Way back in April I had the chance to go to YALLWEST, which is a sister event to YALLFEST, organized by the fabulous Melissa de la Cruz and Margaret Stohl (and a bunch of other people). It took place on the campus of Santa Monica High School and while it was crowded and sort of “new” with lots of bumps and hiccups, it was EPIC. In fact, I liked it even better than the LA Times Festival of books (which is my So Cal nerdfest). There was something very casual and organic about the whole thing, authors handing out your VIP passes and tote bags, stopping in atriums and hallways to take a picture with you, Margaret Stohl (who makes the Engergizer Bunny look lazy) standing near the lines directing people to the proper places to check in.
We started our day at the YALLWEST kickoff in the main hall (a big theater decorated in beach balls and stuff because, California). The keynote speaker was Ransom Riggs, otherwise known as Handsome Ransom in my circle of friends. He was a very engaging, funny speaker and he showed this great slide show of pictures he’d collected over the years, telling how it all led to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Also, he and his adorable wife, Tahereh Mafi (thank you, T for creating the swoon machine that is Warner), wore matching tennis shoes that were coordinated with the colors of the beach balls. Adorable!
From there it was onto the signings which was, well, bananas. Basically there was a courtyard with individual tables and lines for a plethora of authors (Ransom Riggs, Tahereh Mafi, Allie Condie, E.Lockhart, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, and Veronica Roth). Roth’s line got so crazy–since she’s, like, taking over the world–that they moved her to a whole separate area. The lines moved pretty quickly (we probably waited for a max of 30-40 minutes at worst), but there were SO many great authors that it was hard to hit everyone. We skipped people we’d previously met and tried to hit Marissa Meyer, which was the longest line next to Roth’s. As a result, we never got to Marie Lu (but I took a great stalker pic of her) because the next group of signings began. Ugh.
It was totally worth it though because my daughter and I pulled double duty and she got in line for Shannon Hale (OMG!!!) and I got in line for Stephanie Perkins (DITTO!!!). It was incredible to meet these ladies. Perkins was so sweet and even a tiny bit shy and even though we weren’t supposed to, I got a quick photo with her. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.
Shannon Hale, on the other hand, could sell out a stint at a comedy club because girlfriend is hilarious. She was quick-witted and gracious, and she even asked about my Jane Eyre shirt (thank you, Etsy).
We scarfed down some lunch (never underestimate the greatness of a food truck) before squeezing into line for Leigh Bardugo. We were near the end, and she was being rushed off to her next panel, but she stayed and signed my books (and she was very nice and apologetic about the hurry).
Next we hit a great panel “Strong Female Characters: Ugh!”. Seriously, what a lineup: Victoria Aveyard, Kimberly Derting, Shannon Hale, Stephanie Perkins, and Morgan Rhodes, moderated by Veronica Roth. It was good–what we could hear. Unfortunately, it was in the high school caf and the sound wasn’t great, so we slipped out about halfway through and hit the “Really Fantastic & Fantastically Real” panel with Ransom Riggs, Rachel Cohn, Allly Condie, Susan Ee, Ellen Hopkins, and Carry Ryan, moderated by LAUREN FREAKING OLIVER.
I have to say, I was already a fan of Ms. Oliver, but there was something effortlessly cool about her that I ended up liking her even more. She was so great, in fact, that when the panel ended, my friend slipped out to get in line for her signing (because she liked her so much). She took my copy of Delirium with her. The rest of us had to leave the auditorium to get in line for the next panel, “Once Upon A Retelling: Alt Fairytales” with Ally Condy, E.Lockhart, Danielle Page, Shannon Hale, Marissa Meyer, Elissa Sussman, moderated by Melissa de la Cruz. While we were waiting, we saw Lauren Oliver. Like, outside. Standing right next to us. I didn’t want to be a creepy stalker and ask for a picture because she was on the phone, but my daughter kept saying, “Just go up to her, Mom.”
But I didn’t. And I totally regretted it as I watched her walk off to her next signing.
Inside, the fairy tale panel began. My daughter HAD TO be present for this one and holy cow, it was fantastic. And since Shannon Hale was there, it was also hilarious (she told the story of her first kiss: she’d just put on Chapstick and her date said, “Can I have some of that?” So she handed him her Chapstick).
On our way out the door we ran into Marissa Meyer, who very graciously took a pic with my kid. She was excited, but I have to say, for a thirteen year-old meeting one of her favorite authors, she was pretty calm. Not like her mom would have been.
Here’s where I began to feel really bummed that I hadn’t taken a pic with Lauren Oliver. I don’t know why. Maybe because she’s cooler than I can ever dream of being. I can’t explain it. We made our way to the Oliver line, which was approximately thirty-five miles long, and what we saw was amazing: my friend, Alicia, was in the very front, holding my book, waving me over.
I raced over and instantly started with the inward OMGs. Because Lauren Oliver, you guys. Any hope I had of coming across even mildly normal (like that would happen) were dashed when Chloe, my daughter, told Oliver the story of how bummed I was that I didn’t meet her earlier, and how I was sort of freaking out right then and she was trying to calm me down. Lauren Oliver was laughing, saying this was a total role reversal compared to what she normally sees (thanks, Chloe), but who cares? I got my book signed. Got my picture. Day made.
If you are a Southern California person, or a book worm who doesn’t mind traveling, I suggest you check out YALLWEST next year. It’s not as big as LATFOB, but there is something warmer and more personal about it. The Festival of books is definitely amazing–a huge event with tons of options. And it runs like a well-oiled machine–but YALLWEST felt so much more intimate. My only complaint, other than the tight schedules, is that there was only one place to buy books. This could pose problems for anyone who wants to buy books on site before they’re signed because the line was over 30 minutes long all day. Other than that, it was a great time.