Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back from the Writer's of The Future Workshop


Where to begin?

Well the beginning.

Warning: This is all written after the fact. Though all of the events did happen, they may not have occurred on the dates I assigned them, especially near the end of the week where stuff got real hairy.


I left my home around noon and headed for the airport. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to board because of the tightened security. It turned out that it was a bit of overkill and I had to sit around for a couple of hours. Sarah Totton joined me in the waiting room an hour later. She’s from Guelph, Ontario, and won 3rd Place in the 4th quarter. Because we came at different times we chose different seats and didn’t sit together. It seems we both wanted window seats. Great minds think alike.

I hadn’t been on a plane since I was twelve and looked forward to the flight—until the plane actually took off. I learned real fast that my stomach didn’t agree with air travel. The first half of the trip was a short albeit bumpy hop from Toronto to Detroit where we switched planes. The second flight was about five hours to forever and I’m sure I was white as a ghost most of the time.

As we approached San Diego my suffering was rewarded with the city by night, a giant golden glow that stretched for miles.

We landed without incident. Julie and Brian greeted us and we drove to The Carlsbad Hilton Garden Inn, some 20 miles north of San Diego. Immediately we were introduced to the camera people who took our pictures and filmed our arrival. It was weird, but I was tired and willing to play along, and secretly enjoying it, shhhhh!

I was assigned my room, met my roommate Brian Rappatta, and called it a night.


It was dark when we arrived so I was impressed to see the Pacific Ocean was right across the street from the hotel. That massive body of water mesmerized me and I stared at it every day I was there.

We had breakfast at the hotel and met Sarah who was with the WoTF event. A nicer more patient person I have never met. After that we went to the workshop room. Posters hung from the wall and a pyramid display of past volumes sat among other L. Ron Hubbard bio books. More books were piled at our seats along with writing materials for the workshop. I sat with Sarah Totton because she was the only person I knew. A fateful decision as we were paired for all the exercises for the week. It was difficult, but Sarah was a trooper and put up with my nonsense.

We broke for lunch and took the hotel shuttle to some restaurant where I learned an interesting secret. Below San Diego and Carlsbad is a subterranean ocean of blue cheese dressing. Worse, the two cities are sinking. To combat the potential disaster Governor Arnold, no stranger to improbable crisis, has passed a bill demanding that, in order to bail out the beleaguered cities, all food served in restaurants must have blue cheese dressing on it, in it or under it. Scientists are currently working on methods to replace hot dogs, hamburgers and potato chips with blue cheese the same way that soya replaces these products. In fact they are working to replace soya itself with the curd.

We returned about an hour late and continued with the workshop taught by Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth and by reading articles on the art of writing by L. Ron Hubbard, which surprisingly, were quite helpful and not heavy handed.

Also, sometime during the day we were given an object, which was supposed to inspire us. I got a yellow highlighter and considered myself lucky.

Afterwards, we broke for dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Fidel’s where they were happy to comply with Governor Arnold’s Blue Cheese Bill.

I bought some seashells for my daughter and we returned to the hotel where we did some ‘homework’ and went to bed.


I am slowly learning about my fellow writers. They are all very talented and want the same thing—to improve their craft and enjoy the workshop.

This was the day I’ve been dreading, we had to interview someone without his or her knowledge. As I feared, it didn’t go well. The first person I tried to talk to, a woman and child standing line at the post office must have thought I was a stalker. I had lunch, blue cheese BBQ ribs, and went to the local library to do research. Afterwards, I entered a real estate office pretending to be interested in buying a house and maybe get some information. Big mistake. The only thing a real estate agent wants to talk about is real estate. On top of that the camera crew caught up with me and blew my cover. The real estate people were good sports about it and we all had a good laugh.

We returned to the library were we took endless pictures of us walking down the stairs to the point were the library staff were giving us the evil eye.

After that we returned to the hotel, where we finished up the workshop and were told to write a story within 24 hours, hopefully using our special item, information from the interview and the research we did. Though I was less than successful with my interview, I did manage to get everything in some form or another.


