Fierce Reads San Diego Stop: Leigh Bardugo, Ava Dellaira, Emmy Laybourne, and Jennifer Mathieu

Fierce Reads Tour

I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to make it to this event on the 17th, what with my car being out of commission, but my mom lent me her car and I’m BEYOND glad I was able to make it to the San Diego Library for the amazing night. My sister tagged along, which made the long drive much easier, and she was a great picture taker and book holder. Thank you Brooke!

Before I get to the actual event recap, I need to say one thing: I don’t think I hate libraries anymore. OH MY GOD this place was HUGE. I’ve said this before – I don’t live in a small town. We have stoplights, 5pm traffic, and nearly 80,000 people. But our one library isn’t even in my city, it’s the next one over, and it’s tiny. But this library was at least twice as big as mine, and three stories higher. Plus, they had bathroom sinks shaped like open books. How amazing is that?? So I think I’ve just been to the wrong libraries, not that I hate them.

So moving forward… we all were locked out until about 20 minutes before the event started, but finally the auditorium opened up and we all took our seats. “All” being a relative term – this was the smallest event I’ve been to. So few people showed up! But I did see a few familiar faces from the October event, even the couple that cosplayed Alina and Morozova’s Stag! So that was pretty cool. Soon enough all the authors filed in. *queue cheering*

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Leigh, Ava, our moderator (sweet girl!), Jennifer, and Emmy (left to right)

After a few opening announcements and whatnot, the moderator got right into some questions for the authors. I took copious notes, so hopefully this brings the event to you! It’s going to get long – not sorry. Quick note: Leigh wrote the Grisha trilogy, Ava wrote Love Letters to the Dead, Jennifer wrote The Truth About Alice, and Emmy wrote the Monument 14 trilogy.

Which of your characters do you most relate to?

Leigh – It changes depending on the scene and book, but in Ruin and Rising it was Zoya mostly.
Ava – Laurel, in personality and personal experiences
Jennifer – Kelsey and Kurt
Emmy – Dean and Josie

What are you currently reading?

L – Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire, and Red Fortress by Catherine Merridale
A – Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne!
J – Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
E – The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Describe your main character in five words or less.

L – Insecure, stubborn, prickly, power hungry [Alina]
A – Sensitive, funny, courageous, kind [Laurel]
J – Survivor, real, slut?, killer? [Alice]
E – Caught, honest, teenager, outsider, hot (she was kidding, but for every character after we all shouted HOT at the end) [Dean]

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If you could be one character from any book from the four authors, who would you be?

L – Kurt, or Brandon before he died [both from Truth About Alice]
A – Alina (sun summoner!) [from the Grisha trilogy]
J – Genya (the tailor, to get rid of all those under eye circles) [from the Grisha trilogy]
E – Kurt [from The Truth About Alice]

What advice would you give to aspiring YA authors?

L – Your first book doesn’t have to be THE book. Write the crappy book first; just get something done. You may think you have that¬†one good idea, but you have so many more, and you won’t get to them if you try to write a perfect first book.
A – Stephen Chbosky once told her, “You’re a writer if you write. If you write, you aren’t an ‘aspiring’ writer, you are a writer.”
J – Three things: 1) Read whatever you want for pleasure, and don’t feel guilty about what you read. 2) Put away your phone and spy on people. 3) Just write, even if it’s a tiny little thing. Just get it out.
E – Don’t judge your book while you’re writing it. It’s like pushing the gas and break pedals at the same time. Create first, and then go back to edit.

What makes you fierce?

L – Putting your work out in the world; people are mean!
E – Obviously the hair ūüėČ But really, the stories that they tell – they take you for a crazy ride.
J – Agreed with Emmy.

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What was one of your favorite scenes to write? The hardest?

L – Funnest: the party scenes in Siege and Storm. Hardest: The mechanics of the beginning of Ruin and Rising, when so many people were talking at once.
A – Favorite: Laurel writes to Amelia Earhart on Halloween, and then later gets her first kiss. Hardest: the emotion of when Laurel’s secret is finally revealed.
J – Favorite: Kurt and Alice at Christmas. Hardest: the scene with Josh and Brandon in the car.
E – Funnest: the first scene of the first book, because she could just let go and run wild, since she didn’t even know she would be publishing it. (Fun fact: chapter one went through hardly any changes through the entire editing process) Hardest: the epilogue of book 3, just letting it all go.

