In the last week of June, I drove from Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee to participate in one of my favorite events, UtopYA. UtopYA Con 2013, is a convention for female authors of paranormal stories involving romance, dystopian futures, vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, and demigods, (and everything in between), and the fans who love them. It took place on the summer solstice...in Nashville...can you say, "OMG!!! HOW DO YOU PEOPLE LIVE HERE? THE HEAT, MY GOD, THE HEAT!"
When I stepped out of my car, I could cut the humidity with a knife. It didn't help that I'd been writing all spring in an air-conditioned house. This is the reason I have crazy Einstein hair in all of the pictures I'm going to post below. Suffice to say, it was hella hot, but Nashville is so incredibly amazing and I was so excited to be there that I got over it quickly. (My hair never did.)
In reality, I wouldn't miss this conference for the world. I absolutely love UtopYA Con for one simple reason: it helped me launch my marketing career as an author in 2012. The information, techniques, and networking opportunities afforded at that one event have led to some of my dearest friendships, collaborations, marketing strategies, and a whole host of other unique opportunities that could not have been gained elsewhere.
I went a few days early so that I could spend time with two of my very best friends, Georgia Cates and Shelly Crane. Georgia and I met for the first time in person at UtopYA Con 2012. Our connection was instant. Since then, we've been nearly inseparable. Most of my signings are with Georgia; we're roomies and it's sort of ridiculous that we always show up at events with at least one identical item of clothing. We don't shop together. It just happens. Georgia writes paranormal fiction, but she has recently crossed over to the adult contemporary romance genre and has had HUGE success with her Beauty Series.
I love Shelly Crane's guts. She's the author of the Significance Series (among a ton of others). We first met through Twitter. She followed me one day, and I about lost my mind over it. I private messaged her with this tweet: Umm, do you know who you are because I do?!!! She overlooked my tweet's bad grammar and we became friends.
From that day on, I've badgered her with questions about writing, publishing, and marketing. She finally decided to create a secret group on Facebook for us to chat. She pulled me into it and then added Quinn Loftis (Grey Wolves Series). From there, Georgia Cates (The Vampire Agape Series), Angeline Kace (Vampire Born Trilogy), Michelle Leighton (Blood Like Poison, Wild Ones), Rachel Higginson (The Star-Crossed Series), Samantha Young (Fire Spirits Series, On Dublin Street), and Lila Felix (Love and Skate Series) have found their way into the group. We call ourselves the Indie Hellcats (because when the group started, we were all Indie authors, and if you know anything about Indies it's this: once an Indie, always an Indie at heart.) We chat online pretty much every day. I'm grateful for the Hellcats' guidance and support. I cherish it.
On Thursday night, I was thrilled to be able to go to dinner with most of the Hellcats. (Samantha Young was sleeping off jet lag after her crazy flight from Scotland and Quinn had family obligations that kept her occupied. We missed them like crazy!!) **NOTE: If anyone has the opportunity to go to dinner with Michelle Leighton, jump on that! She is the funniest girl on the PLANET!!
Thursday night was magical for another reason. After dinner with the Hellcats, I bumped into the keynote speaker of the conference, Jennifer Armentrout, in the lobby of my hotel (she's the author of the Covenant Series and the Lux Series.) She's brilliant and funny, and it was something I will never forget. I really enjoyed her speech on Friday morning. Like most authors who have achieved her level of success, it was a tale of risk, perseverance, drive, cunning, and the keen ability to adapt to the constant changes in the publishing industry by recognizing new trends and opportunities.
Once the conference began on Friday, I finally met the writing team behind Riana Lucas. We've chatted online since 2011 when our debut novels, Inescapable and Poppy (The Deadly Flower Series), first released on Amazon, but finally meeting Nichole and Angela in person was amazing!
Friday and Saturday were absolutely insane. I was on 5 panels at UtopYA this year: Music As Muse, Blog Your Face Off, Casting Your Characters, The Swagger of Swag, and Story Frenzy. The picture below is a particular favorite of mine because, not only was I on a panel with BRILLIANT authors, I also met the cover model, Collin Patrick, from Frankie Rose's The Hope Series. Swoon!! (Look at me!! I could hardly look at him because I had to act professional. Every time I glanced his way I'd lose my train of thought.)
Here's another pic of Collin. He's obscenely handsome. He should do the world a favor and eat a donut or two. Am I wrong?
