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feeling like a real writer at YALLSTAYHOME a.k.a. YALLWest

I have not felt more at home than I did this past weekend during YALLSTAYHOME. It is normally called YALLWest and would have taken place at Santa Monica, but due to the coronavirus, it became YALLSTAYHOME in the format of several consecutive Zoom meetings. Attendees could pick and register for the specific meeting they wanted to attend and registration could include entering to win some of the fun book giveaways if so desired. YALLWest is the sister festival to YALLFest and both festivals are celebrations of the reading and writing world, with a focus on YA authors. I registered for as many panels I was interested in, but due to my schedule, I was not able to attend all the ones I registered for. However, cross my fingers that because I registered, later I will get a link to each recorded session. Hoping for the best here, guys!

Anyway, the whole festival ran from Friday, April 24 – Sunday, April 26 and here are the panels I registered for: Fierce Friday: Create Your Own Fantasy Story, I Read YA@Home, Opening Ceremony + Keynote, Creativity in the Time of Corona, Modern Magic Worldbuilding, This American Experience, PM Keynote with Brandon Sanderson, YALLSTAYHOME Smackdown, Suckage is Part of Writing, Remember High School?, and Writing Empathy. There were so many others as well that I did not register for just because I did not have room in my schedule! There were so many authors there including Marie Lu, Julie Buxbaum, Leah Johnson, Marisa Kanter, Bill Konigsberg, Alex London, Samuel Miller, Zan Romanoff, Tara Sim, Angie Thomas, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, and F.C. Yee.

I have got to say, I want to read all of their books!! And…I felt like Belle when she opens her eyes for the first time inside Beast’s library. With each panel I learned all about each author’s background and writing journey and in the case of Brandon Sanderson, got to meet his pet macaw as well. With each panel I learned the struggle is real during this pandemic. Many authors feel that it is harder to write staying inside all the time. I learned stuff like you can build a world based off of your main character’s needs and it’s important to write your truth and teens go to novels as a form of escape, some making more friends with the characters in the books than in real life and there is a now a lot more representation from Asian authors to Muslim authors to queer authors to biracial authors. A lot of times someone becomes an author because they weren’t reading books with their race or culture represented, so they became the first to write that representation. That is awesome!

It was also awesome to finally experience the Smackdown. I had read about it beforehand and I really looked forward to it. The Smackdown did not disappoint: Dumbledope and Snape Dog were there for starters, and it kicked off with a Cards Against Humanity type of game and I only just learned how to play this game a couple months ago, pre-coronavirus and a Harry Potter version, no less. Let me tell you there is nothing more LOL than this game. There was another segment a lot like MTV Cribs and then a Pet Roast and finally a dance party at the end. Once coronavirus is over this festival is definitely on my top ten list of places want to go to for real.

Finally, noticing there are a lot more Asian authors out there now made me feel comforted and happy and giddy. I seriously could not stop smiling. Then I noticed how welcoming and inviting and safe these panels were. It didn’t matter what someone’s background was, everyone was open to listening to everyone’s stories and where they came from and how they got into writing. I realized writing = life. There’s going to be racism, suicide, queer life, privileged life, and everything else in between in stories and everyone accepts this as is. Many of the authors mentioned inspiration can come from anywhere and even talked about how writing can get so hard sometimes you end up playing a video game instead of writing sometimes. I could not agree more. I love how relatable each of the panels were and I truly felt right at home. I left the festival with a feeling I’ve known all along and just needed a little reminder: This, reading and writing and talking about reading and writing until the cows come home, is the community I belong in.

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Blind Date with a Book

It was a Saturday of course. This particular Saturday was on February 24, 2018. I can’t believe it’s been a little over two years already! I feel blessed now thinking of all the moments I’ve gotten to share with my Nerdy 30s gals. I know I’m still behind in documenting our adventures, but I bet I’ll be able to catch up soon now. I also think if you’re going to go on a blind date, the best option is with a book. It shows up with a story to tell and you can stop it from speaking at any time and pick up where you left off at any time. If you don’t like it you can sell it or gift it to someone who will like it. If you do like it, you’ll be able to discover a new genre and find more like it to read. Win-win.

