For four days this October, as autumn took hold in my city in the Pacific Northwest, I traveled to Palm Desert, CA to attend the 6th Annual Left Coast Lesbian Literary Conference (LCLC).
This year’s event, produced by Sapphire Books and sponsored by Desert Palm Press, was held at the Mojave Resort, a gated courtyard hotel with two dozen guest suites. Everyone at the hotel was there for the conference (or at least it seemed like it), which meant that some of the presenters and many of the author attendees were just a room or two away.
An Intimate Event
With fewer than fifty attendees, this was the smallest conference I’ve ever traveled to attend. It was an intimate experience that encouraged a relaxed, open environment. Sessions were held outdoors on the lawn of the resort, the same area used for meals and social hours, which meant that the ease and comfort of mealtime discussions bled into the tone of the presentations. By the end of the second day, I’d met half a dozen other authors as well as the keynote speaker, Dorothy Allison, and had so many interesting conversations, I had to take notes every time I spoke to anyone.
Contrast this with other conferences where the lines were so long, I wasn’t even guaranteed a seat in the back of the room. Or sessions where the panelists were completely off limits or in other ways unapproachable. In some larger conferences, if you don’t submit a question in advance, it’ll never get answered. Meals are taken off-site or in hotel restaurants with overpriced mediocre food.
This was my first “author con”, one where the content was designed specifically for lesbian fiction authors (though readers were heralded and welcome). Many of the attendees were published authors, and every day, a few read from their recent publications. (This conference was also the site of my first author reading. Encouraged by Christine Svendsen, the CEO and publisher of Sapphire Books, I read from my short story “Season Finale” in the “Fandom to Fantasy” anthology. I’m thrilled my first reading was for such a receptive audience.)
From idea generation to publication, from forensic evidence collection (for procedural authors) to author and book promotion, every session provided information for new and experienced writers.
There are larger conferences focused on similar content. Golden Crown Literary Society’s annual conference attracts larger crowds, but I’ve not yet attended (though I will in 2019). I’m grateful my first experience was such an intimate event, one where I felt free to ask a question – free to ask *more than one* – and where I was completely immersed in the experience.
Approachability of Presenters
I have never had this much access to presenters. Most of the them stayed in the same hotel, which meant that if I didn’t get a chance to speak to them during or after their sessions, I could catch them in the food line or by the pool. Every last one of them was willing to answer questions, and their generosity was immeasurable.
While each session I attended had some nugget of information that would help me improve as a writer, three in particular stood out:
- Shawn Marie Bryant’s “Multi Media Mayhem” was a crash course in getting social media off the ground, and she was very welcoming to folks who knew little or nothing about launching their author platforms.
- Patricia Evans Jordan’s “The Perfect Love Scene” revealed that there is no wrong way to approach those scenes folks love to read but many authors hate to write. (Not me. I love that stuff.) The key is being true to how you as a writer express yourself, and making sure that bleeds through to the page.
- Heather Flournoy’s “Editing Secrets” was a master course in editing, hiring editors, style sheets, with tips and warnings about the editing process. That class alone was worth the flight, drive and expense of the conference.
These were my favorite official sessions. Then there were the *unofficial* sessions.
Power of Side Conversations
Over cigars and whiskey, I sat with two publishers and listened to them talk about their businesses and their craft. These kinds of conversations led me to a dozen books on the craft, courses I should take, new approaches to character development, and professional pitfalls I should avoid. (One of these conversations could have been titled “How Not To Be An Asshole Author” – keen advice for a writer who still hasn’t published a novel.)
Over pizza at lunch one day, keynote speaker and attendee Dorothy Allison demanded I tell her about my work-in-progress, encouraged its completion, and gave me tips on how to deepen its language. The reading list she recommended is a university course on story, and the way she spoke was a graduate course in its power. That conversation alone was worth *five times* what I paid for the conference.
All weekend long, I rubbed elbows with other authors and talked about things we’d learned in the day’s sessions, how we approach our stories, what we were working on, and how it all scared us to death. The commonality of experience made it clear that none of us is alone – precious knowledge for those of us who spend most of our time writing all by ourselves about people who aren’t real.
A Lesbian Event
I attend a handful of conferences a year, and a couple of them are queer-positive, queer friendly or queer-centric. This was the only lesbian event I’ll attend this year. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in an almost exclusively lesbian environment. There are no more lesbian bars in my town, or lesbian bookstores (at least, none that I know of). Those places used to be a kind of touchstone for me.
I don’t need those spaces like I used to. I’ve been out for over thirty years, and married for the last sixteen. My friends are all over the spectrum of sexuality and lifestyle, and I’m less defined by my lesbianism than I used to be. (These days, it’s a bigger deal for me to come out as a writer.)
I live in a place where I can be myself most of the time, without much hassle. (I’m damned lucky, and I know it.) Still, I can’t overstate the value of being at a lesbian event, with a few honest-to-god old school butches around. Some things, I just didn’t have to explain, and that was a bit like coming home.
For The New Author
While I have one published short story, have self-published a novella, and have half a dozen fan fiction stories under my belt, I’ve yet to publish my first novel. There were several new authors, or writers on the verge of publication, at this conference and I felt as if much of LCLC kept that in mind. We were welcomed, we were encouraged, and we were asked to come back.
I must recommend LCLC to any first-time author. It’s a fantastic way to get your feet in the door and take the next step in your creative career.
Huge thanks to Sapphire Books, Desert Palm Press, Mojave Resort, and all the presenters and volunteers for such a singular experience. Hopefully, I’ll see you again next year!