Writers of the Future Award Week: Day Seven & Eight (Saturday, August 25 and Sunday, August 26, 2007)

So why a single post for Saturday and Sunday? More than mere authorial sloth, dear reader, I’m posting about both together because:

a) Saturday and Sunday blended together for me in more ways than one, and
b) A post about Sunday by itself (which consisted of Tony and I in airports and on planes for the better part of a day) would be, well, really short and boring.

I awoke around 9am (I think) on Saturday morning. My first thought was wonder if the night before had been but a dream. My eyes immediately went to were the trophies stood, on a table at the foot of the bed, and I recall sitting up in bed staring at them for a long time.

Checking again that it was actually my name on the trophy and the cheque and in the envelope Lee Purcell had read from the night before, there was still a part of me that thought I’d experienced a Marissa Tomei moment.

First thing I did when I got up was take pictures of the trophies. More than simple vanity (okay–there might have been some vanity involved) I knew that Galaxy Press were going to ship the trophies to me, and that meant I might not see them for several weeks. But I knew people at home would want to see what I had won and I wanted something I could post on my blog when I got home. So I threw a sheet over a chair and set about photographing my giant Lucite prizes.

My trophies–or as I have dubbed them: Artoo and Threepio ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Grand Prize trophy, with a copy of WOTF XXIII for scale.

The highly reflective scroll reads:

The L. Ron Hubbard Gold Award
Presented to
Stephen Kotowych
Grand Prize Winner
2006 Writers of the Future Contest

(The sausage-like fingers reflected in said scroll
belong to yours truly…)

The First-Place quarterly trophy, with a copy of WOTF XXIII for scale.

The highly reflective (and somewhat blurry) plaque reads:

The L. Ron Hubbard Award

Presented to
Stephen Kotowych
1st Place 3rd Quarter
2006 Writers of the Future Contest

Prior to the night before, I had never seen either a First-Place or Grand Prize version of the WOTF trophies. I had seen Mike Rimar’s at Ad Astra, but that was one of the black and silver ones that 2nd, 3rd, and Published Finalists get. I was shocked by the First-Place and Grand Prize trophies at the award ceremony and remained a bit overwhelmed by the size and weight of the things the next morning.

A letter of congratulations from my MP, Jack Layton (NDP).
Ah, my vote finally pays off!

We had some time that morning before our scheduled book signing and I was determined to have a dip in the pool at long last. Poolside I found a group just finishing up breakfast. I believe Tony and Doug were there, as was British Steve, too, because I know he joined me in the pool.

There’s really nothing like swimming in a pool under the clear, sunny California sky…

At 1130am, our rides started to leave for the Borders store in Pasadena.

Arriving at the signing. L to R: Rome Quezada, Chief Editor of the
Science Fiction Book Club; Artem Mirolevich;
Aliette de Bodard; and Marcus Collins
(Photo courtesy Aliette de Bodard)

All of the writers, illustrators, and many of the judges were seated inside a block of tables at one end of the store as customers circulated around getting signatures. The only flaw in the design of this set-up was when someone needed to get in or out. Only the far end of the tables from where I was sitting had an opening and as you can see from the pictures we were pretty much seated back to back. This made for some hilariously tortured entrances and exits sub table by John Burridge and Sean Williams, who were seated on either side of me.

Here’s a good shot of our layout for the signing.
I’m at the far end by the door with the “Whatchoo
talkin’ ’bout Willis?” look on my face.

Part of the reason I’m sure book stores like having authors in to sign books (besides selling some of that particular author’s book) is that because authors are book people they tend to buy books when they go to a signing. Now, I’ve only done three or four book signings but I’ve bought 10 or so books over the course of them, and the signing at Borders was no exception.

I bought one of Tim’s books; I bought one of Kathy’s books; I bought Jeff’s Plague Year and Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye (despite my mishaps with both of them), which I hadn’t been able to find ANYWHERE in Toronto; I bought a couple of remainders, too. And it wasn’t just because I have a book problem (donโ€™t get me wrong–I do have a book problem) but it was also the fact that a) American book prices are usually $3-4 less than the Canadian price; and b) the Canadian dollar was at parity for the first time in my life so I was actually saving $3-4 dollars a book…and that’s like offering discount crack to a junkie.

John: “You bought HOW MANY books?”

