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YallWest—The Quest for the Ring & Bookish Things

Published May 29, 2018 by Ashley Townsend

It might have happened at the beginning of May (you know me and punctuality—in opposition like Cinderella and those pesky stepsisters), but I still wanted to share my 10-day experience earlier this month before my next journey. There is always so much to talk about when I go on a bookish trip, but one word to sum up YallWest and the Writer’s Sanctuary Retreat: EPIC!

Some of my Instagram highlights have a few of the videos and pics from the events, in case you missed them, so go check them out and follow the people I tagged for their highlights, too!

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The first Friday of this month, I took a long and arduous 45-minute flight from San Diego to LAX—oy, the jet lag!—to meet up with one of my favorite people on earth, Nadine Brandes, for our fabulous bookish week. After squealing like maniacs who haven’t seen each other in months, we jetted off to the Santa Monica Public Library for a little YallWest pre-fun. We met Alexandra Bracken and Angie Thomas, *squeal* made friends in signing lines, and silent disco danced with Marissa Meyer (unbeknownst to her). Let me tell you, silent disco dancing looks like a gaggle of awkward weirdoes mime-dancing, but as soon as we slipped on those headphones, we didn’t mind joining in on the no-longer-silent dancing in the middle of the library courtyard. At least we were weirdos together!

(Psssst. Nadine is headed to BookCon on June 1st in NYC to giveaway and sign ARCs of Fawkes, so get on that!!!)

YALLWEST:

YallWest is basically a mini ComicCon for books—signings, ARCs and swag, panels, fabulous food, meet-and-greets with authors, and an all-around amazing event for geeky shenanigans with your favorite people. And. It. Was. Fanastic!

Nadine and I had no idea what to expect, so we were blown away by the amount of fans that showed up. We spent that Saturday exploring the shops, drooling over food truck food, getting books signed, visiting with friends, and meeting up with Benita, the creator of the original Book Beau that I had the pleasure of meeting at BeaulitfulCon in January. Of course, it was necessary for me to pick up a new mermaid Book Beau and a fox one for Katie, because you can never have too many Beaus. ^_~ Benita has such an incredible entrepreneurial drive and is a sweetheart, and she said that she would love to talk about doing a Book Beau design for Jungle Princess. Umm . . . Yes?!!!!!!  *internal screaming*

After meeting up with the absolutely hilarious and lovely Mary Weber for a seriously long but completely worthwhile boba line, we met up with Natasha, Christine, Jesse, and Kat. Nadine knew Natasha from BeaulitfulCon, but I had only ever been a fangirl of my favorite BookTubers (Tashapolis, Katytastic, Jesseethereader, and XTineMay) and felt a little awkward about entering the group.

They instantly drew us in with their smiles and open hearts, and we got to learn about their own writing journeys as they opened up about their struggles and rough starts. It felt like a life-chat among friends, which blew my mind a bit, but they are all so real and fun and such beautiful human beings that Nadine and I walked away from our afternoon with them knowing that we had just made some incredible memories and friends. If you watch Natasha’s second YallWest vlog, they mention Nadine, Mary, and I in it, and I admit that I did a little fangirl squeal that it meant something to them, too. As incredible as the entire day was, Nadine and I both agreed that our favorite part was getting to know these beautiful people.

The day went so quickly, but we ended the night at a fancy restaurant where Nadine’s and my epic sunburn didn’t quite blend in (you can find the beautiful image of our lobsterness on my Twitter), sitting at a table with Mary Weber, Marissa Meyer, Erin Sumerill, and Kasie West (who is my EVERYTHING), with Jenny Han and Veronica Roth milling about the room.

I was definitely not cool enough for this crowd, but renting out a fancy restaurant and chilling with NYT bestselling authors was just another Saturday for them. I have to admit it was a LOT of fun getting to know all of them and seriously enjoyed the night, but after a nonstop day of fun and sun and excitement, Nadine and I were toast before 11:00 and caught a Lyft back to our bed, though not before I got my sister’s book signed by the incredibly adorable Jenny Han. *squeals for eternity*

Nadine and I spent another day wandering L.A. and had an absolute blast being dorks and having serious heart-to-hearts before parting ways for the next leg of our journey. Before I get to the retreat, though, I’d just like to highlight the fact that I spent 30 minutes hiding in a bathroom at LAX from former Bachelor bachelor (and my personal favorite) Ben Higgins. Lemme ‘splain. . . .

