Monday, May 19, 2014

Nebula Awards Weekend 2014

The Nebula Awards Weekend, hosted by the Science Fiction/Fantasy* Writers of America, is a true feast for the writer (and lover) of the genre/s*. (There has been much debate about whether Science Fiction properly includes Fantasy, and indeed the name of the organization was changed to be inclusive, but pronouncing SFFWA led to so much inadvertent spitting that the earlier, simpler form is preferred.) One (extremely) notable writer put it this way: “I go to Worldcon or World Fantasy Con for my fans, but I go to the Nebs for myself.” This is where I, too, go to be among professional writers, many of the best living, to attend panels given by the top pros for other pro writers, and generally get a refreshed perspective on what an amazing community this is. You don’t have to be a SFWA member to attend, either.

My weekend started top-of-the-morning on Friday with working registration. I highly recommend this. It’s an excellent way to see your friends (and make new ones) as they check in. In fact, at times, my two stints resembled one prolonged, joyous, and occasionally chaotic reunion. I do not, however, recommend doing two two-hours stints back to back, and if I ever sign up to do that again, please whap me up the side of the head. Fortunately, my co-registrar for the second shift understood the symptoms of my crashing blood sugar, and agreed to hold the fort solo for the remaining quarter-hour, so I ran off to an impromptu lunch part with Beth Meacham, Ann Leckie (who subsequently won the Nebular for Best Novel), and Dave Smeds. I don’t usually drop a lot of Names of Famous Folk in my reports, but this is an example of the kind of hobnobbing, socializing, and in general feeling-of-one-tribe that goes on at the Nebs.

When finally our tummies were full and our minds easier, I proceeded to one of the perennial dilemmas of the Neb weekend – two simultaneous panels I wanted to attend! I poked my head in on the standing-room-only Business of the Book Trade, heard some fascinating behind-the-scenes  info, but couldn’t stand much longer (having been on my feet more than not during my registration stint), so sat down for Writing Workshops: From Alpha to Clarion. And stayed put for Writing About Other Cultures, Real and Imagined (with Amy Thompson, Chaz Brenchley, Nancy Kress, Diana Paxson, Tad Williams, and Juliette Wade – don’t you wish you’d been there? It was even better! And what made it so amazing was to hear how many ways writers of this caliber create their worlds. The result was not intimidating but inspiring.)

Friday night (after Pho noodles with friends) was the mass autographing, thanks in part to Borderlands Books traveling bookstore. I set up shop between Robin Wayne Bailey and Madeleine Robins, with Chaz Brenchley and Linda Nagata at the same table. The conversation would have been worth just sitting there, but as it turned out, all of us had readers and fans (since this event was open to the public) come up with piles of books to sign. Ah, delight to an author’s heart!

Then over the hills and through the mountains to home and a sleep husband. Much as I tried to get back for the morning panels, I just could not pry my eyes open, so Dave (Trowbridge, aforementioned spouse and sf writer) and I arrived for the SFWA Business Meeting. I’m not allowed to tell you what happened, except to say that this is the one event open to only SFWA members.
Gosh, can I talk about the next panel without dropping names? I give in… Gender in Science Fiction and Fantasy, with (clears throat) Samuel R. Delaney Jr, Nicola Griffith, Nalo Hopkinson (who won the Norton Award for Best YA), and Ellen Klages. Words fail me, it was so wonderful.

The next hour, in the same room, Debbie Notkin and Pat Murphy led a “symposium” for mid-career (5+ years) writers, which was touching and heart-breaking and hopeful. We sat in a circle and shared our current angst, fears, frustrations, etc. How many of us started out 20 years ago with a novel or five, only to have editors die, publishers go belly-up or kill series in the middle, markets dry up, life crises leave us paralyzed…and how do we get our focus and momentum going again? Just knowing we weren’t alone was amazing. To be fair, this isn’t my story…exactly. I went through a period like that back in the late 1990s, and currently wrestle with feeling like a spider on roller skates, being pulled in many directions at once and longing for simplicity of focus.

Fellow Book View Café members (me, Daves Trowbridge and Smeds, Madeleine Robins, and Chaz Brenchley) discussed cooperative publishing to a small but enthusiastic audience. To be sure, many of us had already been talking about who we are and how we do things (and how others could do it, too!) that the effective audience was many times that size. We were scheduled against two extremely popular subjects, too.

And finally, forensic scientist Cordelia Willis gave a hilarious and informative talk about her work, complete with slide show and anecdotes. She said she was inspired by The X-Files, so when people think her work is like CSI, she doesn’t get too upset.

Then to the high-point of elegance: the banquet and awards ceremony. So much glitter and style from folks who normally hang out in jeans and T shirts! Ellen Klages, our Toastmaster, told of researching the history of SFWA, thinking that back in the earliest days she would find a bastion of straight white men, but instead, there was Chip Delaney, a queer black man, winning a Nebula in 1967…and 1968 (actually, two Nebula awards)…with his extraordinary, transformative fiction.

There were some blots on the glitter, which others will tell about and other others will make right, but for me, it was an intense and satisfying weekend. The Nebula Award weekend is on the East Coast next year, and if it’s possible for you to go, pro writer or not, member or not, I encourage you to treat yourself!

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