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Archive for September, 2009

Writers of the Future, Day 7: Say Goodbye to Hollywood

Our last full day in Hollywood was indeed a full day.  They rousted us out of bed with fire extinguishers at the crack of dawn and started us off with a five-mile run.  Then they–

Oh, wait.  No, they didn’t.

For Sunday, we had not one, but two signings scheduled.  The first one was at Vroman’s, an independent bookstore in Pasadena.  They bundled us into a bus for the trip, and we were off.  Jordan and I had a great chat with Rob Sawyer on the way.  Rob was free with the professional advice on a variety of topics, ranging from novels vs. short stories to his takes on the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Turned out that much of Pasadena was on fire at that time.  You might have heard about it on the news.  We were treated–if that’s the word–to a view of the burning hills.  I couldn’t make out any flames, but saw plenty of smoke.  Though we were in no danger, the fires did affect us:  the signing was supposed to be an outdoor event, but it was moved inside due to the haze hanging in the air.

Nonetheless, a goodly crowd showed up at Vroman’s (a wondrous huge place, by the way) and kept us busy for the hour or so we were there.  In the Pleasant Surprise category, I got to meet Christopher East, editor at Futurismic, who made it a point to introduce himself to li’l ol’ me.  I’ve sent stories to Futurismic in the past, nothing that’s connected yet, but Chris still wanted to stop by and say hello.  I thought that was awfully nice of him.

I also met a gal who informed me that she’d "only" had a chance to read the four quarterly first place stories so far (an amazing feat, to my mind, given that the book had just come out the night previous), but that "Gone Black" was her favorite.  Of course, for all I know, she says that to all the boys.  I elect to think otherwise.

The Vroman’s signing also provided me with one of the weirdest moments of the week.  The Galaxy Press sales reps were on hand, and they had us all sign a few books for VIPs, including the SF book buyers at all the major chains.  They also had us autograph a book for WotF judge Anne McCaffrey. 

Me.  Giving an autograph to Anne McCaffrey.  Uh . . . isn’t that supposed to be the other way around?

Signing at Vroman’s.

We were delayed getting out of Vroman’s.  Our bus had apparently dropped into a black hole, or something.  Given that we were already on a tight timeline, lunch was looking rather iffy, so I grabbed a sandwich at the cafe in Vroman’s.  Ever the resourceful one, me. 

The second signing was at a Barnes & Noble in Burbank, not quite as well attended, but still pleasant enough.  Then it was back to the Roosevelt, our home away from home.  Already, it was sinking in that this amazing ride was almost over.  And I really didn’t want it to be.

Author Services had one last event cooked up for us, though:  another dinner, followed by a dramatic reading of an L. Ron Hubbard story, part of the "Tales from the Golden Age" series airing on XM/Sirius.  And warming up, a special performance by jazz pianist Chick Corea and his wife, singer Gail Moran.  Jazz ain’t my thang, but it was still enjoyable.  Man can play that there piana.

The dramatic reading was fun, too.  The story was "One Was Stubborn."  It was my first exposure to Hubbard’s fiction, and I have to say I found it quite clever and amusing.  Now, I must also be brutally honest and admit that I was pretty damned tired by that time, and I might have nodded off a bit here and there.  No reflection on the performers, though.  Seriously.

And that concluded the formal schedule.  We were officially done at that point–but what was the fun in that?  Nobody wanted to go home.  So we gathered in the Roosevelt lobby and just hung out.  Krista, bless her heart, bought everyone a round, and we all toasted each other.  Tim Powers regaled us with more advice and tales of Philip K. Dick.  But mostly, we just huddled together, grateful for each other’s company and dreading our return to the (vastly overrated) Real World.

It was a special bunch, these guys and gals–smart, dedicated, talented.  We all genuinely liked each other.  We had no jackasses in the group, no melodrama, no big confrontations.  I’m told that this is not true of all WotF workshops, so I guess we were fortunate.  I look forward to seeing them all again–at cons, at future WotF events, or whenever else we can conspire to get together.

As the evening wore on, those with early flights in the morning took their leave.  The parade of farewells began.  Eventually, I joined the reluctant exodus.

Epilogue:  Day 8

The wife and I had a little time in the morning before we were scheduled to be whisked away to LAX.  We took one last stroll down the boulevard.  The air smelled of smoke from the still-spreading fires to the north.  We got breakfast at a McDonald’s, then headed back to the Roosevelt for checkout and departure.  I got to see Cheryl and Jordan one last time in the lobby.  Joni Labaqui was on hand to say goodbye.  Grá rode with us to the airport.  I was grateful for his company; it made the trip more bearable.

As we took off from LAX, I got my one and only view of the ocean:


But you know, I can’t really bring myself to complain.  (Yes, that’s the smoke from the fires in the background.)

And in case you’re wondering how a whirlwind trip to Hollywood makes you look when it’s over . . .

LAX to Denver.  Denver to Omaha.  Picked up at the airport by our friend

.  Then home.

