Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Read Up, Greenville

Greenville, South Carolina. When I announced I was going there to speak at a teen book festival, people piled on the praise for how beautiful it was. And...they were right! The first thing I did when I arrived was head to the most recommended spot, Falls Park.

The morning of the conference, I strolled their Farmers' Market.

Beautiful. Cozy. And the conference itself? Amazing, for so many reasons!

This was the first Read Up, Greenville festival, and I have no doubt it will continue on. It needs to! These teen book festivals are popping up around the country, keeping people inspired to read at a critical time in their lives.

Thankfully, I get to be inspired, too!

I got to hear a keynote from Holly Goldberg Sloan, an author who's also written some great screenplays.

I finally got to hear the powerful presentation of Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely for their book, All American Boys, after following their travels online for the past year.

I also had the opportunity to sit on a keynoters panel with the three previous authors because I gave the first keynote of the day.

When not speaking myself, I heard some other great panels. Something I thoroughly enjoy about YA panels that I rarely see with other authors is the back-and-forth dialogue and camaraderie among the panelists. One of the best examples occurred at this conference with Jessica Brody, Susane Colasanti,Stephanie Perkins, and Will Walton. I'd met Jessica and Stephanie at various events over the years, and they're always a couple of the authors I most look forward to seeing. It was great to see Will again after meeting him a couple years ago right after he sold his debut novel, Anything Could Happen. And now I got to buy a copy and get it signed!

But I'd never met Susane before, and was a little intimidated because she's basically royalty when it comes to YA love stories, and I happen to have one of those releasing in a couple months. So to find out she was hoping I could spare an advance copy of What Light? So! Frickin'! Cool!

Another very fun and informative panel featured people who work at Penguin Random House Audio. We also got to hear from a couple actors who narrate for them, Kirby Heyborne and January LaVoy. One activity requiring audience participation prompted Jason, Brendan, and I to give our best impressions of happy cows.

That evening, the speakers were treated to a great meal, hosted at the beautiful bookstore, M. Judson Books. There, I was fortunate enough to sit beside and chat with the super-smart-but-makes-you-feel-smart-too Jennifer Lynn Barnes, an author I somehow haven't crossed paths with since shortly after her first book came out.

That evening, as everyone was winding down, some of us stayed up late in the hotel lobby. There, something happened that never even crossed my mind as a series of words I could one day string into a sentence: I got a tarot reading from Maggie Stiefvater.

Other incredible authors at this festival, all of whom I hope to see again in the very near future: Aisha Saeed, Beth Revis, Brendan Reichs, Carry Ryan, Cassie Beasley, Jessica Khoury, Maya Van Wagenen, Megan Miranda, Nova Ren Suma, Renee Ahdieh, Ryan Graudin, Terra Elan McVoy, and Tiffany Schmidt.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

RWA 2016

For several days recently, I attended my third RWA conference. That anagram stands for Romance Writers of America. And yes, I was one of only a handful of dudes there. Thankfully, as one of my friends unironically said, "You seem to fit right in."

Truly, this is such a warm, welcoming, and supportive group of professionals. Unless you try really hard, it's nearly impossible to feel like an outsider. More than anything, the group is so inspiring. It's impossible to find authors who collectively work harder (as well as put up with the most crap) than romance authors. Check out the trailer for this new documentary, which they screened the first night of the conference:

As a bonus, this year's conference was held at a beautiful San Diego hotel.

While conferences are great to get re-inspired, reunited with friends, and learn, it's also a great place to promote a new or upcoming release. For me, that meant bringing What Light hot cocoa packets to the Goody Room. I could have given away over 300 of these things if I'd brought them, but we were allowed very specific dimensions, so I had to return over and over to replenish my box.

One of the first people I ran into at the conference was Crystal Perkins, who wore a dress that basically begged me to ask for a selfie.

I had dinner with an author I haven't had a chance to hang out with before, Jenny Han. Chatting one-on-one with someone I've never really spoken with can be difficult for a shy, introverted, small-talk-fumbling guy like me. But I completely enjoyed--and learned from--our freewheeling discussion of writing, promotion, race, gender issues, politics and religion. Yes, we absolutely went there in our very first conversation. And we left as friends!