Favorite books growing up?

L – Many Moons, Cat Witch, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Shawshank Redemption in high school
A – Little House on the Prairie and The Babysitter’s Club
J – Little House on the Prairie and The Outsiders
E – Little House on the Prairie

After that, we moved on to the audience questions.

To Jennifer – How do you manage time between teaching and writing?¬†She doesn’t sleep (slightly teasing – she’s got kids!), and she’s really organized about her time. She focuses on one thing at a time, and carves out time to make sure she can focus on each thing.¬†

To Leigh – Can you tell us about the “despise your heart” quote?¬†She was studying the Congo in college, and there was a similar phrase used. It means, do what you need to do, despite what your heart is telling you.¬†(Note: I didn’t catch the whole answer, so I may be missing a detail or two).

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To all the authors РDid you keep a journal when you were younger or even now? Leigh: from the time she was ten years old through college, but stopped afterwards. Only now when something is really emotional and she needs to work through it does she write it down. Ava: has a large collection from her childhood, where she copied down song lyrics and put bits of her own poetry in them. Jennifer: from 5th grade through high school; what she wrote about is a lot funnier than it was at that point in her life. Emmy: has a full shelf of old journals, and has a clause in her will where a close friend will be paid to edit and abridge them all to one day be passed on to her children. 

To Leigh and Emmy – what are some tips for finishing a third book? Leigh:¬†cut yourself some slack. It doesn’t get any easier, and third books are about closing doors rather than opening all of¬†them. Laini Taylor once said that at some point you may fall out of love with¬†your story and chase some shiny new idea. Find what is so appealing from that new idea, and write it into your book.¬†Emmy: keep adding twists and turns. Your trilogy shouldn’t be like crossing one long bridge – there needs to be change and craziness. Look back at what you’ve written, and use that to spur your imagination.¬†

To all the authors – how have personal experiences affected your writing?¬†Leigh:¬†she¬†doesn’t realize it till after, but sometimes things sneak in that her friends point out.¬†Ava:¬†she lost her mom a few years before¬†writing Love Letters, and the writing process helped her work through that. She also stole a lot of stories¬†from her and her best friend’s memories.¬†Jennifer:¬†high¬†school was difficult for her, and she always sat back observing the “Darwinian¬†cafeteria” scene,¬†and¬†now writes about HS!¬†Emmy:¬†she’s never experienced¬†something where she has to survive like her characters, but¬†she hopes her humanity shines through.¬†

To Leigh РThe Dregs (omg so excited) is set in the Grishaverse, in Kerch; are there any chances of characters returning? She just sent in the first draft, and there are some references to characters from the first trilogy. We may potentially see them in the future. 

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To all the authors – what was the most drastic thing you’ve done to meet a deadline?¬†Leigh:¬†she goes into a weird place where she will eat the same meal every morning, eats weird foods, and doesn’t leave the house for weeks.¬†Ava:¬†dreams about her characters (Leigh joined in and said that she once dreamed about being on an episode of Chopped in the Shadow Fold).¬†Jennifer:¬†is hyper-compliant about deadlines, and rewards herself every 10K words with frozen yogurt (smart woman!).¬†Emmy:¬†worked so hard on her computer that she had eye¬†strain, so she started writing long hand, and ended up outsourcing the typing to a woman in the¬†Philippines after scanning them all and sending them over (but¬†she paid her $10 instead of $7 an hour!).¬†

To all the authors – plotter or pantser? Leigh:¬†she outlines¬†extensively, using a screenplay structure; avoids word count tools; started using Scrivener for her new book¬†because there are 5 POVs and plenty of flashbacks (eeee!!!).¬†Ava:¬†Her process was messy; she had the concepts and basics, but she spent a lot of time getting to know her characters.¬†Jennifer:¬†has a general plot, but then fills in the details as she goes.¬†Emmy:¬†outlines carefully, and actually wrote 150 pages of M14 before submitting it with a proposal for the rest of the book. Fun fact: 9 out of 10 said no! So don’t give up, because you only need that one yes.¬†

