D. Jackson Leigh is another of those authors that I’ve never met in person. Honestly, I don’t think she and I have even been at the same event at the same time. My only contact is through Yahoo groups and Facebook. You know what? Short of actually meeting her, that’s still pretty cool. I’ve learned that DJL is witty and friendly and intelligent…and has a large following! Her novel Touch Me Gently has been nominated for a Goldie Award this year in the Paranormal Romance category.
Read about DJL’s mission at her first GCLS conference. Lucky for us, it was a mission she chose to accept!
I was a GCLS virgin
Destination: GCLS Conference, Atlanta 2006.
Mission: Score books, stalk writers, lurk in workshops.
I went alone, my book money carefully tucked in the backpack I planned to fill with autographed evidence that my assignment had been completed.
It wasn’t my first conference mission. But those were missions to infiltrate my fellow media. Everybody came alone and the size of the newspaper I worked for gave me an easy entry point to the group.
The GCLS Conference was different. This mission was personal. I would be mingling with a couple hundred lesbians. It would be difficult to control my natural responses – increased heart rate, saliva glands and pheromones – but I had been boning up on a dossier of lesbian fiction for years and had a manuscript of my own gathering dust. It was zero dark thirty and I was ready.
I checked in and secured the secret credential (name tag) that would get me into every dark corner of the conference and carefully noted the workshops most likely to have the information I needed. Meanwhile, I maintained a low profile, pretending to be too star-struck to talk to many people.
It was a difficult mission. This was lesbian nirvana and when I let my guard down for a moment, I instantly fell into their biggest trap. I almost didn’t survive. It appeared at first to be nothing more than a room filled with tables and tables of lesbian fiction. But it was a clever, seductive snare, more alluring than crack to an addict.
As I browsed for clues, I could feel my temperature rise and my eyes glaze with fever. Helpless, I voluntarily shared information about books I’d read and openly interrogated others caught in the trap. Even worse, I easily gave my real name to the originators of the brainwashing material as they scribbled covert messages inside the books I purchased. By the time I regained control and extricated myself, I had spent almost every dollar in my pocket and worn out my debit card.
Shaken by this loss of control, I pulled on my best disguise—an anonymous reader— and melted back into the crowd. To my dismay, it didn’t work. People recognized me from the trap and tried to strike up conversations. I hadn’t realized the readers are a close-knit cult nurtured by the Kool-Aid fed to them by the clever writers.
Hoping to avoid further scrutiny, I ducked into a workshop led by New Zealander Jennifer Knight. It took only a moment to decipher that she was speaking in code. She pronounced her short “e” (eh) as a long “e” (eeee) so when she said edit, it sounded like eat-it. Or when she said sex, it sounded like seek. I was so intent on cracking the code that I missed the message. It was my second failure.
Since I’d spent most of my cash on books and the hotel’s restaurant was a bit pricey, I launched a quick foray into the attached business mall to fortify myself at its small food court. It was Friday evening, after business hours, and most of the food vendors had already closed.
A lone person sat among the tables, but she wore a GCLS name tag. A covert contact, perhaps? This time, I wouldn’t fail.
I got my food and casually asked if I could sit with her. She gave her name as Vic. We didn’t know each other but my sly questions revealed we were from the same headquarters—Greensboro, N.C.—and I knew she had been sent with a message. She confided that she had a short story published in an anthology. That must be where I’d find her coded message.
I ventured the trap once more, this time prepared. In and out with only the anthology in hand, I spent most of the night reading every word. The message had something to do with an anonymous woman in a bar and a dildo she demonstrated in a van parked nearby. Hmm.
Bleary eyed from my night of research, I was startled by loud, goofy laugh as I walked past the hotel restaurant on Saturday morning. It had come from tall, fair-haired young butch who was holding court at a table full of women. Recognizing several others at the table, I deduced that she was one of the writers nurturing the cult, but her name tag gave me no clue. There were no books bearing her nom de plume in the seduction room. So, I tucked the information away for future introspection.
Day three of my assignment revolved around panels where the writers preached their message and readers worshiped them. It was so easy to succumb to their sway, I had to step out frequently to remind myself of my mission to obtain more evidence at the book signing sessions.
I targeted the writer who was suspected of being the high priestess of lesbian romance—code name, Radclyffe. I skulked until I was last in the line for her to autograph the book I held in my hand. It was difficult to avoid being hypnotized by her friendly persona, but I held my ground and probed her for information.
I confessed that “Love’s Masquerade” was one of my favorites among her stories. I was intrigued by the chapters where the characters who were authors wrote scenes that paralleled the action in the story. Her eyes lit up with recognition. She agreed it was one of her favorites, too. A lot of people didn’t seem to get it, she said, so she was pleased that I had recognized the inference. Had I stumbled onto and revealed myself to a double agent? She scribbled a quick message in the book I held and I thanked her as others clamored for her attention. I would decode her missive in my room later.
One last task and my mission would be complete. I had been advised Cate Culpepper, author of a subversive Amazon series, would be in attendance. I had read every book in the series multiple times. It was one of the most enticing lures produced by this lesbian fiction cult.
In preparation, I had infiltrated a yahoo group she hosted where each member role-played a character or two. I played a horse whisperer named Rider. Cate was the Captain and we wrote stories with each other in the fantasy setting she created.
When I finally located her at the conference, I thrust her book at her.
“Wow,” she said. “This is from the first printing.”
I explained that its dog-eared condition was because I’d read it many times, letting her know I was aware of her influence in this cult.
She blushed, pen poised. “Who do I sign it to?”
I held her seemingly innocent gaze. “Sign it to Rider, a Kindred Spirit,” I said.
She flushed deeper. She’d been caught and she knew it. My mission was complete.
In the years that followed, I discovered the memories from that 2006 GCLS conference were an unexpected glimpse into a wonderful journey I was only beginning.
I got a second chance to be “schooled” by Jennifer Knight when she edited my first book two years later. After it went to the printer, she sent me eighteen pages of what I’d done wrong. I sulked for a few days, then sat down and learned some valuable lessons in those notes.
My covert contact in the food court was V.K. Powell, and we later would become very good friends and sisters in the BSB family of authors.
I would hear that weird laugh again almost three years later when I was in P-Town for my first-ever reading and shared the stage with a handful of authors that included Nell Stark. She has a doctorate degree now and a brace of well-written books under her belt, but her laugh is still sort of goofy. 🙂
And, although we’ve moved on from that yahoo group long ago, Cate Culpepper will always be the Captain to me. In fact, Cate and another member of that group, Gill McKnight, were the supportive voices that helped me work up the courage to submit my languishing manuscript to their publisher, Bold Strokes Books. I officially joined the cult in June 2008 and Bareback debuted the following December.
Now, with five titles published and a sixth nearly finished, I look back on that GCLS with gratitude and offer this advice to others: Drink the Kool-Aid. You won’t regret it.
D. Jackson Leigh
Cherokee Falls series:
Long Shot, 2010
Every Second Counts, February 2013
Southern secrets series:
Call Me Softly, 2011
Touch Me Gently, 2012
Hold Me Forever, Fall 2013