The fifth day of the Contest got off to an early start as the entire crop of writer and illustrator winners was herded down to the loading ramp of the Loews hotel for a luxury bus ride to the Bang Printing plant Valencia, California. Like the illustration reveal the night before, the trip to the printing plant is a signature event of the Contest. A writer or artist can go an entire career never having seen their works physically produced on a factory floor. But at the L. Ron Hubbard Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest, all winners are treated to a front-row seat as their stories and artwork are given physical form.
Bang administrators beckoned the winners into the plant and treated everyone to a continental breakfast, while also giving them a short video overview of the plant’s operations. From there the winners were taken on a guided tour of the facility, from the plating process to the actual (and various) forms of cover and interior printing and binding, right up to the bulk sheet printer producing the actual pages for L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future, Volume 30.
The winners got an extra surprise this year, as the Contest has decided to produce the book in trade paperback format with full color glossy renderings of all interior illustrations–a significant upgrade from the mass market paperback format which has been the standard format of all Contest volumes beginning with Vol. 1 and ending with Vol. 29. Now, in Vol. 30, not only are readers treated to a larger, more prestigious professional format, they get (for the first time!) the illustrators’ works in brilliant full color. Something which is well needed in an era when the majority of the Contest’s illustrator entrants are working in digital mediums using millions of potential colors and color variations.
Following the tour, each winner was presented with his or her very own copy of the book! A significant door prize for all concerned, as this was the first time for most winners that each of them had ever been able to hold in his or her hands an actual book with his or her work in it. Like with the reveal, it was a moment for both awe and jubilation.
Which, of course, meant the bus ride from Bang to the Challenger Center in Downey, California, was rather quiet–as each of the winners promptly put his or her nose into the book and read much of the way to that morning’s second destination.
Presenting at the Challenger Center was June Scobee Rogers, wife of late astronaut Dick Scobee, who was killed in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. The entirety of the Challenger Center network nationwide grew out of Challenger survivors’ desire to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of their astronaut loved ones who died–and the Downey facility in particular is special because it is the official commemorative site for the space shuttle Columbia which was destroyed upon reentry in February of 2003.
Writer and artist winners were treated to the Challenger Center’s full array of physics and science experiments, robotics workstations, and other science learning activities. Though much of the fare was designed for grade-schoolers, the writer and artist winners quickly recaptured their youth as they spent time working in a mock-up space control center, capsule mission bound for Mars, and a martian mining operation wherein they had to program small Lego Mars rovers to maneuver across and retrieve an ore sample from the Martian surface.
The return ride from the Challenger center saw the winners dropped off in front of Author Services, Inc., on Hollywood Blvd. At which point the two groups split for lunch, to later reconvene for separate classroom work.
Afternoon of Day 5 for the writer winners:
Following lunch, the writer winners returned to ASI for the somewhat grueling task of having their stories critiqued by not just Tim Powers and Dave Wolverton, but also the class as a whole. It’s a familiar technique in professional workshops with a many-decades-long history: each winner (of the three selected to have his or her work examined) being given constructive feedback regarding his or her story. This was a mostly closed-room affair where neither guest lecturing judges nor returning winners were permitted. The idea being that what gets said in the critique stays between the writers and the instructors.
Following a break after the critiques, guest lectures were given by judges Mike Resnick and Robert J. Sawyer. Mike Resnick is easily the science fiction field’s all-time-most-nominated writer, having accrued dozens and dozens of nominations for various awards both domestic and international, including several wins for the prestigious Hugo award. Robert J. Sawyer is the anointed “Dean of Canadian science fiction” having also won many awards (including the Hugo) and seen one of his novels produced into a television series.
Both men approached their particular topics with a wealth of personal experience, not to mentioned a great deal of knowledge of the business and craft. For Resnick in particular, who edits as well as writes, it was a chance for him to talk about what the writer winners will be facing when they take their work out into the wider professional publishing world–as newly-minted professionals themselves. Of particular interest to Resnick was the work of Kary English, a frequent entrant of the Contest from whom Resnick had purchased a story for Arc Manor’s Galaxy’s Edge magazine. A testament to the fact that the work of the writers who routinely place Honorable Mention, Semi-Finalist, and Finalist, are already very close to or at professional level–whether it happens to win in a particular Contest quarter, or not.
Following the lectures from Resnick and Sawyer, four returning winners from years past were able to address the new winners: Diana Rowland, Eric James Stone, Jordan Lapp and Brad R. Torgersen. All four returning winners were able to offer anecdotal perspectives regarding their various publishing paths since winning, to include the impact of award wins and nominations, how to attract and keep the attention of book editors, what it’s really like to be a working novelist in the 21st century, how to best approach the question of getting or using an agent, and so on and so forth.
Afternoon of Day 5 for the illustrator winners:
At 2:30 PM, master artist and workshop coordinating judge, Cliff Nielsen, presented his mind-blowing multi-media portfolio. Cliff is best known for his work on The X-Files, Star Wars, and Chronicles of Narnia. Included among his projects are magazines, advertising campaigns, and designs on merchandise, such as cards and skateboards. Cliff has studied in both traditional and digital illustration, and graduated valedictorian from Art Center College of Design in California. Design publications and fanzine magazines feature articles studying Cliff’s work, and the Society of Illustrators, Print, and Spectrum, and many others have recognized Cliff’s illustrations for their excellence. Cliff has been an international speaker on digital art, and in addition to Illustrators of the Future, has served as a judge for the Society of Illustrators and a variety of professional illustration award programs.
The Writers and Illustrators of the Future “Barbecue” social mingler:
Once the lectures and questions were over, the writer winners and artist winners were taken to the nearby Vegas Asian food buffet for the traditional Contest “barbecue” which in this case was an all-you-can-eat meet-and-greet with winners, past winners, and Contest judges and staff. Dozens of people–including the newly-arrived Orson Scott Card–were on hand to sit down and sup with the new winners, offering additional insights into the publishing world, and of course, tell “war stories” about their experiences both in and out of publishing. Be it prose publishing, or the arts.
Once the meal and conversation broke up, the later-evening social activities commenced in the lobby of the Loews hotel. It’s typical for Flint, Resnick, Anderson, and other judges to hold forth late into the night–for those winners with the stamina to stay up and absorb the extra-curricular content. Some past winners have often described the late-night conversation gatherings as being a valuable addition to the formal lectures and classwork.