Aww…So cute!

There was a pretty decent crowd and they kept us busy until around 2pm or so. Some of the folks there had been to the event the night before but had missed some signatures and wanted to complete the set. And folks from Galaxy Press also circulated with great towers of books for us to sign. Wisely, they each had some of the hundred or so we probably signed so it didn’t seem quite so daunting in those dribs and drabs.

Thanking the SF gods.

Sean and I scheme to take over the world. Sean looks
a little more menacing here, but being Canadian when I
take over the world I do so with a smile on my face and
always, always say ‘please’.

Amidst all the other signings, a number of we writers circulated copies of the WOTF anthology to get everyone’s signature. In all the hubbub the night before not many of us had the presence of mind to get signatures from each other. I circulated mine with a little card inside that read “Please sign for Canadian Steve”, and soon received the book back with signatures from “British Steve” and “Swedish Steve”, as well as “California Steve”–a nickname Jeff Carlson had decided on for himself (he’s a good guy, so he fits in the ranks of Steve-kind).

Though you might not think so, Sean is a man
who likes to keep up-to-date on his
sports trivia.

All of this led Sean Williams (sitting next to me) to christen it the Summer of Steve…in the non-serial killer sense, of course ๐Ÿ™‚ And it was fitting that Sean so named the summer because, as we all know, Sean is Australian for Steve ๐Ÿ˜‰

Eric James Stone just blew my mind…
(Photo courtesy Jeff Carlson)

Damon Kaswell–the hardest working man in show business.
Taking to heart
the workshop’s theme of “be prolific”,
Damon brought his laptop to
the signing
and actually got some writing done…

(Photo courtesy Jeff Carlson)

Kathy and Tony

Dave Wolverton/Farland and Joe Jordan

Yulia was a little freaked out when this woman
asked her to sign the baby…

Every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man…

After that everyone scattered for a while. Some people went to lunch with the editors of Abyss & Apex (where Tony had just had a story–“Metamorphoses in Amber”–accepted for publication. You can read the story here) while others, well, just seemed to disappear for several hours.

I was on the last ride back to the hotel and in the course of looking for someone to go to lunch with I eventually wandered back to the pool. And it was a good thing I did, too, because Shaun Farrell of the Adventures in Scifi Publishing podcast was in the process of doing interviews with some of the writer and illustrator winners and was looking for me.

Shaun is a really nice guy, the interview was fun, and I tried to remember all of the tips we’d learned in our marathon session Wednesday. You can hear the podcast with the winners here.

(One thing I was aware of after listening to the interview was how many “Uhhs” and “Umms” I threw in. It’s a vocal tick that you don’t usually notice when you’re speaking or when you’re listen to people speak in person, but when disembodied they really stand out. In subsequent TV and radio interviews I’ve been very conscious of avoiding these…)

After the interview I wandered over to the mall for some more Mexican for lunch. I met British Steve and illustrator winners Randall, Lars, and Brian in the mall’s courtyard where we’d had our first taste of Rubio’s on Monday.

“How did you guess we’d be here?” asked British Steve, deadpan.

Two of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet. If the whole art think
doesn’t work out for them they’re sure to be the next Martin and Lewis…

I laughed so hard taco came out my nose!

Phone calls back and forth with home happened all afternoon. My parents and some friends called my room several times when I wasn’t there, getting Doug instead. Doug let me in on my dad’s plan to surprise me at the airport when I got back to Toronto…the only hitch was no one knew when I was supposed to arrive.

The line was busy nearly every time I called home. I’d like to think that it was because my parents were calling everyone they knew to tell them I’d won…but in reality the phones at my parent’s house have a tendency to often be off the hook, unbeknownst to anyone in the house…

I finally managed to get hold of my parents but my dad couldn’t come pick me up at the airport because Tony and I weren’t scheduled to arrive until nearly midnight back home and it’s a two-hour drive from Toronto to where my parents live…and dad had to work first thing Monday morning. In a way it was probably a good thing dad couldn’t come get me because I no doubt would have broken down and cried like a little girl as soon as I saw him ๐Ÿ™‚

Every time I talked to someone back home I wanted to say “I did it!” but I couldn’t bring myself to. Each time the words formed in my mind I started to well up and I knew that if I actually spoke the phrase I would become a blubbering mess and nobody needs that.

