And it is so worth it!
I didn’t really know what to expect from Author’s After Dark last week when my good friend Suzan and I hit the road before the crack of dawn. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of super positive and negative stuff out there about the conference — but it was just next door and I wanted to go!
So glad we went!
If you are not familiar with Author’s After Dark, it’s a reader-author conference in its fourth year, I believe. This year it was in New Orleans, Louisiana, about an eight hour drive from Dallas/Ft Worth where I live. I attended as an unofficial author, meaning I got a nifty sticker for my badge but was not featured, nor did I participate in the signing. Still, it was a blast!
The drive down wasn’t without event either. Between snapping pictures of the trip milage and dodging tire tread, we also stopped off at the Cajun Pawn Stars shop in Alexandria because my dad really wanted me too. When we pulled off the highway to find the store, I started muttering things like, "I hope it’s closed!" I’m usually a big stickler on doing full stops at stop signs, but I did several rolling stops as we navigated the not-so-great portion of town surrounding the store.
Now I will admit, I was expecting a small, dusty store. Probably some mix of cool stuff and WTFery. I was not expecting to want to empty my bank account over the amazing amount of stuff! There was a bust of the origional Terminator that was probably five or six feet tall, all sorts of signed memoribelia. You name it, it was probably there. I personally wanted this super cool car that sat out front. We set a half hour time limit on the stop, and had to push each other out the front door when it ran out. I wanted to stay and look around!!
Thankfully the rest of the drive was mostly uneventful. I did insist on YouTubing Garth Brook’s song Callin’ Baton Rouge as we went over a huge steel bridge. Not familiar with it? Here’s the chorus:
Operator won’t you put me on through,
I gotta’ send my love down to Baton Rouge
Hurry up won’t you put her on the line
I gotta’ talk to the girl just one more time
Callin’ Baton Rouge
Sweet Baton Rouge, my Baton Rouge
Yeah, so I like old country. So what of it?
The road from Baton Rouge to New Orleans is very unique. Because of all the swamp and delta and water the entire road is built on stilts. It’s super cool! We reached our hotel, the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street, without incident, even though we were technically lost. What can I say? I’m an awesome driver!
We were kind of on a time crunch to get to the hotel because we were doing dinner with some lovely ladies, one of whom is EoC from Ellora’s Cave, Kelli Collins. Now who do you guess was in the elevator when we were hauling our bags in to go up from the garage to check in? Kelli!! It was pretty awesome to arrive and have hugs all around.
The hotel was pretty awesome, even if the rooms do not have microwaves. As Suzan pointed out in her blog, we both unpacked in our own, OCD kind of way. Everything had an "area" from the shoes, to the jewlery bar and make-up counter. It was rather amusing.
Dinner that night was in the company of Kelli Collins, Dakota Cassidy, Cass and their friend who I won’t attribute the wrong name to, but can’t recall her actual name. She was lovely. We treked down to the end of Bourbon Street to the Clover Grill, where burgers are cooked in hubcaps. Yes, hub caps like what are on cars. After my terrible bout of food poisoning I’m not much of a burger person, but these were super yummy and had the best petite fries! The staff was also super fun. The grill might look a little sketchy, but if you’re on Bourbon, I highly recommend it. Suzan spent the rest of Wednesday night touring Bourbon and sampling some of the cocktails.
Thursday was the conference in full swing. We went to panels in the morning and at noon there was a plated lunch for the Bookie awards. Dakota won one of the first awards, which was super cool. The afternoon was full of more panels, and that evening Suz and I accepted an invitation to join a group we didn’t really know well to go to dinner at Pat O’Briens. Super awesome decision!
I don’t remember everyone who we had dinner with, there was about fifteen altogether, but some of the people were Joey Hill, Stacey Kennedy, Tee Morris, Phillipa Balentine, Ann Mayburn and more! We had our first hurricanes of the evening and I got to eat deep fried gator bites. So good! The conversation was hysterical. Seriously! Tee and Phillipa are totally some of my favorite people now. They’re steampunk authors who came rather last minute. They aren’t really romance authors per say, but who cares? They write. They’re fun. I would want them to be there too!
The time between dinner and that evening’s adventures are kind of a blur. One moment we were at Pat O’Brien’s, we stopped by the room to drop off stuff and the next thing I know we’re on Bourbon Street hopping the bars. Eventually we settled at the Bourbon Street Blues Company, which had great music and the best atmosphere. We alternately danced and hung out on the bar and yelled at people. Learned how far people are willing to go on Bourbon for very little. It was a night.
