2018 Conference Recap

I can’t believe it’s already been over a week since the inaugural Chapter Twenty-One Conference! We had so much fun putting on the conference and hope our speakers and attendees enjoyed it as well.

We kicked off the weekend with a cocktail hour at the low-key hotel bar. For some inexplicable reason, the conversation kept turning to cannibalism (something I’ve noticed happens frequently when you put writers together). However, no worries: no humans were actually harmed in the making of our bloody-looking drinks.img_8388.jpeg



Saturday morning, the conference started bright and early with our first workshop: “Stories, In Short…” by Ch21Con’s very own Allison Mulder, who is an acclaimed short fiction author, as well as a conference team member. She taught the attendees all the ins and outs of getting short fiction published, and her session was chock-full with all the dark humor (and puns) we’ve come to love and expect from Allison.


Next up was our first panel of the day: “Young, Scrappy, and Hungry: A Panel of Young Publishing Professionals.” We decided to keep this panel small this year, so it was just me (conference director Julia Byers) and Christine Lynn Herman. I work days as an assistant for a children’s literary agency, while Christine just finished a day job as an assistant for a sci-fi/fantasy literary agent, so we talked about what authors need to know about agencies, how to break into publishing, and more.

Unfortunately, due to a storm ravaging the East Coast, Christine and another of our speakers (Amanda Foody) were unable to fly to Chicago for the conference. However, we aren’t easy to defeat, so we did live-streams to bring them into the conference room whenever they had a workshop or panel.

(Due to the weirdness of having one speaker doing the panel in person and another up on the projector, though, we got no decent photos from the young publishing panel. Sorry!) (We will all just have to remember it in our hearts.)

After the young publishing panel, we shifted gears over to our keynote address: “Finding Your Voice.” Incredible young adult author Gloria Chao (American Panda) was our keynote speaker this year. She spoke about her journey to publication and the importance of including yourself in the stories you tell. She told attendees about how she was initially nervous to weave her culture and personal experiences into her writing, but she’s so glad she did, because these are the things that have come to mean so much to her young readers.

(Not gonna lie: I teared up during her speech. And I know I wasn’t the only one.)


After the keynote address, we took a break for lunch. This year, we hosted a pizza party, featuring Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The group I sat with spent lunch discussing criticism of Star Wars, Hogwarts houses, and (yes) cannibalism. (Seriously, what is with writers and their fascination with eating people?) (New theory: writers are zombies.)



After lunch, we returned to doing live-streams so Amanda Foody (Ace of Shades) and Christine Lynn Herman (The Devouring Gray, spring 2018) could run their joint writing workshop. Their topic was “Exploring Multi-POV Narratives,” and they discussed all the different factors that go into writing a single story from multiple perspectives. Everyone was in love with Amanda’s spreadsheets for outlining (and the photos of Ron Weasley included on every Prezi slide) by the end of their session.


We closed out our workshops for the day with one titled “‘If I were Invisible’: The Advantages of the Unknown,” led by beloved middle grade author Karuna Riazi (The Gauntlet). Karuna previously spoke at Ch1Con back in 2015 and we’ve been trying to bring her back to speak again for a couple years, so we were particularly excited for her session. And she did not disappoint. Karuna discussed the expectations versus realities of publishing, and how to hold onto your dreams and your love of writing in the face of outside pressures. (Once again: tears.)


We ended the conference with the annual “Ask Anything Panel,” which we shared with our organization’s younger conference, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference (Ch1Con). Despite a bevy of technical difficulties, we eventually managed to live-stream it to our organization’s YouTube channel. So, if you’d like to watch all of our 2018 speakers discuss everything from Serious and Helpful Publishing Advice to, like, their favorite writing tropes, you can do so below!

After the conference, we of course took a group photo.


Then we hosted an informal book signing for the attendees.



And finally, after a long, eventful, and very fun day, the exhausted (but very, very happy) team cleaned up our conference room, then headed upstairs to sprawl in our pajamas, watch 10 Things I Hate About You, and eat leftover pizza. There was also maybe some champagne.

(Okay, okay, it was sparkling grape juice. After all, we shared our post-conference hangout with the Ch1Con team, who we love more than alcohol.)

(But we did have champagne-flavored gummy bears.)

Thank you to everyone who attended, spoke at, or supported the inaugural Chapter Twenty-One Conference this year. We absolutely loved putting it on and can’t wait for next year. See you in 2019!

— Julia and the Ch21Con Team

P.S. Want even more conference photos? You can view them here!

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