The annual American Library Association conference has migrated south to New Orleans for its 2018 gathering, bringing with it notable speakers and panelists like Michelle Obama, Viola Davis, Sally Field and bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon. For Kenyon, returning to the Crescent City is more than just a visit home – it’s a return to the root of her success.

Kenyon, who will be a part of the Gender and Sexuality in Science Fiction and Fantasy panel, is the author of several No. 1 bestselling series including “Dark-Hunters” and “Chronicles of Nick.” New Orleans has served as the setting for several of her stories – book three of the “Dark-Hunters” series, “Night Embrace”, even begins with a confrontation with soul-sucking “Daimons” at Café du Monde.

“New Orleans is in my blood,” said Kenyon. “I grew up hearing all sorts of creepy stories about the rougarou and all kinds of Cajun legends. I would go out into the swamps on a boat with my family, and they would tell me horror stories the entire time. No matter where I go, I take a piece of it with me. I have an entire New Orleans room in my house, with a Joan of Arc statue and everything.”

Kenyon’s own experience as a female science fiction writer has not always been easy, and she said she has “never been free” from the feeling that she’s an impostor playing the role of a writer. However, she said that the key to her own success – and to the success of her work – is to remain fearless and persistent. 

“After I sold about six books, there was a time when I couldn’t sell anything. I must have had about 150 rejections,” said Kenyon. “The worst one I’ve ever received was from an editor who said, ‘None of our editors will ever be interested in publishing this author. Don’t submit her work again.’”

Kenyon was not defeated by the letter, and in looking back is even able to find amusement in the irony of the situation (that same editor ultimately went on to represent and publish her work, and the letter has never been brought up again).

That was not her only obstacle: Kenyon’s “Daimon” characters are remarkably similar to vampires, save for the twist of mythology she has spun into their lore, but the reception to her stories was not altogether positive when she first began to shop them to publishers. Kenyon said that in the time before the resurgence in popularity for paranormal stories, there were few editors willing to take a risk on the characters she’d created. To get them in the hands of her readers, she had to make a few compromises. 

“I wasn’t allowed to call them vampires,” said Kenyon. “If I wanted the books published, they couldn’t be called vampires. I was told there just wasn’t a market for it. At the time, there was no paranormal section. I’d pitch it as sci-fi, and they’d tell me ‘Try this as horror,’ and then I’d pitch it as horror, and they’d say, ‘Have you tried sci fi?’” 

As she prepares to share her wisdom in the very city that inspired her work, the impact of Kenyon’s persistence cannot be understated. Her “Dark-Hunter” and “Chronicles of Nick” books are currently being adapted for film, and her upcoming book “Stygian” is already poised to debut as a bestseller. 

Kenyon will discuss the changing perceptions of gender and sexuality in genre fiction, as well as how these changes reflect the world at large, alongside other acclaimed authors like Jacqueline Carey and Seanan McGuire.  

ALA kicks off on Thursday, June 21 with a welcome celebration led by Trombone Shorty and runs through Tuesday, June 26. Kenyon’s Daimon-free panel will be held on Saturday, June 23 from 4 – 5 p.m. A full schedule of must-see panels and events can be found at 2018.alaannual.org.