See, I don’t cry very often. It’s not some macho thing–I just don’t really cry very much; don’t seem to need to.

I’m guaranteed a good cry once a year around Christmas at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, when Harry Bailey toasts his big brother George as “the richest man in town.” (It’s because he really IS the richest man in town…)

But on those infrequent other occasions when I do cry I go right off the deep end. I’m not a weeper or a bawler; I don’t get misty or whatever. When I cry I wail like one of those poor old Palestinian women you see on the 6 o’clock news–the ones whose only son was killed by a car bomb or an air strike or something.

Yeah, that’s how I cry.

So while I can assure you they would have been tears of purest joy, I really needed to hold them in check until I got home (at which point I sat down on my couch and wept like the aforementioned little girl…)

The rest of the day was essentially unstructured. On our official agenda it said that at 7pm we would begin “Networking with winners and judges” but really we kinda did that all afternoon.

While the judges had a special dinner at the hotel restaurant, we took a final trip to the mall…and happened upon some kind of community salsa dancing night!

We had dinner at what I think was a Hawaiian-themed burger place (I want to say Toucan Sam’s, but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong… ๐Ÿ™‚ where I had the biggest burger and saltiest fries I’ve ever had. Once again I was reminded that in the States everything is bigger–especially the cholesterol.

After that a bunch of us somehow came to be camped out in the hotel lobby, right outside the bar. We hung out and talked a lot. We signed books for each other (classy guy that he is, Jeff passed one around for us all to sign for Rob Sawyer–it was a real kick for me to present it to Rob a few weeks later in Toronto). We had some drinks and wondered how we were going to readjust to the real world.

Sarah was collecting our tux returns, and when we turned them in we were each handed a pristine first edition hardcover of Battlefield Earth from what looked like one of the original boxes the book shipped in when it was published in 1986.

Some of the judges had already left (I didn’t see Niven or Pournelle again after the photos onstage the night before, and Kevin told me he and Rebecca were headed home early Saturday morning) and as we were gathered in the lobby we saw some of the others as they began to trickle out. Tim and his wife Serena came to say goodbye, urging us all to keep in touch, and promising that they’d try to come to World Fantasy in November (which they did).

At one point Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland) came over and sat with us while he and his wife were waiting for the driver to return and take them to the airport. Since he was seated next to me I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation:

“So,” I said, “from one Grand Prize winner to another–how do I not screw this up?”

And then Dave spent a very generous 40 minutes offering advice, suggestions, cautions, and asking me about my plans and what I wanted to do with my writing. I confess I hadn’t planned out much for myself at that point–Dave wanted to know what kind of books I wanted to write and I think my first response was something like: “Yeah, I’d like to know, too.” I’d been writing short stories for so long trying to make sales and be published that I really hadn’t thought about what I’d like to accomplish in a longer form.

Poor Jason from Galaxy Press, who was acting as the shuttle service to the airport, was quietly freaking out in the corner as Dave and I talked, no doubt worried that Dave and his wife were going to miss their flight…and while I was concerned they were going to miss it, too, I wasn’t about to halt the flow of advice from a Hugo- and Nebula-nominated New York Times best-selling author. There would always be other flights ๐Ÿ™‚

When he finally did have to leave Dave gave me his card and told me to keep in touch. I, somewhat agog, said I would.

Once the judges’ dinner was officially over we all moved poolside (ah, the last time I’d get to say that…)

Here, while Swedish Steve imparts wisdom to Ed and John,
Randall explains to Charles how he would redesign LOCUS.
This photo captures the moment right before Charles bitch
slapped Randall for his impudence.

The next moment. To break the awkward tension,
Sean Williams points out to Charles Brown that

my sandals expose just how ugly my feet really are…
Note the suitably chastened Randall.
(Photo courtesy Jeff Carlson)

I had a long talk with Prof. Kondo and his wife (Kondo suggested to me that I had been too specific in my story about the working of the station, the rings of Saturn, etc. If I had fudged it a bit, he said, and introduced some vaguely defined particle as the explanation for the effect the station had on the rings then he thought no one would have had any problems with my science…but as it stood–Grand Prize or not–all the science was still wrong ๐Ÿ™‚

Australian Steve (aka Sean Williams) holds court

Charles Brown and Amelia were there, handing out copies of LOCUS and telling tales (like I said, Charles knows something funny and/or incriminating about everyone is SF). And Sean was there, too, along with Swedish Steve and Alethea, and Rome Quezada, Chief Editor of the Science Fiction Book Club, who was a fabulous and very funny guy. Most of the other writers and a few of the illustrators were there for at least some of the time (some of the illustrators later hopped in a car and took off to find Houdini’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame).

