Archive for September 4th, 2006

9/4/06: LAcon IV report (long)

Tuesday: “The next time they offer us a room near the elevator, remind me to ask which elevator.”

My main memory of the trip down was that our early afternoon flight, which gave us a very relaxed half-day off to prepare for the trip, put us into L.A. right at rush hour. So any hopes we had entertained of spending Tuesday night at Disneyland were revealed as fantasy, replaced by fighting through traffic. It didn’t help that we gave friends Joyce and David a ride from the airport, and the four of us had sufficient luggage that they had to share the back seat with two large and pointy suitcases. After a quick light dinner of banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) at the famous Lee’s Sandwiches, we arrived at the con just after registration closed. We hung around in the reg area and the hotel lobby for a while, and ran into my Writers of the Future classmate Pat Rothfuss, Interzone editor Jetse de Vries, and fanzine editors Dick and Nicki Lynch before falling over around 10pm.

Wednesday: “You’re hanging around with him, you obviously don’t overwhelm easily.”

Got a little bit of writing done in the morning before heading to downtown Orange for an antiquing expedition with Nicki Lynch Downtown Orange has been featured in many films, including playing 1960s Erie, Pennsylvania in That Thing You Do, and we started with breakfast at Watson’s Drug Store, which looked as though it hadn’t changed in forty years. We spent an entertaining morning browsing the antique stores and had a nice lunch at a Lebanese place called Byblos before returning to the con, already in progress.

I ought to mention here that I thought the convention was remarkably well run. Everything happened pretty much on time; all convention publications, especially the pocket program, were well-laid-out and accurate; and pre-con communications with the program participants were first-rate. My only complaints are that the daily program change sheets were often insane (containing items such as “Joe Schmo Reading: remove panelist Joe Schmo” and “Dogs Vs. Cats: replace moderator Jane Doe with Jane Doe”) and that the convention lacked a central gathering place to rendezvous (accidentally or on purpose) with other fans. The Hilton lobby, Hilton bar, convention registration area, several places in Hall A, and the outdoor plaza between the Hilton and the Convention Center were all plausible, but none of them were “the place were everyone passes each other.” Because of this lack of a central meeting place, I didn’t see a lot of my friends until the last day and I found out later I’d missed some of them completely.

The first two panels I appeared on were “What I Do When I Should Be Writing” and “Mix & Match Writing Challenge.” The first was an entertaining romp, with Sarah Monette, Phyllis Eisenstein, Fiona Avery, and me swapping anecdotes and advice; the second was also a crowd-pleaser, where I found myself seated between Peter S. Beagle and John Barnes, both of whom turned out phenomenal stories in very little time based on someone else’s character, setting, and plot (Beagle’s R. Daneel/Casablanca/Pygmalion mash-up was particularly fine). My own story, featuring Superman in the Springfield of The Simpsons with the plot of Logan’s Run, was less successful, and didn’t even have an ending.

After that I attended Sarah Monette’s reading, then went off to Mamma Cozze’s for a fine old-fashioned Italian dinner with Richard Threadgill and his sweetie. We returned to the con in time for the writers’ workshop reception, but I didn’t know very many people there so we buggered off to the SFWA suite. The rest of the evening was Nomad Fever, never really finding a satisfactory party to settle in at, and I turned in about midnight feeling mildly grumpy.

Thursday: “I would say: stick it to the Mouse and do the geek thing.”

I wasn’t scheduled to appear on any programming today, so I found myself standing around in the registration area talking with the delightful Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, and Jay Lake who borrowed my thumb drive so he could print out a story. From there I decided to indulge my inner media geek, attending talks by Star Trek visual designer Rick Sternbach and actor Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi). Both talks were entertaining, but I would have enjoyed them more if I’d watched more than two episodes of any Star Trek after season 4 of Next Generation.

I snagged a quick and not-entirely-unsatisfactory lunch in the convention center before my writers’ workshop session, where I joined with Jean Lorrah, Darrell Schweitzer, and Lori Ann White to critique the work of three new writers (I said “I dislike the terms ‘pro’ and ‘amateur;’ I prefer ‘eviscerator’ and ‘evisceree'”). I was able to encourage the new writers by pointing out that I’d workshopped my story “Tk’Tk’Tk” at a similar workshop at ConJose, and it was now on the Hugo ballot.

After my workshop session I was scheduled to sign autographs for an hour at the Dell Magazines table in the dealers’ room. Not too surprisingly, only two or three people wanted my autograph, but I had a nice time talking with Asimov’s associate editor Brian Bieniowski and his Analog counterpart, and when I was done there I was interviewed on camera for a Writers of the Future documentary. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering about the dealers’ room, art show, and fan room, followed by a wonderful halal Chinese dinner at Mas’ with fans Mary Kay Kare and Ulrika O’Brien.

