On August 19, 2024, the Rainbow Readers Cruise sets sail for the first time. The cruise is organized by narrator Joel Leslie, Joel’s husband and travel coordinator Rich Najuch, and reviewer/blogger Joyfully Jay, and share all the details on this one-of-a-kind reader event. We hear from them about why they created the cruise and the activities that will take place on the voyage.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.


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Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re headed to the high seas with the organizers of the Rainbow Readers Cruise.

Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader. Welcome to episode 454 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and it is great to have you here for another episode.

This podcast is brought to you in part by my community on Ream. You could follow me there for the latest updates on my writing and some other fun things as well. There are also some exclusive short stories that you can read when you follow me. Plus, it’s the place to get exclusive access to my works in progress. Currently, you’ll find a story featuring a pro hockey player having a second chance romance with his childhood best friend who is now a ballet dancer. There’s already 19 chapters posted, and new ones will keep coming every Monday until the story is completed. You can follow me on Ream at ReamStories.com/JeffAdams, or you’ll also find that link in the show notes.

Now let’s talk about a brand new reader conference. The Rainbow Romance Cruise sets sail for its maiden voyage on August 19th, and it has a lineup of some terrific authors and narrators. We get all the details on the event from its organizers, narrator Joel Leslie, Joel’s husband, Rich Najuch, and blogger and reviewer Joyfully Jay.

Joel, Jay & Rich Interview

Jeff: Jay, Joel, and Rich, welcome to the podcast. It is awesome to have all of you here.

Rich: Thank you.

Jay: Jeff, thanks having us.

Joel: Yay.

Jeff: We are here to talk about the Rainbow Readers Cruise that you all have put together, and we’ll start with the most basic question. Tell us what this cruise is all about.

Joel: It is a chance for readers and listeners and narrators and authors to connect and celebrate queer literature in all its forms, where there’s also equal opportunities to celebrate our tribe and unwind and explore and be adventurous and go beyond the social opportunities that we’ve ever seen experienced in another con setting with the focus on this kind of material.

So, we feel like it’s really kind of offering something very unique and getting people a multi-tiered social, entertainment, and recreation experience, and we’re really excited about that.

Jeff: What’s the origin story? I mean, what was happening between the three of you that you were like, let’s do a cruise?

Joel: Rich?

Rich: Well, it started with Joel and I and we… the origin story is really, you know, we had talked about possibly doing an event for a couple years. We had an experience at a couple other events that we didn’t really love so much, and we kind of didn’t feel taken care of necessarily and didn’t feel as welcome as we felt we should have and didn’t feel comfortable going back.

So, we really missed connecting with people and connecting with the readers and the authors and, you know, the relationships that we built with people over the years. And that on top of, we discovered how much we love cruising and we thought, well this is a great opportunity to kind of combine those two things.

Joel and I have been producing large scale events for hundreds of people for 20 years now, and just in different formats. And we actually first put together a cruise event for what would normally be done as an educational workshop on land, but is gonna be on sea, on a cruise ship, just in about 30 days now. And we have about 150 people coming on that educational workshop. And we thought, well, you know, this could also work in a conference fashion as opposed to, you know, we don’t have to have education classes. We can have more engagement of common interest type panels and such things like they do have at a workshop.

So, all of that in combination of really, we just missed connecting with the readers. We thought, let’s try this. And we came up with the idea and we reached out to Jay because, you know, we adore Jay. And you know, Jay is the first person we ever met at the first conference we ever went to. I mean, she just walked right up to us and said, hi, I wanna know you and…

Jay: And then we talked for five hours straight.

Rich: We talked for five hours, you know, and we’ve known each other ever since. And like, she comes down and visits us in Florida and we met her families and everything and we just like spending time with each other and, she’s someone that we trust.

And, you know, through her blog and her outreach over the years in the community, she has such a wide range of people she knows and has great relationships with. And we thought we could all combine forces to make a great event.

Joel: Yeah, and you know, the fact that it was important for us to make sure queer people were in a safe space and looked after and nurtured and felt like they were being taken care of in a way that we always hadn’t was something that, you know… When we produce events, we’re… Rich, particularly as a mother hen, and he you know, he wants to look after people.

And we also thought that an event like this that was initially the brainchild of two gay men, and two gay men who were married, is a nice thing to bring into this space. And it’s not something we see as much where there’s that kind of, you know, the spark of the idea comes from the own voices perspective.

And Jay was saying that she feels we’ve had a lot of draw in from a male contingent and a queer contingent that isn’t always there. So, I think it was really special and Jay has such a strong sense of the convention landscape because she goes to so many different ones.

