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“BookCon: Where Storytelling and Pop Culture Collide,” proclaimed the ads for the first ever BookCon. There was something for everyone at the Javits Center in New York City on May 31st 2014. Famous actors and idols such as Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Nat Wolff, Jason Bateman and Tina Fey gave panels and sneak peeks at their latest works. On-the-rise novelists and treasured bestselling authors spoke about the writing process and discussed their latest and greatest books.

Cary Elwes
Cary Elwes waves to his adoring fans.

I met one breathlessly delighted girl who waited in line for David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, and she said that when she saw him, she was so happy she started to cry. “You always think of what you want to say to celebrities. Something witty that will make you stand out. But then it all comes out like, ‘blah,’” said Kelly Adams, age 17. I heard many stories about fans seeing their favorite authors and their reactions ranged from grinning like an idiot to bawling their eyes out to the point the author got up and consoled them. Then, of course, there was the never-ending Grumpy Cat line. When I first ventured into the show floor, I hit a wall of extremely irate fans. After asking around a little, I found that I had stumbled across the four-hour wait for the Grumpy Cat Photo Op. It quickly became a joke that the Grumpy Cat fans waiting in line were as grouchy as their cherished feline idol. And who could blame them after standing around that long?

John Grisham
Carl Hiassen (left) and John Grisham (right) discuss the start of their writing careers.

The panel presentations were better quality than I expected. I have been to a couple of conventions now and some of the panels I’ve attended were filled with boring, mediocre questions and half asleep celebrities. This luckily was not the case at BookCon. The questions were offered by other authors and celebrities. Prizes were occasionally handed out to audience members who had the courage to ask questions directly. The guest speakers were energetic and seemed genuinely happy to be there. The first panel I attended had autographed bags filled with three complimentary books. One of these books was Skink No Surrender, by Carl Hiassen-scheduled release in September 2014. I also received a sneak peek at Veronica Roth’s next book, Four.

In the panel, John Grisham in Conversation with Carl Hiassen, the two chatted like lifelong friends, laughed about name inspirations and discussed the long, grueling process of editing. The two men complimented each other well-Carl Hiassen shared hilarious quips and John Grisham asked insightful questions in his light southern drawl. During his panel, John Grisham proudly announced that Sycamore Row features a returning character from A Time to Kill and added that this year is his first novel’s 25th anniversary.

R.L. Stine
R.L. Stine and his wife smile for the camera.

After getting the autographs of Jeff Kinney, Dairy of a Wimpy Kid, and swiping a quick picture of Carl Elwes, the lead actor of The Princess Bride, and R.L. Stine, I joined the panel-Veronica Roth in Conversation with Alex London. I was ecstatic to finally meet the young and ambitious author of the Divergent series. Veronica Roth will soon be 26 and wrote Divergent as a freshman in college. Her light-hearted, congenial attitude was heart-warming. As she was eating a flip-flop shaped cookie, an audience member asked her, “If your main characters were cookies, what would they be?” She openly replied, “Beatrice would be a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips, because…why not?” Alex London joined the game and added; Knox from his book Proxy would be a Tag-Along Girl Scout cookie, because the cookie seems simple, but when you bite into it, it has a lot of layers. He then suggested that Syd, also from Proxy, would be a sugar cookie because he’s simple and to the point. The most significant question asked of Veronica Roth was “What part of the story did you have to keep writing over and over again?” She said she kept trying to kill off Marcus in the second book, Insurgent. “But he (Marcus) kept saying ‘no’. It seemed crucial to the plot to keep him alive, even though I really didn’t want to.”

 

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I was among the hundreds of excited fan who waited in line for two hours to meet Rick Riordan, Lemony Snicket, James Patterson, Jeff Kinney and Rachel Renee Russell. It was worth the wait. Rick Riordan had the same sharp wit and playful personality as the characters from his books and Lemony Snicket’s sadistic and delightfully awkward humor had me doubled over laughing for a majority of the panel. James Patterson spiced up the conversation with hilarious dry humor and deep insights. Rachel Renee Russell was as adorable as her books, The Dork Diaries, and she was, dare I say it? Dorky. (Not that I, the proud owner of a TARDIS cookie jar, can judge.)

