Archive for September 9th, 2004

9/8/04: Noreascon Report, part 2

Word count: 92583 | Since last entry: 0 | This month: 1533 Friday, continued: I arrived at the bar to find Jay Lake, Laura Anne Gilman, Keith R. A. DeCandido, and Janna Silverstein already set up and ready to go for the Two Beers And A Story Challenge, along with a number of onlookers and supporters (including Aynjel — who would have been my Clarion East classmate if I hadn’t gone West — and Jay’s agent Jennifer Jackson). The rules of the Challenge were simple: write a complete short story in the time it takes to finish two beers. If you know me, you’ll know that I can usually finish a novel more quickly than I can finish a beer. But in this case we had the cheering crowd shouting “Drink!” every minute or two, and by the time I reached the end of my 864-word opus, a Bradburyesque little horror tale titled “Moonlight on the Carpet,” I found I had downed a full pint of Sam Adams and two-thirds of another. Not to mention participating in the singing, trash-talking, telling of rude jokes, and other miscellaneous hilarity (including the mating call of the Giant Clam). We were having way more fun than the whole rest of the bar put together, from the sound of it. Janna, alas, suffered a Macintosh meltdown and had to compose her story on Aynjel’s Palm Pilot, which added to the stress with a wonderfully intuitive user interface (Command-Q to save?!) and a battery that threatened to expire at any moment, but nonetheless she finished her SF erotica story. Laura Anne’s battery did give out before her story did, but she still produced 1000 words of a peachy SF action tale. Jay was the first to finish, with a bizarre story of whales invading the land, but Keith’s story, all in dialogue, was the longest. We read them all aloud at the end and I was amazed that in that raucous atmosphere we had produced five stories that were not merely entertaining, but actually good — maybe even salable. Jennifer suggested we should produce an anthology to benefit the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund, but if that doesn’t happen I think I’m going to send mine to F&SF. We shut down our computers and repaired to Frank Wu’s party, still going strong, but I was tired and tipsy enough that I decided to bail out after a fairly short time. I thanked Frank for his hospitality, ate one last chocolate-covered pretzel (love ’em), and went to bed. Saturday I breakfasted with some of my Writers of the Future classmates (Carl Fredrick, Pat Rothfuss, Tom Brennan, Jae Brim, and Ari Goelman) at the Trident Bookstore/Cafe, while Kate ran off to Neil Gaiman’s reading. My WotF class is a great bunch and I predict you will hear these names again. We spent a couple of hours chatting over pancakes and omelets, and on the way back to the con we stopped and talked with Jenn Reese and Greg Van Eekhout as they ate at a sidewalk cafe. In the afternoon I attended one panel, called “Is It Fair?” with Carl moderating editors Scott Edelman, Shawna McCarthy, Sheila Williams, and author Resa Nelson in a discussion of who gets published in the magazines and why. It was a fairly standard panel, but I attended because I had never met either Shawna (Realms of Fantasy) or Sheila (Asimov’s) before and I wanted to gain any insights I could about what they are looking for. Shawna mentioned that she doesn’t like stories about talking cats, but I pointed out that she did buy one from me about a talking giraffe. I introduced myself to both editors after the panel; Sheila looks like no one in particular, but Shawna has the most intense eyes. After that I headed off to the Hugo rehearsal, which for the nominees was really straightforward: if your name is called, you come up to the stage this way and leave the stage that way. “It may seem simple, but the only person last year who didn’t practice it was the only person who stumbled as they came on stage.” So I did. And it was at that moment I began to be nervous. Up until the rehearsal I’d simply assumed that I wasn’t going to win, but standing on that stage in front of all those empty chairs I thought there might perhaps be a chance. I talked for a while with designated Plokta accepter Caroline Mullan before running off to my next panel, “Great Cliches in SF and Fantasy.” I was the moderator for this one, which meant I had to hurry to the green room to pick up the table tents before the panel started. Don D’Ammassa, Craig Gardner, and Josepha Sherman all did their parts, but S.M. Stirling, despite being somewhat ill, was the star of the panel, illuminating the discussion of cliches old and new (they do have their uses — especially if you are aware of them and use them to twist the reader’s expectations rather than letting them take control of your story) with plenty of examples from history. I learned a lot from him. When that panel ended it was 3:00 and I