When single mother Tina Engler started self-publishing romance novels out of her Akron apartment in 2000, she never imagined the hobby would turn into a media empire. But seven years later, Engler, pen-name "Jaid Black," is one of the biggest sellers in the romance-novel industry. She gives women what they want -- stories that writhe somewhere between the fantasy world of romance and the dirty talk of a real bedroom. This brand of steamy lit has been dubbed "romantica," and she's been heralded as the "Queen of Steam," as her company, Ellora's Cave, nets $6 million a year and boasts a roster of 400 authors. And there's something for everyone -- from cunnilingus-loving vampires to bondage and backdoor loving on the prairie. Best part is, the entire Ellora's Cave catalog is available in e-book format, with books going for as little as $4 a pop.
This perennial favorite -- which has been around for more than 30 years -- has expanded its breadth and influence over the past decade. Last March, the fest posted its largest attendance numbers ever, as hundreds of foreign, independent, and short films were screened. While it's still not on par with the planet's big movie showcases (Sundance, Cannes, and the rest), the Cleveland International Film Festival is quickly becoming a crucial stop for up-and-coming indie directors. Many of them even participate in daylong workshops and seminars held in conjunction with the 10-day bash, which includes an impressive slate of environmentally conscious documentaries, edgy animation flicks, and, of course, gay road pics.
The zoo is a magical place when you're a child -- making faces at the monkeys, gazing in awe at big cats who could tear you limb from limb. Then you enter adulthood, and the magic slowly fades. Fortunately, you can get it back by consuming large amounts of booze at one of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's yearly fund-raisers. In February, the zoo throws a Valentine's Day-themed party called "Animal Attractions," where you can tour the RainForest -- Long Island iced tea in hand -- and learn all about how snakes, apes, and the duck-billed platypus do the nasty. Come back in August for "Twilight at the Zoo," in which the whole park is opened up for you to blindly stumble around, sampling food, booze, and a slew of bands. But stay on the marked paths. Some of the zoo's animals wouldn't mind a free meal either.
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland
West Side/Ohio City/Tremont/Detroit Shoreway
Nothing gets gays to drop dollar bills faster than food and booze. That's why the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgendered Community Center of Greater Cleveland always cashes in on its annual TaDa! dinner series. Between March and August this year, 21 hosts opened their homes and gardens, and served lavish spreads to benefit the center. In one Ohio City home, a couple served $75 dinners of crown roast of pork, apps, and wine. In the Hunting Valley manse of another family, guests forked over $60 apiece for a California-themed buffet of homemade pasta, meats, and Napa-grown fruits and veggies. And one party boy even booked a tricked-out former school bus for his party, with a chauffeur to shuttle his gang to bars, museums, and art galleries on a late Friday night, racking up money for the center and, no doubt, TaDa! loyalists for years to come.
While the crown jewel of Cleveland art -- the Cleveland Museum of Art -- continues to get its face lifted, venture out of University Circle's cultural vortex and onto Carnegie Avenue, to the unpredictable Museum of Contemporary Art. From interactive digital installations to cutting-edge architecture exhibits, MOCA is dedicated to artists who think outside the box. In addition to visual stimulation, the museum also spotlights musicians and filmmakers with its MOCA: MIX series, and even extends the innovation to its gift shop, which is full of handcrafted jewelry and clothing made by local artisans. Is it the city's best museum? No. But it's open, and it just might open something inside you too.
Some flicks need to be seen on the big screen. But with ticket prices now exceeding the GNP of most African countries, and popcorn requiring a sizable down payment, a night at the movies is no cheap date. Savvy moviegoers know the trick: Give it a couple months, and catch it at Cinemark Movies 10. Tickets run under $2. For the scary-cheap among us, there are $1 Tuesdays and 50-cent Mondays (if you bring a group of three or more). Yeah, it might suck to be months late to the laughs -- Knocked Up hit the Cinemark not long before the DVD hit stores -- but the extra cheese in your pocket should ease your pain.
The Cinematheque is one of the city's most overlooked institutions. Sure, art-house snobs -- desperate to dish on the latest Lars von Trier film -- line up on weekends. But this University Circle venue (located inside the Cleveland Institute of Art) offers plenty of terrific flicks for casual moviegoers too. Founder John Ewing has lined up exemplary programs, featuring everything from Steven Spielberg's early features to Laurel and Hardy comedies. Plus, the Cinematheque hauls out The Good Old Naughty Days -- a compilation of silent French erotic shorts from the 1920s -- every year during its all-request program. In other words, they got them some porn. Take that, stuffy cinephiles.
You've no doubt used duct tape for everything from propping up mufflers to initiating that pledge back in your glory days. But the annual Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival (held over Father's Day weekend, of course) uncovers at least a dozen new functions for the colorful, sticky adhesive. Participants construct dozens of floats -- which resemble ginormous fruit baskets, fire-breathing dragons, and old jalopies -- for an annual parade. Fashion students design wearable dresses, hats, and jackets. And artists sculpt colossal statues that look like planets and forest creatures. Naturally, it's all made out of duct tape. There are plenty of community-fair staples here too -- rides, games, totally lame but totally lovable cover bands. And it's safe to say this is the only fair that hands you a roll of duct tape -- your choice of blue, red, or yellow -- when you walk through the gate.
Every August, North Ridgeville pays tribute to area farmers' bountiful crops with a four-day bash that looks like a 'roided-up small-town carnival. There are tons of rides, midway games, and globe-spanning eats -- everything from Italian sausage to Slavic pierogi. But it's sweet yellow corn, in all its edible glory, that takes center stage at the North Ridgeville Corn Festival. Look for it in popcorn, as corn dogs, and of course, on the cob -- which is typically dipped in a pitcher of melted butter before it's served. Add a strolling trio of vaguely corny-looking mascots, continuous live music, and local vendors handing out swag-stuffed goodie bags, and you've got one a-maize-ing summertime fest. (Sorry, that was corny.) (OK, we're done now.)
Two years ago, 50 Cent heard his first Kickdrums beat and just had to have it; the track became "When Death Becomes You," on the Get Rich or Die Tryin' soundtrack. Ever since, the Cleveland-based Kickdrums -- aka Alex Fitts and Matt Pentilla -- have proved the track was no fluke. Their early production work was sample-based, but recently they've been creating original music as spit-shined as anything you'll hear on the radio. Mixtape heavyweight DJ Kay Slay recruited the duo to work their magic on a "Pop the Trunk" remix featuring Yung Joc and Chamillionaire. Still based in Cleveland, the duo's also working with local talent, including budding diva Cali Miles, Sucker Free-ready phenom Corey Bapes, and Fitts' own Spittin Image.
Mick Boogie and Terry Urban are Cleveland's globe-trotting hip-hop DJ tag team. Boogie played Vegas during the NBA's All-Star Weekend, and they're both shelling out acclaimed mixtapes all over the world. Lucky Clevelanders can catch them every Thursday at Anatomy. With the dexterity of magicians, they make expert mixology look easy. Urban specializes in jazzy, laid-back grooves from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Lupe Fiasco. And Boogie puts his own touch on choice cuts like the Shop Boyz's "Party Like a Rockstar." But the boys are at their best the last Saturday of every month at I Got Five on It, their monthly old-school throwdown, where they break out rap classics, from 3rd Bass' "Steppin' to the A.M." to Biggie's "Big Poppa." The party people are black and white, young and old. And they're all having such a good time, it looks like the scene's being staged for a Pepsi commercial. Hip-hop hooray.