Pacific Northwest. Attending the conference are more than 30 LGBTQ romance authors and publishers from cities throughout Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, as well as from California, Colorado, Illinois, and North Carolina. Authors from all over the region will gather both to discuss the genre and its rising influence, and to meet their very dedicated and excited fans – readers who very rarely, if ever, get to meet their favorite authors outside of online communities, such as those on GoodReads and Amazon.
Authors attending the GRNW Meet-Up on Sept. 14 include Lambda Literary winner Nicole Kimberling (Turnskin), Lambda Literary finalists Astrid Amara (The Archer’s Heart) and Ginn Hale (Wicked Gentlemen), Epic eBook winner Rick R. Reed (Caregiver), urban fantasy author Andrea Speed (Infected), spy thriller author Eric Andrews-Katz, fantasy author and owner of Less Than Three Press Megan Derr (Dance with the Devil), New Adult fiction author Anne Tenino (Frat Boy and Toppy), Total E-Bound Editor-in-Chief Devon Rhodes (A Sticky Wicket in Bollywood), and leading cover artists L.C. Chase (Pickup Men) and Lou Harper (Spirit Sanguine).
In addition to the GRNW Meet-Up on September 14, Old Growth Northwest will also host two free public reading events at Seattle’s University Book Store with local gay romance authors on September 5 and September 13.
Connecting the Community, One Love Story at a Time
Along with connecting local LGBTQ Romance authors with readers, another focus of the GRNW Meet-Up is to connect attendees with related LGBTQ and arts organizations, both regional and national. The goal is not only to educate about what resources are available, including grants, writing workshops, professional associations, and news, but also to show readers that there are supportive and welcoming communities close to them.
GRNW’s purpose is also to show fans that they are not lone readers in a “literary wilderness,” and that their genre of choice is, in fact, a unique and legitimate form of creative expression. Often branded derisively with the categorically opaque term “genre fiction,” LGBTQ romance fiction (and its sexy sibling erotica) has operated for much of its existence on the fringes of the literary world. And yet, in its depiction of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans* characters triumphing in life, love, and relationships, LGBTQ romance fiction helps bridge the gap between the fringe and the mainstream.
GRNW’s mission is to provide a safe, open space that reinforces the theme that there is nothing wrong with loving love stories, there is not just one kind of romance, and there is a place to celebrate stories with a Happily Ever After for everyone.
Partnering with Old Growth Northwest on this conference, and part of this celebratory community of resources, are the Seattle health and literary nonprofit Gay City and their Gay City LGBT Library, GeekGirlCon, Lambda Literary Foundation, Pride Foundation, Queer Geek!, Rainbow Romance Writers, The Seattle Lesbian, and the University Book Store.
Sponsoring the conference are Blind Eye Books, Bold Strokes Books, Dreamspinner Press, eXtasy Books, Harmony Ink Press, Less Than Three Press, Riptide Publishing, Samhain Publishing, Storm Moon Press, and Torquere Press.
Concept to Action
The impetus for this conference dates back to April of this year, during a simple conversation over beers that started with the offhand musing, “There are so many gay romance writers around this region. It would be so cool if we did a local event that gathered them together.”
That one comment led to, “That sounds like a great idea. But can we do it?” Which led to, “Yes. Yes, we can.”
Whether it’s through connecting local LGBTQ fiction authors together, working with local arts organizations, engaging book stores and publishers, or utilizing public resources like libraries, there are so many little ways that, when used together, can build movements, create opportunities, and increase public awareness. Examples related to this conference include:
– LGBTQ romance authors who have never read their work publicly before can read in front of fans.
– Readers who have never been to a local book store and found LGBTQ romance books being sold can go to store reading events, hold these books, flip through them, and buy them.
– Authors who live close but have never met can meet and work together to promote the shared cause of increasing awareness of LGBTQ romance fiction.
– Art and literary nonprofit organizations gain greater access to the local writing (and reading) community, expanding their ability to conduct outreach and develop related projects and events, thus increasing their own audience as well as their base of potential future donors.
These are just some examples that have happened already. We look forward to seeing what other opportunities will spring-up before the conference, during the Meet-Up when all these communities come together at the Seattle Library, and also after, as we continue to strengthen these connections so that what momentum we have gained won’t be lost.
Because it’s really nice to spread the love about love stories.
If you’re a fan, or even if you’re just interested in learning more about LGBTQ romance fiction, we welcome you to join us.