Well taking off two days for UtopYA left a massive pile of forms on my desk and I’m only just caught up enough to write about my weekend. Better late than never! I’m back from UtopYA and all I can say is WOW! Everyone I had the privilege of meeting was absolutely wonderful. I “knew” a number of people from Facebook and it was incredible to finally meet them in person.

I arrived bright and early on Friday (god, has it already been a week?!) and checked in. The Scarritt-Bennett campus was beautiful. The architecture was stunning and it was a perfect place for a convention.

Janet‘s opening speech was great and I bow to her for the incredible job she did pulling all of this together. I also applaud Jamie, Susan, Hannah, and April, who were all fantastic and helpful! It was great finally meeting everyone behind the scenes.

The keynote speech by Myra McEntire was inspiring and quite moving. I absolutely loved the video she put together. She’s a fantastic woman. I also had the pleasure of getting to know her a bit sitting on a panel with her later.

Until the aforementioned panel, I sat at the Anchor Group table with Stacey Rourke, owner of Anchor Group. It was the first time meeting her, even though we text like fiends, and she was even better in person! Every minute I spent with her made me increasingly happy that I signed with Anchor Group in May. She’s fantastic and truly cares about the success of all of her authors. She can also set up a beautiful table!

I was asked to speak at two panels on Friday. At the first, Fictionalizing World Causes and Teen Issues, I was blessed to be joined by Amy Evans, Ella James, and Jessica Sorensen They were great company and I think all four of us, as well as the audience, really gained a lot from the panel. My second panel was Day in the Life of a YA Author. I shared that panel with Myra McEntire and Raine Thomas. Both of them fantastic women! That was a fun little journey into all of our lives and our support networks. Even though I made a few jokes at my husband’s expense, he truly is so supportive and wonderful about this whole thing, I couldn’t ask for more. With any luck he’ll tag along next year.

The entire first day was a resounding success. So many people came out to support the first year convention, I couldn’t believe it. And, again, every single person was fantastic.

It was surreal, and incredible, and just so…indescribable, to see people walking around carrying my book. People were walking up to me saying “I read your book, I loved it!” and “I heard about your book, I can’t wait to read it!” It was just amazing. I can’t even describe what a dream come true it was.

After running on nothing but coffee and Mellow Mushroom for close to 40 hours, I decided I absolutely had to go to sleep. My awesome alpha-reader, Erin, and I split a hotel room right on the campus. The AC wasn’t the best, but it was a beautiful place to stay.

Saturday was phenomanal. The morning prize drawing was filled with incredible prizes and I was lucky enough to win 2 tickets AND room and board for UtopYA 2013! I already can’t wait!

Even more people turned out on Saturday and the day flew by. I’m trying to leave everyone that I met until the end, so that I don’t leave anybody out, but I’m going to have to make an exception here. One of the panels I attended on Saturday was for the Auror’s Tale crew. I am so impressed, thrilled, and captivated by what they’re doing. I absolutely cannot wait to see the final product. They are true, true fans dedicating their time and their sweat, and possibly their blood, to a project for nothing more than the love of the world that J.K. Rowling created. They are living my dream and I cannot even describe how wonderful it was to spend time with them. I’m certain that I drove them crazy, but every one of them was lovely. I may also have cemented my place as Crazy Fan-Girl by accosting Cassandra and Leo on the elevator. And by that I mean, waiting in front of it when the doors opened like a creepy stalker. I hope that someday there are fans out there who love my novels a fraction as much as these folks love Rowling’s.

Speaking of Auror’s Tale, I purchased Darker Still from actress/author Leanna Renee Hieber, which she graciously autographed. I read it on the plane ride home and simply could not put it down. I was captivated by the way it was written and it would be an injustice to try and describe how elegant and eloquent the novel was. All I can say that Leanna has put quite a bit of time into studying the Victorian period and it truly shines through in her writing. I can’t wait for Twisted Tragedy!