I’m still in the post-WotF adjustment phase, working my way back to my normal routine.  Of course it would be great for the party to continue forever, but I have a novel to finish, and award or no, it’s not gonna write itself.

So ends Matt’s Adventures in Hollywood.  Thanks for reading.  Onward . . .

Writers of the Future, Day 6: Limelight

Five days into the trip to Hollywood, and I’d had no time to do anything touristy.  Those slave drivers over at Author Services had kept us that busy.   Boy, if they hadn’t bought my plane ticket and my half of the hotel room, paid me generous prize money, published my story, given me an award, treated me like a celebrity, and generally thrown a week-long party in my honor, I’d have been really irritated.

But it turned out that I actually had some free time on the day of the awards.  Some free time, mind you.  I still had speeches to work on and rehearse.  I decided on a tour of the Kodak Theatre.

The Kodak Theatre, for those that don’t know, is the home of the Academy Awards.  I believe I mentioned that I’m a bit of a movie buff, so this totally rocked for me.  And did you know that the entrance to the theater is inside a shopping mall?  That’s right, folks, when all those celebrities parade down the red carpet in all their finery, they’re actually walking past a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, among other stores.  Curtained off for the show, of course, but still.  Something to keep in mind the next time you’re watching the Oscars.

Anyway, the tour took us through the lobby, the VIP room (where an Oscar was on display), backstage, and of course, the theater proper.  Along the way, our tour guide kept throwing out movie trivia questions, which I had the annoying habit of answering.  You just never know when having a head full of useless information will come in useful.

After lunch, I headed back to the hotel to work on my speeches.  Yes, I wrote one for the Gold Award, just in case.  Turns out I didn’t need it.  You didn’t miss much.

Then it was time to get ready for the show.  The wife did a quick trim of my hair before I donned my tux.  Once dressed, I had to report for makeup.

Yes, really.  The whole event was being streamed live over teh Internets.  Can’t be all shiny, you know.

Professional hair and makeup people had been brought in for the job.  I just had to show up and await my turn.  I stood around and jawed a bit with Jordan, Don, Schon, and Grá, all of us dressed to the nines.  It felt absurdly like prom night–or how I imagine prom nights must feel, given that I never went to prom.  (What can I tell you?  Geeks don’t get the girls.  That’s why we’re geeks.)

Properly powdered, I joined my wife and parents for the pre-show dinner.  The wife, of course, dazzled–but that’s what she does.  (OK, sometimes geeks get the girls.)

Dinner was quite pleasant.  We shared a table with Rob Sawyer, Carolyn Clink, Schon, Grá, Gary Kloster, and his wife Brin.  A barbershop quartet made the rounds, serenading various tables.  After the crème brûlée, we headed downstairs to the Blossom Room for the awards.

I must say that this was probably my favorite part of the whole affair.  It would have been far too easy to be stressed out and obsessive at that point, worrying endlessly over my speech, the audience, the Gold Award, all the myriad details.  Instead, I was able to put all that aside and just be in the moment.  This was a big, fancy party, and I and my new friends were the guests of honor.  My wife and parents were there to share it with me, and they were proud of me.  My mom’s cousins, who lived in the area, were also there to cheer me on.  Truly, folks, this didn’t suck.

As for the event itself, well, you can see it for yourself here.  The opening dance number might seem cheesy to you, but I rather enjoyed it.  And we got to see the book trailer, including the awesome Stephan Martiniere cover, for the first time.  And then the awards were handed out, in the order the stories appeared in the anthology.  Mine was the ninth one (starting at about 1:30 in the video, if you’re of a mind to check it out).  Tim Powers introduced me.  When I went onstage, he said, "This is pretty cool, isn’t it?"

Yeah.  Like I said, it didn’t suck.  (That’s actress Ellen Dubin on the left, BTW.)

The speech went off without a hitch–unless you count the moment when I nearly knocked over my award.  It was good for a laugh, anyway. 

Is it wrong of me to say that I think the award–a silver quill pen encased in a pointy lucite block, heavy enough to brain someone, should the urge overtake me–is gorgeous?

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of the Gold Awards.  Sasha Barysheva was the illustrator winner, and then–as I had been predicting–Emery Huang took home the writing grand prize, for his story "Garden of Tian Zi."  Spare me any "Sorry you didn’t win" sentiments, folks; Emery is a great guy, and I’m happy for him.  Hell, I was happy for us all.

After the awards, we posed for many pictures, then made our way upstairs for the post-event reception–which was, for the writers and illustrators, a giant signing party.  Everyone who attended the show got a free copy of Writers of the Future Volume XXV, and we spent hours on end autographing.  I hardly got to see my wife and folks after the show, but they did stop by to congratulate me once more.  And Tracy even procured a beer for me.  Gawd, how I love that woman.