We’re also bringing on board kind of as our sort of support. Mo Sytsma who runs my fan group but also really runs a fantastic Philly book event, so she’s there to make sure that things are also coming from the right place. So, we think we’ve got a really special team. I think. I think we’re very lucky.

Jay: I was really excited when Rich and Joel approached me about this because as I said, I’ve been to many, many book related conferences, probably 25 of them over the last, you know, 15 years. And so, I was really excited for something that was a little different, something that I could, you know, really get involved with.

And it just seems like such a fun combination of traditional book related event and sort of the vacation excitement trip kind of atmosphere. And as Joel said, we really were working for diverse range of authors. We have lots of own voices authors, we have lots of, you know, diverse attendees. And that was something that I think was really important to all of us and something that I’m really excited that we’ve been able to achieve with both our authors and narrators as well as our attendees.

Jeff: We got some great questions from our Patreon community related to the cruise and RegencyFan93 in particular has a few, and one of them kind of connects here really well about why a cruise rather than a land-based conference. And I think you, you hinted at that a little bit, Joel and Rich because of your love of cruising that you’ve developed recently. But what else decided to put this on a boat.

Joel: Here’s the thing. When you go to a con, very often you are stuck in the middle of a beige conference room. That’s the only place you’ve really got to socially interact and be amongst your own bubble. You’re stuck at the same bar in the hotel. You’re stuck at the same restaurant with the same menu every night.

You know, if there’s an entertainment experience, it’s very limited and on a smaller scale, and you know, your liquor isn’t included. Your food isn’t included. And the expense of it racks up, and racks up, and racks up. And what we love about tying this in with a cruise is we’ve got the whole ship to explore and play.

Authors can go do, you know, a special thing with their fans at one of the game show or trivia events, or they can have a little small enclave in a bar and do crafts or you know, the food options are phenomenal and there’s so many… the shows are brilliant. The entertainment’s fantastic. There’s so many opportunities beyond that kind of, you know, oh, we’re stuck in a hotel. Are we all gonna get in a cab and maybe try and get to the Mexican restaurant cause that’s our only option? It just is so much more fulfilling to us as a location, destination, resort, chance to relax, chance to unwind, chance to go get a massage, sit in a deck chair and talk about books with your favorite friends. Go on an RV adventure somewhere. Go to the Hemingway house with your favorite author. Like, it expands the experience, the chance to connect, and the social opportunities, and the entertainment opportunities far beyond most things that a sort of, you know, hotel con can offer. That and the sort of boutique aspect of it, the intimacy of it is really, special. Rich, do you have anything to add to that?

Rich: I was thinking, we not only have the events that we’re planning for the conference, but we have all of the events that the cruise is planning as well. And, you know, so there’s so much more opportunity for socialization outside of the conference space that I think most of the conferences that we’ve, I don’t know Jay, but that Joel and I have been to, you know, you don’t have that, aspect of it.

Joel: And being able to dine together, which is another social aspect that I think, you know, isn’t often the case. Normally the hotel restaurants or whatever, can’t accommodate, you know, 120 or 200 people all in the same group together dining, schmoozing, moving around, you know, going table to table and connecting. And so, it’s a broader experience.

Rich: Just to clarify, because question I get asked a lot. We are not the whole ship. But we are like almost 20%.

Jay: To piggyback on what Joel was saying, I think that the social aspects for people, you know, when the conference ends, if you’re coming by yourself, if you’re coming, you know, with the small group, doesn’t end with this because we can piggyback on so many of those events and you know, just like what Joel was saying with dining, you don’t need to find someone to eat with. You know, we have a space reserved at each of the seatings just for our people. So, you can walk in by yourself and sit with everybody else. You don’t have to worry about making those arrangements. You know, we’ll have events where we’re piggybacking on, you know, cocktail hour, everyone’s going to, you know, this show, or you know, if you’re going to this show, we’ll all meet here.

So, there’ll be a lot of opportunities, both from the cruise standpoint, and the conference standpoint, to sort of socialize beyond the just conference time and take advantage of, you know, all our food that’s included, all our drinks are included, our Wi-Fi is included. All of those things that you normally would be paying extra for you know, are part of what we’re already including.

Jeff: RegencyFan had another question, and we’ve touched on this a little bit, but like the, kind of gap you saw in the conference market and certainly since, you know, now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, people are traveling again, even the number of conferences that you know, are on this side of the pandemic, is different and perhaps more limited for some. So, you know, you’re definitely filling some gaps there. What other kind of gaps were you seeing in the marketplace?

Rich: I’ll say, you know, to your point about post pandemic, so many things are virtual now, not necessarily reader conferences, but other things that Joel and I are involved with are virtual. You don’t get to see each other in person. And so, expanding on that gap, I mean, now that we’re three, four years post pandemic, we think a gap that this fills would be the more holistic whole experience.

