Writers of the Future Award Week: Day Six (Friday, August 24, 2007)

Okay–here’s where things might get a little fuzzy.

See, all week long before turning in for the night I’d made notes about the goings-on of the day because I knew I wanted to blog about it when I got home, and I have a terrible memory sometimes.

Now, there are parts of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that I’ll never forget, but I confess some of the small details might have escaped me. So what follows is my best recollection of what happened Friday with the caveat that, as things either occur to me and/or I’m corrected by my fellow WOTFians, this may be subject to revision…

* * *

By Friday morning I was broke.

By Friday night I was rich.


I’d brought about $300 US knowing that we were to provide most of our own meals. I was down to around $50 bucks and with two more days before I headed home I didn’t relish the idea of paying $25 for breakfast (as I’d been doing most of the week).

Instead, I decided to see what the grocery store on the next block had in the way of breakfast.

I bumped into Kathy coming out of the store and said good morning.

“So is this where everybody’s been having breakfast all week?” she asked.

“Not me,” I said. “I’ve been eating at the hotel but now I’m broke.” This comment would be mentioned again later that night…

I bought what was (I soon discovered) the world’s worst croissant and headed back to the hotel. Poolside I found Randall, Doug, and Tim Powers finishing up breakfast. I tried to pawn off the heavy, doughy croissant on one of them but they were having none of it.

At 9am the writer and illustrator winners all piled in to cars and we were off to Caltech for rehearsals. I was in the car with Joe, Andrea, and Kim and related the previous night’s Niven Disaster to them.

The Athenaeum where the event was held is Cal Tech’s faculty club and is a gorgeous building and grounds. It puts the University of Toronto’s faculty club to shame, I can assure you. This is the kind of building I always imagined a university faculty club to be like.

When we were dropped off our only instructions were to go “out back” where the stage was being prepared, and with no one to greet us or guide us we ended up wandering through the club looking for “out back.”

Out Front of the Athenaeum
(Photo courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

The front entrance

The view from the top of the front steps

Looking left from the top steps

The Athenaeum’s foyer. You know: it was an okay place… 😉

The main salon

Out Side of the Athenaeum on the terrace

Out Middle of the Athenaeum. This courtyard was
being prepared for the post-awards reception.

On the other side of the curtains is the stage.
Geir Lanesskog, one of the Illustrator winners,
decides he’d like to give his acceptance speech
from behind the shrubbery.

Ah hah! Out Back of the Athenaeum at last!

The rehearsals were a lot of fun and not nearly the arduous endless sitting around that previous years’ winners had warned us about. We all had a good time practicing how to walk up the stage steps without tripping, accept our statues (which we mimed—it was interesting how as one person after another went up the air statues kept getting bigger and bigger…), turn to the camera and smiled until we were given the thumbs up, and then give our speech.

Here we are milling about, waiting for the rest of the
winner to arrive. They were probably having trouble
finding Out Back, too…

The fake speeches were also a lot of fun (I thanked all the little people I had to step on and crush to get where I am today…) and somehow we got on to singing the national anthems of all the international winners as they ascended the dais. There was a rousing God Save the Queen for British Steve, and an O Canada for Tony, but when we started singing La Marseillaise for Aliette she warned us not to sing when she actually went up later that night (in a way that made us feel our very lives may be in danger should we try—pretty impressive for such a petite young French woman).

“If you knew what you were singing,” she said, “you would not sing it.”

For reference, the English translation of La Marseillaise:

Let’s go children of the fatherland, The day of glory has arrived! Against us tyranny’s Bloody flag is raised! (repeat) In the countryside, do you hear The roaring of these fierce soldiers? They come right to our arms To slit the throats of our sons, our friends! Refrain: Grab your weapons, citizens! Form your batallions! Let us march! Let us march! May impure blood Water our fields! Sacred love of France, Lead, support our avenging arms! Liberty, beloved Liberty, Fight with your defenders! (repeat) Under our flags, let victory Hasten to your manly tones! May your dying enemies See your triumph and our glory! Refrain We will enter the pit When our elders are no longer there; There, we will find their dust And the traces of their virtues. (repeat) Much less eager to outlive them Than to share their casket, We will have the sublime pride Of avenging them or following them! Refrain

Okay. Maybe I can see what she meant…

John sings I Feel Pretty (you probably think I’m joking…)
Note the sheaf of paper on the podium…

One of the funnier moments was when we realized there had been a major security slip-up by the show runners. On the podium where we were all giving our faux speeches was a stapled sheaf of paper. As we were all milling about, somebody started flipping the pages, noticing that what was scrolling by on the teleprompter in the podium was, in fact, written down on the sheets.

“Is that a script?” someone asked. A crowd started gathering around the podium. Seems most people were just interested in seeing what was going to be said that evening.