It was after 1:00 a.m. when the signing finally wound down.  There was an after-after-party in the Hospitality Suite, where the exhausted but still jovial lot of us gathered.  Joni Labaqui had room service bring up another raft of those monster burgers, along with a metric ton of fries.  I was still stuffed from dinner, but others set to.  I grabbed a burger for the road and made it to bed sometime after 3:00.

So that was my Celebrity Moment.  And I must say, it didn’t suck.

Next installment:  Pasadena burning, more signing, and the Spirit of Radio.

Writers of the Future, Day 5: Don’t Bring Me Down

Friday was the last day of the workshop.  One might expect things to wind down a bit.  One would be wrong.

Friday was a loooong day.  It started with the critiques of the three 24-hour stories, followed by some closing remarks by Tim and K.D.  By this time, others began filtering into the room, starting with judges and former winners.  As the day progressed, folks from Author Services and Galaxy Press turned up.  Then the illustrators arrived.  Every time I turned around, I had to ask myself where all these people came from.  It got kinda eerie.

Then came a slew of guest speakers.  Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta gave a presentation on professionalism while we all ate pizza.  Doug Beason and Yoji Kondo (Eric Kotani) talked about putting science in your SF.  We also heard encouraging words and career advice from Dave Wolverton, Sean Williams, and Steve Savile.  Amelia Beamer and Gary K. Wolfe told us all about Locus–nothing I didn’t already know, really, since I’ve subscribed for years.  Robert J. Sawyer, he of Flash Forward, spoke at length about options and film rights.  And Jerry Pournelle . . .

Well, apparently, it was something of a tradition for the late Charles Brown to give a little speech about how few if any of us would ever really make it in publishing–intended as a dash of cold water in our faces, I guess.  Since Charlie is no longer with us, Jerry Pournelle took it upon himself to do the honors, in his inimitable fashion.  I suppose that after a week of having sunshine pumped up your skirt, a dose of reality is a healthy thing. 

Yeah.  Don’t do me any more favors, Jerry, OK?

(I’m kidding here.  I’ve actually heard the "this business is so tough, your chances are practically nil" speech before.  Harlan Ellison gave it to us at Odyssey.  And you know, for going on two decades now, I’ve been kinda living it.)

As the speeches went on, we departed in shifts to be individually interviewed by XM/Sirius, which was fun.  And at some point during the day, Dave Wolverton came up to me and said he recognized my name from Facebook, and that he dug my taste in music.  Dude.  The magic of social networking.

The presentations ended, and then it was time to finally reveal the artwork for our stories.  They ushered us out of the room so they could set up the illustrations, framed and matted, on easels arranged in a semicircle.  Then allowed us back in and let us find our own art.  Am pleased to report that I found Luke Eidenschink’s illo for "Gone Black" in short order.  See?

If you’d like a better look at it, guess you’ll just have to buy the book.  (Or you could come by my house.  I get to keep the print you see above.  It’ll be shipped soon.  So there.)

We broke for dinner shortly thereafter, so I got to eat with the wife and the parental units.  But the Marathon Day wasn’t done yet.  After dinner, we had to report back to the Roosevelt for awards rehearsal.

This is the part where I freaked, a little.

The awards were to be held in the Roosevelt’s Blossom Room, the very same place the first Oscars were handed out, lo these many years ago.  I got one look at the stage, at all the people scurrying hither and yon, at the dancers (!) rehearsing the opening number (no, I’m not kidding), and the heart started racing just a bit.  I had been taking all of the hype and hoopla with a certain degree of equanimity, but in that moment, the reality finally sunk in.  In just over twenty-four hours, the awards would be on, and I would be walking onto that stage to accept a trophy and give a little speech.

What can one say at such a moment of realization, except . . . dude.

(There’s a writer for you.  Always able to capture the moment.)

I got over it, but still, it was wild. 

Rehearsals were mercifully brief.  The choreography was simple enough:  up the stage right steps, shake hands with the presenters (being careful not to present your ass to the camera), accept the trophy, stand on your mark for pictures, then head to the podium for your speech.  Water bottles made amusing substitutes for the trophies.  We all gave funny little faux speeches.  Sasha Barysheva beat-boxed her way through hers.  Yep, we were a little punchy by that point.

After rehearsal, John Goodwin of Galaxy Press gave us all some tips on our acceptance speeches.  He also advised Jordan, Emery, Don, and I that we’d better prepare two, because one of us was going to win the Gold Award.  Several of us were still playing Handicap the Gold, trying to pick up clues from John’s body language and such.  The game was mostly an intellectual exercise for me.  Mostly.  As I’ve said earlier, whether or not I would win the grand prize was out of my hands.  I’d done everything I could do.  Best to just enjoy the ride.  Even so, it was fun to imagine.

The Marathon Day finally began to wind down.  Sean Williams graciously hosted a party in his room.  Wine and conversation flowed, a welcome and hard-won respite.  (Thanks, Sean!)  I was pretty wiped by that time, so I didn’t stay very late.  I made it back to my room and collapsed shortly thereafter.

Next installment:  What It’s Like To Be Famous.  Kinda.