GAY romantic fiction festival Queermance has attracted some bigger names for its second year, engaging some major publishers as the event expands to include more for readers.

Festival founder and co-director Matthew Lang said the biggest change from last year — aside from getting a few more people on board to help run the event — has been expanding Queermance into a weekend for readers of queer romantic fiction, as well as its authors.

“We learned what worked and what didn’t so we’ve tweaked the program accordingly,” he told the Star Observer.

“We’ve added a few more events for readers — there was a very heavy writing focus last year, and the readers were feeling a bit left out.”

Bigger names in this year’s program include author of the popular Captive Prince fantasy novels, C. S. Pacat, and Nigel Bartlett, who earlier this year released the crime thriller King of the Road to rave reviews.

Lang said dealing with major publishers like Penguin and Random House, who publish Pacat’s and Bartlett’s novels respectively, was a big change from the grassroots publishing focus of the inaugural Queermance, but they’ve been keen to be involved.

“They’re been really positive. I think they’re excited that this avenue exists in Australia… they’ve been really engaged, and they’ve been really keen to promote their authors at our festival,” Lang said.

Everyone is welcome at all the weekend’s events, but Lang said the sessions are roughly divided into those aimed at writers on the Saturday, and those for readers on the Sunday. The most popular event of last year’s festival, the cabaret night “Queerbaret”, will also make a return on Saturday night (pictured above).

Writer-focused sessions are on everything from cover art and book readings to how to write a good sex scene, while Sunday’s events are more of a chance to get stuck into the themes and identities of queer fiction.

In particular, a panel on queer identities would be an opportunity to explore queer romantic fiction beyond just same-sex relationships between men and between women.

A group of writers and readers will discuss trans*, intersex, bisexual and asexual identities and relationships in romance writing, and Lang said he’s looking forward to learning more about how queer fiction can be more inclusive.

“I’m really looking forward to how that’s going to pan out, it’s one of the panels where we’ve just gone, ‘go for it, we’ve got no experience in this area, so you guys take it away’,” he said.

Queermance is on April 17-19 in Melbourne, at the Mercure on Therry St and at Hares and Hyenas bookshop. For details and tickets, visit the website.

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