The Gala and Awards Ceremony
Contributed by Wulf Moon
Hello, I’m Wulf Moon. I love this Contest. I have always loved this Contest. Wait! That was my acceptance speech at the Writers & Illustrators of the Future Awards for Volume 35. This is two-and-a-half years later! Guess what? Nothing has changed. In fact, as I look out upon this year’s winners in their crisp black tuxedos and fabulous flowing gowns, I love this contest even more. Why? For what this Contest did for me, for what this Contest is about to do for them.
It’s going to make them believe.
John Goodwin, President of Galaxy Press, asked me to take a different approach to this year’s annual awards gala blog: to share the experience from the perspective of a prior winner. It’s been a different couple of years to say the least, so a different type of blog is in order.
George Mallory, the first person to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, was asked by a reporter, “Why did you want to climb it?” His answer? “Because it’s there.” But I believe the true answer remained unspoken, and it was this: Because I knew I could. Everest was not the first mountain Mallory had climbed. Each mountain he had summited gave Mallory the skills and confidence necessary to conquer the next, until eventually, he conquered the highest in the world. Belief determines reality.
When you’re an aspiring writer, winning Writers of the Future can seem like climbing Everest. Because the Contest is there, many seek the summit. In doing so, they build up their skills and confidence, and when they reach the top, they have indeed accomplished a monumental task, worthy of celebration and honor. That’s the gift bequeathed by L. Ron Hubbard to aspiring writers of speculative fiction. His creation and endowment of the Contest was designed to pay it forward for generations to come, to bring writers and illustrators that succeeded in reaching its summit experts in the field to help them learn how to climb the next. The grand award ceremony that rivals the Oscars is the icing on the cake, but it’s just as important. It tells the winners that they have accomplished something that’s monumental. Reaching a summit so grand makes you believe anything is possible.
Belief determines reality. From experience, I can tell you that this Contest makes you BELIEVE.
The day began getting dressed in tuxedos and formal gowns. Most of the winners had never been to a formal black-tie event like this before. That in itself makes you feel special. As Mark Twain said, clothes make the man—naked people have little or no influence on society. Everyone looked special as they gathered in the hotel lobby, and making you feel special is what this day is all about.
I helped usher the groups into the Hummer stretch limos. They’re impressive vehicles even if you’ve never been in one before. At my event, I remember thinking we’d get shuttled to the banquet hall in vans and was floored to see the limos lined up. As we road to the Taglyan Complex that day, I sang Dolly Parton’s “White Limozeen” in my head. Here we were on the iconic Hollywood Boulevard, riding behind tinted windows like all the stars, people on the street taking pictures as we passed. You think, “This can’t be real, can it?” But it is real, and I’m sure this year’s winners had that same feeling. The cliché of pinching yourself does not come near to describing the feeling. It’s more a feeling of “Who am I and why do I deserve this?” Aspiring writers and artists often take flack for choosing to create, and in more than a few families, there’s someone in it that feels obligated to tell you that you’ll never amount to anything being a writer or artist. And here you are, cruising down the streets of Hollywood, in a white limousine.
When you step out of the limos at the gardens of the Taglyan center, the red carpet stretches before you. I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s real. They really do roll out the red carpet.” Photographers and reporters are everywhere, and you feel starstruck by the photo shoots and asides with reporters for interviews. It’s a scene out of a Hollywood movie, and you get what my former mentor Dean Wesley Smith calls the “gosh-wows.” All this for little ol’ me? I just wrote a story. Was it really that important?
But you didn’t just write a story or create an illustration. Most spent years and even decades at the process, submitting their creations to the Contest and elsewhere, licking their wounds after each rejection, and then dusting themselves off to repeat the process again. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And yet that’s what creatives do. They lower their heads and bang against that wall over and over again as people look on and say they’re crazy. It doesn’t matter. Writers write, artists art, as L. Ron Hubbard said. And if they keep at it and keep improving, they’re going to get recognized. But nobody told you recognition would be like this, and the feeling of victory over what seemed impossible odds makes you feel like a hero at the end of your own quest. You have conquered. All of this hullabaloo is trying to tell you that. Perhaps some of the words of those naysayers bled away at this point for these winners. It certainly helped me.