When we got back from dinner I grabbed my laptop and headed to the Hilton bar for the “Two Beers and a Story Challenge” convened by Laura Anne Gilman. But Jay Lakewussed out, and without his participation the event collapsed. Nonetheless, I spent the entire rest of the evening in the bar and had a great time. Got to bed around midnight.

Friday: “It’s a tool for removing the valve guide covers from a Model A Ford.”

This was a great convention for attracting keen people from outside fandom, such as Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. I attended a fascinating panel about online communities, featuring Craig and Teresa Neilsen Hayden spouting delightful phrases such as “early bloggers like John Locke.” At one point it looked as though a fugghead in the audience was going to derail the panel, but I reassured Kate that with Teresa on the podium everything would soon be under control, and indeed it soon was.

Next I appeared on the ‘Physics of Superheroes” panel. One realization I had during the panel is that comic book physics (and cartoon physics) is essentially Aristotelian — things behave as you would intuitively expect them to behave rather than in the messy and peculiar way that actually do. For example, Superman’s heat vision was originally an extension of his X-Ray vision: objects were melted by the X-Rays coming from his eyes, just as vision in the Aristotelian system works by sending out rays from the eyes.

After that panel I went to a panel including the editor on whose desk my novel is currently sitting. I had an encouraging chat with him after the panel (he’d read the first 200 pages on the plane, and was reasonably pleased with it although he thought the opening was muddled), which was briefly interrupted by someone who’d sent him a book when he was at another publisher and wondered if he’d be interested in taking another look at it. He said yes, and the writer proceeded to hand him a postcard with “comp covers” for the first five books in the ten-book series (!) and discuss the books’ movie, action figure, and TV series potential, which he hoped his new agent would help him realize, unlike the agent he’d just fired. Life as an editor at the Worldcon must be hell.

Casting about for a decent lunch, I wound up jumping over the railing to join my Clarion West classmate Amy Sisson in the Hilton lobby restaurant, along with her astrophysicist husband and one of his NASA colleagues. Amy and I talked writing while her husband and his friend talked NASA politics, but it was a fascinating conversation nonetheless and the food wasn’t half bad either.

After lunch I appeared on two panels in a row: “Zen Scavenger Hunt” and “Intermediate Writing.” The Scavenger Hunt, in which the panelists brought random objects and the audience told them what they’d been looking for, was mostly a two-way contest between Geri Sullivan (who had brought an amazing assortment of intriguingly fannish objects) and Pat Cadigan (who didn’t know she was supposed to bring anything and brazened through with the contents of her purse and a healthy dose of attitude). Pat won on points but it was a delightfully entertaining hour. The Intermediate Writing panel was one of my least favorite hours of the convention, unfortunately, because while Jay Lake and I wanted to talk about the life of a writer who’s sold a few short stories (as described in the panel’s precis), the other two panelists wanted to turn it into the “Novelists Recovering From Mid-Career Meltdown” panel. One of the two, in particular, had a nasty habit of stating his opinions as Facts, and when he said to me after a difference of opinion — not once but twice — “we’ll see who’s still here in ten years” I had difficulty keeping my replies civil.

Due to a scheduling snafu, we wound up double-booked for dinner, with both Bridget/Simon Bradshaw and Elise Matthesen/Ellen Klages. We finally decided to dine with both pairs, sending Elise and Ellen ahead in a cab since our car could only accommodate four. After many adventures we all met up at Johnny Reb’s for Southern-style barbecue, with peanut shells on the floor, and had delightful conversation over sweet tea in Mason jars and fried apple pie the size of your arm for dessert. On the way back we somehow crammed everyone into the car, with four in the back seat and me on Ellen’s lap, and it’s possible that Ellen has since managed to stand up straight.

Upon our return from dinner we went straight to the Asimov’s Dessert Reception in the SFWA Suite. At one point I had to stop and go “whoa” because I suddenly realized that it was only six years ago that I’d been a fresh Clarion grad wishing I could go into the SFWA suite with the cool kids, and now not only was I attending a party in the SFWA suite, but copies of Asimov’s with my name on the cover were scattered all over as decorations/party favors. How cool is that?

Then we set off on the Search for the Tor Party, which was a lot more complicated than it had to be because the Hilton’s Lanai deck had not only a non-Euclidean floor plan but three Presidential Suites. Eventually we did locate it, and I very quickly wound up in conversation with Keith Watt, an astrophysicist friend of Amy Sisson’s husband. We talked about black holes (research for my next novel! really!) for hours — the convention practically paid for itself right there. Staggered off to bed around 1am.

