Featured Panelists

Robert Ashcroft is the author of the forthcoming science fiction novel, The Megarothke. He has worked as a State Department contractor and was recently mobilized to serve abroad with the U.S. Army Reserve. A lifelong fan of science fiction, Ashcroft spent nearly a decade after college staying up late to write novels, at one point going so far as to quit his job and rent an apartment in Mexico City. For nearly a year, he wrote, crafted stories, and visited subjects of interest such as the canals of Xochimilco and the shrine of the Santa Muerte in Tepíto.  The study of foreign cultures, languages and belief systems has been a lifelong priority and his main goal for the foreseeable future is to be able to travel and encounter interesting people and ideas.  

Juli Berwald is the author of Spineless, a memoir/nonfiction hybrid about jellyfish. She received her PhD in Ocean Science from the University of Southern California. A science textbook writer and editor, she has written for a number of publications including The New York Times, Nature, National Geographic, and Slate.

Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the picture book biography Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, a Junior Library Guild Selection, which earned three starred reviews; was awarded the Carter G. Woodson Award Honor from NCSS; was named an NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended book; an ALA Notable Book; and earned a Writer’s League of Texas Book Award. It is currently on many states’ 2018-19 book award nomination lists, including the TX Bluebonnet master list. Her latest picture book biography, Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words—also a Junior Library Guild Selection—was published in April, to be followed by King of the Tightrope: The Great Blondin in 2019.

Christopher Brown is the author of Tropic of Kansas. He was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including MIT Technology Review’s Twelve Tomorrows, The Baffler, and Reckoning. He also practices technology law.

Samantha M. Clark is the author of the middle-grade novel The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She has lived in a land of rainforests, the land of the Queen, two Caribbean islands, and now lives with her husband and crazy dog in Austin, Texas (the land of the weird). Samantha is the regional advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

May Cobb is the author of the novel Big Woods, selected as the Winner in the 2015 Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest, the Winner for the 2016 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza, and now publishing this July. May earned her MA in Literature from San Francisco State University and has spent the past several years researching and writing a book about the late jazz great, Rahsaan Roland Kirk (forthcoming). Her essays and interviews have appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, Edible Austin, and Austin Monthly.

Carolyn Cohagan is the author of the Time Zero trilogy,  winner of the 2017 Readers Favorite Award and the 2017 International Book Award; and the novel The Lost Children, which became part of the Scholastic Book Club in 2011 and was nominated for a 2014 Massachusetts Children's Book Award. She is the founder of Girls With Pens, a creative writing organization dedicated to fostering the individual voices and offbeat imaginations of girls ages 9-15.

Brian Contine is a Sales Manager for Penguin adult sales and sells to independent bookstores in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Prior to taking his position at Penguin, he worked at The University of Texas Press, where he spent time working in Sales, Marketing & Publicity, Editorial (acquisitions), and the Director’s Office. He began his bookselling career at BookPeople Bookstore, where he managed the floor for a number of years. He runs a public discussion of literature called The Voyage Out Book Group, which has been meeting the last Sunday of each month at BookPeople for the past eight years. He lives in Austin with his wife and two boys.   

Laura Creedle is the author of the YA novel The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily. She is ADHD, dyslexic and neuro-divergent. She also plays guitar, owns more than one pair of cowboy boots and volunteers with a kindergarten pre-literacy program at a local school.

Nicky Drayden is the author of the novel Prey of Gods, set in a futuristic South Africa brimming with demigods, robots, and hallucinogenic hijinks, and the novel Temper, forthcoming in August. She is a Systems Analyst who dabbles in prose when she’s not buried in code.

Colleen Devine Ellis is a book publicist at Devine Literary and the former publicity and communications manager at the University of Texas Press and publicity manager for Barnes & Noble. Most recently, she worked on the books How to Be a Texan by Andrea Valdez and Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chestnut by Kristen Hersh.

Abby Fennewald is the director of marketing and publicity at BookPeople, the largest independent bookstore in Texas.

Marika Flatt launched PR by the Book, LLC in 2002, combining her love of the media, public relations and books. She previously hosted two cable television shows (The Teen Report & The College Report) in San Antonio, worked with NBC-TV in Dallas, and spent seven years leading the publicity team of an Austin-based book publicity firm, where she was the Director of Publisher Services, handling the company’s key publicity campaigns and serving as the company’s spokesperson. Marika is the recipient of an Austin Public Relations Society of America Outstanding Mentor Award, the Anne D. Robinson Creative Initiative Award, and a nominee for “Profiles in Power”. Marika is a past-president of Women Communicators of Austin, serves as an Expert for IBPA, is listed on Twitter’s Women in Publishing (#womeninpublishing) and serves on the selection committee for the Texas Book Festival.

