So What’s It Like To Lose A Nebula?

Whenever I saw the Oscar losers saying “It’s an honor to be nominated,” I always envisioned gritted teeth and gut-roiling fury.  I mean, you just had your chance at the brass ring, and you came that close!  How could you be cheerful?

Yet I was grinning like a damn fool when I lost to Geoff Ryman.  As were all the other losers I talked to.  We had our pins, and our certificates, and our name immortalized in history, and the experience of being catapulted onto a much larger stage.

Who the hell could be upset?  There’s now one word that’s guaranteed to be in our obituary, and that word is “Nebula.”  We’ve made it.

It’s cool.

And it’s a weird bond; I spent the weekend hanging with my fellow nominees Jake Kerr, Rachel Swirsky, Katherine Sparrow, and Geoff Ryman – and there wasn’t an ounce of competition in there. It felt like an odd sort of club, one that contained only six people in the whole world, a once-in-a-lifetime bond: 2012 Novelette Nebula Nominee.  No one else will ever know what this is like.  We did lunch, we chatted in bars, we appeared on panels, we discussed our chances, and not once was there a bit of snark or anger.

(I met other nominee Charlie Jane Anders briefly after the ceremony, who seemed absolutely wonderful, but alas we got no time to hang and chill.  I hope to rectify this at a future event.)

I felt blessed to be in the company of such beautiful people.  I’d have been happy for any of them to have won.  And the man I was rooting the most for, my wonderful and compassionate
Clarion teacher Geoff Ryman, who had me sobbing on the airplane on the way to Clarion because his book Was is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever read?  Well, he won.  And when he walked back to his seat, I leapt out of mine to shake his hand and grin and pump the fist for him.  Because if there’s a man who possesses a cool grace and an ability to write straight to the vulnerable centers of the heart, it’s Geoff.

The weekend itself was a helter-skelter of events, and I’ll probably be posting anecdotes for the rest of the week, but here’s the ones I remember in a sleepy Monday muddle.

This Is The Panel That Never Ends…. It Just Goes On And On, My Friends….
Yes, there’s the irony of a panel on pacing going forty minutes overtime.  But there was no panel following us – and when you have such a fascinating topic as “How to get the rhythm of a story right,” and such fascinating panelists as Tom Crosshill, Rachel Swirsky, and Nancy Fulda (Nebula nominees all!), moderated by the vivacious radio host and Big Damn Author Ellen Kushner, you get a ton of feedback.

This panel was so good the audience didn’t leave.  It was like Writing 301, a bunch of advanced techniques we all used to figure out how to get the pacing of a story right – and our approaches were all so different, there was a lot of varying discussion as to how to nail it.  So we talked, and talked, and when at 2:15 we finally called the panel to a halt, half the audience walked up and kept the ball rolling.  Rachel Swirsky had to leave, but thankfully noted childrens’ author R.J. Anderson took her place, and next thing you know we had a long discussion on how to handle critiques.

It was really amazing.  My friend Ruby took a video of the “official” panel on her smartphone, and I hope it’s usable.  I’d love for you to see it.

Meet My Signing Buddy, Franny
The author signing was a first for me, since as an author of short stories I’ve never had anything I could expect anyone to sign.  You can buy books in the dealers’ room…. but if you want me to sign your copy of Asimov’s, you need to remember to bring it with you.  And frankly, I’m not that big.

But thankfully, Nancy Fulda created a Nebula Awards Weekend book with one of my stories in it, and so people could buy a book to sign.  So I sat at a small table.

Next to me was someone I didn’t know, so we introduced ourselves, and it was a woman called Franny Billingsley – who was remarkably fun to talk to!  She was a children’s author but it was her first sci-fi con, so I explained what this “Clarion workshop” was and she told me about what YA conventions were like, and it was a remarkably warm way of passing the time.

Even better, since I knew more people here, when they came to see me, I could go, “And do you know Franny?” and then all of us got into a discussion together.  So by the time I went to wander the floor and get my book signed, I left a merry discussion of writers.

Which was oddly convivial.  For now and forevermore, Franny will be my book-signing buddy, the two of us at the table as readers sporadically came up, book in hand, to ask for signatures.

And only later did I discover that Franny was so modest she didn’t even note that she was up, you know, for the National Book Award.

What a wonderful person.

The Night Before
There was a Nebula nominees reception the night before, where we were to be honored.  I didn’t quite know what that meant, but hey!  This would only happen once.  So I went.

What they didn’t tell us (which was a shame, because several of the nominees – including Charlie Jane – had wandered off) was that the reception was where John Scalzi would present you with your official Nebula nominee certificate and your pin, and then you’d be taken off for photos.

That’s when it became real.

Up until then, a part of my mind had been going, “Oh, no, this will be a mistake, they’ll probably take it away from you.”  But as I walked up to the podium and Scalzi handed me the blue folder with the silver stars, I opened it up and saw my name.  This was no dream.  This was my life, my blessed life.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

The Night Of
So for the Nebulas, I had to dress up.  And my lovely wife Gini helped me into my monkey suit:

Me at Nebulas!

Note the Nebula pin – which is a lot thinner and more losable than I’d have thought – and my Star Wars tie.  I kept telling people all evening that it was my TIE fighter.

Nobody laughed.

My wife, however, looked fucking stellar.  She kept joking that her job at the Nebulas was to be my arm candy, and oh boy was she:

My Nebula arm candy, Gini.

When I got there, I was happily surprised to see Neil Gaiman, who was a last-minute addition.  And Neil, who’d been with me during my reformatary stages at Clarion, drew me into a warm hug that went on for longer than I thought and said, “Bubbeleh!”  He’s surprisingly, endearingly, proud of me.

When he said “Bubbeleh,” it felt like I was being welcomed to the next level.  That all of this hard work I’ve put into writing – the hours wandering in the garden figuring out the next scene, the endless rejections, the workshops and cons I travelled to – had finally paid off.  And that was a lovely thing to see.

Some pros told me, serenely, “You’ll be back.”  I don’t share their confidence.  For me, I struck lightning once.  But the fact that I made it once is enough, and that won’t stop me.  Because you know what real writing fucking is?

Jon Walter Williams held a three-hour intensive lecture on plotting and structure.  And when I looked around the room of twenty people, at least four of us had been nominated for a Nebula.  Here we were, being given one of the biggest honors in the field… and all of us had said, “No, there’s so much more work to do.”

That’s how you get to a Nebula.  I got here.  You can, too.  Because Neil told me, “You just need to write.”  And that’s what I did.

Now you.

3 Comments

  1. Mishell Baker
    May 21, 2012

    So wonderful to read about! It’s nice to see somebody experience success who feels genuine gratitude and joy, uncolored by expectations or feelings of entitlement.

    Mostly irrelevant, but I just love this story. When Robert Downey Jr. was in Chaplin, and was presenting the Oscar for sound design or some such, someone commented that “talkies” usually dominated the category. He responded, “Well, it’s an honor just to be dominated.”

  2. Euphrates
    May 21, 2012

    I am so incredibly proud of you. And inspired. And impressed. And…stuff. 🙂

    Eu

  3. Megan Gedris
    May 21, 2012

    I have touched a man who was called bubbeleh by Neil Gaiman. I am so honored.

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