Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dinner With All-Stars (In Which I Confess the Reason I Wanted to Write)


Last Sunday, I was extremely fortunate to be part of a large author signing in Seattle for the anthology A Darke Phantastique, which includes my lengthy short story, "In the Wardrobe."

It was awesome! I signed books for the other authors and for customers, and in return I got my copy signed by everyone else. Awesome!

Did I mention it was awesome?

Afterwards, as hard as it may seem to believe, it was even better. Liza and I went to dinner with the group. Almost everyone came out to eat Italian, though we were scattered over two very large tables.

We ended up sitting with Jason V Brock, Sunni K Brock, William F. Nolan, Greg Bear, Astrid Bear, Andrew S. Fuller, and James Beach.

(There were so many extra initials floating around I even thought about picking one our for myself.)

(Second parenthetical -- The other table was full of the rest of the group, who included folks like S. T. Joshi, Willum Pugmire, Samuel Marzioli, and others. I don't want to ignore them, but I ended up spending virtually all my time focusing on the folks I was sitting with.)

Everyone at the table was a writer. Some of them were well-known writers. All of them were talented writers. In addition, Jason and William Nolan were the editors of A Darke Phantastique. Jason and Sunni are the couple behind [nameless] Digest. They are also the filmmakers responsible for The Ackermonster Chronicles.

Nolan, you might known, is one of the authors (along with George Clayton Johnson) of the seminal science fiction novel (and later movie and TV series) Logan's Run. He has written several sequels to the novel, along with about 200 other things.

Fuller is the founder of the online magazine 3-Lobed Burning Eye and Beach is the founder of Dark Discoveries magazine.

And then there was Greg Bear. Bear is the author of Eon, Blood Music, Hull Zero Three, Darwin's Radio, Mariposa, Forge of God, Anvil of Stars, and another 40-odd novels. He has a handful of Nebula and Hugo Awards and a few thousand other nominations. He was also, you might not know, one of the five founders of San Diego Comic-Con.


Greg Bear

It was a little overwhelming listening to these folks talk. Most of them knew each other -- or at least had met before. Conversations shifted from the signing to other authors to their own upcoming projects to previous conversations...

I ate my pasta, listened, and tried not to sound like an idiot (well... too much like one). Finally, during a bit of byplay between Nolan and Bear, the subject of being scientifically correct in one's science fiction came up. I spoke up. I think of myself more as a dark fantasy and high fantasy writer, but I had written a science fiction novella once, I told them. It was hard science fiction, involving space travel below the speed of light...

It was tough, I said. I'd done research, I'd spoken to experts from physics and astrophysics websites and forums, I'd even gotten help regarding materials that might be used in spaceflight. When I was done, I had one of my fellow writers from the (long-gone) North County Writers of Speculative Fiction group, Rilan White, read it to see how it was.

William F. Nolan
He and I met, I told the legendary authors, and Rilan opened by saying, "The science is great. There is one or two issues, but it's pretty accurate." Huzzah, I responded (I think I may also have said that at the table, which may not have been the smartest move).

"How did you like the story?" I asked him.

"Oh," Rilan said. "It was terrible."

Apparently, I had spent a bit too much time on the nuts-and-bolts of it, on the science and technology, and forgotten to write a story worth a damn. I let him give me every bit of feedback I could handle. It was, without question, the worst review I've ever gotten. It hurt.

About the moment I told the All-Stars at the table that "It was terrible," both Nolan and Bear howled with laughter. Bear smacked the table and Nolan leaned forward and both said, almost simultaneously, "Rewrite it!"

"All real authors have to completely rewrite something sometime," Bear said -- and yes, I am paraphrasing a bit.

"I've had to do that a few times," Nolan said. I knew that they hadn't laughed at me for doing something stupid; they'd laughed because I was part of their particular group -- and this was something they'd all had to do at some point or another in the past.

(By the way, the name of the novella is Achilles Is Gone from Avalon, which I still plan to finish some day.)

It was near the end before I was able to nerve up enough to approach Greg Bear and say, "In 1985, you wrote a novel, Eon. I bought it and loved it!" He thanked me. "I loved to read then... even loved to read earlier. Just about everything I read made me want to keep being a reader, but Eon was more than that," I told him. "Eon made me want to be a writer."

I'm not going to share everything he said for two reasons: one is that it's my business, my memory, and in my mind, it was amazing. The second is that I don't want to paraphrase something he said, and it's been long enough and busy enough that I would probably misquote him. But suffice it to say, when I told him, he looked me in the eye and grinned. He has an awesome grin.

I fanboyed. I completely fanboyed.

The most interesting part of the entire thing, though, was that these writers, editors, and publishers -- these people that I've admired for a long time -- made Liza and I fit right in. It was so far beyond amazing that I've decided I must keep on writing, even if for no other reason than the chance to go out and eat Italian with these remarkable people.

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