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  • Writer's pictureJessie Oliveros

Storymakers Part II

Updated: May 22, 2019

Everyone should have a Myrna in their lives. Myrna is my critique partner of many years. Myrna is the reason THE REMEMBER BALLOONS is THE REMEMBER BALLOONS. And while we've "met" via Skype and have been talking for some time, this was our first real life meeting. And she's just as warm and sweet and brilliant as her internet self. Here we are at the Whitney Awards Gala.

The gala was amazing. Janet Sumner Johnson--MG & PB author and internet-friend-turned-real-life-friend--was the event director this year. She did a fabulous job of organizing it all. Cristina and I had so much fun dressing up and feeling fancy.

I don't know why we are standing so formally in this picture. Maybe I wanted to clutch my clutch. Because going to a gala is the only time you really have an excuse for bringing a clutch which holds almost nothing. A note here for Cristina Houston-Wadsworth, the friend I recruited from home to attend with me, the someday bestselling author of speculative fiction, and now my favorite person to travel with. Cristina has the best stories, especially from when she was in the film industry. We intended to get work and sleeping done on the plane but there was just too much to talk about. And Cristina is really good at being a human. She's just nice to everyone. And she will cross miles of airport in Phoenix with me in search of the perfect dessert. Back to the Whitneys...

I actually read for the first round of the Whitneys this year. Which was a new experience for me. And I felt like I had a taste of what agents and editors must experience as there were several books I knew, within a few pages, where they would fall on my list.

One of the romance finalists was talented author, Lisa Swinton. We met at the Midwest Storymakers conference a couple of years ago which is about a tenth of the size of Storymakers in Utah, but wonderfully cozy and intimate. (This conference is co-hosted by Indie Author Hub.)

And if we are going to talk about the Midwest conference, I have to introduce the world to Hillary Sperry. She helps organize the conference, and she also happens to be married to the brother of my best childhood friend. Which makes us practically family.

This conference just seemed to be filled with lots of selfies. I needed proof that I was with so many incredible people, I guess.

There were so many wonderful books awarded that night, not the least of them being Jennifer Nielsen's RESISTANCE. Jennifer won three awards, and every time she got up to accept an award we all felt called to arms. She should have led an army, that woman. I attended her class the next day, and while in that class the dews of inspiration settled on me and I had a breakthrough on the middle grade novel I've been revising. Then I bounced the idea off Myrna who has read the novel, and she convinced me to run with it. See! Everyone should have a Myrna.

Other classes I enjoyed that weekend. Julie Berry's revision class was amazing and very timely (see the middle grade novel comment above). Jenn Johansson's class on Pacing. Liesl Shurtliff's class on Humor. Stacy Whitman's class on Diversity. Plus, there were so many classes I wish I could have attended but I am only one person.

The Mass Author Signing that day was...massive. But the same karma that assigned my seat next to Jane Yolen at the Golden Kite Gala in February, assigned me a seat right between Liesl Shurtliff and Janet Sumner Johnson. In fact, Janet and I decided our bookmarks made great building materials.

Here's one of the Fab Four. (I just called us that for the first time. Note to self: tell Cristina, Myrna, and Janet they are part of the Fab Four--which is actually a totally unoriginal name.)

It was exciting to see my book sell out at the bookstore. It was NOT exciting to see Julie Berry's LOVELY WAR sell out because I didn't get a copy. After the signing, Myrna, Cristina, and I met a couple new friends for dinner--twin sisters, Nicole Abreu Drysdale and Shar Abreu Petersen, who have co-authored a forthcoming picture book, OVER IN THE WOODLAND.

We met up at Bruges Waffles and Fritas on Center Street in downtown Provo. Fries have never tasted so good. It was a good ending to a weekend that I long to repeat. And maybe I will next year!

In closing, I wanted to mention a beautiful moment that involved THE REMEMBER BALLOONS. It was one of my favorite conference moments and something I will always remember. I had just come back from my hotel room. The breakouts were still in session so very few people were in the hall. I really believe that some meetings are orchestrated by God. Just as I came up the escalator of the conference center, there was a woman with her daughters standing there, and she was holding my book. She had gone to my class, bought my book, read my book, and was just telling her daughters about it. Her grandmother has Alzheimer's, she told me, and the book meant a lot to her and can I sign it? So we all sat down right there on the floor and talked about her grandmother with her daughters as I signed the book. It was a truly precious moment, and a testament of how books can really connect you with others.


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