Plus, the food was delicious. Delicious! This wooden bowl is holding BBQ carrots. I know, they look all...whaaaaaa???...but they tasted like...mmmmmm!!!

Other wonderful authors whose books I've read that I dined with but was too dumb to document with a pic: Jennifer Snow, Heather Davis, and Sally Kilpatrick.

I also got to meet a YA author whose debut novel I've been wanting to read since I first heard its premise. And now I have a signed copy of Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods!

An exciting aspect of this conference was running into authors who had read my books and had teenagers back home who had also read my books. So they sent pics to their daughters to make them jealous!

I can't wait to hear what their daughters (and these authors!) think of my new book, which I made sure they received.

Another thing I love about this conference is the thought put into presentation. The main ballroom always looks so glamorous, which adds to the feeling of respect for the art and business being discussed.

The highlight of the conference is always the awards ceremony. Awards are given to many subgenres within the romance category, with the RITA going to published books and the Golden Heart going to unpublished manuscripts. Both awards are given equal prestige, and the editors of the winning books are also invited to speak after the authors accepts their award.

One winner of a RITA is also a friend. Pintip Dunn's YA novel, Forget Tomorrow, won in the Best First Book category. 

I would love to win a RITA one day. Love! Just sayin'. Just throwing it out there...

There were a lot of sequins and high heels at the ceremony, and even a dude in a kilt, but I was mighty proud of the tie I had made just for this event. I even had it signed by the RITA winner above!

Here's the larger group of YA authors I had the opportunity to hang out with at the conference.

Meg Kassel, T.L. Sumner, L.A. Freeland, Pintip Dunn,
Darcy Woods, Kimberly MacCarron, Sheri Renae Preston-Adkins,
Marni Bates, Mary Sullivan, Vanessa Barneveld, Marnee Blake,
Amy DeLuca (a.k.a. Amy Patrick), Jessica Ruddick, Nicole Hohmann

Hopefully I'll see you all next year in Orlando!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Puerto Rico!

Yes, I was in Puerto Rico recently. But it was for work, okay? I can't help it if I get to my hotel room and the window looks out on a view like this...

It's still work!

And I can't help it if that window slides open and I can lean out to get a view like this...

Still work!

Sadly, I am not a beach dude. Beaches are so...sandy. And if you get in the water, when you get out, that sand sticks to you. And the sun is

My wife and my son, they love the beach. So when I sent them the pics from above, they both said they would be very upset if I came home without getting in that beautiful water. But as I told them, which is the same as I told you, this was a work visit. I wasn't there to play!

Plus, I didn't bring my swim shorts.

First order of business, I was interviewed by a local newspaper. And they brought a photographer with them. But I can not help it that this was the backdrop...

Primarily, I was in Puerto Rico to give a talk and do a signing at The Bookmark Boutique. The most nerve-wracking part of any bookstore visit is the lead-up. Will anyone show? If only a few people show--as can happen--I still enjoy myself, but more than a few is always nice. When I approached the store, that place was packed! People were standing outside!!!

Yes, it was a small store (hence, the Boutique part of the name), but still!

I began by reading a couple of pages as Clay's character from Thirteen Reasons Why, and was soon joined by a girl from the audience who read the part of Hannah.

Then I spoke a bit about the writing for that book, and The Future of Us, and told them about the October release of What Light. During the Q&A part of my visit, I gave out packets of What Light hot cocoa mix.

They were an amazing audience! I had a great time, and would love to come back.

Before I hopped on the plane to fly home, I gave in and bought a pair of swim shorts. I think I was the palest thing on the beach without feathers, but the water was so warm, my only regret is that I didn't dive in earlier.

I'm sure I looked something like this...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

In Orlando

Last week, I flew to Orlando for a couple of publishing events. It would be my first time to exclusively promote my upcoming novel, What Light, which I was very excited about. Coincidentally, some very special people happened to be visiting Orlando at the same time. My cousin Cindy's daughter was competing in a volleyball tournament. They live in California, several hours south of where I live, so we met up on the other side of the country. Another cousin, Michelle, lives in Florida a few hours from Orlando, so even more of the family was able to get together. 

