The Hugo Awards: Winner Ann VanderMeer on the Pomp, the Circumstance, the Ceremony

Jeff VanderMeer on August 13, 2009

(Stephen H. Segal and Ann VanderMeer, holding their Hugos after the ceremony. Ann is a little hunched over because the award is very heavy. David Howell designed this year's version of the award; the base is made in part from Montreal granite.)

The long-running Hugo Awards for excellence in science fiction and fantasy are announced during an elaborate ceremony at one of genre's biggest conventions, the World Science Fiction Convention. This year, WorldCon was held in Montreal August 6 through 10, and my wife Ann VanderMeer, along with Stephen H. Segal, attended as finalists for a Hugo Award for their work on Weird Tales magazine. Ann is the fiction editor for Weird Tales, while Stephen is the creative director and designer. Given that there's a fair amount of pomp and circumstance surrounding the Hugos, I thought I'd interview my wife about the experience, especially since I was unable to go to Montreal with her. The category in which Weird Tales was nominated has long been won by Locus Magazine, but come Sunday night Weird Tales pulled a rather large and unexpected upset. (In fact, writer Tobias Buckell texted me from the ceremony to tell me about it, and I almost fell out of my seat in surprise.)

As I reported on Omnivoracious right after the ceremony, Neil Gaiman won in the best novel category for The Graveyard Book, with Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Bear, and Ted Chiang won in the three short form categories. You can find a full list of winners here.

What are the Hugos like? Here's a look from Ann's perspective as a first-time nominee and first-time winner. (io9 also has an extensive set of photos.)

(The commemorative plate given by next year's WorldCon organizers to Ann as a Hugo finalist, along with a signed certificate, and her convention badge ID, with the signature silver rocketship pin that denotes a Hugo finalist. The "Strollin' With The Stars" button advertised a new feature that Ann participated in through which readers and fans could spend each morning walking with a few of their favorite editors and writers.) What's the whole pre-Hugos ceremony like? 

Ann VanderMeer: The pre-Hugos was held in a large ballroom at the Palais de Congres (a huge convention center that included shops and restaurants). All the nominees and guests had to be checked in before we could enter.  Writer and editor Jetse de Vries was my date for the evening! Everybody looked beautiful, all dressed up. Stephen Segal and his wife Stacy arrived looking just magnificent.
Once inside I saw so many familiar faces and was introduced to new friends. I also met in person people who I only knew previously online, like Tobias Buckell. Cory Doctorow came up to me to tell me about a great idea he has for a charity project. He was so excited, just like a kid. I finally met John Scalzi's beautiful wife Christine and was thrilled to see Felix and Sarah Gilman again (Felix has a story in the latest Weird Tales). Also ran into Eric Raab from TOR and teased him that it was his fault that you weren't there, since you had a deadline imposed by Eric--ha!
We walked around and ooohhed and ahhhed over how great we all looked. Some very creative outfits. Pat Cadigan had the most amazing shoes (high-heeled Converse sneakers). And it was such a treat to see so many men in tuxedos. Stu Segal (Stephen's dad, the best!), Neil Clarke from Clarkesworld, artist John Picacio, writer Lev Grossman, fellow nominee Frank Wu and his wife Brianna Spacecat Wu, and editors Jonathan Strahan, Ellen Datlow, John Joseph Adams, Liz Gorinsky, Lou Anders, and fan writer Steve Silver. So many people that I know I am not mentioning all of them.
They took some formal photographs of us, having all the nominees in each category pose together. It was a lot of fun and I know that the food they served was great, but I was too nervous and excited to eat anything.

(Pre-ceremony group photo of the Best Novel finalists: John Scalzi, Charlie Stross, Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow [kneeling], and eventual winner Neil Gaiman.) And the ceremony itself? 
Ann VanderMeer: Held in a large auditorium. They had sectioned off an area at the front for all nominees to sit with their guests. Stephen, his wife Stacy, Stu, Jetse, and I decided to sit in one of the rows toward the back with John and Christine Scalzi, Lauren Beukes, and Bill Willingham. The stage was huge and had steps in front leading up to the stage. One podium to the left and one to the right. Two large monitors hung in the air on either side where they projected different slides, such as book covers and also the speeches from the stage.

