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My Incredibly Busy April, #1: The Writers & Illustrators of the Future Awards Banquet

Posted in Special Events on April 27, 2019 @ 9:42 pm

April has been a whirlwind for me, between making two major trips and finishing work on the ten-volume Forgotten Classics of Pulp Fiction series that goes on sale next week. I’ve rarely had a busier or more productive month.

It began in earnest on the 3rd when I flew to Los Angeles to attend the 35th annual Writers & Illustrators of the Future awards banquet, the climactic event of a week-long confab that united budding science-fiction writers and artists with seasoned pros. In 1983 legendary SF author L. Ron Hubbard organized a yearly contest inspired by the “pay it forward” philosophy. Encouraging submissions from aspiring fictioneers, and enlisting the aid of his SF contemporaries to select the best stories, Hubbard envisioned the competition as a means of discovering and nurturing new talents and thus keep the genre fresh and exciting.

The first Writers of the Future award gala took place in 1985 amidst glamorous Beverly Hills surroundings. Famous SF author and critic Algis Budrys headed a blue-ribbon panel of judges that included Golden Age greats Theodore Sturgeon and Jack Williamson as well as digest-era luminaries Roger Zelazny and Robert Silverberg. Ray Bradbury and A. E. van Vogt were among the distinguished SF writers in attendance, and the contest’s first award-winner was Dean Wesley Smith, who has gone on to enjoy a fabulous career in SF as writer, editor, and essayist. Smith and other finalists had the pleasure of seeing their entries published in a book titled L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future.

LRH died in 1986 but the annual contest has been administered ever since by Author Services Inc., the company founded to manage his affairs. Eventually the competition was also opened to illustrators. For many years issued by Bridge Publications Inc., the yearly Writers & Illustrators of the Future collections since 2004 have been published under the auspices of Galaxy Press, a division of ASI established to keep Hubbard’s work (including his early pulp yarns) in print.

I became acquainted with Galaxy Press shortly after its founding when president John Goodwin and a few members of his staff attended several Pulpcons as part of their marketing efforts prior to launching a new line of trade paperbacks that revived vintage LRH yarns. He’s long been a Murania Press supporter and booster of my Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction, a revised second edition of which I published last year. But I don’t claim to be a follower of contemporary SF and therefore was both surprised and flattered when in January he invited me to be the keynote speaker at this year’s awards banquet.

Striking a nostalgic note, I was to deliver an address celebrating what’s come to be known as the Golden Age of Science Fiction, largely a phenomenon of the pulp-magazine era. My focus would be trained on Street & Smith’s Astounding Science Fiction under the editorship of John W. Campbell, who discovered and/or nurtured many of the field’s greatest talents, among them Heinlein, Sturgeon, Asimov, van Vogt, del Rey, de Camp, and Hubbard himself.

As this awards ceremony is a tightly scripted, lavishly mounted affair comparable to the movie industry’s Oscars broadcast—I kid you not—John needed me to prepare a speech beforehand rather than wing it, as I’m accustomed to doing. Moreover, I’d have to deliver it from teleprompters strategically placed in the massive ballroom of Hollywood’s Taglyan Complex, where the affair took place. I’d never used teleprompters before and wondered if they would inhibit me at all. Additionally, the ceremony was being live-streamed to an international audience. That, too, was potentially intimidating.

But when I arrived at the Taglyan on Thursday the 5th to rehearse, I had no difficulty mastering the ‘prompter. Frankly, I was more nervous about squeezing into the rented tuxedo graciously provided by my hosts.

The Friday-night gala was a genuine revelation. Again, I wasn’t kidding when I compared it to the annual Oscars broadcast. The venue was jaw-droppingly beautiful to begin with, and Galaxy Press had constructed its own stage for the presenters. A camera “jib” at least 15 feet high was deployed to get sweeping overhead shots of the 400-plus attendees during the ceremony. Makeup artists applied last-minute touchups to speakers as they were ushered backstage by a floor manager. There were even “seat fillers” to occupy empty chairs temporarily vacated by presenters and presentees.

The Taglyan Complex ballroom. That little black & white spec in the middle is me. (Photo courtesy Author Services Inc.)

And the food. My God, the food. I’ve attended more banquets than I care to remember, consumed more rubber-chicken dinners than my stomach cares to remember. You do enough of these things, the meal itself becomes superfluous and one pecks perfunctorily while wondering how long it’ll be before you can bolt the room and head for the nearest McDonald’s. But not at the Taglyan Complex. Everything was delicious, from the appetizers straight through to the dessert. I was particularly taken with an avocado-and-grape concoction served early on. Sitting next to John Goodwin, I was hard-pressed not to scoop up his portion when he briefly left the table.

My other tablemates comprised an illustrious lot. John and his lovely wife Emily were to my right; Dr. Beatrice Kondo (whose late father Yoji was a Writers of the Future judge) and her mother sat to my left. Beatrice, representing the board of directors of The Heinlein Society, was there to bestow upon Dr. Gregory Benford (another WotF judge) the 2019 Robert A. Heinlein Award for his efforts “to nurture and promulgate good science fiction and fantasy.” She was delightful, as were our fellow diners Todd McCaffrey (Anne’s son) and first WotF Grand Prize winner Dean Wesley Smith, who not only admitted to owning a copy of the Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide but also shared his reminiscences of our mutual friend, uber-collector Bill Trojan.

