First, let me say that my first Nebula Awards Weekend was amazing. I want to thank the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Association), particularly Ms. Peggy Rae Sapienza, Mr. Steven Silver, and all the volunteers. This was a great event, and if you have a chance to go to a future Nebula Awards Weekend, I highly recommend it. And just as a heads up, this will be a long post.
So I arrived Thursday night to check in. I got my name badge, my guide to the weekend, and a tote bag stuffed with goodies. And this was no run of the mill tote bag. It was packed to the gills with sci-fi and fantasy magazines and a copy of a Nebula-nominated novel. In my case, I got EMBASSYTOWN by China Mieville. And you know it’s a writer’s convention when the tote bag comes with reinforced pen holders.
I had some time before the Scotch tasting started, so I headed up to the hospitality suite. I stepped off the elevator, and I could hear the sounds of a party from down the hall. It’s amazing how quickly I devolved into a nervous, scared little teenager. I don’t know if it was because I was alone and about to enter a room full of strangers, or the fact that these strangers were the writers of books that I’ve read and loved (while I’m just an aspiring writer), or what, but I totally froze.
I’m a 32-year old man, and I froze. I couldn’t enter. Instead, I stood in the hall like an idiot, performing the patented “check my cell phone so I have a reason to stand here like an idiot” move. And while I did that, I saw Joe Haldeman and Myke Cole (@mykecole and author of CONTROL POINT, reviewed here) walk by. I figured that was about all the “deer in the headlights while I stare at writers” I could take, so I headed down to the bar to have a drink.
You read that right. I went and had a drink before a Scotch tasting. Thank goodness I was taking the train home. But at the bar I met a man who had the dubious distinction of having his life threatened by Whitey Bulger years ago. But that’s another story. So on to the Scotch tasting, as moderated by Myke Cole.
There is definitely something to be said about Scotch to get people talking. And there was a lot of Scotch. Each place setting had six glasses at it. Your eyes watered when you walked in. But I ended up sitting next to author Walter John Williams (MC of the Nebula Awards ceremony) and NASA Astronaut Col. Mike Fincke (@astroironmike and keynote speaker at the Nebula Awards ceremony). Like I said, thank goodness for Scotch. Because it worked. I started talking to people. Fans and writers alike. And let me say this right now to all the other people who might freeze like I did–every single person at the Nebula awards, regardless of fame and ability, couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. If it’s your first time there, dive in and have fun. Try not to freeze like me.
On Friday, I attended a series of writing workshops. The first was “Structure and Plotting,” as taught by my fellow Scotch fan, Mr. Walter John Williams. It was a great session, and the three hours flew by. He offered great advice. In particular, he gave us a checklist of questions every writer should ask themselves when writing a scene. This list will work for any writer, regardless of how your writing style (pantsers vs. plotters, I mean).
After a quick stop at Good Stuff Eatery for burgers, fries, and shakes, I was back for my afternoon workshop. This one was “Improving your Website.” I will admit that I didn’t find this one as interesting, but it was still useful, because there were basic, 101-level type things that I realized I had skipped on my website. So I’ll review my website soon enough. You might see some of the changes soon.
My last writing workshop was “Tragedy is Easy,” a panel on comedy in writing, that was moderated by James Patrick Kelly and included James Morrow, (the soon to be made Grand Master) Connie Willis, and SWFA President John Scalzi (@scalzi, but that’s probably obvious, as readers of this site know I’m a fan of his). As you would expect with that bunch of writers, it was a great panel, and there were laughs all around. I’ll highlight one point Ms. Willis mentioned. When plotting your story, create characters who are the least equipped to handle the problems in your story. This will lead to drama, conflict, and comedy.
Anyway, Friday ended with a real great event: a mass book signing. I got in line for John Scalzi. He couldn’t have been nicer, and we were able to chat a bit. I told him that Tor had been kind enough to send me a galley copy of his next book REDSHIRTS, and that I had really enjoyed it (review coming soon–once it gets closer to publication date). But the cool part? He said my name looked familiar. I realize that I have a very common name, so it’s probably a coincidence, but part of me likes to think at the very least my blog has popped up on his Google Alerts and he likes what he has read–hello, Mr. Scalzi!).