Saturday: “Getcher ass up here!”

I didn’t have anything specific to do until the afternoon, so naturally we were kicked out of our room by the housekeeping staff around 10am. We went to the Galaxy Quest writer’s talk, but the writer was ill, so the space was being used for a showing of the film. It tried to suck us in, but we pulled ourselves free and spent the rest of the hour chatting with Lise Eisenberg, Marci Malinowycz, and other random fans in the hall outside. Then we headed off to get a seat at the presentation by the Lost writers, but that too was canceled. Bummer. I went to a different panel, then snagged a pretty good grilled chicken salad at the convention center, which I ate during Ellen Klages’s reading (“In the House of the Seven Librarians” from Firebirds Rising, a wonderful story about a little girl raised by feral librarians).

After that I had a half-hour for the Hugo rehearsal, which consisted of a quick walk-through from the audience, up the stairs to the lectern, and then offstage. The stage of the Anaheim Arena was far too familiar to me from my position as Opening Ceremonies co-director at the last L.A.con, but as soon as I got up there I had the same reaction I’d had at the last two Hugo rehearsals I’d attended: I’ve been pretty good at keeping my hopes in check up until now, but you know… I might just win it. I reswallowed my heart, slapped that hope down as hard as I could, and dashed off to my next panel.

“Is SF Like a Shark?” went reasonably well. In fact, all my panels went well — in all cases the panel happened on time and in the originally-scheduled room, we panelists were well outnumbered by the audience, and people came up to me afterwards and said they’d enjoyed it. This panel would have been better, though, if the moderator had not insisted on a) asking a series of prepared questions, b) using the microphone (every other panel I was on, even those in larger rooms, did well enough by simply speaking up), and c) passing the mike to the panelists (in the same order each time) so that each of us got exactly one shot at answering each question. This moderation technique prevented the panel from building up any momentum. But I did get to say that I thought SF was less like a shark than an octopus: intelligent, predatory, and communicates by changing color. I also got to meet and thank John-Henri Holmberg, editor of the Swedish magazine Nova Science Fiction, in whose latest issue “The Tale of the Golden Eagle” was just translated.

After that Kate and I had time for a brief nap before changing into our Hugo-night finery. In our fancy duds we attended a very cool panel with three writers from the Whedonverse (Buffy, Angel, Firefly) and then headed off to the pre-Hugo reception. At the reception we noshed, sipped, and mingled with the other nominees, presenters, and guests, served by a bartender named Hugo (I wonder if that was deliberate?). The Hugo base was revealed — everyone agreed it was one of the most handsome in years — and group photos were taken of the nominees in each category. I was the only nominee present for Short Story; Mike Resnick was also at the con, but didn’t arrive until later. I was certain this was an omen, because when I was up for the Campbell the first time, Wen Spencer had come late to the “Meet the Campbell Nominees” panel and then proceeded to win it.

Patty Wells said that she had burned incense and sacrificed a goat for me. I thanked her for this, but suggested that it might have been more effective to bribe our mutual friend John Lorentz, who had counted the ballots. She replied that John is one of the most incorruptible people she knows, and anyway what could she bribe him with? “A goat dinner,” I said.

The time arrived for us to move out into the hall, where we sat with Campbell nominee Sarah Monette and her co-author and Campbell presenter Elizabeth Bear in the center of the second row. I commented to Sarah that when you’re really nervous your heart doesn’t beat faster, just deeper. She agreed.

The ceremony went on, with the speeches and the Big Heart and the Seiun and the Campbell awards. Sarah cheered mightily for John Scalzi, so clearly she wasn’t too badly crushed by her loss. And now that the non-Hugos had been taken care of, the Short Story award must come next.

But no. Next came the artist and the fan and the semi-prozine awards. And then the editor and dramatic presentation and best related book. And I started to realize that Short Story was one of the evening’s major awards.

Which was presented by Harlan Ellison. Who, whatever I may think of him personally, is surely a major figure in the field. He gave a long talk about how short stories are the heart of science fiction, and how the Short Story Hugo is really the “big one,” and he read the names of the nominees, and he pronounced my name and the title of my story correctly. And he tore open the envelope.

And then he said “I’m not gonna tell you” and started to walk off the stage. But he was dragged back to the mike. And he spoke into that mike and his voice boomed out and he said — no, not “and the winner is,” nor the politically correct “and the Hugo goes to” — he said “Levine? You here?”

“Yeah?” I managed.

“Getcher ass up here.”

