(I should totally have my own television show with this title. Right? Netflix, call me.)
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Nor does one expect, after months of carefully planning two simultaneous conferences (BEA and the SFWA Nebula Awards weekend), a spectacularly sprained ankle.
It sounds like such a small thing, doesn’t it? Yet, this sprain was severe enough to keep me on the ropes until the day before my flight left, waiting for the Orthopedic doctor to officially declare the injury “non-surgical.” It also kept me off my feet. Even though I was cleared for takeoff, I could not walk. Nor could my bad neck & shoulders handle crutches or a wheelchair. Thankfully, we live in the age of the knee scooter. Renting one of these made BEA and the Nebs possible for me. Difficult, still…but possible…and that happy thought propelled me right into Chicago.
A good thing, because that first day was hell.
Wednesday’s schedule was the most packed: Fly in to Chicago. Get to the Palmer House hotel. Extract BEA go-bag and drop the rest of luggage off with bellhop. Get to BEA and SFWA table. Meet with Ingram Spark. Change in bathroom for Audie Awards black-tie gala. Get to Audie Awards. Have champagne and pray Katy Kellgren walks away with Best Female Narrator of the Year again. (I’m her lucky charm, dontcha know.)
Even before the sprain, I was glad that my toughest day would happen first. The first day of a conference is the day fueled by the most adrenaline, and I was counting on that. Especially now that I had to do it all on a scooter.
Mom still thought I was crazy. I brushed it off. I’m young! I’m adventurous! I can do this! Think of the stories I will have to tell!
By the time I got to the Palmer House, the bloom was definitely off the enthusiasm. TSA had put me through so much grief that I wept once I reached the terminal. (If you are traveling while disabled, wear shorts or pants. Know your rights. Also know that 95% of the other passengers in wheelchairs are ambulatory. TSA is spoiled by this. If you are not able to stand or walk, TSA agents will make sure you are aware just how much of an inconvenience you are to them. You will be punished by waiting and condescension, and you will receive the wrath of the overworked and underpaid.)
And this was all before I fell off the plane. Yes, when I arrived in Chicago I was made to disembark in the middle of everyone, when I wasn’t ready, and a physically capable person was not present to help me off the plane. So the tiny flight attendant (and all the passengers behind me) watched as my scooter and I went sprawling onto the ground.
Discovering later that my shampoo had leaked all over my bathroom bag was almost silly. But I pulled up my bootstraps, pulled out the bag containing my glitter dress for the ceremony that night, and went up to where the books and bags were being organized and assembled for the Nebulas.
Normally, I’d be helping with that. It’s a task Peggy Rae Sapienza conscripted me into many years ago, and whenever given the chance, I cheerfully pitch in. Except, with the scooter, I was forced to keep quiet and stay out of everyone’s way.
I took the opportunity to relax and chat with Lawrence Schoen until Beth Dawkins and Fonda Lee were ready to head to BEA. I got to the show floor, met the fabulous Derek Kunsken, and then rushed off to my meeting.
The Spark meeting went great. I came away with good info and better contacts. Plus, I got to hug some old friends, which is never a bad thing. It was tough tearing myself away to change, Superman style, in a show-floor bathroom…an experience with which I am not unfamiliar. Once tiara bedecked in glitter and red silk, I made my way to the very long taxi line. (The BEA show greeters were incredulous and very complimentary of my transformation.)
My day was looking up.
I got to the planetarium just in time…and was greeted by a HUGE flight of stairs. If one cannot walk, the sight of the front of the Adler Planetarium is daunting, to say the least. But I was ushered in the back, up an elevator, and through secret hallways behind exhibits that made for a rather fun adventure! I saw more old friends, hugged Katy and wished her luck.
This Audie Awards was bittersweet, as it was my last ceremony as a judge. It has always been one of the highlights of BEA for me. And though I am sad to no longer be part of the judging process, I am up to the challenge of creating audiobooks so fabulous that I am able to return in the future as a nominee. (Fingers crossed!)
Speaking of nominees, I ran into my dear Ann Leckie, whose publisher had invited her to attend in celebration of her nomination for Ancillary Mercy. From then on, Ann and I teamed up–she made a wonderful date! Paula Poundstone was the emcee that night, and we laughed through the entire ceremony. Ann, sadly, didn’t end up with an award…but Katy did. Yes, my Audio Dreamgirl Katy Kellgren received the Audie for Best Female Narrator of the Year for the FOURTH TIME. And for the fourth time, we took pictures and danced in celebration.
Well, as much dancing as one can do on one leg. Trust me…the smiles were large and the glitter was high. My first and toughest day of conferencing had come to such a fabulous finale that it was worth all the pain and aggravation I had suffered that morning.
Ann’s publisher put us in a car back to the Palmer House, at which point I collected my bags and went up to the room to wait for Kate to let me in.
I was all smiles. “I have had an absolutely magical night,” I told her.
“I have a story for you,” said Kate. She knows how much I love stories. “You are going to lose your shit.”
After the day I’d had, I was a little apprehensive. “In a good way, I hope.”
Kate looked at me pointedly. She helped me lug my bags into the room and allowed me to sit before telling me the whole story of how she’d just won a Guardians of the Galaxy date with Chris Pratt.
All that pain and aggravation.
Totally worth it.
