The Merqueen’s Report: Nebula Awards Weekend, 2018

I will add more pictures in later, editing them in as they get processed. For now, I want to record some of my thoughts and memories from the past weekend and the Nebula Awards conference weekend, before a brand-new weekend eclipses any part of the splendor. Kudoes to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America events team, particularly Kate Baker, Mary Robinette Kowal, Terra LeMay, Laurie Mann, and Steven H Silver, for work well done.

I flew into Pittsburgh on a Tuesday, getting there late enough that I didn’t look for anyone after checking in, opting instead for a glass of wine, a piece of cheesecake, and quiet reading. In retrospect, that may not have been my smartest move, because my stomach was thoroughly upset by the time I got up the next day.

We (the members of the SFWA board) don’t usually get there on Tuesday, but this year the board was trying something new, a strategic visioning session. As an escapee from the wilds of corporate management, I will admit that I was a little dubious about this but convinced by the end. I’m glad to say that just about everyone from both the incoming and outgoing sets were able to attend and I look forward to catching up the couple of absent folks with all the amazing stuff we got done.

I cannot go into all of the details, nor will I post any of the pictures of walls covered with brightly colored post-its because Kate would smite me. But I will talk about some of the general things that emerged, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve figured out things like timelines and deliverables and measures of success, as well as assigning work items, most of whom did not have “Cat” written on a post-it in the “who will drive this” spot and some of which stretch well into the future.

So what can you expect to see as a result of this session?

Better teamwork and communication. Several exercises demonstrated how important those are, and underscored that even the best plans can breakdown when people are not talking to each other. We have been doing weekly video calls, and figured out a new plan in order to ensure every board member is attending at least one of those each month.

Better outward communication. Some restructuring of existing stuff (like the website) as well as new efforts.

More outreach. This will take a number of forms to both new and potential members, and the intent is to see them at both the local and global level — as well as virtual. You’ve witnessed a lot of this in recent years, including things like more and more of the local reading series. One new membership opportunity will be student memberships; look for details on that soon.

Cleaning house. We’ll be going through existing committees and programs as well as materials in order to make sure things are up to date and running smoothly. A new committee expediter role will help committees work together and make sure resources aren’t being overlooked.

Keeping existing efforts going. We’re almost at the end of getting the game Nebula stuff finalized. Things like SFWA Ed, First Chapters, and our new mentorship are all opening very soon while others are well under way, like the Speakers Bureau, Storybundle and NetGalley programs, and the Singularity (our member newsletter).

One reason I know this was a great session is that the next day we kept referring to it during the regular board meeting, to the point where it answered some questions raised during that session. We did go over by about twenty minutes that day, but that was partially because a couple of the morning hours were eaten by visioning stuff.

Midway through board stuff I stopped in at the 20 Books to 50k luncheon in order to meet old and new friends. Great stuff that gave me some new ideas about indie publishing.

Valiant volunteers and most of the board stffing books with reading goodness.

Thursday evening I helped stuff bookbags then hung out with a few friends before we had a reception in order to honor our new SFWA Grand Master, Peter S. Beagle, who was presented with a robot unicorn by Kate Baker and who read us all a story, in a lovely moment that just will linger with me forever. Beagle was sweet and kind and wonderful and a pure joy to be around throughout the weekend. For those following the saga of my wardrobe and make-up, I wore the handkerchief hem purple silk georgette with matching ballet flats.

Wayne rolled in late that night. Friday morning we were officially off and running and everything is just a blur after that. Some highlights in roughly consecutive order.

For me Friday started with the Partners and Spouses event, also described as “Support Squad” in the program book. Gay Haldeman (Joe Haldeman’s wife) was our hostess, while Michelle Appel (author John Appel’s wife) helped facilitate and also provided adorable buttons, including a “Gay Haldeman is my shero” one in purple. My own spouse showed up and while it wasn’t a huge turnout, there were people, there were mimosas and snacks, and there were conversations and connections. I’ve been pushing or this event for a couple of years, since honoring the folks who keep writers going seems like a no-brainer, and the intent is to repeat it every year.

Before hitting the event, I checked the book depot to make sure I had everything I needed there. In Chicago, books had been a pain point when the bookseller proved inequal to the challenge of meeting the varied needs of our membership, letting down the small press and indie published people. I’m pleased to say that this year anyone who didn’t have books there could not complain it was due to any lack on SFWA’s part. While we’ve sold a little SFWA swag before, one new hit were the SFWA decoder rings introduced by Terra LeMay. I picked up a couple extra for friends; by the end of the weekend there were only a couple dozen left, which we’ll bring to Worldcon.

Another lovely addition to the book depot were Don Jones’ amazing robots, made from repurposed materials, which also served as centerpieces for the tables at the award banquet. I always enjoy seeing what the events team comes up with for table decorations and I picked up another robot this year to go with the one I acquired last year, which currently graces my coffee nook and makes me smile every morning.

Things I missed and wish I’d been able to get to: “Learn to Love the Microphone” with Sarah Pinsker; “Makeup for Writers” with Meg Frank, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Arkady Martine; An hour with Peter S. Beagle and Pat Rothfuss, oh cripes I’m writing down the whole program and will stop right now. Sarah Goslee livetweeted a bunch of them and it’s wroth taking a look back at the Nebulas2018 hashtag on twitter. One of the things I’m pleased with about the convention and expect to continue is that the programming is innovative and helping lead the way, just as SFWA does with other things like its Accessibility Checklist and anti-Harassment Guidelines. Some examples were the What Teens are Looking for in YA Literature featuring actual teens talking about what they wanted, the Office hours, the Mentor meet-ups, and the Alternate universe acceptance speeches.

