Writers of the Future Award Week: Day One (Sunday, August 19, 2007)

My first day of the WOTF experience began auspiciously: I got dropped off at the wrong terminal at 830am.

Now, admittedly this was my fault—I got this ticket confused with the one I had booked for the next week to Chicago and said I was leaving from Pearson’s Terminal One (Air Canada) instead of Terminal 3 (US Airways).


I took the monorail (monorail, monorail…) to T3 and had plenty of time to check in and spend my 40 minutes to get through customs.

Once I’d checked my baggage I found my gate and Tony Pi, fellow Toronto winner (who’d got there at 730am—apparently I like to live dangerously when it comes to flight times, a theme which would repeat later in the week…), and settled in. Tony and I talked about what to expect, who of the writers would be there (Tony’s been in touch with quite a few via LiveJournal, Critters, Kathy Wentworth’s WOTF forum on SFF.net, etc.) We both agreed, once we had boarding passes in hand and were through security, that it seemed like this might actually be happening after all.

Wage checks to make sure he has his passport and ticket ready for boarding.
He doesn’t want to end up in GitMo, after all…

Our flight for Phoenix left on time and was pretty painless. Alas, Tony and I weren’t seated together (I think they must have shuffled Tony around to make room for somebody because I’m almost sure our e-tickets said we’d be sitting together the whole way there and back—ah well). Tony was up in row 16, while I was in row 22—the very last row in the plane; fine, except when you’d like to make a quick exit in Phoenix to catch your connection.

I had the window seat and while that was cool I felt badly when I had to get up to use the washroom. I was beside a guy who slept the whole flight (had to wake him up) and an elderly lady who had real trouble getting around and out of the seat.

It occurred to me that in the event of an emergency, despite being closest to the plane’s rear left exit, I was screwed.

Like I say, the flight was pretty painless, but US Airways…not the greatest airline in the world. I’d had breakfast, but our 4 ½ hour flight meant lunch aboard. After getting a look at the prices of a sandwich at Pearson ($9!) I decided to wait and get one on the plane ($5). But the attendant announced at the beginning that they only had a limited supply of sandwiches (why, I don’t know—you know it’s a sold-out flight over the lunch hour) and once they were gone they were gone, meaning that by the time they got to me…so hungee. I had two Cokes and hoped to get something in Phoenix.

But the other thing that bothered me about US Airways was their request that we slide down all window shades “for the benefit of our passengers trying to enjoy our in-flight movie—Shrek 3.” In the first place, it would take a lot more than total darkness to enjoy Shrek 3. And besides, I didn’t want to watch the movie; I wanted to read and look out the window as we crossed into the desert of the American southwest. I’ve never seen the desert and have always wanted to, so this request seemed a little unreasonable to me (or maybe I was cranky because I was hungry.) In any event, my window shade stayed up.

The desert really is amazing country and so unlike anything I’m used to or have seen before. There’s actually a very clear dividing line as you’re flying over the American plains and their rich agricultural land (below us for much of the journey were vast fields, laid out in huge, perfect grids, uninterrupted by lakes or rivers or any variation in terrain, like some great green chessboard for giants). One minute it’s all lush fields and then there’s a band of scrub transition terrain maybe only 50 miles wide and then the desert.

The earth itself looks different there. It’s all blasted land, red and khaki, with dark hills rising and rippling up from the desert floor; wandering tendrils of dried mud and salt halos show where rivers once ran. Dark dots of desert shrubs follow the contours of the land, finding their home in valleys and on ridges and without these little tufts of plant life it could almost have been mistaken for Arrakis, our plane powered by the beat of ‘thopter wings…

Once and while there would be another (much smaller) square of lush green farming below us, but it struck me at that point as an oddity and unnatural in that landscape. I couldn’t help thinking over and over again as we flew into Phoenix how much water it took to sustain such farms and such huge cities (Phoenix has a population of 1.5 million and stretches across the desert floor forever) in this arid place. The southwest finds itself in the middle of a huge population boom (Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the USA) while at the same time being caught in a terrible drought.

