There is a part of me that thinks the L.A. Times Festival of Books this weekend was a dream.
Because how could it be a full year since the last Festival of Books? And then I look at the pictures on my phone and the wet umbrella in the corner, and I realize, yes, it happened. It has been a year.
For those who don't know, the festival, casually called Bookfest, is the West Coast's biggest book convention. It happens every spring. There's used books, new books, goods, countless panels, awards, and food.
To everyone's embarrassment, and by that I mean the locals' embarrassment, the weather decided to rain. This was absurd. This is Los Angeles. It rains all of, I don't know, three days a year. And we are in a drought. Every two days, our newspapers and lawmakers remind us of this. Did the weather not get that memo?
Anyway, so what this resulted in was that instead of clear and sunny, we got a day full of passing showers. Which is worse than regular rain because with regular rain you open your umbrella and move on with your life, but because it came and went constantly, everyone was wandering around wondering if they should open and close their umbrellas, and was it about to really come down? Oh, look, a patch of sunlight. Oh, now it's raining again.
Now that we've gotten the weather out of the way...
On Saturday, I focused on book-buying and outdoor (yes, get that laugh out now) panels.
I bought a copy of Rebel of the Sands, which has been on my list since everyone and my grandmother--just kidding, my grandmother is blind--and the New York Times told me to read it. It's also a non-Western fantasy, so I had to buy it anyway.
As I pushed through the crush of wet people hiding in the Mysterious Galaxy tent, I realized that Cindy Pon, author of a fantasy series based on Ancient China, was here. Not only was she here, but she had done signings and I missed her, so I made my purchases and hurried to her panel.
At the YA Stage, people opened and closed their umbrellas as the rain came and went, and the panelists laughed helplessly. Cindy Pon moderated. She spoke on her journey getting her series published, as well as overcoming cultural obstacles in the genre to publish something inspired by East Asia.
"I don't like to hear, 'That's not the core audience.' No. Like, if you've written a good story with a good character, it's okay. They can be from all backgrounds. That really resonated with me. For Serpentine, I wanted to focus on the sister friendship, and I made a differential in power. My main heroine is a handmaid to a bratty, willful mistress that, she was literally brought in to be her companion for life. She always had to defer to her because that was decorum. I thought that was interesting, that they still loved each other like sisters, but what does it mean when she always has the final say?"
Afterwards I hurried over to get my copy of Serpentine signed. And it turns out, even more...
And Pon was a sweetheart, and she nicely tolerated my rambling about how cool it was to see an East Asian fantasy series finally in the YA section. I hope I can join her there one day! I fangirled. We both like cats. We took a picture. It was cool.
While it drizzled, I lowered my umbrella for a few minutes to munch on some gummies given to me by my host sister in Japan, and yees, they were all orange flavored, but they did not give the power-up promised.
Despite the rain, life continued. I was even surprised to see people doing climbing near the YA Stage. I raided the packed used book tents and found a massive volume on the Katsura Villa in Kyoto. I paid $3 for it. I am positive it is worth a lot more than that. Grabbed two more art books, one on Chinese folk art another on Japanese depictions of "birds, bugs, and blossoms."
And because those Dragon Ball gummies were not as filling as they needed to be, I went over to the food trucks. Lines were enormous. Everyone wanted boba, or lobster rolls, or curry, or... any number of things! But the thing I wanted most, and the thing I had never seen at Bookfest: a short food line. AND:
Mango sticky rice! They peeled and cut a fresh ripe mango to order, and I took my lunch back to the YA Stage terribly pleased with myself.
Throughout the day, Samantha Chaffin and I attempted to meet and kept missing each other. She was also going to indoor panels, because she thinks and plans things. As I ate my mango sticky rice and listened to another Pon panel on fantasy and worldbuilding, Samantha wandered over in a blue raincoat and the stars aligned. When the panel ended, I watched her spend money on more books, which I encouraged, and then we left campus for boba.