On this particular blind date, we met at La Bodega. I’m pretty sure it was during brunch hour, not just because I’m looking at the eggs I had, but because this group loves meeting during brunch hour. Don’t ask me how many of us were there. I honestly don’t remember anymore, but if you see the table of books, you’ll see there was a good number of us. La Bodega is a Spanish restaurant known for its tapas. Yummy.

I brought my absolute favorite book of all time, the one that made me fall in love with reading, A Ring of Endless Light. I read this novel for the first time in fifth grade and I remember sneaking it under the covers at night and waking up at 5:00 a.m. to find out what happens next. It was the first book I found out what “couldn’t put down” meant. I am still inspired to this day by this book to keep reading and keep writing. It is an oldie and a goodie.

Since each book is covered in a brown paper wrapping with just the description on the outside, there is no way to know what book you are picking, but of course, you do get to decide based on the words used to describe the content. I ended up with Beloved, a classic, but yet not one I enjoyed. Maybe if I studied it in school it would make it enjoyable to me, but on my own, no. So unfortunately you’re not going to get any words from me about it.

Hey, a blind date doesn’t work out every time, right? At least this one I didn’t have to delete a number or anything…XD…but seriously though, this was a lot of fun and I’m glad I went. I wouldn’t have had my first sangria and I got to go back to a restaurant I like eating at, but don’t get to go too often due to distance. But the best part was getting to get together with my girls and discussing a lot of different books across the board as well as why each book was special to the lady who brought it. Another win-win if you ask me. 😉

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Where did the white rabbit go?

Sometimes I take a long time to finish reading a book not because it’s not good, but because I don’t want to lose time I get to spend with the characters. I know, sounds silly. Like crazy writer talk. You would think dragging out the story that long would mean I would spend less time with the characters, but dragging it out like that makes me feel like I’m spending more time with them. You see, as long as I haven’t finished the book I can keep thinking about the characters and imagining what they’re going through. Once I finish the book, my time with them is done. Reading to the last page is like shutting the world where my new favorite characters reside and never being able to reach inside that black top hat again.

 

 

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“Fatal” by Fred Colton

Fatal

If you don’t know who Pace Warner is, you are seriously missing out. If you are like me and have always wondered what it would be like to put action scenes into words, this is for you. Colton has some sort of sniper experience for sure. Only someone who has been one or observed one or talked to one can describe it from the first person point of view. The only downside to this book is it is so short. You get to the last page and you’re like, “Nooo, that’s it?! Tell me more!” The length is not really a downside at all though, as all good things must come to an end and it leaves you wanting more. I’m not going to say anyone can enjoy this book, but I will say anyone who’s watched an action/thriller film or is in any way remotely interested in this genre will enjoy this book. As previously mentioned, I haven’t read nearly as many thriller books as the average thriller fan, but I don’t care about numbers. If you are a thriller fan, you have got to check out Colton. Plus, if you have read The Colony, this will give you the backstory. Who doesn’t love backstories?

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“The Singles Game” by Lauren Weisberger

The Singles Game

I don’t know what it’s like to be a professional tennis player, but Lauren Weisberger’s The Singles Game is what I imagine it to be like. I have to admit though, I think the title has a double meaning. The first thing that came to mind was love and relationships and not just because Cosmopolitan recommended this read. I had to look closer at the cover a second time to see it was about tennis.

I loved The Devil Wears Prada so I went in with great expectations. It is safe to say Weisberger delivered with this one as well. It could be made into a movie if she wanted. You can tell she did her research.

It turns out it was about tennis and relationships at the same time, so maybe that was her intention all along. It’s a very fluffy story, but I liked learning about the behind-the-scenes in tennis and seeing just how Todd Feltner was like a male version of Miranda Priestly. It’s basically a story about a girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Silver who devoted her whole life to tennis and really wants to be number one, but once she makes the decision to sacrifice everything outside of tennis for the sake of winning, she realizes she wants all the real people back, like her former coach Marcy and her hitting partner Dan, and not the celebrities who only add glitter to her life, something sparkly that later lands and creates a huge mess.

