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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

YAK Book Signing Extravaganza

Time for math! Stop grumbling, math is very important note the sarcasm. Here we go: All kinds of book people + zero responsibility + extreme nerding out = BOOK FEST!! See, math is good for something. That said, I just went to one of these thingys, and it was an absolute BANGER. Therefore, enjoy my ramblings accompanied by the bazillion selfies I got that day.

My school district, Keller ISD, holds this annual Young Adult Keller Book Fest (or YAK). It’s awesome because there are a whole bunch of authors, from old timers on their twenty-sixth project to newcomers on their debut novel, all come together and interact with our community, engaging specifically with students (which, until this May, includes yours truly.) They include a whole bunch of panels, writing workshops, food, and signing sessions. It's the

I found some of my Frens while struggling with my massive pile of books.

Because I'm insane, I began planning this event about two weeks ahead. Between consulting both my TBR list and the schedule of authors, I blew any Barnes and Noble gift cards I got on four shiny new books: Jackaby by Will Ritter, And I Darken by Kiersten White, The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, and The Serpent King by keynote speaker Jeff Zentner. While managing to consume the first two titles on that list, I planned out my eight hours at the event in full; my poor friends were left to either trail along on my mission or be lost in the dust.

So, naturally, being the ambitious person I am, I made a point to find each author in which I took interest. Consider the fact that I also tugged along the first two novels in Emmy Laybourn’s Monument 14 series and, at the festival, bought How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle. So that totals me up to seven authors. Absolutely positively going to happen.

Here's the man whose brilliant storytelling swindled me out of my money (it was totally worth it.)

I got lost on the way there, but I made it, and after the little “we’re happy book nerds” ceremony, time started ticking. I hit a panel entitled "Shredder's Revenge" with both Ritter and White, and I managed to ask a question thanks to the fact that my English teacher was the moderator (bless you, Mrs. Hopson.) A big insecurity of mine is the fact that I'm so young; some people I ask say it's an advantage in publishing, and others say to keep quiet until I've hooked somebody. It's a mess. So I asked the panel, and got a collective “keep quiet and wait.” I trust these people, they're professionals. All the same, that settled that for about two hours. I'll come back to it.

Me and Real Life Jackaby.

They gave everybody a long lunch break, and afterwards bought us all back together for the keynote. Now, I bought The Serpent King pretty much solely based on the fact that if this guy Zentner was important enough to be they keynote at this whole shebang, he had to have a stellar book to back it up. Oh man, was I right. But I'll wrap back around and conclude on this note at the end, so hang with me.

The AMAZING author of the TERRIFYING Lada and my Cinnamon Bun, Radu.

I got my chance, afterward, to get Jackaby, And I Darken, and The Star Touched Queen signed by their respective authors. Ritter gave the best smile, and something in his rapid speech and the way he held himself spoke of the character Jackaby himself. White, with her stunning rainbow hair, was AWESOME, and she offered some kind advice. Chokshi showed up like a literal ball of fire eager and ready to go. All were some of the friendliest people in existence.


My friends and I headed next to another panel called "A Whole New World," this one including Chokshi, along with some other authors who are most definitely now on my TBR -- Lori Goldstein (Becoming Jinn), Traci Chee (The Reader), Katherine Catmull (The Radiant Road), and Lisa Maxwell (Unhooked). All five of them were all over world building. I, of course, sat in the front row in utter awe.

Again, I asked a question because I'm obnoxious like that. I explained how I'd like to write my YA fantasy to include cultures outside my own, but that I feared unintentionally harming someone through an inaccuracy or stereotypical portrayal. They all agreed that research is key in addition to connecting with people of those cultures and possibly asking them to read my writing. Those are all pieces of great advice, but Chee provided one more truth: Sometimes, stories of other cultures just aren't your story to tell. While I can do my best, I won't always be able to achieve what needs to be achieved. It can be a bit tough to realize that I can't do everything, but it's a fact I'm coming to accept; it's not my place to do otherwise.

Emmy Laybourne is seriously as fun as her writing is HEART-WRENCHING.

I went then to one last panel ("To Infiniy and Beyond"), this one including Laybourn. I loved hearing from all of the authors at the table, but I kept narrowing in on two in particular -- Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg, co-authors of Zenith, which comes out this August. Now, I had no idea who they were, but they both struck me as so incredibly young, and they had an energy that reeled in the audience. That proved me with a spark of interest, so naturally, I headed up to their signing table at the end of the day.

And with that said, back to signings. I found Zentner and thanked him for his keynote, took goofy pictures with Laybourn, and listened in as Tingle read the introduction to his book to a small group. When I rounded back to Cummings and Alsberg, I did so with the intent of asking how they managed to publish at ages not that far from mine.

Look at these talented beauties, everyone.

Here, I got some answers. Cummings recommended writing conferences, like the DFW Writer’s Workshop Convention in May. Alsberg cited traditional querying to her success. Both said they divulged their ages (both 19 at the time of their first publications) in the query. Ultimately, that settled it for me. Knowing that somebody else succeeded by following the same principles my gut told me to allows me to sleep soundly at night. I won’t expand on my age, but I’ll cite my school paper and magazines as publications.

The whole thing was a beautiful explosion of books and sharpies, and I couldn't have expected anything better. But back to the keynote. Zentner’s speech to an auditorium mainly of students and educators honed in not on the importance of reading to read or writing to write, but the importance of doing those things for the sake of empathy. He acknowledged the reality faced by the generations of kids in front of him, and rather than shy away from it, he called them to action. Here's an excerpt from the translation he posted online a couple days later:

“Nothing forces people to confront the humanity of others like engaging with their stories. Art softens hearts and teaches. It raises us up. Even those in the highest seats of power can be wounded and chastened by falling on the wrong side of art. So I hope you’ll let the stories you love take root in you and grow and blossom and bear the fruit of other art. I hope you’ll tell your story so powerfully that no one can deny your humanity or anyone else’s. I hope you’ll tell stories so prescient and wise that no one can deny their lessons. I hope you’ll tell stories so filled with hope that they set a fire in everyone who reads them. I hope you’ll tell stories so filled with goodness that evil withers and turns to ash before them.”
How did I speak to this man in real English after that speech? I do not know.

Wide eyes, sore throats, edge of your seat kind of rhetoric. There was not one person in the room who could've walked out uncharged with inspiration and a sense of power. And that's ultimately what I loved about that entire day -- the feeling of significance and determination that swells in your chest when you see people like you who have achieved what you're trying to achieve for similar reasons you're trying to achieve them. Sometimes, I wondered if I could be alone in the desire to change the world with my words, but now I'm sure I'm in warm and welcoming company.

Although I've been to YAK twice before, this was my best year. That says a lot, considering that when I was a baby freshman, I met Neal Shusterman, my favorite author, before I even knew who he was. But I digress. Book festivals are an amazing way to expand writer's knowledge on the craft, as well as meet tons of inspiring people who aren't much different than yourself.

If anybody else went, I'd love to hear what you have to say! Even if you went to a DIFFERENT book fest, let me know; it would provide more places in which to nerd out. Thanks for reading!!

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