I mean, like we’ve been saying, it’s not just going to the conference from nine to five and then meeting for a party at eight to 10. It’s really, literally, a whole floating city at our disposal to say, okay, here’s three options that groups are gonna go to. And, you know, you have an option for, I’m a more of a hangout in a quiet situation, or I’m more of a boisterous, or I wanna go lose all my money at blackjack. You know, there’s really a social aspect in the opposite direction that we haven’t seen, even really pre-pandemic, but certainly post-pandemic.

Jay: Another thing I think was really important to all of us, and Rich is the master of this, is really providing sort of a smaller group boutique kind of experience. And I can’t say enough about Rich’s attention to detail and his care that he gives to our readers and our authors as people are signing up.

But you know, sometimes you can sort of join in, there’s hundreds and hundreds of people you don’t quite know who’s organizing it, how to get in touch with people, what to do if you have questions. And I think it’s been really important to all of us to make this an experience where it’s very, you know, boutique in the sense that we are looking out for everybody.

We wanna be accessible. I think we’ve been successful at that. When people have questions, they know how to find us. We wanna make sure that people are really taken care of and feel a part of everything. And I think that’s, you know, also something that, you know, the nature of the size, the smaller conference, we’re on a cruise ship, we can’t have 600 people, you know, in the conference room, gives us that opportunity to create something that’s a little more craft oriented, a little smaller, and you know, sort of more care that we can give because of the way that this is coming together and the structure of it.

Joel: And I also think that having two queer guys at, as part of the sort of triumvirate of that’s putting this together as part of the trident of the brainstorming, I think people respond to that. I think that’s special. I think it’s a value. We can’t help looking at things through the lens of, you know, how does this connect to… how is this meaningful and what are we bringing that is different than what other events do because we have that perspective. I think it’s neat. I think it’s really cool. I’m very proud of it.

Rich: You know, I hadn’t thought of it this way before, and I might get yelled at later for saying this on the podcast, but Joel and I, and now Jay by extension, because she’s agreed to come on board with us. It’s always really important to us to put our names on what we’re doing. And some people might think that’s about ego, and it has nothing to do with ego. It has to do with we want you to know who you’re working with and who is here to help you and who is here to take care of you. And I know I’ve been to events before where I have no idea what computer I’ve been dealing with and no human being ever. And it’s important to me to throw an event like this, like I’m throwing a dinner party.

I need to know who these people are, and I need to know what they like and what they don’t like and try to help them have the best experience possible. And I need them to know they can come to me and that it’s me to come to, or Jay or Joel to tell us those things.

For so many people coming on board Rainbow Readers, it’s their first cruise, and that’s why I step in. I’m here to help them with that aspect because cruising is overwhelming. And, I mean, I shouldn’t say that because it’s sounds like bad PR, but the reality is cruising is overwhelming and you need someone to help guide you through that process certainly.

Joel: The first time you do it. It’s overwhelming the first time you do it.

Rich: The first time we didn’t know what we were doing and that was really part of the genesis story is we said, you know, we didn’t know what we were doing the first time. We now love doing this. Let’s help people do this.

Joel: And, you don’t know what you’re missing. There’s so many things that happen on a cruise ship that your first time, you’re not necessarily in touch with or to know about. And we’re gonna make sure we’re walking people through that every step of the way.

Rich: And we have a lot of first-time conference people too. And that’s where Jay comes in. I mean, a lot of people have spoken to her about that. You know, I’m nervous about this sort of thing. And it’s like, no, we’re gonna take care of you in a rounded way as far as this whole experience and event’s concerned.

Jeff: RegencyFan had another great question that I was a little disappointed I didn’t think of myself. How did you come up and decide this particular ship and cruise line? And I figured that had to be part of it cause you’ve got a number of cruise lines you could have picked that go in and out of Florida.

Rich: I’m gonna take this one. I’ll start with the cruise line. There’s several reasons we chose the cruise line, Celebrity Cruises, is a fantastic gay friendly company. They are owned by Royal Caribbean. They’re, a partner company with them. And they have won multiple awards for being the top cruise line for LGBTQ+ travelers year after year. They were the first cruise line to offer same sex marriages on board. And they continue, they’ve done hundreds and hundreds of them. They’re very queer friendly with their policies, with their employees. They’re very supportive of the community. They have pride events each June. Every cruise has LGBTQ+ meetups. They’re incredible friendly ally.

