Sunday, May 22, 2011

WotF Workshop Week and Catch-up

The day job was demanding a lot of me, right up to the point where I departed for this year's Writers of the Future workshop, which took place last week. This is the first weekend I've had to myself in nine weeks. Not that I stopped writing, even during the business. I kept writing even during the WotF workshop, and that was a blast to attend.

One of the things that isn't widely talked about (and I had no idea happened prior to my own win) is that recent winners of previous years will often come back and sit in the back of the workshop. A few of them, the more successful ones, may give a talk about how they made it.

When I won for WotF 26, Ken Scholes, Steve Savile, Eric James Stone, and Jordan Lapp were our recent winners and mentors.

Until you're in the position of a brand new winner, you have no idea why it's so helpful to have previous winners at the workshop. For many winners, the judges are childhood idols, the people who they've wanted to be. Talking to them is difficult, especially those first few conversations. I was so nervous the first night I met most of the judges that I was afraid Kevin J. Anderson would only remember me as the "giggling girl" because I couldn't stop. I was still in disbelief that people like them could actually enjoy my writing.

Me, who'd received a grand total of 372 rejections before landing my Gold Award winning story!

But the previous winners were able to take me by the arm and introduce me to the judges, get conversations going, and make me feel welcome.

This year, I was privileged enough to return as a previous winner and continue the favor for this year's crop of winners, maybe of whom were in the same state of disbelief I was last year. It's funny how much of a difference a year makes.

I came in middle of their week, right after they'd done their meeting a stranger exercise, so they were about to embark on their 24-hour story exercise. I never worried about whether or not I'd finish mine, since I'd done a story start-to-finish in a single evening before, but I knew the exercise was an eye-opener for some.

The workshop week was an adventure in an entirely different manner now that I no longer had the pressure of the workshop or the grand prize hanging above my head. (I don't know how the illustrators stand it, since all of them are up their Gold Award.) While the winners worked on their 24-hour stories I got to tour inside a co-op garden closed to the public due to an intrepid conversation started by Tim Powers and his wife Serena with a gardener who was able to tell us tales about the Hollywood area and its history with the garden. It was the meet a stranger exercise magnified to something ten times better than what I'd experienced.

This year I was able to speak with the judges without stumbling over my words, no longer the giggling girl too nervous to talk, and I could talk with the new winners with the confidence that all would be fine. Most of them had made their first professional sale with their win, and are simply drowning in information. The workshop keeps tough hours too, with events often starting at 8am and unofficial hanging out in the lobby not ending until midnight or 1am.

The award ceremony was particularly enjoyable for me this year, since I honestly don't remember a whole lot of last year's. I was so nervous that I spent the entire time between my first place award and the Gold Award announcement mentally rehearsing my second acceptance speech just in case I won. I was terrified I would forget and end up not being able to say a word.

I take that back.

I remember just before they made the announcement for the Gold Award I was so nervous I turned to my dad, who was in the audience with me, and said, "I think I need to go to the bathroom."

And he, leaning towards me for an entirely different reason, said, "Good luck!"

After the award ceremony I had the pleasure of collecting autographs from the new winners, who were overwhelmed by all the fuss. We had an after party as well, during which I found out that my collaboration with Mike Resnick, had sold to the New Book of Solaris Science Fiction anthology. (The editor's in the UK, so the news had come in at about 1am.)

All in all, it was a very good week. I can see why Tim Powers and Eric Flint have said they like going to conventions so much.

Going back to WotF was like a reunion, seeing people who I would never get to see otherwise. These people: the judges, the previous winners, and now the current group, are all part of a greater writing community that I'm now a part of.

Writing is so often a solitary pursuit, and I'm not sure when I'll see all of these people again. A few of them I know I'll see again at this year's World Fantasy in San Diego. Others I might catch at LosCon, our local L.A. convention. The rest, I really don't know.

But we'll keep in touch, and by next year I hope to have more stories published and coming down the pipeline.