Now that I am feeling almost human again, I think it’s time to do that yearly thing I do: the GCLS conference wrap-up. I’ve been home for almost three days (though there was a holiday thrown in, which messed with my recovery process), and I’m just about ready to get back to work. You introverts know what I’m talking about: we are “on” for four days, which means we need about a week and a half to recover and recharge. Conversely, the extroverts are all rocking in corners right now because they are absolutely devastated to not be surrounded by 240 amazing women any longer.
What a trip!
Let’s not talk about my traveling mishaps (both on the way to Dallas and on the way home from Dallas). Suffice to say that I have spent way more time in Chicago’s O’Hare airport than I ever need to again. I arrived in Dallas about six hours later than expected, and thus missed the Meet-n-Greet on Wednesday (as well as hitting a wine bar with Rachel Spangler, Melissa Brayden, and Carsen Taite, dammit), but I did manage to scoot to the registration area about ten minutes before they shut down for the night and say hi to a few people. Then I trudged back up to my awesome corner room, stuffed some room service in my face, and turned out the lights. How is it possible that traveling makes you so tired? I literally sat around the airport and did nothing for six hours, but I was exhausted.
Dallas is hot. Let me just put that out there. It was above 100 degrees for the first three days I was there. And in all honesty, I never took in a breath of fresh air until Saturday. Isn’t that weird? I was so busy with conference events that I didn’t leave the hotel for three days, and I barely noticed.
As Karin Freaking Kallmaker (as she will now be called whenever I refer to her) said in a Facebook post, one of the best payoffs for going to the GCLS conference is the hugs. Let’s be honest, this is the only time I see most of the people at this gathering. Once a year, that’s it. Yes, I chat with many, many of them online, but nothing beats a real hug. So, I spent much of Thursday morning hugging the people I haven’t seen since last June. Then I did a Coffee Chat with Rachel Spangler, Lee Lynch, Chris Paynter, and Mary Griggs, which was a lot of fun. I love to listen to other writers talk about their processes, and the audience always comes up with great questions. This year’s conference was the biggest yet, and that was obvious to me by the crowds that showed up to each workshop or panel in which I was involved. I can’t remember ever having ALL of them filled up. It was awesome.
I sat on a panel later with KG MacGregor, Carsen Taite, and literary icon Gerri Hill. I’d never met Gerri before, and she did not disappoint. She was quiet, charming, and very smart. Karin Freaking Kallmaker moderated, and did a terrific job as always, coaching us into talking about our writing processes, what works for us, what doesn’t. I think poor Carsen Taite almost fell out of her chair when I told her I have an old-school paper planner. One that I actually write in with a pen. She gaped at me as she sat there with her fancy, state-of-the-art tablet (which I secretly wanted to play with).
Though I had a blast on all my panels, wandering the vendor room was more fun. I ran into so many people, and it was wonderful to see all the new tables from up-and-coming presses and companies. I did a lot of visiting, of meandering past tables, and I signed a TON of books. I also signed several copies of the audio book of Starting from Scratch, which made me giddy, as that project holds a special place in my heart. I spent time at the bar with the fun, hilarious people from the Cocktail Hour. CheriTheRev, Andy, Adrian, Nikki Smalls…they were all such a blast. Nikki made me laugh for the entire conference. Every single thing she said was funny. CheriTheRev did a cleavage dive into my awards dress for a stale pretzel (check out Facebook for that photo op). Andy introduced me to a drink called Sex with Jennifer, and then her friend Nancy Jean proceeded to drink me under the table with it. And Adrian let me wear her awesome cowboy hat. Only at the GCLS can you become terrific friends with people you already (sort of) knew.
Friday morning, Carsen Taite gave a great special presentation about romance, since that was the theme of the conference. I’ve heard wonderful things about Carsen, but this was the first year I actually got to meet her and talk with her. She’s witty, charming, and brutally smart. I liked being around her.
Once Carsen finished up, it was time for the Author Auction. This is an event that has grown in scope and popularity from the first year it was presented. All proceeds go to the GCLS Scholarship Fund, which is money that’s used to help people get to the conference who couldn’t afford to otherwise. And this was the first year I actually got to see the rewards in action: I had three friends from Rochester attend the conference, all aspiring writers, and two of them came on the Scholarship Fund. So that really put a bit of a fresh spin on the whole thing for me.
