Worldcon felt like a destination wedding held on a cruise ship where you and several thousand of your closest friends gathered for a completely overscheduled weekend with the world’s most frantic activities director.
The preparation, travel hassle, nerve levels, and stamina needed for both experiences are similar. (Although the Worldcon dress code was more adventurous). Like a bridesmaid at back-to-back weddings with different dresses in the same color scheme, I wore multiple professional hats at any given point in time at this Worldcon. I was a past Hugo winner for Best Related Work last year, for co-editing Chicks Dig Time Lords with my friend Tara O’Shea. I was a double nominee this year. The first nomination was as the current Apex Magazine Editor-in-Chief, a nomination for Best Semiprozine shared with our publisher Jason Sizemore and my editorial predecessor, Catherynne M. Valente. The second was as the moderator for the SF Squeecast, a monthly SF/F podcast, nominated for Best Fancast, shared with Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, Seanan McGuire, and Catherynne M. Valente.
I was also there in my day-job capacity as the Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University. We hold the literary archives of over sixty SF/F authors, many of whom I was meeting with at Worldcon.
My Worldcon roles shifted constantly, sometimes mid-sentence. For example, Elizabeth Bear archives with me at NIU, has contributed to Apex Magazine, is one of my partners on the SF Squeecast, is a good personal friend, and has contributed to all three of my Geek Girl Chronicles’ books. Thus, constant shifting. (Or efficiency. You decide.)
While I was scheduled with meetings and a few panels for much of Friday and Saturday, my busiest day at Worldcon was on the Sunday, the day of the Hugo Award Ceremony. I thought it might be interesting to compile a diary of what turned out to be one of the most important days of my life. It felt similar to (but not quite as important as) my wedding day to my husband Michael, (AKA Damian Taylor), who also happens to be the illustrious Managing Editor of Apex Magazine.
The day began at 8:30 in the morning, with a breakfast meeting with Jay Lake. I love that my job entails working with so many contemporary authors writing things that I enjoy right now. However, there is a big difference between talking about and planning for someone’s legacy in the abstract, and having a raw conversation about how to move that abstract legacy into concrete plans. But Jay is battling cancer. Again. We needed to begin the difficult conversation about concrete end-of life planning issues, and how Jay wants his archives handled, particularly his electronic materials.
Once we had dealt with that fluffy topic, Paul Cornell joined us, and we shifted to talking about the SF Squeecast. Jay kindly agreed to be our surprise special guest for the live SF Squeecast recording scheduled for noon. And did he ever bring it to the SF Squeecast (more on that later).
From breakfast, I went right into moderating two panels back-to-back. Which was as good a method as any to distract a Hugo nominee, I suppose.
The first panel, “Escape from the Planet of the Slush Pile,” featured Gordon Van Gelder (Editor-in-Chief of Fantasy &Science Fiction), Ginjer Buchanan (Senior Editor at Ace/Roc Books) and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Senior Editor at Tor Books and for Tor.com), with me moderating. In comparison to the rest of the panelists, who have had decades of experience as editors, I’ve been fiction editing for about a year. So, no pressure or anything. We talked about cover letters, types of stories, what we’ve seen too much and too little of, and the numbers involved in the slush piles. But really, what we tried to drive home was that we’re looking for great stories, period. Cover letters, sub-genres, notoriety, and so forth aren’t our focus; the submitted story is. Here’s what matters most to all of us as editors: that moment when we read something and say “wow,” and following that moment up by showing that little slice of awesome to the whole world. There’s a lovely summary of the panel here: https://geo-geek.blogspot.com/2012/09/Worldcon-escape-from-planet-of-slush.html. We were all clearly on the same page, and everyone seemed to enjoy the panel. Success!
The second panel entailed a live recording of the SF Squeecast. This was a momentous occasion for us, as it was the very first time the entire cast of regulars was all together in one place for recording, with two special guests as well: Jay Lake and Sarah Monette. You can listen to the episode here: https://sfsqueecast.com/2012/09/episode-16-live-from-chicon-keeping-it-classy-on-the-eve-of-a-hugo-award. All I can really say is that we were rather more wound up than usual. If you listen to the SF Squeecast regularly, you’ll know that we don’t really do laid-back as a general rule, so when I say wound up, I mean that what few filters we have were basically off. The packed room was crackling with energy. It may have been the funniest episode that we’ve ever recorded. Jay Lake’s description of the film Rubber alone is worth a listen. I laughed so hard I began to hyperventilate at one point. There aren’t many other occasions when you get to experience Seanan McGuire threatening to read your entrails to figure out how to win a Hugo Award. I think we succeeded in not actually having a collective Hugo-Award-related nervous breakdown live on stage, despite our very best efforts. (It was a close thing, though. Jay’s bear joke and Sarah Monette’s well-timed snark may have saved us.)
