BTAF ’16 Panels

The Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF) is a yearly event that celebrates YA fiction in the Boston area, aimed at connecting the Boston-area YA fanbase with the best authors in the industry. This is the second year I’ve attended, and for me, it’s a great opportunity to keep abreast of interesting ideas and trends in my industry, meet authors whom I’ve either only met online or who write books I admire, and come home with a bunch of book swag! (Because you can never have enough books, right? RIGHT?)

Michael Buckley, Malinda Lo, Victoria Schwab

The first panel I attended was titled “Speculative Fiction Reflecting Our World,” and consisted of Victoria/V.E. Schwab, Malinda Lo, and Michael Buckley. First, the authors spoke about what drew them to speculative fiction. Schwab spoke about always wanting the world to be a little stranger than it was, and wanting to explore the notion that magic is just out of reach, accessible if only you knew how to reach behind the curtain. Lo noted the ability of fantastical elements in contemporary settings to allow for use of metaphor, which heightens the experience of the story. Buckley spoke about growing up as “basically one of those kids in Stranger Things” and loving the iconic battle between good and evil.

The authors then spoke about how speculative fiction, without being “supposed to” do anything, has the ability to reflect the real world through a fresh lens. Fantastical elements, whether they are science fiction or fantasy, challenge the reader to think about things they think they know in a different way. And while Schwab particularly noted that for her stories, escapism comes first, tragedies, pains, and issues, when presented in new worlds, take on new meaning. And while Lo pointed out that there are “no new ideas,” taking what’s been done in and presenting it in new ways offers a base of familiarity when including “alien” elements. Buckley wrapped up the discussion by saying that ultimately, speculative fiction is about being human, and these stories show you yourself in one way or another. Love, hate, war; all aspects of the human experience are reflected through a lens in speculative fiction.

Roshani Chokshi, Zoraida Cordova, Daniel Jose Older

Later, I attended a panel entitled “Magic Beyond the Grave,” with panelists Roshani Chokshi, Zoraida Cordova, and Daniel Jose Older. The authors began by discussing the role of Death in teen fiction. Cordova noted how this common thread relates to young adults’ often complicated relationships with their ancestors and families, coupled with the burgeoning realization of their own mortality. Older spoke more specifically about how the presence of underworlds and death in his book took its power from the counter-narrative, specifically relating to his POC characters. For him, a traditional ghost story was too simplistic, and allowing his characters to embody a more complex relationship with the dead explored notions of power and ancestry in non-White narratives.

Chokshi then pointed out how reactions to and celebrations regarding death differ across the cultural spectrum. In Hindu belief, for example, death is a door to a new life, and the final release is an escape from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. For her, this opened up interesting avenues in her own fiction, as she explored notions of shadows, memories, and who we might have been before. She also spoke about how in so many underworld narratives, female characters are the closest to death and other aspects of the supernatural, and wanting to explore female power with regards to this; what if Persephone was not tricked, but had chosen to rule over the dead instead of living a mortal life with no power? Cordova expanded this point by mentioning that often, that which is forbidden to women in mythology, fiction, and even reality, is power, and denying it is a kind of internalized misogyny. Older agreed, saying that in his book, the patriarchy denies ancestral magic to women, thereby denying them links to both the supernatural and, via their ancestors, death itself.

The authors wrapped up the session speaking about their writing processes. While Cordova is a die-hard outliner, and relies on lots of planning to keep her on track, Chokshi  stressed the importance of flow; “remember the Orpheus myth, and never look back.” Older emphasized that regardless of your process, you should honor your work, trust yourself, LOVE your writing, and give yourself permission to create art.

Overall, the festival was another great experience and I came away with a lot to think about regarding the stories I want to tell! Have you been to any great panels recently? Let me know in the comments!

Conventions 101: I Forget How to Human

For the last five years, I’ve been trying to attend one convention every year.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for someone with nearly debilitating social anxiety, it’s a huge achievement and a measure of my commitment to my work. This year, I’m attending four cons of various types, including one for fiber artists, one for pagans, GenCon, and World Fantasy. That’s a record for me, and I have very mixed feelings about it.

Cons are great. They’re a chance to meet people, to learn things, to get new ideas, to see individuals we look up to, to enrich friendships and connections we can now make over the internet. But they’re also expensive, exhausting, and stressful, at least for someone who has actual sobbing meltdowns when she has too much social interaction.

When I say I have near-debilitating social anxiety, I don’t mean I get butterflies about going to parties. I mean my hands shake when I call to order pizza. I mean I once rode a bus its entire route because I needed to interview the driver and I was too scared to talk to her. I mean I cry when my friends want too much of my time. Talking to people I don’t know actively frightens me.

