It would’ve been much wiser for me to write a log of what happened each day I was away, but that would’ve been too logical, so I didn’t do it. Instead, I let myself experience everything—including my going to bed much earlier than any self-respecting twenty-something should, but bump that because when a woman’s tired she’s tired! Yet my waking hours—none of them was wasted. I was rarely bored, and unlike the last time I’d gone to this conference, few of my waking hours were spent in my room by myself (although at the last Romance Slam Jam, I was writing Trolling Nights—so I was productive!). I think the best way to do this is to go day by day, although I’m sure to combine some days as some thoughts may flow into the other.
Wednesday through Friday
My coworker/friend hosted me Wednesday night and gave me a ride to the train station Thursday morning. The train pulled out of Charleston at 5AM and I pulled into Miami around 6:45PM. What did I do on the train? Sleep. I tried some writing and I tried some reading, but I primarily slept. It was frigids on the train, and if I didn’t have too much stuff because of my books, I would’ve packed a blanket, no lie. I also called my friend because it was her birthday, and then my grandma and sis. But other than that, Travel Thursday was uneventful. Also, the hotel in Miami was okay. It was very “It will do, pig” and nothing epically awesome or epically tragic.
Friday had me taking an unexpected, unwise, and highly blessed romp through Miami in an effort to get my nails did. I got off too early from the bus, because the street I wanted was 8th street, but there are apparently 80 “8th Streets” in Miami, and the one I was on wasn’t mine. I walked through a Miami neighborhood that was no South Beach. There were fenced-in yards, “Beware of Dogs” signs on said fences, and bars on the windows on my way to the nail salon. This is where Boston/city living kicked in, because I walked like I knew where I was going (thank god for VZ Navigator!) and though I’m sure maybe three black people (and probably none of them American) lived in that neighborhood, I greeted people I saw and kept it moving. Damn near kissed the nail salon when I found it! The place was definitely not tourist-Miami. It was a neighborhood joint, complete with the meat man selling beef (all of this is in Spanish and I could follow a little). Busted out my Kindle and started talking to another woman beside me about ebook readers and the types of books we like to read. Didn’t mention I was an author but that’s okay. At the end of it all, my polish on the left pinky and right thumb didn’t make it pristine like out of the salon, but I’m not so vain that I whined too much. I’m a writer—I use my hands, it was bound to happen; but my feet were tight.
Friday evening was the book signing. Rochelle Alers remembered me from RSJ 2008 and gave me a hug. I…was shocked as hell…and so squeed on the inside! And then Pamela Leigh Starr—one of the first authors I read who wrote IR remembered me and we chatted a bit. Sat next to Shirley Hailstock, who was an RWA president and one of the foremothers of Black romance (and I love her voice; it’s such a calming, soothing tone). Finally met Iris Bolling—fellow self-published author, although she took a step beyond me and owns her own small publishing company—who won Debut Author of the Year, and she gave me a hug and said there was no reason for me to shy and lack confidence. Met Lissa Woodson, aka Naleighna Kai, who basically taught a master class on “getting your hustle on” all week. She was sold out at the book signing and STILL managed to sell more on the cruise to everyone—and I mean everyone. Met people who kept saying “I keep seeing your book on Amazon…” and then they look at me oddly like they cannot believe I wrote that book and then the six others I have published. I was much calmer this year, something Monique Lamont noted when we saw each other (I was a hot mess, last time, wet behind the ears and high strung don’t even begin to cover it!). Deatri King-Bey, Evelyn Palfrey, Denise Jeffries, AC Arthur, Gwyneth Bolton, Viola Walker, and Victoria Wells were all people I (re)connected with at the signing. Every one of these authors was so gracious and excited to see one another. It was bolstering, and the traditionally published ones had much advice for me and wanted to learn more about self-publishing and the wealth and willingness to share information was invigorating.
And because I was more comfortable with myself, over the course of the three years since Being Plumville came out, I was more comfortable approaching readers who might not have ever heard of me; but then there was one woman who’d e-mailed me before the event wanting to know if I had books. I met her and we got into a discussion about black romance and black love, black women in love, interracial love, and it was so great! And then other readers willing to give me a chance just based off of another author speaking to me or buying my book or telling me they’ll check me out—it was so great! Considering I’d arrived to the signing DIRECTLY after getting off the bus from the nail salon (the return trip was drama-free!), it was great.
I had dinner with Gwyneth Bolton and her husband afterwards, and it was wonderful getting to know them. Afterwards, I think I met my roommate (I say think because by this point I was doing the slow-blink so my memory’s a bit fuzzy!).
In the future, I’m going to need this hotel to be on point with its breakfast service on cruise embarkation day. They know everyone and her cousin is trying to get on a boat somewhere, so why was service so slow? The poor hostess had to do double shifts by being a server too! Be that as it may, when we finally got the food, it was good. Ate with Victoria Wells and her sister, along with some other readers, but there was minimal conversation outside of “where’s the waiter?” Yes, it was that problematic. As we checked out of the hotel, the readers and the authors got a chance to chat more, so I hung out with my roomie, Monique Lamont, and Denise Jeffries while we waited on transportation to the pier. Those two women are mad funny and very nice for letting us tag along with them! Also, I will say Carnival Cruises is one of the most efficient operations I’ve ever seen in my life. Considering how many people were waiting to get on the boat, the embarkation process was swift.
