Monday, November 09, 2009

Winning the WSFA Small Press Award - by Greg Siewert

I found out I was a finalist for the WSFA small press award over the summer, but I didn’t hear that I’d won until two weeks before the ceremony. I’d made the decision not to go simply because I live in California and Washington D.C. is on the other side of the country. I’m a winemaker and when I got the call from Edmund Schubert, the editor for "InterGalactic Medicine Show," I was working for a consulting client who has a micro-winery; he makes Sauvignon Blanc in his converted car port. "I was wondering if you could write something else for me" Edmund said. I didn’t know what he meant and I figured he was talking about a bio or something. Then he told me it was an acceptance speech. I couldn’t believe it.

The journey of "The Absence of Stars" was a weird one. The request for a re-write came long after I’d submitted it and I’d totally forgotten I had anything in submission. It was also a time when I wasn’t very focused on writing. I’m sure any aspiring writer can sympathize with the notion that finding time to write is sometimes the hardest part of the craft. "The Absence of Stars" is a long story, which took me half a year to write. I made the usual circuit of magazine submissions and then put it on the shelf, what else can you do? To find out that the story still had life, and that it was being considered by a magazine owned by Orson Scott Card, was really exciting.

I made it through the re-write process and they accepted it. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that if I’m writing 6 months from now, that encouragement out of the blue had a lot to do with it.

The nomination, and then later finding out I was a finalist, was a very gratifying thing. Banging away at something at home can be a pretty isolated experience. There’s no more difficult task than critiquing your own writing, and when you’re in the heat of creating something, how do you know it’s any good? To know that someone read your story and liked it, is a big deal.

I consider myself a "young" writer, but I mean that not in a chronological sense, (turning 36 canned that for me) but in terms of how much I’ve written. I had this idea, as I started writing science fiction, that I wanted to do my "version" of some familiar science fiction sub-genres. My story "God Loves the Infantry" got third place in the "Writer’s of the Future" Contest and represented my take on the "post-apocalypse urban hell-scape" as I envisioned it taking place in California. My unpublished novella "Boneman" was my take on the popular "demon escapes from hell" story. In my version, the demon is the protagonist and is strongly influenced by the super-hero genre. Anyway, this is all to explain that one of the most well-tread topics in science fiction is the "object is heading toward Earth" story. I knew I wanted to write one, and that was: "The Absence of Stars."

I had a few goals in writing this story that I felt would make it my own. First, the idea that the object(s) could be a hailstorm of black holes seemed really exciting. Second, I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t devote a single word to the consideration of who was and was not worthy of being evacuated. I’m not sure why I find that conversation so annoying and boring but I do. Third, the Earth doesn’t survive. So sad. Not the first story to take this approach but it was important to me. Finally, I’m an amateur physics buff and I wanted to use the story to explore some ideas and air out some opinions of mine about what relativity really means in terms of space exploration.

When I found out I won, I decided to make the trip and I have a confession to make; Capclave was my first science fiction convention. My friends Craig and Mary Beth live in D.C. and I decided that when it comes to writing, life doesn’t always give you a lot of opportunities so you should make the most of any that come along. I didn’t tell anybody that I’d won, not even my family or Craig and Mary Beth. I did this partially because I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, and partially because I thought it would be more fun to keep my friends in suspense!

Capclave was great. It was really oriented toward writers. Every hour they had seminars in the different rooms of the hotel. I saw one seminar about the future of the space program and also saw an interview with the Guest of Honor; Harry Turtledove.

My friend Craig joined me for the ceremony and--still not having been told that I won--he was terribly excited and surprised at the result. It was really fun accepting the award and taking photos with the other finalists. After, Edmund was kind enough to show me one of the parties in the hotel and I had a fantastic time. I met a bunch of interesting and creative people and It’s a neat feeling to be around people you share a common passion with.

It was quite a bit of travel for such a short stay, but I have no regrets. Like I said earlier, writing is a craft that doesn’t always provide you with much encouragement, and it’s important to take advantage of any positive feedback that you get. Whatever keeps us writing!


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