Daily Archives: September 4, 2012

Chicon 7 Recap

Photo: Fred Teifield (http://www.fredteifeld.com/)

I’m back home now from Chicon 7, this year’s Worldcon. Some thoughts on it, in no particular order.

1. As the absolutely ridiculous .gif to the right might suggest, I had a massive amount of fun at the convention, and that’s something that was not necessarily a given for me, because I was the Toastmaster of the convention, i.e., the one Guest of Honor who works like a dog rather than being feted. In particular I was responsible for MCing both the Opening Ceremonies (which this year took on a talk show format, and at which the .gif was taken) and the Hugo Awards themselves. So no pressure there. I was also at Chicon 7 in my capacity as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which meant that in addition to my duties entertaining the fans, I chaired several hours of board meetings and the SFWA Business meeting for our organization’s members. Between the two of those, almost all of my time was spoken for; this was the busiest Worldcon I’ve ever had, bar none. As a piece of advice for folks:If you can avoid being both SFWA President and the Worldcon Toastmaster at the same time, I heartily suggest it.

So if I was incredibly busy and basically worked like a dog for the entire convention, how did I have a massive amount of fun? Primarily through the incredible competence of others. On the SFWA front, I have for the third year running been blessed with a board comprised of smart, engaged people who are able both to manage SFWA’s business and to civilly and constructively discuss the issues the organization faces. So although the meetings were long, we got a substantial amount of work done, and such work is pleasant when you have good people on it. So thank you, my fellow SFWA board members. You rock yet again.

On the Toastmaster front, I got to take advantage of the entire support structure of Chicon 7, so when I was on stage, the only thing I had to worry about was myself; every other technical and logistical issue was dealt with long before I showed up. As someone whose job was essentially to be the public face of Chicon 7 itself, this is incredibly freeing, particularly for events that have as many moving parts as the Opening Ceremonies and the Hugo Ceremony have. The staff and crew of Chicon 7, from my point of view at least, flawlessly pulled off everything I was involved in, which made what I did look good, or at least better than it would have otherwise been. Which made what I was doing a whole lot more fun. So to the good people who ran Chicon 7 and the divisions I engaged with, and to the staff who put together the shows and events I was part of, you have my unending gratefulness for being so good at what you did.

2. As noted earlier, my primary responsibilities for Chicon 7 were hosting the Opening Ceremonies and the Hugo Ceremonies, and I was also called on to interview Story Musgrave, Chicon 7′s astronaut Guest of Honor. How did each of these go? Well –

Opening Ceremonies: I think this one went very smoothly. It was done in a talk show format, right down to the talk show host desk, the long couch for the interviewees (the other Guests of Honor) and the house band (Toyboat) which allowed did musical stings at the behest of the host, i.e., me. That’s what that silly .gif is all about, incidentally: Me testing Toyboat’s musical reflexes by wildly swinging about and seeing how they did. They performed flawlessly. And then I got to do an opening monologue WHICH IS SOMETHING I ALWAYS WANTED TO DO AND NOW I HAVE DONE IT AH HA HA HA HA HAH HA HA and then it was me interviewing my guests, all of whom were interesting, so all I really had to do was give them soft lobs and watch them spike them into the audience. Well, at one point I did also sensually rub Mike Resnick’s leg. There was context, I promise.

Story Musgrave Interview: I’ve been a journalist off and on for two decades now, and have interviewed hundreds of people, and the interview I did of Story Musgrave was one of the easiest I ever did, because all one really has to do to have a fascinating event with him is put him near a microphone and get out of his way. Musgrave is incredibly interesting — hard early life, overachieving career as astronaut/surgeon/scientist (seriously, the dude has got seven advanced degrees), and a “retirement” schedule that would make most 20somethings exhausted. So the smart play is just to let the man talk, and that’s what I did, with only the occasional prompt or two to get at something I wanted to know. Again: One of the easiest interviews I ever did, and at the end of it, I got a hug. Because apparently Story Musgrave’s a hugger. And that’s just fine.

Hugo Ceremony: Look, I’m not gonna lie to you. If I had screwed up the Hugo ceremony, it would be me getting seventeen layers of crap about it on Twitter and not UStream. I do not appear to have screwed it up. My philosophy for the Hugos going in was pretty simple: I needed to be funny and I needed to keep things short, and if I could only do one of those things, I should go with “short” rather than “funny.” Fortunately I think I managed both — we started the ceremony a bit after 8pm and finished it at about 10:25, and a quorum of people laughed everytime I attempted a joke — so that was a huge relief. Aside from that, you know what? Being the guy who gets to give Hugos to people who are creators you admire and/or people who are your friends is one of the coolest gigs ever, and I recommend everyone try it at least once in their life. Giving away each of them was excellent, but I will say I was particularly pleased to give a Hugo to John Picacio, for whom it was a long time coming. In short, really delighted to have gotten the gig, and immensely relieved to have not messed it up.

3. Yes, I was nominated for a Hugo as well, and no, I didn’t win it, a state of affairs that surprised me not in the least. As I had no expectation of winning, I spent almost no time worrying about it, and was very happy for Ken Liu when he walked off with his extraordinarily well-deserved award. My only regret about the nomination, in fact, was that because I was nominated in the same category as Ken, we had someone else give away the award (Gardner Dozois), and so I was not on stage when he won and wasn’t able to congratulate him. And then afterwards I didn’t catch up with him either. So, Ken Liu, if you happen to be reading this: Congratulations, man. You wrote an excellent story, and I am happy the Hugo is yours.