To all the authors – what was your first piece of published material or something that inspired more?¬†Leigh:¬†she worked on a middle grade magazine with poetry.¬†Ava:¬†her first poem was published, then Love Letters.¬†Jennifer:¬†made her own newspapers and then in Cricket Magazine she had a¬†story about a dancing gorilla in a library.¬†Emmy:¬†type out at 7 or 8 a story about an alien named Grog, who came to Earth with his wife. In their¬†species,¬†the female kills¬†the male after mating, and the last sentence was “please help me before she eats m…”

So that was it for the panel! Quite a bunch of fun, wasn’t it?

Afterwards, we all filed outside to get our books signed and pictures taken. I nearly went to buy Monument 14, but restrained myself (barely – only thanks to Brooke or I would have bought a copy of Alice too). So I just went up and talked to Leigh, got my book signed, and then had the courage to actually ask for a picture! I was in a daze after that, and had totally meant to say hi to Jennifer, but completely walked off without another thought like an idiot. I guess I’m still working on that “level-headed” thing for author events. I’ll get there, someday.

photo 4-2So there you have it! That was my evening with my second Fierce Reads tour. I hope the new schedules come out soon for the summer and fall – I’ll definitely be attending more of these events!

Mental Health Awareness Month: My Journey

Mental Health

With it being mental health awareness month, hosted by Blog of Erised, I wanted to participate and share my personal story, just as Miranda shared her story during LGBT month in April. I’ve hinted at my struggles in posts before, but I wanted to chronicle the five year journey I’ve been on, and be a bit more transparent with you all.

It all started when I was thirteen, and entering my freshman year of high school. I had skipped a grade, so I was younger than most of my peers by at least a year. Nowadays, it’s not such a problem, but in high school years, twelve months could have been another lifetime for all I cared. I was trying to fit in, and that’s where the self-esteem issues started, my biggest struggle being my weight. Looking back now, of course, I laugh, because I was a¬†size 5 in jeans, and honestly had nothing to worry about but for a tiny tummy. But from the time I was thirteen to seventeen, I just about hated myself. No matter what diet I tried, or exercise program, I couldn’t lose those extra ten pounds, and I started to struggle with depression.

Some days it was hard to get out of bed, and others were a lot better. Actually, it wasn’t until I graduated when I was seventeen that I really noticed it getting bad. For the most part, I managed it in high school. The year after I graduated, however, was when I took a deep nosedive into a deeper depression. It was never so bad that I had to stop working, but I was isolated, quiet, and reserved. The best way I can describe it is this: I was there, present, but it was like I had shrunken to half my size, hiding away in my chest and piloting the shell of my body. Like I wasn’t in my skin, if that makes sense.

I battled this for a year, never really saying anything to anyone, and convincing myself that it was all in my head and I just needed to push through it. But then, in July 2013, my family experienced a serious upheaval. After that, the depression worsened, and then it was joined by anxiety and panic attacks. I had a hard time breathing every day, and the slightest overload would send me into an attack. But then I started to open up about some things that had been going on, and some secrets I’d been keeping. I had to realize that my relationships were unhealthy, and that I was giving so much of myself that I kept nothing for myself to remain healthy.

After that, I began the journey of recovery. I had visited an endocrinologist, who said that my thyroid levels were off, but not enough for them to do anything about it (I think the official term is “sub-clinical”). He wanted to have me on an antidepressant, but both my mom and I decided that wasn’t the route we wanted to take. After some research, we decided I would¬†start taking a natural supplement for adrenal support. Little by little, we added some more supplements, targeting the thyroid and endocrine system in general. It wasn’t a noticeable change, but one day I woke up and thought, “I feel better.” It was this moment of clarity where I realized that I felt¬†good¬†and I¬†wanted to get out of bed and go to work.

