Let's Back to Book Festivals

I passed my qualifying exams!

What an odd process the whole thing was. Days of answering written questions, followed by a tense three hour interview. Each of my committee members was very different, and it was surreal for all of us to pack into a tiny, bland little classroom to determine my fate in the program. I am glad I do not have to do it again.

I saw a squirrel carrying an easter egg, pausing to nibble at whatever candy was inside. I too sometimes feel like this.

I saw a squirrel carrying an easter egg, pausing to nibble at whatever candy was inside. I too sometimes feel like this.

2019 has been strange. Because of my exams, I only went to one day of the LA Times Festival of Books. Making things even stranger, because YALLWEST has been moved to mid-May, I will not be attending this year, as I will be on the East Coast. So, there will be no reunions, no panels, and no wondering about the future of my writing as I eat grilled cheese from a truck.

But there were a few nice things at the Festival of Books. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau showed up in force with their excellent carnival game, where participants try and guide a metal loop around a winding wire without touching the wire. I won chopsticks this year.


The Ripped Bodice, a romance bookstore in Culver City, had their debut at the Festival and decked out their tent like an old school carnival. One of their tables was a stack of lovingly wrapped books, the covers hidden, and the contents summarized in a post-it on the cover. Blind dates with books. They brought their famous one-eyed dog for photos, as well as a wheel for prizes. I bought one of the tote bags. I bought it because it was cute, but after a week of lugging books back and forth from the university, I can review this tote bag and give it five stars. 10/10. Would purchase again.

The tote in question.

The tote in question.

A young patron selects a bookmark design at the International Printing Museum’s booth.

A young patron selects a bookmark design at the International Printing Museum’s booth.

Another standout was the International Printing Museum, which brought a pair of 19th century home printing presses, which they demonstrated. Festival-goers waited in line for their own freshly printed bookmarks. As someone who has crudely attempted print-making, the bookmarks were lovely, and it makes me want to go to Torrance to visit their museum.


I drifted through some outdoor YA panels, not because of disinterest, but because when the conversation turns to the market and writing, you have a tendency to hear the same things over and over. And, the sky was very blue and there were so many other things to do.

With the day at the festival over, I joined a friend for Korean bbq, and we drank cold beers and grilled an absurd quantity of meat. Devoured many little plates of banchan. It feels like summer is just around the corner.

Let's recover a little

I've spent the last couple weeks making Russian food, Eastern European food, in my spare time. The other night, around eleven, I started making a little loaf cake that was mostly eggs and cheese curds, studded with cherries and candied orange peel. It tasted like somewhere between an egg tart and cheesecake, like tea time by grandmothers in a faraway place. 

In a moment of weakness, also late at night, I bought a pelmeni press. Pelmeni are like tortellini, but they are the Italian dumpling's tastier, more rustic cousin. Pelmeni are made from a simple, soft dough. Packed with meat. Then, they are frozen. They were food carried in sacks in Siberia on long trips and the dumplings naturally froze. Because I do not live in the frozen wilderness, I scattered the dumplings on cake pans and placed them in the freezer. 

There's something wonderfully comforting about pelmeni. After pouring the little dumplings into boiling water, you simply wait until they rise to the surface. Dress them with sour cream and dill. Cracked pepper. The meat juices pop in the mouth and the sour cream is a sauce onto itself. 

Borscht is wonderful. I've only had it at restaurants where it is a special thing. I feel a special kinship with the soup if only because it begins with cooking onions and celery in butter. Only recently I've realized that is the comforting food smell of my childhood. Browning celery and butter. Borscht involves beets, can have carrots and potatoes too. And it's ready in about an hour with no fuss. A soup after my heart. 



It's been an eventful couple weeks, full of book festivals and work deadlines. There was the LA Times Festival of Books, which I like to attend every year, as well as Yallwest. 

Yallwest this year was special, mainly because a group of writers that I'm a part of had arranged a meetup at the festival. I have met Samantha Chaffin in person, but never Kristin Yuki or Lydia Albano. Welcome to 2018, where it's not a big deal to meet people who only know online. My security measure was that if Lydia had turned out to be a beer-bellied ax-murderer, Samantha would have found out first. Anyway, Lydia turned out to be a lovely person and Kristin too, so we did all the things one does at book festivals. 