Rick Riodan, Rachel Russell, James Patterson and Lemony Snicket
From left to right: Jeff Kinney, Rick Riodan, Rachel Russell, James Patterson and Lemony Snicket.

Each of the authors remembered their lives as sixth graders and what books they would’ve had in their backpacks. Rick Riordan admitted that he was a reluctant reader at first, but then fell in love with Lord of the Rings. Rachel Russell said she loved books and Butch Cassidy. She also claimed that she rocked the high-water pants style in her youth. James Patterson wryly said sixth grade was so long ago, he could hardly remember and that he always had a love for Russian literature with darker themes. At first the audience laughed…until they realized he wasn’t joking. Lemony Snicket told his sad story; he was a spacey, dreamy child forced to attend a despised all-boys school. Seeing his misery, his parents allowed him to return to a co-ed school, where he mostly spent time with girls. His group would hide in stairwells, read books (mostly by Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl) and hardly speak to one another. The audience clapped and laughed when he finished his tale. He then smirked and said, “I’m so glad that my painful past brings you joy.” At the conclusion of the panel, Rick Riordan announced, that in 2015 he will be starting a new series on Norse mythology! (Is it too early to pre-order?)

The line for The Fault in Our Stars panel was terrifying and hilarious as it grew in front of the Special Events Hall. Many fans in line agreed to share ‘before and after’ pictures when they saw the movie, which came out to theaters June 5th. Some of these pictures have popped up already on the BookCon app and let’s just say that I haven’t seen so many girls with smeared make-up since Heath Ledger died.

 

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Once everyone was seated and a few overzealous fans were escorted from the premises, the long anticipated panel began. Fans were delighted by a surprise sneak peek of the movie. For those who are familiar with the book (and don’t worry, no spoilers here) the panel showed the scene when Isaac, Gus and Hazel egged a particular young lady’s car for some unorthodox, but liberating, therapy. I’m definitely excited to see more of the movie in theaters, even if it requires waterproof mascara and a pack of tissues. During the Q&A, a teen with a prosthetic leg thanked John Green for helping him know whether to keep his prosthetic leg on or off during sex. The entire audience exploded into laughter as John Green stepped off the stage and gave the teen a hug and a high-five. After the laughter had died down, John Green said, “That was not what I was expecting.” He later added that the teen’s comment was a new highlight to his career.

All the fun things aside, there were some obvious downsides to BookCon, although an impressive effort for the first year. My advice includes better preparation, should you decide to come to BookCon. (And you really should!) Be sure you do these three things: First of all, prioritize which panels and autographs you want to attend, selecting two or three as your top priority. I filled my itinerary with nine different panels, autographs and photo ops over the span of seven hours. In the end I was only able to attend three panels and receive one autograph – not everyone was that lucky. Second, schedule your day and plan for at least one hour of waiting in line. I didn’t anticipate the lines to stretch beyond what the eye could see in the matter of seconds, so I missed Jason Segel’s panel, which was very disappointing. My last bit advice is bring a snack of to eat! This is the one thing I did right. I brought a bag of Munchies, which I ended up sharing with the cutest 7-year-old in the world, and two cans of Amp Energy. (Caffeine was a must after catching a 4:50 am train.) There is so much to do and so many lines that stopping for food is cumbersome. However, when time theoretically permits, you will pay an arm and a leg for four chicken tenders. (By the time you get through the endless lines, you’re ready to catch, pluck, butcher and fry the chicken yourself).

Ultimately, BookCon was definitely worth attending. The interviews were fun and interactive. Getting a bag of free books was like Christmas in May. The sneak peeks of upcoming novels and movies along with the chance to mingle with fellow book lovers and writers was such a thrill. I can’t wait to see what guests will be coming to next year’s BookCon! I hope to see you there!

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