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A day later, and I'm still recovering from the hilarity and energy generated by this inaugural convention held here in Tampa. Before I say anything else, I need to thank Storm Moon Press (Roger and Saundra Armstrong, Kris Piet et al) for their invitation to be a guest. It's a gesture I won't soon forget. I had the fortune, and I mean that in the highest regard, of meeting some incredibly talented people, whether they be authors, artists, small presses, larger publishers, bloggers/reviewers, or readers, and each one left an indelible mark on my writer's soul.

So, I don't write erotic romance. Quite frankly, even if I weren't a school teacher (where I'd need to take on a nom de plume to do it), I don't think I'd have the skill to do that genre justice. But, the people who do have my everlasting respect. I could list everyone I met here, but I'd probably leave someone out, so I'll just say that the people I did meet blew me away. Friendly. Interested. Funny. A little naughty (okay, a lot naughty, but that's not for public consumption here). I had the opportunity to be on panels (hosting a few), and each one impressed the hell out of me. Not only did the panelists speak with such passion and experience, but the audience members also contributed rich content and appreciation for the LGBTQ literature out there.

Thursday, April 17, I was on the Roundtable Discussion: Plotters vs Pantsers panel (I'm a little bit of both, actually) hosted by Kris Piet with authors Cody Stanford, Geoff Knight, Jeff Adams, and Lexi Ander. Later in the day, I was hosting the Writing Diversity panel with authors Carole Cummings, K-lee Klein, Skylar M. Cates, Stephen del Mar, and Vicktor Alexander. At 4 p.m., I was part of an Author Q&A with Amelia C. Gormley, J.R. Loveless, Rory Ni Coileain, Sharita Lira, and Sui Lynn.

Friday morning, I was on the Trends in Young Adult Fiction panel with Allison Cassatta, Beau Schemery, Cody Stanford, and Gryvon. Our host was absent from the conference, I believe. Here, my teaching experience helped give a perspective that some hadn't considered, and we discussed that YA fiction really isn't being read by middle or high school students largely, but rather younger students (as well as some adults). Of course, my students read things like Solzhenitsyn as much as they read Suzanne Collins or Rick Riordan.


At 1:30 p.m., I did an author reading of Ch. 4 of Task Force: Gaea—Finding Balance and at 3:00 p.m., I attended a session with Storm Moon Press, mostly because there weren't other panels I wanted to attend. At 4:00 p.m., I attended Talking Shop: Reviews simply because I wanted to gain some more knowledge about what to do with them. I learned so much from the panelists. Trust me when I say, even when you think you know something, it's always a good idea to attend a panel on it because you just never know what you'll learn.

Saturday at 10:00 a.m., I was on the panel Fade to Black? Erotic Content in QUILTBAG Young Adult Fiction with Cody Stanford, Jackson Cordd, LE Franks, and hosted by Jamie Fessenden. I don't write erotic content into my books, but the idea of erotic content when it comes to teens (exploratory scenes with those learning about their sexuality was one of the talking points we discussed). Again, my teacher experience came into the discussion, and this prompted me to think about LGBTQ fiction that would be appropriate for our school's library. We definitely need to include more diversity in our reading material.

At 11:00 a.m., I was on the How to Be an Ally panel with Allison Cassatta, Brenda Cothern, S.L. Armstrong/Kris Piet, and Sharita Lira. I was happy to share my ALLYGator image that we proudly display in our classrooms where we show students every room is a safe space for diversity. This panel hit home with me being the GSA sponsor as well as being a gay educator.

I spent much of the afternoon with people hanging out in the convention suite (with all the snacks, largely enjoying fruit/veggies/cheese. I was tryyyying to observe Passover).

At 5:00 p.m., I attended the Handling Criticism panel with Jordan L. Hawk, Kassa, Sasha L. Miller, Susan Lee, Wade Kelly, and hosted by Shira Anthony. This helped me process a negative review I received and validated some of my feelings about it. If anything, it helped give me perspective.

After 8:00 p.m., while others enjoyed a "field trip" into Ybor City, I was in the convention suite with others celebrating Becky Condit's birthday (she's a book reviewer) for a while, and might have enjoyed a few Jell-O shots. Hilarity and camaraderie of the highest order.

Sunday, at 10:00 a.m., I hosted a panel on Religion in Genre Fiction with Angel Martinez, Cari Z, Rory Ni Coileain, Sui Lynn, and Wade Kelly. Our conversation included such topics as whether or not our own religious preferences enters our works, what types of religion in general we include or not, and I brought up the prospect of writing an anthology including stories of characters from Ukraine, Egypt, and other countries where being gay is a crime. This idea garnered GREAT interest, but it would be an intense job to write and compile such a work. It's something on the back burner for the moment. It's hard to remember all of the topics we discussed, but—needless to say—this panel had tremendous energy and a wealth of ideas.

At 11:00 a.m., I attended the panel Blog Tours: Love 'Em or Hate 'Em? with CR Guiliano, Lisa T., Scott Burkett, Sharita Lira, Susan Lee, and hosted by Beau Schemery. I must say, this panel opened my eyes to options for the future that I hadn't considered, as well as ways to handle bloggers who don't do what they said they would do or how bloggers should be approached to deal with issues like not posting something on a set day or formatting posts to look professional.

My last activity of the day was to play Cards Against Humanity with Beau Schemery, Amanda Ching, Gryvon, Roger Armstrong, and an author whose name eludes me. If you've ever played this game, you know how irreverent it is (and that's putting it mildly).

Interspersed between these panels, I lunched with many authors, sat and chatted with others, forged friendships and future relationships for writing and publishing adventures. The power of being around so much creativity, love for the craft, and experience is hard to put into words. I am in awe of those authors who had fans in attendance just because these authors were there. People had read many works of their favorites and wanted to have the chance to chat with them. I can only imagine what that feels like, but perhaps someday I shall.

Whether you're an author or a reader, attending conferences and conventions should certainly be on your landscape for the future. I await Rainbow Con 2015 (where the content will be tripled!) where I can reconnect with these new friends, meet more people, and just learn as much as possible.

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