Yallfest 2016… in a wheelchair.
This year I was blessed enough to attend Yallfest- my first big book festival! I have lots to share – both good and bad. Regardless, overall, it was an incredible experience and I’m so grateful to all those who went out of their way to help me out!
First, I need to give a huge shoutout to my hubs. He gave up his few days of freedom to drive me down to Charleston, rent me a wheelchair, and roll me around half the city. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been chronically ill for some time. I’m able to get up and walk around some during the day- but I simply don’t have the stamina to walk around an event like this. Not only do I lack the energy, I’m very nauseous and dizzy about 90% of the time along with a slew of other problems.. Physical activity is very strenuous for me. When I first heard about the event, I knew there was no way I’d be able to attend – being as sick as I am. But then, my dear friend Cait (@apagewithaview) told me about how she’s rented wheelchairs in similar situations. I was hesitant at first because I felt guilty about using one – but I guess that was silly because the truth is I needed the help.
FRIDAY (was rough…)
Friday afternoon kicked off the start of Yallfest, and unfortunately that day was quite the struggle for us. (Don’t worry though, Saturday was AMAZING.) We found out very quickly that Charleston is not wheelchair friendly. Several buildings had stairs to enter without wheelchair access. Not only that, but the sidewalks are mostly made of stone and were very jagged and rough to roll around on. I also noticed most people looked past us when we needed help getting me up and down difficult areas. It’s funny how fast you become invisible when you’re in a wheelchair. That took me by suprise, but I’m so much more aware of how much people who are disabled need help. It was a learning experience and I made a commitment right off the bat to be more aware of my surroundings- especially when I’m better, to help those in need. (Okay, I promise this won’t all be about my experience in a wheelchair or negative.)
I didn’t have tickets to the Fierce Friday event, but we saw that Alexandra Braken was having a signing at 2pm. I didn’t have any of her physical books- so we rushed to a bookstore to grab one which took about an hour because of the line. (Thank you, by the way, to the girl who skipped ahead of us just because we were easy to pass by.) When we found the signing line, it was FOREVER long. About 30 minutes into waiting, I was starting to feel VERY ill at that point as my blood sugar was dropping. I asked a volunteer if there was any way I could just hand her my book really quickly so I could go back to the hotel and take care of myself. His response was “Sorry, I really can’t help you.” So, against my better judgement, we waited about 2 hours to get to her. By that point, I was about ready to pass out. I was shaking so much that I could barely hold my book. We did get to meet Alexandra Braken though- and she was so sweet. I don’t remember much of that encounter – but hey, I did get a picture with her!
We went back to the hotel Friday evening and I collapsed for several hours. I cried myself to sleep because I thought I was going to have to make us leave to go back to Charlotte in the morning. I was so sick and so discouraged. I knew we couldn’t take another day of that. But luckily, the next morning, I had stabilized a little bit and Jeff (my hubs) convinced me to just give it a try and see if we could get some help getting around. Luckily, he was right (though we were much more prepared this time.)
SATURDAY (was awesome!!)
Saturday- from beginning to end, was AMAZING. Somehow, by the grace of God, we got there just in time for the Science vs. Fantasy Throwdown panel with Moderator Veronica Roth with Daniel José Older, Renee Ahdieh, Suzanne Young, Amie Kaufman, and Leigh Bardugo. (I’ll be honest, I was mostly there for Leigh – she’s my favorite author.) We found a staff member and asked for help – and they led us around back and let us enter that way through a ramp.
While we were waiting though- something amazing happened! Roshani Chokshi just happened to walk by us – and stopped to talk to us! For those of you who don’t know her – check her out. She wrote a beautiful novel called “Star-Touched Queen.” I’d previously heard that she was giving away ARCS later in the day- but I didn’t think we’d make it across town in time. She so kindly offered to get me one herself if we didn’t get one then.
Okay okay, back to the panel….
My favorite Leigh Bardugo quote from the panel was when the discussion was how to differentiate science fiction from fantasy. Her response was “Sci fi has buttons, fantasy has levers!” But really, every author there was so well spoken and absolutely hilarious.
