I returned from the most recent presentation a couple of weeks ago, at which Volume XXIII of the contest anthology was launched into the world. You can see the excellent trailer here. And here is Stephan Martinière's luscious cover. I may have whinged incessantly about the jetlag, despite promising myself again not to, but it was worth every second. (Although I did sleep through a speaking commitment, for which I still feel bad.) It's always a pleasure meeting and getting to know the winners, some of the hottest new writers and illustrators on the planet. Hanging out with my fellow judges is also a highlight. We're all there to work hard and build relationships, and that inevitably involves the odd late night in the hotel bar, or even a quick post-midnight dip (before security throws you out of the pool). Naturally, there are in-jokes. (Hi, Steve!)
Every year the presentation and workshop moves to a different locale, and every year there's something new to see. 2006 featured the beach at San Diego; 2005 was beautiful Seattle. This year it was LA, featuring the robots of JPL and deer on the Caltech grounds. Next year could be anywhere at all--but probably not Adelaide, despite my nagging. :-)
I'm firmly of the opinion now--as if ever had any doubt!--that the WOTF is one of the greatest opportunities new writers can pursue. For me, it started long before I reached the finals. Entering every quarter taught me to meet deadlines, and primed me for the endless lottery cycle of excitement and disappointment that comes with most kinds of story submission. When I did eventually win my third prize in 1992, I received a huge boost from both the workshop and the people I met through it: fellow winners and judges alike.
I came back to Australia with my biggest sale to date under my belt, and was swept up in a media machine that taught me lessons I still employ today. My first TV appearance, my first newspaper article, and my first Ditmar nomination all sprang from that story and the WOTF.
To be invited back ten years later, first as a guest and then as a judge, is an incredible honour. I may be seeing the contest from a slightly different angle now, but I've never stopped learning from it. Tim Powers, KD Wentworth, Kevin J Anderson, Rebecca Moesta and Charles Brown are excellent teachers and wonderful friends--from whom I'm learning an awful lot about passing on the collective wisdom to those coming up behind us. While I may know nothing about art, I do know that Stephen Hickman, Ron and Val Lindahn, and Judy Miller are great people whose company I anticipate more and more with every visit. I look forward to spending time with them. I miss them when it's time to go home. I am so unbelievably spoiled.
So if you fall under the contest's guidelines and have never entered, I say to you: just look at me. The WOTF has defined my career more than any other institution. It gave me early support and encouragement, and it continues to support and encourage me now. I am blessed with a place in a community I would never have encountered but for these annual celebrations. Every year, I return charged with the kind of pure energy you can normally only get from a good con.
Next year I really am determined not to complain about jetlag. It is, after all, a very small price to pay in order to be part of this event. And I hope to see some more Australian finalists too. We've had a lot of success so far (Shaun Tan, Cat Sparks, Lee Battersby, et al) and I know there are more to come.
In 1993, I swore I'd come back as a judge. In 2007, I'm looking forward to the day when we have sufficient local winners to fill a WOTF spin-off anthology. If it hasn't happened by 2017, I'll eat my signed copy of Volume IX. :-)