Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UCF Orlando Book Festival Recap

Last weekend, I attended the UCF Orlando Book Festival, held at the UCF Arena in East Orlando, Florida. A few Central Florida bloggers were asked to represent the blogging world as official festival bloggers and were able to get the chance to promote and attend the event in style. I met up with Sandy of You’ve GOTTA read this! and Jenny of Take Me Away and her awesome husband Jason (for the first time!), and Michelle from My Books. My Life. (also for the first time!) The event kicked off on Friday night with an author reception, where Sandy, Jenny and I got the opportunity to talk with the wonderful Lori Roy (Bent Road) and the fabulously funny Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters). I also got a chance to catch up with some wonderful author friends, the disarmingly charming and funny Susan Gregg Gilmore (The Improper Life of Bezilla Grove), Marybeth Whalen (The Mailbox) and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On!). Marybeth and Shellie were like a comic tag team, and I had a wonderful time catching up with them again.
Lori Roy, Eleanor Brown and Me
Me and Susan Gregg Gilmore

A blogger suite was arranged for us on Saturday, and we spent most of the day haunting various author panels and discussions, as well as visiting the exhibit floor. Here’s what the view looked like from high above in our suite:

Christina Gonzalez, Sharon Draper, T.R. Simon and Victoria Bond
We three bloggers decided on the divide and conquer strategy, and we each attended different panels. My first panel was called Growing Up Me: Unique Stories of Childhood, and it featured authors Sharon Draper (Out of My Mind, Copper Sun, The Sassy Series), T.R. Simon and Victoria Bond (Zora and Me) and Christina Diaz Gonzalez (The Red Umbrella). The panel discussed the subjective and direct messages in their books, the inspiration for their books, and the creative impetus behind each of their works. This panel was attended by several middle school readers, and I found the content informative and the authors warm and eager to connect with their readers.

Shellie Tomlinson, Susan Gregg Gilmore and Marybeth Whalen
The second panel I attended was titled Love, Life, and Laughter: Inspiring Women Writers, and it featured my old friends, Marybeth Whalen (The Mailbox), Susan Gregg Gilmore (The Improper Life of Bezilla Grove) and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On!). Shellie spoke about the importance of laughter not only in her writing but in all of our everyday lives, and also a bit about her website, All Things Southern, which was new to me. Susan spoke of how the characters in her book really shouldered the burden and carried a load for her when the circumstances in her life spun out of control. Marybeth shared how her faith inspired her book, and how she created a work that focused on spiritual search. I have to say that this was an incredible panel, and because I knew just how special each of these women truly was, it only heightened my enjoyment of the discussion.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Susan Gregg Gilmore and Nina Revoyr
The third author panel I attended was called Conflicting Loyalties: Cross-Racial Relationships, and it featured Susan Gregg Gilmore (The Improper Life of Bezilla Grove), Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Wench) and Nina Revoyr (Wingshooters). This panel discussed various issues relating to race: from the cultural standpoint of what it was like to grow up as an immigrant of mixed race in the Midwest and the contradictions of racism (Nina Revoyr) to the political and social implications of the identity of those who are mixed race (Dolen Perkins-Valdez) to the class divide between African American servants and their white employers (Susan Gregg Gilmore). This was a panel that had the potential to become heated, but the authors kept things spirited without being offensive, and they were all able to make their points in a very tactful and informative way.

Lori Roy, Susan Hubbard and Eleanor Brown
The last panel of the day for me was titled Family Secrets, and it starred Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters), Lori Roy (Bent Road) and Susan Hubbard (The Season of Risks). The authors on this panel discussed the role that family secrets played in each of their books, and Susan Hubbard speculated on whether or not these secrets were best left undiscovered in her work. Eleanor Brown made a point about her book by saying that the secrets in her book needed to eventually be uncovered for the family to begin to work again. Susan Roy spoke about the damage that comes from the family secrets in her book and the destruction they cause. The authors also discussed their writing processes and rituals, their favorite villains, and the importance of plot and character and how they intertwine. This panel was probably the most light-hearted of the day, and I have to say that the three authors really worked well together. It was also a very funny and frank discussion, and I enjoyed it very much.

Jason, Jenny, Sandy, Liz, Heather, Me, Michelle, Ben
After all the festivities wrapped up and much shopping was done, I headed out to the local Macaroni Grill to meet up with a whole host of Central Florida bloggers. I got the wonderful opportunity to hang out with Sandy, Jenny, Michelle and Michelle’s husband, also a voracious reader! Some bloggers that weren’t able to make it for the festival were luckily able to meet us for dinner, and I got the chance to meet the very book savvy and sweet Heather from Book Addiction and the incredibly funny and tireless Liz, from Cleverly Inked. We all had such a great time at dinner, and talked about every bookish thing under the sun, from our reactions to Mockingjay to those little pesky Florida silverfish that will eat through a stack of books faster than you could imagine. This lead to a wider discussion of all thing creepy and crawly, and by the time we were done, we finished up with the wonder that is Joe Hill. All the girls were incredibly smart and funny women, and again it was a strange experience of meeting people for the first time whom it feels like you’ve known all your life. Sandy and I even convinced Heather to join our book club, so I’m confident we will be getting to know her much better in the future. All in all, the blogger dinner was a wonderful event that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The entire weekend was a total book-lover's dream, and I’m already looking forward to participating in next year’s event, as I’m sure the other blogger attendees are. I also wanted to give a warm and special thanks to Susan Wegmann, who, with her team, coordinated with all the bloggers who attended the event. We were made to feel very special and included in every aspect of the festival and I don’t think any of us could have had a more wonderful and enriching time. So, if you’re thinking about joining us next year, I strongly encourage you to come out for the 2012 Orlando Book Festival. A more top-notch literary event for Orlando could scarcely be imagined!