Flip to the end, flip to the end! I thought to myself. I was up for the Grand Prize and, while I was sure I wasn’t going to win, I wanted to know who did (I don’t hate surprises, rather I hate the uncertainty caused by anticipation of a surprise you know is coming).

“Let me see that…” said one of the show runners. He flipped a little farther and when he realized the script revealed both the writer and illustrator Grand Prize winners he sheepishly said: “Yeah, that’s a top secret document…”

“You left THE WHAT up there!?” she said…

We were assigned seats so that when we were called up we’d be in order.


What I heard later was that one person did have the presence of mind to peek at the end and at least saw the name of the writer Grand Prize winner. This person (who shall remain nameless) did a great job of not telling a soul the whole rest of the day, resisting a temptation to blab which must have been intense and which I’m sure would have broken me. So yeah—kudos 🙂

We were picked up around 11am when the judges arrived for their rehearsal (which was a welcome change to the schedule, which said our rehearsals would be done at 3pm) and returned to the hotel.

We milled around a bit waiting for the cars to
come get us. Here, Damon with Tim
and Tim’s
breakfast Coke.
(Photo courtesy Steve Gaskell)

We were free for lunch until 1pm when we were to have a meeting about how to give an acceptance speech.

Sweet relief–an egg roll instead of a burrito!

As a bit of a change-up, for lunch we went to the Chinese place right next door to the Mexican restaurant we’d otherwise eaten at every day. It was tasty and (even I will admit) a welcome change.

Once back at the hotel there was some unstructured time before the meeting and I ended up wandering. I found Aliette and Eric James Stone (a past winner from WOTF 21) sitting in the lobby, and soon we were joined by Tony. I asked Eric for any advice on the acceptance speech and his main suggestion was to keep it short. He asked if I’d written a Grand Prize acceptance speech yet and I said I hadn’t planned to, given that I was almost certain I wasn’t going to win. He and Tony both (wisely, it turned out) counseled me to write the Grand Prize speech.

It was counsel I promptly ignored, for a two-fold reason. Mainly, I was convinced I wasn’t going to be the Grand Prize winner. Statistically, okay, I had a 1-in-4 shot at the Grand Prize. But, not having read any of the other stories, after spending a week getting to know the other first place winners I could see how any one of the three of them could win the prize. Each had far more impressive credentials than me already and having arrived in California essentially convinced that there was no chance of me winning I hadn’t (to my mind) seen or heard anything to dissuade me from that opinion.

And yet…

And yet I had a 1-in-4 shot at the Grand Prize. Sure, statistics can be used to prove anything (14% of all people know that) but a 25% chance at the Grand Prize was, in some ways, nothing to dismiss. So a secondary concern (far less rational than the first) was fear of the jinx. If there was any chance of me winning the Grand Prize, it was (in my mind) sure to be quashed by the presumption of writing a Grand Prize acceptance speech. You weren’t going to get me to write anything like a Grand Prize speech. No sir. I wasn’t going to jinx myself. Unh uh.

So the Grand Prize speech remained unwritten, to hilarious effect later that night…

At 1pm we all assembled for the last time in our little conference room (*sniff*) to hear John Goodwin’s talk on what makes a good acceptance speech. The gist of it was “keep it short, keep it on topic.” John cautioned us about going on too long, or like feeling we needed to go on longer to fill time. One to two minutes is what he recommended, with the reminder (later borne out to be true) that once you got on stage and starting giving the speech, it was going to feel a lot shorter than it actually was. He also cautioned us against trying to be too funny or cute, saying that most such attempts failed (though I think a few people had some good lines and got the laughs they deserved. For instance, British Steve–who was a published finalist this year and who thus gets to keep entering the contest–jokingly thanked all of us in his speech for writing short enough stories that there was room for his story in the collection.)

“This isn’t about saving the whales.”
– John Goodwin

John’s other comment was to keep the speech about the contest and the award and not take the opportunity to vent about politics, religion, anything controversial, etc. I think this was sound advice (not that I think anyone in our particular group would have done so anyway) but I think it was also motivated by what I’ve heard has happened in previous years: people getting up at the podium to accept their award and slamming the contest, other winners, Hubbard, etc.

Now, somebody doing that strikes me as rude, ungrateful, and hypocritical and I was actually shocked to hear such things had happened when some of the judges and past winners told me about it. Why would you submit to the contest, win, accept the trip, week-long workshop, prize money, and trophy and then show such ingratitude and lack of professionalism?

I understand why John felt it necessary to say that, but I feel very lucky that I was with a cohort of winners who I knew were all far too classy to pull a stupid stunt like that.