I think I said “oh shit oh god oh jesus” or something like that instead of “excuse me” as I rushed past Sarah and Elizabeth and anyone else who had the misfortune to be seated between me and the aisle. I was moving so fast when I hit the stairs that they broke into two sections, the lower section sliding sideways by about six inches. I got up on stage and Harlan was standing there with his arms outstretched and I gave him an enormous hug. In fact, I climbed him like a spider monkey. In the photos you can see that he was holding the Hugo in one hand, and it’s just good luck that no one was hurt, because that thing’s heavy and very very pointy.

You have to understand that I have been in fandom since I was sixteen years old. Winning a Hugo Award has always been the pinnacle of possible achievements that I could reasonably aspire to. And here I had won it — I had won a Hugo of my very own. My little story about a guy and some bugs was going to be listed with “Soldier, Ask Not” and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” and “Neutron Star” and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones.” Written in the Book of Life forever.

I read my prepared speech, including the top line: “2006 Hugo acceptance speech, which will never be used,” which got a laugh, and although I was trembling all over I managed to hold it together and not start sobbing until I got off stage, where Janice Gelb held me up and offered me water, which I was silly enough to refuse.

I spent the rest of the evening grinning maniacally and clutching the Hugo to my chest, so much so that my right bicep was sore for the rest of the convention. I just couldn’t believe my good fortune. I had totally not expected to win. And, indeed, “Singing My Sister Down” had the most votes in the first round, and my story won only because it received more second- and third-place votes from people whose first and second choices were eliminated in later rounds. This is exactly the effect our preferential voting system is designed to achieve: finding the nominee that is most acceptable to the most voters.

Many wonderful things happened after the ceremony ended. Ellen Klages pointed out that she’d won a Nebula after wearing a chicken suit at the Tiptree auction and I’d won a Hugo after wearing the same suit — it must be a lucky chicken suit, we should charge authors money to wear it. I was invited to perform the ceremonial breaching of the sake cask at the post-Hugo party (hosted by Nippon in 2007), and I did the best I could, although the little wooden mallet they gave me wasn’t up to the job. I ran into Geoff Landis, who tore the Past Hugo Winner ribbon off his name badge and gave it to me. I made a delirious round of parties, surrounded by people who wanted to congratulate me and take my photo and tell me how much they liked my story. And I think they really meant it.

Edward Morris posted on the Asimov’s website’s message board later: “David Levine was on cloud 9 from outer space the whole night. I have never seen a human being so transported with joy. Good for him.”

Just before I drifted off to sleep, about 2am, I realized that the four fiction winners this year were Spin (one of the best SF novels I’ve read in years), Connie Willis (the Hugo-winningest author of all), Peter S. Beagle (author of the classic The Last Unicorn)… and me. Omigod.

Later, I awoke in the night and made my way in the dark to the desk, to touch the Hugo, to make sure it was still there.

Sunday: “Here, kid. Have a torch.”

I woke up the next morning still weepy about the whole experience. The first task of the day was to go to the convention office and pick up the promised box to keep the Hugo safe on its way home. But no one on duty first thing in the morning knew where the boxes were. So I carried the Hugo around for a while, enduring much ribbing (um, partially deserved) about not wanting to put it down, before my reading.

About a half-dozen people came to my reading, only one of whom I knew. I answered questions for a while, then read “Titanium Mike Saves the Day” which will be appearing in F&SF later this year — I’d picked that story because it’s short and upbeat. During the hour Francesca Myman and Ulrika O’Brien showed up, and we chatted together as we left so that I forgot I’d promised to stop by kids’ programming and show off the Hugo. Oops.

I returned to the convention office, where I discovered that the boxes provided, while perfectly good for mailing, were huge, so I just wrapped it in bubble-wrap. It was still too big to fit in my carryon bag, though.

I met up with Kate at the Ray Bradbury talk. This was one of the program items I absolutely did not want to miss, because Bradbury doesn’t travel and isn’t getting any younger. They wheeled him up on the stage, put a mike in his face, and he proceeded to talk rivetingly for an hour about his life, about how he’d sold two novels he didn’t even know he’d written, how he’d channeled Herman Melville while writing the screenplay of Moby Dick, and how Robert Heinlein and Leigh Brackett and the other pro writers had been so good to him when he was a teenage kid, and when he was done I looked down at the little Hugo in my lap and I got all weepy again.

