Vendors, authors, and makeshift bookstores filled the arena floor. There were twenty-one author panels spread across four meeting rooms to choose from, and a few times it was a tough call deciding which session to attend. In the end, I sat in on:
The Liberal Arts Life: From Jazz to Journalism to Novel to Script: keynote author James McBride
Writing Place: New Fiction form the South: Nicole Louise Reid, Joshilyn Jackson, and Karen White
Stories From the Ladies of the South: Rachel Hauck, River Jordan, Marybeth Whalen, Lisa Wingate
Killing People in Exotic Places: Nancy J. Cohen, Bob Morris, Neil S. Plakcy
Embracing Imperfections through Young Adult Lit: Ellen Hopkins, Jessica Martinez, Ty Roth
Some of the authors I've known and loved for years, some tickled my interest, and some I simply must go out and read their books immediately. Or as soon as I eke out some time.
As a lifetime lit fan, occasional book reviewer, and aspiring author, I hung on every word spewing from these successful writers' mouths. I thought I'd be generous and pass along my favorite tidbits gleamed from the wonderful panel discussions.
James McBride (The Color of Water, Miracle at St. Anna, musician, journalist, and screenplay writer): Learn to fail, and fail better — every successful person has learned to accept his failures and move on. Since I'm prepping myself for the excruciating process of finding an agent and landing a publisher, I MUST remember this. If The Help was rejected 100 times, I can't imagine how thick my stack of rejection letters will grow.
Nicole Louise Reid (So There!): A successful writer is someone who is good at lying, not in person, but on paper. I'd never read any works by her before, but her reading was lovely, her words were lush, lyrical, and from the heart...or at least that's what she'd like you to believe.
Joshilyn Jackson (A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, Backseat Saints): People should buy your book not because it's good, but because your whole heart is in it. And don't be afraid to let your characters go to dark places. I'll admit, Joshilyn was my main draw. I've loved her work since I read the first page of Gods in Alabama years ago, and I totally have a writer crush on her now. I've been reading her blog Faster Than Kudzu, for a while, and now that I've met her, I understand. Shes whimsical, slightly manic, and funny as hell.
And, as you can see, my new BFF. Or writing partner. In my DREAMS. I can only hope that by standing so close to her I sucked up a few drops of her writing talent by some type of author osmosis. (Hey, I could write a story about that...) (And I look totally horrible in this picture, I blame it totally on the kind old guy behind me who snapped the shot without any time for me to stand up straight or position my arm properly. It's not that fat, I swear.)
Rachel Hauck (The Wedding Dress) Fiction is hyperbole, life on steroids, so yes, writers always take from real life. Character inspirations, settings, and scenes are all around you — suck them up.
Marybeth Whalen (The Guest Book, She Makes It Look Easy) If it's a priority, you can make it happen. Marybeth has six kids, and still can balance the writing life and family life. I have no excuse. We live in a very visual society now; write it like you'd see it.
Neil S. Plakcy (the Mahu mystery series) I don't get mad at people anymore. I just kill them. (In his books, of course.)
Bob Morris (Baja Florida, Bahamarama) I like to put real peoples' names in books, just too see if they actually read them.
Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Perfect) Another reason no one should ban books, or consider certain books inappropriate for a certain age: it's better to let people, especially teens, learn about the bad things in life, the rough patches, through a book. It gives them a frame of reference, a way of coping with a difficult situation. And every time (I) am told one of my books has been flagged as inappropriate, I send a stack of letters to that person, letters from fans stating how that book saved their life. I fight for it.
I caught author Karen White (who was charming, witty, and wonderful, but I neglected to take notes of any of her sage advice) signing an e-reader cover instead of an actual book. The wave of the paperless future?
I had a wonderful, enlightening day. I also managed to get scared out of my mind by my most-likely masochistic career choice. I can only dream I'll be invited to attend one year as a published author myself.
And if not, I just discovered I SHOULD have applied to attend as a blogger. I totally missed an awesome Friday night meet and greet with the authors. Lesson learned, failure noted and accepted. I am taking notes.