Crissy and Jason hit GRL for the first time this year and wanted to share some of their experiences with everyone! So here they are, the fabulous Crissy and Jason!
Crissy: Hey guys, so last week it was a little bit quiet around the blog because Jay, Jason and I traipsed off to Chicago for GayRomLit 2014. Now, you guys don’t know this by reading our reviews, but Jason and I are BFFs, and Chicago was our first meeting. Well, GRL 2014 was a lot of firsts for us. And that got us thinking… maybe there are some of you looking forward to San Diego next year who don’t want to take the step to register because you don’t know what to expect.
Jason: For me, I will admit that once the excitement of signing up was a done deal, the nervousness and apprehension of not knowing what to expect kicked in and when Crissy asked about sharing my experiences to help others interested in attending GRL in the future, I said “absolutely!” and hope that the following Q&A will help potential newbies make an educated decision about attending GayRomLit 2015.
That being said, we came up with a few questions, some we didn’t have the answers to going into this past week, in hopes that we can prepare you for the energy and excitement that is the Gay Romance Literature Retreat as well as address anything that may be holding you back from taking the plunge into GRL next year.
How did you discover GRL?
Jason: I friended Ethan Day on Facebook late last year and saw a post that he did about GRL 2013. I wondered what the heck it was and so I looked it up and started following his posts all the way to the registration for 2014 and I signed up right at noon, so excited for the opportunity to attend the event.
Crissy: Hmm… Jay went to Albuquerque in 2012. Back then I didn’t know what it was until like a month before it came along, so obviously I wasn’t able to go. In 2013, I’d planned on going, but one thing led to another, and the stars didn’t line up, or some such, and I ended up stalking Atlanta from home. This year, I had no such problems. My room and travel were lined up before I even registered. Best thing I’ve done to date.
Jason: absolutely! I have never in my life had as much fun, and everyone was awesome!
What were you expecting when you arrived?
Jason: Honestly I had no idea what to expect, except that I would finally be meeting some Facebook friends for the first time. GRL organizers and former attendees posted on the GRL 2014 Facebook closed group which really helped. I can now say that it was everything I read about and so much more.
Crissy: Oh. I totally agree. I was a tad more prepared I think, for the dramatics anyway. I’ve had Jay telling me stories for years, so I was looking forward to it. For me, I’ve spent so much time in this community getting to know authors and readers, I think I was expecting to talk books all day every day. That and party, because we all knew going in there would be parties. But it was more than all of that. Right, Jason? How was GRL different than you expect it to be?
Jason: Like you said, I was also expecting to talk books from beginning to end and to be honest, the first day there were awkward silences as I ran out of things to talk about but soon enough, the conversations branched out to our lives and our other common interests. The authors in particular are celebrities for me and I was awestruck when some of them recognized my name and / or my face from Facebook (total squee moment with Amy Lane).
Crissy: Awkward is a good word. It’s exactly what I expected from the moment I walked in, and it may have happened once or twice, but I was lucky enough to have a buffer full of smiles and energy at my side. No one really knew what I looked like going into this and that was my own fault so I was sure my awkwardness would stand in the way of meeting the people I called friends and the authors I’ve adored for so long. But to be honest, once Jason peeked around the corner of my door wearing an “I need a hug from Crissy MOrris” T-shirt all awkwardness vanished. I’m not exactly sure what it was about the Retreat—maybe it was my friends, the realness of the authors, or the laid back feel of the events—but my nervousness didn’t last very long. Not to say that I was always super brave and outgoing, but something about being around a group of like-minded people put me in a comfortable mindset.
Did you go with someone and were they a reader? How did that work out?
Jason: I actually convinced my partner of 19 years, David, to go with me but with the proviso that we go a few days early and visit the city. To be honest, it was my biggest fear, that he would be miserable and hang out in the room the whole time, but my fears were groundless. David met a ton of people and had a great time (his words, not mine), and has a new BFF in SJD (Jo) Peterson.
Crissy: David loved me, by the way (my words… and I’m pretty sure his too.) I arrived in Chicago with author Lara Brukz, my fellow Arkansan. And ladies and gentlemen, if you think I have a southern accent, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Lara and I have been friends for a few years via Facebook, but this was the first time we’d met, even though we only live a couple hours from one another. I have to say, just the ride there and back gained me a new friend/sister. We had our own things going on while we were at the retreat, so we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together in Chicago, but we had plenty to talk about on the way home.
What advice would you give to a newbie interested in attending GRL in the future?
Jason: If you can afford the time and money, DO IT!! You won’t regret it. The cost for the retreat is very reasonable and the organizers negotiate great rates for the hotel. Another great thing is that the retreat changes locations every year, moving from Central, to East, and West so eventually it will be in a city near you.
Crissy: And if you don’t fly well, there are always people who drive or there is the train. But I totally agree. It’s the best time I’ve had in a long time. The people, the books, the scenery are all worth the travel and time it takes out of your regularly scheduled life. As a matter of fact, the break is exactly what my life needed.
