“Oh, you’re THAT Jeremy.” WorldCon75 and Realising You’re a Writer

 

There’s little moments in every writer’s life, when he or she realises something’s changed. You’ve upgraded. When I sell a story to a good market, when I’ve nailed a third act in a novel, or even I signed with my agent. I recognized that I’d leveled up; hit a new milestone.

But there was nothing little about my experience at WorldCon 75, where it occurred to me, perhaps for the first time, that I am a writer.

See, having never gone to a con of any sorts before, and being in the almost non-existent literary scene in Australia, I’ve only ever met authors briefly at rare book signings. And that’s assuming you have more than twenty seconds to blurt something out before you’re moved along and they’re seeing to the next person standing in line behind you.IMG_5627

So I don’t think I was ready to make my con debut WorldCon, and see everyone. My literary heroes, people I’ve been reading since I was ten years old, creators who’ve inspired me, annoyed me, entertained me, gave me food for thought: all in one place at once. In panels, in the cafes, in the bar, everywhere.

And thing I was especially not ready for: being among them. After seeing my name on the program, alongside the best and brightest of the genre, I knew I wasn’t here as a passive observer. I was here as a writer among other writers.

I hadn’t just leveled up: I’d reached a whole new level of its own.

*

Five minutes in: I’d ran into the wonderful Aliette de Bodard, who gave me a hug and said how cool it was to meet me. I didn’t have time to tell her the exact thing before she mentioned how much she liked my story in the anthology she blurbed: Where The Stars Rise. It’s one thing to write a story you love. It’s another to have someone you very much admire tell you to your face it provided them with reading pleasure.

Commence me wandering the corridors, picking out writers. Ken Liu. Ted Chiang, Daryl Gregory, Thomas Olde Hevult sipping coffee in the cafe. Robert Silverberg in the exhibit halls, Gay and Joe Haldeman in the auditorium. George R. R. Martin, casually rocking up in the main foyer (and yes, I got a photo). Ian McDonald, Ian Whates, Michael Swamnick knocking back G&T at the bar. People I’ve only interacted with over social media, people I’ve been reading for years. Now I get to see and meet them in person.

Except I’m not just meeting them. They’re meeting me.

Again: at book signings, you’re not an individual. You’re just another person in a line who presents the lofty author with a paper for them to scribble on. Then that’s it: they’re seeing the next person and you’re already forgotten.

Here, I got to sit down with Ian McDonald and talk to the man, level to level. Not as a slack-jawed idolatric fanboy to whom the concept of sex is frightening, but as another nerd who also writes about robots, far-future gang wars and exuberant cultures. I got to catch the train with Ken Liu and hear him tell me he enjoyed my essay in PoC Destroy SF. I got to tell George R. R. Martin I was from StarShipSofa (“Oh, the podcast, right?” I remember him saying. He also mispronounced my surname as “Sazzle, but that’s another story) and see him nod as he realised I was the guy who reprinted his undiscovered story The Men of Greywater Station and put it online for the first time. It was a down to earth, man-to-man experience where I was a fellow writer/editor who knew a thing or two about the craft. And all these Very Prestigious Writers actually listened to me. I wasn’t just another twenty-two year-old bloke from Down Under: I’d had work published that was noteworthy. I could sit down at the table with the best and brightest and contribute to the conversation.20819638_10155896869333072_8219742842188189269_o

I remember walking into the foyer and meeting Ted Chiang, the Ted Chiang. Admist our conversation about “smarter” SF cinema, I never got the impression I was speaking with the genius who birthed Arrival, but a quiet, intelligent man who was genuinely interested in what I had to say. Hell, having drinks with Ian McDonald for about seven hours (he bought us all 81 Euro wine) and having him introduce me to Ian Watson and Pat Cadigan as “The Lord of StarShipSofa” put the stupidest grin on my face. I was no longer an unknown outsider: I was welcomed into this circle of mad geniuses as not only a writer, but as a person. After years of struggling to get noticed and while watching these same authors get book and film deals, talking to them as other human beings and finding that they care is probably the biggest career boost I’ve had in a long time.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was: everyone, and I do mean everyone, I spoke to was aware of StarShipSofa in some capacity. All I had to do was mention the show and the connection was made: they knew who I was. I’d talked to Mary Robinette Kowal for ten minutes straight before she saw my badge and exclaimed “oh, you’re that Jeremy.” Even outside of meeting authors and narrators I’d reprinted and worked with, I had people who recognized my name and said how much they loved the podcast. I think more people were surprised that I didn’t know how popular the show was. I knew people tuned in, but I couldn’t imagine this many people, or how highly they regarded it. To have people express what my weekly efforts of producing good stories means to them is incredibly humbling.

