Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Saints and Sinners: A Recap

My annual trek to New Orleans to be a guest author at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival never disappoints. This year was no exception. I returned home on Monday afternoon. It's now Wednesday morning. I'm still recovering. No, not from too many drinks on Bourbon Street, but from sheer exhaustion.

I first attended the fest in 2005, when I was a contributing author to the essay collection Small-Town Gay. The festival was relatively young then, and has grown considerably since. I also attended in 2008, 2009, 2010, and this year, as well. Next year, is a guarantee.

Each year, my best friends and I reunite in New Orleans during the festival weekend. We all fly in from around the country, meet there, catch up, and make new memories. This year, Rena (and her husband Rob and her writing group partner Loretta) came from Olympia, Washington. Nick (and his partner Albert) came from Denver, Colorado. Mindy (and her partner Stacy) came from Sacramento, California, as did the one-and-only Cyndi Lopez. I made the trip from Atlanta.
Overall, my four days in The Big Easy were relatively low-key. No late-night drunken tales of debauchery. No moments of hide-your-head-in-shame. Just a couple of readings, an awesome panel discussion, some sold out books, good times with great friends, a carriage ride through the French Quarter, and a cheesy Haunted History Tour.

So much work goes into putting the festival together (under the wonderful direction of Paul Willis). I discovered this firsthand. I volunteered to help stuff swag bags Thursday afternoon (promo postcards and bookmarks for my forthcoming novels Accidents Never Happen and Swimming to Chicago were included items), and it was clear to me how much dedication each volunteer has, how hard they truly work.

This year, I was named a finalist for their annual short story competition (judged by John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). As such, I was invited to the book launch party at the gorgeous Hotel Monteleone. There, I read my short story Backfire. I was in some wonderful company. Sally Bellerose, J.R. Greenwell, Jeff Lindemann, and Felice Picano also read. Each story was remarkable.

On Friday, I attended a master class taught by the brilliant Achy Obejas. In one of the English classes I teach, my students read/study her short story We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? I have to admit - I was a little starstruck, given my deep respect for her work. She was an awesome teacher. I learned a new storybuilding technique that I will definitely share with my students and the members of my writing group.
Friday night, I had dinner with my friends (the wonderful Collin Kelley joined us) before attending the welcome party Glitter with the Literati, held in the courtyard of Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré. Although, I didn't take advantage of the open bar, my friends certainly did. But no names will be mentioned, as promised.

On Saturday afternoon, I moderated a panel discussion titled "Beyond Twilight: Writing for the Young Adult Market". The panelists (Greg Herren - a.k.a. my editor extraordinaire, Julie Smith, Jen Violi, and Louis Flint Ceci) contributed to what I thought was an excellent overview of young adult fiction. Radclyffe (a.k.a. my publisher extraordinaire) attended and posed some terrific questions to us.

On Sunday afternoon, I read an excerpt (for the first time) from my forthcoming novel Accidents Never Happen, as part of the reading series of the festival. Again, I was in the company of brilliance: Rob Byrnes, Wayne Courtois, Amie M. Evans, Joe Formichella, Suzanne Hudson, and Marianne K. Martin also read their work.

The weather couldn't have been better. Beautiful days, cool nights. Best friends. Lots of love and laughs. And, to top it off, all copies of my young adult novel Mesmerized were sold out by the end of the festival.

As it always does, the festival flew by. But a great time was had.

I'm already counting down the days until next year.

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