Once I had that peek at feeling better, I worked on my own mindset. It was partially my hormone levels being off that caused all this, but part of it was my perspective as well. My motto became “find some joy.” Every day, I had to think of the positives. I had to find the bright side and hold on to that. Some days, it’s harder, and the only thing I truly enjoy is the flowers in the planters by my workplace. But it’s¬†something.¬†And then I realized that I actually did feel better, and that I had a positive mindset without even thinking about it. I get dressed in the morning, and even though I don’t look exactly like I want to, I can still think that I look good in my favorite shirt. Or, maybe I don’t, but I shrug and move on, because I have more to do than worry if I’ve got a bit of a tummy.

Since February, despite the increasing problems in my family (and there’s no looking up anytime soon), I’ve felt the best I have in all the years I can remember. I’m able to exercise again, I’ve made friends, and I actually look forward to being around people and socializing. Some days are harder, but now I know how to fight it: music, pilates, books, and rest. It’s been a long, hard journey, but I have so much hope for the future, and I feel like I can face anything that may come my way. For example, just this Tuesday I wore shorts AND a tank top, and went grocery shopping in Sam’s Club (HUGE store like Costco!) all by myself, without having anxiety about not finding things or having to pay and talk to the cashier. I mean, not really a big deal for most almost-19 year old people, but for me it was pretty fabulous.

PS:¬†if you haven’t guessed it, Perks was a HUGE anchor for me when I was about 16/17 and trying to push past everything. My copy is all annotated and marked up with all the quotes that inspired me to be better.

What about you? Have you ever struggled with your mental health, or know someone who does? 

What I Learned from the LA Festival of Books

LA Festival WILA more appropriate title might be: what the LA Festival of Books taught me about festivals and big events in general, but I figured that was too long! Anyway, I just wanted to sum up a few things I learned over the course of two days in LA – both good and bad! Also: keep in mind that even though I live in a city of 50,000 people, I was very much like Dorothy visiting Oz – totally wide-eyed and stunned that the world is even bigger than I had ever imagined! So, without further adieu, let’s start with…

The Bad

This isn’t an “oh the world is horrid and I had some awful moments at the festival” sort of bad – it’s a “shoot son I screwed up and need to remember to prepare myself better next time” sort of bad!

Don’t Leave Any Book at Home

On Saturday, I only brought Fangirl for the Rainbow Rowell signing, thinking “oh I haven’t even read Eleanor & Park anyway, I don’t need it signed.” WRONG! I waited TWO hours in that line – for that I should have gotten both my books signed, having read them or not. The same happened with Tahereh Mafi – I only brought Ignite Me, and not Shatter Me, since I didn’t know if she even had a signing. Well, she did (duh), and I was able to buy a copy of Unravel Me and get the second two books signed, but now my copy of Shatter Me is unsigned. Stupid me!

Sunday was much better after that – I brought every single book (even my Stephanie Perkins ones even though that I wasn’t sure I’d make to her signing. Hint: I did) for all the authors I had even a possibility of meeting. So even though I had nine books to carry all day, it was beyond worth it because all my books were signed!

Sun. Screen.

You would think that, having this ghost skin all my life, I would have learned by now that even fifteen minutes of sun will burn me. But no, I don’t learn. You would think that with my dad’s side of the family being Mexican, I’d tan, but noooooo I take after my mom’s Welsh side instead! Anyway… this is the result of my idiocy – and from wearing a lace shirt that’s thinner in some places than others.

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See those splotches? Yeah, lace apparently doesn’t protect when it’s the really thin stuff

Isn’t that hot? Oh yes, I’m smokin’. No really – I melted the ice packs!

Use a bag that you can sling over your shoulder

Not one that requires you to hold it by hand. I swear my right shoulder is at least an inch lower than my left now – permanently. Books aren’t all that heavy – but put 9 hardbacks together and DAMN that’s hard to carry. My right arm is so sore now! Instead, be smart like the other people I saw: use a bag with a longer strap that you can put on your shoulder and have your entire torso support the weight and not hold in your hand. Or even better! Use a rolling cart, or even a suitcase with wheels.