After the SF Squeecast live recording had finished, we went to the Hugos’ rehearsal. This was where the ceremony staff walked nominees through the process of how to get to the stage, where to stand, and how to hold the Hugo without dropping it. They pointed out that the podium was slanted, handed you a stunt Hugo so you could feel how heavy it was, and mentioned what a good idea it would be to hand it to John Scalzi while you talked so that you didn’t drop it. The Hugo base design changes from year to year. This year’s was made of glass, and resembled the Picasso statue in downtown Chicago. It was gorgeous, with the added bonus of looking like a double-headed battle axe when held upside down.
John Joseph Adams, who was nominated as Best Editor Short Form, as well as in our Best Semiprozine category for his work on Lightspeed, was part of our rehearsal group, along with Jim C. Hines. John and I immediately readied ourselves for mock fisticuffs when we saw one another before ascending to the stage for rehearsal, as was right and proper. Nominees also received instructions from the Hugo designer in how to appropriately carry, polish, disassemble, and pack the Hugo for transport, should we win.
Carrying a Hugo is a delicate thing. As I learned last year when Tara O’Shea and I won for Chicks Dig Time Lords, you should always point it away from your face. When it is held by your side, pointing toward your mouth, and Paul Cornell calls your name on stage and you turn toward your Hugo (and his voice) and say, “What?” you will look like you are fellating your Hugo. That photo will take less than ten minutes to appear on Tor.com. I’m just saying.
I hadn’t been terribly nervous up to that point. Enough Worldcon distractions meant that the Hugos were something to be dealt with later. Being handed a stunt Hugo rather drove home that later was coming up awfully quickly, and the possibility of being handed one or more of these rockets (or not) was very, very real.
For me, and I imagine, many of the nominees, that was when the whole Hugo Award experience became real. Much like a final wedding rehearsal.
The Hugo nominees are required to be at a pre-ceremony reception for photos, but it’s not a full meal, just things to nibble upon so you won’t pass out… assuming that you’re not too nervous to eat.
So, after the rehearsal, a group of us, including Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, my husband, Michael, and Sarah and her husband, Allen Monette, ate some mid-afternoon food before getting ready for the ceremony, since most of us had not eaten since breakfast. Paul and I were up for two Hugos each this year (these were his fifth and sixth nominations, respectively). Bear was up for one, having been nominated for several and won two in previous years. Both Scott and Sarah have been up for multiple awards in their careers, too. Thus, we all understood. We did our best to make each other laugh as much as possible, to stay loose.
Awards-related nerves made the whole meal feel a lot like the rehearsal dinner for a large wedding where we were still not quite sure that one of the partners involved (i.e. the Hugo Award) would show up, but what the hell, the reception hall was paid for. Everyone was a bit nervous about how things would go, but we were all committed to going through the whole thing together, no matter how it turned out. There was a fair amount of protein consumed, a final fueling up before heading into battle. This was a definite improvement over last year, where Michael and I hadn’t thought to make time to eat beforehand, and I’d ended up having cake and booze for dinner.
After our meal, we went back to our rooms to get dressed up for the Hugos. I was really pleased with my very-pink, purple, and gold Max Azria dress and Elise Matthesen’s generous loan of a gorgeous pink and gold handmade necklace. She showed me the piece at a party on Friday night, and it happened to match my dress perfectly. It felt as if I were going to the Oscars, borrowed jewels and all. Michael put on his sharp-suit and coordinating purple tie, and we headed down to the pre-ceremony reception to meet up with Jason Sizemore and Janet Harriett, who was his guest to the Hugos. We all spent a fair amount of time taking photos of and with one another as we stood around waiting to be let into the reception (there were official photos, too). Everyone was pretty nervous, which makes the bartender possibly the second most popular person in the room (the person handing out the reception drink tickets won, hands down; Neil Gaiman was probably third.)
We nominees resembled members of a wedding party, dressed up in our best finery, standing around at the altar in some twisted wedding-related game show. We were sure someone was gonna get hitched, but we were not sure who it would be this time. At least we would all walk away with some pretty spiffy jewelry (the nominee pins) for our efforts. And the first drink was free.
It really was a rather daunting prospect to look around that reception at your fellow nominees, realizing the company that we were all keeping while trying desperately not to spill food or drink on our semi-formal finery. The tables were really small, too. Our group kept growing once Jim Hines, Catherine Shaffer, Rachel and Mike Swirsky, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, Paul Cornell, Michael and I sat down. Nancy Fulda and Carolyn Ives Gilman then joined us. Jason Sizemore and Janet Harriett stopped by to say hi and sat for a bit. We must have looked friendly, because more people kept joining our group (I was in a heady haze, so I know I’m forgetting some folks), until we ended up pulling together about four different tables so we could all sit together in relative comfort without wearing our wine. In several cases, direct competitors in specific categories were hanging out being nervous together, because that’s how our community rolls.
Just before the start of the ceremony, the entire group of nominees was led to the ballroom where the ceremony was to be held. We were seated up front, and there was some jockeying of seats as we got settled, and looked around us. I ended up sitting between my husband and Paul Cornell, and directly in front of Jason Sizemore, our publisher. Former Apex Editor Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire ended up in front of us, and Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch were on the other side of Michael. I was essentially the center square in a bizarro SF/F version of Hollywood Squares.