It was interesting also because the website that subsumed and erased Figment, where we all got our online start, was at Yallwest. Without coordinating, some of us came with our Figment totes won from contests years ago. It was a miniature protest. 


I refused to do any signings, except to press Lydia's book, Finding You, into her hands and insist that she sign it. I essentially wandered from panel-to-panel depending on who I was with and what they wanted to see. I ended up at panels on comics, LGBT, a keynote highjacked by a moderator, strolling through the ARC and giveaway tents but needing nothing. I got to talk and listen. I stumbled across a girl I met on a program in Japan years ago, and we re-connected over Yuzuru Hanyu and stories. Having a new job.

This was the first year I did not attend a panel on agents or getting published. Lydia and I walked up to that panel, but the room was full. It was a beautiful day with a Santa Monica sky so blue and cloud-streaked that it could have been the walls of a baby's room. It was warm. We shrugged and walked away. 

Oh, fuck that. Like I need some to tell me to personalize a cover letter for the millionth time. Or look me in the eyes and tell me, a stranger, that my ideas matter. 

We got grilled cheese sandwiches and crispy tater tots, and we ate in the shade. It's tradition. 


We're all getting older, of course. I remember those Figment days when I came home from classes and banged out stories like I would never have another idea. Nowadays, I am comfortable with the idea that I'll always have ideas, but I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the reality that no one particularly cares. On some days, maybe most days, I'm comfortable with it. 



Anyway, there was the LA Times Festival of Books too, which is a much more chill affair for me despite being spread over a whole weekend. I enjoyed just browsing the booths and books for sale. A good friend is working on an illustrated children's book, so we read and flipped through tons of picture books in the name of research. 


In my usual fashion, I did not properly plan the book festival. But in a stroke of luck, I did stumble across the signing for Diana Galbaldon, author of the Outlander series. It was an epic signing line, and I was in it for two hours. We, the people of the signing line, didn't know each other, but we knew the books, and we clustered in shady patches, waiting as the line inched forward. 

She was nice. She must have been tired. 

I ate pitas stuffed with meat and grape leaves stuffed with rice, and it was a pretty nice weekend. 

Thinking about all this makes me ready to keep working. We'll see how it all comes out. 





Let's Bookfest 2017 (ft. writing insecurity)

I cannot believe that it's been almost a month since that silliness on Twitter. 

Where am I? Writing these posts feels like scribbling on a bit of paper and firing it into space. Where am I? Well, I'm still idly paddling around in the space ship. I've been asked by a few people if #Pitmad went anywhere, and the answer is a resounding no. Take that and fire it into space. I have gotten a few lovely rejections and I am patiently waiting for the last one to free up the anxiety section of my brain. 

Fortunately, I am very busy, so I can't re-fresh my email and wonder which iteration of industry subjectivity or voice I will receive in my inbox. Papers are due, and then I am going off to Japan! It's going to be wonderful. 

In the meantime, I am plugging away at the novel that I am convinced absolutely no one will want to read. How is Serango going? Well, this morning I reached the 63,000 word mark, which means I am butt-up against the third and final act of the book. I think this is the closest I've ever come to actually matching my acts and outline planning in a long time. So, that's positive. The negative is that this book is so hard to write. I like the characters, but I'm not convinced they'll be likable for anyone else. Also, there are so many characters! And this book isn't structured in a friendly, easy way like Six of Crows where the story evenly switches several main characters. I'll spend a couple chapters with one person, then move to another because it makes sense for the plot. Will a reader tolerate that? I don't know. Do I care? Also, don't know. I feel like I should care more. 

In addition, I am a little terrified that nothing happens in this book. Maybe this is an irrational fear. It feels like there's a lot of feeling, talking, and describing. I kind of dig that, but I feel like more stuff should be blowing up or something. I don't know. 

I keep having these days where I love what I've done. Where the characters are funny, or something dramatic has happened. Then, there are other mornings when I sit down to write and it's such a slog. Thank God I am not intending to query on this. What a nightmare it would be.  

