I’m thrilled to report that I have a recipe in Ad Astra, which is the SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook. It’s just come out and looks delectable. Who knew that so many fine writers have a culinary trick or three up their sleeves? And wow, I can say that I’m sharing a table of contents with Octavia Butler, John Scalzi, William Gibson, Charlaine Harris, Connie Willis, Walter Jon Williams, Nancy Kress, Chuck Wendig, Pat Cadigan, Joe Haldeman and many more! How cool is that?
If these talented authors cook half as well as they write, there will be loads of scrumptious recipes. You can get your very own copy here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B011YM8874/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B011YM8874&linkCode=as2&tag=carawr-20
Proceeds go to a terrific cause–SFWA’s Legal Fund, which makes loans to its writers who have writing-related court costs and various other legal expenses.
Huge thanks go to Cat Rambo and Fran Wilde for undertaking the job of editing Ad Astra and making that task look ridiculously easy.
I set out to write science fiction and fantasy quite a number of years after having received one of the best gifts of my life. In fact, so many years had elapsed that I no longer thought much about this marvelous gift. No, I don’t mean the ability to create stories, but rather a more fundamental gift, which turned out to be the first of several that have come to me courtesy of fantasy and science fiction. But already I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me begin again.
Soon after sitting down to capture on paper the characters, conversations, and non-existent worlds whirling through my mind, I began to get intimations that creating fiction can be a hard business built on considerable labor for little return. With effort and persistence quite beyond the point where a less stubborn person would turn to a more rewarding endeavor, there did come a point—a seemingly miraculous one at that—where I learned that one of my stories had been accepted for publication. Little did I know that this particular story wouldn’t see print until six years after I sold it, and that turned out to be several years after I’d had other stories published. At any rate, I remember the sheer excitement of holding in my hands the anthology containing my first published story, and of opening the book to find my name (spelled correctly!) together with the title listed in the table of contents. Better yet, there was my story on the page indicated, with my name in out-sized letters. My first publication was way more than enough to keep me filling pages with imaginary people and events for a good while.
And so I wrote through the solitude of the hours and days in which the majority of the conversations I heard took place between people who didn’t exist, people who lived in imaginary lands, people who struggled to overcome all manner of problems large and small that also didn’t exist. Inevitably, a moment came to me, as it does to nearly all the authors I’ve talked to about writing, when the thrill of seeing my work in print and on an electronic screen, no matter how marvelously illustrated, was no longer enough to propel me through what looked to be a discouraging ocean of indifference populated by far too many sea beasts of rejection, ever ready to bite and slash and snark.
Thankfully, I had a secret weapon to supplement raw determination. I could draw upon a huge gift that my Mom had given to me as a child. Actually, she gave me two gifts. First, my mother taught me to read. Second, she surrounded me with all manner of wondrous, fantastical tales. While growing up, I had devoured Greek, Roman and Norse myths before branching out to Dr. Seuss, Alice in Wonderland, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I visited as many exotic lands as a kid who lived in an uneventful country village could find. I spent endless hours with fascinating new people, gravitating to the ones who weren’t human. Naturally, there came a time when I moved on to the stories it seemed like everyone of my generation read: Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, The Martian Chronicles, A Wizard of Earthsea, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, on and on. The gift of being able to sink into new books, fresh characters, and far-flung worlds never grew stale, never lost its enchantment. As time goes by, I only discover more and more marvelous tales told by remarkable writers. For it is gifted writers who continue to inspire me, who stir up my own urges to return to the keyboard once more, who drive me back to listening and watching those characters in my head as they struggle to deal with their predicaments, which are no less my own and everyone else’s too.
And yet, notwithstanding the renewed burst of energy and enthusiasm for writing, there still comes a point where my fingers falter. Sometimes the characters wander off into complacency or the plot lurches into predictability. I sit and wonder why I am doing this. That’s when it’s time to take out and unwrap another gift, one which writing fantasy and science fiction has given me. I summon up the looks on the faces of those in the audience when I do readings—their expressions as they sink into the characters, their growing worry as they apprehend mounting threats to those characters coupled with the closing off of options that the characters might take to deal with their problems. Above all, I watch my listeners’ growing need to find out how it all comes out. Their responses to the ending can be fascinating. Once, I received the gift of being berated by a distraught woman whose favorite character didn’t survived the final encounter.