Best Fancast was one of the earlier Hugo categories to be awarded. Best Semiprozine followed soon after. Our wait, at least, was mercifully brief.
Immediately before Best Semiprozine was announced, I reached back a row and squeezed Jason’s hand.
You’ve seen the results already, so you know that while the SF Squeecast did win a Hugo this year, Apex Magazine did not. Here’s what I can tell you about what it felt like to win a Hugo Award. It took a moment to realize that they meant us. Another moment, a quick kiss and a gentle prod from Michael in the direction of the stage were required to convince my feet to move. Climbing the stairs to the stage meant having “DON’T-TRIP-DON’T-TRIP-DON’T-TRIP” on a loop in my brain. We milled about for a moment as we figured out who would take the first Hugo from John.
We had figured that with five of us, the easiest thing to do was to give our thanks in alphabetical order. Of course, that then meant having to remember the alphabet correctly. It’s harder than you might think.
When I got to the podium, I couldn’t see anything. It was very dark out there, except for the blinding lights that shone directly into my soul. My heart pounded in my chest; it was hard to breathe. I was the designated thanker of those who helped out with the podcast on behalf of our whole group. The “thank yous” came out very quickly, in case I passed out from lack of air.
Yes, I prepared a speech, just in case. I was so flustered that remembering how to read and breathe simultaneously was a challenge. Without a list, the chances of forgetting to thank someone really important (like, say, my husband) off the top of my head were pretty good. Mostly, I was trying really hard not to drop the statue. I had forgotten to give the statue to John Scalzi for safekeeping. Our individual speeches were brief (I think Paul was trying to set a record for brevity).
One of my favorite moments snapped by Tor.com was of all of us laughing together onstage, each in dresses (and a suit for Paul) that reflected our personalities. From classical to goth princesses, we were all up there, together, having the time of our lives.
Nice people led us carefully offstage once we had finished, which was good. Backstage was utterly dark. I shook and cried a little, while coming down from a massive adrenaline rush, trying not to wipe out in my exceedingly high heels and long dress, while my back brain ran in circles, waving its arms and shrieking something that vaguely resembled “ZOMGWTFBBQHUGOAIEEE”. They handed us cups of water and tissues, and encouraged us to sit for a moment before they led us back to our seats clutching our trophies.
Once we sat back down, I learned what it felt like to lose a Hugo, too. For me, it was a lot like a balloon deflating. Breathing was still hard, but for an entirely different set of reasons; although I was, of course, also happy for the fine folks at Locus who won. That was followed by the highs and lows of watching friends win and lose Hugos in quick succession for the remainder of the evening. Sometimes simultaneously, as I had friends up against one another in multiple categories. Roller coaster doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Once the ceremony was complete, all the winners were brought back onstage for a group photo call, along with individual shots by category of the winners.
While the winners were being photographed, the full voting results were all posted publicly immediately after the awards were handed out. Not only did non-winners get to see the list of winners and losers, but they also get to see by how much and for how long they may have led the race, and so on. I don’t know whether this was reassuring or cruel. A little of both, I suppose.
Apex Magazine came second in our category, Best Semiprozine. Jason found out first, and filled Catherynne Valente and I in as we finally finished the photo call. We ran back to the formal photographer to take a group photo of us flashing two fingers and grinning, because we were and still are really pleased to have made such a strong showing in our first Hugo nomination.
Finally, we attended the post-ceremony reception, traditionally called the “Hugo Losers’ Party.” The party was initially private, giving the folks who didn’t win a little time to breathe and regroup before the party opened up to everyone, including the winners. The party has been thrown by the following year’s Worldcon committee in recent years. This year’s Texas-based theme featured brisket, make your own nachos (do see Ursula Vernon’s story about the nachos here: https://ursulav.livejournal.com/1508804.html), and pie on a stick. I cannot begin to explain the genius of serving maple pecan and peach pie on sticks. But there it was. And it was really good pie, too.
After a little while there, Michael and I spent the remainder of the evening wandering around from party to party toting the Hugo, smiling and dazed as people stopped me every three feet to congratulate me for the SF Squeecast win and take photos. Mary Robinette Kowal and I made sure to compare dresses and take some photos together, since we had originally planned to dress-shop together, but that plan fell through. I think the day wound down sometime around 2:30 a.m., talking shop in Rachel Swirsky’s hotel room with Rachel, her husband Mike, Terra LeMay, and Brit Mandelo. By that time, I wasn’t sure I was still in my own body, so it was time to go to bed.
Thank you to everyone who nominated, and voted, for the Hugos. I’m immensely grateful and humbled to have been a nominee, a winner, and in attendance at all.
Much of that day was kind of blurry, to be honest, but the good kind of blurry.
The final tally for our destination wedding cruise: one spouse showed up, another ran off with someone else.
Nonetheless, we know it wasn’t a dream. When we woke up in our hotel room the next morning, the Hugo Award was still there.
There are worse ways to begin a honeymoon.