If you’re interested in watching it, Yallfest filmed it and you can view it here: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1mrGmARdDkBGy
After the panel, we made it over to some of the publisher’s tents in time for the ARC giveaway, but it was a madhouse. The moment they opened the line for Roshani’s ARC of “A Crown of Wishes” – a herd of girls swarmed to it before I could blink. No matter though- because I ended up meeting some bookstagrammers that I’ve been following for a long time! I got to meet Brittany from @abibliophilesbkm, The lovely ladies from @ThriceRead, and DJ himself from @lifeinfiction! If you haven’t seen their accounts – you’re totally missing out. This alone made the whole trip worth it.
We did end up missing the “Other World’s” panel with Victoria Schwab as the line for Leigh Bardugo’s signing was craaaazy long. I was starting to get really sick again and by the time we saw Leigh’s line, we realized we’d probably have to leave before we ever made it to her. BUT, my sweet friend Shauna (@b00kstorebabe) found us in line and let us come up with her. Shauna, I can’t thank you enough for that! I felt so bad moving ahead, but I knew this was my only chance.
We got to Leigh pretty quickly and SHE WAS AMAZING. I gave her some of my prints/artwork and she made such a big deal out of them. Not only that, but she asked about my situation and took extra time to talk to me. One of the coolest parts was that I got to talk to her about Cait (@apagewithaview) who actually interviewed Leigh on her blog last month- and she signed a print for her and said the sweetest things about both of us. (And now I’m tearing up.) I don’t remember this, but apparently when I told her about my illness, she said “oh mother fucker“. Leigh, if you ever read this, that is the best response I’ve ever gotten. Haha, seriously, you are the best. That made my day.
Since we got through Leigh’s line so fast, we had just enough time to rush over to Victoria Schwab’s signing. (Again, all thanks to Shauna, because we never would have made it otherwise.) This was one of the coolest parts of my day. It was in a tiny bookstore and the line was once again very long. We went up to a volunteer and I asked her if there was a way in and if there was any way we could see her soon. A staff member found us and let us inside out of the cold and into a little nook. He told me he would ask her if she would be willing to come to us since my chair couldn’t fit back where she was signing. I realized I left her books and asked if he had anything – even a piece of paper – that I could have her sign. He grabbed me a copy of “This Savage Song” (and here I am tearing up again). I SERIOUSLY HATE being “that person” who has to get special help or treatment – and trust me, I still feel guilty about it… but it meant the world to me.
Not long after that, Victoria came out to meet me. She literally stopped in the middle of her signing to get up and walk back to where I was. SHE WAS SO COOL. She took a few minutes to talk to me and didn’t rush it either. She asked me my name, personalized my book, and we talked a little about the “Shades of Magic” series and how excited we were about the upcoming release! (By the way… that series is AMAZING if you haven’t read it yet.)
Victoria is seriously amazing. It is authors like her, Leigh Bardugo, and Roshani Chokshi that inspire me on a daily basis. It was a really, really big deal for me to have met them. I’m sure most of you can relate – books can be a lifesaver for people who don’t have much else going for them in their daily lives. But how cool is it that these ladies who write these INCREDIBLE stories are such kindred souls themselves? I won’t forget how they went out of their way to talk to me and spread kindness. If I’m ever as lucky to have my work published, I want to do everything I can to make readers feel the way they made me feel that day.
To wrap up, Yallfest was certainly worth the trip. If you’re considering going, be prepared for long lines, crazy fans, but amazing authors. Please look out for those who are struggling to make it through the day. Those of you who helped me out made a huge difference. Most importantly, just be kind to others. I saw girls fighting over ARCs and people skipping other people in lines and that totally isn’t cool. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Make someone’s day. Isn’t that so much more valuable than getting a book before someone else?
Anyway, I’m just so grateful for the experience – both the good and the bad. Lastly, check out some of the swag I picked up along the way below!