Like Andy Sachs, Charlie is a determined girl. She is willing to change her whole image into this “warrior princess” type to not only please Feltner, but to realize her ultimate goal. But like any person who’s ever chased a dream so hard it hurts, Charlie comes to her senses and focuses on staying true to her heart and to the people who helped her do just that.

The story is simple, but it’s a fun read to be enjoyed at any time.

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“Luckiest Girl Alive” by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest

Book Riot recommended this novel via their YouTube channel several months ago and I ended up picking up my copy at the airport on the way to Cancún. I finished it within the week I spent on vacation last Thanksgiving with my parents. Yes, even while in Cancún, the novel grabbed my attention enough for me to make time to find out how it ends.

Where do I begin? I don’t want to say, “it’s sooooooo good,” and sound so basic, if you will, for lack of a better word, but that is one way to describe it. Now I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before and I haven’t searched my own blog to check, but thrillers are not my favorite thing to read or watch. Needless to say, I made an exception for this book. That black rose on the cover intrigued me, to say the least, in a way that I was drawn to the idea that pretty things like pretty girls have not just a layer of dark secrets, but a layer of ugly. This layer is hidden underneath, waiting to be pulled back. So you see, I had to turn the pages to find what I was looking for, especially when the back cover claimed this girl had the perfect life.

Spoiler alert: she did not. But she does break it down to you slowly what happened in her past, using flashbacks and jumping back and forth between the past and the present. When she gets to the “aha!” moment, you feel so bad for what happened to her, her secret layer, you wish no girl has to ever go through what she went through as a teen and you wonder if a girl like her is really lucky to be alive. But then again, if she had not survived, there’d be no girls out there who could lend a voice to all the other girls out there who experienced the same kind of horror.

Because you see, this book may have been fiction, and I have never met the author or was present in her life when she was younger, but there is some raw truth in here that if you have not gone through what she has gone through you would want to listen and reach out.

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“The Colony” by Fred Colton

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Watch out for Fred Colton. This guy is a beast in the thriller world of words and takes Word Hustler to a whole new level with his debut novel, The Colony. As someone who hasn’t read many thrillers, I found this one to have a “Mission Impossible” and “007” vibe that brings the big screen onto the page. I want to be best friends with some of these people, ones who run super fast in space and get face transplants to turn into an exact copy of another person and run around on the moon and deceive the government and…trust me, you just have to read the book to find out if America or China wins when it comes to colonizing up there.

Not going to lie. There are a lot of characters and a lot going on that sometimes makes it hard to keep track of everything, but this may just be a personal thing for me as well as I tend to have trouble keeping up with the haps with books with many characters. This is still kudos to Colton, though, as he seems knowledgeable about the technology, the space terms, and how politics and the government would run such a hypothetical global future so boy did his research for sure.

I could see Colton took aspects of his love of running in his real life into this story. I enjoyed the backstory about the brothers, Tom and Kyle, and the surprise at the end when it all comes together, truly a mesh of imagination, creativity, and reality at its best.

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in fashion

Screw it all. You try to eat healthy and exercise to stay in shape and then you lose out on writing time. You try to maximize your writing time by setting goals and meeting a word count every day and then you lose out on staying in shape. It’s one or the other. You can’t please everybody or you’ll turn into a donkey. I’ll just get fat and TB and write the best novel I have written in a long time and then croak and only become famous posthumously because I couldn’t do it all. That’s in right now, isn’t it?

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My second author reading ever

I wanted to share with you guys my second author reading ever. It was at Orr Street Studios in downtown Columbia, MO and it was on February 17, 2015. It was part of their Hearing Voices Seeing Visions event and I remember we had a huge snowstorm right before. I sold a couple of books that night and one guy from the audience came up to me and gave me a hug after. I was so nervous I could barely look at the audience. (I was also a bit emotional as this was right before I moved to Kansas City, MO and I was cleaning out my apartment and all that jazz that comes with saying good-bye to friends.) I read from my debut YA novel, “Oil in the Wok” and my Seventeen short story, “Team Bonding.” This is not the whole reading and you’ll probably need to turn the volume up to hear it, but it’s a taste of what my first baby sounds like.