This is doubly true for my own writing. Unless people email in, you don’t know if anyone’s reading your stuff, let alone enjoying it. Here, I’d have people casually bring up my work in conversations. Stop me in the corridor to say they loved a piece I’d written. That they found the certain story to really hit home. They’d name the stories I’d written, tell me their favourite characters, their favourite moments. They compared themes they’d found across my stories (some more valid than others). I was told they loved my “icky flavour if sci-fi body horror”, which is apparently now my sub-genre. I was congratulated on acquiring an agent, and was told by many, many people that I’d landed a solid one. That my novel sounded “super cool” and they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it.IMG_5715

And I’m still reeling from the fact that people even read my stuff.

My work has left an impact on people. My long hours creating worlds and characters I love actually matters to people. The stories I struggled with, thinking no one is going to read this shit has people I admire approaching me to dole out praise. As a writer, you want for nothing more. It puts a certain responsibility on your shoulders to continue doing good work, because there are people out there paying attention to me as a creator.

Somewhere in the midst of all this: it told me that I am an author. People read, love, respect my work. And there’s no dialing down from that. Even if I were to never write another story, I will still be an author who is read and recognized. I won’t ever be able to go a con or hang out in a writer’s group be a nobody: there will be someone who knows me or has heard of me.

Which is equal parts inspiring as it is unnerving.

*

Cons can be exhausting. Being in fandom can be exhausting. Being a writer in fandom can be very exhausting.IMG_5707

Meeting your readers and admirers is welcoming. But if you hear it so many times in such a short period, it loses its charm. Recognizing people in every corridor, meeting someone you know almost every fifteen minutes, running back and forth to attend a lunch or meeting or panel or whatever for 16 hours a day? It wears you out.

I was scheduled to appear on two panels at WorldCon 75. Having never done panels before, I had no clue what to expect from talking to a room full of strangers about my so-called expert opinion about writing. Both panels went very well; the second one especially, where our room (see photo) was fully packed out. The discussion was fantastic, the questions were great, and people cared more about and our approach to our work. Hell, a Swedish blogger took notes on everything we’d said. I only wished I was on more of these panels.IMG_5711

I’d made plans with my fellow panellists after the event. But when we were done, I got swarmed. People wanted to talk more. That story of mine: where did that get published? That market I mentioned: how did I get published there? When could they find my work? What was my website, again? How could they submit to StarShipSofa? How did I get my agent? Could I perhaps mention them to my agent? What was my book about? How long did it take to write my book? Did I have any advice?

I’m trying to answer the best I can, while still looking for my friends who are disappearing down the narrow corridor, while answering my phone, while fighting against the surge of crowds, while still thinking that I haven’t eaten in seven hours.

For about ten minutes, I think I got a glimpse of what being “famous” is like. It’s not pretty.

Coupled with the built up strain of Being an Author in Fandom for 16 hours a day, everything crashed on top of me and I needed a quiet corner to hide in. I just couldn’t do people anymore. I loved mingling with my fellow writers. But I couldn’t take it anymore.

Now, anxiety ain’t ever going to be a problem I’ll have to deal with. I’m outgoing, I’m unserved, I’m an intense individual. Ask anyone who knows me. I’ve got skin thicker than a dragon. I’m probably in the top 5% tier of “can tolerable any bullshIMG_5482it” people.

And day three floored me.