Anyway, in the spirit of positivity—I hear you are supposed to only be positive on blogs—I will say that it is nice having some sexual tension between characters. And there are some truly absurd descriptions in this book, but... there it is. 

In this scene, which I wrote this morning, some guards have come to take a young woman named Nemesca away from the revolvists. She has joined the army because she wants to be a revolvist, and she wanted to escape her marriage to the prince. The General, Airfield, is trying to determine whether or not they should fight to keep her in the army. 

Anyway, the last couple weeks have seen some book festivals around Los Angeles, so I thought that I would share some snapshots. Last weekend, the University of Southern California hosted the LA Times Festival of Books, and this past Saturday, there was Yallwest. 

The unexpected highlight of the Festival of Books was the "I'm too sexy for this book" panel, which featured romance novelists. I've enjoyed a pile of Julia Quinn novels, so I decided to sneak into this sold-out panel. They talked about their work schedules, raising and supporting families, and stigmas of the profession. They had a real no nonsense approach to writing, which was frankly refreshing. "Writer's block is a disease of the privileged," or some such gem was said. Afterwards I bought a copy of Because of Miss Bridgerton and had it signed. 

Yallwest, the YA book festival in Santa Monica, was only one day this year. And because it was on the same day as Independent Bookstore Day, I had to do double duty. I woke up, wrote, went to my local bookstore to snag a copy of Rainbow Rowell's Kindred Spirits, and then went straight across the city to Santa Monica. I arrived in time for a panel on writing series (cue laughter) and then a panel on mythology in YA. At a panel on animation featuring artists from Disney, Pixar, and the Simpsons, I ran into an old friend. We re-connected over banana pudding (because there's a truck for that at Yallwest) and then I found Samantha Chaffin. It was like finding a creature in its natural habitat. Anyway, we talked, and maybe she will write another pirate book? Maybe I'm at peace with never having an agent? I'm looking forward to the pirate book! 

Let's Yallwest

I'm still buzzing from the latte I had this morning, as well as the writing high. This week officially saw me going full steam ahead on Food of Magicians. Which means I woke up early, ate, and staggered to the local coffee shop to write before going to work. 

This past weekend marked the end of what we might call the Los Angeles Book Binge. Two weeks ago was the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and this weekend was Yallwest, which focuses on YA. This year I went to both days of the festival, and I learned a few things, which I will attempt to share below. 

Okay, when I say "both days of the festival," I lied a little bit. If you include Friday night's Fierce Reads event, then it's three days. The Fierce Reads event was held in the Santa Monica library, and since I work on the west side of Los Angeles, I just came over to the library after work. The highlight for most of the people waiting in line was to get their books signed by authors like Leigh Bardugo and Rainbow Rowell. Because I was silly and arrived twenty minutes before the events started, I was sent to the back of the Leigh Bardugo line which curled out of the courtyard and onto the sidewalk. 

In that awkward, quietly waiting and chatting about books sort of way, I bonded with the people in line. We also liked the same book, which helped. But because no line can be normal if I wait in it, I was approached by a guy walking down the sidewalk. He stopped to tie his shoes right next to me--they did not need to be tied--and then he stood up and told me point blank that I did not look like I had any black friends. 

This was, I take it, a really terrible pick-up line. 

And you know what, it's not the first time I've heard it. Literally. Is there a website out there telling young men that this is a good way to open a conversation with a girl? Hey there, you look like a total racist. Do you want to be my girlfriend and fix that?

And because this was not the first time a guy has cornered me to play this line--last time was on a bus--I looked him straight in the eye and told him no. No, actually, not true. And because I think these guys must be getting advice from a website that tells them not to take a hint, he launched into a sermon about how we were paying attention to our phones and we were all the same, and when one of the Fierce Reads staff intervened, he focused on the staff guy, and then he was escorted away by security. 

I must have an invisible tattoo on my forehead. 

That wackiness aside, it was a great time, and I got to meet Leigh Bardugo. In person. She had dyed her hair silver, and I tried to play it cool, but I don't think I could. I crushed. And she signed my book. I think I was the third Emily of the night--at least according to the post-it lady--but I was probably the strangest Emily. 

