After weeks of covert activities in April, I capped off the month by volunteering at Yallwest 2016 in Santa Monica. Though I put in more hours of work than any sane volunteer, and didn’t spend much time as an attendee, there was a lot of good extracted from the experience: I had the chance to be awkward next to authors who are living my dream, got a glimpse into how the event is organized, and observed the YA fandom in the wild.
First Author Sightings
When I arrived at Santa Monica High School, one of the event organizers brought me to a classroom in tucked-away corner of campus. There was a group of women seated around pushed-together desks doing what I assumed was some kind of crafting. I smiled and gave a cursory wave to them as the organizer led me to a pile of boxes where I exchanged a medium-sized volunteer shirt for a large—I should’ve known a unisex medium at a YA festival would be too small.
The organizer then gave me my first assignment: stuffing festival wristbands into envelopes for attendees. There was one free chair at the far end of the circle of women. One of the women said I could take that chair because Veronica abandoned them to do some other work. I glanced at this Veronica, who had only recently vacated the seat, and realized it was the author of the Divergent series. Rather than steal Veronica Roth’s chair, I grabbed another from the center of the room. When I sat down, I realized the woman beside me was Marie Lu, author of the Legend and The Young Elites series.
The table was surrounded with established authors.
I was one of the few unpublished people at the table (on my left was Adele Walsh, an organizer of big YA stuff in Australia and New Zealand). Not wanting to seem like a pushy fan or a desperate-to-network author, I limited my words to business matters: envelope-stuffing business.
“Can I get some more orange [wristbands]?” Thanks, Sarah Enni.
“I need some more golds.” Thanks, Veronica Roth.
Well, I did mutter a single joke under my breath at some point. Only Marie Lu heard and quietly laughed. I don’t remember what the joke was, though. For the most part, I stuffed envelopes and listened. Veronica Roth shared about how, one month after she’d gotten her pixie haircut, her mother copied her hairdo and now they walk around looking alike. Someone also brought up the supposed fact that Australian authors showed they liked you by saying mean things to you (I believe Amie Kaufman confirmed this). After Ms. Lu left to do something else (chalking?), another volunteer showed up and I someone less intimidating to chat with.
FYI, if you were an attendee and your wristbands weren’t already separated at the perforation when you got them, it’s because Veronica Roth voiced idea that you should do it yourself.
Fans (and Having Fans)
The lines for signings at Yallwest ranged from hundreds of fans to handfuls. No matter the size of the line, however, the enthusiasm people had to get their books signed was inspiring.
While I was floating around the signing area, two women (perhaps, a mother and her teen daughter) asked me for Barnabas Miller who, I admit, I’d never heard of. However, I had noticed two men sitting at a signing table get up and leave a few minutes earlier. I told the women as much and added that the men might be back.
The women left and, sure enough, one of the men returned a minute later. He wasn’t Barnabas Miller, but he was Miller’s editor and author-friend, Daniel Ehrenhaft. It was a single fan missed and disappointed, but Ehrenhaft was visibly upset. He, I assume, hit Miller up on his phone and got him to hustle back to the signing table. After ten minutes or so, while I continued my volunteer duties, Miller and his fan returned. The girl had brought a friend (and ditched her mom). They had their books signed and looked damn happy about it. It was the feel good moment of the festival (with no witnesses).
The festival attendee I spoke to most wasn’t a YA fan, but the father of one. While his daughter was in line to get Veronica Roth’s signatures, he stood in the Sabaa Tahir line in his daughter’s place. I was put at the end of the line to give people the unfortunate news that the line had reached capacity, so I spent over half an hour talking to this guy—a father who built bridges for a living and accompanied his daughter to YA festivals. Coolest dad ever.
Now, Some Crappy Pictures
I didn’t take many photos at Yallfest because I was trying too hard to not be a geek. During the few panels I got into, however, I took some photos of horrible quality. Here you go: