UnCommonwealth

The online journal of speculative fiction author Christopher Rowe.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

the real deal Nebula ballot

Wow. Well, "The Voluntary State" did, in fact, advance to the 2004 SFWA Nebula Awards Final Ballot. I think I'm supposed to put one of those R in a circle dealies after "Nebula Awards," but top internet people tell me that the reason my posts sometimes look screwy is that I'm a little free with the Mac specific keyboard characters. If you want to see the R in a circle, go look at the official final ballot on SFWA's website.

Now here's this. When I first started writing, I'd send a story off in the mail and then wait to hear back from an editor before I worked on anything else. Those of you who've played this game realize that in some cases that meant I was buying myself a year off for the cost of a few stamps. And I can't really do that anymore. I've got to write more stories, more of this novel, hell, even more UnCommmonwealth pieces.

And I'm going to do that now. In a minute.

With the preliminary nomination and the various reprints, I've posted too much about this story, probably, but since the chances of my actually winning this award are, let's be honest, pretty slim, I'm going to beg y'all's patience and indulge myself in one more post about "The Voluntary State." But it's not about me, it's about the people who did the real work on this story--it's the acceptance speech I would have given.

All the attendees of the 2003 edition of the Sycamore Hill workshop gave me sterling advice about the piece. It's probably impolitic to list just a few of them, but hell, since I'm being careful to name the only ones that actually know this journal exists then I should be okay.

Jonathan Lethem and Jeffrey Ford both identified a lot places for improvement to the, yes, pretty messy manuscript I turned in, as did my fellow nominee Andy Duncan and workshop co-runner John Kessel. I owe all those guys a lot.

And especially, I owe these three incomparable people; Richard Butner, Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler. There's more critical acumen in that one sentence than I could begin to describe to you. Not to mention character, grace, talent, generosity and kindness.

After the first round of post Syc Hill rewrites, I sent the story to Ellen Datlow, who agreed to publish it with the proviso that I clarify some things. Over the last few years, I've started making more and more demands of the people who read my fiction, and Ellen pointed out places where clarity had been sacrificed to my own bullheaded notions of art.

So I sent the story to Ted Chiang, one of the smartest writers. (I started to put some kind of clause on the end of that sentence like "...in the field" or "...I've ever met" but I think I should probably let it stand.) See, I was trying a runaround. I was going to prove, to myself at least, that the story could be "got" as it was. Ted expressed confusion over some passages. Friends, when Ted Chiang doesn't get something you've written, it's not because your readers aren't as clever as you are.

It went back to Ellen and it came back to me and it went back to Ellen and it came back to me. Ellen kept pushing me to get it closer and closer to what she thought it could be, and eventually I realized that what Ellen thought it could be is pretty much what it should be. Thanks, Ellen.

All of those people did all of that work for me and that story, and I thank them for it.

But of course, none of them did a damned thing compared to the person who essentially started the story in the first place, the person who said, in response to my whining that I didn't have anything to write about, "There's a car on top of a hill. The door's open. There's nobody in it. Now shut up."

Thanks so much, Gwenda. As a writer, what you think I could be is what I should be. As a human being, what I should be is with you.

Love and peace,

Christopher