Reflecting on the BSB October Bookathon

The weekend around October 10 turns out to be my busiest weekend every year without fail, even as I am desperate to have free time to talk a walk through a forest and enjoy the leaves changing. In 2010, 10-10-10 was the date of the Chicago marathon, the first I ran (and finished!). This year, I was participating in the Bold Strokes Books October Bookathon, three days of author readings, chats among authors with time for reader questions, and panels on topics relevant to romance today. All in all, not a bad way to spend a weekend, even if it was sunny and warm, probably the last of those weekends for Michigan until April.

On Saturday, I participated in a panel on the topic “Love in Turbulent Times: Is Romance Still Relevant?” with Ali Vali, Kris Bryant, Angie Williams, and Jane Walsh. I was really excited about this topic, given the pandemic, the protests taking place all summer (and still going – Detroit is on day 142), and the polarization of society that can sometimes make things like romance novels seem trivial. Recently, I saw a tweet that caught my attention:

I feel really strongly about comments like this. Romance is so easily dismissed as cheap, meaningless fantasy, smutty books that don’t show what love and sex are like in real life. Romance writing is easily dismissed as “genre writing,” not real craft that requires creative genius. It’s offensive all around, and it’s such an easy insult that doesn’t actually think through the cultural role romance plays in offering hope and positivity, the power of fantasy to serve as an escape, and – as many scholars have documented – the way romance grapples with real-life issues. Here was my reply:

It’s not that romance ignores the real world. It’s not a naive genre, and the writers and readers of romance aren’t naive, ignorant, or stupid. On the contrary, it’s a conscious choice to be optimistic.

In our panel discussion, I talked about what it meant that I spent the first part of the summer marching, organizing supplies, and trying to be as helpful to the movement as I could be. Although some things happened in my personal life that prevented me from marching into July and August, I’ve spent that time reflecting on my whiteness. In our panel, I explained that I feel I have a responsibility to ask myself daily, What am I doing to promote racial justice in my personal life? And as an author, I have to ask, What am I doing to promote racial justice in my writing?

Unfortunately, it looks like the live-stream of the panel wasn’t saved to video. I’m bummed. I’d have liked to review it. The idea of grappling with the requisite happy ending of romance in our dark, dark present moment is one I’ve been reflecting on a lot, and some of the thoughts I expressed that day, as well as the ideas of my fellow authors, might have inspired me further. I’ll have to work from memory as I go forward.

I also participated in an informal author chat with the illustrious Melissa Brayden, who is very nice, and Jane Walsh, whose Regency lesfic was named with my book, The Holiday Detour, as two of the recommended romance reads for fall. Since we’re both named Jane, we decided she’d be “Regency Jane,” and I’d be “Holiday Jane.” Her wife had a custom sweatshirt made for her with this nickname, and she tweeted a picture of herself wearing it. It’s adorable. I think “Holiday Jane” sounds like a drink, so I’m going to endeavor to create a cocktail recipe (or outsource this task to one of my friends with bartender training, anyway).

We talked about our writing process, our forthcoming books, how we do research, and what’s on the horizon. You can watch the whole chat on BSB’s Facebook page.

Author chat with Melissa Brayden and Jane Walsh, October 10, 2020.

Finally, on Sunday, I did a reading from The Holiday Detour. In August, when I did my first ever public reading, I was so nervous that I was nearly shaking – until it came time to actually start reading. Then my background in theater and performance kicked in, and I was on. This time, I decided to read a different excerpt, the part where Dana first abandons her car on the highway and is found by Charlie. There’s less cutesy bantering between them, but some readers seemed surprised by how much of the book is Dana’s POV, so I wanted to this reading to give a better flavor of that. My reading was during a session in which several other great authors read. Kris Bryant read a really hot first kiss scene from her novel Home, Eden Derry read a disgustingly gory scene from her zombie novel Z-Town, and then suddenly it was my turn to read…about a car breaking down. How anti-climactic!

Reading from The Holiday Detour, October 11, 2020.

Aurora Rey also read from her latest novel (at the time – she’s prolific!) Twice Shy, and Anne Laughlin read a great morning after scene from her crime novel Money Creek. This event did make it to the recordings and is on BSB’s Facebook page.

One of the questions that came up in my author chat with Melissa Brayden and Jane Walsh was what it’s like to be a published author. I’ve been published in the past under a different pen name and through a different press. But, as we noted in that chat, there’s something special about being published through Bold Strokes. A press started by a lesbian who saw a real need for books about women, by women, and for women, BSB has now expanded into a wide range of genres, sexualities, and genders. And they regularly host events like this, now on Zoom but in the past (and hopefully again in the future) in person at things like Women’s Week in Provincetown or at popular conventions like ClexaCon. It feels special to be a part of a press that tries to connect so often and so deeply with readers and gives authors a chance to do these events together. Writing can be a pretty solitary activity, so having the chance to interact with writer colleagues and readers during events like the Bookathon is a dream.

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