I then had the pleasure of having dinner with a bunch of awesome authors! We had a great time! It was followed by the first ever UtopYA Awards! The room was decorated to the nines and it was beautiful! The entire room was lit by candles (and a projection screen) and it was just stunning. Every author who won deserved it and I aspire to see my name in the nominations next year!

My one complaint (in fact, my only one regarding the entire convention – aside from the fact that I have to wait a year for the next!) was the nomination, and win, of Cassandra Clare in the awards. Now, she’s a fantastic author, don’t get me wrong! And even though we had a lot of rising stars, and some bigger names, there, Cassandra Clare is, in my humble opinion, one of the big-bigs. A category filled with indie authors and small publishing houses, against someone like Cassandra Clare is a little skewed. There was a sort of awkward silence when she won a category, over three authors who were present. Knowing that we opened the awards to the general public, I can see why she won. I know that I would have been like “I don’t know these people, ooo Cassandra Clare, I know that name!” and then voted for her. I think that next year I’d like to see the nominations limited to authors who are attending, or at least represented, at UtopYA. I had heard of, if not spoken to online, nearly every author there, and it would be nice to help our little family rise by giving each other awards, rather than giving them away to the big-wigs.

I’d also like to see some in-house voting too. I am blown away and thrilled that over 2000 votes came in, but I’d like to see some little awards next year that are voted on at the convention itself. For example, we could have a book cover display and a book trailer reel and then allow convention-goers to vote on those right there at the convention.

Back to how awesome the awards were! Katie Cook was great and it was awesome getting to see her! Amanda’s performance was phenomenal! I was blown away by her voice! I demand an encore next year! I also loved the little musical interlude between awards. And oh, the Twilight t-shirts from Katie Cook were great! I got a kick out of them! I realize she was quite overstocked, but it was very generous to just give them away.

A huge congratulations to all of the winners! Every one of you deserved it and I’m so happy for you!

Following the awards, I had a fun paranormal experience walking back to Gibson Hall. I think I was one of the few people who passed up the nicer hotel to stay on campus. I hope the “room and board” next year covers the other hotel! As I was walking, I said to Erin, “I’m going to come back out and take pictures later. Don’t fall asleep and make me come out alone, I feel like there’s less chance of being haunted if there are two of us.” The moment I finished speaking, the light we were walking toward went out! Then, around one in the morning, while lying in bed, I heard a blood-curdling scream. I am 100% serious here. It sounded like it came from outside. In the middle of the night. In the middle of a thunderstorm. On a nearly empty campus. Creeeeeeepy! Paranormal? I kind of hope so! Needless to say, I pulled the covers over my head for that one!

Sunday morning was equally fantastic. All of the closing remarks were so heartfelt and moving. It really was such an incredible experience. I hope and pray that next years’ turnout is even bigger, but this was the perfect group of people for a truly perfect first year. I couldn’t resist a quick closing speech. I really didn’t think I’d be all that choked up, I’m “stoic” like that, but I had a bit of a hitch to my voice as I finished saying what a privilege it was to meet everyone. I really meant it when I said it felt more like a reunion than a first meeting.

The raffles were great, and I was once again humbled when Carol cheered after winning my book and ran over to have me sign it. I was lucky enough to eat dinner with her and Adam, and it was just great seeing her clutching my book so eagerly. Then, I won one of the posters that all of the authors and bloggers signed! Even though I was drooling over all of the book prize packs, not to mention the beautiful quilt that Susan made (LOVE the one with the cats and books!) I wanted the poster most of all. This was my first convention as an author and I can think of nothing better than a poster signed by all of the wonderful authors and people that I met, not to mention signed by me, as a souvenir. I squealed when they called my number. I’m going to frame it and hang it near my writing nook as inspiration. It’s wonderful and a bit surreal to look at a poster, covered in autographs from fantastic authors, and to see my humble name among them. I’ll be posting pictures of that swag soon.

