Being a first time author, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Bold Strokes Books 2013 LGBTQ book festival in Palm Springs. I thought perhaps it would be a pageant-like atmosphere, with one of us being crowned at the end. Because of the glorious desert climate I worried that the writers would be subjected to participation in a swimsuit competition. Wanting to have the best possible shot of winning, I texted my friend Shawn to schedule an appointment for some long overdue pre-trip manscaping. Immediately he texted back:
“Ken, have fun in Palm Springs. Sorry I’m in Mexico, Can’t help U get your smooth on. Better make peace with your inner Bear.”
I almost cancelled my flight.
Thankfully, I did not. Forced to forgo the Boyzilian, I boarded the plane in a far more natural state than was my want. To my great relief there was no swimsuit completion. We didn’t even compete in evening gowns, which I wish someone had told me in advance because it would have saved me so much room in my carry on bag. There were however four days worth of talent competitions.
Well, no, not talent competitions. It was more like four days worth of talent celebrations.
My chief objective in attending the event (aside from winning Miss Congeniality) was to meet, and spend time, with my fellow writers. I’d been feeling like I needed a reminder that I love to write, and hearing author after author share their dazzling work I absolutely was reminded. I left each day inspired to work—committed to completing another novel.
But something even more wonderful happened. I wasn’t just reminded that I love to write. I was reminded that I love to read.
More specifically, I was reminded why I love to read. Reading takes me places I’ve never been. It takes me into the lives of people different from myself. Even with every one of my body hairs intact, I will never really be one of Radclyffe’s wolves. But with a book in hand I can howl. Nor will I ever be a lesbian—or a woman of any orientation—but while reading I can pretend to be one.
On Thursday I attended a panel called Kiss and Tell: Scenes of Lesbian Desire. I was present for the session because I wanted to be supportive of my fellow Bold Strokes authors, not because I was particularly interested in the topic. But then something simultaneously wonderful and embarrassing happened. Ashley Bartlett began reading a sex scene from one of her “Dirty” series of novels. And my interest perked up—considerably. It’s been years since I was in High School, still I found myself reaching for my books and placing them in my lap for camouflage.
What was happening to me?
The answer was Obvi: I was being moved (or in this case turned on) by the power of a well-written story. And over the course of four days my colleagues stories moved me again and again—though only Ash’s words caused that particular type of movement.
Really this shouldn’t be news to someone who loves books, and yet it did come as a revelation to me. Sure, I like to read stories about gay men. But I also want to read books about the lives of lesbians and bisexual people and straight women and straight men. Bring me your transsexuals and your questioning. (Or is it queer? Does anyone really know what the Q stands for?) Honestly, I am totally game for a great asexual hero, too.
All I want—aside from Nell Stark’s tiara—is a great story and an interesting world and smart and pithy dialogue.
Oh, and apparently some hot, dirty lesbian sex.