Dear UtopYA 2014,
I’ve been thinking long and hard on how to describe what last weekend meant to me. There are so many things I want to convey. This letter is for you.
You inspired me.
Seeing so many women in one place, with different life stories, connect and learn and support one another, is easily the best thing I took away from UtopYA. I’m still in awe over these women who write, read, and support the hell out of each other. This community is something unlike any other and I am so grateful to now be a part of it. It was never about “me or I,” but rather “we” as everyone connected and asked how they could help in their friend’s journey. I also learned at UtopYA that there is no set idea of plots and stories – each writer has a wild story in their head and readers are eager to read them all. It didn’t matter that they’d just bought a dystopian novel at the table behind me – they were ready to read a circus or mermaid book as much as the dystopia. THAT is inspiring, to see that there truly are readers for every type of story.
You introduced me to friends old and new.
Not only was I able to connect with friends I’d been chatting online with for years, but I also met a bunch of new friends. Everyone raved about the welcoming and warm atmosphere, but you don’t really KNOW it until you’re there. The “lift as you climb” motto is evident; I already know that women can get along (despite the joke about there being so many women in a room together), but this event makes it more obvious. They are supportive and enthusiastic, and the only shouting I heard was the squealing from excited women reuniting or fangirling over common interests. I have gotten so excited each time someone new requests to be my Facebook friend, because I already can’t wait to see them in person next year as we get to know each other over time.
You motivated me.
Come hell or high water, I WILL have another book – hopefully 2 – out by UtopYA 2015. That’s in part thanks to you, who showed me that while I may work on my own timelines, it’s me and only me that can get it done. The panels were informational and different from anything I’d ever participated in. Nothing was about craft – everyone assumed you already had your ish together. The focus was about making your mark once you had your books out, and I loved that we didn’t have to remind writers to edit their work or not put out shitty covers. It’s expected we already know that – and we SHOULD. Information was new and I loved that it wasn’t really stuff you could get off Google. These were practical lessons from learned writers who are blazing paths and sharing their knowledge with others. We were encouraged to ask questions, but also to answer those which others didn’t know. I learned new things from every panel I attended and have already eagerly jumped into applying the lessons. And when readers asked when the next book would be out? Talk about a fire under my ass. There’s nothing more motivating than people who genuinely want your next story.
You accepted me.
Much like my protagonist Lucy rejoins the circus hoping to belong, I too walked into each room with trepidation, nervous about what to expect. While the acrobats may have given her a dirty look, instead I was met with smiles and hugs, even from perfect strangers. No matter our appearance, religious or political beliefs, location, lifestyle or gender preferences, we all went in knowing we had one major thing in common: we love books. Didn’t necessarily matter what kind, either, and I loved the diversity across the board of book options. That in itself was a unifying factor, bringing us together no matter our backgrounds. And that’s just as a reader – as an author, well, I’m still reeling from the acceptance of my tiny little self into the big wide world of UtopYA readers.
You believed in me.
As an indie author, I’ve never felt more accepted within a group of authors, both indie and traditionally published. It didn’t matter how we got the book out – what mattered was that we had a great story to share with others. My community at home is fantastic, but every once in a while I get that feeling that I’m not good enough because I’m self-published. UtopYA killed that stigma dead – I felt like a somebody, not only because some readers recognized me or my books, but also because those who hadn’t heard of me still welcomed me with open arms and took a chance on my books. I lost count of the people who raved over my table, who complimented my branding, who came back around to buy a book because the covers sucked them in each time they passed me. These are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I’m convinced of it.
You made me a believer.
I came in a little shy, a little nervous. I left with my head high and a stupid grin on my face. I even had a few tears in my eyes, because I was sad it was over and we have to wait a whole year for the next adventure. You made me a believer, not just in UtopYA or the readers and friends, but in myself. My confidence is higher than it’s ever been and I wouldn’t have that without you. I absolutely left with a UtopYA hangover, wherein I couldn’t stop obsessing over new friends and photos, what I’d learned, and what I will now plan in my future. I believe.
I already bought my ticket for 2015. I’ve set personal and professional goals, as it seems most of us have, and am determined to follow through. Not because I feel I “have” to, but because I genuinely want to. I want to impress and inspire as much as I’ve had done to me.
Ladies, I can’t wait to see you next year. Thank you for being you. Here are a few shots from the weekend that I’ll never forget – and that I’m excited to have again in 2015.
Special thanks to: Erin Hayes, for being a great table mate on Friday; I had so much fun with you! Bethany Lopez, for hanging out with me. Ethan Gregory, for making me feel like a somebody and his enthusiasm over my circus series. Michelle Files, for taking the time to chat with me at the dance party. Michele Miller, for inviting me to sit with her at karaoke rather than letting me hide in my room. Shana Benedict, for cracking me up with her hot boy talk and featuring Gifted on her $0.99 books blog post the day of my signing.
And finally, Janet Wallace, for putting the whole damn thing together like a boss.