Book Festival Season is Here

by Sarah M. Chen

I’m seeing posts about how “it’s that time of year!” Or “Spring is in the air!” Unfortunately, in L.A., seasons all blend together, and sure, I’m noticing a few more flowers but it’s definitely not the spring vibe of almost anywhere else in the country. Actually, I learned recently that because of all the rain we’ve had, there are more bugs than usual. Yuck. Not something that makes me excited for spring (unless it’s Superbeetle of course!)

But I can think of one aspect of spring that has me excited—books! April is the start of book festival season and since I work as a bookseller, this month is always our busiest time of year. I know I can’t plan anything during April or else I earn the wrath of my manager. April 1 was Literary Orange which launches our official Book Festival Season followed by the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors on April 8. The next two festivals that close out April, the LA Times Festival of Books and YALLWEST are free and draw thousands of people. I look forward to these two all year.

Here’s a bit of history on the LA Times Festival of Books: It originally started in 1996 at the UCLA campus which is MUCH better than its current location, USC (yes, I’m biased because I’m a Bruin). The festival is the largest book festival in the U.S. and around 150,000 people come every year. The LA Times Book Prizes which actually began in 1980 now coincides with the festival. There are multiple stages, like the Cooking stage, the Children’s stage, the Music stage, and the Poetry stage. There is a Mystery/Crime Fiction section which is where I have always spent the majority of my time, although for the past two years I was in the YA and Kid’s section because I worked the Harper Collins Children’s booth and the Disney Publishing booth, respectively.

Last year at the Disney booth. I was having fun despite the look on my face. That year, it was pouring rain plus our computer system crashed!

I have a special relationship with LATFOB (as I refer to it). My first time attending was 2006. I was fresh out of a divorce and eager to start a new chapter in my life. I made a decision that I was going to take this writing thing seriously instead of writing stories here and there but not doing anything with them. I stumbled upon the Sisters in Crime booth and met Darrell James. He was so friendly that he convinced me I should attend a Sisters in Crime meeting. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to write crime fiction (although I enjoyed reading it) but I did go to a meeting. And then another. I wrote my first crime fiction short story. My goal was to one day sign at LATFOB and then in 2008, my dream came true. I was thrilled.

The “Little Sisters” anthology writers and a new fan – 2008
James Ellroy at The Mystery Bookstore booth – 2010

My love affair with LATFOB shifted when I went from festival participant to worker/slave. That started in 2010 when I was a bookseller for The Mystery Bookstore. I met James Ellroy which is something I’ll never forget.

Joseph Wambaugh signing at the MWA booth – 2012

After that, I started working for Mysterious Galaxy, another indie bookstore. This year, I’ll be signing at the Sisters in Crime booth which I’ve been doing for the past 9 years. But in addition, I’ll be signing at the MG booth which makes me feel “I’ve made it” as an author. And yes, even though I work for MG, it’s tough to get a signing slot at their booth and this will be my first time.

After the craziness and excitement that is LATFOB, the following weekend is YALLWEST. This is another huge festival and it’s all things YA (hence lots of screaming tweens). The original is YALLFEST which is in Charleston, SC. The organizers realized they needed to have one on the West Coast, especially since they’re both from here so YALLWEST was born. It didn’t launch until 2015 in Santa Monica and Mysterious Galaxy wasn’t the official bookseller until 2016 and me, a crazed nerdy YA fan, was ecstatic. It was a REALLY big event last year and I was dog tired after the weekend but it was a happy tired. I think we didn’t know what to expect and now we do (did I mention screaming tweens!?).

I’m gearing myself up mentally, emotionally, and physically for both of these festivals. What I love most is being surrounded by so many people who love books. It’s a wonderful feeling.

How about you? Any book festivals in your area or other festivals that you look forward to?


Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. She has published over twenty crime fiction short stories with Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Betty Fedora, Out of the Gutter, and Dead Guns Press, among others. Cleaning Up Finn, her noir novella with All Due Respect Books, is a 2017 Lefty finalist and IPPY award winner.