For the love of all that is holy…

EAT. On Sunday I was so distracted by all the running back and forth and signings I wanted to attend that I barely ate. When I caught up with my mom later, I was shaking so much and didn’t even realize it was because I hadn’t eaten but for a granola bar and small cup of noodles midway through the day. Maybe it works for some people, but for me, who needs to eat every 2-3 hours to feel okay, going twelve hours with about 800 calories really doesn’t do the job.

So the lesson here is: bring lots of water and snacks, and remember to actually EAT THEM.

The Good

Now here’s the fantastic parts of the weekend – the amazing things I’ve learned about the bookish world and people in general!

Authors really aren’t that hard to talk to!

Do not be embarrassed to start a conversation! The easiest thing for me I’ve found is to just start with a hello and a “how are you?” – the rest will follow. Honestly, I’ve started by complimenting an author, and they get the biggest grin on their face and all those awkward walls come tumbling down!

Bookish people are the kindest ever!

Example A: I got lost so many times – like, honestly, what campus is four blocks wide?? It’s madness! Anyway, I never felt weird about walking up to a random person and just saying, “hey, where the heck am I?” And I was always pointed in the right direction with a smile.

Example B: I was in line for the Stephanie Perkins signing, and my earring caught on my shirt. For the life of me, I could not get it undone – my head was cocked to the side and stuck there unless I wanted to rip my shirt or break my earring. So, embarrassing as it was, I turned to the girl behind me and said, “I’m so sorry, but could you please untangle me?” She laughed and helped me out, and we laughed it off, deciding that the lesson here was ‘don’t wear long earrings with lacy tshirts!’

Example C: We’re all stuck in hour long lines, waiting for authors, so most of us – I didn’t ever get any names – just randomly started conversations. And if I heard someone talking about a book I liked, I joined in easily, and the same went for people who jumped into my conversations!.

There is actual diversity in the world!

Where I live, the majority is white and skinny. Which I’m half of. But then, even in that tiny chunk of LA, to see so many different shapes and colors of people – it was incredible. For once in my life I didn’t feel like I stood out or like people were staring at me because I’m not a size 2. There were girls the same shape as me wearing tank tops – and rocking them! I NEVER wear tank tops because I’m so self-conscious of my arms, but honestly seeing so many people looking amazing no matter their size, it really gave me some much needed confidence. So there was definitely some personal growth this weekend as well ūüôā

In the end…

This was an incredible experience, and I’m so blessed to have been able to attend this event! I met amazing people and authors, experienced all new things, and actually did well! No anxiety or attacks either; I know that might not mean much and it was just another weekend for some people, but this was a huge step for me. And to have done so well and handled so much stimulation and newness – I feel like a whole new person!

LA Times Festival of Books: Day Two

LA Festival D2Welcome back to my recap posts about the LA Festival of Books! Day two, Sunday, was definitely the jam-packed day, so get ready for a bunch of pictures! Whereas I had Veronica on Sunday, I was totally alone on Sunday, so it was a bit of a different experience. But it turned out far better than I expected, and I was so sad that it was over!

Day Two

I left earlier, since I had been late the first day, and I didn’t hit any traffic! So I ended up getting to the campus at 8:30 – almost three hours before my first panel started! So I rearranged my schedule a bit, and went to the Mrs. Nelson’s tent (which ended up being my stomping grounds for the entire day), since there was a Marissa Meyer signing at 10:15. I ended up being first in line, sitting on a rock until a few other people joined me at about 9:15. And then – miracle of miracles! – they let me know that Sarah J. Maas would be there at the same time! So after waiting and waiting, the signing started, and I saw both authors!

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I already had Scarlet signed, so I only had to carry Cinder and Cress. Marissa is really sweet, and I LOVE her hair.
photo 3Next was Sarah, and she was actually super fun to talk to! We were laughing at her sunglasses, since she had been placed right where the sun was in her eyes, and of course the glasses were all bent at the nose. I was so excited when I saw the message on The Assassin’s Blade – it’s my favorite quote on my favorite book in the series!