Another crazy panel that I was on was called Story Frenzy. This is where the panelists and the audience collectively create the outline of a story. Once the basis of the story is hashed out, the panelist then leave the conference and continue to work on the story. How do we do that, you may ask? We've decided that, unlike last year where they used Twitter and hashtags to continue the story, this year a Tumblr site will be created to write the collaborative story with each author contributing a scene in a round-robin type fashion. I haven't gotten my official instructions on this yet, but when I do, I'll post it here so that you can follow the story. I may need your input on it so I'll probably pole you from time to time to get your ideas.
But in between the panels, I had a chance to hang out with my pals. I went to lunch with Samantha Young, Georgia Cates, and Shelly Crane. Since I'm such an excellent driver, I ran a red light and had to explain to Samantha that people are really super friendly in Nashville. They like to honk at people from Scotland to welcome them to our country. It's just southern hospitality. I don't think she bought it.
And just when I thought I couldn't love Samantha more, she shows up in a RAMONES t-shirt. Gah!!! She's epic!! By the way, you have to excuse this picture. They caught us while we were laughing our faces off, so we sort of look insane. I'm standing next to Tammy Blackwell, who is possibly one of the coolest people on the planet. She wrote The Timber Wolves Trilogy. You should check it out. Tiffany King is hilarious, too. Her most recent book is entitled No Attachments.
I spent the rest of my time sharing an author table and signing books with my amazing friends Christie Rich and Nancy Straight. So many fan-freaking-tastic readers came to chat with us!!!
There were so many great moments and incredible people at UtopYA Con 2013 that I can't possibly talk about them all. UtopYA Con is anti-exclusivity. By that, I mean: authors hang out with bloggers, who hang out with fans, who hand out with exhibitors, and no one is excluded. People travel in clumps. Thus, the motto generated there: Expand your clump.
By the time the awards ceremony rolled around on Saturday night my hair had grown to epic heights of crazy, but there had been no way I was missing the event. I knew a secret going into the awards: Amanda Havard, the talented author of the Survivor Series, had been covertly working on several songs for the show; one of which she and I co-wrote based on the Premonition Series entitled "Darkness in the Light." (And when I say co-wrote, I mean she basically wrote it with me saying, "That's freaking crazy-good, Amanda. Go with that.") When Amanda sang that night, she gave me goose bumps. I'm in awe of her talent.
I have another secret, look for an announcement on July 25th regarding our collaboration!!! (I'm not supposed to say more than that or I would!!)
So, now I need to write about your part in all of this. (I saved this until close to the end because I'm already totally bawling while I'm writing this, like I knew I would). It's the most wonderful thing in the world to get to do something that I love. I crawl inside my imagination and play around with my messed-up masterpieces that I once thought would only make sense to me. I've been creating worlds since I was a kid, hiding in them, hosting banquets for characters of my own making. I had no idea when I finally decided to write them down that other people would be able to find their way into those worlds, too. But you peeked in the bolthole, and then slipped through, and now they're yours as much as they are mine. That's more than I could've asked for out of life. But you went one better. You collectively got together and decided you'd give me more gifts. Because of you and your votes, Incendiary won awards for Best Book Cover of the Year and Best Villain of the Year: Brennus! Thank you for these honors. I see them as a testament to your generosity. I am extremely grateful.
One of the luckiest days of my life was when I met Janet Wallace, the massive talent behind UtopYA and her marketing company Social Deviants. She allowed me to participate in the awesomeness that is UtopYA. For that, I will always be grateful. If you attend the conference, you'll be sucked into the "Janet Wallace radius" where talented people tend to gravitate and everything travels at light speed while you're wrung out and stretched to meet your creative potential...and you'll leave thinking, That was awesome. I think I'll go take over the world now.
If you're a writer, an aspiring writer, or someone who just wants to hang out with writers, go to this event in 2014. You won't be disappointed. Tickets are on sale NOW!! Get them HERE: UtopYA Con 2014!
I'm currently working on a short story that will be featured in an anthology. Proceeds of the anthology will benefit the conference next year. The story has to be about aliens! I'm going to have so much fun with it. The only problem is the word count can only be 8K to 10K. My shortest Premonition book is 140K. I don't think they realized that when they asked me. I'm sort of laughing my head off trying to channel my inner O.Henry. Too bad that it's my inner Hemingway with his freaky six-toed cats that keep showing up. Like Tolstoy: War and I Come In Peace, Baby.