(Tor editor Liz Gorinsky during the lead-up to the ceremony.) Did you think you were going to win? 

Ann VanderMeer: Stephen and I were told by everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, that we would lose to Locus. The first thing you told me when I was nominated after congratulating me was that I was going to lose. If you take a look at all the predictions, we were going to lose. Stephen told me privately before the ceremony that he thought we would be a strong second. I was just thrilled to be nominated. What was your first thought when they announced Weird Tales as the winner? 

Ann VanderMeer:
I was stunned, really stunned and couldn't move. Stephen bent down and asked if I was going to be able to do this. He reached for me and helped me up. The crowd was so loud, they just went crazy. And as we walked down the aisle toward the stage so many people came out of their seats to hug us, kiss us and just offer hearty congratulations. What did you say in your acceptance speech? 

Ann VanderMeer:
I'm not totally sure I remember. I didn't have any thing written down. Stephen asked if I wanted to go first or second. I thought about it for a moment and decided to go first to get it out of the way. My hands were shaking. I remember saying thank you in every language that I knew, even Hebrew! I also remember talking about my lifelong passion for reading and living my dream by reading for Weird Tales and sharing what I love. I also said that this award belonged just as much to all our writers and our readers because you need both for the magic to work. Something like that. I said a lot of thank you's. We have great artists and volunteers, too. Were there any winners you were particularly pleased about? 

Ann VanderMeer:
Overall I was tickled about all the awards. This was such a strong ballot in so many categories that it would have been difficult to choose. I felt that this year was a bit different from previous years in that you had a much wider diversity on that stage. That pleased me a lot.

(Ann and Stephen talking to Neil Gaiman, Ellen Datlow, and John Joseph Adams [accepting for John Klima])  I hear you took your award into the crowd afterwards. Why? 

Ann VanderMeer:
After the photos were taken I walked back to where the audience was waiting for us. They stayed around because they wanted to congratulate us. I felt a debt of gratitude to all the readers and writers there. They showed us such continued support. I passed the Hugo Award around for them to hold and be photographed holding. Why not? They earned it, too. Stephen and I couldn't have done it without them. We want Weird Tales to be the trailblazing magazine of the 21st century just as it was for the 20th. These people are helping to make it happen. Can you describe the whole process of what happens after the ceremony? 

Ann VanderMeer: Well, I was still in a daze. They called us all up to the stage for photos. Trying to get us all to pose pretty, like herding cats, you know? I just wanted to make sure I didn't fall over or drop the Hugo. I was still overwhelmed by it all, sharing the stage with so many of my heroes.
There was a party to attend, actually many parties, but there was an official party. We dropped off our awards at Stephen's hotel (they were just too heavy to carry any longer--my arms are still sore, but I'm not complaining!!). We all traveled via taxi to the official party in the Delta hotel. Lots of food and drink, but again I was too excited to partake. So many people who wanted to extend their congrats to us. I met the organizers of WorldCon 2010/Melbourne, Australia. Such nice people. All the nominees received from them a lovely hand-made aboriginal art piece with proceeds going to charity. We were also given an official certificate with the new Hugo logo seal on it. That's going to be framed and hung right away!
Steven Silver was walking around with the Hugo for WALL-E. He was charging people $5.00 to hold it and donating that money to charity. I thought it was a brilliant idea and he made quite a bit of money. You see, this is why I love this so much. Good people, people who think about others. Such an outpouring of love and goodness everywhere I looked. Let me tell you, I was feeling very blessed.
We then walked around attending the other parties and just having a good time. I know that I was supposed to stay up all night but I just couldn't. I had a plane to catch in the morning, so I left all the festivities relatively early.

The next day I discovered Delta had upgraded me to First Class for the trip home. Did they somehow know?

Ann sees her Hugo again tomorrow, when she receives it in the mail--they aren't the kind of thing you can easily take in your carry-on luggage...


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