The Fremen in me was very upset.

One really cool thing about Phoenix is the desert art. Whereas at home they line highway on- and off-ramps with shrubs and trees, in Phoenix they have desert art pained or carved right into the earth. It looked to be Navajo or Hopi imagery, mostly of deserts birds and lizards.

We came down from
Carson and Springfield/
We came down from
Phoenix enthralled

– ‘The Celebration Of The Lizard’, The Doors

We landed in Phoenix and our brief exposure to the desert heat as we exited the plane via the gangway made me understand why the Navajo called Phoenix Hoozdo–literally “the place is hot.” It was like stepping in front of a full body hair drier, much as I imagined the arrival in Arrakeen to be like for young Atreides…

Are those the hills around Phoenix or the Shield Wall around Arrakeen?

I had just enough time to grab that longed-for sandwich ($7) before boarding for the up-and-down to Los Angeles. While Tony and I were seated together for this leg, I felt bad for him—the pressure differences of takeoff and landing really give him headaches, and like I said, Phoenix to LA is all up and down.

Coming into LA was impressive in a really gross way: you’ve heard of the LA smog? Yeah, it’s as bad as they say. The whole valley looked like it was covered in a thick fog and it was hard to see landmarks of any kind.

After landing and baggage claim (everything arrived!) we were met by Claude and his WOTF sign.

Tony and Claude

Claude and yours truly.

He took us outside to wait for the car (and curbside at LAX is so much crazier than curbside at any airport I’ve ever been at before). We got to talking and Claude informed us that Galaxy Press had just sold rights for a Turkish edition of WOTF 23! They apparently don’t get that many frees as part of the deal, but they promised to keep us informed and maybe work out some deal where we can get a copy of the Turkish edition cheap. Very cool.

Is there an Amazon.tr? 🙂

Soon we were met by our driver, Jason, and then whizzed around to one of the other gates to pick up Aliette de Bodard, the first WOTF winner from France! Aliette and I won in Q3 and had been e-mailing already (as had she and Tony) so it was almost as if we knew each other a bit to begin with.

We next met Hugette, a fellow Canadian (she’s from Montreal) and the week’s official photographer. She got quite good at finding me at almost every turn during the rest of the week (more on that later).

She took a few photos of us, and had Tony and I get out to fake a few shots of our arrival (because we didn’t want to fish our luggage out of the back of the mini-van, Tony and I tried to look casual as we had our pictures taken standing near the luggage of some guy who was waiting for a cab…)

Tony and I “arrive” at LAX…
(photo courtesy of WOTF/Galaxy Press)

Palm trees and American megalopoli still fascinate this Canadian boy.

Seeing this sight made me feel like I was in a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song…

As we drove down the 101 through LA and the 110 to Pasadena, Aliette regaled us with tales of transferring international flights at Heathrow. She had a two-hour layover and still barely made the plane after all the security, etc. Makes me feel pretty silly for being worried that 40 minutes in customs at Pearson was going to make me late…

After a brief stop at the 76 for gas, we arrived at the Sheraton Pasadena. We were greeted at the check-in by Sarah Caruso, one of the Galaxy Press folks and our coordinator during our stay.

Sarah Caruso (in the foreground) and John Goodwin (over her shoulder).
This shot is actually from Monday. Note the binder Sarah is looking
through–she was never without it all week.

Sarah was fabulous all week–if you needed something done, you asked her and it was ready by the next break. I think she slept even less than the winners, because every time I was wandering the hotel corridors at 4am there was Sarah… I also think her clipboard-binder thing had been surgically grafted to her arm, because she was never without it. She did a great job keeping the wheels greased all week.

We were also greeted at the desk by John Goodwin, President of Galaxy Press. I’d e-mailed with him a number of times but it was great to finally meet him.

That’s John Goodwin in the suit…
(photo courtesy of WOTF/Galaxy Press)

What I didn’t expect was for him to look like Superman–seriously, look at the guy. He doesn’t need those glasses. John Goodwin can see through walls.

