My #UtopYA2014 experience

A few months ago, I received an unexpected honor. Publicist KP Simmon and writer Kallie Ross had nominated me to participate on a panel they would be moderating at the 3rd annual UtopYA Con. Though the convention is themed around supernatural Young Adult and New Adult literature, it’s actually open to all kinds of readers and writers, and my panel was not genre-specific. Through my participation with We Heart YA and #NALitChat, I had been tapped to speak about trends in the YA and NA categories. My fellow panelists were Chelsea Cameron and Rysa Walker.

Nashville is only a 4-hour drive from where I live, so two Fridays ago, I headed down the interstate, singing along to the radio and watching the beautiful Kentucky farmlands and Tennessee forests pass me by. I actually thought I would be arriving too late to see one of the panels that I was most interested in, but it turns out I had forgotten about the time zone change. Lucky me, I made it just in time!

The first day took more out of me, emotionally, than I had anticipated. It was a combination of that high I always get around people who are passionate about stories, and the overwhelmingness of so many new faces. I usually enjoy traveling alone, but in this case, it felt like everyone already knew each other — from previous conventions, or at least from social media — and I was the awkward new kid trying to figure out how/when to jump in.

Fortunately, Magan Vernon recognized me from Twitter and said hello, and her warm, welcoming nature encouraged me to be more outgoing on the second day. For several hours, I set up shop between Tammy Blackwell and Keary Taylor, and the three of us had a nice time chatting while we sold our books. (Or in my case, gave away download keys for Twenty-Somewhere.)

My panel was one of the last of the convention, and I think it went really well. Kallie did a fabulous job moderating, and KP, Chelsea, and Rysa had so many smart things to say. The audience asked great questions, and one woman even came up to speak with me afterward.

I had been live-tweeting throughout the weekend, sharing the best tips and observations, but sadly I couldn’t do that for my own panel. The next day, I noticed that a couple people had quoted me — yay! — so I’ve included those below as well.

My highlights from UtopYA Con 2014:

From Gennifer Albin’s keynote on Saturday morning:

From my panel:

Overall, the convention was a really good experience for me, and I’m so glad that I was invited to participate. From what I saw, the organizers did a great job — it’s no surprise UtopYA has been basically doubling in size from year to year.

I feel like I learned and grew quite a bit over the short weekend. And if nothing else, I got a big laugh out of what happens when 99% of your convention attendees are women:

utopya con 2014 011

Ice cream in Nashville

Dark night, bright parlor, long line. I step in and take my place behind all the couples and families. I am the only one here alone.

Flavors are handwritten on a chalkboard behind the counter. I scan the list, pick two I want to try, and then settle in for the wait. My hands are too full to check email, Twitter, or Facebook, like everyone else is doing. So I default to people-watching and eavesdropping. Common pastimes for a writer.

The girls behind me are trying water yoga tomorrow. One of them can’t swim. Another one is named Avery, and she has the best hair. Wavy and blonde, with a braid framing one side. All of them are stylish and thin, somehow managing to look both hipster and preppy at the same time.

There are a lot of maxi dresses in here.

It’s been a long day, but I’m avoiding my hotel room. I’d thought it would be wonderful to have a clean, quiet space to myself. Somewhere new but predictable. Somewhere without responsibilities.

Instead it feels lonely.

After checking in, I escaped to dinner. I chose a place that I had been to once before, years ago, with people I loved. But even the memories of them aren’t enough to keep me company tonight. I text one and call the other. It helps.

Finally it’s my turn, and I ask for wildberry lavender and “Buckeye State.” I like complementing fruity flavors with chocolate. When the cashier hands me the receipt, I accidentally sign in the wrong place. I feel like an idiot, but she just laughs. It’s a good reminder to find the humor in things.

One day for the two most important men in my life

30 years ago today, a boy was born half a world away. I’m so glad, so lucky, that he found his way to a loving home in Rochester, NY, and eventually to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA, where we would meet as fellow students. Meet, and fall in love, and start a life together, without even realizing that that was what we were doing.

Here’s to 30 more years of loving and living — and 30 more after that.


Of course, I wouldn’t have been at Carnegie Mellon in the first place if it weren’t for my dad. I never meant to follow in his footsteps, but looking back, it’s no wonder that I did. We’re a lot alike, and I’m grateful to have inherited his optimism, his steadiness, and his interest in people’s stories.

I can think of a hundred different ways that my dad has shaped me and my life — and I’m sure there are hundreds more I’ll never know.