Monthly Archives: May 2019

Nebula Weekend 2: Mentoring, Awards, and Bronchitis, Oh My

In which our Hero wrestles with Imposter Syndrome and Reconnects with Old Friends

Day 2 of the Nebula Weekend found me joining a host of brave volunteers for the second part of the Mentor Meetup. I was assigned two bright-eyed new writers and given 50 minutes to impart All The Wisdom. Poor kids. I opened the tap full blast, and between coughing fits, challenged them to attend a serious workshop (hello, Viable Paradise!), find tough beta readers, create a process, abandon the process, and overall keep the faith. This is art, dammit. No actual egos were harmed. I think.

I also sat in at the usual SFWA Business Meeting, which was much improved by the presence of Aliza Greenblatt, fellow VP16 alum and freaking Nebula-nominated person. (Sadly, she didn’t win, but I cannot believe this will be her only time on the ballot.)

For the afternoon, I caught a quick nap, hoping to quell my symptoms, and then did a couple of hours of KP duty in the Hospitality Suite, where I met more cool people and got to listen to John Scalzi’s philosophy on burritos (he’s a descriptivist, rather than a prescriptivist). He also confirmed the story of how he wrote The Consuming Fire in 2 weeks. Seriously.

Friday night was dinner with fellow writer and all-around good person, Rosemary Smith, purveyor of quality dinosaur stories. Rosemary helped me beta test Write Here, Write Now in Baltimore two weeks prior.

Saturday was full of special writer goodness. I attended the interview with this year’s Grand Master recipient, William Gibson, who related some pretty funny stories about his brief time as a screenwriter, and the fact that his last novel had to be completely torn down and rebuilt due to the timeline disruption caused by the 2016 elections. Later that afternoon, I helped schlep camera gear for the official photographer (the great Richard Man), who used me as a proxy for Mr. Gibson so the Grand Master didn’t have to wait while lights were calibrated. Turns out he and I share a similar build and hairline, although he’s a tad taller.

The Mass Autographing event gave me an opportunity to get books signed by William Gibson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Derek Künsken, Sam J. Miller, and Fran Wilde. I’m happy to report that Mary Robinette’s novel, The Calculating Stars, won the Nebula award for Best Novel later that evening.

My table at the Nebula Awards banquet ended up being relatively close to the stage, so I had a good view of the actual proceedings (although two excellent video screens provided full coverage). My table companions included another Viable Paradise alum (Aimee Picchi), a seasoned pro (Jeffrey A. Carver), and other volunteers, partners, and even a freshly minted writer who’d never attended any event before. Good on him. I don’t think I’d be that brave.

The awards featured a new category, game writing, which was very popular, and plenty of quality contenders for the usual fiction (short, novella, novelette, and novel). Happy to say that many works I read and enjoyed ended up on the ballot and a few of them even won.

I was too tired to attend any of the after parties, so retreated to my room for some light reading and much-needed sleep.

Sunday started off with a (slightly delayed) volunteer breakfast. This was Cat Rambo’s last year as SFWA’s President, and she graciously thanked us all for the continuing spirit of paying it forward. I got in a few more panels, including a thought-provoking discussion on gender and writing (with Futurescapes buddy Jordan Kurella), and listened with great amusement as several pros described their various personal writing habits and hacks. Some good ideas there.

My best friend Dan Malcor (with his new love, Cora) came up from Orange County to transport me back to the airport. Since we had a few hours, we decided to do a spontaneous trip to the Getty Museum. This branch of the museum wasn’t open when I last lived in Los Angeles, so it was a real treat. The weather was nearly perfect, and the view from the upper deck showed the Valley in all its springtime glory:

LA as seen from Getty Museum

Getty looking south

Due to the recent rains, the main gardens were closed, but the exhibits were open. We had a lovely time, and found this one example that we promptly dubbed, “Dude Christ”:

Casual Jesus portrait

The Savior Abides

Karl, Dan, and Cora

I get cultural with Dan and Cora

Eventually we had to trek back over the hills to Burbank, where a very late, very full flight brought me home. It’s a good thing I had upgraded my seating earlier, because even boarding early (in the rain!) I could barely manage to get my carry-on into the overhead bins. Very grateful the actual flight time was barely an hour.

