Yes. I’ve been very lucky in my life, in more than one way. Don’t think I don’t know it.
Photo by Alan Wagner-Krankel.
Yes. I’ve been very lucky in my life, in more than one way. Don’t think I don’t know it.
Photo by Alan Wagner-Krankel.
It was pretty good, I have to say. I’m going to admit that for various reasons I didn’t walk into Worldcon this year in the best of moods, so LoneStarCon had a high hill to climb in order to get me in a happy space. Obviously being handed a Best Novel Hugo will do wonders to your disposition, but even before then my spiky angles were largely sanded down.
Part of that was strategic planning on my part — we got to the convention on Friday evening so I wouldn’t feel all dragged out by Monday, and I kept my programming to a minimum (I think I told the program folks that I didn’t want to be on panels because the mood I was in, I might stab someone). But the other part of that was simply being around people I like in largely relaxing circumstances. Funny how friends will make you feel good about life. I spent a lot of time in the bar or at a table at the convention itself, surrounded by conversation and the occasional hijinx, like estimating the weight of a polyploidal cinnamon roll and then having members of our group take the roll to the UPS store to get it weighed. You know, as you do. Good times.
One funny thing about Worldcon for me is, if I’m nominated for a Hugo, I usually have a night where I can’t get to sleep, because my brain will keep me up, turning over possible victory scenarios in my head. This often coincides with the night before the Hugo ceremony, which is pretty awful. This time it happened on Friday night, when I was already cranky by having a delayed flight; the Hugo calculus plus other factors meant I ended up getting three hours of sleep. This meant, however, that I was out like a light on Saturday night, so I was fresh as a daisy Hugo night. So, uh, yay, I suppose.
I did do three events, all on Sunday afternoon: A signing, which went over time by a half hour (this is not a bad thing, as long as you’re not taking up someone else’s signing space), a reading, at which I read an excerpt from the upcoming novel, and then a kaffeeklatsch. All of these went pretty well, excepting the part at my reading where I berated someone for not turning off their cell phone and then having my own go off. Yeah, that was embarrassing.
Sunday night I already discussed in the previous entry, and on Monday morning I walked my Hugo over to the convention center and let anyone who wanted to get close to it, pick it up and take pictures of it. Because, hey, they’re the reason I had it at all; figured they might want to see it up close before I took it home.
So in the end LoneStarCon did indeed get me into a happy place — and, importantly, almost certainly would have managed it even if it hadn’t have given me a Hugo. That’s a good con. Thanks, folks.
Now that I’m home, had a good sleep and have generally calmed myself down, some thoughts on Redshirts winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel.
* Maybe some people can be cool about winning the Best Novel Hugo, but those people are so not me. When Paul Cornell announced Redshirts as the winner, I pumped my fist like a total dork, kissed my wife, got hugged by what seemed like every person between me and the stage, and then honestly I don’t remember all that much until I was suddenly at the lectern, holding the heaviest Hugo ever (seriously, it is twelve pounds), and then setting it down and trying to remember that now I had to give an acceptance speech. Which I had not written out because I figured if I won I would remember who to thank and what I wanted to say. In retrospect, this was not my smartest idea.
Nevertheless, I remembered to thank the right people: My fellow nominees, my publisher, editor, art director and cover designer, my audio publisher and narrator, my wife and family and friends. At least that’s how I remember it; I assume the video will be up at some point for me to check. Then I went backstage, quickly tweeted and blogged about it (because I am a dork, remember), and then — because that was the last award of the night — went back out into the dispersing audience to find my wife so I could kiss on her some more. Then it was photos and parties and lots of congratulations and being happy and not being able to get to sleep because in the immortal words of Neil Gaiman, fuck I won a Hugo. And the Best Novel Hugo at that.
So, yeah. Totally failed at being all cool about winning this award. But I am strangely okay with that. It’s a hell of a thing. I don’t mind losing my mind a little bit over it.
(Also, let me take a moment to say, holy crap, what a gorgeous creature this year’s Hugo award is. Its base, all bronze, was made by Vincent Villafranca, who also made the Bradbury Award for SFWA. Yes, it’s heavy, and it is also amazing. I can’t believe I get to have something this cool in my house.)
* When I won this Hugo, I was happy, excited, grateful and dazed — all of which are emotions that I’m pretty sure most people would expect in this sort of situation — and I also felt relieved, which I don’t think most people would expect. Trust me, it was there. Going into this Hugo Award ceremony, I was 0-for-6 in Hugo fiction category nominations. I’ve lost Best Novel three times, and Short Story, Novella and Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form one time each. Which is a whole lot of not quite grabbing the brass ring.