I’m not playing around when I say I’m introverted and shy. I’ve come out of my shell a lot in the last decade, primarily because I worked as a reporter—which, in retrospect, was not a brilliant career choice—and I had to talk to people if I wanted to do my job.

So, for me, going to cons is a bit of an endurance test. Over the years, however, I’ve learned a few things about how to do it without inducing nervous paroxysms of overstimulation.

  1. If you’re attending with a friend, explain to them that you may need breaks. Hell, even if you’re not attending with a friend, if you need a break, explain to your companions that you need some time to yourself. Most humans understand that other humans need rest.
  2. Actually get some rest. Parties last all night, and most of the fun that’s had at cons is had at those parties. But the human brain mends itself or something while we sleep (ask a scientist if you want details), so even if you’re sleeping during the day, make sure you’re getting some sleep.
  3. Don’t feel like you need to do everything. Not really all that interested in “Underwater Basket Weaving in Ancient Civilizations” or “Flax: From Plant to Garment”? Well, you can skip those panels. Yes, I know you paid for the con, and that includes all of the panel topics, but you really don’t have to attend every single session.
  4. Remember that other people are people, too. For every terrified soul like myself, there’s at least one extroverted person who will introduce herself and take you around to meet all her friends. And really, if you introduce yourself to a terrified soul like me, I’ll introduce you to my friends, too. I’ll just be quaking in my boots while I do it.
  5. Learn your triggers and your warning signals. Does loud music stress you out? Maybe cut out of the dance party early. Do you get a headache when you’re reaching the breaking point? Time to bail. This one is tough, and it takes some trial and error, but you have to know yourself to be able to take care of yourself.
  6. Finally, learn to say yes—and no. If you’re not at your limit, saying yes to a random invite may just set you down a path to meet your new best friend. But if you are at your limit, saying no can keep you from having a bad con experience when you could have had a great one.

Honestly, if I can survive four cons in one year, anyone can do it. And remember, if you are a person who enjoys making new connections, reach out to someone you don’t know—your act of friendliness may save one person from a terrible, lonely experience.

Do you work the con circuit? What are your survival tips?


I’m doing something scary


That’s right, my tiny beach town, Ventura, has their own Comic Con – Central Coast Comic Con, or C4 for short – and it is this month. The last weekend of the month to be exact and little ol’ me will be attending as an author.


I will have my very own table in Artists’ Alley with stacks and stacks of books surrounding me, ready for signing and sale. I have my special, color-coordinated Sharpies. I have buttons and bookmarks and I’ll have candy to entice passersby. I have little stands to make my books more visible. I have my magic card swiper and a cash box all ready. I have my outfits pretty much planned out – including a shirt advertising the trilogy I’m hawking. I even have tiny Moo business cards.


I am ready!


I can’t believe how nervous I am. I’m questioning what the hell was I thinking when I told Kris, the head honcho of C4, that I wanted to attend when he said they love having locals there.

Why, why did I sign up? I AM SO PANICKED.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done anything like this before. I have this horrible fear that I’m gonna lug in 55 copies of my books Friday morning only to lug out 55 copies of my books Sunday afternoon because I am going to sit there for three days with no one stopping by my table. Maybe they’ll take a free bookmark and a piece of candy but then they’ll mosey on down the alley.

I’m not an artist who can take commissions and sell them. I’m not a comic book author. I’m not very well known – most of my readers who have actively reached out to me seem to be in England and on the East Coast. What the hell was I thinking?!

But I’m doing it. Even if I don’t sell one book. Even if all I get out of the weekend is a selfie with Doug Jones or sitting on Baby (the Impala from Supernatural – yes one of the actual cars the boys sat in on the show), because I’m definitely trying for that. I’m doing it because maybe it’ll be good exposure, maybe I’ll make some contacts, maybe I will sell one copy of my books to someone who really, really loves them and that’ll make it worth all this anxiety. Right?

So yeah, if you’re anywhere nearby that weekend, come down, it’s way less intimidating that SDCC and it should be a good time. Also, I’ll have candy.

HNS 2015 Conference Wrap Up

HNS2015-logo_nd-300x102Hard to believe that the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference (in Denver) started a week ago today. Talk about a jam-packed four days! I learned so much and met so many wonderful authors. This was my first one and I will forever treasure it.

Here’s a rough idea of how the conference went and my personal highlights:

Thursday – Travel day and dinner at the fabulous Oceanaire restaurant (foie gras, stuffed sole and Prosecco). Went to see the one-man play Defending the Caveman. So hilarious! I recommend it to anyone!

CW Gortner giving the opening speech
CC Humphreys giving the opening speech

Friday – Eight hours of pre-conference workshops with Larry Brooks on story structure. It didn’t occur to me until the workshop started that he’s one of the authors whose books I’m reading as part of my DIY MFA program. This man is amazing. His theories, along with those of Michael Hauge, have finally gotten me to understand the craft part of writing. I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to my next book!