Once on the boat, had some of the best cheesecake ever and that was the last time I saw it all trip! When I say I was hunting for that cheesecake…I know I should be ashamed to admit it, but I was. It was so good! We met the people with whom we would be eating dinner with for the next five nights and they were from Houston, DC, and California by way of Kansas City. I met one of the readers before at Beverly Jenkins’s Pajama Party in October, so small world! But they were wonderful dinner companions. They were picture happy too. Y’all should be proud of me, because I didn’t try to lean out the pictures! After dinner, we had the welcome reception, and I finally met Bridget Midway there, who is also someone I’d like to be when I grow up in terms of hustling and getting her name out there. I sold more books (practicing my hustle!) and I even drank some alcohol (I don’t drink normally, but...I’m not going to turn down free liquor!). And then I promptly went to sleep.
I blame the liquor.
Started off my day taking pictures of Cuba and walking the track on the deck. That wind…grace of God I didn’t go blowing overboard—it was so strong! I don’t know how many laps I did, but I think I earned the melons, pancakes, grits, eggs, sausage, croissants I had for breakfast. I sat and talked a long while with Niambi Brown Davis and another reader, and they thanked me for doing their walking for them! Lol After that I got ready for my day, including getting my netbook because I was going to do some writing, dammit! Except, I didn’t. Instead, I sat with Ms. Alers, Gwyneth, Deatri, Lissa and some readers and we just talked for the next four hours about everything from television to movies to fandom (yeah, that was me lol) to healthcare, to courtesy in society to black identity to publishing, romance as a genre to black writers in general and it was good! It started to pour-down rain while we were talking, but we weren’t on an exposed area of the deck and where we were, there was a retractable dome, so it was all good. But, yo, I can say I shot the breeze with these women; and even though I was the youngest at the table, people still included me and I really should’ve taken notes listening to them. They were so full of wealth and wisdom and I’m very lucky I was included in that conversation. Sooner than we thought, it was time for dinner. It was the Captain’s night, but I didn’t go meet him. I wanted my cheesecake! That I didn’t get…alas. But I did dress up-ish, nice top and black slacks. After dinner I talked with Iris about ebook publishing and I felt every rock on that boat on that 8 deck (my cabin was on deck 1 and the aft—not a bad cabin, actually). And then, because I was determined to do some writing, I went on the main deck and find a little corner tucked away. I started writing, and I bounced my knee, which caught the attention of some guy. He came and made small talk, first about my knee, then made the assumption I was worried about something. I said not really, then told him I was a writer. I gave him my card; he asked what I wrote about. He told me about his wife and kid and then he said he would buy a book. Awesome, but I was getting sleepy, so he said he was going to get the money and come back. I signed the book because I needed this to be a quick transaction because I was sleepy.
Dude never came back. I was too sleepy to feel rooked.
It was raining (and by raining, I mean torrents), so I had to go to the gym to do my walking. It was as if the entire ship was in there, but luckily I timed it just right so a treadmill became available as soon as I walked in. I preferred the deck, but during my twenty-minute exercise, found out Sherlock Holmes was coming on later that day; but in the meantime, I caught the beginning of The Time Traveler’s Wife as I walked. Then I ate breakfast alone and took too many pictures of the Ocho Rios port. I couldn’t meet my friend in Jamaica. :( However, even though those plans fell through, I said there was no way I wasn’t getting off the boat and actually go to Jamaica. So I waited a few hours (and finished watching The Time Traveler’s Wife. It was definitely a wait for cable movie IMO) after the rush off and I was content to just stay right by the dock and get back on. Besides, Sherlock Holmes was coming on later and I hadn’t seen it yet. Come to meet some of my dinner-table buddies waiting for a friend who now lived on Jamaica! I’d intended to just sit with them and then go back to the boat when their friend arrived, but they invited me along and…I went! Man, as soon as you got on the street, folks were trying to sell you something, take you somewhere, etc. One woman said she’d twist my hair. Of course I said no—as nice as her hair was; if they’re anything like black hair salons, I would’ve been wherever she’d do my hair well after the boat set sail! And…it’s just not that safe to do. Anyway, we are browsing the stores for things and as I browse, I see a guy sitting against the wall near a store. He looked like he was wearing a uniform so when he looked at me I acknowledged him. No, he wasn’t the authorities, but a vendor, selling bracelets (1 for $3 and 2 for $5). And…he started to hit on me: “I like a woman with big breasts, big hips, big thighs, big ass—” *record scratch* I wasn’t ready for all of that! I said “Oh…” I mean, what do I say in response? This is all as he’s trying to sell me his bracelets, by the way. So I told him I’d take two bracelets in exchange for one of my books (because I had them with me; and yes, I sold some books in Jamaica). So he did (and he took a picture with some of my books) and then he asked for my number. I said no, because those International charges aren’t cute, but he could e-mail me. He said he didn’t know how to e-mail. I told him go to a library and ask for help (but much more nicely; I’m trying to keep this recap as efficient as possible! lol). Then we left and I had some Jamaican rum at a restaurant on the island (not…a local hangout spot by any stretch—definitely for cruise folk). Then we said goodbye to the tablemate’s friend (we exchanged cards) and returned to the boat in time for me to miss the first 20 minutes of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t think those 20 minutes were very important anyway.
