So, this year was my third time at UtopYA Con. Each year it gets a little bit more difficult to adequately sum up the experience, but I’m going to try.
I said to my husband on Sunday morning after the closing notes that every year I go to UtopYA, it reminds me how far I’ve come, but also how much more I’m going to do. And that really is the truth. The first time I went, I knew almost no one and I had all of one book to bring with me.
This year, two years later, I brought eight titles with me and had to leave FOUR at home.
But that’s only one small measure of how much things have changed for me. Last year, I sat at a table for three hours for my first ever signing. This year, not only did I have an exhibitor table for two full days, but two of my books were also nominated for UtopYA awards in two separate categories. Just seeing the names I was listed with as nominee was MIND-BLOWING. Seriously, you guys. I was sharing the big screen with folks like Chanda Hahn and Amy Bartol. That’s absolutely bonkers. How is this my life now???
And as amazing as those things are, what was even more amazing was the strangers that came up to me and told me how much they loved my books. A 15-year-old girl named Danyele who bought paperbacks of Shadows on Snow and The Stillness of the Sky informed me she was telling everyone about the stories because she loved them so much (and of course I messed up and added an extra L to her name when I signed one of them even though I was looking at her name tag at the time *facepalm* I’m still so embarrassed lol). Stacey Rourke, whose name I recognized from Facebook, caught me in line for the bathroom to tell me how much she enjoyed my writing. I finally got to put faces to names like Doris Orman, a blogger who’s been reading and reviewing my books on her blog for quite some time, and Tina Donnelly, who was super gracious in allowing me to mail her preordered copy of Maven because I goofed and forgot to bring it. There were many other new folks as well, but I am absolutely wretched with names so I’m totally begging for forgiveness if I’ve forgotten any of you super special people who made me feel like a total rock star. Every single one of you is appreciated and wonderful. THANK YOU!
There were some new additions to my tribe this year, which is always exciting. Author Katie John came all the way from the UK for the conference, and we had a lovely chat while making a coffee run and sharing back-to-back tables. Jo Michaels totally made my day by rushing over and demanding I sell her a copy of Lex Talionis. Carlyle Labuschagne immediately hugged me when she saw me sitting in the lobby on Wednesday (and introduced me to Katie while she was at it). Chelsea Starling had a serious moment of absolute elation as she nearly tackled me in the bar… Really, I could name a hundred tiny instances like this that added up to five fabulous days of feeling absolutely loved.
I think the best part of the whole trip was getting to reconnect to my circle of sisters (and expand that group a little more). Mindy Hayes and Michele Miller are two of my constants in my writing life, and getting to spend solid days at a time with them was exactly what I needed to recharge my creative batteries. Even better: Megan Toffoli and Jessica Surgett came back again this year to add even more love to the mix, PLUS, Jess brought her mother and BFF out from California, expanding our family by that much more. Cheri and Veranda are now officially part of the odd little collective that have experienced my full-on weirdness and wholeheartedly embraced it.
Every year I go to the closing ceremonies and wonder if this year will be the year I actually go up to the mic and tell everyone exactly what UtopYA means to me. Every year I sit there and even the mere thought of getting up there makes my eyes sting with tears. Between the amazing family that’s chosen to include me, and the mile markers of success I see myself passing with each trip to Nashville, there is literally no way I could get through such a speech in any sort of coherent way. I imagine it would sound a little like this:
“Hey, guys. I’m Starla Huchton and I’m…. I’m… OMGIjustloveeveryonesomuchandsobchokesniffhorkgagsontearsthenpassesoutrightinfrontofeveryone.”
That’s probably how that would go. And no one needs to see that. Just no. That’s not at all helpful to anyone, and falling unconscious into a puddle of my own tears doesn’t sound like a fun way to end a convention. Again I chose to abstain from speaking, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t (and still do) have a lot to say about UtopYA. Everyone that attends that convention is so supportive of one another, that it’s astonishing to realize that many awesome people exist in the world, and that they have more love between them than any single building can contain.
That said, I already purchased my table and ticket for next year. Will I see you there?