I’ve been asked to comment on my experience as a first-place winner of L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. A number of images stick with me.
On the last day of the writing seminar Robert J. Sawyer stood before our class of twenty-four writers and illustrators. I knew Rob only through his work, as a reader and a fan. He spoke eloquently and with great passion, and what he said was a revelation. He put into words the reasons, all the reasons why I struggle to write, to communicate, to connect with readers, and why it always felt like treason when I considered giving up. It wasn’t what he said that was new to me. I’d had those exact thoughts many times. The surprise was that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. I wasn’t alone.
In order to create a better future someone has to imagine it first. Thanks to L. Ron Hubbard and the Writers of the Future Contest I’d spent a week getting to know writers whose work fueled my imagination and shaped how I see the world. Of course Rob could put into words exactly how I felt. He’d been to the future and scouted it out. I’d been reading his reports for years. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle had been sending me reports for most of my life, reports like Ringworld, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall. Thanks to the Writers of the Future Contest I got to shake their hands and tell them just how much their work meant to me.
Meeting the writers who inspired me was only part of the experience. The Writers of the Future Contest launched me into a community of up and coming writers from around the world, writers who have proven they have the right stuff to entertain and inspire readers. I now have new friends in South Africa and Australia as well as in the United States and Canada. I’d love to see a winner from Ireland next year. I expect that now that the contest is open to electronic submissions we’ll see an even more diverse group of writers and illustrators in future volumes.
In order to reach readers every writer needs help. Once you’ve put in the seat time, once you’ve logged enough lonely hours learning how to craft stories that astound and amaze the work is only partway done. You need a team. Galaxy Press was our team, and they let us peek behind the curtain, to see how our stories would make it into the hands of readers. Off we went to Delta Printing Solutions.
The scent of printer’s ink, the sound of the printing presses, so loud we had to lean in close and shout to one another, the low-frequency vibration that was felt more than heard, all those were just distractions. The endless loop of a conveyor belt wound toward me, bearing what would soon be L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume Twenty-Seven. The trimming knife fell with authority, final and permanent. My lonely apprenticeship was over. People were going to hold a book in their hands, and they were going to flip it open, and they were going to read my work.
I know there’s a lot of excitement about e-Books, but zipping up a file and posting it to the web has none of the impact of witnessing a real mass printing. Here is a physical object that, well cared for, can last for centuries. I was there as L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume Twenty-Seven began its journey to bookstores and then on into the waiting hands of readers. Book after book after book found their way into never-ending boxes of twenty-four. There must be a lot of hands out there waiting.
I don’t remember much of the awards ceremony, but after, at the book signing, I met so many people, people who wanted me to succeed, reader after reader who asked me to sign their books, not because they were certain I would someday pen a best seller, but because they hoped I might, with that same selfish hope I harbor for every writer whose work I love and want to see read.
I signed so many books that my fingers cramped. There’s a muscle in my arm I didn’t even know I had, one that begs for mercy after an hour or more of flipping to page thirty-nine where my story begins, and holding the book open, and doing that again, and again, and again. Avid readers and writers I’ve long admired looked me in the eye, and shook my hand, and told me how much they liked my story. New readers told me how much they were looking forward to reading it.
You can’t buy this experience. It has to be earned. It’s a lot of fun, but it comes with responsibilities. It means that the next story has to be that much better, that I have to work that much harder to continue to earn that respect, to repay that trust.
The book signing impressed upon me the seriousness of what I’d signed up for. This wasn’t just my name on a story I posted to a web site or online bookstore. I could do that by myself, and it would only be my name and reputation on the line. This was something completely different.
L. Ron Hubbard and the judges of the Writers of the Future Contest handed me a bit of their reputation, of their prestige. L. Ron Hubbard’s name is on the cover of a book with my story in it. It isn’t just me believing in me anymore. I’ve looked into the eyes of readers who trust me to deliver, not just any story, but one that is worthy of inclusion in the world’s most anticipated annual collection of science fiction and fantasy. When those readers pick up my next book, or my next short story they’re banking on it being of equal or better quality. That’s an awesome responsibility, and a mighty challenge, but that’s what I’ve signed up for.
The best thing is that now I have help. I already have a request to see a proposal for a novelization of my story, I already have cover blurbs lined up, and I know I have a network of peers around the world, friends I can turn to for advice. This idea nags at me on the plane flight home: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game began life as a short story.
It doesn’t cost anything to dream big. I know now that sometimes those big dreams do come true. Anything can happen.
Imagine this: You’re in Hollywood, and you’re standing in a richly paneled room, and it is full of your heroes, except they’re not just your heroes anymore, they’re your mentors, and they’re cheering you on, and you’re surrounded by your peers from all over the world, men and women who share your love for the literature of ideas in all its forms, and every person in that room has been inspired by their heroes, and their heroes’ example of paying it forward. Would that inspire you to do the same? That’s the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard and the Writers of the Future Contest. I’m honored to be a part of it.
If you have the skills, and the work ethic and the drive to produce world-class writing or illustrations and you love science fiction and fantasy like I do you have a chance to be a part of it too. It doesn’t cost a penny to submit your work and you can now do it electronically from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.
Having a shot. Getting a fair break. That’s all every decent new writer wants. I’ve been working my heart out, honing my craft, and I felt like no one in the world cared but me. Then I got the call.
“This is Joni, and ‘Maddy Dune’s First and Only Spelling Bee’ is going to be in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume Twenty-Seven. We’d like to fly you out to Hollywood.”
It took me a while to realize this wasn’t a dream. It was the future calling.
I don’t remember what I said, but Kevin J. Anderson taught me what you should say if you ever get a call like that.
“I can do that.”
I’m very glad I did.