So, there’s that aspect of it, which is really important to us. On a more logistical aspect and businesswise aspect, they’re a fantastic company to work with. Their customer service is great. Their service on board is great. They offer this all-included package for their groups, which is what we have, that includes the cruise, your Wi-Fi, your beverage package, and your gratuities. One of the overwhelming things about cruising is what do things cost and what do I need to get and what do I not need to get? And right there, that takes away a huge chunk of that problem, which is really important for us with so many first-time cruisers. They just have a great offering, and their ships have a great vibe and feel to them. Every cruise line has its own feel. Their feel was in line with what we wanted it to be. It’s very upscale.

Joel: Mellow, chill. Their staff is fantastic. The food is excellent. The entertainment is in many ways better than we’ve seen on almost all cruise lines. Their entertainment is great.

Rich: And, you know, it was important for us to find a cruise line that fit those values. As far as the particular ship, it’s a little bit kind of chicken and egg as far as that’s concerned. So, we wanted to do a Caribbean cruise because Caribbean cruises are great for first time cruisers. They’re not long, they’re not 12 days or 14 days. They’re great for getting your foot in the water, so to speak. The Caribbean Sea is really gentle. And we really like the idea of visiting Perfect Day at Coco Cay, which is the private island, because again, it makes for really nice all-inclusive, easy experience for first time travelers. If you haven’t spent a lot of time traveling or haven’t been outta the country much or at all, it’s a private island that’s owned by the Royal Caribbean Group. So, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. The ship pulls up. It’s beaches, oasis, lagoon pools, a water park, air balloons, bars, restaurants, all right there. And you don’t have to worry about ending up in the wrong part of town or getting yourself into trouble. It’s all right there.

So, that on top of, we wanted to go to Key West, which if people aren’t familiar with Key West necessarily, it’s at the very most southern point of the tip of the United States, the end of the Florida Keys. And it is one of the most gay friendly, gay positive history places in the country. They have been walking the walk for 70 years there and talking the talk as far as gay rights and being friendly to the gay community. Over 30% of the population there identifies as queer somehow. They were the first city in the country to have an openly gay mayor. They’re the only city in the country to ever have a municipal AIDS memorial. They have a huge pride event, a huge women’s fest event. They drop a drag queen on New Year’s Eve instead of a ball. It’s just an incredible place and there’s a rich literary history there with Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams coming from there. And we thought it was a really great match for our audience.

Joel: And Fort Lauderdale has the LGBTQ Museum of the United States.

Rich: The Stonewall Museum, which is the equivalent of the… which is funny. I, mean, as they say, the Stonewall Museum and Stonewall’s in New York, but the Stonewall Museum is in Fort Lauderdale and is considered the equivalent of the Smithsonian for gay rights.

Joel: Yeah. I’ve gotta say, I know some people feel that going to Florida right now is not a queer positive thing to do, but I disagree in the sense that if there are parts of a state, if there are towns in a state, that have consistently over and over again, shown they have supported the LGBT community, they need our support now more than ever. We need to send the message that the places that are inclusive, that are loving, that are welcoming, that are safe spaces, are worthy of our support, worthy of our money, and worthy of celebrating.

And I talk about it like this, if you get foot cancer, you don’t cut off your good hand, right? It doesn’t make any frigging sense. You go where the light needs to be shone. And you support that light because then it can survive and thrive. Otherwise, if we don’t support the beacons in troubled areas, they will dim because they can’t support, they can’t survive if queer people don’t lift them up as queer people. They need us and so I’m really excited and proud that we’re going to these places.

Jeff: What’s the reaction been so far from the authors and the creators and the readers that are, signed up to come on the ship?

Jay: I’m really happy actually with how much enthusiasm we’ve gotten. We had a great group of authors come on board almost right away and then had so many authors that we actually had to pause author registration cause we were getting such great interest and so many people signing up. And the readers came on board really quickly after that. We’ve been, you know, continuing registration all for the past… we started, I think last August, and so registration has been steadily growing. But I think people are really excited for the opportunity to do something a little different, to take that reader con experience and combine it with a vacation experience.

We have a lot of people who are coming with their partners or with family to sort of combine it with a vacation. And the cruise setup really makes that nice and easily accessible. But I’ve been hearing really great things from readers. People are really excited about the opportunity to do something new like this and to get that really up close and personal time with the authors because we’re all living on this ship together and, you know, eating together, and hanging out together. And I think it’s gonna be a really interesting opportunity.

Joel: The level of support and excitement we had immediately knocked my socks off. The number of people that just said, “yes, love to, let’s do it,” was mind blowing. And we were so honored and excited about that because, you know, it’s an act of trust. It’s a testament to how people feel about our presence in the industry. And it’s certainly a testament to the care Rich takes of people. So that really blew me away. And I think Rich’s answer is how many people say they wanna come, but they’re afraid of water.