hadn’t had a thing to eat since pancakes at 10, so I took myself over to the food court in the adjacent shopping mall and, in a sudden attack of machismo, ordered chicken vindaloo. It was hot enough that it made my stomach a bit upset, a problem I don’t usually have and really didn’t need right before the Hugos. Fortunately I had enough time to dash back to the room and take some Pepto-Bismol before my next panel appearance: “Bad Con Advice for Newbies” with Sandra McDonald, Laurie Mann, and Pricila Olson. This was a really humorous mix of actual congoing advice couched in negative terms (e.g. “if anything goes wrong, yell at the volunteers — they appreciate the feedback”) and convention horror stories. I got a great laugh by saying, in the middle of a comment from the audience, “Don’t interrupt!” — and, a minute later, “Don’t interrupt again!” After that it was time to change for the Hugos. But Lyda Morehouse had offered to sneak me into the Ace party and introduce me to her agent, an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. So I wandered through the habitrails of the shopping mall to the Marriott, where I talked with Lyda, Leah Cutter, and several other keen author-type people as well as the agent, Martha Millard. She said Lyda had said many nice things about me, for which I am thoroughly grateful. But I couldn’t hang around long. I hurried back over the skybridge and through the mall to my room, where I changed into my Nervous Suit. (Whenever I wear this tux, no matter what I’m doing — getting married, attending the Hugos, or Writers of the Future — I feel nervous. It’s gotta be the suit.) Kate wasn’t back yet, having gone to Cambridge for the afternoon, but somehow I managed to dress myself without help (hey, you think French cuffs are easy?) and headed down to the Hugo reception, where I found Paulette Rouselle and Amy Sisson from my Clarion class, along with Amy’s husband Paul and every glittering star in the science fiction firmament. I munched very good hors d’ouvres and drank Kaluha and cream, my tipple of choice when someone else is paying, while talking with authors and editors and agents and big-name fans, all wearing their spiffiest outfits except for Gordon Van Gelder, who was dressed as a “working editor” in a blue-collar shirt. He advised me to think about who I wanted least to win the awards I was up for and imagine they had already won it — after that, whatever happened would have to be an improvement. Fellow Campbell nominee Tim Pratt introduced me to his agent Ginger Clark, and the photographer from Locus made sure to get pictures of everyone. We all trooped down to the auditorium and took our seats in the nominees’ section. Kate and I (she had showed up during the reception, as promised, looking great) wanted to sit next to Jay Lake but wound up in front of him, in a pair of seats in the very front row with an empty space (for a wheelchair) marked out in tape on either side. At one point someone from the committee tried to boot us out of the front row to make room for Fredrik Pohl, but Charlie Brown of Locus told him Fred wasn’t coming. I owe him one. And then… the awards ceremony. Neil Gaiman was a wonderful emcee, but what I remember most is that my hands were cold as ice and I probably did serious damage to Kate as my grip tightened before the winner in each of my categories was announced. Jay was a real mensch; he thanked me in his Campbell acceptance speech, which was well above and beyond, and put his hand on my shoulder during that endless trembling moment before the Short Story Hugo announcement. So how do I feel about losing two Hugos (even though one of them wasn’t really a Hugo)? As I said to many people the next day, “Apart from the bitter, clawing jealousy and rage I’m just fine.” (And when Jay was in earshot I added “…and I’ll get that bastard Lake if it’s the last thing I do.”) But it really is an honor just to be nominated — even though I was just about ready to smack the 50th person who said that to me the next day. And I did come in second on the Campbell, which is nice. All of us Hugo Losers were ushered to the top of the Sheraton, where a suite had been decorated all in white, with faceless white masks hanging from white helium balloons and slide projectors flicking SF quotes on the walls and ceilings. It was, frankly, bizarre. But the food was good, and I had a nice talk with George R. R. Martin and Michael Swanwick among others (hey, wait a minute, he’s a Hugo Winner — who let him in here?). When that party got too crowded we adjourned to the Baen party at the other end of the floor, where we met Ted Cogswell’s daughter and her husband, artist David Mattingly, and looked at 3-D pictures until we fell over about 1am. By the way, here are my notes for my acceptance speech: Pat Murphy – Gordon Van Gelder – David Hartwell – Jonathan Strahan – Candas Jane Dorsey – Jim Van Pelt – James Patrick Kelly – Lyda Morehouse – Clarion West class of 2000 – Writers of the Future class of 2002 – Lucky Lab Rats critique group – and, always and forever, Kate Yule. Sunday we decided on a quick breakfast in the hotel, but when we couldn’t even get someone to seat us in the hotel restaurant we gave that up as a bad idea and settled for a latte and muffin at Starbuck’s instead. There we ran into writer Mary Rosenblum (meeting there with her agent, Martha Millard) and Diane Duane & Peter Morwood, who told us all about raising Hermes scarves for fun and profit. After breakfast I attended a couple of panels, on titles and books that died despite everything, then went off to my Kaffeeklatch. I didn’t have high expectations for this — I’d put all my self-publicity efforts into my reading — and I wasn’t surprised to find that no one had signed up for it. But while I was waiting for the table to be cleaned I met someone I knew — Marcia Lambert and her husband. Marcia and I went to the same university, though in different colleges; we didn’t meet until our 20th reunion when we sat next to each other at dinner. As long as there was an empty table with my name on it, we sat down at it to chat, and after a little while two more people joined us: Tricia Liburd, a new writer from Toronto whom I’d met at Torcon, and a complete stranger. So the kaffeeklatch turned out to be a success after all. In the afternoon I talked with Ctein and with Seattle fan Dave Howell, who used his artist ribbon to get me past the line of people waiting to get into the art show when it reopened after the auction, then gave me a whirlwind tour. If he hadn’t done that I might not have seen the art show at all, because I soon had to run off to my final panel, “The Great Character Swap.” Which was, frankly, lame. But it still had a decent crowd, as did all of my panels, so I shouldn’t complain. After that I met up with Kate and with Tom Brennan, Lyda Morehouse, and techie Hugh Daniel (“How many wires are there in a wireless network?”) for tapas. Tom, from Liverpool, thought at first we were proposing a “topless” restaurant, and Lyda, from St. Paul, had never had tapas before, so it was a bit of an adventure, but the food (tapas, in case you don’t know, is Spanish for “many delicious little appetizer-like fiddly bits”) was excellent, as was the conversation. As we walked back from dinner, Lyda and I quizzed each other and determined that neither of us knew of any cool pro parties. We went to her room, met her roommates, and called several people in search of the cool kids, but it seemed that none of the cool kids were throwing a party this evening. So Kate and I went to the SFWA suite instead. It had been so crowded and noisy the night before that it had been shut down by con security, but on Sunday night (possibly because of the previous night’s fracas, or maybe just because everyone was still at the Masqerade) it was quite pleasant — neither jam-packed nor empty. I talked with fellow Hugo loser James Patrick Kelly about how Jay Lake’s careers and mine have paralleled each other; he compared us to Silverberg and Ellison (without saying which was who) and offered to blurb my collection when I have one. I also talked with Shawna McCarthy again, but this time in her agent hat. Eventually we left, to wander the halls and check out the bid parties, but they were all Too Full (Montreal) or Too Empty (SFF.Net). Carl Fredrick ran into me in the hall and said it was probably for the best that I hadn’t won. Finally we landed in the bar, where we talked with some of the Writers of the Future folks (Pat Rothfuss said he’d recently had his best Internet shopping day ever, buying a strait jacket, a Latin textbook, and eight pounds of granular caffeine) and Tor assistant editor Liz Gorinsky as well as Tall Duane from Seattle’s University Bookstore. But, at last, fatigue set in and with many hugs and fond farewells we toddled off to bed. Monday. Packed. Ran into Clarion grad Diana Sherman in the lobby, otherwise saw no one we knew until we got to the airport, where we found Portland fan Ariel Shattan and her family, Lyda Morehouse, and Lyda’s friend Tim were all on our flight (Lyda and Tim got off at Minneapolis). Kate rented a DVD player for the trip; I slept, and finished reading Heaven by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart. I really should have written something on the flight, but my brain was too full. I also noticed I had a bit of a scratchy throat, which I hoped was just from dry air and too much talking, but by the time we got home there was no doubt I had caught a mild case of Convention Crud, and the next morning it was clear that Kate had too. At least it didn’t get in the way of the con itself. And then Tuesday morning, bright and early, the remodelers came and tore out the kitchen. But that’s a story for another day.