Arizona Dreamin' was possibly the most amazing experience I've had in my 21 years. Meeting authors, cover models, and book friends on June 1st and 2nd, 2012 still feels like a dream. Friendships were made, and relationships were made stronger through time spent together. But the trip was special in another way for me.
Several months ago I went ahead and bought AD'12 tickets from Deena Remiel, the wonderful and so supportive author that started my reviewing career after I reviewed her book Trinity. Two tickets were $60. My mom wrote a check and I sent it off to her. Now I think mom didn't quite understand that it was an event rather than some kind of item that I wanted. Nonetheless, within a week, I was on the list for the event. Fast forward a few weeks. AD was coming fast. Despite urging mom and trying to talk to her about it, preparation for the trip was at a standstill. A little over two months before Arizona Dreamin', mom backed out all together. It's not her fault either, and I'm not mad about it either. Mom just doesn't like to travel all that much. I'd love to try and get her to go next year. I think she'd have fun at the event, or she could just relax at the hotel.
To say I was crushed was an understatement. I found myself a lot quieter the next few days. It felt like I had no support system because mom couldn't see how much I wanted to be part of AD. Then I had a bright idea! When celebrating Easter, I had told my Aunt Daphne about our trip! She had said that it sounded like a lot of fun and she wished she could go. Bingo! Aunt Daph was at the beach at the time, so I sent her a Facebook message, practically begging her to go with me. After almost two weeks of deliberation, she said yes!
Words cannot describe how happy that one little word made me. Yes! I was going to Arizona Dreamin'. First it was booking a room. Check. Then it was time to look at flights. Three days later I received the most amazing phone call ever. My grandparents had bought my plane ticket as an early birthday present! Things were really coming together now! The hotel room wound up being part of my birthday present from mom and dad. Aunt Daph and my Uncle payed for the rental car! I finished up packing my bag that Thursday.
Friday morning was an early one. We were up at 6 a.m., which is SUPER early for me, so we could be at the airport an hour early. The flight to Phoenix was smooth and we arrived 40 minutes early. I was beyond nervous to finally be there and for all of Saturday's festivities. Phoenix was beautiful. I loved seeing the mountains. Next time I'd like more time to see the sights.
Aunt Daph and I checked into our hotel room without bumping into anyone I knew. Our check in was followed by a nap for her, ceiling staring for me, and a trip to the mall across from our hotel after that for some shopping and dinner.
Friday night was the wine reception, but I did not get tickets because I thought I wasn't going when they were on sale. No big deal. I sat on the couch watching Phantom of the Opera, the play, on TV. The ringing of the phone startled me. I was hesitant to answer, but with some encouragement from my aunt, I did. It was author AJ Sweeny, checking in on me! She told me that she was bummed I couldn't come to the wine reception, but was looking forward to meeting me tomorrow! It was a very touching moment. One that made me feel really special.
I then got a text message from another author and friend, Rhonda Plumhoff inviting me up to her room to meet everyone. This is when the nerves hit me big time. I sat there curled up, debating if I should go or not. Butterflies were causing a commotion in my stomach. An hour after replying with a 'maybe later' I received another text message. It said simply, "What room number are you in?" Deena Remiel was texting me. "246" was my answer. "Do you have clothes on? We'd like to come say hi," I said "Sure," and proceeded to running around our hotel room making myself and our room presentable.
Five minutes later there was a knock on the door. Opening the door, I was greeted by Deena, Rhonda, April, Sonja, and Judy. There were lots of hugs and small talk. Finally, someone said, "We have a surprise for you." Never could I have anticipated what it would be.
Yep. In walked Jimmy Thomas followed by a hands-to-mouth, OMG, squeal from me. (Later that night, my aunt said she was surprised I didn't cry. Go me!) He had come to see me because I wasn't able to make it to the wine reception. How sweet, right? Jimmy was great! He took two pictures with me, and asked me about my flight. There I was: In Chandler, Arizona- with several authors, book friends, and the cover model with the most covers-ever. I was blown away by how normal it felt. Like I was meant to be there, in this world, doing exactly this. The feeling was euphoric! Everyone left and I just sat there on the couch, shaking, and unbelievably excited. My nervousness for the next day evaporated completely. I was ready to take on Arizona Dreamin'.
Less than two hours is what I managed to sleep Friday night. I tossed and turned while I played the possibilities of Saturday in my head. Would they like me? Would I be alone all day? What if I spilled something on my shirt at dinner? After getting dressed, we headed down early to grab breakfast. Once again I ran into Deena, who is just amazing. I grabbed a bagel and coffee, which I hardly touched, and headed back into our room so I could shower and get ready.
I was dressed, ready, and out the door by 9:30. Aunt Daph was planning on coming down to registration with me because a tiny bit of shyness had come back. After turning a corner I spotted a group of ladies I knew!
(Deena, JP, me, Sonja)
(Me, Deena, Shannon, Sonja)
(Me, Deena, Sonja)
As you can probably tell, I wasn't nervous anymore! The ladies that I had met online were just as amazing, if not more, in person! We had a great time taking pictures and then made our way down to registration!
Registration started at 10 a.m and we got there right on time! We picked up our name tags, goodie bags, and then picked out the six book clubs we wanted to attend! Then it was time for more pictures!