One thing that floored me, and I bet it did this group, is the giant statue they create for you from the cover story of your anthology. Mine was a giant iron robot, based on an illustration by Bob Eggleton. Theirs looked like a towering centurion guard, based on an illustration by Echo Chernik. At both events the sculptures were so big you could get your pictures taken within the creation’s arms, and as the cameras flash you think, “What publisher would take the time and expense to create this just for my event?” To have a creation of such magnitude come to life from the cover of your book? It’s a combination of mystery, marvel, and magic. As I watched winners get their pictures taken with friends and family that had arrived to celebrate along with them, I smiled. If their families had had their doubts, belief was growing in them as well.
When you are ushered into the Taglyan’s ballroom, there are always cries of “Oh my god! Oh wow! It’s beautiful.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ve never been to the Oscars, but I’ve watched them every year. This ballroom surpasses that venue in grandeur. With its backlit ceiling, glittering chandeliers, and opulent stage with outstretched golden Phoenix wings, it takes your breath away. For me, it’s seeing that stage for the first time that stole my breath. I had visualized walking up to it to receive an award since the 90s. At last, the vision had materialized into reality. My belief that I belonged here had not failed me, though I had been through more than a few dark nights along the way. I know at least one writer this year that must have felt the same—he too had been submitting since the 90s. Proof that persistence yields rewards. In fact, that was the binding thread through virtually every presentation the winners heard this week. It’s the main ingredient to become a professional writer.
The banquet meal is at its culinary peak at the Taglyan. Larry Niven (Ringworld) proclaimed at ours it was the finest meal he had ever eaten, and that was impressive considering all the award banquets that man has been to. Filling our bodies with delicious nourishment in the delightful company of creatives bubbles up an atmosphere of happy satisfaction. The Contest nourished us in body, mind, and spirit by bringing us under its wings. Even music is celebrated, as the night began with a welcome from Gunhild Jacobs, Executive Director of Author Services. Because of the pandemic, she spoke of the uniqueness of this celebration. Two years’ worth of winners had gathered at one event, but she promised that would only create double the magic, and Author Services delivered.
We were launched into a music and dance performance by Crystal Starr and Emcirque. I confess I was so nervous about my speech in my year (I’ve won many awards in public speaking, but this is a speech in front of a live-streamed global audience!) that all I absorbed was robot rover, flashy dancers. I hope this years’ winners got more from their wonderful performance than I did.
The president of Galaxy Press, John Goodwin, announced the release of Volume 37, and reminded the audience Volume 36 had already been released and they could get both copies signed by the writers and artists at the conclusion of the ceremony. Each year a beautiful release video is played to a dramatic musical score. I was thrilled to see our trailer on the huge screens to each side of the stage with an animation of a giant iron robot moving through the sea. Theirs had a special feature—two volumes portrayed in one video, united by complimentary illustrations by one master artist—the Illustrators of the Future Coordinating Judge, Echo Chernik. Never before had two volumes been united by a sequel cover story. Contest judge Jodi Lynn Nye delivered, and master artist Chernik united both anthologies with her exciting blend of covers. Double the magic indeed!
I loved this quote in Goodwin’s presentation. The Midwest Book Review noted in their most recent review: “Writers of the Future is the gold standard of emerging talent into the field of science fiction fantasy that has contributed more to the genre than any other source.” Knowing the aspiring writers and illustrators that have emerged from this Contest in its 37-year history, I couldn’t agree more.