Make no mistake that I was (and am!) delighted to have won the Fan Writer and Best Related Book Hugos. Both are important to me for a whole number of reasons. At the end of the day, however, I make my living writing fiction. Winning a Hugo for fiction is significant for me. After hitting my head on that ceiling six times previously, finally breaking through is a relief.
* I’m also delighted that this particular book of mine won the Hugo. One, I’m proud of it on the level of craft — there’s a lot of layering going on there, storywise, and the structure of the work, with the narratively separate but thematically cohesive codas counterpointing the main story in the novel, is not the usual thing. It’s fun to fiddle with the form of the novel and see how it responds, and how readers respond to it. Plus, it’s a comedy, in both the classic and contemporary senses of the term, and not a lot of comedies have won a Best Novel Hugo. It’s Redshirts and To Say Nothing of the Dog as far as I can see. So yes, very pleased.
* A couple bits of trivia for you: One, earlier in the ceremony, I was given the physical award for the Seiun, the Japanese award I won earlier in the year (for The Android’s Dream). This may make me the first person to be given two Best Novel trophies in a single Hugo ceremony. Two, I am the second person to have won both the Novel and Fan Writer Hugos. The first: Frederik Pohl. This is, for obvious reasons, now a bittersweet thing.
* Part of the “fun” of winning the Hugo for Best Novel is that after your book wins, people try to explain why it won, because for some reason the answer of “this is the book that largest number of people who voted for the Hugo Awards thought should win the award” is existentially unsatisfying.
To make it easy on people, I will tell you why the book won. It is because one or more of the following, in what I expect is decreasing order of likelihood:
1. Of the books nominated, it’s the one the people voting liked the most — or, more accurately, because it’s a preferential ballot, it’s the one the voters liked well enough, all things considered, to allow it to survive several elimination rounds to come out the overall winner.
2. It’s a career award, i.e., the voters liked my stuff overall and thought I should have a Hugo as a sign of appreciation, even if this is not their favorite of my works. This is the “Al Pacino” gambit — he won his Oscar for Scent of a Woman, which no one in their right mind considers his best work.
3. The voters like me as a person and thought that I might like a Hugo, so here, they said, have one.
4. The voters accidentally voted for me rather than another nominee and didn’t check the ballot before submitting it.
5. The voters are hate-voting against another nominee and I am the almost-incidental benefactor.
6. A cabal of convention runners, publishers, booksellers and the Rand Corporation met in an underground lair outside of San Antonio and decided that for their mutual interests, Redshirts should win the Hugo, and then fixed the results to reflect that choice.
Mix and match!
* Likewise, as is also tradition whenever a new winner of a Best Novel Hugo is announced, there are people who are heralding Redshirts as evidence that the Hugo voting process is corrupt/confused/irrelevant/a sign of the impending apocalypse. I don’t take this personally because a) I am well aware that not everyone is going to like everything I write, and that this goes double for Redshirts, which seems to have the greatest range of responses to it of any book I’ve written, b) someone would complain no matter what and who won, because the Internet is vasty and noisy, and for some people, something they don’t like winning an award is clearly evidence of systematic problems and/or conspiracy, rather than simply a popular vote of a particular group of voters not reflecting their own personal preferences.
My response to this is, as always: That’s fine. And in a larger sense, a vote no one complains about correlates very highly with a vote no one cares about. I’m happy to see people care about the Hugos, even if it’s to be annoyed with my book as a winner. With that said, the fact is this year I won the award, now it’s mine, and I’m not giving it back. So they’ll just have to deal.
(Now, there are people who are angry I won because they don’t like me personally. To them I say: Ha! Ha! Ha! Sucks to be you, dude.)
* I don’t pretend that Redshirts is a better book than 2312, Blackout, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance or Throne of the Crescent Moon, or that I am a better writer than Kim Stanley Robinson, Seanan McGuire, Lois McMaster Bujold or Saladin Ahmed. I am instead honored to be considered a peer of these writers and to have my work considered along theirs. I am also profoundly appreciative that this time, and for their own reasons, my book was selected by Hugo voters to represent 2012 in science fiction and fantasy. It means a lot to me, more than, ironically, I can express in words. “Thank you,” is closest, and not enough.