Friday was a bit of a slow start. I think I skipped some panels in favor of hanging out with people around the hotel. I believe we did a buffet lunch that day. All in all the day was very relaxed and low key. Heck, after partying on Bourbon until two or three am I think we all needed a relaxing day! I got the chance to visit a little vintage/rockabilly store down on the square that sold hand made dresses. Since my rule is for every contract I sign I can buy a new dress, I knew going in I was going to buy something. I hadn’t yet bought something to celebrate signing the contract for Bound with Pearls. I wound up getting a lovely, very Merilyn Monroe blue and white polkadot dress. It’s really lovely and the staff at the Trashy Diva line was really great.
That night there was an open bar prior to the evening’s festivities. Heck, even the hotel bars on Bourbon aren’t stingy with the alchohol! Hung out with more very awesome people. Got to take a picture with Cynthia Eden (I might have squee’d a lot). Friday night was also the masquerade party. It was a very nice dinner where we all dressed up. I got to sit with Stacey Kennedy and Melisa Schroeder. Met some lovely people.
The atmosphere on Bourbon changes from a weeknight to the weekend. Friday was much busier than Thursday and none of us really wanted to brave the press of people simply for a kick. I did want to stop by one of the places we’d been the night before because I’d made friends with a bar tender. It had been his first night working there. Before he’d worked at five star restaurants as a professional mixologist doing cocktails and fancy drinks. I was at my limit for the night when we had this conversation but told him I would return the next night, which we did, and he mixed up something special just for me. He was so cute though and apologized a lot for not having a lot to work with. I have no idea what he gave me, but it was two sixteen ounce cups of solid liquor. I nursed those the entire evening while we hung out in the courtyard of the hotel.
Saturday was mostly the public events. The big book signing, even more hanging out with people and ramping up to the evening’s pub crawl. Yes, the conference had an organized pub crawl. There were four bars/restaurants/places where a group of authors were hanging out and attendees could go from location to location to pick up prizes and get drinks. I hung out at Pat O’Brien’s with authors Kristen Painter and Stacey Kennedy. It was a lot of fun! (Are you seeing a theme here? FUN!) We chatted with the pub crawlers and tried to avoid the red dress people still all over the place.
It just so happened we hit Bourbon at the perfect time to be there for when the annual Red Dress Run was taking place. The general idea is people show up at 10am wearing a red dress, even the guys, pay $100 which goes to a handful of local charities and then drink all day long and into the night. It makes for a crazy press of people and WTFery.
Here’s a sampler:
Yes, that’s a set of funnels with tubes and coolers on a rolling cart. It was very festive.
As much fun as being out and about on Bourbon was, Tee and Phillipa were doing a recording of their podcast in their sutie and both Suzan and I wanted to be there for that, so we hoofed it back through the crazy to the hotel, found their room and had two hours of laugh out loud fun talking about the whole conference, where it’s going and what our experiences were. I’m a big podcast fan so this was a great experience to be part of for me. There were authors, bloggers and readers there, so it covered the whole spectrum of attendees at the conference.
You probably think the story is over here, don’t you?
Sure, with the end of the podcast the conference was kind of over for us, but there’s still the drive home, which for me was kind of an extension of the whole trip. We hit the road kind of on par with when we wanted to and buzzed out of New Orleans, completely dragging. By this time all those cocktails and catching a few hours of sleep here and there really caught up with us. I twisted Suzan’s arm into talking to me for most of the trip. I was really disappointed we didn’t get to go on the swamp boat ride I wanted to do, and we never saw a single gator!
And then, we saw it.
Or really, a billboard.
Alligator Park, This Way!
It was calling my name. I also might have given Suzan whiplash from how fast I exited and turned down Creepy Street.
Now, let me give you a little set up for this. We’re in the middle of nowhere, not quite to Shreveport yet, and out in the middle of nowhere. The road we turn on is a tiny little country road with no center stripe and all the direction we have is, "Nine miles on the right!"
Well okay then, here we go! After several turns and twists later we hatched the idea that we were driving to certain death at the hands of crazy Cajuns who were going to feed us to their monster gator. It only made sense, right?
Instead we happened along the Alligator Park, and all was right in my world. You see, I have a little plan for a swamp/alligator kind of book. I also think shows like Gator Boys and Swamp Wars are so fascinating. I believe Suzan did a lot of laughing at me because I really was like a kid in a candy store running around and tossing food at the gators. We bought these little baggies of what is really just large pellet dog food and went out to these four enclosures where we could toss it in and sometimes the gators would go for it and eat it. SO COOL!
They had a lot of animals there, from goats to birds to snakes, but all I really cared about were the gators, so it made total sense I would get a picture with one, right?
Author’s After Dark was loads of fun. If you’re looking for a mid-sized conference with a lot of activities, it’s a great one to go to. Now, I need to go detox my liver.