Jason Gallaher is the author of the picture book Whobert Whover, Owl Detective. He fell in love with detective work while watching episodes of Blue’s Clues. He solved the mystery of what to do when he grew up and became an author when he learned being a merman is impossible (at least for now).

Meg Gardiner is the author of fourteen thrillers. Her latest novel, Into the Black Nowhere, features rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix. Don Winslow calls it "A terrifying and brilliant read." It's the sequel to UNSUB, which is nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller and is in development as a TV series by CBS.

Amy Gentry is the author of Good as Gone, a New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” and Entertainment Weekly “Must List” Pick. She is also a book reviewer and essayist whose work has appeared in numerous outlets, including the Chicago TribuneSalonThe Paris Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Austin Chronicle. Amy has a doctorate in English. Her next novel, Last Woman Standing, is due out in January.

Charlotte Gullick is Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. She holds BA in Literature/Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz  and a MA in English/Creative Writing from UC Davis as well as a MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, and residencies at  MacDowell and Ragdale.

Jess Hagemann is an award-winning author and accomplished biographer. With an MFA in Creative Writing, Jess taught writing at the university level before starting the ghostwriting company Cider Spoon Stories in 2015. Her debut novel will be published in 2019.

James L. Haley is an award-winning historian and author of numerous books on Texas and Western history, as well as several works of fiction, including The Buffalo War, which has been in print for thirty-nine years and remains the definitive history of the final war of the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne Indians against Anglo domination; the multiple award winning biography Sam Houston; and Wolf: The Lives of Jack London; among others. Haley’s work has garnered many awards, including two Spur Awards (2002 and 2011) from the Western Writers of America. The Shores of Tripoli is the first thrilling installment in his new nineteenth-century American naval fiction series.

Bethany Hegedus’ books include the award-winning Grandfather Gandhi and the newly released Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, both co-written with Arun Gandhi, grandson to the Mahatma and illustrated by Evan Turk.  The Grandfather Gandhi books join Bethany’s novels Truth with a Capital T and Between us Baxters in gracefully handling race, class and diversity issues. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults, Bethany is prior editor of the literary journal Hunger Mountain. Bethany is the Owner and Creative Director of The Writing Barn, a writing retreat, workshop and event space in Austin, Texas.

P. J. Hoover wanted to be a Jedi, but when that didn’t work out, she became an electrical engineer instead. After a fifteen year bout designing computer chips for a living, P. J. started creating worlds of her own. She’s the award-winning author of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life, featuring a fourteen-year-old King Tut who’s stuck in middle school, and Solstice, a super-hot twist on the Hades/Persephone myth. When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik’s cubes, and watching Star Trek.

Isobella Jade is the author of Almost 5’4”, a modeling memoir first written on the display computers at the Apple Store in SoHo when she was without her own computer at the time. Ms. Jade followed Almost 5’4 with her ongoing graphic novel digital series Model Life, a lifestyle podcast and the YA novel Careful – which is about a teenager who dies in a texting and driving crash. Her story of striving to beat the odds has been featured in The New York Times, The New York Post, The New York Daily News, Publishers Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, Glamour, Seventeen, Sirius Radio, BBC and others globally.

Donna M. Johnson is the author of Holy Ghost Girl, a memoir deemed “enthralling” by the New York Times and “compulsively readable” by Texas Monthly. The book made the Oprah.com Memoirs We Love list and took top honors at the Books for a Better Life Awards in New York. As a work in progress, Holy Ghost Girl took first place at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Donna’s work has appeared in several anthologies as well as the Huffington Post, Shambhala Sun, The Rumpus, Psychology Today and other publications. She is a Ragdale fellow and was recently awarded a Lucas Artist Residency for the 2017--2020 period. Donna is at work on a second memoir as well as a journalism project.

Jack Kaulfus is the author of the short story collection Tomorrow or Forever. Their work has been published in A Cappella Zoo, Heavy Feather Review, and Off the Rocks, among other journals. Jack teaches high school English and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Texas State University in San Marcos. When all the grading is finished, Jack plays in the queer Americana band Brand New Key and tries to avoid injury on the hiking trails around central Texas.

Levis Keltner is the author of the novel Into that Good Night. He is the editor-in-chief at Newfound and teaches writing at Texas State University.