After the signing, I RAN all the way across campus to make it to the Conversation between Veronica Roth and Leigh Bardugo, and made it just in time for when they were letting people in. I ended up on the second level in the theater, but it wasn’t horrid seating, and I could hear perfectly. And let me just say – those two ladies together is the greatest thing in the world! They were absolutely hilarious, and between answering with serious, thoughtful replies, they were totally goofy and fun. It didn’t even seem like an hour at all. There was an opportunity for a Roth signing, but I didn’t even try since I knew it would be hours and there were so many other panels I wanted to attend.

Sorry for no pictures of their conversation – I was far too high for any quality, and they had said no photography anyway.

After that, I ran to the food truck for lunch, then ate as I walked back (seriously – everything I was going to that day was completely across campus from each other) to the YA stage. But then I remembered that Emery Lord had a signing of her debut novel, Open Road Summer, at 1 at the Mrs. Nelson tent, so I got in line – first again! I had excellent luck at timing, apparently. The lady at Nelson’s was teasing me about it ūüėõ

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Love Letters to the Dead was a later signing that day

I just have to say – Emery was an absolute pleasure to meet! She was so easy to talk to, and I didn’t feel nervous like I usually do when meeting authors. We actually got to talking about my reading, and how I’ve just gotten back to YA last year. When I said that contemporary was my least read genre, but I was beyond excited for Open Road Summer, she smiled so wide and said she hoped it would help me dive into the genre even more! I wish I could have talked to her more, but didn’t want to be rude to everyone else in line.

After meeting Emery, I ran over to the Stephanie Perkins signing that had been going on at the same time, and that was probably the longest I waited in an “active” line, since I joined after it had already started. Even so, it was only about half an hour before I met Stephanie! And she was so easy to talk to as well: she loved my hair (eeepp!!!) and we started talking about how hard it is with pixie cuts to get that¬†exact shape that’s perfect for your face.

The sharpies match the covers!!

The sharpies match the covers!!

While I was waiting in line, I missed the first half of the Young Adult Sci-Fi: Fantastical Tales with Marissa Meyer, Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, and Cecil Castellucci, but since I had already met them all one way or another, I wasn’t too worried about it. I caught the last half, but since I was in the way far back I couldn’t hear very well, or get any pictures (sad day!). So it really just ended up being a time for me to sit down and rest my feet and rearrange my bag since all the signings had gotten them all mixed up and upside down.

Once that panel ended, I was able to sneak a seat on the grass underneath the trees for some shade, since the seating was right in the sun and I didn’t feel like burning. After a 30 minute break, wherein I read Cress (holy cow why did I wait so long itssogood!!!) and relaxed some more – there was a lovely breeze that finally came around. And then *drumroll please* the Young Adult Fiction: Told From the Heart panel started!

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Joanna Philbin, Emery Lord, and Stephanie Perkins

Again, sorry the pictures are poor quality, but it was as close as I could get! I loved this panel – it was a perfect mix of talking about swoony boys and all the authors encouraging the audience that A) the romance between friends is important too, and B) boys in reality CAN be as good as boys in books. All the ladies were relaxed and chatty, and it felt like a heart-to-heart between friends more than a panel. Surprisingly one of my favorites of the day!

After that, I went back to Mrs. Nelson’s booth for my last signing: Ava Dellaira, author of Love Letters to the Dead (picture is up above next to Open Road Summer). She had a million sharpie colors to choose from, and of course I picked the dead one! We spent about five minutes trying to find sharpies that worked: I told her that I was just the test run and I was weeding out the weak!

Alas, once I was done at the booth, my day was finished. My cousin picked me up and took me to Santa Monica Boulevard to meet my mom, and we walked around the streets and had dinner together. Well, I should say snack, since we drove home and stopped in Corona for actual dinner at this FANTASTIC Mexican restaurant. Let’s just say we were wishing it was socially acceptable to leave our pants unbuttoned to let room for our food babies…

So that was my weekend! It was way different than I was expecting, but in the best way possible. Veronica and I have dreams of going to BEA next year –¬†hopefully LA prepared me enough for that trip!