Worldcon roundup, Day the Fourth: In which Rachel Swirsky is a badass, Kessel is a dear, and a whole lot of people win Hugos – including someone in our Clarion class.

At some point, con related sleep-dep hit me the same odd way as happened to me at Clarion: I turned crazy insomniac.  Like, I only needed 6 hours of sleep on con days and I functioned as well or better than my usual (generally I need 7-8 hours or I’m spacey as hell).  By Sunday, I’d lost my mind and found it again.  I showed up to the con as usual, and went to the first panel of the day by my lonesome (James was back at work, and everyone else was sleeping off the night before).  There was a panel entitled “Clarion Call” with no description, so I showed up at that hoping to meet some former Clarion classes.  Instead, it turned out to be a panel for people trying to get in to one of the Clarions, chaired by attendees from various years.

I want someone to fact-check this stat, but at one point an audience member asked how many Clarionauts generally went on to write professionally.  The answer was something like 1-2 people in each class “make it,” where making it means publishing at least one novel and/or consistently selling to the pro markets.  Another 4-6 go on to snag at least one sale to the pro or semi-pro magazines.

If this is true, then 2011 is rocking it.  At last count, 2 people have SFWA qualified (3 pro sales or more), 9 people have made at least one SFWA-qualifying sale, 5 more have sold one or more pieces to paying semi-pro markets, and only four people have yet to break in (although one of those is doing contract work, which really should count).  Of those four, three are actively writing, subbing, and going to cons; it’s only a matter of time for them.  Only one person has dropped off the face of the planet completely.  I’m kind of floored at the awesomeness of yous guys, for serious.  I’d love to know other classes’s stats, UCSD, South, and West.  For research purposes, you know?  And/or friendly competition.  😉

One of the Clarion Call panelists was Rachel Swirsky, looking like a movie star in dark glasses (apparently she had a wicked migraine that day).  I’d just pieced together that the author of Decomposition was the same person as the author of Stable Master’s Tale and “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window,” all of which I’d loved.  Swirsky had to leave early to go to her reading, which I’d wanted to attend anyway (based purely on my affection for “Decomposition”), and since I wasn’t in the market for how-to-get-into-Clarion advice (pity it’s a once in a lifetime thing), I followed her out and introduced myself as a Clarion grad.  We had the loveliest random conversation about MFA/PhD programs, her time at Iowa, her forthcoming collection (the evocatively titled How the World Became Quiet) and her previous collection, Through the Drowsy Dark, which I totally must get now.  She even introduced me to her scientist husband, who (and I thought this an utterly charming detail) took her last name when they married.  I panic-texted Becky that she Had to Get to This Reading, Now, or Else Live to Regret It Forever.  So Bolander, Becky and I were all in the audience for Swirsky’s reading of the title story from that forthcoming collection.  We laughed, we cried, I took compulsive notes and squeeeed lots.  Afterward Swirsky was equally sweet to Bolander, recalling and specifically praising her (brilliant) Lightspeed pub and generally being a splendid human being.  So THAT was supercool.  It made me want to turn back time and apply to Iowa.

Then Becky, Bolander and I, along with Bo’s BF Ben, took a lunch break and planned to meet back up at Kessel’s reading.  At this point I’d realized that readings and socializing were more my speed, and I cut back my panels to just one that day.  Becky and I spent a fair amount of time hanging out in her hotel room between readings, talking books and stories and “what are we going to do with our lives?” mild panic.  We made some solid plans to be deadline buddies into the future.

Kessel’s reading was fabulous and, like JPK, he read from a forthcoming longer work set in a world from his previous stories.  I particularly loved the descriptions of mini-ecosystems, and the way he justified functional invisibility technology.  This is the second chapter I’ve heard him read, and I want the novel to be done already so’s I can read the rest.  Also, in a strange confluence, the section he read involved the prosthetic hand of unknown origin and powers, reminding me of nothing so much as the Narwolf trip (with Kessel along for the rant) to see Cowboys and Aliens during the final weeks of Clarion.  Bo did NOT like this comparison, and she’s right that Kessel definitely got there first and the two texts are nothing alike, but there’s more to it than that, for me.  It’s a perfect example of how as much as SF thinks it’s foregrounding ideas, not storycraft, it is constitutively always both.  Tech of unknown origin is, in Kessel’s hands, art.  In other hands?  You get C&A.  It’s not the device’s fault; it’s its misuse.  I still can’t get over Kessel’s kindness.  We trailed after him like ducklings — at one point there was a whole row of us traveling up the escalator behind him.  He and JPK introduced us to major editors, other authors…unforgettable niceness.