4. When I wasn’t on duty, I spent most of my time with friends and family. My wife, child and mother-in-law were in attendance with me, and it was nice to be able to get back with them and depressurize after a long stretch of toastmastering/presidenting. I was also happy to spend quality time with my friend Jared Cloud, whom I knew from UofC days, and with his family; the chances we have to see each other are few and far between, so I was happy to get that chance this time around. As for the rest of it, there were so many people to see that I worry I didn’t get to see any of them as much as either they or I would like, including some of my very dearest friends in the SFF world. But again, this is what I get for having responsibilities. Next year? In San Antonio? I’m gonna plant my ass in the hotel bar and stay there for five days. That should fix the problem nicely.

5. As a final note, I am really so very happy that when I got the Worldcon Toastmastering gig, that it was in Chicago. Chicago is an extraordinarily important city in my personal history; it was important in making me who I am today and will always be a part of who I am. I am also fond of Chicago fandom and have been grateful that they have always been kind to me and supportive of my work. I am also so very happy to have been a part of this Worldcon, working with the people who put it together, and being a public face of it for the thousands who attended. It was a lot of work, I am very tired, and I wouldn’t have missed any part of it for anything. Thank you, Chicon 7, for letting me be a part of this. It was everything I had hoped it would be. And a lot more, too.

And now I’m going to sleep for the next three days.

The Big Idea: Gwenda Bond

I’ve known Gwenda Bond for years, and I’m delighted to be able to give her a spot in the Big Idea for her debut novel Blackwood. It’s a book featuring a mystery that I once touched on, in a tangential fashion, in a couple of my own books. But for her own tale, Gwenda gets under the skin of the mystery, then adds layers to it, for an entirely new experience. Here she is to explain it all to you.

GWENDA BOND:

If you’re like me, these words will give you a little spine tingle, an automatic thrill, the promise of mystery and intrigue:

The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.

Most of us who grew up in the United States can probably remember when our elementary school teachers brought up this provocative piece of history, talked about it for five or maybe ten minutes, and then skated on past to sterner stuff like Puritans and men in powdered wigs signing important papers. But still, the story is sticky, not easily brushed off—it was too intriguing to be consigned to the pile of dates and battles that could be safely forgotten and looked up later, should we ever need to know them. Because it wasn’t just a story, but a mystery.

A refresher on that story as it’s typically told: in the 1580s, Sir Walter Raleigh (provocateur extraordinaire) received permission from Queen Elizabeth I to try and establish a permanent settlement in the New World. After some failed attempts, more than one hundred men, women, and children signed onto a voyage in 1587. They traveled to what is now Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and established a colony there. But all too soon they were facing unfriendly farming conditions and tensions with the Native American tribes whose home the area already was. Governor John White was sent back to England for aid and fresh supplies…only to be unable to return for three looong years. When he did come back, the colonists, including his young granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first English child born on American soil, had vanished, leaving only the word CROATOAN carved into a tree trunk. They were never found.

The Big Idea behind Blackwood is that on a modern day Roanoke Island where the Lost Colony is an interesting story for the tourists, history turned into popular outdoor summer theater, there’s a new mass disappearance overnight of 114 people, the exact same number as vanished hundreds of years ago. Two local 17-year-olds—Miranda Blackwood, an outsider from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips Rawling, a teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead—begin to discover they may have ties to both disappearances, then and now, and must unravel the secrets of the new Lost Colony to save the missing people and themselves.

I had these pieces—the main idea of the disappearance set on present-day Roanoke Island and two characters I loved—from the beginning. Unusually, I actually remember exactly where and when I got this idea. My husband and I were on a road trip to Raleigh, and we passed an interstate sign for Roanoke. It was for the one in Virginia, of course, but it reminded me of the Lost Colony, and I turned to him and said, Has anybody ever done a book where…. Neither of us could think of one. As soon as we got back home, I started doing research on the island and the history, made a few false starts, and finally wrote 50 pages or so…

And stalled out, because I didn’t know what my solution to the mystery was. And despite a few minutes when I thought, “Well, maybe it could just all remain mysterious—sure, that won’t make people hurl a book across the room. Er, except it will,” I realized if I was going to tell this story I’d have to come up with a solution. So, I put the idea on the shelf for years. It would be excellent synchronicity if I could tell you I put it away for three years, the number it took John White to return to the colony. In fact, it was more like six. I went off to grad school, wrote another book or two that didn’t sell, and then came back to this story that I still wanted to tell and still didn’t have an answer for.

But when I went back to my research books, the answer came almost immediately. The name John Dee, famous alchemist and advisor to Queen Elizabeth, popped up—it turned out he’d been involved in the preliminary planning for the voyage. New possibilities began to open up, and, click, this was finally a story I could actually finish. I won’t say anymore about how it all pans out, because I hope the book is a fun read full of surprises and twists.

I wanted the main characters—Miranda and Phillips—to be very much modern teens, and also excellent nerds. Nerds don’t get to have enough fictional adventures in my opinion, and they certainly don’t get to have enough romances. I grew up in a small southern town, and so that experience, of being from a place where everyone knows everybody, and which can feel claustrophobic and inescapable (except—for me at least—when reading, or watching TV and movies, or listening to music) even if there are parts of it you love, well, that bled into the Roanoke Island I created, too.

Blackwood is a blend of fact and fiction, a mix of history real and invented. I hope you’ll be willing to come along on a voyage that brings then to now.

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Blackwood: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.