Jason: I mentioned the time and money but did not touch on shyness or being an introvert. These are absolutely not an impediment to attending, in fact the majority of the attendees identify themselves as one or the other and so someone like me who is an extreme introvert felt safe and right at home.
Crissy: You also helped with my issues. I won’t say I’m shy, per se. I’m not so much, but there are times when hanging out in the room was ideal compared to standing in a crowd of people. My advice is don’t feel like you have to entertain others or stick around. If you need to get away for a little bit to relax, go outside, or to your room or to the pool or to the mall or somewhere you don’t feel like the room crowding in around you.
Jason: Another thing I just thought of was that I participated in the Facebook group page and followed the GRL web site. I had 20 Facebook friends when I signed up for GRL and all of them were from work or personal friends. Once I started getting involved in the threads, I gained new friends who would all be attending and that helped to reduce my nervousness, in fact I became the head of #TeamShorts, a group of attendees from the colder cities who thought that the fall weather in Chicago was still shorts weather versus #TeamParkas headed up by Lex Chase from Florida, who all needed warm coats to cope with the 55-60 degree weather. Lex had buttons made up and it was a blast!
Crissy: And one thing Jason did that I didn’t do (that I wish now that I’d done) was volunteer. A couple months before the actual retreat Carol Lynne sent around a list of events that needed volunteers–clean up, stampers, decorations, etc. It’s easy enough to sign up and get your instructions, and not only does it get you involved with the retreat, but it helps you meet new people.
And just a side note I’m #TeamParkas all the way. It was freaking cold. Chicago’s 55-60 degree weather is Arkansas’ 35-40; I’m sure of it. It was cold always cold. Well, at least when I was outside.
What panels did you attend? What did you take away from them?
Jason: I attended Three Storyteller Spotlights, the “Why we Love our Shifters” with Mary Calmes, Poppy Dennison and Lynn Lorenz, “Snarky and Sexy Guys” featuring Z.A. Maxfield, K.A. Mitchell and Jordan Castillo Price, in addition to the “Good Cop, Bad Cop, Drunk Cop” Spotlight hosted by S.A. McAuley, SJD Peterson and Abi Roux. I would say that I got a better feeling and understanding of the authors’ personalities in a smaller and more intimate setting. What was great was that there were panels for every sub-genre and taste which allowed me to either discover new authors or get to know favorites better.
Crissy: All of the above. If you haven’t guessed yet, Jason and I spent a lot of time together, and we share a lot of the same tastes, so yes, we attended the same spotlights. One thing he left out though (and one of my faves) was the Question & Answer session with Andrew Grey, Eden Winters, and Rhys Ford. As I’m a pretty big fan, it was a wonderful hour to learn about these bestsellers, what makes them tick, their writing processes, and little secrets here and there. Both Andrew and Rhys dropped some exciting (and maybe devastating) secrets. It was great fun.
Personal boundary issues – how did you deal?
Jason: I am pretty reserved and have a need for lots of personal space but something strange and magical happened that turned me into a hugging machine. Some people had buttons that said “Hug Me” and the one thing I noticed above all was that no one would touch or hug without permission—everyone was super good about personal boundary issues.
Crissy: I don’t have personal boundary issues, per se. I’m a hugger. In fact, when we were getting ready for GRL and emails and posts were put up, I started to worry that I’d offend one too many people or offend the wrong person. Like Jason said, the “Hug Me” buttons helped and I tried to remember to ask if I could hug, but I was really bad at remembering. Luckily, the people who didn’t hug were quick (and kind) to say they didn’t hug. But mostly my introduction went something like this: (My intro to Mary Calmes.) “Mary.” I motioned to her then said, “Crissy.” Then there was big surprised look and a huge hug. This was repeated several times over the course of four days. The thing to remember is when you respect the boundaries of others, they will respect yours. GRL and the m/m community is an amazingly loving group of people. We just all express that love and comfort in different ways.
Jason: The buttons were really great and in the absence of one of those, I would just open my arms and wait to see what would happen (more often than not, I got a big hug)
There are themes to the events, (if flying) do I have to dress up?
Jason: Nope. Even though I drove, I don’t like dressing up and it was not a condition of attending an event. When they say “come as you are”, they mean it.
Crissy: And thank goodness they mean it. I’m not big on costumes, not to say that I’ll never wear one, but I didn’t really know what to expect this year, so I held off. Although I did threaten to put on sweats and my house shoes and go as Crissy from the night before. (It was a time travel themed costume party.) Elaborate costume, jeans, shirt, shoes or not. All is acceptable at GRL parties. There wasn’t a dress code. Although I’m fairly certain full nudity would have been frowned upon.
Can I get out and tour the city in which GRL is being held?