(Rhonda, Sonja, me, Jamallah, Shannon)
(Sonja, Jamallah, Rhonda, April, me, Shannon)
(Deena, Sonja, Jamallah, April, me)
(Rhonda, Sonja, me, Jamallah)
The actual event did not start until noon, so I had plenty of time to mingle and talk to everyone!
(Kristine Cheney and I! She writes awesome Spartans!)
(This is Rhonda! She makes beautiful things! The bracelets were a gift! Love them!)
(This is JP! He was the winner of the Man of Our Dreams contest! He's also ridiculously tall!)
(I also hit up the bookstore...Several times)
First on the official schedule was the author speed date sessions! We sat down at tables and got to listen to all 20 participating authors tell us a little about themselves and their books! It was fascinating! In that hour I had added at least a dozen books to my 'to be read' list. Several of the authors also gave out assorted swag, that I added to my already impressive goodie bag! I skipped lunch and headed up to my room for a few minutes instead. Aunt Daph listened while I told her about everything and everyone, and showed her my goodies. I freshened up my makeup and was out the door to my first book club.
In honor of it being just about one year after my reviewing career began, my first stop naturally was Deena Remiel. She is awesome. Her books are amazing. Deena has been nothing but encouraging and sweet and meeting her was an honor! And to make the moment even more special...I am one of the critics in her newest release: Relic! Plus, Deena had the shirt I made her on display!
After Deena's entertaining session, I stopped to take another picture with Jimmy Thomas! One without my PJs! The first picture is my favorite of the two! I just got these last night, which is why it took me so long to finally do this post. I love them!
My second book club was Kris Tualla! The mastermind behind AD!
Third book club was Erin Quin!
All three lovely ladies signed my books and were nice enough to let me take a picture with them! One the third session was over, we had a short break before dinner time!
(The amazing Drool Rags Shannon had made for us! And we got Jimmy calendars too!)
Dinner was a wonderful continuation of the day. I really enjoyed the company of all my Harem friends and Jimmy. I was lucky that I was chosen to sit with them! I was quiet most of dinner, watching and listening to everyone else. Rhonda was also a bit shy, so the two of us talked throughout the meal. The Man of Our Dreams contest was fabulous. Lots of giggles and "Aww" moments. Once dinner was over, it was more book club rounds!
Book club number four was AJ Sweeny! AJ was the first author to ever publish one of my reviews into her book. This was another monumental moment for me, especially when she asked my input during her session.She also has a pretty accent! :)
Session five was with Morgan Kearns! Morgan is hilarious, bubbly, and has such energy! I wish I had half of hers! I bought three of Morgans books and she signed all of them with a smile on her face!
My last book club was with Kristine Cheney! We talked in detail about her books and she gave me the scoop on some upcoming books. Nothing major, but it was still cool! Kristine signed her novella Secret Santa for me, and left me the cutest note about how I was her Angel Face. She also have me the three book thongs pictured up at the top! Kristine and I got along great and I had fun hanging out with her!
After all the book club sessions ended, I, once again, hit up the bookstore. I wound up winning a really cool poster board that was signed by two authors! It was too big to take on the plane, so I had to FedEx it home Sunday morning.
(Shannon, the super talented woman that runs Jimmy's fan page!)
After things settled down slightly, I changed and came back to ask Jimmy to sign the books that had him on the cover. After I had shown Aunt Daph everything I had gotten throughout the day, I went next door where I hung out with AJ Sweeny, Beverly Preston and her daughter, Shannon Albright, and a few more. We had a blast talking about books, and other random topics. AJ and I made the phrase, "Ooooh, damn!" ours and someone brought a penis cake (yes, a penis cake) into our room so we could all take pictures and have a piece if we wanted. I said no.
(Author Beverly Preston!)
I stayed up until after 12:30 with everyone. I was starting to finally come off of my high and I was crashing fast. Saturday night, or Sunday morning, I guess, I slept like a rock. It was hard waking up Sunday morning and packing up all my stuff. My weekend, the weekend that I had been looking forward to for months, was over already.
Saying goodbye to these women was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. All of them had rooted themselves into my heart, feeling more like family than anything else. I realized then that these women were my support system. The one thing I'd felt like I'd been missing, I had finally found. These women are some of the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet. I'm honored to call them my friends. Even now I miss them like crazy. But I guess that's the great thing about AD. It brought us all together and now we all have the same thing to look forward to...AD'13. A chance to reunite for another spectacular weekend full of books and love.
When I finally arrived home, everything still seemed like a dream. When asked if I was glad to finally be home, I surprised myself by saying no.
(Swag from my goodie bag!)
(Dead tired after AD)
I know it's a long ways away, but I am ready for AD'13! I'm ready to be back at Windmill Inns & Suites with all my friends. Hopefully next year will not have so many complications!
To anyone reading this that went to AD'12: Thank you for making the event such a wonderful experience. I frequently want to weep when thinking of how special the weekend was for me.
To everyone else: You should seriously consider going next year!
Ps. I've probably forgotten several things, so I may go back and edit things a bit. My goal is to use a lot of this in the book I'm hoping to make through Snapfish! :)