So, basically, I gave Bardugo wine from Moldova because I saw it in my Little Armenian grocery store, and I thought the label screamed Grisha trilogy. (In case you're curious, it was a Kagor dessert wine. Have you ever heard of Kagor? Me neither. But great label art!) So, I bought it. And I kept it until the day came when I would warn her about the quality and hand it off. Which I did that Friday night. That made the line worth it. 


On Saturday, I went to many panels.

If you get bored reading about panels, now is the time to leave this post. I went to so many panels that I can't give an in depth review of each. So, overview time!  


So, the morning started off with a keynote by Rainbow Rowell and Holly Black. We arrived only twenty minutes before the keynote, I think, with enough time to pick up our tickets and attach ourselves to the end of a super long line. I saw Samantha Chaffin and may have given her a love punch. She was responsible and had actually arrived in advance. 

The keynote was delayed, then delayed again, and finally started. Rowell was sweet. She talked about her upbringing, living in poverty, and then deciding to become a journalist and how her childhood and early adulthood influenced her books like Attachments and Eleanor and Park

We slipped out early, because we were worried about making the day's second keynote on Sana Amanat, a key player at Marvel and the editor of Ms. Marvel. Amanat discussed diversity in comics and how Marvel is working hard to have more titles with women and minorities, as well as the growing pains from the older fanbase. 

Fast forward to noon, and I'm racing off to attend a panel on Creative Jobs. 

That's some pro panorama skills right there. Left to right: Ellen Oh (We Need Diverse Books), Annie Lohr (Riot Games), Richard Abate (3 Arts), Erin Stein (Macmillian), Patrick Dolan (Interactive Advertising Bureau), Kristin Nelson (Nelson), Seth Fishman (Gernert), Sarah Burnes (Gernert), and Sana Amanat. 

This was actually my favorite panel of the festival because I like learning how people end up where they do. And with everyone talking about their backgrounds twisting and turning before they ended up in games, publishing, or comics, it made me feel a lot better about my own winding, weed-ridden path. I even worked up the courage to approach two of the agents on the panel and introduce myself. I was nervous. They were nice, and I'm glad I didn't blurt out anything that'd get me on a blacklist. 

I reconvened with my friends for the Women of Marvel panel. 

Which also means that I accidentally saw three panels in a row with Sana Amanat. Samantha Chaffin actually took notes, and you'd definitely be better off reading her coverage. I just sat there and thought, 'Oh, this is fun!' 

Yallwest is also dark and full of signings. 

Since I had met Leigh Bardugo and gotten my book signed on Friday, my only other priority for the weekend was to have my copies of The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger signed by Renee Ahdieh. You may remember her as the author who broke my heart during 2014 Pitch Wars. But she is also the hot, up-and-coming author of these Middle Eastern fantasy novels! 

I waited in line, and totally fumbled introducing myself. She remembered me from Pitch Wars, which was awesome. It just took a few failed introductions... Lesson learned, if someone only knows you from the Internet, go by your Internet name. And then when I told her that I had revised The Princess and Fox Demon and had queried, but was moving onto another project, we were interrupted by a Yallwest handler who told her to hurry up with the signing line. And then I awkwardly walked away from the table. 

Oh well. I tried. I really did! 

Haha, she probably never wants to see me again. 

Which brings us to Sunday! 

I crashed with my friend Shirley and we came back to Yallwest on Sunday. Now, one thing to note about Sunday is that it is much quieter than Saturday. Some of the East Coast authors have to go, and the panels have more of a local crowd. But one great thing about Sunday is getting free stuff. 

Of course, we went to many panels, but I feel like I spent much of the day exploring the booths. Unlike on Saturday, there are not monstrously long lines if you want to win an ARC (advanced reader copy). I answered a Twitter trivia question and actually won a t-shirt because I was the first person to reach the booth. I won three ARCs, including a special edition of The Young Elites

I also received an absurd number of free tote bags, including an adorable one with an elephant reading that celebrated Children's Book Week. (It's this week, in case you ever wondered.) 

We saw a number of great panels on comics and animation

And a panel on the creative life and writing advice...

And because the lines were manageable on Sunday, I got to enjoy a hotdog and boba from the food trucks. 

It was quite a weekend, and no doubt I've forgotten a lot, but like any good thing, it'll slowly come back to me.