I was pretty excited when I got into the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop this year. As I have written, it was an incredible experience. I collapsed an entire Astronomy 101 course into 6 days, and it was done in a framework and context for science fiction writers. The work that Mike Brotherton, Christian Ready and Andria Schwortz put into the lectures and materials was Herculean in and of itself. Their teaching and guidance was invaluable.
But there was another side to Launch Pad, the more personal side. Quite a few of the attendees of Launch Pad this year were previous attendees of Clarion. For me, however, Launch Pad was the first time I was thrust into a program with other writers in which you did everything together. You took classes together, ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, you slept in the dorms. You went to the bar, or the movies. It was compressed and that very compression led to friendships that formed quickly. So let me take a moment to talk about the new friends I made at Launch Pad, and just how amazing they are. I’ve probably made some mistakes and misremembered things, but these are my new friends. Let me introduce you. They are listed below alphabetically by first name.
Andy (@inkgorilla on Twitter) works in visual effects when he is not writing. He can speak at length on the subject, and in an engaging manner. (He worked on Babylon 5!) Indeed, on our drive up the mountain to WIRO, Andy distracted us from the terror of the winding, curving road and the sheer drops to one side, by telling us stories from the visual effects world.
He also writes great fiction. I read his story, “The Parting Glass” (Lightspeed, December 2011) and it was excellent, reminiscent of the stuff I used to read in Science Fiction Age in the mid-1990s. It was great getting to hang out with Andy. He is one of those people who is naturally friendly and after 10 minutes, you feel like you’ve known him for 10 years. It’s just too bad he lives on the opposite coast.
Anna Leahy and Douglas Dechow
Douglas Dechow (@dougdechow on Twitter) and Anna Leahy were one of two couples attending Launch Pad this year. They, along with Jeri Smith-Ready were among the only other baseball fans in the batch. They are science writers, and Anna is also a poet and editor. They are also just about the coolest people you’ll meet. We hung out in O’Dwyer’s one evening, talking about beer, and baseball, and Markov chains. Some LISP might have been discussed as well. They seem to have interviewed just about every single important person in the U.S. space program and they have some great stories to tell. Some of these, they tell at their joint blog, Lofty Ambitions, which you should be certain to check out and add to your feed.
I somehow missed getting my picture taken with Brenda, but she is right smack in the middle of his panorama shot I took on our last breakfast together at Launch Pad. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone with such an effervescent personality as Brenda. She was constantly bubbling with ideas and is a fascinating person to listen to. She also knits and led a group of Launch Pad attendees to a knitting store in downtown Laramie at one point during the week.
Brenda is a novelist and has had novels published by TOR, DAW, and other outlets. She seems to be written about ten novels at once, which impressed me beyond measure, as I am incapable of writing more than one short story at a time. Brenda would hang out with us in the lounge some evenings to chat and was always great fun to be around.
Brenda was one of four people to take a fall during our hike. I think it was my fault. She had turned around to talk to me when she tripped backward of the rock and did a kind of judo roll, getting up dusty, but unharmed.
Caren (@spitkitten on Twitter) is one of those people who is just fun to hang out with. She can liven up every crowd, and tells fantastic (and sometimes, hilarious) stories. In lectures, she was often the one asking smart questions, that always seemed to me be to tied back to whatever it was she was writing in some meaningful way. She was another of the crowd who would sometimes hang out in the lounge late into the night, talking shop or telling war stories. It was great!
Chaz (@chazbrenchley on Twitter) might very well be the most experience writer in our group at Launch Pad. I’m not exactly sure how many novels he’s written, but the number exceeds A Lot. He has also written something like 500 short stories. Or, in Launch Pad-speak, 5 x 102. Of course, Chaz has probably been writing longer than anyone else in our group. His first novel was published in 1977, at which time, I gleefully pointed out to him, I was 5 years old.
Chaz was one of the morning cohort, which usually included myself and Doug Farren (and occasionally Brenda) who would be up early and at the student union by 7 am, writing. He was also my frequent companion at O’Dwyer’s. I think the photo I took above is possibly one of the only Launch Pad photos of Chaz where he hasn’t managed to hide in the background.
Chaz was one of four people who took a spill while we went hiking. They say the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and I think Chaz proved the sentiment with great fanfare. Don’t believe me. Let Chaz describe it himself.
Christian Ready and Jeri Smith-Ready
Christian and Jeri were the other couple attending Launch Pad, although technically, Christian was there as an instructor and Jeri was, like the rest of us, there as a student.
Christian (@christianready on Twitter) is a kind of natural ringleader and an excellent instructor, always injecting humor into his presentations, often humor perfectly suited for the nerds and geeks that made up his audience. (In one slide showing a photo from the surface of Mars, a sandcrawler, um, crawled into view.) We hit it off early when I discovered he was a Civil Air Patrol observer. We talked flying quite a bit.
Unlike the Launch Pad attendees, Christian claims not to be a writer, this despite the fact that he has had nonfiction published in Analog, for instance, and he is even listed in the Internet Science Fiction Database1. Writer stuff aside, he does relatively routine things like work on the Hubble Space Telescope. You know, your average run-of-the-mill stuff.
I met Jeri Smith-Ready (@jsmithready on Twitter) once before, on October 15, 2007 at Capclave when she was part of a writer’s workshop run by Alan Wold that I participated in. Back then, her hair was dark and not the blonde is was at Launch pad. (Somehow, I missed getting a picture with Jeri, but you can see her third from the left in the panorama shot above.) Jeri is another novelist but she writes an occasional short story now and then.
