WARNING: Long post full of awesome ahead.
Dear Readers, if you have never been to a UtopYA Convention in Nashville, then you're missing out. Seriously missing out. Like you have not LIVED until you've experienced a conference like this one. And for those of you too young to drive, convince your parents, or even your grandparents, to take you next year. You wouldn't be alone! (Earlybird tickets on sale now!)
I attended my first June 18-22, and it will not be my last. This year I decided to drive to the event. Shipping books or paying extra to fly with them is just not my thing. So I planned on loading them in my trunk and found a driving partner via the WE ARE GOING TO UTOPYA Facebook page.
Lisa Graziano and I met at 4:00 a.m. at a Wawa near my house. Now, this was the first time we'd ever met in real life. Could have been awkward beyond belief, sitting in a car ten hours with someone you've never met, especially when you haven't had enough coffee to kickstart your brain. But awkward silences never fell between us. We talked, and we talked, and we talked, until we were so thirsty. Then we drank and talked, and stopped to potty and buy more drinks, and drove and drove and drove through mountains and rain and sn--no snow. Okay, monotonous, I know. Honestly, we made amazing time, just under nine hours (by one minute), and we landed at the Millennium Maxwell House by lunch.
The moment we walked in the door, we saw people hugging and laughing and mingling and smiling. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy. As we stood in line, Eva Pohler walked up to everyone and asked their names. She is such a soft, friendly soul, with a gorgeous smile. Turned out that she and Lisa were Facebook pals (I think Lisa is Facebook pals with everyone <3), and within minutes we were all going to lunch.
Thank God! Something about traveling makes me ravenously hungry.
On our way to food, I met Amy Evans. I've seen her online dressed as an alien, know of her ever-popular #nalitchat events, but I never knew her. She is amazing, full of life, of wonder and love, makes people feel warm and fuzzy when she's near. And she is my new best friend. I realized this two seconds after meeting her. And I think she did too, as we made plans for pedicures, walked around a new city side-by-side, could talk about anything--and never stop, and laugh and laugh and laugh. I even laughed when she banged my beautiful car's door against the car next to us. (Don't worry. No damage to either.)
This was not the end of the Amy and Krystal party, either. We met up again shortly after pedicures in the bar/lounge area. We bounced around from table to table to table, and I ran into people I mostly only (bad, author, two words ending in ly in a row!) recognized by their name tags (and yay for name tags! People do not look like their teeny, tiny avatars). Bethany Lopez! Jackie McPherson (who has reviewed and loved all my books, God bless her). Sharron Riddle. Jamie Ayres (who I've known forever but must mention anyway, because I LOVE HER). Megan Curd. I'm missing like fifty people who I met, but this post is already so long.
We finally settled into a table, and there I met Crystal Bryant. She sat next to me, holding out her hand, and said, "Hello. I'm Crystal." I smiled, shook her hand, and said, "I'm Krystal." A few minutes after that, she was eating aliens. Yep. Meant to be friendship that will last forever.
Friday morning, I had to set up my booth at 6:00 a.m. I made it by 6:30. Not too bad. UtopYA paired me up with a complete stranger! Another possibly awkward moment that was made awesomesauce by non other than Inger Iverson, who I may or may not have called Iver Ingerson as the day went on and I'd talked so much I couldn't possibly keep talking. But somehow did. She'd heard my sales pitches so much throughout the day that she told me to go get breakfast and lunch (at 4:00 p.m.) and she'd hold down the fort. And she did. Because she rocks. Because INGER! She has the absolute coolest book trailer I've ever seen! Be prepared for shock-value! (PS, you might want to keep all models away from her as she tends to think she's married to them all.) (PPS, you might want to keep all Tennessee Titans away from her as she thinks they're adorable--which OMG THEY ARE--and didn't want to let them go. Who can blame her?)
I mean TENNESSEE TITANS held my books and posed for pictures. By the way, if you've entered my Goodreads contests, and you actually win, just know that your books have been touched by authors, football players, models, and so many more as they've traveled with me to conventions!
Have I forgotten to mention that the table Inger and I shared was right next to Amy Evans? I mean, is that fate or what? She even brought me coffee and picked up my registration bag for me. (Amy and I are running away together forever.)
So what could be more awesome than hanging out with all of these authors, football players, and models? Meeting the fans, of course. Kendall McCubbin traveled all the way from SCOTLAND. She'd pre-ordered my books and visited my table, and smiled and looked so sweet and innocent I just wanted to hug her, which I did. Her mom gets credit for being the most understanding, supportive mom ever. I mean, all the way from Scotland.
I sold a ton of books Friday, and then I sold some more during the Fan Invasion event that evening, where I sat next to Magan Vernon and her cover model. She may have dropped pizza on my foot, punched me while I gave my pitch to potential buyers, repeated herself so many times I couldn't stop laughing. Funny chick! She later stole my Morgan Faufaw (best blogger EVER!) and Amy Evans and took them out clubbing. What happens in UtopYA, stays in UtopYA. They should hope.
For Friday night (like late night) costume karaoke, I donned some crazy alien makeup and headed to the bar, where I realized quickly I was too tired to do much of anything. So I went to bed.
Saturday was a whole new experience, because my books were packed up in my room, and I got to enjoy the event from a different perspective. As an attendee. The panels were jam-packed with people and informative. The atmosphere was again relaxed, and everyone participated during Q&A.
Amy and I met up for lunch with Tracy Banghart and Amber Garr. (We are the Fab4. Don't ask. We just are.) The conversation flowed easily between all of us, and leaving the restaurant proved to be a difficult task. But we had to. Other people needed our table so they could eat. From there, Amy and I visited all the other exhibitor tables. I saw authors I've only heard about and been distant friends with on Facebook, and yet somehow I stayed shy and barely spoke. I'm a talker, so I don't know what was wrong with me. Wow. There's just so much that happened at this event, I can't even fit it all in this ridiculously long post. I mean, Tia, Jo Michaels, PK Hrezo, Carlyle Labuschagne,I haven't forgotten you.
Janet Wallace, you throw an amazing conference. Your Saturday night awards ceremony was so much fun! I missed all the dance party excitement because I crashed early so I could make the drive home Sunday morning. Next year, though, I might ship my books and fly. I don't want to miss a thing. We'll see. We shall see.
To all the new buddies I made, to every reader who isn't sure if they should come, SEE YOU NEXT YEAR. I mean it. No excuses. Just go. You will not be sorry.