First, an old friend. I was met at the hotel by my friend Julian. I have moved around the world a lot in my life, living as an expat and trading one state for another more times than I can reliably recall. The result of this is that no one stayed my friend out of inertia; everyone who has known me for more than a year or two has been kept for a reason and by force of will. Julian knew me when I was 15, when I had been living on my own for nearly a year, working as an au pair and a dishwasher. To say that he met me in chaos is to understate the human capacity for disorder.
He lived next door to the home where I worked for room and board, the most red-headed of an Irish family. I told him I wanted to be a writer.
Seeing him at NorWesCon brought a wide circle back upon itself. There is a character in Midwife based loosely on someone we both knew back in those days. There is no other person on earth to whom I could have told that story. We sat over coffee and measured the years in each other’s faces.
New friends appeared almost immediately. I met the other PKD nominees— I don’t know why I expected them to be haughty and dismissive, but I did. I was up against some serious talent and I more than expected to lose. I had accepted loss before boarding the plane, and I just hoped to have fun.
I met Rod Duncan first, whom I had interacted with on Twitter, just a bit. He came and found me, shook my hand, and suggested that we form the League of Authors with Cross-Dressing Protagonists. I liked him immediately; he was funny and genuine and such a gentleman. Soon after, we both linked up with Emmi Itäranta and her wonderful partner. Both Rod’s and Emmi’s books had blown me away, they’re both huge talents and I was a little starstruck. They are both lovely people, and we got along wonderfully.
We all met Jennifer Marie Brissett the following day, and we knew that sadly neither Cherie Priest or Jonathan Strahan were able to attend, so we were four. Jenn, too, was wonderful and much more friendly than I had expected. Jenn, too, had written a book that had impressed and humbled me, and I wanted to ask her a thousand questions about it, to tell her I was sure she would win.
We all got time to sit and talk about the process of being nominated and about our lives, where our books had come from and how all this had happened. One by one we confessed that none of us expected to win and that nobody had an acceptance speech ready.
That long, quiet afternoon was probably the best time I had at the whole convention. I went to parties, drank whiskey and wine. I danced with Browncoats and saluted Khaleesis. I sat on the Iron Throne and had a few moments of glory so acute that I struggle to put words to them. But belonging in that room was the best of it. I am sure.
The day of the award itself I wasn’t nervous at all. I stayed with a friend (a supportive, wonderful old friend) off-site, so I got dressed and did my makeup in the morning and just wore my party clothes all day. I sat on the Feminism in Fandom panel that day and I felt quick and calm. I got through dinner just fine and felt absolutely normal.
Once the ballroom opened and people began to stream in for the award ceremony, I readily lost my cool the way a kid loses a balloon. My heart rate skyrocketed. I drank all the water in my glass, then drained the ones at the vacant spaces at my table. My feet pattered in quick rhythms. I bought myself a drink to calm my nerves. It failed.
We each read from our books. Absent writers had someone read for them. I had to go last. My mouth was like the talking flap in the front of a felt puppet. I sat back down unsteadily.
Back home, my husband and friends were watching the live video feed NorWesCon had put online. My mom was watching.
Jennifer Marie Brissett won the Special Citation and accepted it graciously, looking shocked. I was very happy for her, and I immediately wondered whether Emmi or Rod would win the award.
As soon as Jenn sat down, the room felt electrified. My throat closed up and I forgot how to breathe. Seconds later, I was announced as the winner of the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award.
Someone very thoughtful at my table had a camera trained on me and caught the shock and delight on my face in that very moment. I know I walked to the podium and accepted, I know that Gordon van Gelder put the award in my hand.
I know this because I have seen photos.
There was live video at the time, and there was supposed to be a recording after the fact. However, technical difficulties rendered this year’s video useless. So I have to trust my memory and the tweets from that night.
I know that I opened with, “Does HOLY SHIT count as an acceptance speech?” I know that I thanked my people. I know that I closed by saying that this was my Cinderella moment, except that it was so far beyond my expectations that it was more like the prince marrying the pumpkin. Beyond that, the moment is lost to me. I vaguely recall shaking Obama’s hand, pulling the sword from the stone, and flying away on Falcor’s back.
The last of the con exists in memory like the view from a fast-moving carousel. I shook hands, accepted drinks and congratulations, hugged and thanked and thanked again. The NorWesCon staff and volunteers were marvelously helpful, even when I lost my badge. The guests of honor were lovely and gracious and it was an honor to appear with them.
NWC 38 was one of the best weekends of my life so far. It’s been a month since then and it feels like years ago and yesterday. I am so grateful for all of it, and for everyone I saw there and everyone who welcomed me home.
This is the best and the strangest life I have ever known.