Obviously, it’s a bit nerve-wracking to stand up on stage and have women shout out dollar amounts of which they think one dance with you is worth. But like I said, it’s for a good cause, so I do it and try to make it fun. Last year, I went for about $550 (which was a LOT). This year, bidding started kind of low, but it always does. I’m not sure what happened, but all of a sudden, it became a frenzy. The number just kept going up. It got to $650, which was shocking. And it kept going! At $700, Auctioneer Extraordinaire Lois Glenn informed us that it was the highest bid in the history of the Author Auction. Pretty damn cool. But wait! There’s more! It kept going! Cheryl way back in the Bella booth got it up to $850 as she battled with Michele Mostoller, who sat in the front row. Suddenly, Michele stood, hitched up her pants, threw her shoulders back in the classic butch stance, and said loudly, “One thousand dollars!” HOLY SHIT!!!
The awesome, amazing, and ridiculously charming Michele Mostoller paid one thousand dollars to dance with me. How incredible is that? In addition, the entire auction brought in more than $8,000 for the Scholarship Fund. The audience was fabulous and unwaveringly generous.
In addition to the flabbergasting Author Auction, my lovely wife Bonnie arrived on Friday, so it was a good day all around. I had a chance to check in with my friends from home, and they were having a terrific time at the panels I didn’t have a chance to attend. Nothing but good reports (which did not surprise me). I think they’ll be back.
Did I mention I was the Keynote Speaker this year? Yeah, well, I was the Keynote Speaker this year. That meant I had a speech to deliver. THE speech of the conference. No, nothing nerve-wracking about that at all. I felt good about the speech, but Bonnie had me practice a few times on Friday with her, right up until our eyes were closing from sheer exhaustion. We talked about some pointers, and she came up with some hand signals to help me during the speech. My biggest fear was that I’d talk too fast (something I’m prone to do when I’m nervous), so she came up with some signs to help me know if I needed to slow down, speed up, take a breath, or whatever.
My speech was at 9am on Saturday morning, and I was shocked to see an ENORMOUS crowd waiting to listen to me. I knew there’d been karaoke the night before, so I was flattered so many had dragged their tired butts out of bed just to hear me. After a sweet, touching introduction from Patty Schramm, I got to it, nervous, but surprisingly not as nervous as I’d expected to be. A few tension breakers with regards to lighting occurred at the beginning and they took the edge off, so that helped. After the first page or so, I glanced up at Bonnie. She was leaning against the wall, her arms folded across her chest, a big smile on her face, and I thought, “I got this.”
It was surreal speaking to that many people and actually holding their attention. Laughs came at the right places, and when I got to the video of A Day in the Life of a Romance Writer (which you can see if you go back to my home page), people were rolling with laughter. A huge success, if I say so myself, and something I am immensely proud of. Couldn’t have done it without my own personal Tech Team. Which consists of…Steff. She’s the absolute best. I had several authors come up to me afterward and ask me when I snuck a camera into their house.
Once the speech was out of the way, I coasted through the rest of the conference with great relief. Another panel, this one about marketing, again had a full house. I am a pretty solid example of what NOT to do when it comes to marketing, but I learned a lot from my fellow panelists, and I think the audience did too.
Dinner with friends and then it was off to the awards ceremony where Cathy Bryerose bought Bonnie and I each a glass of champagne to celebrate our marriage (so sweet!), and Slices of Life nabbed a Goldie in the Short Story Collection category. Yay! Melissa Brayden and I wore the exact same color dress…and we looked stunning. Michele Mostoller showed up late for her thousand dollar dance with me, but it was okay because we danced a couple more times after that. The night was a blur and I was totally beat and felt like a wet dishrag by the time Bonnie and I called it a night. Whew!
To all of my old GCLS friends: I’m so glad I saw you again. I look forward to seeing your face every year. See you in Portland!
To all the new friends I made this year: thanks for saying hello. That’s what the conference is all about: making connections.
And to everybody who had me sign something for you: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.
I hope you all enjoyed yourselves as much as I did (and that you got home faster than I did). I also hope you’re all feeling the same burst of creativity that always follows this conference for me. Now use it. Go! Go forth and write!