Because I’ve always reveled in being swept away to fabulous worlds, I cherish the gift of being able to transport readers to distant lands, whether real or imaginary. My Mom is the reason why I treasure this gift the most. One day, a few years ago, I had been struggling to write a time travel story and eventually decided that my mother would make a terrific main character. Problem was that, though she had an adventurous streak, she was terrified of airplanes and had never flown in one. So I called her up and asked her about time travel. Hypothetically, if she were to win an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the Cretaceous—the land of the dinosaurs—would she go? “Oh yes,” she said without a bit of hesitation. “It’s some place I’ve never been.” That was the moment I knew I absolutely had to write “Mom and the Ankylosaur.” Alas, she passed away not long after the story was published. But I did have the joy of doing a reading of the story at her local library; she and her book-club friends all turned out. Of all my memories of her throughout the years—and she lived to be eighty—my most treasured one is the look on her face that evening as she listened to her own adventure in the Mesozoic.
Final note: This blog post is cross-posted at the SFWA blog, which has been featuring posts by various writers as part of its count down to its 50th anniversary festivities in June. If you know nothing about that, you are in for a treat, or rather, a number of treats. So get on over to their site and read what Robert Silverberg and others have to say. https://www.sfwa.org/blogs/sfwa-blog/
Now that the literary dust has settled and I’m back from the 40th annual World Fantasy Convention, I have several thoughts. First, I got to watch writers, editors, artists, and agents share the Hyatt Hotel in Crystal City, VA with a gathering of Rolling Thunder motorcyclists who annually commemorate American POWs/MIAs. When human curiosity took over, members of these groups interacted at the hotel bar and began to learn a bit about each other’s driving interest.
As far as gatherings of the science fiction clan go, I’ve reached the point where there are simply more people whom I want to see at conventions than time to do so. Hence, I never really got a chance to talk to several people who were there fleetingly on the other side of a room. (Hi, guys! Hope you had a good time!) What partly made up for that was the opportunity to meet new people, and some whose work I’ve enjoyed for years. Above is Rick Wilber, who volunteered with me to cover the SFWA table, fielding questions that came our way from members and non-members, alike. Doing so was a reaffirming experience, at least for me, as I was reminded all over again that SFWA membership is a meaningful thing if one goes by the looks of longing on the faces of some writers who have yet to qualify.
One highlight of the four days was the World Fantasy Awards banquet, where mistress of ceremonies Mary Robinette Kowal treated us to the sort of witty, incisive, and comforting speech that only she could give. Naturally, it was terrific to see Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Ellen Datlow receive well-deserved lifetime achievement awards. I also enjoyed a panel by one writer friend and a reading by another, both of whom had never been on a panel or done a reading before. They were well prepared, entertaining, and generally terrific.
A lovely tradition of World Fantasy Convention is that each attendee receives a hefty canvas goody bag of books. Mine came with titles by Cherie Priest, Scott Lynch, Nnedi Okorafor, Geoff Ryman, Joe Abercrombie, Jo Walton, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. So now the pleasant decision becomes which to read first.
This is one of my favorite times of the year to be a science fiction and fantasy writer. It’s time for members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) vote on the Nebula awards. Because I’m a voting member of SFWA, I read all the nominated novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories. Not only is the quality of the nominated works awfully high, but this is a great way to discover intriguing authors whose work I haven’t read before, and to find out what some of my favorite authors have been up to recently. Soon will come the hard part – deciding what to vote for.
Check them out for yourself at:
One more thing – A good number of the shorter works have been made available to read for free on the authors’ or publishers’ websites while they are up for consideration. So you don’t have to be a SFWA member to read some of these fine stories.
Whenever I attend the World Science Fiction Convention or Nebula Weekend, I go to the Hugo or Nebula award ceremonies. Not only do I invariably have friends and mentors who’ve been nominated, but I always vote and tend to feel passionately about the merits of particular works. No, I won’t tell you, my dear readers, which works from years past or present that I feel were overlooked for the win, or not even nominated. You can certainly find such opinions on many other blogs, and if you’re reading this, you probably have your own ideas. But what I can talk about is the emotion in the room when winners are announced. There is nothing in the world like hearing the cheers for a writer or editor who has poured heart and soul into a work, and had major doubts and been stymied along the way, who is then so richly rewarded.
Someone asked me this year which is the “bigger” award – the Hugo or the Nebula, and I found it a hard question to answer. The two awards are given out by different groups. The Hugo is voted on by supporting and attending members of the World Science Fiction Convention. They tend to be readers, writers, editors, agents, gamers, costumers, and others with connections to the field. The Nebulas are voted on by active members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and they are professional writers. So it largely comes down to the difference between recognition by ones fans who read one’s work and recognition by one’s peers who are also writers. Since I write about imaginary stuff, I got to wondering what would happen if a writer were to rub a magic lamp and the genie gave the writer their choice between winning a Hugo and a Nebula award for a particular work of fiction. If the writer could only pick one or the other, which would he or she chose? Well, I suppose if he or she already had one of those awards but not the other, the choice might well be the one the writer does not have. But what if he or she has neither or both?