We talked. We talked for a long time about many things, and I could have listened/talked for days about the stigma against the romance genre, television, and culture. I think we talked about other things. It was also like a dream, the perfect way to end the day.
I stumbled home and fell asleep, and then woke up early. Then, Sunday.
I was determined to make it to Sabaa Tahir's fantasy panel (she was with other people, I know). Unlike other people, I was not particularly organized, and by the time I worked out my Bookfest schedule and actually mustered the energy to find my wallet, the tickets to the panel were sold out.
Except I had heard if you get there early on the day of the panel when the ticket booth opens at 9AM, you can get a ticket.
And so, I went early with little hopes. In past years, this has never, ever worked out for me. The most I can hope to do is sneak in and crouch in the back.
But this year was my lucky year!
After getting my tickets, I was hungry and I had eaten my orange, so... I decided to go to the food trucks. Because despite promising not to spend money, I decided to spend money.
And then I ate it. With fries hot from the fryer, dusted with five spice mix. Sweet Vietnamese iced coffee.
Like last year, Kaya Press provided a typewriter to make a booklet with what you typed, as well as copies of other writers. I typed (poorly) the opening of my brand new project. (The next blog post will be about it. Stay tuned!)
Then, I played a ring toss game at the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's booth! Many consulates send out representatives for different countries' tourism and culture. I actually won the ring toss and got a cute bag. Bookfest always seems to lots of nice giveaways, and by the end of the day, my arms were full of tote bags and posters.
Then I was off to the fantasy panel! I met up with my history partner in crime, Jillian Barndt, and got fabulous row 2 seats. Young Adult Fantasy: Beyond This Realm.
Left to right: Tobie Easton, Mercedes Lackey, Sabaa Tahir, Michael Buckley, and Romina Russell.
Mercedes Lackey lorded over the panel, even when she didn't speak. The author of 125 novels, who writes five books a year, and lives with twelve parrots, was the crazy hermit grandmother we all wished we had. Sabaa Tahir was reserved, but clearly in awe. I was in awe. I had never seen her in person before. Buckley was funny. Russell ruthlessly talked about her novel (a sci-fi fantasy where planets are connected with astrological signs and the citizens embody the sign's traits) at every opportunity. Tobie Easton, the moderator, kept it all together. It was one of the best panel personality cocktails I've ever seen.
"My father was a science fiction fantasy fan," said Mercedes Lackey, "and my parents never said, no you can't read that book. It's too old for you. In fact, when I was nine, my mother went down to the library with me and signed me up for an adult library card. Back then, they had these things. If you were younger than twelve, you were not allowed to take anything from the adult section or read in the library, if they caught you. I first picked up a science fiction book [of my father's] that I absolutely adored, and after that, every bit of my allowance went towards books. And Beatles records."
Then Sabaa Tahir said, "My brother lent me a book called The Sword of Shannara, and that sort of opened the door to whole crazy fantasy world. Basically. I read David Eddings, Terry Goodkind, and I read Mercedes Lackey. I mean, I'm totally fangirling right now but keeping it inside. But I'm like, freaking out. I turned to fantasy as an escape. I lived in this very small town, it was super racist. Hot. Super hot. It was like, when you read, you're in the air conditioning. My parents were the opposite of yours. They were like, why are you reading? You need to study. Why are you reading these novels? So, I was actually a flashlight under the blankets kid. The reason I read so fast now is because I had to read books so that my parents wouldn't catch me."
Then, we went to the book signing. Jillian had brought copies of Lackey's books, and I was armed with Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes. I stuttered about liking her book. I also completely blanked and assumed she was from the East Coast, because my brain is useless. Oh well. What's an author encounter without activating awkward?
She was nice. I hope she comes next year!
After we got our books signed, Jillian and I drifted around. I bought a book on Korean food from the Korea Foundation booth, even though I promised myself I wouldn't buy anything and I needed that money for food. I bought the book on food.
And that really is Bookfest in a nutshell.