Rich: Yes. I mean, I had no idea how afraid of water people are. But there is a large part of the population that’s afraid of water.

Joel: And it fascinates me that people seem to think that somehow water has to be involved in the experience when you’re basically on a hotel that’s just chugging along, like nobody’s gonna waterboard you. And there are no icebergs in The Bahamas, so that is not a concern.

Jeff: Which is a plus.

Rich: Or pirates?

Joel: Or pirates.

Rich: No pirates either.

Jeff: Well, pirates could be fun. It just depends on what kind of pirates they are.

Joel: Depends on the pirate, yeah.

Jeff: What’s been the most interesting or surprising aspect of pulling all this together so far?

Jay: For me personally, this is the first time that I’ve helped organize a conference. Obviously, I’ve been to many, and I’ve been a featured blogger and a moderator at probably more than half of them. So, I’ve gotten a little bit of sort of a peek behind the curtain. But I think, just sort of looking at it all holistically right now, we’ve obviously been sort of front loaded on the registration and the organization, the administrative, and getting people signed up, getting people registered. And you know, as we’re shifting to the conference planning and sort of more of the day-to-day, what’s going to be happening. So, I think sort of seeing and just watching Rich with sort of amazement, but all of the logistics that go into the setup here has been really interesting to see cause that’s the side of it I don’t usually get, you know, being at the conference, even working at the conference, that I don’t usually see.

Rich: I, mean, the water’s surprising. I really, I’m surprised at how excited people are. Like, we thought it was an idea that people would like, but I’m surprised at how many people are coming to me and being like, “Oh my God, I just found about this and I’m so excited. I’ve always wanted to cruise, I love the books, and I like blah, blah, blah.” There’s a really positive energy from the people. It shouldn’t be surprising. It’s a great community, but, you know, it’s, like I said, sometimes it’s like a warmth of overwhelming. You’re like, oh, I didn’t realize how positive this would be. It’s great.

Joel: And the number of people that don’t realize you need a passport for The Bahamas.

Rich: Oh, The Bahamas is not America. There is that aspect. But you know, the geography lessons that need to be taught sometimes. But you know, I mean the other thing that surprised me going into this whole thing to begin with was really how well equipped the cruise is for this.

I mean, I think as a general consumer of anything, a general cruise goer, general traveler or what, you know, you don’t necessarily think outside of your experience. And I hadn’t thought so much outside of my experience till we started exploring this and found out that the cruises do this a lot. I mean, they do a lot of big groups, they do a lot of ship takeovers. They do a lot of conventions, conferences, birthday parties for 400 people. I’m like, I don’t have 400 people I could invite to a birthday party. I mean, maybe I will after the cruise, but it’s surprising to me how well equipped they are for it and very pleasantly surprising.

Joel: I think another thing that’s been surprising is how proactive the authors have been about getting the word out, about sharing their excitement with their readers, with their fans, with their Facebook groups. Rich has this really amazing monthly newsletter that he puts out with every author’s, that’s coming on the cruise, every author’s new releases and news and all that.

And they’ve just been so excited about that and sharing that and the continuing people that are learning about it and signing on over a long stretch of time has been really phenomenal. It wasn’t just a, oh, you know, week one we get our burst of people and then it’s a plateau. We’ve consistently had people, you know, discovering about it, learning about it through their authors, through their friends, and that’s been just fantastic.

Jeff: There’s always this thing that kind of cycles up when we go to conferences at hotels about, wow, did the hotel know what they were about to get with all the things that come with a conference like this. Is the boat ready for everything that’s coming to them?

Jay: For our fabulousness.

Joel: The boats have seen far worse, let me tell you. The boats have seen it all. This is not gonna be the Atlantis cruise for any of you who know what that is. We are not the only ones on the boat. So, we have to be, you know, yes, to a degree, we have to be sensitive.

And we’ve sort of, you know, we’ve guided the authors to that in some of the kind of crafty things they want to do and stuff like that. That we’ve been like, you know, just remember, let’s keep it kind of PG 13 when we’re exploring the whole boat. When we’re in our safe conference space bubble, which is a bubble. It’s lovely. It’s its own nook. It’s fabulous. It’s a very kinda like safe zone. We can be as crazy as we want to. But I don’t think it’s gonna be a problem. And you know, for instance, the two themed dress up nights we’re choosing to do. You know, I think we’re still figuring out one of them.

I think one of them is gonna be sort of, you know, rainbow, like light the night with rainbow and wear your greatest rainbow, glittery, sequiny, spectacularness. God knows what’ll make Rich make me. I think we’re gonna be a presence, but what I love is I think we’re gonna be a positive presence.