Jeri was a regular at breakfast, and like Doug and Anna, is a sports fan, something that is pretty rare in the SF/F world, or so it seems to me. She was also one of four people who managed to slip while we were hiking, but hers was a slow motion slide down a short drop in the trail. I think she even maintained her footing.
Claudine is another person with whom I did not manage to take a picture. Claudine tended to me more quiet than the rest of the group, but she is also incredibly generous. When it turned out that I was placed on the 7:30 am van to the airport, even though my flight didn’t leave until 4 pm, Claudine volunteered to go on the early van, freeing up a space on the later van. What you don’t know yet (and what I did not know at the time) was that Claudine’s flight home was even later than mine!
Claudine is the Director of the Writing Center at Rhode Island College, which to a bunch of writers, is a very cool thing. Also, I lived Rhode Island for four years growing up, so we had that in common as well. But Claudine also writes fiction and her stories have appeared in Zahir Tales and Escape Pod.
Doug (@author_farren on Twitter), whose last name I constantly want to misspell, complete the triad of folks, along with Chaz and I, who met regularly at 7 am and then walked to the student union to write for a few hours before lectures started. I could be wrong, but I think Doug finished a novel while we were there.
Doug was the only attendee who had attended Launch Pad before, so he had a clear advantage over the rest of us. That said, he also knew the lay of the land and had many suggestions for making the most of the experience, and of Laramie. He brought along with him a cool little dragon, which you can see in the picture above.
I can’t seem to locate a picture of me and Jay either. I meant to take one at the airport, but after I checked my luggage, we got split up and I missed the opportunity.
Jay (@ejayo on Twitter) has been published in quite a few places, most recently in the September issue of Asimov’s. You should go read his story there. It is a good one. Although I did take detailed notes while in our lectures, I realized after each lecture that I really didn’t have to. Jay took notes for everyone and just dumped them into (sometimes really funny) Facebook status updates.
Jay and I talked quite a bit of shop. He has several more stories coming out in Asimov’s in the coming months. I have had stories in Analog. I think we’d like to each get into the other’s market at this point. Jay has a great, dry sense of humor that can bring you to tears, both from laughing and crying at the same time, I very difficult thing to do physically, but Jay manages to bring it out in us.
Jenn is a lot of fun. For one thing, she is a New Yorker, and so we have that in common. For another, she knows a lot of people in the science fiction world and she tells great stories about all of them. She also just sold her first novel, which is very exciting.
During the lectures, Jenn was the person who was never afraid to ask the questions that everyone else was wondering, but too afraid to ask. Her questions always made me think. She was a regular at breakfast, and also hung out with us in the lounge from time-to-time, talking shop. And then, like a cat, she’d suddenly get up and leave because she had to go call her husband. It was so cute. And I can empathize. I sometimes disappeared in order to try to do FaceTime with my kids. She is one of the few Launch Pad attendees that will also be at Worldcon, so I’m looking forward to seeing her again at the end of August.
Jenn was the first one to take a spill when we went hiking. Her spill was more of a slide down a steep path, while Chaz’s was like a tall tree falling after being chopped down. I’m not sure which fall was actually worse. Chaz’s drew blood, but Jenn’s forced her to sit out the rest of the hike with Claudine.
Jennifer, like Chaz, is one of the taller members of our group, although unlike Chaz, she managed to avoid falling down when we went hiking. She has published stories over a several markets, including Daily Science Fiction. I read her story, “30 Pounds of Human Flesh” one evening and it gave me shivers. It also made me miss my kids. Any story that can produce those emotions is a good one in my book.
Jennifer was a regular at breakfasts and we got to talk shop from time-to-time, especially since we have a couple of editors in common. We also both have kids so there was some kid-talk as well. Jennifer was among the group that went to Altitude for dinner (as opposed to the vegetarian place) and while the folks at Sweet Melissa’s talked Dyson Spheres, those of us at Altitude talked potty training.
Liz was part of the Seattle contingent, along with Caren, at Launch Pad. Liz is originally from Australia and tells great stories of her first weeks in the U.S., which, as it turned out, were spent at Clarion. It was established early that, despite American confusion to the contrary, she and Chaz sound nothing alike.
In addition to being a writer (go read her story “Shadow Play” in Daily Science Fiction; the imagery is amazing!) she is a cartoonist and does an awesome cartoon called “Things Without Arms and Legs.” She’s even done one based on her recent experience at Launch Pad.
Liz was a regular at breakfast and often hung out in the lounge when we were hanging out. She is a roller derby skater-person (I don’t know the technical term) and she was constantly waiting to hear back from someone in a local roller derby group in Laramie. The picture above was taken in Mike’s basement.
Like half of us, Liz did not fall on the hike. She will also be at Worldcon which is great because it means I will get to see her again next month.
I should also take a moment to mention Andria Schwortz, who helped to teach Launch Pad. She also teaches Astronomy 101 at the university and if I could pick my astronomy instructor, I’d pick Andria. She specializes not just in astronomy but in education and she is an excellent teacher, even though she made us work harder than Mike did. Andria attended most of our activities with us, including lunch and dinner. When she wasn’t teaching, she would tweet everything that was going on at Launch Pad.
And of course, there is Mike Brotherton, the person behind Launch Pad. Mike worked so hard last week that by the last day, he’d made himself sick. Despite that, Mike stood up and lectured us on cosmology for six hours on Saturday with hardly a break or a moment to breath. He went through a box of tissues in the process. He then went home and set up for the Launch Pad party, which he hosted and which was attended by all of the Launch Pad people and many other people from the astronomy department. Without Mike, there would be no Launch Pad. His passion for astronomy, science fiction, and science education and communication are what made Launch Pad happen in the first place.
He also gave some good lectures. And I think he drank us all under the table.
- I wonder if he knows this? ↩