A couple years ago, I posted about a YA writing retreat I attended. I wasn't able to attend their retreat last year, but this year they held it in Orlando. Though I couldn't hang out with them as much as last time, I did meet up with the authors for dinner. Kristin Harmel brought make-up bags for everyone, featuring our latest book release. But I've been using mine to carry Sharpies for autographing.

Visiting Orlando so soon after they were hit by horribly violent acts, there was a somberness that--rightfully--crept into conversations. Those attacks weighed on me heavily leading up to my visit, so I went to the makeshift memorials at these sites. Among the flowers, photos, crosses, and candles where Christina Grimmie last sang, a fan taped a handwritten note to a window about the inspiration in Christina's voice, as well as the life she lived.

I drove a couple librarians to the site of the Pulse tragedy. People were crying and praying, in groups and alone. The air was so hot and humid, and the terror of what happened in that small building behind the fence was crushing.

Conversations about these events continued throughout the week, but the publishing world also pushed forward.

At the ABC Children's Institute, part of the American Booksellers Association, Penguin held a dinner for several independent booksellers from around the country. To celebrate the upcoming releases of The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz and What Light, the menu was styled as if we were dining at Jay & Adam's Evergreen Tavern.

Most of my Orlando events were later in the week at the American Library Association conference. One event was a pizza party attended by many authors and a whole lot of teens. Each author sat at a table-o-teens for several minutes to discuss their latest books, and then moved to the next table-o-teens where the pitch was repeated. During that time, the teens dines and the authors attempted. This is what I'd been able to eat after a few rounds.

My first official signing of What Light was thrilling! I'd been brainstorming and working on this book for over a decade...and now people get to read it! The signing line, which wrapped beyond where I could see it, gave me goosebumps.

Later, when Greg Neri tried to steal my man-purse (I mean, Sharpie container), my wrist held strong!

There were several restrooms marked for men and women around the convention, but this was the first event where I've seen a couple opened as gender-neutral. I was curious as to how people would react. Truly, it was kind of beautiful to see people notice the sign, shrug (if they offered a reaction at all), and head on in to take care of their natural business. After the nearby Pulse tragedy, it felt like an especially huge deal. After having lunch with my author friend Amber Hart and gonna-be author friend Tori Kelley, we wanted to get a pic at the entrance to this ALA awesomeness.

It's always flattering when people fanboy and fangirl while getting an autograph. Myself, I did plenty of fanboying at ALA. I's Anne M. Martin! Not only is she the author behind The Baby-Sitters Club series, but she's bringing one of my favorite series back-to-life. While I read about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle growing up, today's kids will get to read those same books, but also new ones about her niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle.

I finally got to meet a friend of some of my author friends, Amy Lukaviks, who writes creepy and scary books. That--be prepared!--is a bucket-list genre for me, too.

I also got to meet a man whose commentaries I always enjoy, Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book. If you don't read Roger, you should!

PIP (People In Publishing) always laugh at me for assuming other PIP won't know who I am. But, whatever! It makes it that much more exciting for me when people do know who I am. Simply asking for a selfie for this blog post, I had a couple of those exciting moments when I met Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket)...

...and Kwame Alexander.

Actually, I already knew Kwame knew who I was, but only because of a freak-out fanboy moment I had earlier on Twitter.

Dude. I mean, just...dude!

I took part in another table-hopping pitch fest, but this time with librarians and many more authors. Check out all these story-scribblers!

For my final event before heading to the airport, I had a book signing at a table next to Grace Lin, which allowed me to get another great book signed for my son.

The advance reading copies I came home with, though the authors weren't in Orlando to sign them, were How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, The Best Man by Richard Peck, and One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards.

Books I had signed and personalized to me were Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson, Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley, Poppy Mayberry, the Monday by Jennie Brown, The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz, The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles, Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid, The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, The Homecoming by Stacie Ramey, and The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat.

Books I had signed for my son were Whoosh! by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate, Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather by Grace Lin, Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin and Annie Parnell, and Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton written and illustrated by Don Tate.