After that I said to Kate “Okay, the convention’s over now.” I bought a canvas bag at Scott and Jane Dennis’s souvenir stand that said “Space Cadet Class of 2006” and was just big enough to contain the bubble-wrapped Hugo. Then I joined Kate at the Starbuck’s in the Marriott, where she’d already obtained me a panini for lunch. We went back to the room then, but I looked at the Hugo, whose bubbles were already beginning to pop, and decided that it needed more protection. So I went back to the convention office, where I hauled out my long-dormant architecture-student skills and my Swiss Army knife, and I crafted a close-fitting cardboard protector for the Hugo. It fit very tidily into the Space Cadet bag.

At this point there was about an hour before our final dinner rendezvous of the convention, so I went to the bar and hung out with Jay Lake, Diana Sherman, Bridget Coila, and many other writers, several of whom I hadn’t seen before at the con. As I talked with Jay I noticed a peculiar thing: while Jay and I were talking, everyone else was keeping mum and just listening. It made me want to try to be especially profound or something.

We had a nice Vietnamese dinner with New York fan Lise Eisenberg; at another table in the same restaurant was a large group including Francesca Myman. The food was really good but they didn’t seem to understand the concept of “we’re finished now, please bring us the check.” Once we finally extracted ourselves we went back to the room and packed up our stuff, getting to sleep around 10pm.

Monday: “I can’t take that from you, because it might go boom.”

We finished packing and checked out, leaving our bags in the car, then caught a shuttle to Disneyland — actually Disney’s California Adventure, because we’d given it only one day on our previous trip and there were several rides there we really wanted to do again. When we arrived at the park, early enough that we were first in line at the gate, someone wearing mouse ears congratulated me on the Hugo win.

Disney has a very confused notion of what it means to “open.” The posted opening time for the park was 10am, but at 9:30 an exceptionally cheery gentleman showed up and led all the people in line in a big count-down for the opening of the park. But though we got our tickets stamped and entered the park, none of the rides were going yet, so all we could do was mob at the rope closing the entrance to the Hollywood district and wait for another half-hour. But we overheard a park employee mention to someone else that Soaring Over California, one of our favorite rides, was already running, so we walked over there, rode that, and came back to the Hollywood entrance just in time for the rope to drop.

In Hollywood we rode the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — where I got so wrapped up in the Twilight Zone stuff (they have several original props, or possibly just accurate re-creations, in the pre-ride and post-ride areas) that I actually forgot that the elevator drops, so I got a nice shock out of the ride. Then we rode Monsters Inc., the California Screamin’ rollercoaster, and the Mulholland Madness mad-mouse in short order — thus hitting every one of our “really want to do this” rides by 11am. First thing on a non-holiday Monday the park was practically deserted, and there were no lines to speak of. In some ways this made it less exciting, and exacerbated the California park’s excess of white space, but I can’t really complain.

Having hit every ride we really wanted to ride, we took half an hour to take the tortilla factory and sourdough bread bakery tours, which were entertaining and provided a nice morning snack for free. Then we rode Screamin’ one more time (by this time the line had grown to 20 minutes, but we’d picked up a Fastpass on our first visit so we were able to skip most of it) and left the park.

I’ve already posted about the catch-22 at the airport security gate. At the airport we ran into Laura Majerus, Amy Thomson, and Edd Vick, Jay Lake, and Mike Moscoe. In fact, Jay and Mike were both on the same plane as us, and Jay had the Campbell regalia in his luggage, so if that plane had gone down the field would have been devastated. But it did not, and we arrived home safe and sound.

After Return: “I’m happy, shaggy, wet, stinky, brave, sloppy, and dark — I must be a Newfie!”

That was a week ago. I went to work on Tuesday with the Hugo, planning to say “Hey, let me show you this cute little souvenir I picked up at the convention,” but the guys in my department had already put up posters all over the office announcing my Hugo win, with pictures from the site. I didn’t get a lot of work done the first day back, with people coming by to congratulate me and admire the Hugo.

I haven’t gotten any writing done since then (or during the convention, either). Most of my keyboard time in the last week has been taken up with answering email, much of it congratulatory. I hope to get back to the writing today. After much talking with Jay Lake and others about the value of writing fast, once I finish the novella I may try to whomp out one more short story — in one week, tops — before diving into novel #2.

On Friday we had a celebratory gathering at the Barley Mill pub. About 30 people attended, and it got kind of crowded — one person described it as “like a Tor party, but without a balcony to cool off on” — but everyone seemed to be having a good time. In addition to hanging out with many long-time fan and writer buddies, I made several new friends and got an invitation to a panel discussion at Free Geek about the value of craftsmanship.

This weekend, as Kate has blogged, we hosted Kate’s sister Sue and the three nieces, and spent a lot of time on miscellaneous household chores. We’ve gotten a lot done, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. So it goes.

Chop wood, carry water.