That evening was the dinner and the Emma Awards, which honors the best in black romance and Ms. Alers gave the keynote address. She touched on a lot that we spoke about on the confab Sunday afternoon, and it was awesome. The awards ceremony was nice and quick too! I wasn’t up for anything but everyone who was nominated and won were very deserving. Afterwards…I went to bed. I’d had liquor at the ceremony.
It was free! It was green! I was feeling adventurous…
Grand Cayman Island day! Today was being lazy on the beach day too, hence no walking this morning. My roomie, who’d gone to a Jamaican beach the day before, decided to take it easy today and just go on shore when she felt like it. So, I was by myself and got on the tender to shore (if you didn’t catch the last tender at 3:15pm ship’s time, you’re SOL because the boat was leaving at 4pm, so this was a day you really had to be mindful of the time—especially when GC is an hour behind!), Kindle at the ready because I have books to read! Except, AlTonya Washington was also on this excursion. She had a book too.
We did no reading.
We pretty much talked the entire time and, like before, it was a great conversation! Here’s an author traditionally published with THE premier romance publishing company, and she’s self-publishing as well and we started talking about the state of publishing, especially for African-American writers, and it went into a discussion about relationships, etc. She’s a SC native, so we had that connection. I gave her The Beauty Within to have and I have her books on my Kindle. After returning to the ship, we had lunch and talked some more. Learned a lot from her!
Later that night, there was a Michael Jackson tribute in one of the clubs so I went to that; later that night, I actually got up and did Karaoke (No More Rain (In This Cloud) by Angie Stone, but I have to dock 2 pts from the Karaoke machine for having no Nina Simone. How do you let that happen?!).
The Caribbean was not having it. That water was rough on our last day. We felt every rock on that boat—ridic. Nevertheless, the Reader Sessions were that day, and I stayed for all of them. I was also part of one. They were all informative and I’m glad I stayed for all of them. Ms. Starr and Altonya both approached me and said they loved the books of mine they were reading. That certainly helped me sell more books! Also, because I’d mentioned Mildred D. Taylor was among my favorite authors during my Readers Session, Emma Rodgers (one of the founders of the Slam Jam and the woman for whom the Emmas are named) gave me her card and recc’d 100 Years of Solitude for me to read. Considering the last time I’d read that book it was in Spanish, I think I’ll give the English version a try! I spoke with Crystal Rhodes who spoke with me as well, said she was impressed with me, bought a book from me for her daughter. She’s a playwright, traditionally published and self-published, so her encouragement meant a lot! Lutishia Lovely/Zuri Day took a look at the Trolling Nights cover and raved about it. I told her I did the cover and she was even more impressed.
Can I just say shout out to the self-published authors? True story; we are the business. Renee Flagler is on point and doing her thing. I loved the look of her books. Just classy. Ann Clay was very lovely as well and has several projects in the works. We also exchanged cards. I met some more readers, passed out more cards, then ate some lunch. I don’t really remember what all I did after the Reader Session, but probably packed because it was not a lot of down time between then and dinner. At the last dinner found out someone knew a classmate of mine from Harvard and I would be seeing this classmate this weekend. I declare the world is entirely too small! I told my friend when I saw her and she got all happy and gave me a big hug like I was the woman I’d mentioned! Lol We took more pictures and then said goodbye to everyone, thinking it would be the last time we’d see each other.
Except it wasn’t. I definitely saw Ms. Alers again, Ms. Clay, and I went with Monique and Denise to the airport (even though my friend Shayla was letting me stay with her and her family in town before taking a flight to Boston the next day—it was just easier for my friend to get me from there). So there were more goodbyes, but even these weren’t final. I’ll do better keeping in touch, I promise, and we’ll see each other, God willing, in Baltimore for the next Romance Slam Jam. And as for me; I didn’t sell all of my books; in fact, I gave a lot away, but that wasn’t the main point for me. I got exactly what I needed to get out of this trip—confidence and the chance to own what I was doing. I didn’t really own it last time in 2008, although everyone I met was encouraging. The fact people, this time, were saying how proud they were of me, how encouraging, how inspiration almost—it was a great and humbling feeling. I learned so much and I was able to teach as well. I had a really great roommate who taught me how to cruise properly and I hope she keeps up with her writing! The next RSJ, I’m going to need her to have a red badge instead of orange for aspiring! And thank you to the readers who were willing to listen and give me a chance and to the authors who were willing to listen and give me advice. Yeah, RSJ Cruise was definitely good. And if I forgot anything or anyone, that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate the experience, just means my grandma didn’t pass on her elephantine memory to me!