I’ll wrap it up here (followed by a shout-out to everyone!) by saying that this entire weekend was a dream come true. Thank you Janet. Thank you everyone who helped put UtopYA together. And thank you to everyone who came out and gave Janet and her dream a chance.

Now that I have been to utopia, I mean, UtopYA, I could never sell a single book after today and I would still have felt like my dream has come true. l have accomplished so much more than I ever dreamed I could. But I’m still writing, people are still reading, and I’ve got my tickets to UtopYA 2013. I can’t imagine where it will go from here, but I am so eager to see.

On to the faces, in no particular order.

First, the Novel Idea group. My god. What a group. What an inspiring group. Every one of them was a bright, wonderful teenager. Keep writing, all of you. You’re the next wave of writers and it was a privilege to meet each and every one of you.

I already waxed on about Auror’s Tale. But, again, they were all wonderful. I can’t wait to see where it goes and I hope to see you all again someday! Please keep in touch! Leanna, have a pen ready, because I will be handing you all of your books to sign the next time I see you. Cassandra, write that novel. If it’s half as awesome and quirky as you, it’ll be quite the page turner! Also, I got a number of funny looks at the airport because of my arm. I met them all with a smile that just dared them to ask. If only they had…

Stacey Rourke, of course. It was so, so great finally meeting you. You took my baby and made it into something I can actually hold (and hit people with). I can’t wait to see where Anchor Group goes! I hope to see you again soon! Do visit Anchor Group Publishing and check out all of the other books we offer!

I’ll take a moment to mention that all Anchor Group titles are 50% from Smashwords for the month of July! Grab them while you can!

Delphina, it was so great to meet you! Sorry I got you lost and wandered you through the hot sun of Nashville! I hope the car ride to lunch the next day made up for it! It was also a treat, albeit a brief one, bumping into you in the airport! I’m still gushing that you liked my novel so much. And I’m so glad you like how I handled Dani’s relationship! That was a wonderful email to receive! You reached right into how I tried to write it and found exactly where I was heading! If you ever want some sort of interview or whatever, I am always happy to oblige! Keep your eyes out for an ARC of Book 2 some day!

Everyone be sure to check out Delphina Reads Too Much and the interview with me and review of Semester Aboard!

Amy Evans, it was wonderful sitting on a panel with you! You brought some great points to the (literal) table and really added to it all. I hope our conversation helped you out a bit. If you ever have any questions, do let me know. Also, I so support what you are doing. The environment is near and dear to me and I love how tirelessly you are working for it. I simply cannot wait to read your book.

Teal Havilard, it was awesome getting to know you! Keep writing that book. Don’t feel like you have to edit and shorten what you have to say (even though I feel like that looking at how long this post is). If you want it in your novel, keep it there. I’m looking forward to reading it! When you’re done, we can put it on a scale with Semester Aboard. Do keep in touch!

And gosh, so many other people! I feel like I should wrap this up! Willow Cross, it was awesome. You’ve always been so sweet and helpful on the internet. You are even better in real life! It was a pleasure to meet you! CA Kunz, you are both awesome! Adam, it was great talking to you during dinner, you and your mother are a brilliant team! And Carol you’re awesome too! I hope you enjoy the book! I’m glad you’re the one who won it! L M Preston, it was great meeting someone from up my way! I hope you had a safe trip back! Your husband was great as well! Maybe he and my husband can go escape the estrogen and have a few beers next year!

Everybody else, I wish I had gotten to spend more time with each of you! Please find me on facebook and stay in touch! I hope to see all of you next year! Keep writing and leading those dreams!

Tammy Blackwell

Abbi Glines

Amanda Harvard

Amy Bartol

Angeline Kace

Brina Courtney

Chelsea Fine

Heather Hildenbrand

KC Neal

L.M. Davis

Melanie Niles

Quinn Loftis

Samantha Shakespeare

Tiffany King

Oh and, brown chicken brown cow!

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