Did a final first draft, and yes, it’s as funny as it sounds. A few of the other writers were pounding away at the keyboard until the last minute. Kathy Wentworth then picked out three stories to workshop. Not mine though, which I had mixed feelings about. But I did get to critique my roommate Brian Rappatta’s, and my travelling friend, Sarah Totton’s, as well as David Sakmyster’s.

I went down to the beach, walked along the shore and picked some interesting rocks for my daughter who collects them. Then I went to my room and read the stories. I’m a slow reader, so it took some time.


Spent the morning workshopping the stories. Everyone contributed good advice and I’m sure those stories will be even better and salable.

Now my memory is getting a little fuzzy but at sometime this day or the previous day Galaxy Press president John Goodwin talked to us about self-confidence and how to help sell the book.

The rest of the day was spent with authors coming in to chat with us. And by authors I mean David Brin, Ann Mcaffery, Kevin Anderson, and Jerry Pournelle. I mean HOLY CRAP!!

After that was a barbecue held in the patio area and we talked to these amazing authors plus others about writing and other stuff.


The event day. We were driven to the San Diego Air and Space Museum for morning rehearsal. We arrived early and where given an hour to see the exhibits. I was absolutely entranced. I love planes, always have, always will, even if I do get sick flying. However, due to a bad miscalculation on my part I had left my camera at the hotel--all those lovely planes and not one picture to show for it.

The rehearsal held a very big surprise for me. Because I was not in the volume but in last year's, I always felt a little out of place. Not that any of my fellow writers did, they made me feel like I was part of them from the very start. Nevertheless, it did get a bit tiresome saying, “Sorry, I’m not in this book. I was in last year's.”

So, I had fully expected to sit in my seat and applaud for all the winners. Then the stage manager introduced my name.


I was going to get a trophy!

I was so surprised it took a few seconds for it to sink in. In that one moment I finally felt I was truly part of this amazing group of talent. I know it all sounds so maudlin, but that’s they way it was.

We returned for lunch and made some final fittings for our tuxedos (most didn’t fit, I think the tailor guy had on of them trick measuring tapes). Some went to work on their acceptance speeches, (like a moron I didn’t), or just milled around killing time. Slowly we all departed to get ready.

We stood in front of the hotel, waiting for the limousines rented for the event and took some pictures. Then we crammed in. It was hot, uncomfortable and whoever did the scheduling completely underestimated the Friday afternoon traffic. It took almost one and a half hours to make a 20-minute run. By the end we were hot, sweaty and just a but seasick. It was the only part of the whole week that wasn’t fun and in the scheme of things barely a blip on the radar screen. A big blip, but a blip never the less.

We had the big dinner at Prada’s, a ritzy restaurant close to the museum. The food was very good, though I passed on the salad, not willing to risk the blue cheese undoubtedly lurking between the green leaves. The next course was a small round steak, which was very good, and a stuffed pork roll, which was also good. A generous side of veggies and mashed potatoes and I was stuffed. Dessert was a chocolate lava cake, which was excellent, and some sort of crème in an espresso cup, which tasted dubious. I was very full by then so I didn’t mind passing on the dish.

Seated at our table were Lee Beavington, Brandon Sigrist, Sarah Totton, Brian Rappatta, Diana Rowland and her husband Jack, ANN MCAFFERY, TODD MCAFFERY and Lizzy, Anne’s personal assistant. I mean WOW! Unfortunately, than Jack and Diana, most of us were on the wrong side of the table to have any kind of normal conversation, but I did speak to Lizzy, who was very nice. I asked Ann Mcaffery if I could take her picture and Todd said I should get in it also. Lizzy took the pictures for me.

Very cool.

After the dinner many of the presenters visited the writers to introduce themselves and get the proper pronunciation of their names. Rob Sawyer came over and chatted for a while, then it was time to move on. It was a nice night and not many of us wanted to cram back into the limousine so we walked to the museum. Apparently San Diego decided to stick all their museums in one immense park setting. I like the idea.