Awards and speeches ensued—more on that in a moment. At the halfway point came the keynote speaker’s address, and the audience cheered with delight as Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, walked across the stage. She opened with a quote by C.S. Lewis: “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
Let me go on the record right here and say I hope her speech gets published immediately and gets read by everyone that’s involved in the creation and enjoyment of speculative fiction and art. Weisskopf embodies what we all believe in—everyone is important in this industry, from geeky fangirl cutting vegetables and cheese at publisher parties, to those that preside over large publishing empires. We are family, admitted into this club by one commonality—we love science fiction and all that it represents. That’s all it takes to be admitted, and Weisskopf said there is so much to be celebrated by that fact. Let me quote her words.
“So understand that when I say ‘SF’ that this is a large umbrella, and it covers multitudes. There is room for everybody here. That’s not an accident. The people who make up the community of science fiction have always been inclusive, and have always been generous of spirit.
“One of the things we do as a community is pay it forward. This whole contest is one big way for those who love L. Ron Hubbard’s work to pay it forward.
“Our culture was one of inclusion: the only criteria needed to join? Enjoy science fiction. Boom, there’s the secret handshake. And I’ve seen that in action for over 40 years.”
As the audience cheered and applauded, I felt proud to be a member of such a warm and inclusive group of human beings. May such positivity and camaraderie keep rising to the top!
After the keynote address, the winners’ speeches resumed. Some were brief, some were detailed, but all showed deep gratitude for Hubbard’s founding and endowment of the Contest; the support of the entire staff of Author Services and Galaxy Press; love and thanks to Contest Administrator Joni Labaqui for always reminding them to get another story submitted; and of course all the family, friends, writing groups and mentors that had helped them reach this pinnacle of achievements for creators of speculative fiction and art. Some shared elements of their journey that led up to this event, and others shared details behind the creation of their stories. One said he wrote his story a month after his father died to work through his feelings. Many said their spouses’ and partners’ support was the only reason they were standing on the stage. I heartily agreed with that sentiment. Our families make many sacrifices to allow us to do what we do.
One of the Golden Brush winners—the highest achievement award that includes a $5,000 cash prize—added to his sentiments in his acceptance speech when I spoke to him after. Anh Le from Vietnam, the artist for the illustration for “Stolen Sky,” said: “I was overwhelmed. My parents sacrificed so much to come to this country to help me achieve my dreams. When I saw them jumping up and down with joy when it was announced that I had won the grand prize, it made me so proud. That was the reason I was overwhelmed.” He choked up a little when he spoke those words, and I did, too. We are not the only ones that make sacrifices for our art.
The ceremony ended with many cheers and rounds of applause. You breathe a sigh of relief at the end. It’s a feeling of deep satisfaction at what just took place, but in addition, a feeling of solemnity settles over you. You know it’s unlikely anyone will spend this much fuss over one of your stories for a long, long time to come. That’s okay because you feel empowered with a mission. To keep bringing your art forth in any of its forms for the world to experience and be moved by, and to embody the spirit of the Contest and its founder by paying it forward. We all have knowledge and power someone just behind us does not have. I felt deeply moved to use that knowledge to help ease the trials of others struggling on their writer journey. I trust the winners attending this ceremony felt the same and will help others believe with the knowledge they just gained.
The signing at the end is special. For many, this is the first time they have autographed books with their stories in it to happy fans. We’ve all attended author signings, wondering if our day would come. As you ask people handing you a book “Who should I sign this to?” a tingling feeling comes over you.
Belief has become reality. You are now not only a writer; you are now not only an illustrator. You are an author. You are a professionally published illustrator.
Congratulations to all the winners of this special double-year event. As you use the power and knowledge gained from the blessings of this week, may you always believe, may you climb that next mountain, and may your futures be ever bright!
Wulf Moon wrote his first science fiction story when he was fifteen. It won the national Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and led to his first professional sale in Science World.
Since then, Moon has won more than forty awards in writing. These include: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 2; Critters Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story of 2018, Best SF&F Short Story of 2019, Best Nonfiction Article of 2019, Best Author of 2019, Best Writers’ Workshop of 2019; and the Writers of the Future Contest, Volume 35.