The highlight of the evening was getting to hear Shakespearean actor/writer C.C. Humphreys read his poem “We Are Historical Novelists.” I’m going to frame a copy of it and may even get part of it tattooed on me eventually.

Saturday – The day of many workshops began at 7 a.m. These are the ones I attended:

  • A special session on how to build an audience before you get published, which had some great marketing ideas.
  • Primary sources beyond Google for American histfic, where I learned about census records, city directories, newspapers, databases and archives and how to access them. Very cool! I know I will use this for my next American novel (which will be the novel after this one)
  • Right to left -GJillian Bagwell, CW Gortner, Margaret George, Patricia Bracewell
    Right to left – Gillian Bagwell, CW Gortner, Margaret George, Patricia Bracewell

    How to write historical fiction without the famous. I won’t be doing a lot of this because I don’t use many fictional historical characters, but it was still interesting to learn what readers want vs. what writers want to write. After this one entered the Q&A stage, I popped into the agent/editors panel where they all talked about how much they want WWI and WWII era books, hence I’m focusing on my WWII book next. (Wait until I can give you the synopsis. I don’t think this angle has been done before.)

  • Taking biography and turning it into historical fiction. This was one of my most highly anticipated sessions, as this is how I write my histfic. I didn’t take many notes, which must mean I’m doing something right, but the big highlight was hearing Margaret George speak.
  • An author I'd never heard of gave me this!
    An author I’d never heard of gave me this. Definitely a sign from the Universe!

    Selling historical fiction: the good, the bad and the ugly – This was by far my favorite panel, mainly because the panelists were so honest.  C.W. Gortner, whom I love, talked about how it took him five agents and 15 years to get published. Donna Russo Morin, whom I fell in love with, talked about her agent/publisher horror stories. These all made me feel my better about my own bumpy journey. My biggest takeaway was that there are no “overnight” or “out of the blue” success stories. Those books have $100,000 marketing budgets behind them that the houses keep quiet about.

  • Midwifery – this panel was really cool. Got to hear how it evolved (or not) from the 15th century BCE to the 17th century CE. This was the most factual and the one I took the most notes on that day. Diana Gabaldon moderated the panel. I didn’t meet her, but she seemed very nice and was gracious with everyone.
  • Keeping historical fiction real and relevant – I finally got to meet Patricia Bracewell before this panel! We’ve been friends on twitter for ages, but to finally meet her was a dream come true. She is so kind and supportive! The panel was great. Key takeaway: do your best to get rid of your hindsight and live the story as your characters do, biases, worldview and all.
Patricia Bracewell and I - I love this lady so much!
Patricia Bracewell and me – I love this lady so much!

After this was the author signing, were over 50 authors gathered and you could buy their books and talk with them. I bought about 10 books, plus the three I had with me to get signed. Highlights were hanging out with Patricia Bracewell (she asked me to!), meeting CW Gortner and finally getting to meet online friends JF Ridgley, Helen Hollick and Allison Morton in person.

Author Stephanie Carroll and me
Author Stephanie Carroll and me

We had a formal dinner with an awards ceremony, period costume pageant and sex scene readings that night. One of my fellow speakers at a St. Louis festival was one of the finalist for the awards! The highlight of my evening was meeting author Stephanie Carroll when she sat next to me at dinner. She taught me a lot about self-publishing and made it seem really doable. I’m not ready yet, but I’m more open to it than I’ve ever been. I hope she and I can stay in touch!

Sunday – I attended only one workshop, Writing Women in the West, as my next book (after the WWII one) will be a quasi-western. One of the speakers was really good, giving lots of detail on the different types of boomtowns and gamblers in the west. Next, I attended a Q&A session with an agent, which was not as helpful as I would have liked.

My carry-on - about 12 books, weighing in at about 15 lbs!
My carry-on, about 12 books, weighing in at about 15 lbs!

After that, my introverted self was done. I had to take a nap and get some alone time. Then my roomate, Tessa, and I went into downtown Denver to hang out. We visited the famous bookstore Tattered Cover, and of course, bought more books. Then on our way to a wine bar, I tripped over the sidewalk and came down hard on my already bruised knees (did a faceplant at work the week before). So we ended up eating at a local Italian place that was amazing.

I had to leave at 6 a.m. the next morning. I honestly haven’t really downloaded all the information I acquired at this conference yet. It was well worth the time and money and I will definitely be attending next year’s conference in Oxford, England. I already have my first $50 put away!

I have handouts from most of the workshops, so if you want any of them, just let me know.

What conferences have you been to as a writer or reader that you particularly enjoyed? How do you maximize your time there? What’s your favorite part?