Authors, publishers, and readers alike convened in Bloomingdale, Illinois, for the fourth annual GayRomLit ( Gay Romance Literature, or GRL ) retreat Oct. 16-19. LGBT romance consumers and creators gather each year to find a safe space to discuss their publications and current projects, and they return for the familial atmosphere the retreat provides.
"In a lot of the romance world LGBT writers are kind of pushed to the side, but here [at GRL] that's what it's about" said TA Chase, a well-established contemporary romance author who dabbles in many different subgenres.
GayRomLit is a retreat that "brings together the people who create and celebrate LGBT romance, according to the GRL website. Packed into one weekend are numerous workshops for authors, author readings, author Q&As, formal and informal booksignings, opportunities to meet the authors, and other events. The intent of the retreat is to facilitate interactions between authors, publishers and readers to create a conversation and community around the LGBT romance genre.
"You get a little lost in the shuffle at some of the general romance conferences, but here people will come up and literally cry when they meet TA [Chase] because her books have meant so much to them" said Stacey Birkel, editor with Totally Bound Publishing.
Carol Lynne founded GRL in 2009 and organizes the event each year. The retreat grew from the first gathering in 2008 after collaborating with other authors allowing the attendance for readers and authors to grow. Now, Lynne has put into place an attendance limit to maintain the familial atmosphere of the retreat.
Lynne organizes the event 11 out of the 12 months of the year as a volunteer. With so much work year round in addition to writing full-time Lynne explained to fight getting burned out, "my favorite thing to do is to sit in the lobby [at the retreat] and watch people come in to the hotelsitting there seeing screams and runs and hugs… and it kind of fills me. And then I'm know this is why I do this." Lynne describe the retreat as a family reunion of sorts.
Bestselling author in gay romance, Lynne primarily writes male-male ( MM ) gay romance. Lynne explained that when she reads male-female romance novels that she has the tendency to put herself into the position of the female character; instead of enjoying the story she compares herself to the woman and feel's she "always comes up lacking."
"Looking at love through the male-male perspective, for me, it's making me heal. I think a lot of women are kind of the same. We've just been burned," said Lynne. "And when you read a male-male book you don't have to put yourself in that book, because you have no chance with these men. So you can just truly enjoy the love and their relationship."
As a divorced woman and single mother, Lynne writes full timeworking through her past hardships through her characters. Lynne has been criticized for writing "insta-love" books in which the characters fall in love in the very beginning of the story.
"In my opinion it's easy to fall in love with someone, it's hard to stay in love with someone," said Lynne. So Lynne writes stories that capture the hardships of love versus the moments leading up to falling in love.
"My favorite thing is to give people that are damaged, people who think they don't deserve the happily ever after, I want to give them someone who accepts who they are," said Lynne. "I have characters in wheelchairs, and I have blind characters, and I have characters with schizophrenia. ... I do try to focus on the characters that aren't always seen as 'sexy.'" Lynne explained how these characters helped her to work through her own tethered view of love.
In Lynne's most recent publication, The Brick Yard, the final scenes of the story mirror some of Lynne's past. "For me, that book opened wounds that had never healed," she said.
Lynne ended to book where her own healing ended. She plans to write a sequel for herself and for the main character, Lucky, to finish healing.
The Brick Yard was the first full-length novel published under Totally Bound's new all-LGBT imprint, What's His Passion? The imprint was launched this summer starting with a six short story anthology from some of Totally Bound's top authors. What's His Passion? intends to raise the profile of the genre which remains a mostly niche genre.
Totally Bound and other MM romance publishers recognize that their readership are largely straight women. What's His Passion? Is part of a greater project to bring about accessibility to its readers, beyond e-books and per-demand publishing, by including itself into the mainstream.
"Interestingly, 50 Shades of Grey brought [interest] to the fore, but people didn't know where to find those sorts of book" said Nicki Richards, publisher at Totally Bound.
The CEO at Totally Bound, Claire Siemaszkiewicz, explained their hopes for the imprint. Currently, they are in discussions in the United Kingdom to include their books in main retail bookstores and expect to make that happen in the United States within the next year.
"We won't stop now until our books are in mass market" said Siemaszkiewicz.
Additionally, Totally Bound recently signed a deal that will introduce its backlist books to all libraries that the company connects with, which will allow access to the company's books at approximately 5,000 libraries. Eventually, Siemaszkiewicz said that if What's His Passion? continues to thrive, it will branch off as its own publishing house to be more comprehensive in terms of subgenres included, such as young adult, and to have a greater impact.