Monday – ugh. Back at work, coughing. Less said, the better.

There were many other people I wish to thank for a great, affirming weekend, but I can’t remember them at the moment. You know who you are. I’ll buy you an absinthe next time we met.

Nebula Weekend 1: Space!

The 2019 Nebulas arrived at an interesting confluence of mundane reality — I was just coming off my Write Here, Write Now weekend in Baltimore, still dealing with bronchitis, and trying to change my contract to a new company so I could keep my current job (and applying for the same job as a full-time employee). It’s complicated.

Because I didn’t have any vacation time (the life of the contractor), I worked until the last minute, and picked up an early flight from Oakland to Burbank. However, what should have been a one-hour hop turned into something more due to unseasonable storm activity. The airline topped off the plane’s fuel in case we had to re-route, but the flight was overbooked, which meant they now had a very full, very heavy aircraft. The solution? Shunt the last-minute ticket purchasers (and their luggage) to another flight.

So I arrived later than I wanted, and took my carry-on to the shuttle to the hotel in Woodland Hills. Due to the nature of LA traffic, we used rough city streets rather than the freeway, and the driver had his phone set to squawk like a startled parrot every time he received a text.

He got a lot of texts.

My room wasn’t ready at the hotel, despite promises of early arrival, so I registered and picked up the bulging Bag o’ Books that comes with the conference. So many excellent and interesting things to read! I ended up storing my luggage (and my medication — oops) with the front desk because I had to meet up with my tour group for Space X.

Thanks to some local connections, the conference had organized a tour of SpaceX for some of the volunteers, and my name was picked. It meant a long drive through fabled LA traffic (which could have been much worse, to be honest) but we arrived with time to spare. (Unlike the second group, which took an Uber that apparently disagreed with Google Maps and got lost in a parking lot.)

You can’t take photos inside SpaceX, although they have one of their Falcon boosters in the parking lot for selfies. (Named after the Millenium Falcon. Of course.)

Inside the facility, there were fanciful travel posters for alien worlds, movie props (a suit from Iron Man 2) and more flat panels displays than a Las Vegas trade show.

There were also rockets. Engines, fairings, frameworks, nuts and bolts and strange valves, many of which were printed on site.

I was surprised that only a small portion of the shop floor was set aside as clean room space (for the Dragon capsules). Most of the heavy assembly took part in the open, much like the repair section of a high-end car dealership. The tour guide took us through a clearly delineated path, but you could literally reach out (past the safety rope) and touch an engine that might one day boost a satellite into orbit, or lift an astronaut to the ISS.

For me, SpaceX felt more like a big software company that also played with big hardware. The vibe was intense, but friendly, and there was a familiar tribal energy of We’re Doing The Cool Thing.

It wasn’t all geekery. The astronaut liaison related the story of her meeting with families of the test pilots. When one boy told her to “take care of his daddy” she recognized the heavy responsibility that she and the other employees shared. If they didn’t do their jobs well, people could die. It was sobering.

Elon Musk is doing some interesting projects in the world (tunnels? really?), but I truly hope that this venture succeeds. We really do need to get people off the planet, and it’s groups like this that are going to do it. Also, having cheaper worldwide internet service wouldn’t hurt.

Write Here, Write Now 2019

Write Here, Write Now name button for Karl, Benevolent Overlord

DIY fancy buttons

I recently returned from Baltimore, where I hosted my first writing retreat weekend, Write Here, Write Now. After a long absence from my tribe, and the hiatus of Paradise Lost, I decided to put together my own getaway.

As you might imagine, it turned out to be a complicated enterprise, given that my job was in chaos, my father’s health was in decline, and I didn’t rope in any help apart from reaching out to folks about local options.