I think people are gonna see the love and the fun and the laughter. And I will bet you like the, you know, the queer people that are on the ship, not part of the event, are gonna be like, who are these people? Cause I wanna hang out with them. Like, like, I think we’re, I think we’re gonna get some hangers on, which I’m excited about.

Rich: To tie into that point, like he says, the queer people who are on the ship that aren’t part of the event. Every time we’ve been on a cruise with Celebrity, there have been a decent sized group of queer people that are just there.

Jeff: You mentioned themed dress up on a couple of nights. What are some other highlights of the schedule?

Jay: Some of it I think is gonna be traditional conference. So, we’re looking to do panels, we’re gonna have a signing. So, there will definitely be an aspect of you know, sort of a typical book conference that if you’ve been to those in the past, you’ll be familiar with. And then, you know, on top of that we’ve got the, and I’ll let Rich and Joel talk more, but the cruise thing, so activities that the ship has, and then things that we can do with excursions outside the cruise that we can sort of do en mass.

Joel: And yeah, what we’re going to organize is, you know, go check out the Hemingway house with this author. Go check out the Tennessee Williams house with this author. Go maybe do this fun excursion with this author, so not just on the boat…

Rich: Sandcastle building competitions with your favorite authors.

Joel: Exactly. Stuff like that. And the other lovely thing about the boat is that you know, at other cons I’ve known authors have tried to sort of get their own little posse together for like a special event. And it’s been hard to find the space for that or whatever. You know, we have endless opportunities of spaces where they can have their little gatherings and have their special moments and connect to their fans. I mean, I know I’m gonna have, cause I’ve got a bunch of my people coming, a bunch of Joel Junkies stuff with some of my authors there.

One of the things I’m excited about is Kirt Graves and I are doing a naughty Mad Libs where we’re going to take some of the raunchiest sex scenes that we have narrated and then take out the adjectives, adverbs and nouns, take them from the audience and then try to have to deliver them as sexually as possible with a straight face, which I think is gonna be really fun. I’m excited about that. And again, like Jay said, you know, we’re gonna go see the shows together. We’re gonna go to the silent disco together and look like loons. So, there’s a whole bunch of stuff.

Rich: We’re gonna plan times to take over things like the lounge or the martini bar. You wanna hang out with the martini bar with your favorite author at this time, sort of thing. And you know, of course there has to be a ship wide scavenger hunt and, you know, we’re already working on that.

Jeff: So, as you’re going through all this and you’re organizing it, what is the thing you’re looking the most forward to as either a host or as a participant on this?

Joel: I am, you know, as we said, we haven’t been to any sort of queer centric cons in a while, and I was so overwhelmed by how many of my authors jumped onto this. And so, the fact that I’m gonna get to connect with so many of the people whose words I’ve brought to life, and so many people who love audio, and hopefully will sort of, you know, discover new authors.

You know, there are some people coming that I am a huge advocate of their writing. Like, you know, like Alexander Eberhart, who I think is like one of the most wonderful YA queer authors around that doesn’t get as much traction. And I’m really excited to kind of lift up some of those people that I really believe in that are maybe new to some fans of queer fiction.

That, and Celebrity has really good Indian food, and I, at the buffets, and I really like Indian food. So, I’m excited for that. I’m always a fan of the buffet. I have a two plate system. I go through the line with two plates so I can try a little of everything. It’s a patented system and so I’m really excited about that. But mostly the connecting with the people that I haven’t seen in a long time, that I miss and, I really love them, and they’re the reason why I have succeeded in this industry.

Jay: I’m excited for the chance to interact with the readers and authors in sort of this combo con, vacation like setting. I think it’s gonna be fun to be able to have some time where everyone doesn’t have to be on, but we can really hang out. And I’ll be honest, after so many conferences, that’s still one of my favorite parts is the downtime where everyone’s sitting around the bar, sitting at dinner and just chatting and hanging out. And I think there’s gonna be a lot of opportunity for that. So, I’m really looking forward to getting to know people better, getting to hang out by the pool, getting to, you know, walk on the beach and just sort of do all of those fun things with, you know, this great community that I love so much.

Rich: I’m excited to meet people. I love meeting people that I’ve been communicating with cause, I mean, some of these people, I started talking to them in August and I’ll be back and forth with them over email or Facebook chat or instant messenger for nearly a year. And I’m really excited to meet them, to spend time with them.

I’m excited to be there when people get to do these things for the first time when they get to, you know, we get to experience how fun this all is. And if Joel can say he is excited for the Indian food, I can say I’m excited for the martinis.

Jeff: RegencyFan has another great question, and it’s one that I kind of had…

Rich: I wanna meet RegencyFan sometime.

