Late Sunday afternoon, my husband and I returned from a long and very busy weekend at the SFWA Nebula Awards conference in Pittsburgh, and now that I’ve scraped myself together well enough to share some of my impressions, I find a lot of very good writers and writerly-folk have beaten me to the punch. Days behind others in offering insights into writing, being a publishing professional, networking, and otherwise growing in one’s life and career, I see no reason to compete with my betters. So instead, here’s a listing of what the Nebulas leaves me unpacking (and yes, that’s a hat tip to my pre-Nebulas packing post here, in my utter shamelessness).
More in the order of experience than importance, I have learned:
- Pittsburgh has hills. Great and mighty hills. Hills that would likely make a proper San Franciscan snort derisively, sure, but I’m native to Chicago, city of Political Wind and No Topography of Any Kind. Our hills are a Pittsburgher’s speed-tables. A proper mountain range would likely make my capillaries burst on sight. I am jealous of the amazing churches dotting Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, and yet endlessly grateful I won’t have to drive their hills iced-over in winter.
- So, the title of this blog post is actually quite serious business. The Pittsburgh Penguins were playing in the NHL conference finals over the Nebula weekend, which meant that a loyal march of Penguin fans swept up every last hotel room, air BnB, motel room, and room-to-let in the surrounding zip codes. I had a booking with the Nebula con hotel which apparently dematerialized just in time for our arrival, leading to a mad scramble to snatch up two rooms for Thursday and Friday night, and no room in the proverbial inn at all on Saturday. Cue my pale, staring silence. Cue Mr. Townsend sliding into action with the calm only a certified scrum master can affect, ushering me upstairs as I muttered imprecations against myself, hotel, and fate. Behold, the power of penguins, which sent me fleeing to a (mercifully) much higher power…
- The resourcefulness of Steve Silver and Nebula Con Ops. Remembering that I’d been told if anything goes wrong at a con “Find the Ops people” are words to live by, I went down to the conference floor to ask if anybody knew if there were cancellations for the weekend, maybe a room to let on Saturday? Enter Steve Silver, the Nebula con manager, and his immediate love of my Cubs world series t-shirt (*fist-bumps her fellow Chicagoan*) and desire to help sort out our room issues. He rattled off a half-dozen hotels to call and said he’d be in touch with management at the Marriott. The greatness of Steve under pressure is truly something to behold, in that it doesn’t look like a darn thing. One gets the impression he could match Ginger Rogers step for step at doing things backwards and in heels, if the spirit moved him. I don’t know how he did it, but by the next morning, there was a message on my room phone asking me to come downstairs with my key cards so they could be upgraded with a Saturday night stay. Remember this wisdom, friends: If you have a con problem, GO TO OPS, especially if ops = Steve Silver. He literally saved my Nebula weekend.
- Sarah Pinsker can pick you a mighty fine con mentor. She matched me with Curtis Chen, author of Waypoint Kangaroo and its forthcoming sequel, Kangaroo Too (bonus points for excellent sequel naming there). This was an amazingly prescient fit, for about a dozen reasons. I’ll spare you and stick to the big three, though. First, Curtis is about a year out from being a debut author, and had to climb the same hill I am now — going from writing at your own pace to writing a sequel under a deadline. Second, I’d had Waypoint Kangaroo on my TBR list for some time, especially since first seeing its query on Janet Reid’s infamous Query Shark blog a few years ago. And third, Waypoint Kangaroo is a comic sf take on the spy thriller genre, and I grew up reading Ian Fleming and John Gardner’s James Bond novels, mixed with a steady diet of Monty Python. Needless to say, Curtis proved to be exactly my kind of people.
- The Cajun food at Market Square’s NOLA is pretty great, and so is a conversation walking back from dinner with Michael R. Underwood, but be careful exactly how long you go on about the tension between genre romp and genre lit stylings, or you’ll miss two turns and get your whole dinner party back to the hotel late, lost in downtown Pittsburgh. Among the hills. So. Many. Hills.