The path to creation is not always a smooth and drama-free one, especially when deities are involved. Just ask Gwenda Bond about this, and how this idea manifested in her latest novel, The Woken Gods — and how she finally found the right road to her novel’s true form.
The Big Idea for The Woken Gods sounds deceptively simple: all the gods of ancient mythology, all of them, woke up five years earlier, rising from the ground around the globe.
In the book, as a result, the world has changed, both in large ways and in small, extremely localized ones. Most gods stay where they woke, and aren’t particularly concerned with humanity’s affairs. When the Awakening happened, everyone thought it was the end times, but then the mysterious Society of the Sun came forward, and demonstrated that the gods weren’t untouchable. During the long sleep, the Society collected relics infused with divine magic, and it uses them to mount a defense for humans. The Afterlife and the Heavens are sealed off by relics, and the Egyptian god Sekhmet is executed with one, cut down on the Mall in D.C. to prove that gods, now, can die. And, as long as the doors are closed, never come back.
This is the treaty that makes a new world. Seven tricksters agree to serve as divine representatives, ambassadors to deal with the Society, and, with its world headquarters in the Library of Congress, that means Washington, D.C., is now one of the most transformed places there is.
It’s also where my protagonist Kyra Locke lives. Kyra is just a girl in a rebellious phase, a girl whose family was torn apart five years ago, and who now sneaks out with her friends and argues with her dad. A girl who is going to have to negotiate with gods, and who discovers she doesn’t know much about who she is at all.
There are lots of elements in this mix that I have a lifelong love for — mythology mashed up against the modern, a powerful society that may or may not be good, oracles and prophecies, family secrets, friends that stick by each other, complicated politics,a weird urban landscape. I knew from the get-go that I wanted the book to be an urban fantasy set in D.C. and that I wanted the world to have already undergone a huge change.
Perhaps it’ll come as no surprise, given all this, when I tell you this was not a book that came together easily. Each draft was vastly different than the last. Finally, I put the third major overhaul aside, thinking I would just have to give up on telling this story. But then…my first book sold, and I needed to propose a second book for my contract. Despite the faceplant after faceplant, there was something that still called me back to it. I wasn’t ready to admit defeat.
I asked some of the smartest people I know to gather around a table at a retreat and asked them to help me reboot the world… Then, after a little back and forth, the publisher accepted the pitch, and I wrote a whole new draft. I turned it in.
This is the part where you’re expecting me to tell you this time, this time, it finally came together. And it had started to come together, but it still wasn’t working. I knew everything about the world, but I was still hovering outside my main character, above her, watching Kyra, but not feeling her. When I went back to edit that draft, the problem was clear to me.
And I was running out of time, because this book was due, this book was on a schedule.
These are the moments of which writerly despair is made. But then I thought over all those drafts, I talked to those same friends, and I realized something. The one commonality — in all those third-person drafts filled with lovingly explicated worldbuilding — was my main character, Kyra Locke. She was the constant. This was her story. This was a big world, but the story was hers, my just-a-rebellious girl’s and she could hold her own against the gods if she had to.
With the growth in YA, it’s gotten much easier to find big stories of political intrigue with young characters — including young women — at their center. But maybe that also makes it easier to forget, there still aren’t nearly enough of them. It’s still not the way we’re conditioned to imagine those stories.
And so, that big change I needed to make, that final change, was to rewrite the book from Kyra’s point of view. I bring in a few other voices of her friends, but mostly, it’s all Kyra.
That’s when I finally got to the draft I wanted. Sure, I had to lose some grace notes that explained underpinnings of this bit of worldbuilding or that, I lost some jokes and darlings, but ultimately, what was necessary to support this story, her story, stayed and fit. And I hope that Kyra’s story feels like the beginning, like a window into a big world, and that her eyes feel like the right way to see it.
Because without her, there was no story. There was only a broken world in need of saving. And a writer in despair.
In The Woken Gods, families who are longtime members of the Society have reliquaries, in which they also maintain some sort of Hunter’s Map that serves as a historical record of significant events and the collection of important relics. For many of them, this is an actual map, hand-drawn and hung along a wall. If I picture my life as a writer as a map, for most books I’ve written — sold or (thankfully, in other cases) trunked — it would be no trouble at all for me to mark the spot when the spark of an idea turned into a book, trace the line of it growing into a story. But for this one, it would be almost impossible. It would be a twisty confused road through a dangerous city…
Until that final decision.