Now that I’ve been on the other side of the signing table as it were, I’ve got a newfound respect for famous authors, actors, celebrities. I simply don’t know how they deal with the attention. How do you compartmentalize having someone want something from you at every corner? I’m nobody, just a guy who gets a few minutes of attention at a sci-fi gathering. Anytime, I could walk out the doors and no one would bother me. No one would demand a photo from me. No one would stalk me down the hallways, hoping to get a few minutes of my time. George R. R. Martin? Neil Gaiman? Not so much.

How do these guys manage to go on book tour without blowing their brains out?

So yeah. Being in the spotlight, even briefly, has a dark side. As humbling and amazing and ego-boosting it is to have people want to hear your advice or gush about your work, everyone has their limits. And trudging back to my hotel at 2pm with a pulsing headache, I know I reached mine.

*

I’m back in at work in Australia now. Back to being another average guy on a beach suburb. I take my laptop to the cafes to write, because that’s the majority of what being a writer means: writing. The cons, the panels, meeting the people who gush about your work: that’s all a bonus.

But after attending WorldCon, I know that there’s people out there who are taking notice of my work. People who remember me. People who are waiting for my next story, and are hoping they get to read my novel. I’m a recognized name in the field, and my literary heroes are aware of me as both a writer and editor. I sat on the same programme with George R. R. Martin, Robert Silverberg and Cixin Liu. I’m still getting fanmail for my panels and having photos of me get tagged on social media.

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And I’m sitting here, still trying to figure out how it all happened.

WorldCon changed my outlook as a writer, and made me feel like a real, genuine writer for the first time. It’s made my long hours doing something I love so much more rewarding. It was the family reunion I never knew I had. A really messed up, half-mad family, but a family nonetheless. And I’m already counting down the days until the next one.

So long, and thanks for all the lutefisk.

The Deal with the Devil: Talking with Harlan Ellison

It was a few months ago when I realised that episode 500 of StarShipSofa was bearing down the tracks. Five Oh Oh glorious episodes of our show. We needed to mark the occasion with a ground-breaking author and a ground-breaking story. But who? Not William Gibson, he was episode 400. Not George R. R. Martin, we had that privilege back in episode 389. Not Chiang, Sterling, Moorcock, Gaiman, Brin or any other of the masters of the genre we’ve already had on the show already. No. We needed someone special; someone so outlandishly awesome and popular and lauded to capstone our show.

The only answer: Harlan Ellison.

So we did.

Now, Ellison isn’t famous. He’s infamous. For many, many reasons, including but not limited to: getting fired from Disney on Day 1, suing half of Hollywood, sending 213 bricks (exact number) to a publisher and dead gopher postage due, multiple accusations of assault, broke a TV executive’s pelvis, pissing everyone he possibly can off and writing the darkest short story of all time. Punch his name into google and you’ll find a laundry list of him spewing vitriol about fans and fandom and Hollywood, roasting morons and delivering smackdowns and rants so insult-laden you’ll gag trying to repeat them. He’s his own lifelong parody.

But he’s also my bleeding hero. It’s my lifetime goal to become a slightly-less assholish, 50% less white, 100% less American version of Uncle Harlan Ellison.

So, naturally, I called him on the phone on a Friday night, his time, and asked to buy his story.

Again, everything that can possibly be said about Harlan Ellison has at one point likely been said. He’s been called (and called others) insults that don’t exist yet. His temper would make Satan piss himself.

But that wasn’t my experience with him. We’d had prior correspondence, (as a datapoint: I got in touch with his publisher, who gave me his address. I posted a letter asking to reprint his story. Two months later, I get an email with his phone number and an invitation to call). So he knew I was calling and what I was calling for. I’d expected to speak with an intern, assistant, his wife, anyone.

I was not expecting the man himself to answer the phone.

I gave my name, said I was looking to reprint “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” for StarShipSofa in audio. Ellison didn’t even pause, he launched straight into the thick of it. He told me he was totally cool with us doing it. He asked how we were planning to reprint the story in audio, (“cause it has two different endings, y’know?”). Admittedly, I had a brain breakdown as I’d forgotten that fact, but told Ellison that we’d record both and let the viewers decide (“we’ve never done split endings before, so it’d be cool to do it for our capstone show”) I vaguely remember saying.

