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|Written by Agnes Cadieux|
|Thursday, 24 June 2010 00:00|
When we finish watching a good movie or reading a great book we often walk around a little lighter for the next few days. We talk to people about it: discuss the excellent cinematography or exclaim how compelling the development for a certain character was. We ingrain the name of the author or the director behind that masterpiece and seek out more work by them, recommending it to others who may share the same feeling of awe or delight that stirred in us. But how often do we put a face to the name behind the work? Or an actual human being?
I was lucky enough to see just how human the work really is when I attended the Ontario Writer's Conference. It was a day of workshops, speakers, readings, and good company. From mechanics and manipulation to promotion and imagination, the day was a blur of info and ideas. While I was busy absorbing as many useful tidbits as I could, I began to notice familiar faces sitting around the room. It was then I realized that the very people who were teaching the workshops, leading one-on-one critique sessions, and at some point during the day speaking to us from behind the podium, were actually participating in workshops during their free time. Even though these were the people with the credits to their names and money in the bank wrought from their craft, they were still jotting down points and asking question like the rest of us. They talked to us newbies, and shared their contacts and connections as freely as if this were an industry of plenty not a cutthroat race for print. Perhaps the loneliness of spinning stories did have a silver lining.
Throughout the day, those who were brave enough got the opportunity to participate in a one-on-one critique session. Being someone who doesn't stop until not only are my hands dirty but also my elbows, knees and ears, I was among the first to sign up. I was also one of the few people chosen to have my work looked over by Robert J. Sawyer. Now, to be honest, I didn't really know who he was. Yes, he was a science fiction author, and yes, the name rang a bell, but I didn't think much of it. He was not my first choice after all, and I was still harping on that. But during the day I started to get the feeling that perhaps he was a little more than just a sci-fi author. I was getting ribbed far too often about having him as my mentor, and my indifference about having him critique my work prompted people to offer me a trade. Repeatedly. It wasn't until lunchtime when the emcee introduced Robert that I realized who was going to be critiquing my work.
"Robert J. Sawyer is one of only seven writers in history -- and the only Canadian -- to win all three of the world's top science fiction awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His books are published worldwide, including Flashforward, the basis for ABC's TV Series, and he is a sought-after speaker and instructor. He has an honorary doctorate from Laurentian University and he . . ."
Double crap after his comment about being an honest and non-invested critiquer. I looked down at the piece I brought with me, and my heart lurched to my throat. All of the sudden his upbeat speech filled with inspiring gems like his take on Heinlein's Rules faded away with the sound of horror movie violins screeching through my head.
When my time approached I wiped my hands on my slacks, thanked the gods my four-page piece was protected with a plastic duo-tang, and went to hear my fate. His pen only touched down on my piece three times, he nodded a lot, and the word 'good' was one he often used. I could hear other participants around the room getting suggestions and comments from their mentors, but after he finished reading my piece and delivered his verdict of "very good," we sat in silence. I do not know what was going through his head during that time, but all I could think about was that this immortalized writer, who has managed to make himself a household name in the realm of science fiction, thought my work was good. And then the strangest thing happened: we started to talk. He gave me insights about the publishers I am thinking about sending to, we talked about the conference, which workshops I took, and suddenly, immortalized writer had become human.
Fully reinvigorated and ready to take on the world, I had the opportunity to see Robert a week after the conference. He was passing through Ottawa on a tour to promote his latest book, Watch, part of his WWW trilogy, and I was curious to see if he was still, in fact, just a normal guy who was also a really good writer. This was supposed to be a promotional gig for him, and, with the laundry list of credits to his name, he couldn't possibly be so down to earth all the time, could he? Half an hour before his reading was set to begin I entered the Clock Tower Pub on Bank to find him chatting with fans, even recognizing some by their first name. His stage presence was just as upbeat and energetic as it had been for the conference, and he answered questions about his book, his life, and his philosophies with fearless honesty.
It is refreshing to see that despite the ladders we may scale in life, the human side of us does not have to disappear. Authors may not have the paparazzi hounding them on every street corner, but what they say and-more importantly-what they write has tremendous impact on their following, their livelihood, and at one point or another, their perspectives. To be able to remain on such a grounded level after achieving greatness is something we can all aspire to, especially those of us who are still looking up.
To read more about Robert J. Sawyer, visit his website http://www.sfwriter.com/index.htm
For more on the Ontario Writers Conference, see http://www.thewritersconference.com/Ontario-Writers-Conference-2010.html