Aliette and Rome Quezada

L to R: Charles Brown, Alethea Kontis,
Swedish Steve Savile, and John Burridge

Now is Aliette trying to do her best Yoji Kondo
or is Yoji Kondo trying to do his best Aliette?

The rest of the evening was spent hanging out and occasionally being shushed by the hotel security guard. Something about some of the guests wanting to get some sleep… Gradually, one by one, people said their goodbyes and headed off to bed. Most people had a fairly early call for their ride to the airport and still needed to pack, etc.

Far be it from me to make such a sensible decision.

By 12:30am Sunday (see why I posted both days together now, hmm?) it was only Sean, Amelia, and I that remained. I didn’t feel the slightest bit tired, a combination of leftover adrenaline and a desire not to leave the fabulous writerly Narnia I’d experienced all week, I think.

So we decided to go for a swim.

Technically the pool closed at 11pm…but it was just sitting there. The three of us had maybe a half hour in the pool before the guard came and told us the pool was only for use between 8am and 11pm. We feigned ignorance of the regulations, apologized, and got out.

We stayed by the pool for a while longer but the security guard kept coming out to shush us. However, this time it wasn’t our fault for being loud–there was a Virgin Airlines crew off to one side of the deck and I swear it was their fault…

Eventually the three of us got hungry and decided to find out what was in the gift basket Sean had been provided by the contest organizers. We feasted on crackers, cheese, and salami. Amelia even brought some wine.

Around 3:20am I said my goodbyes and made my way down to the lobby–British Steve Gaskell and Randall Ensley were scheduled to leave at 3:30am and Steve had earlier jokingly told me he expected me there to say goodbye. What he didn’t realize is how far I’ll go for a joke.

So there I was in the lobby in my WOTF t-shirt and a damp bathing suit, towel wrapped around my waist, when Steve and Randall showed up. The look on Steve’s face was either surprise at my being there, or horror at the thought that maybe I wasn’t wearing anything underneath that towel. (Steve: I swear I had my trunks on underneath).

We said our goodbyes–Steve suggested again that we move to Hungary and write full-time–and then I was alone. I checked my e-mail and Facebook in the business center and then wandered aimlessly.

Everyone else being asleep or already departed and I having nothing else to do at 4am, I noticed the door to our little meeting room was open a crack and I decided to sneak a peek.

I kind of regret doing so.

Tables and chairs had been half packed away and were standing in piles helter skelter, along with the banners that had formerly hung at the front of the room. There was a luggage dolly with the coffee machine and the skirts from the tables piled on it. On the far wall was a little glass-fronted inset in the wall that had been hidden by one of the banners. It held tacky looking knickknacks no doubt meant to give the room character or a less sterile feel–a clown, a horse, some other odds and ends.

The room seemed smaller. Sadder. Had everything this week actually happened here? I felt a bit like the children peering into the wardrobe again at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We’d spent so many years in Narniaโ€ฆWhere was the lamppost? I wondered. Where was Spare’oom?

I knew that Doug Texter’s ride to the airport was leaving at 530am, so I headed back to the room thinking that he’d be up soon anyway so I could say goodbye to him and then pack up my stuff to be ready to catch my ride at 650am.

Now, keep those two facts in mind: I hadn’t packed yet and my ride was to leave the hotel at 650am. They’ll be important later.

I think I got back to our room around 5am and Doug was just getting up. I puttered around doing something (don’t remember what) while he packed and got ready–I didn’t want to get in his way. We said our goodbyes (Doug pointed out that he’d be in Toronto for a conference in October and that we should try to meet up–alas, it was over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend and I ended up being out of town. Doug did meet up with Tony Pi, however, whom I believe took him on a very interesting culinary excursion through Toronto’s Chinatown. I didn’t get the whole story, just something about chicken feet…) and then I was really alone.