During the course of John’s talk is when I started to get really nervous. Looking back, I suppose it was anxiety over lingering uncertainty about the Grand Prize that had me (as doubtless my roomie Doug Texter will attest) freaked out. Luckily, that problem would soon be solved for me…

We were dismissed around 130pm with the instructions that we were to be ready to depart in the first limos at 430pm and that we were all to report to Sarah’s room for hair and make-up by 3pm.

Now, I’ve worn stage makeup before in high school plays, but didn’t realize we’d be wearing it to the award ceremony. Why did we need make-up? Oh yeah, they were going to be filming and taking scads of photos.

Tension mounted.

Doug and I returned to our room to work on the speeches. Doug turns out to have been on his high school debate team and his skills in rhetoric are head-and-shoulders over mine. He wrote a very eloquent speech.

Mine was more of the “I’d like to thank the Academy” variety…

At 3pm, our speeches written carefully on 3×5 recipe cards, Doug wandered down to Sarah’s room for make-up and I had a shower.

When I got to Sarah’s room, a number of the ladies were just finishing up and they all looked fabulous. Lorraine Schleter in particular said she didn’t recognize herself, but as I said when I saw her: “Hubba, hubba.” 🙂

While British Steve and Doug got their make-up done, I was sent off to wash my face with special cleanser pads the make-up artists insisted we use—my shower was not enough, apparently.

Doug blushes when told he has perfect skin…
(Photo courtesy Steve Gaskell)

Here, the make-up artist attempts to mind meld
with British Steve. “My thoughts to your thoughts…”
(Photo courtesy Steve Gaskell)

Upon my return, I sat in the make-up chair and asked: “What’s it going to take to make me look like Brad Pitt?”

The make-up artist (who normally did make-up for Hollywood features) said, without missing a beat: “20 million dollars and more time that you got.”

Oh! Snap!

Within five seconds of looking at me the make-up artist had my skin type down, and listed off issues that I have (I have a dry T-zone, I’m told). The resulting make-up job was very good. I didn’t look like Brad Pitt (sadly) by the end, but rather a prettier, less blotchy, less tired-circles-under-the-eyes version of me—kind of an ideal Platonic form of me 🙂 And the best part was unless you were really really close, you couldn’t tell that I was wearing make-up (which, I gather, is the ultimate goal of make-up).

Then it was back to the room for tuxs. I love wearing suits and don’t have much opportunity to do so (the day job dress code is pretty laid back) so I was looking forward to dressing up and think I looked pretty good in the penguin suit. Again, though, Doug out did me—that man was born to wear a tuxedo.

Around 4pm or so we started to congregate in the lobby to await the limos to the Athenaeum.

British Steve regales us with “Tutte le feste al tempio”
from Rigoletto (he’s a wonderful tenor) while, behind,
Damon–a master of the tango–cuts a rug with Alethia…

See what I mean about Doug? Born to wear a tux.

“How YOU doin’?”

Swedish Steve and Alethia

Kathy, me, and Jerry Pournelle. If you look closely in
Pournelle’s eye, you can see the hints
of a plot forming…

Other guests in the hotel (including the hot British stewardesses) were wandering through checking us out—though we cleaned up well, they doubtless thought they’d happened upon a bunch of people headed for some really nerdy formal…and they weren’t far off.

However, the absolute best case of mistaken identity that evening belonged to Damon, who was riding down the elevator, dressed in his tux, with one of the Miss Teen USA contestants’ mothers. Their pageant was going on the same night as ours and in his tux Damon looked like someone official.

“Oh, are you here for the contest?” she said, meaning the beauty pageant.

“Yes,” said Damon, meaning the Writers of the Future. “I’m one of the winners.”

I’m told the mother went white as a sheet, doubtless wondering just what kind of pageant she’d let her daughter enter…

L to R: Randall Ensley, me, and Damon Kaswell, Miss Teen Oregon 2007

There were many pictures taken (though, for some reason, Tony and I neglected to get a shot together) and then we all piled into various limos for the short ride to Cal Tech.

Jeff Carlson: novelist, father, hitman.
Standing next to him is Jabba the Tux.

Tony and Rod

This is how we roll.

Two guesses why the Steves tried to get in this limo…
For a complicated set of reasons I didn’t make it
into this one, and took the next limo there.

As we were climbing into the limos, Jerry Pournelle
was heard to shout: “Remember Caesar—thou art mortal!”

Our crew en route.

When we arrived back at the Athenaeum there was what could be described as a ‘cocktail hour’ except that, as we soon discovered (to general dismay), this was to be a dry event. Some people found some bottled water somewhere, and Tim arrived in tux with both his wife Serena and three or four cans of Coca Cola (you think I’m kidding but I’m not, I swear). Other than that we mainly just milled about the salon and the terrace for an hour or so while people arrived and the staff finished setting up the dining room.