“Huh.” Was all he grunted in response. I didn’t get called a moron or retard, so I assumed he was satisfied. “But there’s an issue with the contract,” he told me, and I could hear the (I assume) creak of his chair as he sat up. “The…uhh, obscenity clause. I dunno if some asshole is going to take offense at the word “I” and I don’t wanna be dragged out in court again. It’s happened before and I don’t want them digging up my body for the next two hundred years to put my bones on trial.”

Oh. That’s the Harlan Ellison everyone talks about, I thought. Up until then, he sounded like a docile older bloke, only one that uses the word “asshole” every second sentence. But no, now I knew I was speaking with a cult figure who trademarks his own name and gets a kick out of murdering dreams and telling Hollywood writers to get nuked until they glow.

So naturally, I responded with “assuming we get to two hundred years.”

And he chuckled. Not a big one, mind, nothing that’ll match GRRM’s mighty guffaw. But a laugh nonetheless. I don’t consider myself particularly masterful in the world of comedy, but if I can make the dude who got fired from Disney on day one for making Rule 34 jokes about cartoon porn laugh, then that’s all the validation I need.

The rest of the conversation went smoothly, mainly regarding more confident matters and technical details about the show. But near the end, Uncle Harlan gave his consent and the go-ahead for us to talk more about reprinting and playing his Nebula winning story, how we’d produce it, etc. Again, the man doesn’t miss a beat. Old age hasn’t made those gears rust one bit. And seeing how he was in a good mood, I opted to tell him that I’ve been reading him since I was eleven years old, I’m a fan and super stoked to be talking with him now.

“Heh, alright kiddo, thanks for letting me know,” was the friendly grunt of a response. By this point I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be chewed out or not, just so I could say it happened, but so far I’d probably lasted longer than a lot of others folks have. “You have a good evening,” he ended up saying.

“I’m calling from Australia, actually,” I said, thinking that I’d just contradicted Harlan Ellison.

“Ahh. Australia,” he drawled out. “I know that place. Too goddamn hot, but I love your koalas.”

Hand on heart, the author of I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream, said those exact words to me. I guess I should have said something witty, but I’m not that smart and we said our goodbyes and the convo ended there. And with me in one piece.

Getting a signature across the dotted line is one thing. But talking with a SF master, the god of short fiction, and one as notorious as Uncle Harlan? I’m still unsure if anything I do as an editor will top that. Now the story is up, the reviews and downloads are coming in, George Hrab’s phenomenal narration aced it; and it’s been a success. Cheers all ’round.

Of course, if Master Ellison doesn’t approve of what we did with his story, he has my phone number, name, email and home address. So the jury’s still out whether I’m going to going to get his opinion on our adaptation one way or another. But even if I do wake up to my lawn being on fire and my dog nailed to a tree, I’m sure it’d have been worth it.

WorldCon 75: my first con

I’m still gathering my thoughts on the events of WorldCon 75 and what it means for myself as a writer and my current position as an author of science-fiction. But I will say that now having returned from Finland, my first con ever was an absolute blast. Both my panels went incredibly well – the latter of which (the one on editing) received very, very nice tweets and even some fanmail.

It was tiring and draining and intense, but also incredibly fun and invigorating and an incredible space to be in. To illustrate, this conversation happened with every person I met:

Me: This my first con!

Them: Wait. Your first con ever!?

Me: Yep. Came all the way from Australia.

Them: Wow. You sure jumped in the deep end.

Deep end is putting it lightly. But maybe for the first time I actually felt like a writer that’s part of the writing community. It’s impossible to get that same level of fandom tangible-ness in somewhere like Australia, but having dozens of people tell me they enjoy my work and name stories they loved is very flattering indeed. Again, more on what all this means for me later. But just know I had a blast. In a few days I’d: shared three bottles of wine with Ian McDonald, talked cinema with Daryl Gregory and Thomas Olde Heuvelt, had coffee with Walter John Williams, got offered a tour of LucasFilms next year in LA, and had my surname pronounced as “Sazzle” by George R. R. Martin, and have witnesses to prove it.

