Friends. Wow. Where to even begin?
This weekend, I drove down to Corpus Christi to be a signing author and a panelist for the third annual Teen Bookfest by the Bay. It was my first time so I had no idea what to expect.
I don’t know how else to say this other than it was one of them most incredible experiences of my life.
It all began with a welcome dinner at the Art Museum of South Texas, where the event coordinators and sponsors had put together a wonderful meal (plus chocolate-covered strawberries!).
Each author was also presented with our very own swag bags, complete with snacks, chocolate, t-shirts, name badges, water bottles, and sea shells. Let me tell you, I have never felt so spoiled in my life.
After dinner (and a quick trip down to the water’s edge to take pictures of the USS Lexington lit up in blue, it was back to the hotel.
Sadly, my straight hair, which had been so beautiful, was no match for Corpus Christi humidity. That’s okay. I’ll straighten it for Comic Con.
The next morning, we were all awake bright and early. Early enough, even, to watch the sun rise over the water from my hotel balcony.
Then, it was off to the festival. Before breakfast (again, provided by our sponsors and the wonderful librarians who organized the event), I dropped my books off with the others at the sales table. It was then that I began to realize that I recognized several of the titles being sold alongside mine. One of which happened to be one of my favorite books of all time, Seven Tears into the Sea by Terri Farley.
“Wait a minute… Is she here?!” I gasped.
That’s when I remembered that the day before, when I’d first arrived at the hotel, I’d ridden up the elevator with a woman named Terri. I’d been chatting with a woman who’d written one of my favorite books and I hadn’t even realized it.
Needless to say, I completely fangirled out when I met her for the second time. Terri Farley, it turns out, is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. She’s also a huge animal lover and has written a non-fiction book called Wild Horses. I can’t wait to read it. It’s a beautiful books and features photographs by a National Geographic wildlife photographer, basically my dream job.
After a brief welcome, it was time for our first panel. Now, I’ve never been one for public speaking. I remember in college, I would prepare slide shows so I would have something to read. But my fellow authors on the panel, Laura Stampler and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, were so friendly and wonderful and sweet. They made me feel right at ease and we spent most of our panels laughing. And talking about books, of course.
At first, I’ll admit, I felt a lithe intimidated. After all, Laura is published by Simon & Schuster and Guadalupe has won multiple, and I do mean MULTIPLE awards. I’m just a little indie author from a small town north of Dallas. In what universe was I worthy to sit next to them and act like I deserved to be there?
But then I thought to myself, “You know what? No. You worked your butt off to get here. You and all the indies. You’re out there every day fighting the stigma that independent authors aren’t as good as those who’ve been traditionally published when you know that that simply isn’t true. Not just because you love your books, but because you’ve read and loved so many other indie books.”
So instead of sheepishly admitting that I’d published my own books, I proudly told our audiences that I’d learned the ins and outs of publishing, marketing, formatting, and cover design. I told them of my friends and colleagues in the independent community who’ve written fantastic books, ones that I recommend over and over and over again. I told them of the anthologies to which I’ve contributed, including Ever in the After, a charity anthology that will benefit Lift 4 Autism.
When my panel wasn’t presenting, I snuck upstairs to listen to my friend Miracle Austin’s panel. She (and this is where I get to start name-dropping) shared a panel with multi-bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.
Seriously, this guy has done it all. I can’t even begin to list his titles, awards, accomplishments, Marvel comics, X-Files, all this super cool amazing stuff. And the best part of all is he’s SUCH a cool, nice person! As I was on the escalator back down to the first floor, I noticed him walking by. Being the elegant and mature grown-up person that I am, I yelled out, “Mr. Maberry!” and began running UP the escalator that was going down.
I introduced myself not as Jacqueline Smith, but as Miracle Austin’s friend, and basically fangirled all over the place. But seriously, how else do you act around such a legend?
Speaking of Miracle, I just have to take a moment to thank her. Not only for her unconditional love and friendship, but for telling me about Teen Bookfest by the Bay in the first place. Without her, I would never have known to send in my name and my books. Not only is she an absolutely amazing author (Jonathan Maberry even says so!), she’s the most genuine, sweet, wonderful, sparkly person you will ever meet. I am so fortunate to be able to call her my friend. She’s a rare one.
I have so many other stories I could tell you from this weekend. I met Ann Redisch Stampler, author of After Party, Where it Began, and How To Disappear. Again, one of the absolute sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. I ate lunch with Diana Lopez, whose novel, Choke, became the Lifetime Original Movie The Choking Game. I reconnected with my friend, Amanda M. Thrasher, author of The Greenlee Project which, in my humble opinion, should also be a Lifetime Original Movie. I met other amazing and sweet and friendly authors like Manuel Ruiz, Brendan Kiely (rhymes with smiley), and illustrator Evan Turk. And again, the best part was how genuinely NICE and open and inviting these exceptionally talented authors are. God, I felt so accepted and welcome and fortunate. What an incredible experience. Truly.
Finally, the amazing librarians, Debbie Carroll VanZandt and her team are simply the best in the world. They genuinely love and care about their kids and work tirelessly to promote reading and literacy and to make reading fun for these teens. And wow, do they know how to make authors feel spoiled and special. We wanted for nothing all weekend. Honestly, I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
All I can truly say is that I’m counting down the days until next year! Thank you all again for the experience of a lifetime. It’s one that I will never forget.