Jeff and his wife with British Steve
on the
terrace of the Athenaeum.
(Photo courtesy Jeff Carlson)

Joe Jordan and me on the terrace.
(Photo courtest Steve Gaskell)

And what occurred during this faux cocktail party was one of the stranger episodes of my Writers of the Future experience…

There I was, freaked out as hell already about the evening to come, when who should walk over but Jerry Pournelle and Yoji Kondo.

Now, Jerry Pournelle needs no introduction: he’s a NYT best-selling SF author, and has co-authored such classics as Footfall and The Mote in God’s Eye with Larry Niven. And Yoji Kondo is a really impressive guy: he’s a NASA astrophysicist who also writes SF under the name Eric Kotani.

And they walked over to talk to me. Like I wasn’t nervous enough already…

“You wrote the Saturn story, yes?” asked Prof. Kondo.

I think I nodded, dumbfounded that he even knew who I was.

“I’m curious,” he said—“did you give it to any scientists to read before you sent it in?”

Uh oh, I thought. This is either going to be really good or really bad.

I explained that I had tried to get somebody from the Cassini team to read it but that he declined, citing his need to keep the findings secret until his article in Nature came out…

“Ah,” said Kondo, “I didn’t think so. Because I liked your story very much but it would never happen that way. All your science is wrong.”


“Yoji is probably one of five or six people on the planet who could tell you that,” said Pournelle. “When I read it I thought ‘Well, I don’t think that could happen…’ but it was only when I talked to Yoji that I was sure.”

Suddenly I was two inches tall.

At this point I think I babbled something incoherent, trying to explain (i.e.: beg forgiveness for) my ignorance of hard science. I think I even used as a defense that I’d studied the history of science and not actual science.

Pournelle and Kondo’s response, rather than to offer absolution for my having committed the cardinal sin of hard SF, was to chide my lack of calculus (pointing out how easy it is) and to insist that as penance for my transgression I ought simply to teach myself. This reminded me of a possibly apocryphal story of one of my MA profs teaching himself to read Dutch over the course of a weekend in order to study some primary sources (I say ‘possibly apocryphal’ because if anybody could possibly do that it was this particular professor who, it was generally agreed by we grad students, was a robot).

While I didn’t say anything at the time, I thought that if either Pournelle or Kondo had seen my Grade 11 math marks they would simply have patted me on the head, wondered where my helmet was, and inquired what time the short bus was coming to pick me up…

I clung desperately to Tim Powers’ advice that our stories should be plausible rather than accurate, if plausibility served the story better than actual accuracy. The thought that I had almost fooled Jerry Pournelle sustained me for the next few minutes.

“I voted for your story,” said Kondo. “I liked it as a story, but I sent a note with it that explained this could never happen.”

Well, at least he liked it…

“Who did win the Grand Prize?” Kondo asked Pournelle, as if I wasn’t standing there. The question presupposed that I hadn’t won so it was a weird mix of curiosity and disappointment that I felt hearing this conversation (in fact, I wondered for a split second—until my nosy side thought better of it—whether I should even be within earshot as they talked).

And then Pournelle told him who had won (not me, I assure you) as if I wasn’t even standing there.

“Sorry to be the one to tell you,” said Pournelle.

It was a simultaneously thrilling moment—getting to know (or so I thought) the Great Secret before (just about) anyone—but at the same time mildly disappointing.

I say mildly because, like I said before, I hadn’t expected to win anyway. So things were playing out much as I had anticipated (though I hadn’t anticipate this particular conversation…) The entire week I realized over and over just how lucky I was even to be at the WOTF week, so I knew that I’d already had an experience far more valuable than I could ever have hoped.

A real benefit of Pournelle and Kondo’s trick was that I immediately achieved a Zen-like state of calm. I had been worried about the Grand Prize but knowing that I no longer had anything to worry about meant I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the night. I don’t really have a problem addressing crowds (performing in a lot of high school plays broke me of that fear a long time ago) so I was looking forward to my first-place quarterly win speech.

Dinner followed shortly and I was seated at a table with Doug, Andrea and her husband Mike, Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, Doug Beason and his wife, and Scott Brick (who is an actor who does a lot of audiobooks, including Kevin’s Dune prequels and the audiobook version of Writers of the Future XXIII) and his girlfriend.

The dinner gong sounds and we shuffle into the dining hall.

Foolishly not realizing that it was assigned seating, I had to fight through the crowd headed for the dining hall and back to the foyer to get my place card. In fairness, I’d arrived so early that the table with the cards and attendants hadn’t even been set up yet. But when I asked the lady behind the desk to check my name off the list she actually recognized me.

She was one of the Galaxy Press people (one we’d not met during the week) and said how much she’d enjoyed my story. Very cool! But even better, she had a question about a plot point in my story. Even cooler! Her question was about a part of the story that I’d really worked hard on. I wanted to it be ambiguous and leave the reader wondering and as I had a number of people ask me the same question that weekend I guess it worked.

