Last weekend was indeed the first ever Rocket City Lit Fest, and I had a great time chatting with authors and small publishers from the region and exploring some voices I had not yet heard.
Some of my favorites were R. Kyle Hannah, who writes sci-fi and fantasy for young adults. He has in his repertoire a couple of books dealing with time travelers who cause mistakes in history and those who must go back to correct them. I picked up his first of these books, Time Assassins, for my son, but also because I’m a bit enthralled with historical novels lately and the premise sounds promising. I was also intrigued by a reading of Rook by Sharon Cameron, another young adult/new adult book with a historical basis. She was inspired by the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel, which she’d always dreamed of rewriting. I purchased that book as well, for my daughter as much as myself. Sharon has other historically inspired novels, and I have a feeling I will be picking those up in the future.
Another reading featured a steampunk story by Amy Leigh Strickland, author of the Olympia Heights series. I enjoyed her reading and her attention to Victorian detail, but I was even more fascinated by her family. She and her husband’s family run a small publishing company locally, and pretty much everyone in both his family and hers contributes in some way, from writing, editing, and beta reading to cover art, formatting, and binding.
Amy and her family also help provide resources for independent authors who make the decision to self-publish and want to be taken seriously as professional authors. She moderated a panel with other authors who have experience publishing, both independently and traditionally, that was very informative about what authors may not realize they are going to need. All of the speakers here were very adamant about professionalism and quality, which I appreciated. Indie publishing is thought of too often as authors who simply toss an ebook up through Amazon without paying attention to details and then just hope it sells. With this in mind, Amy and a group of other writers and publishers have started a site called Indie-Visible.com, which is designed to help authors by providing tips and information, support, and resources to create a publishing team, such as referrals to proven, dependable cover artists, editors, and formatters. I hope to add this resource and others I learned about to my links page in the near future.
I wasn’t able to attend as many panels as I would have liked because my daughter entered the cosplay contest. She didn’t win, but she had fun and met some new people. She and the friend she brought with us also dragged me repeatedly to the Hillywood Show booth (if you’re a Supernatural fan and you haven’t seen it yet, you really should see their parody video). The panels I did make were interesting, though none so helpful as the one on independent publishing. One discussed the use of Grimm’s fairy tales in propaganda in WWII, which was fascinating, though I thought it could have benefited from more historical research on the prevalence of nationalism and antisemitism at the time of the Grimm brothers and, since the author started to touch on it and was unfamiliar with the subject, the idea of the monomyth and common character archetypes. I still learned from the panel and was introduced to another part of history I wasn’t more than passingly aware of, though, and I enjoyed exchanging some of thoughts with the author. I hope she continues working with the concept and publishes something on it in the future.
Another panel, discussing the difficulties in writing YA heroines, brought to mind how feminism can sometimes be limiting. I touched on this in my response to criticism of the Black Widow, where simply being captured made some feel that she had been thrust into the “damsel in distress” role. In the panel, there was a brief discussion of the problem with female characters often being cast in supporting roles where the hero could not succeed without her but she wasn’t the hero. Popular examples would be Hermione in the Harry Potter series and Annabeth from the Percy Jackson books. Unfortunately, this discussion was near the end of the allotted time and the panel had to wrap up before I was able to voice my concerns about this, namely that we are in danger of taking things a little too far. YA fiction in general has evolved to include an unprecedented ratio of heroines to heroes, and male supporting roles are just as common (Ron and Grover). The problem here is that we are fighting so hard against (and rightly so) the damsel-in-distress and females-are-supporting-characters paradigms that we are starting to say that female characters can’t be captured or in supporting roles without those paradigms being assumed. Similarly, any female who shows her emotional or weaker side is considered a failure to the feminist cause, no matter how strong (physically or otherwise) she is during the rest of the story, while males who demonstrate an emotional or weaker side are good, three-dimensional characters. I really dislike these limitations, and I’m grateful to the participants for making me think more about them and want to push against them.
Unfortunately, event attendance was pretty sparse, as conventions go. Projections had hoped for around 3000 guests, but I would place an optimistic estimate (which I am admittedly bad at) at around half that number. I attribute this to a variety of factors, foremost being that it was the first year the event was held. There was a good deal of marketing in place, but the newness meant less word of mouth and hype. I think there were a couple of scheduling conflicts that pulled from the event, too. For one, it was a University of Alabama game weekend, and SEC football is a huge deal here that takes precedence over a lot of other pursuits. There was also another, more established convention, the Southern Festival of Books, in Nashville the same weekend. I’m sure that was a draw, and I know that some of the authors I spoke to split time between the two events. On the bright side, though, the smaller crowd meant easy movement around the main floor and plenty of available seating in panels, so I can’t complain.
Even though it was a bit sparse, I’m hopeful that there was enough response to warrant continuing the convention next year. I know that I would most certainly go again.