It was 530am and I had nearly an hour and a half to kill. I thought I should start packing, but with the sudden end to the night’s excitement I began to feel very, very tired… The week, the different time zone, and the sleepless night had all caught up with me. My grand plan had been to stay up all night so that I was exhausted for the plane ride and would simply sleep through the whole thing, but I had a sudden flash: why not get a half-hour of sleep now, get up at 6am, shower, pack, and be down by the front door for your ride at 650am?

Brilliant, right? What could go wrong? Setting the bedside alarm I lay down…

…only to wake at 648am. Hadn’t heard the blaring alarm. Hadn’t packed. Hadn’t showered. I had overslept. And I had two minutes to get downstairs.


Now, at 648am the hotel room still looked like this:

See what happens when you put two
in a room for a week?

No one in the history of nearly-missed rides has ever packed faster than I did in the next ten minutes.

Jason, our driver, called up from the hotel lobby at precisely 650am.

“Hi Steve–we’re all here ready to go.”

“Great!” I lied. “I’ll be right there…”

At 657am the phone rang again; this time I didn’t even let poor Jason get in a word:


I believe I reached the lobby at exactly 7am, greeted by a very exasperated Jason. Everyone else was in the van already.

Just as I flew out the door I noticed that the sign outside our little seminar room had changed. That morning Spare’oom would be the meeting place for some tiny revivalist congregation. I felt a long way from Cair Paravel.

To lighten the mood, as I threw my bags in the back of the van I made some wiseass remark to Tony and Damon about “Don’t you hate when people win awards and then get all self-important and make everyone wait around for their grand entrance?”


I think they were still too mad at me and worried I’d make them miss their flights for my attempt at levity…

Happily, despite my best efforts, we all arrived safe and sound and on time for our flights. The rest of the trip is a blur–I mostly remember the take offs and landings, me trying to sleep on the plane, and when I would awaken briefly I recall looking over to see Tony already at work on revising his workshop story in light of the group comments from Thursday. I would probably have felt shame at my slack nature if I had been able to stay awake long enough.

We connected through Phoenix again, where I had enough time to shove a Whopper down before we got on the plane to Toronto and I passed out again.

Our plane to Toronto waiting on the tarmac in Phoenix.
Just get me to my bed…

The next thing I knew I awoke to the sudden jerk of our landing at Pearson (and given that the screeching jolt of our touchdown was both unexpected and done in darkness outside I was completely bewildered and a bit terrified).

We made our way through Customs, got our bags, and then Tony and I headed our separate ways. I got in a cab and mumbled something about wanting to go home. I guess I missed my aunt Teresa’s attempt to surprise me and drive me home herself, but I was a smelly, exhausted mess at that point–probably better she didn’t see me like that.

To my credit, I discovered upon my return home that I hadn’t forgotten a thing (though I don’t recommend the last-minute-blind-terror-panic-pack as a preferred method of preparing for a long journey).

I had even remembered Wage. And as I collapsed into my bed at last Wage made himself comfortable on the sofa, deciding to read my story and see what all the fuss was about, anyway.

– FIN –

4 thoughts on “Writers of the Future Award Week: Day Seven & Eight (Saturday, August 25 and Sunday, August 26, 2007)

  1. Cry baby!

    Happy memories and great pics — some of them are very familiar . . . don’t think I won’t sue over copyright cos I’m sure you won’t be stealing my story ideas . . .hehehe.

    Thinking about that week really makes me want to get on with the business of living the writer’s life twenty-four seven. And not just in the cracks of the days. I hope we get to meet again soon, Canadian-Steve.

  2. Oh my god, the memories of the week, especially the one post-awards day, will last a lifetime. It took us all basically a week to really get to know each other and then we were all flying out!
    I didn’t read the caption until after I saw the pic of me looking as if I really was lecturing Charles about something. And then I read the caption and had the best laugh in a month!
    I miss everyone! Pizza for all!

  3. Great wrap up!

    Thanks for taking us down memory lane. There will never be a week like that one.

    American Joe

  4. Holy crap did that bring back memories! We really have to do it all again some time. I’m sure the folks at Galaxy Press wouldn’t mind renting the Athenaeum again for a little nostalgic award-winning. Maybe we could take turns winning the Grand prize this time, too.

    -Damon “Oregon Steve #1” Kaswell

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