Stina Leicht is the flintlock fantasy novels Blackthorne and Cold Iron and the Irish historical fantasy series The Fey and the Fallen. When she was small she wanted to grow up to be like Vincent Price. Unfortunately, there are no basements in Texas -- thus, making it impossible to wall up anyone alive under the house. Alas, she'll have to resign herself to going quietly mad while wearing a smoking jacket. Too bad Texas is hot, she doesn't smoke and therefore, doesn't own a smoking jacket.

Nikki Loftin is the author of the multiply starred-reviewed Nightingale’s Nest and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, which Publisher’s Weekly called “mesmerizing” and Kirkus called “irresistible.” Her latest novel is Wish Girl.

Marshall Ryan Maresca grew up in upstate New York and studied film and video production at Penn State. He now lives Austin with his wife and son.  His work appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. He also has had several short plays produced and has worked as a stage actor, a theatrical director and an amateur chef. His novels The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages each begin their own fantasy series, both set in the port city of Maradaine.

Jedah Mayberry was raised in southeastern CT, the backdrop for The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle. The book won Grand Prize in Red City Review's 2015 Book Awards and was named 1st in Multi-Cultural Fiction for 2014 by the Texas Association of Authors. He is at work on a second book, Sun Is Sky, plus a sci-fi series featuring a young dark-skinned girl tasked with saving humanity from its self-destructive ways. His work has appeared at Loose Leaf Press, Flashing for Kicks, Linden Avenue, A Gathering Together, and Black Elephant.

Melynda Nuss is an attorney who specializes in helping writers, artists, and other creative people handle the issues that arise in their business lives.  She obtained her law degree from the University of Chicago in 1989, and she has a BA in English from Princeton University and a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin. She taught literature and legal writing at the University of Texas Pan American until 2013.  She is a member of the Texas State Bar Entertainment and Sports Law Section, the Writers’ League of Texas and the Austin Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm section. She volunteers her time with the Texas Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts.

Rene S. Perez II is the author of the novel Seeing Off the Johns. He was born in Kingsville, Texas, and raised in Corpus Christi. He received a BA from the University of Texas and an MFA from Texas State University. He is the winner of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award and the 2013 NACCS Tejas Award for Fiction for his 2012 short story collection, Along These Highways.

Adeena Reitberger's stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Mississippi Review, Cimarron Review, Nimrod International Journal, Sierra Nevada Review, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere. She is the co-editor of American Short Fiction.

Nettie Reynolds is a playwright and marketing/branding consultant. She is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas. She has appeared in Frontera Fest Austin three times.  She has produced three variety shows at The North Door.  Reynolds has spoken on branding and marketing at many national conferences including Book Expo America, Social Venture Network Conference and Erma Bombeck Writers Conference. She is currently working on her memoir "It Wasn't That Funny When It Happened."

Tatiana Ryckman is the author of the novella I Don't Think About You Until I Do and two chapbooks of short prose, Twenty-Something and VHS and Why It's Hard to Live. Tatiana's work has appeared on Tin House's The Open Bar, Barrelhouse, Opossum Lit, The Establishment, Nonbinary Review, Flavorwire, and many other publications. Tatiana has been an artist in residence at Yaddo and Arthub, and she is the editor of Awst Press and Assistant Editor at sunnyoutside press.

Patrice Sarath is the author of the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos (Book I of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the series Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet. She is also author of numerous short stories that have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Black Gate, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and many others. Her short story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” was included in Year’s Best Fantasy of 2003 compiled by David Hartwell and Katherine Cramer. Her story “Pigs and Feaches,” originally published in Apex Digest, was reprinted in 2013 in Best Tales of the Apocalypse by Permuted Press.

Paige Schilt is the author of the memoir Queer Rock Love. Her stories have appeared on The Bilerico Project, Offbeat Families, Mutha Magazine and Brain, Child. She is a frequent speaker and facilitator at conferences, including Gender Odyssey, Contemporary Relationships, Creating Change and Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit. Paige is married to Katy Koonce, frontman for the band Butch County.

Chaitali Sen is a writer and educator based in Austin, Texas. Her debut novel, The Pathless Sky, was published by Europa Editions in 2015. Short stories, reviews, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Brooklyn Magazine, Catapult, Chicago Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Ecotone, LitHub, Los Angeles Review of Books, New England Review, New Ohio Review, and many other publications. She is a graduate of the Hunter College MFA program in Fiction and founder of the interview series, Borderless: Conversations in Art, Action, and Justice.  She is at work on her second novel.

José Skinner was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Mexico and new Mexico. He writes about hard times on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. His short story collection Flight and Other Stories received much critical praise. His gritty and imaginative stories have appeared in BoulevardThird Coast, Colorado Review, Florida Review, Quarterly West, Bilingual Review, and many other literary journals, as well as in the anthologies Our Lost Border: Essays on Life Amid the Narco Violence, In the Shadow of the Strip: Las Vegas Stories and Las Vegas Noir. He reviews books for the Texas Observer. His new collection, The Tombstone Race, was published by University of New Mexico Press.