- When Sam J. Miller says he wants to help get you exposure, he means it. He’ll mention three times, while introducing you to an sf podcaster, that you’ve got a book coming out and are looking to do promo. He’ll turn that phrase into a form of punctuation. It will be the clause he suborns to half his comments, nudging you physically closer to the interviewer, angling for a bite. The podcaster (clearly very tired from a long Thursday of traveling) won’t get the hint, but you will emerge very impressed by Sam’s persistence, and share little “what can you do?” smiles and shrugs with each other the rest of the weekend when you pass in the halls. And that will feel special enough, you won’t worry about all those hints that buzzed the tower.
- Sarah Gailey’s much-anticipated River of Teeth released yesterday and I got my pre-order copy on my doorstep, sure. BUT I SAW SWAG BAGS WITH THE HIPPO BOOK AT THE NEBS. Days early! I thoughtmight not have to wait! Why SHOULD I wait? I texted up to our room, where Mr. Townsend was napping to recover from our red-eye flight, and commanded that he COME DOWN RIGHT AWAY WITH SOME BOOKS TO TRADE FROM OUR BAGS. And, patient, good man that he is, he came, armed with a few titles less to our usual tastes, and I dove into the book bayou to search for my very own copy, ready to clean-and-jerk it up and drop something else in its place. To the credit of the seasoned, veteran ops team member who kept side-eyeing me as I crawled over the open swag bags like a Rhesus monkey, she didn’t try to stop me. Equally to her credit, she didn’t grin too much with the schadenfreude of seeing me come up empty-handed, either.
- If you are down in the bar, and make eye contact with Amal El-Mohtar, having had occasion to meet her digitally and under pleasant circumstances, plant your feet. Go for a wide stance. She has a helluva tackle hug, and we ended up holding it for a breathless time (breathless both for joy and for having slightly winded each other, I think). “It’s really you!” she whispered in my ear. “You’re really real!” I countered. And other somewhat blithery things. Someday, there will be an Inspiring Teacher Movie based on us, starring an actress much lovelier than me taking my role, but actually starring Amal as herself, because one cannot truly be lovelier than Amal. (Sidebar: Amal ultimately won the Nebula for Best Short Story for “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” reprinted here in Uncanny Magazine. So she’s also my first hug from a Nebula winner, too, which makes the whole not breathing thing even more forgivable.)
- My Office Hours sessions turned out to be very popular, with about half my visitors interested in working fight scenes and writing violence realistically. I’m sure at least a few people signed up just because they spotted me miming all the different ways you could deliver a knee to the solar plexus as a coup de grace and wanted to know what all the fuss was. If the Nebulas will have me again and cares to put Office Hours “on offer,” so to speak, I’ll be happy to oblige!
- As much as I love my agent, Bridget Smith, and my agency siblings Julie Salmon Kelleher, Alex Yuschik, and Savina Rendina, AND a good hamburger. . . I discovered I don’t actually like spiked shakes. I’m sorry. I suppose I should turn in my author card now, since I can’t quite make myself believe that a stiff shot makes everything better. Fortunately, these lovely ladies DO make everything better. I’m lucky to have them in my life, and especially lucky to have met them all at once, for the very first time.
But of course, the most important thing I learned at the Nebulas was more a matter of relearning. Or maybe, just a reminder, a chance to sit in the knowledge in real time: the knowledge that sf is my home and always has been. That it’s people are (with few exceptions) smart, caring, interesting, funny, and above all, kind. That they are always looking for new people to gather in among themselves, new branches to graft to the family tree. I’m proud to be one of them, and looking forward to seeing these fine people again soon — some of them, perhaps, at Readercon!
Before I go, though, I should mention (Art of Starving) that Sam J. Miller has a book coming out very soon (Art of Starving) and that you should really pre-order it (Art of Starving).