Genre Session Leaders




Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz (Nonfiction) is a New York Times best selling nonfiction writing and poet. She is also the author of seven books of poetry, most recently How to Love the Empty Air. U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins wrote that her first nonfiction book, Words In Your Face: Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam, "leaves no doubt that the slam poetry scene has achieved legitimacy and taken its rightful place on the map of contemporary literature." Her second book of nonfiction, Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Science, spent three months on the New York Times best seller list, and made several "Best of the Year" lists, including Amazon, NPR's Science Friday, The Onion's AV Club, the Guardian, and more.

Juli Berwald (Memoir) is the author of Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. 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.

Josh Frank (Nonfiction) is a Writer, Producer, Director and Composer. His latest book is Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dali, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made. He has penned numerous plays (including an authorized adaptation of Werner Hergoz's 'Stroszek'), and screenplays (including an adaptation of Mark Vonnegut's The Eden Express), and musicals (including The Jonathan Richman Musical). He is also the author of Fool The World, the definitive oral history of the band the Pixies and In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Lost History of Peter Ivers and New Wave Theater.

Meg Gardiner (Mystery/Thriller) is the author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including China Lake, which won the Edgar Award. Her latest novel Into the Black Nowhere, is the second novel in the UNSUB series, featuring rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix. The first novel in the series, UNSUB, won the 2018 Barry Award for Best Thriller, and is in development as a television series by CBS. Originally from Santa Barbara, California, she lives in Austin, Texas.

Kate Golding (Romance) is the author of the novel Order Up. She is a sports fan with a writing problem. The former English major at Texas State University resides in Austin, Texas, ever trying to teach her son to throw a perfect football spiral while counting down the days to the next MotoGP race. With her husband taking on dinner duties in support of her writing time, she self-published two contemporary romance novels and can frequently be found blogging about tacos and typos. She is currently at work on both her golf swing and her next romance novel.

Walt Gragg (Mystery/Thriller) is the author of the military thriller The Red Line and the forthcoming novel The Chosen One. He is an attorney and former state prosecutor. Prior to law school, he spent a number of years in the military. He is a Vietnam veteran and has had many interesting assignments, including a tour with Special Forces (Green Berets). Of special significance, he served at the United States European Headquarters in Germany, where the idea for The Red Line took shape. Being privy to the actual American plan for the conduct of the defense of Germany and having participated in a number of war games while in Germany gave Gragg the knowledge and experience to lend authenticity to many of the novel’s events.

James L. Haley (Historical Fiction) 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. A Darker Sea is the second thrilling installment in his new nineteenth-century American naval fiction series.

Julia London (Romance) is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of more than thirty romantic fiction novels. She is the author of the popular  Cabot Sisters historical series, including The Trouble with Honor, The Devil Takes a Bride, and The Scoundrel and the Debutante. She is also the author of several contemporary romances, including Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch and The Perfect Homecoming. Julia is the recipient of the RT Bookclub Award for Best Historical Romance and a six-time finalist for the prestigious RITA award for excellence in romantic fiction.

Mari Mancusi (Picture Book/Middle Grade/Young Adult) is a former Emmy award winning TV producer and author of more than two dozen sci-fi/fantasy books for kids, teens and adults including Gamer Girl, the Scorched series, The Blood Coven Vampires, and her newest series, The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek, published by Disney Books. Her bestselling series have been chosen as featured selections in the Scholastic Book Fairs and clubs and have been selected by the American Library Association as “Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers” and “Popular Paperbacks.” In addition to writing, Mari is an avid cosplayer, horror aficionado, and MMORPG gamer.

Sukyi McMahon (Science Fiction/Fantasy) holds a B.A. and M.A. in Literature, concentrating in science fiction for her Master’s thesis work. You’ll find her at the Fifth Dimension bookmobile with a welcoming smile, a bit of knowledge to impart, and an eagerness to engage with and learn from her customers.

John Pipkin (General Fiction) is the author of Woodsburner, which won the New York Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Massachusetts Center for the Book Novel Prize, and the Texas Institute of Letters Stephen Turner Prize for First Novel. His novel The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter was published by Bloomsbury in 2016. John teaches at UT-Austin and in the Low-residency MFA Program at Spalding University in Louisville, KY.

Leila Sales (Picture Book/Middle Grade/Young Adult) is an author, editor, and book developer. She's written six young adult and middle grade novels, including This Song Will Save Your Life, and, most recently, If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, optioned for stage and screen, and received numerous starred reviews. Leila spent the past eleven years at Penguin Random House, where she edited bestselling and award-winning books by authors including Viola Davis, Max Brallier, Gayle Forman, Sally Green, Greg Pizzoli, and more. She is now a book developer working with authors, editors, agents, and other creators to turn their story visions into reality.

Patrice Sarath (Historical Fiction) is an author and editor whose novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos and Fog Season (Books I and II 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. Patrice is the 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.

Jessica Lamb Shapiro (Memoir) is the author of the memoir Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Believer, McSweeneys, and more.  She has an MFA from Columbia and has been awarded fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Stacey Swann (General Fiction) is the author of the debut novel, Olympus, TX, forthcoming from Doubleday. Her short fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, and other journals. She is a former Editor of American Short Fiction literary journal and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Tex Thompson (Science Fiction/Fantasy) 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.