Master of ceremonies Gunhild Jacobs got the evening’s presentations off to a grand start. The presenters constituted a Who’s Who of contemporary SF writers and illustrators, among them Orson Scott Card, Bob Eggleton (a nine-time Hugo winner who was given the evening’s Lifetime Achievement Award), Todd McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Jodi Lynn Nye, Tim Powers, Dr. Robert J. Swayer, and Dean Smith. There were 12 winners in each category: writers Christopher Baker, Carrie Callahan, David Cleden, Preston Dennett, Andrew Dykstal, John Haas, Kyle Kirrin, Mica Scotti Kole, Rustin Lovewell, Wulf Moon, Elise Stephens, and Kai Wolden; and illustrators Aliya Chen, Alexander Gustafson, Yingying Jiang, Sam Kemp, Qianjiao Ma, Allen Morris, Jennifer Ober, Josh Pemberton, Emerson Rabbitt, Christine Rhee, Vytautas Vasiliauskas, and Alice Wang.

Some of the acceptance speeches were particularly noteworthy. I was especially taken with Preston Dennett, who confessed to writing 47 entries (contestants can make submissions on a quarterly basis) before having one chosen. Now that’s dedication! A few winners made great personal sacrifices to achieve their dreams of becoming published authors and illustrators, and their stories too I found quite moving.

My address went well, I thought, and was warmly received. I received many compliments on it afterward, including one from the nonagenarian widow of Golden Age great A. E. van Vogt, whose classic “Slan” I had referred to as a thematic precursor of Marvel’s X-Men. It was enormously gratifying to receive praise from so many SF professionals. And I hadn’t been intimidated by the teleprompter or the international on-line audience. Truth be told, I enjoyed the hell out of myself while on stage.

Delivering my speech to an audience that neither fell asleep nor threw vegetables at me — so it must have been okay. (Photo courtesy Author Services Inc.)

All in all, the evening couldn’t have gone better. Having mounted some fairly elaborate events myself (including a film festival at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel just a block down Hollywood Boulevard from the Author Services building), I marveled at the apparent ease with which Galaxy Press had coordinated the whole shebang—a week-long confab that included workshops, seminars, and social events bringing together the pros and the tyros. Given my own experience it was easy to recognize that the logistical challenges in planning such a massive operation are incredibly daunting. But everything was organized to the nth degree and seemed to come off without a hitch, at least to my eyes.

Also, while I’ve had dozens of speaking engagements—at bookstores, libraries, museums, universities, conventions, film festivals, and the like—I’ve never been treated better than I was by John Goodwin and his staff. From the moment a driver picked me up at LAX Airport, it was apparent that everybody with whom I’d be dealing had been given a picture by which to recognize me and address me by name. Every single person was friendly and solicitous, despite the fact that they had far more important personages with whom to deal that week. It was a real pleasure to have been part of the ceremony.

The 35th Writers and Illustrators of the Future anthology is now available both on line and in better bookstores. I note that to date it has received unanimous five-star reviews on Amazon. Get yours today!

Finally, I want to thank John Goodwin, his wife Emily, contest director Joni Labaqui, MC Gunhild Jacobs, and all the wonderful folks at Author Services and Galaxy Press for showing me such a good time. Really, it was a thrill to play a small role in this delightful event!

I flew home on Sunday the 7th and had just two days to prepare for my trip to the 19th annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention—about which I’ll have plenty to say in my next post here.

 

 

5 thoughts on “My Incredibly Busy April, #1: The Writers & Illustrators of the Future Awards Banquet

  1. Thank you Ed. You really did score a home-run with your speech. I heard more compliments from our Contest judges on your speech than any previous keynote speech. So again, thank you very much!
    My best,
    John

    • As I said, John, I’m honored to have been invited to participate in an event of this scope, surrounded by luminaries in the SF field. It was a real pleasure, believe me! All best to the nice folks at ASI and Galaxy Press, and continued best wishes for the success of the Writers & Illustrators of the Future contest!

  2. Ed, I’ve watched your speech at the Awards Banquet online and you did a fine job of covering The Golden Age of Science Fiction, Astounding and John Campbell. Even the speaker following you, Tim Powers, said he was impressed. I had my doubts that you would be back in time for the drive to the Windy City Pulp Convention but you made it!

  3. Ed, Your speech was fantastic! Your knowledge of the pulp era is impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed how you tied the pulp era into contemporary fiction, showing how influential this time period was to us today. I feel it is very important for people to know this and not lose the significance of this era. Thank you for attending the gala event. The staff of Author Services and many others who attended are still talking about your presentation. I hope we have the pleasure to have you with us again in the future. Oh, and I can’t wait to read “Blood and Thunder”!.

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