35 comments:

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

What a fabulous opportunity, and it looks like you all had such a great time. Susan Gregg Gilmore is very sweet. It must be a blast to meet her in person. Of course I am most envious of the blogger dinner at the end. I love getting to meet everyone!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

You had some terrific panels there! I'm so glad you all got to do that!

Michelle (my books. my life.) said...

Great wrap up. It made me happy all over again. I had so much fun hanging out with everyone.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I'm so happy we got to meet! And I'm beyond excited to be a part of your book club. We did have a great time at dinner, didn't we?

Jenny said...

Great job on wrapping up those panels! Shellie and Mary Beth are hilarious together! Can't wait for our next blogger get-together!

bermudaonion said...

Wow, this is all from my friend who described herself as "shy" in her first email to me?!?! It sounds like a wonderful way to spend a weekend and I'm so proud to have such wonderful bloggers there to represent the rest of us!!

Darlene said...

It all sounds so awesome Heather! I'm so glad you got to attend and had a good time!

softdrink said...

That's so cool that you all got a blogging suite!

Vasilly said...

Wow! The panels you attended sound amazing! I wish I had been there. :-)

nomadreader said...

It sounds amazing! I'm jealous to not have been there, but I've so enjoyed reading everyone's recaps!

Beth F said...

As I said on Sandy's blog -- Wow! What a fabulous time you all had. What an opportunity.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Great recap! I am tired just reading about everything we did. I can't wait for next year, and I can't wait for SIBA either. See you tommorrow!

Suko said...

Thank you for posting about this event. The photos are terrific! How exciting to be able to attend such an event!

Jenners said...

Wow! Sounds amazing! And you and Sandy both did an awesome job promoting it! I'm so impressed that you had a blogging suite! Tres cool!

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

Oh what a fabulous time it sounds like you had! I'm so envious! Now I need to try to set something up with the Decatur Book Festival to see if they can do something like that for us bloggers this September! Love all the pictures too!

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

oh, and i adore your updated, fresh look!

Steph said...

Oh, it looks like you had so much fun and got to interact with a ton of great authors. I'm truly jealous!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Okay, can you see me? This is me, ├╝ber-jealous! I wish I could have attended to see you, Heather, but I'm so glad you had a great time!!!!

Jules said...

Wow! It looks like you had a fabulous time there! I wish there were more conventions like this near me, those panels looked very interesting. Not to mention meeting fellow bloggers face to face. Glad you had such a good time :)

Marybeth said...

I tweeted about it and now am going to spend some time checking out the bloggers you mentioned, as well as the commenters too! I love anything that involves books, food and nice people. This past weekend qualifies for all of the above. I've been telling people it was truly one of my fave events I've ever been too! So glad we got to see each other there and I just wish I'd seen you one last time to hug your neck goodbye!!

Anita said...

What a wonderful recap of the event!! I can't believe we attended 3 of the same panels...great minds and all that stuff.
I was so happy to meet you, and was sad to see I was missing out on a Central Florida book blogging world, I hope to follow along now and hope you will visit my blog too, I'm not 100% books, but I do what I can. I need to get my post up about the Festival too!!

Dr. Wegmann said...

Thanks, Heather! GREAT day and it was so wonderful to meet you bloggers! Thank you for making our day even more special!

By the way, we will be "trolling" your blogs (and our other bloggers' sites) for suggestions for next year's authors. There are criteria on the website already: bookfestival.ucf.edu

Thanks again and happy reading!
Susan Wegmann

Amy said...

I am a little behind ( as usual!) This is a fantastic post! I am happy to see what a great time you all had at the book festival. It looks like a lot of fun with great books and interesting talks and lots of laughs. Thanks for including awesome photos with your post.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Oh, wow! I wish I;d gone. My mom lives in the area but I just didn't get my act together in time. It looks like you had a blast! I met Susan Gregg Gilmore a few years ago and she's truly awesome. Glad it was such a good time!

Eleanor Brown said...

I love the blogging suite and am very jealous of the blogger dinner. So glad you had a good time - I loved meeting you!

Susan Gregg Gilmore said...

Oh my gosh! It was so great seeing you at UCF - feeling like family at this point, don't you think? Now I've got to get you to Chattanooga for some more book talk and a trip to Rock City! Hugs.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Wonderful recap of what looks like a fantastic event!

I've enjoyed reading your spotlight posts leading up to the UCF Book Fest, and it's nice to read (and see -- thanks for all the photos!) how it all came together so nicely.

Smart move, your "divide and conquer" strategy for the panels.

Yay for meeting other bloggers and such a positive representation of "what is a blogger" to the folks at the Book Fest!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

p.s. the phrase "disarmingly charming" made me grin - what a compliment to the author!

Carey said...

What a perfectly delightful post. THANK YOU for the kind words about our panel. Frankly, I could've asked Marybeth and Susan a TON of more questions and just listened to them. :)) I shall check out some of these other bloggers here! THANKS again. It was a pleasure meeting you.

Amy said...

Wow looks and sounds like a truly fantastic time! Congratulations :)

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

LOL.. Silverfish are not my friend.

I think book reviewers should take a serious stance against them. lol

Shellie Tomlinson said...

LOL!!! Okay, this is Shellie (who posted as Carey) yesterday. I just realized my daughter-in-law was logged in on my laptop!) I bet I confused you.

Pam said...

My bloggy friend, Anita of A Wife, A Woman, A Mom, also attended this event and I think the two of you even met! How exciting! I wish we had a similar event her in New England.

Geosi said...

I see you had a wonderful time at the book festival. I glad to see a photo of you too. Great!

Marg said...

It looks like you had a fabulous time, and how awesome that you got a blogger suite! The panels sounded interesting as well!

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