Greg Leitich Smith is the author of several books for middle-grade readers, including Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn, Chronal Engine, Borrowed Time, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, and Tofu and T.Rex. He is the co-author of the picture book Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman. His short story, "The Wrath of Dawn," is included in the anthology Geektastic, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci.

Brittani Sonnenberg is the author of the novel Home Leave. She was raised across three continents and has worked as a journalist in Germany, China, and throughout Southeast Asia. A graduate of Harvard, she received her MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. Her fiction has been published in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 as well as Ploughshares, Short Fiction, and Asymptote. Her nonfiction has appeared in Time, Associated Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NPR Berlin.

Mary Helen Specht's first novel, Migratory Animals, was an editors' choice by the New York Times Book Review and the Austin American-Statesmen, an IndieNext Pick, and an Apple iBook selection, Migratory Animals also won the Texas Institute of Letters Best First Fiction Award and the Writers' League of Texas work of Best Fiction. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including: The New York TimesThe Colorado ReviewPrairie Schooner; Michigan Quarterly ReviewThe Southwest ReviewFlorida Review; Southwestern American LiteratureWorld Literature TodayBlue Mesa; Hunger MountainBookslutThe Texas Observer; and Night Train, where she won the Richard Yates Short Story Award. A past Fulbright Scholar to Nigeria and Dobie-Paisano Writing Fellow, Specht currently teaches creative writing at St. Edward’s University in Austin. Texas Monthly has named her one of "Ten Writers to Watch."

Suzy Spencer is the author of Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality, a memoir about her journalistic research into Americans' sex practices. The book was featured on Katie Couric's talk show, Katie, and was a Publishers Weekly Editors' Pick. Suzy is also the author of four true crime books: Wasted, a New York Times bestseller and Violet Crown Book Award finalist; Wages of Sin; Breaking Point, the story of Andrea Yates, which was a Book of the Month Club, Doubleday Book Club, Literary Guild and Mystery Guild selection; and The Fortune Hunter.

Carlotta Eike Stankiewicz is an Austin-based entrepreneur, poet and advertising creative director and writer. In May 2016, her highly successful Kickstarter campaign funded the publishing of Haiku Austin, the inaugural title from Haiku Empire Press. During her tenure at GSD&M Advertising, this branding expert created award-winning integrated campaigns for national brands including John Deere, Zales, Hallmark and Southwest Airlines. Stankiewicz serves on the board of directors for The Writers’ League of Texas, and has previously spoken at The 3 Percent Conference, Listen to Your Mother/Austin and The One Page Salon.

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novels Chasing the Sun and Everyone Knows You Go Home. She was born in Lima, Peru and came to the U.S. at age four. As a child, she spent time in South Florida, Central Florida, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas before her family set roots in Miami. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Texas and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Regis University. Her work has appeared in Latina Magazine, Bustle, Catapult, Writer’s Digest, The Austin American-Statesman, and NBCLatino.com.

Sherry Thomas is a USA Today bestselling author who decided that her goal in life is to write every kind of book she enjoys reading. Thus far she has published romance, fantasy, mystery, and a wuxia-inspired duology. Her books regularly receive starred reviews and best-of-the-year honors from trade publications, including such outlets as the New York Times and National Public Radio. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award. Her most recent novels are the Lady Sherlock series.

Tex Thompson was once described as "an explosion of 52 enthusiastic kittens all trying to go in the same direction, but instead latching onto everything at once." In addition to being an instructor for the Writers Path at SMU and the author of the internationally-published Children of the Drought series, Tex is the founder and 'chief instigator' for WORD - Writers Organizations 'Round Dallas. When she's not leading the charge at home in Dallas, Tex brings her particular brand of 'red-penthusiasm' to conferences, conventions, and workshops all over the country - as an egregiously enthusiastic, endlessly energetic one-woman stampede.

Deb Olin Unferth is the author of Wait Till You See Me Dance, Minor Robberies, Vacation, and Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award in autobiography.

Julie Wernersbach serves as the literary director of the Texas Book Festival. She has ten years of experience as an independent bookseller, most recently serving as marketing director for BookPeople. Before moving to Austin in 2011, Julie served as publicist and events coordinator for Book Revue, a large independent bookstore on Long Island. Julie is the author of the books Vegan Survival Guide to Austin and Swimming Holes of Texas. Her short fiction has appeared in Arcadia magazine.