Jason: That is completely up to you. My partner David and I kidnapped Crissy, and went to downtown Chicago, wandered around and did the famous architectural boat tour. It was a great way to see a bit of the city and decompress. I believe that our day trip made all the difference in the world to my ability to fully participate in all of the events and activities on Saturday.
Crissy: Yes! I could go on and on about our day out. We have tons of pictures. Like Jason said, going out is entirely your own choice, but if you have the chance and you’ve never been to the city, I say go. Have fun. You don’t have to do it in the middle of the retreat like we did—although, yes, it was a lifesaver—maybe a day or two before or after the retreat. It’s up to you. No matter if you do or not, just have fun. Enjoy your time in a new place, even if it’s the resort. Our hotel was a village in itself.
I signed up and am not sure when to book the hotel room/find roommates
Jason: Please, please, please book your room immediately, even if you don’t have a roommate or three. I say this because the resort will hold enough rooms for everyone but they cannot do it forever and so if you wait, you risk not getting a room and based on what I saw on the GRL2014 Facebook group page, lots of people were scrambling at the last minute.
Crissy: Again, really Jason and I may as well think with one brain. As soon as possible, reserve your room. It’s imperative that you have it saved. It helps if you already know who you’re rooming with before you book it, but it’s not a must. You can always find however many roommates later.
As to finding roommates, it’s easy enough to find roomies in this community if you don’t already have a plan and if you don’t have a problem meeting new people. On the GRL 2014 Facebook group page, there was a post early on for people in need of roomies. If your roommate bails, rest assured that most of the time all you need to do is throw a post out there and you’ll find at least one person in need of a bed.
I get anxious in crowds, how do I cope with the various events and signings?
Jason: Among other things, I have Social Anxiety Disorder and will have anxiety or panic attacks when surrounded by too many people. Not once did I feel overwhelmed at GRL because there was always a lot of room at the evening events and the book signings were set up in multi-room configurations to ensure that attendees and authors could interact comfortably.
Crissy: You’ll find, like Jason said earlier, that most people identify with some type of shyness, nervousness, or introverted personality. With me, I’m okay in large crowds for a short amount of time, but after a bit, I have to get away. Thankfully, there was seating in the lounges, hallways, and every cozy check-in area. When things got to be too much, we spent some time in a room. It was about separating ourselves from the excitement for a moment and taking time for ourselves in the middle of chaos to (using Jason’s favorite word) decompress. And it was probably the most important thing we did.
To bring books or to buy books…that is the question.
Jason: Yes. Seriously, we drove and so I was able to bring some of my own books to be signed but I also bought a bunch and was given quite a few by various authors (Yes, peanut gallery?). Next year we will be flying and so I am planning to bring an autograph book and with the addition of the Featured Author and Supporting Author anthologies, I can have the authors sign them instead—those anthologies were a brilliant idea!
Crissy: Reading and Writing, Authors and Readers are what this retreat is about, so naturally there are books. Not everyone is a paperback lover like Jason and me, so don’t let that deter you. And ohmigod! Did you just call me the peanut gallery? I swear. If you guys only knew the juju this kid has with authors and the ability to magic them into paperback books. It’s a gift. But I digress. If you drive, definitely take your books and buy more and trust that you will probably leave with at least one or two freebies. If you fly and want to pack them, that’s up to you. Remember your weight limits…blah, blah, blah. You can also mail them to the hotel and back home before you leave. Important note: You don’t have to have books. They’re fun to have for hardcore paperback fans like me and Jason (seriously, you should see his library), but the most important thing is to bring yourself and your love for this genre.
Jason: I would have to say that meeting Crissy was my favorite moment of the retreat, and that is saying a lot, since there were so many events and people that I had been so excited to meet, I even had our “I want a hug…” shirts custom-made and mailed Crissy’s to her in advance.
Crissy: Can I just tell you about that moment for minute? I was beyond nervous, like shaking nervous. I was exhausted from an 11-hour drive and 2 hours of sleep the night before, but once I saw Jason it was as if we’d known one another our whole lives. So yes, meeting Jason and Jayden (my other BFF) was the highlight of my trip.
Also the moment that K.A. Mitchell fangirled me. Seriously guys! She knew my freaking name and hugged me and was so excited to see me! Do you hear what I’m saying? K.A. Mitchell. That is all.
Jason: OMG, YES! When Amy Lane recognized me, I was almost speechless.
Crissy: If y’all want to know my favorite event? That’s easy. It was the costume party. Now, I’ve already made it clear that I didn’t dress up, but tons of people did (not everybody). Y’all should’ve seen Jay in her pinup girl costume. But favorite event? Yes. Costume party. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Jason dance the Time Warp and to Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Best. Night. Ever.
If you have any questions that we did not cover off, please feel free to ask and one of us would be more than happy to either answer, find an answer or provide you with a contact, and in closing, I would have to say that I wish I had known of GayRomLit sooner, but as I am fond of saying “it is what it is” and I assure you that I will do my best to attend every one going forward.
P.S. You can check out Jay’s GRL Highlights post here.