A reader’s perspective on the Virtual 2020 GCLS Conference
Well, the 2020 edition of the GCLS Conference is in the books and thankfully digital archives as those of us who look forward to the annual bookfest have the opportunity to revisit some of the virtual offerings that the GCLS folks hastily put together once it was painfully obvious that we wouldn’t be able to get together in person. And, no it wasn’t perfect but an “A” for effort but I have no doubt that, as in the recent past, every effort will be taken to address some of the concerns brought forward by members.
There were certainly some highlights this year (the Queer Books are Lit: a millennial Perspective on Media, Making a Living From Writing and Chemistry 101 panels to name a few) even though at the same time they left me missing or longing for the in-person experience of interacting with authors and others, especially those that had not attended the conference in the past. Besides the opportunity to talk books and learn a little about the art of writing I love catching up with friends or acquaintances that I only get to see once a year – a few of us were able to organize a couple of our own Zoom sessions during the conference timelines to catch up and get a personal glimpse into how other parts of the world are dealing with this pandemic (so scary for my American buddies). It was also a chance to talk about the awards ceremony that, although not without a technical glitch or two, was painless and fun to watch in the comfort of my living room wearing shorts and a t-shirt while simultaneously enjoying adult beverages and “zooming” on another device to discuss the on-screen award developments with friends.
One of my favourite things about these conferences is the opportunity to discover new authors and their work. Yes, there are newsletters, social media and other venues but for me, nothing compares to the experience of attending a conference such as this. At past conferences I’ve discovered Jae, Caren Werlinger, Benny Lawrence, H.P. Munro, Julie Blair, Cari Hunter, Jeannie Levig, and Wendy Hudson, as well as rediscovered and got caught up on the work of authors such as Katherine Forrest, Lee Lynch, K.G. Macgregor, Lynn Ames, and Marianne K. Martin along with learning about classics like Annie on My Mind, Ruby Fruit Jungle, Bastard Out of Carolina and Loving Her. I’ve missed countless others but you get the picture. This year’s conference was no exception and I thought I’d share the debut novels from three new authors that grabbed my attention either by being part of the virtual panel line-up or awards process.
Jenn Alexander is (besides being Canadian!) a recent graduate of the GCLS’s Writers Academy and recipient of the Sandra Moran Scholarship. She is also now the winner of two Goldie awards (Contemporary Romance (Mid-Length Novels) and Debut Novel) for The Song of The Sea. Set mainly on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia this is a dramatic romance: the story of Lisa battling the overpowering grief arising from the death of her newborn son and Rachel struggling to make a living in the small costal down and raise her young son. Although much of the story focuses on Lisa’s painstakingly difficult journey back to a place where she can function and love again we also have Rachel’s story intertwined and you just want to root for both of them – even if to just ease some of their pain. In parts sad (tear jerker warning), frustrating and full of hope this is such a well-written story and a joy to read. Oh and I just have to add that I absolutely loved the cover.
Other Girls: a love story about second changes by Avery Brooks was a finalist in this year’s Contemporary Romance (Mid-Length) Novels Category. Coincidentally, Avery is also a recent graduate of the GCLS’s Writing Academy and one of the main characters in this debut novel is a single mother (widowed in this case). In Other Girls, Samantha has lost her wife to a brain aneurysm and three years after this loss she is taking things day by day – putting up with a toxic work environment, making sure her son is as happy as can be and playing softball on a local woman’s team. With the support of her parents and best friend Drea (the very coolest “aunt” BTW) she has moved on to a reasonably happy existence when a tormenter/bully from her past moves back to New Orleans. Their paths collide with the expected anger and resentment but also unexpected sparks fly. Underlying this book about second chances are some pretty serious themes including bullying, personal growth and forgiveness. In addition to enjoying this book I’d add that I’ve been to New Orleans a couple of times and I loved how it felt like a supporting character in this book.
Incidentally both Jenn and Avery contributed short stories to Written Dreams a 2018 anthology of stories by graduates of the GCLS Writing Academy. If you like short stories this is full of a wide range of wonderful stories.
Trust, a Romance Blend category nominee by Aprille Canniff, is a nicely paced blend of thriller and romance. Air Force Security Forces Master Sergeant Alex Thomas (recently returned from a harrowing deployment and showing signs of anxiety/PTSD) and local police officer Jen Miceli nearly have a one night stand and then find themselves thrown together when Jen is nominated to compete for a spot on a secret swat-like police team that Alex is assigned to select and train for a “one-time” undercover mission. Just a caution that it took a while to get used to the constantly changing POV including the intermingled dialogue but I was drawn into the story and there was enough tactical strategy, action and romance to keep me happy so I just relaxed and sat back for the ride.
Hoping that this has enticed you to check out some new or new to you authors and their novels. Anyone else out there that checked out the recent virtual GCLS conference and came away with “to be read” titles that you want to share?