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I’m a casual shark at Comic Con when it comes to celebrities. I have no problem walking up to them and saying hello or asking for a pic if it won’t cause a scene, no biggie. But when I spotted Ben stinking Higgins in front of me at security in LAX, I panicked and watched in shock as he moved on, though I’ve never gotten through security so quickly. I wandered *cough* a few terminals hoping I could spot him and then waked, dejected, to my own gate only to discover him sitting at the gate right next to mine. Fate? I think yes!!!!! But after walking past his waiting area five times and drawing attention to myself with my clacking boots as I tried to draw up the courage to say hello, I ended up getting a coaching session from my sister, Liz, as I hid in the restroom, and my SDCC partner in crime gave me a little push. I emerged from the ladies’ room and marched up to Ben before I could lose my nerve. I thanked him for his amazing work with Generous Coffee and his entertaining and inspirational podcast, and, guys, he was so kind and appreciative and nice. He was exhausted and took the time to talk to me and chat for a few minutes, and as dorky as it sounds, the Be Generous sticker he gave me is now proudly displayed on my laptop in memoriam of that moment of kismet at LAX. I forgot to give my name (and didn’t realize he was asking for it as I backed away *face. palm*), and I didn’t ask for a picture because I didn’t want to cause a hoopla around him before his flight home. But as much as I geeked out on the inside, I feel like it was a nice experience for him to have someone who was genuinely interested in his work with Generous and to have a real conversation, rather than just a fan who wanted something from him. And he never has to know what a cutie he is or that Dana Black and I bonded as we spent an hour-long car ride explaining The Bachelor and Ben Higgins to Lindsay Franklin, semi against her will, but she loved it.

WRITER’S SANCTUARY RETREAT:

This was probably one of the most fruitful conferences/retreats I’ve ever attended, not just for the opportunity to connect with writers and professionals, but C.J. Redwine and Mary Weber forced us to dive deep into our writing and our own hearts. The stories we craft come from within us, and they gave us the tools to safely draw from our past hurts to heal and grow so that our characters can do 

the same. I got through several problem scenes in my work in progress that weekend!

C.J. is such a firecracker to be around, and Mary is a personal friend who has an incredible heart for the hurting. They put so much work into this retreat so that we all came away wiser and fuller so that we can spill out onto the page and be filled in our own lives.

I roomed with my friend, Kara Swanson, and we had plenty of late night convos and Instagram layout plotting sessions and talking about Tom Holland. Nadine and I got to catch up even more, and I met/reconnected with so many friends: Dana and Lindsay were my soul sisters who helped me kick off the retreat, Sarah and Becky completely surprised me with how welcoming and amazingly sweet and hilarious they are (I’m writing a romcom book about Becky and her husband’s dumpster love, no joke), and supporting Elizabeth, and getting to know Heidi more in between our Timeless fangirl chats, and Sharilyn, Tanara, Ani’a, and Alison. These ladies are amazing!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, fun fact: friends that nap together stay together. Sara Ella is one of Nadine’s closest friends, and I’d had the opportunity to officially meet her after being online friends at BeaulitfulCon in January. But when I was dead on my feet after so much travel, I crashed with Nadine and Sara in their room for a three-hour power nap, and I adore this woman! Sara has one of the sweetest hearts I have ever seen, and she and I bonded quickly over our mutual love of Kasie West, naps, Captain Hook, and Jesus, and we spent the rest of the retreat on the lookout for espresso. The last book in her Unblemished series just released, and you need to snag a copy of the gorgeous Unbroken now!

Even when you’re exhausted, it’s always sad when a retreat or conference ends because you spenda week with the most spiritually encouraging and fantastic people, and I usually come away with sore stomach muscles from all the laughter. Mary and C.J. poured their heart and soul into this retreat, and we all came away from it refreshed and ready to dive back into our writing. Danielle Smith, Mary’s agent, was such a sweetheart and volunteered to drive Nadine and I to the San Luis Obispo train station that morning, but not without a stop by SloDoCo. for the world’s most incredible Muddy Buddy and maple bacon donuts *the heavens rejoice* and for legitimate sandwiches from Gus’s. We had such a fun time getting to now Danielle and only wish we’d had more time to chat with her on the car ride.

It was about a 5-hour train ride down from SLO to L.A., during which Nadine and I reminisced about 

our incredible week, pretended to nap but really just talked and giggled with our eyes closed, ate fruit pies like true travelers (to avoid scurvy, of course), and watched our favorite BookTubers’ updates about YallWest to relive the experience. There are plenty of hilarious selfies of our shenanigans on the ride, but we’ve vowed they shall never see the light of day. But we don’t need them to remember the incredible experiences, memories, and the connections and friendships made. I already can’t wait for next year!

 

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