My first panel was The Money is in Your (back)List with Margot Atwell, Michael Anderle, Jonathan Brazee and DongWon Song. A Geekwire piece had come out that morning including a quote from me talking about e-book pricing and we had a lively discussion of that post-panel.

After that I skedaddled to the mentor meetup! This new program has proven so successful that we’ll be offering a version of it at Worldcon, pairing up people new to the convention with someone who knows the ropes and thus can answer questions, provide guidance, and be a friendly face through the rest of the convention.

Friday night was the reception for the nominees. Huzzah! James Patrick Cronin and Mary Robinette Kowal read passages from the nominees’ work, which was a lot of fun, and I gave them their certificates, which always feels a bit awkward because I want to hug everyone because their work was so awesome and yet I do not want to intrude on anyone’s space. Evening ensemble: vintage black brocade dress, purple and gold sequined jacket, black ballet flats. After the reception I swung by the Archivos party up in the SFWA suite.

Saturday morning Wayne and I had a lovely breakfast with the Haldemans, then I went off to the SFWA business meeting. That is worthy of its own recap (and will get one) but among the many things presented to the members: the mentorship program is up and ready to go, we had great participation in the membership survey and are using it to guide a lot of actions, the Self-Publishing committee is working at all sorts of good things including the First Chapters project and another Storybundle (the current one was the most successful yet), the YouTube channel is producing all sorts of good stuff with more on the way, the Legacy Committee has compiled a lot of useful stuff for authors who want to get their estates in order, and on and on.

Meanwhile the good parts of SFWA remain strong. The Contracts Committee, Grievance Committee, and Legal Affairs have all been working away on behalf of writers, including things like getting a foreign market that had published dozens of stories in translation without notification or payment to both knock it off and pay everyone, working with new markets to make sure they had good contracts, and teaming up with the Authors Coalition to weigh in on copyright and IP issues. A few years ago, finances were wobbly; they’re strong now and ready to take us through the rest of this century if we stay careful.

The election results were announced, with Lawrence Schoen staying on the board and Kelly Robson joining him. We are sorry to see John Murphy go but he’s agreed to keep working with the short fiction committee and moving them along to an effort to make the qualifying markets list more useful and informative to new writers.

Afterwards most of the board and staff stayed in the room for the SFWA services panel. We’ve been doing versions of this more and more at conventions (I just proposed one to World Fantasy) and it’s always popular. I refer you to Executive Director Kate Baker’s excellent write-up rather than try to recap.

After lunch, which I think I ate but don’t remember at all (like most of the meals that weekend), I co-presented “How to teach classes in storytelling” with J.R. Dawson. Dawson works primarily with children This was scheduled against one of the things I most wanted to see, the presentation “We’re Going to Need a Bigger Ship: Unclocking the Missing Half of the SF Market” by Data Guy.

At five, the always cool Monica Valentinelli came to my hotel room and helped me begin the transformation into Mer queen. I had tweeted about the dress months before, at which point my friend Kris Dikeman said it needed a seashell tiara, Nick Hyle then volunteered a trident, and by the time of the Nebulas I was a little worried it would turn out to be a costume instead of an outfit and instead it was GLORIOUS and I felt like the belle of the underwater ball.

Rather than recap, here’s the Youtube.

Having stuff up on the channel as well as livestreaming has been a goal of mine for a while – thank you volunteer Diane Morrison! Now it’s all been taking off. Afterwards I hung out in the hospitality suite, then staggered off to bed.

Sunday morning was time for my favorite part and another one I will take full credit for implementing, unlike most of the other stuff: the volunteer breakfast. We had close to fifty people show up this time, which was the third so far, and people seemed to happy to get their fancy certificates (suitable for framing!) and get a chance to talk with each other. I told the joke I stole from Joe Haldeman about SFWA, like soylent green, being made of people once again and a good time was had by all.

After that a had a panel on short story collections with Ellen Klages, David D. Levine, Todd Sanders, Caroline M. Yoachim. Yoachim showed off her new collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World. we talked about a lot of whys and wherefores and I made sure that no one thought they were going to make money off short fiction.

The mass autographing was on Sunday instead of Friday this time and I’m still thinking whether or not that worked well, because a number of folks had already headed home by that point. I got Beagle to sign my copy of The Last Unicorn, which made me happy, and sat with Daryl Gregory, whose work I always enjoy, and whose Spoonbenders had been on the ballot.

After that I just wandered around aimlessly until I wandered into ops and we all sat around being braindead and then I remembered I had promised to meet Jenn Lyons and we ended up in what had become a very familiar bar by that point.

Monday I had breakfast with Micheal and Judith Anderle and Jonathan Brazee so we got a chance to talk indie, then ended up hanging with Ellen Klages for a few last hours. At the airport I encountered Jamie Wahls (nominated for Utopia, LOL?) in the lounge and we discovered a mutual appreciation of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (which I still think should have won a Hugo) and he recommended a fun webserial Parahumans, which I’ve been working my way through.

TLDR version: everything was awesomepants and no reason to think next year won’t be even better, letting me head out of the SFWA Presidency on a lovely note in June 2019. *fingers crossed* I love you all.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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