I then got in line for Joe Haldeman, author of THE FOREVER WAR. I told him that I read his book during my honeymoon, and I was so engrossed in the book that I ended up getting a terrible sunburn. He joked that as long as I’m still married, he was glad that I liked the book.
Lastly, I had my copy of CONTROL POINT signed by Myke Cole, who at this point probably thought I was stalking him. But, despite that, he was kind enough to talk to me for quite a bit about the choices he made as a young writer. He said that although he started with short stories (even winning the Writers of the Future contest), he probably should have just learned to write a really good novel, like his friend, Peter Brett, author of THE WARDED MAN. Mr. Cole advised writers like me to not worry so much about learning about agents and the business side of things. Instead, focus on your writing. And yes, Mr. Cole, THE WARDED MAN is next on my reading list, once I finish SNUFF, THE NAME OF THE WIND, and MISTBORN (all of which I’m reading now). Review to come. Mr. Cole couldn’t recommend it more highly.
I’m kicking myself that I forgot to bring my copy of SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY to be signed. Ms. Mary Robinette Kowal was sitting right next to Mr. Scalzi. Doh. But that was Friday.
Saturday began with a one-hour session on the ramifications of deciding to publish an e-book. I felt like I was familiar with most of these ramifications, but as I don’t have a book ready for publishing, it didn’t really matter. But that made it easy for me to switch from an afternoon session on e-books to one about Icelandic Myths, as led by Timons Esaias. My wife and I had traveled to Iceland a couple years ago, and as it was settled by a mixture of Norse men and Irish women, my wife (of 100% Irish descent) and I felt right at home there. This workshop was great. I learned a lot of history, myth, and much of the other source material Tolkien used in THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
But I’ve skipped a panel here. There was a mid-day panel to talk about Octavia Butler, who would later be honored with a Solstice Award at the ceremony. Butler is always one of those authors who pops up on my radar, but I have sadly not read any of her stories. The panel, consisting of Eileen Gunn (@eileen_gun), Annalee Newitz (@Annaleen and editor in chief of io9.com), Joe Haldeman, and moderated by Charlie Jane Anders (@charliejane, managing editor of io9.com, as well as recent Hugo nominee), did a lot to remind me of just what I’m missing.
I had to sneak out a little early of the Iceland workshop though to get to my final panel of the day. Nominally, this was a panel about resources and economics in fiction, but it ended up being more about logistics, research, and putting constraints on your characters. The panel was made up of R.J. Anderson (@rj_anderson), Michael Dobson, Franny Billingsley, and was moderated by Myke Cole (seriously, I’m not stalking him). Although you would think this would be a dry topic, it ended up being very useful for writers who need help researching and plotting.
Now I will admit that I did not attend the banquet. I will also admit that this was a huge mistake. So, Nebula rookies–go to the banquet. You will see cool things like Neil Gaiman winning an award for his Doctor Who episode. And you will hear a keynote speech by an astronaut on the future of space travel. Oh well. I followed along via Twitter, but it wasn’t the same. Next time, I’ll go to the banquet.
Ok, last day, and I only went to one panel (we’re almost done–thanks for bearing with me). I went to the two-hour Q&A with Col. Fincke. And for sci-fi (and even fantasy) writers, two hours was not enough time to talk to an astronaut. We could have talked his ears off for another few hours. He’s flown in the shuttle, and commanded the International Space Station. How could you not want to talk to him? This session was really a pleasure–educational and inspirational.
So what did I come away with? First off, I learned that the members of SWFA and the SWFA fans are a great bunch: friendly, funny, smart, and creative. Exactly the type of people you would want to spend your weekend with. Second, I learned that while I have the beginnings of a fairly solid understanding of some of the business and marketing aspects of being a writer, I have to learn about writing itself. But that’s the other great thing about the Nebula Awards Weekend: inspiring you to get out, write more, read more, and (most importantly) write better. So, good people and good lessons. What more could you want from a weekend?