Tony, Aliette, and I agreed to meet shortly to get some lunch and went to our rooms to drop stuff off.

I arrived in room 240 to find that my roommate’s stuff was already there, and soon in he walked. Douglas Texter–which is possibly the best last name for any writer ever–with whom I got along fabulously (as evidenced by his inscription in the book later in the week: “To the best WOTF roommate I’ve ever had” 😉

The view from our hotel room.

Doug is an English lit PhD candidate (specializing in utopian studies) and at one point had worked as a developmental editor for a textbook publisher in the US so he actually (unlike most people) understood what I did for a living. We talked shop for a bit (he once ‘Canadianized’ a textbook and was fascinated with the Toonie I had with me) and then there came a knock on the door–Hugette was looking for some photos of us meeting so we faked a few more for her.

Doug Texter and me “arriving” in our hotel room.
(photo courtesy of WOTF/Galaxy Press)

Downstairs for lunch to discover that a number of the other winners who had already arrived were assembled ready to strike out in search of food in Pasadena. We wandered over to the open-air mall for the first of many trips. There was lots of talk about the contest, how many times people had submitted before winning (I think the highest was 12), and what to expect from the week (most people had pieced this together from the various web pages and blogs of past winners).

The courtyard the of the mall where we took most of our meals.

I just can’t get over my fascination with those hills

As we returned to the hotel we discovered that the Miss Teen USA pageant was being held next door at the arena. Girls in sashes were thus to haunt over every move during the week. A very LA experience.

At 8pm in the hotel lounge we met up with the rest of the winners who had arrived (a few, like poor Andrea Kail, wouldn’t arrive until extremely early the next morning) and we were also introduced to Tim Powers and KD “Kathy” Wentworth, both of whom we came to love over the course of the week.

“I think every sentence with the words ‘Catch-22’ in it is a lie…except the one I just said.”
– Tim Powers

They briefly outlined what we could expect from the week and took our questions, which started off being about the week, but then quickly turned to other aspects of publishing, agents, etc. We were hungry for knowledge and success and it showed.

That disembodied arm to the right of KD Wentworth? Yeah, that’s me.
The lady in the red golf shirt by the mirror is Joni Labaqui, the contest organizer.
(photo courtesy of WOTF/Galaxy Press)

Tim’s most salient advice that night for new writers?

1) If you’re at the WOTF you’re already one step ahead. You’ve shown you can sell a story. The workshop is to take you beyond the first sale.
2) Have a crappy part-time job so you can write. Make sure it’s crappy so that you don’t mind dropping it in order to write more.
3) Start smoking (* This last I think was motivated more by Tim’s disappointment that none of us smoked rather than its necessity to good writing. He had no one to hang out with on break and have a butt–and though I hate smoking I was tempted to take it up for a week just to hang out with Tim. Tobias Buckell told me before the WOTF to stick as close to Tim as I could, so…)

We were also exposed for the first time to Tim’s primary quirk. He was drinking a can of Coke through the whole introduction, and when he’d finished that one he pulled another from an inner pocket of his thin, black jacket. When Jeff Carlson asked him just how many he had in there he pulled out two more from what I swear were secret pockets in the lining. The weird thing is that you couldn’t tell from looking that he had four cans of pop concealed on his person. This wasn’t to be the last time Tim produced Coca Cola seemingly from thin air…

We were all handed itineraries and several books of Hubbard’s article on writing and received our first homework: read two specified articles before class at 9am.

I retired to the bar with a band of the other winners to talk writing, the contest, life, the universe, everything… Eventually we broke up and headed for our rooms to read the requested articles.

As I finally lay down to sleep I couldn’t wait for the WOTF week to really begin.

– S.

– A new breed of SF writer shows itself
– Lessons on a traditional Thai weight-loss plan
– My brain gets full
– We learn that a human being’s maximum safe daily dose of caffeine is actually more a recommendation than a hard-and-fast rule…