My writing community is spread out from western Canada to Florida, so I ran a series of surveys to get buy in on location, activities, available hotels, and budget. In the end, Baltimore edged out Chicago for both number of potential attendees and hotel prices. (San Diego was also a strong contender but hotels were crazy expense in late April/early May.) I did manage to convince the nice people at Hilton that WHWN 2019 was a legitimate business meeting, and thus shaved a few bucks off their best published rate.

In the end, we had 11 confirmed attendees plus a potential cameo or two. That many people didn’t quite fit into the Benevolent Overlord Suite, and we ended up using another room for some of our group activities.

Two of the participants, Gary Henderson and Lauren Roy, were part of my class at Viable Paradise XVI. Lauren and I hadn’t crossed paths since 2012, and it was a joy to see her again.

Unfortunately, I caught a pretty nasty bug (the crud) a few days before the event and was sorely tempted to cancel. Since I owned the weekend, and it was the first time, I didn’t want to disappoint.

Let’s just say the flight there was hellish (ear infections and pressure changes do not mix well).

I was met at the airport by one of my long-time Paradise Lost tribe, and thus was saved the pain of navigating a strange city while exhausted and under the weather.

Most of the mob gathered for a casual dinner on Thursday at Kippo Ramen. I was in the mood for soup and we had not one, but two ramen virgins in our group. We had to go. Excellent food within a short walk from the hotel.

Everything we did was a short walk away. One of our number was very pregnant, and I was sick, so that factored heavily in our plans.

Friday morning I “officially” opened the event, laying out the basic rules, which were basically NO SPOILERS and ASK FIRST BEFORE YOU HUG SOMEONE.

After coffee and carbs — featuring homemade scones from Gary’s talented chef housemate — we split up into writing and critique groups. After lunch, there was more critiquing, then plot breaking. Despite my lack of energy and ragged voice, I enjoyed the back and forth, heard many good ideas, and had a generally fine time.

For dinner, the mob traipsed over to Little Italy, where pasta and excellent cannoli were acquired. After dinner, of course, we met up again for libations and silly games (Flux, Werewolf*, Cards Against Humanity).

For the weekend, I brought Alameda vodka and absinthe, plus Writers’ Tears irish whiskey, and absinthe. Other participants kicked in spirits from Italy, Greece, and plenty of American things. One writer, Shannon, proved to be an excellent mixologist.

Saturday saw more story breaking in the morning and afternoon as people found it useful and brought in more novels to kick around. I took a break and visited a local Minute Clinic, where a very professional Licensed Nurse Practitioner hooked me up with some antibiotics to go with my cornucopia of over the counter meds. (The CVS pharmacy and Whole Foods were located a block from the hotel, which was good news  for everyone.)

Saturday night we ordered in some very good local pizza, then tried our best to empty the bar and talk ourselves hoarse. I think I had an advantage there.

Sunday found us gathering for one last session of plot breaking, conversation, and the breaking of the fellowship. I divested myself of anything that couldn’t be carried on the aircraft, which turned out not to be necessary since an overly full flight meant I had to check my bag anyway.

<How could I forget? We celebrated Cinco de Mayo at a local taco joint that had astonishingly diverse dance music blasting upstairs, plus infomercials and lacrosse playing on competing televisions. Great food, though.>

Folks drove off, leaving my friend Rosie and I chilling in the hotel lobby on a rainy afternoon. She was headed for the train and I had several hours to kill before my flight to Nashville…

…which was rescheduled, forcing me to scramble to make a missed connection. Ironically, I ended up flying to Chicago (where I go frequently to visit my mother-in-law), then back to Oakland. Total travel time > 12 hours.

I splurged on the flight for WiFi and caught up on Game of Thrones and a new Netflix series, Derry Girls. (Yes, I had books to read but my brain just couldn’t.)

All in all, I had a good trip, met some online folks in person, and did the writing thing. I hope that the participants will stay connected and expand the tribe a bit more.

The surveys from the weekend are still trickling in, though the trend is very positive. If my work and family schedule align next year, I might be persuaded to do this again.

"Benevolent Overlord" mug

Mug courtesy of Terri!

*According to our game moderator, we truly sucked at this. The werewolves ate the hell out of the villagers, even after I accidentally outed myself as a shapeshifter.