Compared to the magic of that first day of BEA/Nebs, the rest of my con report seems rather dull…but I promise, there was just as much wonderfulness to be had as there was exhaustion.
Most of Thursday was spent on the BEA floor, manning the SFWA booth with Derek and fellow Codexian Dawn Bonnano, chatting with old friends and new folks who will one day be old friends. I was exhausted by closing, bid all of my show floor friends farewell, and then played the Poor Pathetic Girl card to get me and Dawn to the head of the taxi line.
That night I met up with fellow YA authors Adam Selzer and his wife Ronni — Adam is one of those people I have known for so long online that it felt weird meeting up and realizing that we had never before actually met in person. Well, we’ve fixed that now, haven’t we? And thank goodness! Ronni brought my dearest Zoriada Cordova and Amber Sweeney in tow, which was a super nice surprise, and then they all traded up to the Sourcebooks party, leaving me and Adam to our own devices.
Which was PERFECT, really since 1.) I hadn’t yet braved the streets outside the hotel and 2.) Adam is a professional Chicago tour guide. We didn’t go too far, because of the scooter and my increasing level of exhaustion, but it was lovely to have even that small taste of Chicago while I was there!
(Aside: I later discovered that the Terracotta Warriors were on display at the Field Museum, and was seriously depressed that I didn’t have two feet or the energy with which to go. Much to my delight, Bud Sparhawk and his wife had gone, and he was all too happy to share his pictures of the exhibit with me one night in the con suite. Thanks, Bud!)
The rest of the weekend was a blur of surprises, happiness, glitter, and exhaustion. I was on two panels that were incredibly well received, and later met with pros from both ACX and Patreon to dream up exciting plans for the future. Somewhere in there was a business meeting…and a volunteer breakfast (I received a beautiful certificate!)…and a mass book signing. And somewhere in there I went back to the room so tired that I broke down in tears. Maybe more than once. I can’t remember.
Kate and I might have been rooming together, but we were both so busy we barely saw each other after that first night.
Bringing 100% of your awesome to two conventions is tough enough. Bring it all on one leg…honestly, I’m not even sure how I did it. Much of the time, I psyched myself out by convincing myself that I was Acting Disability Quality Control. I was THRILLED that such a to-do had been made over accessibility at the last World Whatever conference, and that Nebula Weekend had stood up to say WE ARE ACCESSIBLE. (Thank you, SFWA!)
There were no panels presented from a dais. A couple of times I had to ask security to lead me to special secret lifts (I felt like Harriet the Spy in the dumbwaiter!), but none of the events were held in places I couldn’t get to. Even the Award Ceremony — seating for the groundlings was up a small set of stairs, but there was a special section behind the banquet tables for those of us who couldn’t climb them.
I have to admit: by the time the Nebula Ceremony rolled around, I was so wiped out that I almost skipped it. I knew I’d have to be escorted up a special lift, so I did miss the reception. I compromised by allowing myself to deprincess a little. I took off the corset. I let my hair down. I even left the tiara in the room. And you know what? No one cared.
In fact, so many of my finely-dressed friends were thrilled to see me as they walked in and out of the banquet hall, we decided that I should host a Red Carpet pre-show next year. I became happy that I’d made the effort to come down for the festivities. I joked with John Hodgman as I wheeled into the room. Sam J. Miller was my hero and snuck water to my seat before the show started. And then Henry Lien walked on stage for the Commander Stardust musical performance and blew us all away. “Radio SFWA” is still stuck in my head.
It was a beautiful ceremony. John Hodgman was a perfectly amusing and respectful emcee. And Tom Piccirilli’s photo at the end of the In Memoriam slideshow made my eyes leak all over again.
I miss you, Unca Pic. Forever and always.
I am incredibly proud of all the nominees and winners of this year’s Nebula Awards. I am incredibly happy about all the old friends I saw and thrilled about all the new friends I made — I wish us all the best of luck in our future endeavors. I’m also incredibly proud of all the volunteers: Derek, Beth, Terra, Dawn, Steve, Kate–ESPECIALLY KATE!–and so many others who made this year’s BEA and Nebula Awards weekend run incredibly smoothly.
Steve said at our little Dead Dog party (yes, I ate Chicago pizza but I scraped all the cheese off…shhh, don’t tell!) that the worst thing about a con with so few hiccups was that there was so little to write about.
I find I don’t have that problem. My only regret is that I was having so much fun that I kept forgetting to take photos. (That’s okay, though, John Scalzi was present with his fabulous camera-fu to make up for it!)
I am happy that I made the journey, despite every hardship. So happy, in fact, that I went ahead and bought my membership for Nebula Weekend next year. I look forward to doing all this again on two legs.
Pittsburgh, here I come!
4 thoughts on “The Unbreakable Princess Alethea”
ZOMG I was supposedly healthy and fully mobile all weekend and trying to do both BEA and the Nebulas just about KILLED ME. But totally worth it–this Nebulas conference was so fantastic. My only regret is I barely got to say a quick hi/bye to most folks–you included!–what with running back and forth.
Wait, you can’t scrape the cheese off a Chicago pizza…a Chicago pizza *IS* cheese!
If only you had more time, you could have cosplayed and came as Queen of the Daleks — so the scooter could either be a prop or cosplay also.