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#UTOPiA2016 wrap-up and what UTOPiA means to me

It’s been a month since UTOPiA 2016, and I’ve had such a difficult time putting all of my thoughts into words. My trip was utterly amazing. I loved seeing some of my favorite people again and meeting others for the very first time. I truly believe that UTOPiA is this magical place. Sure, the hotel may have been anything but magical for some this year, but accommodations aside (and it won’t be an issue next year), the whole conference was fabulous. Every year, though, I feel like I miss some seeing some people. How did I miss saying hello to Nikki Jefford, telling PM Hernandez that my Book Boyfriend is an Alien, or congratulating Venessa Kimball on the rebranding of her books? These missed connections bug me, but that’s the way of events. Even the people I saw I wanted to see more of. I can never get enough of my ohana, my family. Really, that’s what UTOPiAns are to me.

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Since first discovering UTOPiA (then utopYA) in 2013, I feel that every year it becomes a bookend to my life. There’s the pre-UTOPiA me and the post-UTOPiA me. I discovered utopYA at the lowest point in my life. I didn’t even go that year because I found out about it as it was happening, but already it began to change me. I knew there were people out there like me. I knew there was something out there to look forward to, even if it was going to be a full year away before I could take part. My life started turning around after UTOPiA. I started to embrace my weird. It helped interacting daily with people who flew the same flags, even if it was just online. Starting a job with like-minded individuals certainly helped, too, but I know that UTOPiA cracked my shell and ripped it wide open.

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At 30, I no longer care if people think I’m odd to like those YA books. I proudly sport some sort of book or UTOPiA related shirt almost daily (thankfully, I have a job where t-shirts are okay attire). I can geek out with the best of them over Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, or Outlander. I proudly do.

I’ve met some amazing people who accept me fully for what it is that I do and love. Until UTOPiA, only my best friends did that. Even my mom didn’t quite get me, now I think she’s used to me and the regular deliveries of subscription boxes that come to the house, lol. For a time, I don’t think she got the passion of book blogging or that editing was work. She’s mostly there now.

An amazing thing happened shortly before my first trip to UTOPiA (then utopYA) in 2014. I went on a blind date with this guy who I met online. He had binge-watched Doctor Who up to the Rise of the Cybermen episode so we could go watch it on the big screen after dinner. Major points there. I really liked this guy. Plus, he seemed totally into the fact that I liked books as much as I do and didn’t blink at my telling him that I was going to Nashville for a few days for a book conference just three days after we met. I had truthfully been worried about that, hoping he wouldn’t think it as my way of getting out of a second date, one of those I’ll contact you after my vacation sort of things but not really meaning it. We texted throughout the conference, and I saw him the day after I got home, then had our real second date that next weekend. We’ve been nearly inseparable since.

He put me on a plane to Nashville the day after our first anniversary. UtopYA2015 was the only time I’ve ever been homesick, pretty much because of him. We discussed things, neither of us liked being apart for that long, so I bought his ticket to come to UTOPiA2016 with me the week after the conference ended. Airline tickets for the both of us were a Christmas present from his parents. I definitely helped cut costs.

Finally, June arrived, and we hit our 2-year anniversary. It was quiet. I got my haircut that evening so I would have it short for the Nashville weather. It was my first cut in over a year and a half. I donated the foot that got chopped off. We had nearly a week this year between our anniversary and UTOPiA. Anniversary was Thursday; we flew out Wednesday morning.

After a great flight and a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, we checked into the conference and the wonderfully epic madness of UTOPiA commenced. It was great to show my boyfriend what it is that UTOPiA is and a look into my book life. I was even more excited because I was there as an editor of books that had been nominated in multiple Utopia Awards categories, and that was super validating for me. I had no idea if I would win, but just that clients of mine, and even me, too, were nominated was enough for me. And although I didn’t personally win, some of my clients did, and that’s awesome!

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UTOPiA really is a bookend on my shelf of life. The first bookend saw me at my lowest point and capped it, preventing it from continuing. Every year, my shelf expands and the UTOPia bookend at the close caps what has been the best year of my life to that point. Every year keeps getting better and better.

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This year? This happened.


Thanks, Ren, for the photos and videos of the proposal!

My boyfriend proposed after the opening keynote at UTOPiA2016 on stage in a room full of authors. He almost didn’t do it that night because of how Myra McEntire’s speech began…UTOPiA 551…but it’s ending consisting of a five-minute video with people holding up signs reading, “You Can Do It” totally changed his mind. The moment was right. I’ll go so far as to say perfect. I had two minutes of advance warning, I saw him whispering to Ashely, the new event coordinator, asking for the mic. Now, this was definitely out of his comfort zone for things. He doesn’t get up in front of people, never mind in front of people he doesn’t know. But he did. He went big. Despite the short advance preparation, this was still an emotional shock, albeit an amazing one. It went by in a blur, and I am so glad that it was heavily photographed and recorded. I’ve seen a few of the videos, and my grin gets as big watching it as it was when it happened.

Thank you all for your congratulations, your hugs, your photographs, and really everything.

I don’t fully know what the future has in store for me. I’d love to transition to be a full-time editor/author someday and work for a publisher. Really, I want to be in the book world forever. Rob supports this decision fully. I definitely found an amazing man to spend my life with. We have a lot of adventures ahead of us, and I am so glad this chapter of my life began at UTOPiA with my book family. I really wouldn’t be where I am today without the UTOPiAns. I love you all.

I really hope to see you at UTOPiA in 2017. #Stepwriteup. Get your ticket here.* Join me. I’ve already bought an exhibitor table. That’s a first for me. We’re going to do something to celebrate the #PaisleyWedding, too. It’s going to be an amazing year. I want you to be a part of it. You’re familiar. <3

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