Just as I was leaving with my card, the lady behind the check-in desk flagged down a friend of hers. “This is the guy who wrote the Saturn story!” she said. The other lady got all excited and asked me, unprompted, the same question. Very, very cool.

Oooo…Fancy! (Photo courtesy John Burridge)

The meal was lovely—chicken and beef, with fingerling potatoes and veggies. I really would have liked a glass of wine, though…

Conversation was wide-ranging: audiobooks, the “lessons of the Worm”—a reference to the Tyrant, the god emperor Leto II from the Dune series, not to a bottle of tequila—and Doug Beason and I had a conversation about Quebec separatism.

I offered my opinion that Quebec separatism isn’t as much a concern for Canada now—a lot of steam has gone out of la cause patriotique since the narrow referendum loss in 1995 (aside: it’s a not a night soon forgotten when you watch your country almost be voted out of existence on television…)—as is Alberta’s new-found oil sands wealth mixed with Western Canadian alienation.

I suggested that Alberta seceding as some kind of independent oil emirates was a bigger worry for Canadian unity.

After dessert we moved out into the courtyard and the warm California night to begin the Big Event…

The Big Screen. All of our names would flash up here at some point,
and the camera far at the back of the
outdoor venue would show
us up there while we gave
our speeches.

The stage all lit up. It looked very impressive.

Check out the lights! It was like we
were in the
outfield at Wrigley.
(Photo courtesy John Burridge)

I won’t go into too much detail about the ceremony itself as the Writers of the Future website and blog have extensive posts about it here and here.

Joni Labaqui, the Writers & Illustrators of the Future Contest Director,
was the Mistress of Ceremonies
for the evening and did a great job.
(Photo courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

John Goodwin officially released the book with the debut of the book trailer for Writers of the Future XXIII. It was really slick and well produced and looked just like it was for a movie. Even Andrea and Mike (both veterans of the New York TV industry) were impressed by the production values–clearly Galaxy Press had gone all out. (I was told later that the marketing firm who produced it was the same one who had done marketing for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code).

But don’t take my word for it: watch it yourself on YouTube!

What followed was a speech about the venue (many of the people involved in the early days of atomic research and the Manhattan Project had stayed at the Athenaeum at one point or another, and one room overlooking the courtyard had been used for a time by Einstein when he was visiting CalTech–I stared at that window for a while, I confess), an appreciation of the role science fiction has had on pushing scientific innovation and space exploration (given by Allen Sirota, who we’d met as our tour guide the day before at JPL), the presentation of the NAACP Award of Excellence to the Contest, and announcements (which we’d been let in on earlier in the day) that WOTF XXIII was to be the first volume in the series to be an audiobook (available through Audible.com) and a Science Fcition Book Club hardcover edition.

Needless to say we were all incredibly thrilled by this news.

Andrea doesn’t seem to find the old ‘pull my finger’
routine nearly as funny as Ed or her husband Mike do…
(Photo courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

Then came the presentation of the awards to the illustrators, followed by the presentation of the L. Ron Hubbard Lifetime Achievement Award to Charles Brown. Charles gave a great speech (punctuated by his peering into the large, mug-like trophy to see whether there was any booze in there…)

(Photo courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

This was followed by the presentation of the awards to we writers.

We all lined up in order (Joe and British Steve first, as a winner from the last volume and published finalist, respectively, and the rest of us by quarter we’d won in), as we’d been instructed that morning. Our bios (including those of Karl Bunker and Corey Brown, the two winners from this year who were unable to attend) and were read out by the various WOTF judges who were presenting our trophies to us and then, just like we’d practiced, we climbed the stairs, shook hands, accepted our awards and made our way to the podium for our speeches. Things went off without a hitch, seemingly, and no one tripped up or down the stairs 😉

Steve Gaskell

Joseph Jordan

Tony Pi

Jeff Carlson

Damon Kaswell

Douglas Texter

Kim Zimring
(Photo courtesy Jeff Carlson)

Aliette De Bodard
(Photo courtesy Joseph Jordan)

And then came my turn.

Rebecca Moesta and me.

Another funny proof how the mind plays tricks
on you when under stress: you’ll note Tim Powers
off to the side of the stage waiting to present
an award to Andrea…
I swear he was sitting in the audience
and that I made eye contact
with him as I gave my speech…

“I’d like to thank the academy…”
(Photo courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

My acceptance speech for my first-quarter win (and, at this point, the only one I thought I’d have to give) was scribbled out over seven of the little recipe cards we’d been provided:

I’d like to begin by thanking my parents. When I told them in third grade that I wanted to be a science fiction writer they were very supportive and never tried to dissuade me–even though my stories had (as my dad would say) “all those weird names in them.”