I desperately wanted to see Bill Shunn’s panel on using personal details in SF, partly because I am a compulsive follower of Mamatas’s online criticism and wanted to see him in action (I was not disappointed), and partly because Bill has been so wonderfully inclusive and supportive since I arrived in Chicago.  He really is the nicest guy in the Chicago SF scene.  I asked a stupid question about the recent turn to explicitly including the personal in SF works, and Mamatas gave me the answer I deserved.  Next time: Write down your question before you ask it, ya ninny.  You know better than that!  The question I wanted to ask:  Do works like Drowning Girl, “13 Ways of Looking at Space/Time,” and “Story Kit” actually represent a shift in the genre?  They all look much more like each other than like previous eras of SF.  And it’s the open inclusion of the personal that looks like the core device connecting these texts.  What’s up with that?

What I actually asked: “Why all the hate-or-ade poured on “13 Ways of Looking at Space/Time?”  Mamatas’s response boiled down to “haters gonna hate.”  Which, yeah.  That’s totally true.  My bad, Mamatas.  I threw you a stupid.  I’m still pissed I wasted my question. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Then!  High-speed fast-food grab, and some pre-Hugo beer drinking up in Becky’s room.  One of my favorite images from the entire con: we had no way of cooling the beer, so we chucked it all in the bathroom sink and covered it with ice. We took the partying quite seriously.

Various people wigged about their Hugo outfits, but ultimately people wore a wide range, and nobody looked out of place, from ball gowns to flops ‘n jeans.  Bolander looked particularly adorable in her just-bought-that-day-in-a-mad-scurry suitcoat and tie.  We took over a row of seats, and Brady got off work just in time to sit by me.

The Hugos themselves?  Well, it was felt a bit like being at the Oscars—someplace between Hollywood Oscars and Theatrikos Oscars, maybe.  Much pomp and circumstance.  Flouffy dresses.  Speeches.  Tears.  Who am I kidding, it was so awesome I had so much fun OMG I want to go every year.  I was so pleased that E. Lily Yu won the Campbell (that story was SO GOOD), and we sent up a mighty arooo when Kij took Best Novella for “The Man Who Bridged the Mist.”  And our beloved Narwolf Tim runs Sofawolf Press, publisher of Digger, which won for Graphic Novel.  So (granted, on a technicality) someone from our Clarion class picked up a Hugo our first year out.  Rock!  And Scalzi was hilarious, as Scalzi is wont to be.  Note to self: I absolutely must download a backlog of Squeecasts.  I’ve been late to the podcast party, but I’m running 1-2 times a week, and I need stuffs to listen to.  This would be perfect.

The post-Hugo party involved Scotch, rum, and many toasts to the joy of being together, to brilliant people winning statues, to the bizarre wonder of Clarion anointing us as belonging to this wacky scene.  We all commented on how much we liked that the Hugos also honor the fandom that sustains the artists.  I mean, how many literary events pull five thousand people?  It was some mad energy being in the room with that many devout readers.  Pretty spectacular.

And once again, we party hopped.  My favorite was probably the London Worldcon bid party, which featured Worcestershire-flavored crisps and Battenberg cakes.  We ended the night once again in the SFWA suite, this time talking at length to Gini (and a bit to Ferrett) until the room started spinning sleepily and we had to go home.  We got back to the apartment at 2:30am, just as an FYI for all you PhD-school friends who mock me for my lack of late-night stamina.  Every once in a while, I hold steady past the midnight hour.  But only for large, shiny awards ceremonies, apparently.  Somebody start throwing weekly galas, and I’ll ring in the dawn every time.

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One thought on “Worldcon roundup, Day the Fourth: In which Rachel Swirsky is a badass, Kessel is a dear, and a whole lot of people win Hugos – including someone in our Clarion class.

  1. Yes, Rachel is really cool. I emailed her out of the blue for advice on getting into MFA programs, and she took the time to answer my questions.

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