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

7 responses to “My #UtopYA2014 experience”

  1. Anthony Lee Collins Avatar

    Sounds like a great weekend!

    “I like characters who are gay, but they’re not The Gay Character.” One of my pet peeves. It makes me think of the stock “gay best friend” character in movies — the one who’s there to give advice to the lead but who won’t have much of a separate life. I often have characters where it’s not obvious at once that they’re gay — because they have a lot of other aspects and characteristics.

    Oh, and yes, write something that isn’t trendy. For one thing, it’ll be better, and for another, that’s how all the trends started in the first place. :-)

    1. Kristan Avatar

      “that’s how all the trends started in the first place” — So true!

  2. Juliann Avatar

    UtopYA2014 sounds like a great experience and you sound very happy. Living the writer’s life, for sure. I’m envious.

  3. Shari Avatar

    Oh, I LOVE that quote about hope. It’s so very true.

    The whole convention sounds wonderful. Initial loneliness aside, it must have been such an invigorating and exciting experience to be with so many fellow writers and readers, and especially to take part in the panel. And Nashville? Extra bonus points for that! Glad you had a great time!

    1. Kristan Avatar

      Lol, you’re quite in love with the city, aren’t you?

  4. Jonathan Avatar

    That sounds like fun. Congrats. Is this your first time on a panel?

    1. Kristan Avatar

      Yes, it was! I thought I’d mentioned that, but I guess not, haha.