I’d like to thank Robert J. Sawyer. Unfortunately he couldn’t be here tonight, but Rob has been kind of my writing Yoda, and his support and encouragement has a lot to do with why I’m here tonight.

Tim Powers and Kathy Wentworth put on an unforgettable workshop. I know that what I learned here this week will make me a better writer. And I’ll always remember their series of inspirational quotes, including: “Good is bad” and “I’m principled–but not that principled.”

I’d like to thank my fellow winners–the Writers and the Illustrators. You’ve been a fantastic bunch to hang around with this week and I feel very lucky to have met you all. I’d especially like to thank Randall Ensley, who did such an amazing illustration to accompany the story–it looks WAY cooler than what I pictured when I wrote the story. I feel like the story is half his now.

And of course I’d like to thank L. Ron Hubbard for endowing this fantastic contest, all of the judges, and everyone at Galaxy Press. They’ve been so kind and generous and have really made this a week I’ll never forget. Thank you all!

Andrea’s husband Mike was kind enough to take some photos of me while I was on stage. Here’s one of me descending the stage, apparently looking for John Connor, but finding John Burridge instead.

“Come with me if you want to live.”

John Burridge

Ed Sevcik

Andrea Kail

Then came the announcement of the Illustrator of the Future Grand Prize Winner…Lorraine Schleter!

Watch her acceptance speech on YouTube! (She was just as stunned as I would be moments later…)

…Followed by the presentation of the Writers of the Future Grand Prize.

…And the winner is…

The judges look on as the envelop is opened…

Holy @#$% it’s ME!

“Very, very cool.” – Tim Powers

Here’s the publicity shot of me winning…
(Photo courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

…and here’s a photo of the same moment taken for me by Aliette. I include this one because it’s a more accurate representation of what was happening: the photo is a bit blurry and a little shaky but that’s how I was experiencing the world just then…

Neither these photos or the YouTube video can really portray what it felt like to win. It came (obviously) as a complete shock, and not simply because I’d be told I hadn’t won.

The moment Lee Purcell said “Saturn” my first thought was “Oh my God–it’s ME!” My whole body went numb and I became so dizzy I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand up.

I was terrified.

You’ll see in the video that in trying to get up I leaned heavily toward Aliette, sitting on my left. That’s because my legs didn’t follow what my brain was telling them to do. By the time they responded I was already pushing poor Aliette half out of her chair. I thrust my camera in her hand and said (not asked) “TAKE PICTURES!”…which she did, bless her heart.

I don’t remember the walk up to the stage, nor do I remember hearing the applause or seeing the standing ovation. I don’t remember being handed the trophy. I remember Lee Purcell grabbing my left arm quite tightly–a good thing, too, as she’s the only thing holding me up at that point.

“Breathe. Just breathe.” – Lee Purcell

Somehow I remembered we had to look at the camera and smile. I recall Tim saying “Cool, very cool” a couple of times and Lee reminding me to breathe. Then the thumbs-up came from Hugette and I turned to the podium.

I do remember setting the trophy down on the podium–suddenly aware of just how heavy it was–and I recall Joni handing me the cheque.

Then I had to say something

“Good luck getting that thing on the plane home.”
– Tim Powers

I wasn’t joking in my speech about feeling like I was going to pass out. I’ve never blacked out before, but I was sure that the numbness I felt all over and the extreme dizziness was what it must feel like just before you keel over.

I suddenly remembered what Doug and I had referred
as the Doug Texter Method of Award Acceptance:
get nervous,
lock knees, fall over…except I couldn’t
recall if that had
been a joke or what
I was supposed to do just then…

(Photo courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

I will take issue with John Goodwin on one aspect of speech giving: he’d said that the speeches would seem faster than they actually were, and that’s was true for the first place acceptance speech I knew I had to give. However, I can assure him (and you) that when you unexpectedly win a Grand Prize sans acceptance speech it feels like you’re up there for a million years.

Ironically, until I saw the speech on YouTube I didn’t recall most of what I had said. I remember thinking “I should thank the judges” and I will be forever pleased with myself that I remembered the names of the other first-place winners–I doubt I could have told you my name at that point. However, I keenly recall every “Uhh…” and “Umm…” as each one lasted five minutes in my mind. You’re dying up here, went the litany in my mind. Get off the stage—you’re killing these people with how long you’re taking…

My whole speech took exactly 58 seconds. It felt like I was on stage for 5800 years. Shows how one’s perception of time can be affected by, oh, say an intense rush of fear hormones, endorphins, and adrenaline.

Why is he still talking? Somebody get the hook!