The first thing I thought when I arrived was what the heck are all these people doing here? I mean there was this huge line to get in. Slowly it was settling in that this was going to be a big deal.

We slipped in a side door, I guess our tuxedos gave us away, and into the museum. We still had a couple of minutes, and since I brought my camera I rushed around taking the pictures I had missed earlier. Life was good.

We settled in and the show started and I couldn’t help but be impressed with the whole production. The first round of awards went to the illustrators and hearing their speeches I knew I couldn’t wing it. So, I borrowed a pen and snagged a reserved seating sign off the floor and jotted down some points. I had an opening joke, but it would only work if Kathy Wentworth, who was introducing me, mentioned the reason I was a year late, that being my second child, Ellery, was born that week. Luckily she did, I made the joke, and everyone laughed. And then Jerry Pournelle heckled me. Now how cool is that?

Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven were given lifetime achievement awards. I didn't heckle them.

Eldar Zakirov won the illustrator’s grand prize.

Brandon Sigrist won the writer’s grand prize, which was a huge trophy.

Congratulations to their well-deserved wins.

Afterward was the authors signing and for the first time I was glad I was in the other book, because I didn’t have to sit and sign all night. I got my book signed and another one for my wife, patrolled around, accepted well wishes from any who offered and signed the cover of XXII for any who wanted my chicken scrawl.

Near the end of the night I did a quick interview then got in the first van back to the hotel, riding with Nina Hoffman, queen of Eugene’s Wordos and Steve Hickman, who did the cover art. I got Steve to sign my books. We arrived; I bought a beer to celebrate and called it a night.


I was awake by 800 am. No matter what I did the whole week I couldn’t get my body off Eastern Standard Time. I went to sleep all right, but I’d always wake around 5 or 6 am thinking it was 8 or 9. By now I was starting to get tired.

Brian and I took one last look at the Pacific and on our way back saw Frederick Pohl sitting in the lounge area of the hotel. We walked by then we stopped. I’m not sure who said it, but we both agreed we’d never get a chance like this again, and sat with the Grand Master.

Luckily I had recently read Gateway and told him that it was a great book and stands up to the test of time. He nodded his thanks and said that his first book was Space Merchants. “After that every time I wrote a new book the critics would say it was a fine book, but no Space Merchants. Then I wrote Gateway and now they all say it’s a fine book, but no Gateway. It’s getting a bit annoying.”

If only I had his problems.

After lunch we went to the big book signing at Mysterious Galaxy’s Bookstore. And I mean big. Almost all the legendary authors from the gala were there, including Sean Williams, Steve Saville and Eric Stone, past WoTF winners who are making successful careers at writing.

I sat with Eric and learned a lot just by watching him do business. It was a long session and I signed a lot of books, both last year’s and this year’s. One fan passed around his motorcycle helmet to get signed.

Afterwards we went to Encinito for more pictures then back to the hotel for dinner and a kind of wrap party.

I drank too much. Thank God there wasn’t a lampshade handy.


I didn’t get o bed till 3:30 and the alarm went off 2 hours later. I jammed clothes, books, and memories from the gala and book signing (for the museum I’m sure will be opened in my name) into my suitcase, and somehow managed to get it shut.

My roommate also had to go at the same time as well as Sarah Totton. We met at the lobby. I took some Dramamine for the flight and went home. At first I was a little pissy about having to change planes in Minneapolis, but it actually made the trip better, with one 3 hour and one 2 hour trip.

We landed in Toronto an hour early, laughed that customs had opened my suitcase and rummaged around my dirty underwear, hugged Sarah goodbye and took a cab home.

And that was it. For anyone who is thinking about entering this contest--do it. Those who have and didn’t make it--keep trying. It’s 100% worth it.



At 12:25 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! Sounds like tons of fun (except for the blue cheese)! I can't wait a year.

At 4:22 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

And as I said at the time - I'm glad we got to have you in our year!

At 12:34 a.m., Blogger Steven Savile said...

Glad you enjoyed yourself, Mike, especially as you missed out on your own ceremony. May you continue to sell, sell, sell!


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