Joel: We like RegencyFan.

Jeff: RegencyFan’s awesome. What’s the metric of success? What makes it like, oh, we wanna do this again in a year or two or five, or however it takes you to recover from this one, to decide to do another one?

Rich: So, I mean, I think really, it is kind of a two-step question. You know, when you’re planning any event, you kind of have to be thinking ahead and thinking to what’s the future of the event. And I think that we’re at a stage right now where we’ve had enough engagement and excitement and we’ve had a positive enough experience that we do plan on doing it again. And, you know, we are starting the process of exploring what we’ll do next as far as that’s concerned.

And then the second step of it is, do we accomplish what we wanted to accomplish with the event? And, you know, I think we’re confident that we will be able to. But really, you know, we have to put our money where our mouth is, and we have to put on a good event for people and an event that we do take care of them and that they do enjoy. And if people have as much fun as we think they’re going to have and that we are having so far with people, I think we’ll be planning on another one.

Joel: And I think something that is going to make a difference is the way the three of us function differently. I am basically going to be goofball MC, master of ceremonies, hostess with the mostest. I am in charge of… I’m your cruise director, I’m your social boy, right? That’s kind of what I am.

And Jay is, you know, Jay has the connection with so many authors, and she’ll be there to sort of make sure their authorial needs are looked after. And so many people know her that they’ll look to her. And in terms of all the nuts and bolts and logistics and concierge experience and looking after, you know, what’s going on for you in terms of your cruise experience, Rich is there to take care of you.

Jay and I are sharing the moderating and sort of hosting aspects along with Mo, who is great at it from her Philly experience. But you know, I will know what’s a success when… you know it’s a success when you see the smiles on people’s faces. You know it’s a success when people tell you, this is different than what I’ve had before. When they tell you I feel looked after. I wasn’t stressed. I didn’t have to worry about anything cause I knew I had someone to go to who would care about my needs if I was having a problem. And ask when you’re doing it again. And I think that’s the measure of success.

Jeff: And Rebecca, who’s also in our Patreon community, has a great question. It’s great that you’re already thinking about the next one, but she’s curious if you’re considering Bermuda at all since you’re from there, Joel.

Joel: That’s a Rich question.

Rich: Here’s the thing. Bermuda is fantastic. Bermuda is notoriously difficult to cruise to. You have to cross through a part of the ocean that is very rough. We cruised to Bermuda in September, and it was wonderful. Frankly it was wonderful because the first two days of the cruise, everyone was in their room because they didn’t feel well, and we had the run of the ship.

Joel: And we had people tell us that they had cruised to Bermuda three times, and every single time it was not a smooth sail.

Rich: So, the answer is, you know, we would love to go to Bermuda because it’s a great place to go, but probably not a great destination for the conference because of the large group and the number of people that won’t have sea legs necessarily. So, and I mean, ties back a bit to earlier what I said about, you know, one of the reasons we chose the Caribbean was it’s nice and smooth there. So, Bermuda, great idea. Probably not a Rainbow Reader’s destination

Jeff: And as we wrap everything up, gotta get some recommendations, of course. What have you got that you’ve been reading or watching that our listeners should be checking out?

Jay: One thing that I can recommend that I just read that I really loved is it’s a sapphic sci-fi romance called “No Shelter but the Stars” by Virginia Black. I’m not usually a sci-fi person, but I read her lesbian War Witch Vampire Hunter story that came out last year and really loved it. And so, I decided to give this a shot. And it’s about two women who are on opposite sides of a sort of colonization type war and they end up both crash landing on this desolate moon together. And the first part of the book is just so fascinating because you see them. They can’t understand each other, and you see them trying to survive in this harsh and terrible, horrible landscape.

And then eventually they, you know, learn to communicate and fall in love. And then you see sort of the aftermath of how they then go back to their respective, you know, political worlds and take all that they’ve learned and make things better. And just really so fascinating. I was completely engrossed in it. And the way that they each are coming into this scene, only their side of the battle and then suddenly they realize there’s this whole big world that they don’t realize is going on. And excellent story. Both books that I’ve read by the author are great, own voices author. So that’s my recommendation for you today.

Jeff: Very cool. I gotta check that out cause you ticked a few boxes there and then ones I didn’t even know I needed to have ticked.

Jay: Yes, definitely.

Rich: So, I unfortunately don’t read as much as I should. Well, no, that’s not true. I’m reading the books that Joel’s recording. So, I’m doing that. So, I’m gonna address what we’re watching. At the end of the night, everyone needs their little trash television, and we are watching “The Traitors.” And if you haven’t watched “The Traitors,” I recommend it simply because Alan Cumming is so campy and fun and dressed in God knows what sort of back door drag queen outfit got put on him that day. It’s a lot of fun. I mean, it’s great trash television for the end of the night to unwind.