I don’t remember the walk back to my chair, but I do remember wondering if I could make it down the stairs without falling…

From the sudden whole body numbness I went within about two minutes to feeling like I was going to throw up. I assume this is some weird physiological reaction to the bizarre and unaccustomed soup of chemicals rushing through my body. If I thought about feeling nauseous too much the feeling was worse and I was genuinely concerned I might barf then and there.

I needed water.

I needed whisky.

I wondered if Charles had found any booze for his mug…

After I staggered back to my seat there was a brief wrap-up of the ceremony (I have no idea what was said) and then it was time for pictures. The other writer and illustrator winners came over to congratulate me and I must surely have looked as ill as I felt. “You okay?” I remember John Burridge asking. “You look like you’re going to pass out.”

When we headed for the stage I was in such a daze that I wandered off without my quarterly trophy (which I’d placed under my chair). Somebody started yelling at me to take it with me and I came back to myself momentarily.

Though I managed a smile in all the photos, I’m green underneath all that stage make-up and mostly thinking: “I can’t believe this is happening. Don’t puke on the podium. This is unbelievable. Don’t yak on the trophies. This is just incredible. Don’t throw up on Lorraine…

The Grand Prize Winners

The Illustrators of the Future

The Writers of the Future

The Writers and Illustrators of the Future

The Writers and Illustrators of the Future with the Judges

When it came time for the photo of the writers with the judges Jerry Pournelle sat in a chair close to the podium. I leaned over and said, “You tricked me!” With a mischievous look in his eye he said, in his Louisiana drawl, “Yeah, I did do that didn’t I?”

And that was that.

At one point when photos were being taken of just Lorraine and me, she gave her camera to someone so that we could get a gag shot of us giving the old Vulcan salute. I couldn’t figure out how that same shot ended up in the October issue of Locus as part of their coverage of the awards until I saw this photo taken by Jeff Carlson:

Amelia Beamer, an editor at Locus, ensuring
Lorraine and I live long and
(Photo courtesy Jeff Carlson)

And after the pictures, the maelstrom.

Just behind the curtains of the stage was the courtyard we’d seen being set up earlier in the day. Instead of empty tables, however, there were now tables stacked with books for us to sign, tables packed with food and drink (including a chocolate fountain–always a sure sign of a decadent party, I think ;), and shelves around the perimeter which held all those old pulp magazines which we’d seen the other day. As well, each framed piece of art was set up on a table along side the official appreciations that Galaxy Press had secured for each winner from hometown mayors, Congressmen, and (in Tony and my case) Members of Parliament.

Oh, and there were about 600 people crammed into the courtyard, too 🙂

The writers and illustrators took up seats around the central table and the guests crowded around to have us sign their books.

I was finally able to grab a bottle of water (which I downed in a single gulp, I think, and which really helped calm my stomach and nerves–I got another) and set my trophies down on the table to get to work signing autographs.

Remember this table from the morning?
(You can also see the empty
there behind the pillars)

Twelve hours later it looked like this:

John tries to figure out how to forge my signature…

“Yeah, I’m in the book. No, really–I swear.”
The woman in the gold dress behind me
Tony’s cousin who lives in California.

But my signing wasn’t to last long! One of the things they didn’t tell us is that the Grand Prize winners don’t actually have a lot of time that evening to sign autographs. Lorraine and I were ushered around to be introduced to various big shots (lots of Hollywood folks there), have our pictures taken, and be interviewed for promotional purposes. I even had to sign a release form.

Like I was going to say no after they’d just given me all this money, right?

Here I demonstrate the approved way of
up the book for a promotional shot…

Me with the Grand Prize trophy and my framed letter from Jack Layton, my MP. They got me to get in position holding these things and then for some reason the photographer started talking to somebody and didn’t take the photos. Now, that trophy weights about ten pounds and I’m only holding it with my sweaty, greasy fingertips…

On my way across the courtyard I was stopped by this fellow (whose name I don’t recall unfortunately) who did the redesign of the interior specs for the WOTF volumes, starting with ours. They’d been using the same interior specs since the contest started in the 1980s and the new design looks fabulous. He told me they’d used the same margin ratios as used in the Gutenberg Bible–go with the classics, I guess 😉

After all this, I was sent for a video interview. They had two stations set up to do interviews with the winners and guests. I went to one and filled out a form and was sitting waiting behind two other people for my interview when someone with the event showed up and said “Oh, we’ll take him to the other station–he’ll get done faster there.”

Okay. So I go to the other station with him, which was right near the plant Geir hid behind that morning on the other side of the very crowded courtyard. I fill out another form (don’t know why–I tried to tell them I’d just done one…), and waited for Charles Brown to finish his interview. But just as he’s wrapping up, somebody with the production brings over Carina Rico, a singer and one of the presenters.

“We’re just going to take her quickly,” the person said, and ushered her in front of the camera, where she proceeded to talk for twenty minutes. And I don’t even know what was so interesting, as the interview was in Spanish.

