Saturday, July 18, 2015

UtopYA 2015

If you've been following me on Twitter or read my section of Previously on WLABB at the beginning of the month, then you might know I went to UtopYA last month. I procrastinated on this post a lot - mostly because I knew it would take a while to get the whole thing together and I'm lazy - but it's finally here! Check out me and Sloth's adventures in Nashville and at UtopYA!

If you don't know what UtopYA is, it's a relatively small (in comparison to BookCon) book convention that focuses a lot on Young Adult and New Adult in the fantasy and contemporary genres. Every year, it takes place in Nashville, Tennessee and draws a very enthusiastic group, often of authors who make a point to attend UtopYA every year. While a large part of the authors are independently published, there are still many traditionally published authors as well. This was the fourth year of UtopYA.

The first day was basically a travel day - we took a flight and a connection and then we were in Nashville! Since the main events of UtopYA weren't starting until the next morning, we decided to explore downtown Nashville, which was only a short bus ride away. Sloth likes exploring new places for photo ops, so we did a lot of that.

After we explored a while, we decided to get some food! Of course, we wanted to get barbecue, so we went to Rippy's Ribs. It was really good! There were a bunch of business cards stuck under the table top, so I stuck mine under too.

Day one of UtopYA was fun! It was such a different feel from the craziness of BEA and BookCon that it took me a while to adjust and figure it out. I went to a few great panels (I won't bore you with pictures of people sitting and talking), including one about world building with Marissa Meyer, C.J. Redwine, Amy A. Bartol, and Helene Dunbar and one about why YA matters with B.J. Sheldon, Lauren Miller, Chanda Hahn, and Hope Collier. Both panels were really great, and all the speakers presented great tips/points at the panels. The highlight of the day was after the world building panel when Sloth got to meet Marissa Meyer!

Day two of UtopYA started off with an absolutely incredible keynote from Lauren Miller about embracing the detour. Seriously, that could have been a commencement speech - it was so well put together and inspiring. We also went to a great panel from C.J. Redwine and her husband about marketing to millennials, which was really interesting even though it doesn't necessarily pertain to me. After that, we mostly walked around the show floor, and Sloth took some more fun photos. We don't remember whose booth the first photo is from, but the second is at Patti Larsen's booth and the third is with Little Big Benny!

In the middle of the day, we were just sitting down and waiting to eat lunch, and we ended up hanging out with Katie McGarry for over an hour! Katie McGarry saw Sloth and asked me about him. When I told her that Sloth goes on adventures and takes pictures, she told me about one time when she took her kid's Perry the Platypus and posed him on the stops of her book tour. Sloth was quite smitten with Katie McGarry, so obviously they took a picture together. It was also around this time that Sloth decided he needed to get his own Twitter, and so he created @SlothGoesPlaces.

After hanging out for a while, we went to the last panel of the day, which was gender roles and stereotypes with Marissa Meyer, Katie McGarry, Jamie Anderson, and Tammy Blackwell. After the day ended, we had some dinner and went to a special premiere of a short film, After Light. The film was an adaptation of Cameo Renae's ARV-3. I'm a bit of a production-side-of-things geek since I'm on the production side of things in my theater work, so I really enjoyed hearing about the experience from the director and actors. One of the monsters from the movie came to the premiere, and Sloth decided to become friends.

Day three of UtopYA started off with a very beautiful keynote from Kim Holden about "Do Epic," a message from her book Bright Side. After that, the main event of the day, Authors R My Idols aka ARMI, was basically a big signing. All the authors had booths set up to sell and sign books, and there were more people there just for the signing event. This was the day I really went around and talked to the authors about their books. Since I'm not much of a physical book reader, I decided it would be better to just take the bookmarks or information cards for the books and look them up online later. I was also on a mission to get my bag signed by most of the authors, so it was both enjoyable and productive. While we were visiting the booths, Sloth had to take some fun pictures (of course).

One of Sloth's favorite stops was Cambria Hebert's booth. Sloth and Murphy became friends and took some pictures, and then Sloth also took a picture with Cambria Hebert!

I'm not sure if this is obvious to people who don't know me in real life but I really like unicorns (as does Sloth). We were so excited to see a book called Unless You Can Be a Unicorn by Delphina Henley, and Sloth had to take some photos. The third picture below is Sloth with Nooce Miller and her fun steampunk set up.

Another booth where Sloth had a lot of fun was Courtney C. Steven's booth. She had so many friends on her table! Sloth's favorite was Big the ostrich. Becca Vincenza's table was nearby and Sloth befriended that little red guy (I think he's from Doctor Who?).

Sloth had some more fun with these hippie chicks at Shawn McGuire's booth. (Yes, I'm aware they're actually ducks, but hippie chicks sounds more fun than hippie ducks.) Sloth loved the panels where C.J. Redwine spoke, so Sloth and C.J. Redwine posed for a picture together at her booth. At Myra McEntire's booth, Sloth had lots of new friends to pose with.