And you know, we’re also working our way through “Fellow Travelers” when we have more time, because those are about an hour long each, so we wanna be able to have time to sit and focus on those.

Joel: Oh, and “Julia.” We’ve been watching “Julia.”

I am working on a book right now called “Double Vice” by an author named Chris Holcomb. It’s his first foray to audio. It is a really great 1920s queer speakeasy noir world. I’m really impressed by the writing.

I am recording “Kit Sawyer” soon, which I know a bunch of people really wanted in audio and came to me and said that I should be doing. Lane Hayes has a book called “Falling for Raine” that just released, and I finished recording that this week.

And then I think one of the big ones I’m excited about is the sequel to “We Could Be So Good” by Cat Sebastian, which was one of Audible’s top listens of 2023 that they named as that. It’s called “You Should Be So Lucky,” and it’s marvelous. I mean, I just am the biggest fan of Cat.

And oh, one more thing, Kim Fielding and I, six years later, got to complete a trilogy that we had done together. I had done book two and book three because of the way the contracts were, she wasn’t able to have me do book one. But now we’ve gone back, and we’ve done book one. It’s called the “Ennek Trilogy.” It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I think Kim’s ever done. It’s one of my favorite series I’ve ever tackled. It’s truly beautiful, very poignant, and intimate and sweet. And just her brilliant sense of world building and fantasy is really refined and clever, and I’m just so excited that we’re finally sort of able to complete that set. So, I think those are my big things.

Jeff: Nice. The only one of those I can comment on is Cat’s book. and it’s just wonderful.

Joel: It’s fab.

Jeff: Just wonderful. So, what is the best way to get the latest on the cruise, as well as keep up with all of your individual projects that you’ve got going on. And Jay, we can kick that off with you.

Jay: Sure, well, you can find all the information about the cruise at our website RainbowReadersCruise.com. We also have a Rainbow Readers Cruise Facebook group. You don’t have to be signed up for the cruise to join, so that’s a great way to sort of start chatting with people. You can see conversation going on there. You can also sign up for our newsletter. Again, you don’t have to be signed up for the cruise yet, if you wanna just sort of keep abreast of what’s going on.

In terms of me, you can find me on my blog, Joyfully Jay. It’s JoyfullyJay.com. We’ve got reviews and guest posts and giveaways and all kinds of fun happening there every day. As a tie in with the cruise, we’re also hosting a blog tour. So, a lot of our authors and narrators are doing stops on the blog to talk more about the cruise and what they’re excited about and tell us more about their books and things that they’re working on. So, yeah, that’s where you can find me. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter and all those assorted places.

Rich: So, I, of course, am on Facebook with the Rainbow Readers Cruise Group, but also with my own group, Cruising with Rich, and then Rich Najuch on Facebook. And Joel?

Joel: I’m on Facebook very easy. Joel Leslie Froomkin. My fan group is Joel’s Junkies on Facebook. And for author friends, I have started to really enjoy TikTok. And I’m on Joel Leslie Froomkin at TikTok F-R-O-O-M-K-I-N. And I do a whole series, and they’re all labeled of narrator tips for authors, that I’m really proud of. And they get a lot of engagement. People are really, you know, really enjoying them and intrigued by them. And there’s a lot of discourse back and forth about things that narrators learn about the writing process by being immersed in it nine hours a day. And so that’s been really fun.

So, for authors who wanna sort of explore that, I would love that. I think it’s a great little conversation piece and I’m proud of what I’m putting out into the world with that. So, I think that would be great.

Jeff: Oh, very cool. We’ll link to all of that, of course. All the details about the cruise in the show notes for this episode. Thank you so much for coming to talk to us about the Rainbow Readers Cruise.

Joel: Thank you.

Rich: Thank you for having us.


Jeff: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, check out the show notes page for this episode over at BigGayFictionPodcast.com. We’ve also got links to absolutely everything that we talked about in this episode.

And thank you so much to Joel, Rich, and Jay for coming to talk to us about the Rainbow Reader’s Cruise. It sounds like a terrific time is gonna be had by all.

Alright, I think that’s gonna do it for now. Coming up next, on Monday June 3rd, we kick off Pride Month with author Lee Wind. He’s gonna be here to talk about his incredible YA thriller, “A Different Kind of Brave,” as well as his forthcoming book “The Gender Binary Is a Big Lie.” It’s the perfect conversation to start Pride Month.

I wanna thank you so much for listening, and I hope that you’ll join us back here again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.

Will: Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.