Anyway, eventually I did my interview and part of that is what you see at the end of my YouTube video. Some people have asked me if that was scripted or if it was something I was asked to say specifically. I guess that means I sounded kinda polished 😉 The answer on both counts is ‘no’: what I said was completely off the cuff and from the heart. The Contest really had been fantastic to me and to all of us and I think that appreciation showed in what I said.

(I will confess to secretly being very proud of the “not if but when” bit at the end–pithy!)

After that it was finally back to signing books for the rest of the evening.

Ain’t no party like a west coast party, cuz a west coast party don’t stop…
(Photos courtesy Galaxy Press/WOTF)

After an hour or two, when things had quieted down a bit, Kathy came over to congratulate me. “It was so hard not to tell you this morning when you said you were broke,” she laughed.

“We took a vote,” said British Steve, shaking my hand. “Breakfast is on you tomorrow.”

Eventually it was time to head back to the hotel, and I shared a limo with Ed, British Steve, and Rome Quezada, Chief Editor of the Science Fiction Book Club. Steve helped me to my room with the trophies and plaque. Then back down to the bar where I’d offered to buy drinks…only to discover the bar was CLOSED!

Charles Brown and Amelia Beamer were there, and just as we arrived Rome and Sean Williams retired to their rooms. “Come have a seat by me,” Charles said to me. Cool.

Though the bar was closed, Amelia turned out to have snuck in a micky of Hennessey, which we drank out of dirty glasses.

It tasted like victory.

Ed soon turned in, too, and Steve, Brian Beus (one of the Illustrator winners), and I all ended up in the 24-hour business centre e-mailing and Facebooking about the night. When we stopped and thought how ridiculous it was that three guys in tuxes fresh from the most amazing night of their lives rushed to check their e-mail at 2am…well, we had a good laugh at our own expense.

Given that I was still too keyed up to sleep or think straight, British Steve suggested a walk around Pasadena. At 3am. To calm me down.

Like I said, I wasn’t thinking straight.

We walked over to the mall/plaza thing where we’d spent so much of the week and wandered toward the library.

As we talked about all sorts of things (including how strange it would be to go back to the real world in two days time) I realized, award-winning writers or not, neither British Steve nor I were very bright at that moment.

Picture the scene: two foreigners in tuxedos walking alone down half-lit American streets in the dead of night. British Steve needed to withdraw some US cash so we stopped down the block at an outdoor ATM with floodlights lighting the place up bright as day (I know the purpose is probably to make it so bright muggers won’t want to risk accosting you, but at 3am I think it mostly just serves as a beacon highlighting you to would-be robbers in the local area). And in the left breast pocket of my tuxedo I had a cheque for $5000 US.

Walking toward the library we passed one, then a second, and then a third cluster of yoots. They seemed to have been drinking and I don’t think they were that far from, hmm, shall we say getting into shenanigans?

By the time we passed the second cluster, British Steve and I had come to the same realization that this walk had been ill considered. When one of the guys in the third group called out to us (something about our tuxes, I think) we decided we were both idiots, ducked into the Spanish courtyard of City Hall and made for home.

The fountain by day Tuesday and by night Saturday

On our way we did encounter three more drunken folks (two women and a man, all in their 30s) who were not only much less threatening, but far more entertaining. As they helped prop each other up, they looked us over in our tuxes.

“Are you guys aliens?” the drunken man asked (I kid you not).

“No, we just write about them,” I answered.

“Do you know where the Hilton is?” he asked.

Steve turned around and pointed at the silhouette of a tall building a few blocks away, at the top of which glowed a bright sign reading ‘HILTON’.

“I think it’s that way,” he said.

“Never mind,” said one of the drunken women, pointing at the Hilton in the distance. “It’s over that way.” And she led them on into the night.

We returned to the hotel around 4am and I finally decided to try sleeping. I think I finally managed around 5am.

Tomorrow: Saturday & Sunday
– The Summer of Steve
– “How do I not screw this up?”
– I learn a new way to tell time
– I learn that I don’t know how to pronounce my own last name
– Proof that, despite the accolades and awards, I’m still an idiot…

3 thoughts on “Writers of the Future Award Week: Day Six (Friday, August 24, 2007)

  1. Wow! What memories you are bringing back. I had an absolutely fantastic time at the awards week and will never forget it and how we were treated like luminaries in the Science Fiction field. I mean, come on, eating breakfast with Tim Powers and discussing Mars exploration with Kevin Anderson? Are you freaking kidding me?
    Love ya Steve,

  2. I am so freaking stoked to be reading these….i had no idea how cool everything was going to be! Thank you sooooooooooo much for posting them! 😀

    I can’t wait for my turn this summer!

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