If you couldn't tell, Sloth was quite busy taking pictures and making friends. Unfortunately, as a result, neither of us remembers the booths at which we took these two photos. The first one was a cute monkey friend, and the second was a zombie friend, although Sloth was a little creeped out by the severed hand.

Even though the signing was mostly a book purchasing day, a few authors offered me review copies. Even though I'm swamped with BEA books right now, I'm hoping to get to these soon! (Don't mind Sloth - he thinks these are his.)

Since I got so much swag at UtopYA, I've decided to include pictures of some of my favorites! I got a few pens throughout the day, but these two were my favorites. The first is from Tricia Zoeller, and I love it because it's a pen but can also be used as a stylus if the pen is clicked out. The second is from Nikki Jefford, and I thought the sayings on the sides were really funny.

One thing that I always love picking up is fun buttons. These are my favorite buttons I got at UtopYA!

A bunch of the authors were giving out really awesome goodie bags for bloggers. My favorite thing I received was this tote bag from Christina Benjamin.

I don't remember where I picked this card up, but it was definitely one of my favorite things I saw. It's such a great message accompanied by a super cute illustration - love!

At the end of the signing, I ended up getting most of the authors to sign my bag, and I love how it turned out! I didn't want to list all the authors/books that I saw at UtopYA here (it would be a long list), so I decided to make this Goodreads shelf where you can check them out! I made this list using the swag I picked up at UtopYA. It is by no means an all-encompassing list, but it's definitely the majority of the authors/books from the convention.

After all the adventures of the day, we rested for a bit and got ready for the UtopYA Awards! The awards were really fun, awarding authors in various different categories. It was all very fancy. There was also a lip-sync battle happening periodically throughout the awards, which added some extra whimsy and fun.

The last day of UtopYA wasn't really a full day. The day started off just discussing the success of the weekend and awarding a few authors based on the votes received for best booths. For the fifth year of UtopYA next year, they really wanted to have a special theme; they also wanted to branch out more. As a result, UtopYA will now be Utopia, and will also include Middle Grade and Adult novels. Next year's Utopia will have a revolution theme, and the tagline is "Fight for Your Write." Since they are expanding, there will be some more changes for next year, including a big field day competition that sounds like fun.

If you love books and live near Nashville, I definitely recommend going to Utopia next year! Although I won't be able to attend again next year (BEA being in Chicago is a big hit money-wise since I'll have to travel there), it sounds like next year will be even better and more fun!

So, my actual UtopYA recap is finished, but if you'd like to see more of Sloth's adventures in Nashville, keep reading!

Since the last day of UtopYA wasn't a full day, we decided to take a bus tour themed around ABC's Nashville. Most of the tour was spent on the bus as we drove through Nashville and saw some of the places featured in the show. The guide was really great - he grew up in Nashville and told us a lot about the history as well as things like how the production team picks locations to shoot. Most of my pictures of the houses and other places in the show aren't particularly good shots since we were on the bus, so I'm not going to include them. I do, however, have some great photos from times we got off the bus to look around.

One of the first things we did on the tour was visit Ryman Auditorium, which was the big concert place before the Grand Ole Opry. Sloth had a lot of fun looking around here. They also have a really cool display of clothes, instruments, and other things from musicians who have performed there.

Another big highlight was getting to see The Bluebird Café. The Bluebird is actually only open at night for shows so we couldn't go in. We did get to stop and get off the bus to get a good picture though!

Another place we got to get off the bus was Two Old Hippies, which is a store that sells vintage style clothes and decor. I don't watch Nashville, but I'm told some of the characters sang there in the show. In the photos below, Sloth is having fun at the store. He drove a fun looking van and tried to go to Narnia through a magical wardrobe (it wasn't actually magical). Sloth met a "Dammit Doll", which is meant to be smashed against a wall when the owner is frustrated. Sloth said he would never smash the "Dammit Doll" against the wall. Sloth liked the pet bed that looks like a car (although there was no pet in sight), and he looked at the pretty beaded hummingbirds.

While we were driving around, we passed a bunch of celebrity houses, including Taylor Swift's. We also drove past the Parthenon replica. Sloth told me to include a picture of that (even though it was from a distance through a bus window and he's blurry) since it is IN FACT bookish because Percy Jackson went to the Parthenon. I told him that was a different Parthenon; he didn't care.

Overall, it was a really fun trip! I enjoyed my first time at Utopia and visiting Nashville! I think it would be fun to go back again in a few years to visit some of the sights I didn't have the opportunity to, like the replica Parthenon and seeing the replica Athena Parthenos, and attend Utopia again. If you're interested in attending Utopia, I hope this post helped you see what it's all about!

- Kiersten

Have you ever been to Nashville?
Let us know in the comments!

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