GRL – The Reunion With Family You Never Knew You Needed
With GRL a week away, we here at Diverse Reader thought it might be special to let then readers know what they can expect if this is their first conference.
First, what is GRL?
GRL is an acronym. It stands for Gay Romantic Literature. It’s a conference that focuses on virtually all aspects of…well…gay romance literature. The conference itself travels country on an annual basis, never in the same city twice. Last years was in Denver, Colorado and this years is In Portsmouth, Virginia. Authors and readers alike fly in from all parts of world for a four-day meet and greet. Authors host panels, giving peeks behind-the-scenes, and generally talking about their process. Readers are given the chance to meet their favorite authors face to face, have books, autographed, and pick up all sorts of nifty swag (bookmarks, stickers, lip balm, keychains, etc.). Some authors also hold pre-order sales allowing their readers to pick up books at discounted prices.
So, last year was my first GRL, and to be perfectly blunt, I was nervous as hell. To understand why, I think I need to back up a little bit.
I had been in this community for a little over a year at that point. I was going through some personal things at the time. I’d also started my first book. At the same time, I had begun reviewing for Diverse Reader.
I had also made a number of friends on Facebook, some of whom I chatted with daily, either by way of posts or in PM’s. I felt particularly close to a few, but all of our interaction was done online. I understood that there was a world of difference between an online friendship and those that carried over into real life. And that’s where my nerves came from.
Would the connections that seemed to exist online carry over into the Real World?
Yes. Yes they did. I can honestly say that GRL 2017 was one of THE best experiences of my life!!
I arrived early and met up at the airport with Jenn Gibson and Doc Elderfall. Now, to be clear, I had met Doc previously and actually stayed with her on a fantastic weekend trip to Atlanta last July (where I also had the privilege to meet and hang with Devon McCormack, his boyfriend, and perhaps way too many gin and tonics.) However, I had never met Jenn. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by Annabella Michaels and Aimee Nicole Walker. We all piled into the back of a van that Jenn had arranged for us, and just…talked. There was no awkwardness, no weird silences. It was as Facebook was merely an extension of the very real friendships that had developed.
We got to the hotel and took over a small section of the lobby. It was too early for the rooms to be ready, so we just sat and talked more and more and more.
I don’t think I have ever felt as if I was actually part of a tribe more so than in those moments.
But there were more moments like that to come.
My first actual face-to-face meeting with Rod Batterman. I won’t go into great detail about that here. Just…suffice it to say that it was literally life changing.
Meeting Riley Hart, N.R. Walker, and Christina Lee (and my own personal wardrobe malfunction). Having the privilege of hanging out and talking to them as well as Devon McCormack and his boyfriend.
All of that was the first day.
It was amazing and overwhelming and every other positive adjective you can think of. It was like meeting up with old friends and family.
Then there was my first meeting with Felice Stevens. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that were it not for her and her book, “Rescued,” I wouldn’t know a damn thing about this genre.
Nervous doesn’t begin to describe how I felt in that moment. Our small group from the airport was sitting in the hotel restaurant, doing what had already become normal for us (talking, of course) when Rod turned to me and said, “Hey, there’s Felice.”
I tried not to look, tried not to seem too excited.
He stood and made his way to where she was, and, of course, I had no choice but to follow. He was Rod, after all.
She smiled at me and hugged me, and it was in that moment that I realized I was finally where I belonged.
Now, I know that it sounds like there’s an enormous amount of hero-worship when it come to some of these authors. That’s because there is. I myself have now released two books and am working on my third. But, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea of being welcomed in by these amazing people. I feel privileged to be surrounded by people like Annabella, Aimee, Devon, Riley, Christina, Lane, and Felice. And those are just some of the authors. To say nothing of Jenn and Doc and all of the other reader friends I’ve made.
And Rod. Always Rod.
To have been accepted into this community, this family, is still astounding to me. Families fight. Especially ones as large as my GRL family. We argue and we disagree. We also advise and support.
But, above all else, we love!
And GRL is the culmination of all of that. It’s the family you never realized you needed and the family reunion you wish didn’t end so soon. You look forward to the next one the moment the current one end.
Because you know, above all else, that THIS is where you belong, and that GRL is a celebration of that sense of belonging.