Thank you to everyone who made my first con one of the most memorable events in the past few years. I can’t name everyone, and I’m sure I’m forgetting many many people, but here’s the list of people I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with over the course of the con. After years of seeing you all through social media, Years Best anthologies and YouTube interviews, it was a pleasure to finally shake your hands. Each of you are amazing and awesome and I cannot wait to see you next year.

S. B. Divya
Effie Sieberg
Elizabeth Bear
Navah Wolfe
Ian McDonald
Ian Sales
Daryl Gregory
Gregory Bossert
Cat Sparks
Theodorida Dyer
Ellen Datlow
Mel Melcer
Aidan Doyle
William Ledbetter
T. Jane Berry
Anatoly Belilovsky
Sandy Parsons
Eugenia Triantafyllou
Natalia Theodoridou
Benjamin C. Kinney
Arley Song
Ken Liu
Ted Chiang
Cixin Liu
Alex Li
Neil Williamson
Amal El-Mohtar
DongWon Song
Aliette de Bodard
Walter Jon Williams
Ian Watson
Ian Whates
Bo Balder
Chris Cornell
Adam Jackson
Jakob Drud
Debra Jess
Katherine Carter
Jeremy Carter
Chloe Yates
Paddy Kelly
Jane Johnson
Natashsa Bradon
George R. R. Martin
Robin Hobb
Julie Novakova
Taiyo Fuji
Joe Abercrombie
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Charlie Jane Anders
Alisdar Stuart
Erin Roberts
Chris Beckkett
Leo Vladimirsky
Tade Thomspon
Lee Harris
Mary Robinette Kowal
Natasha Barron
Lawrence M. Schoen
KB Rylander
Noah Beit-Aharon
Jason Stevan Hill
Jonathan Strahan
Santiago Belluco
Emma Maree
Jack Nicholls
Laura Pearlman
Katrina Archer

 

I’m sure there’s a meat-grinder’s worth of people I’m forgetting. But again, it was a pleasure to hang with you all in Finland.
Here’s to San Jose.

WorldCon 75 Photos

So. Some photos from WorldCon. Blog post with more details (and some thoughts on my identity as a writer and what changed with my first con) incoming, but for now, these photos. Missing you all you mad, amazing people already.

Codex breakfast. Without the breakfast.

 

First con problems.

Me, Navah Wolfe, Ben Kinney and Elizabeth Bear casually hanging out:

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Some panels: Ken Liu, Ellen Datlow and other smart people talking editing.

Mr. Abercrombie, and others…

Audience for my first panel EVAR:

Audience for my second panel EVAR. People actually came, asked smart questions, and my use of “word vomit” made everyone laugh.

Oh, yeah.

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Shea’s looking….very much alive at the Hugos presentation award ceremony.

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The photo ceremony:

Casually chatting with Walter Jon Williams.

Let’s play a game. It’s like Where’s Wally, but instead it’s “Where’s GRRM?”

Chinese SF party:

The Tor.com party:

Beer and drinks with Ian McDonald himself (this man is partially why I write/read SF, I can die happy now.)

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Also, I think I know this guy. He wrote Beauty and the Beast, I think.dgxeut1xsaabd1c

Thanks to everyone involved for making my first WorldCon an incredible one. You were all so wonderful and generous and awesome. Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Slush Reading opportunity at StarShipSofa

I’m looking for additional readers to read science-fiction stories that arrive in StarShipSofa’s slush. Accepted applicants will be considered staff members of StarShipSofa and the District of Wonders, but will not be required to do more than manage the slush pile, rejecting and passing stories up to me as you see fit.

If you’re interested, please contact me at: jeremyszal@gmail.com with the subject line: “SSS Slush Reader: YOUR NAME HERE”. Give me the run down on why you want this position, why you’re a science-fiction fan, your favourite (and least favourite) sub-genres and styles, and your favourite authors, and anything else you think might be relevant.

I’ll be in touch if I’m interested in following up.

Good luck!

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