So I won a Hugo
I have no memory of winning the Hugo. I never heard John Clute say the name of my story or my name. I was sitting among friends so I have this vague memory of people screaming around me. I barely remember walking on stage and hitting my mark with the Hugo in hand. However, I don’t remember actually receiving the Hugo or setting it on the table near the podium.
When I realized that my acceptance speech was not in my pocket, my improv training kicked in. I remember recreating the speech in my head, saying the first sentence, and Steph running to the stage to give me the speech that fell out of my pocket when I stood to go to the stage. (Thank you, Steph, for preventing me from making a major fool of myself.) Once I started reading the prepared speech, though, my next clear memory is walking behind the stage with the Hugo. At some point, I must have delivered my prepared speech then picked up the Hugo from the table.
I had to watch a replay of the live stream to see what actually happened. As the Guardian article about the Hugo Awards said, I was “a visibly overwhelmed Chu.”
Oh, yes, the Guardian quoted half my speech! Ann Leckie’s win was absolutely the story of the awards, Kameron Hurley sent two superb calls to action, and Aidan Moher gave a touching speech written on the back of a photograph of his wife, who couldn’t be there. However, I wasn’t expecting anything more than to be mentioned in the list of winners. I am flabbergasted by the response to my acceptance speech. That caught me off-guard as much as winning the Hugo in the first place. (Let’s face it. Rachel Swirsky, Sofia Samatar, and Thomas Olde Heuvelt all wrote brilliant stories. Any one of them could have won.)
I’m happy to find that the speech I gave bears some structural resemblance to the speech I wrote. It took me so long to gather myself afterward that I missed the Best Novelette category. So I’m also happy for the chance to see, in replay at least, Mary Robinette Kowal win a Hugo for “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”
(Fun fact 1: Mary Robinette Kowal and Elizabeth Bear both encouraged me to send “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” to Tor.com. Were it not for that encouragement, given the story had already been rejected 14 times, I might have trunked it. There may be a Newbie Author Lesson in there somewhere.
Fun fact 2: Thanking Mary and Bear on stage may have been part of my plan. However, in the heat of the moment, that never happened. Oops. Please forgive me. On the plus side, I’d been spending WorldCon thanking people, including Mary and Bear, beforehand on the theory that it seemed unlikely I’d have the chance to do so from the stage. At least I’d managed to thank both of them in private.)
Anyway, for the record, this is what fell out of my mouth on stage (edited for clarity since, as the Guardian said, I was “a visibly overwhelmed Chu”):
I can’t begin to describe how much this award means to me. When I started writing, so many people told me, the words were literally “I’m not racist but…” or “I’m not homophobic but…” There were so many “buts” and they all told me in polite, civil, and sometimes these exact words that no one was interested in or would ever publish anything that I would ever write. So, to win a Hugo, and for this story, I literally cannot put into words how much that means to me.
Especially since there are so many people, too many to name, that have supported and encouraged me. Thank you to anyone who has ever said a kind word to me. You have no idea how much that means to me. In particular, I’d like to thank Ted Chiang and, one of my Clarion instructors, Chip Delany. Without their brilliant work, I might have believed all of the “buts.”
I would like to thank Nick Mamatas for his insight on writing and Catherynne Valente for her insight on this story. Especially Ann and Jeff VanderMeer who, among other things, never gave up on me. They kept insisting that my work was publishable. And especially Ann. When I wrote something that met her impeccably high standards, she took it and made it even better and published it at Tor.com.
I’ve always thought of “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” as sort of “the little story that could.” Thank you so much for making it so much more than I could have ever imagined.
BTW, I should point out that the first thing that happened to me after I stepped off stage was that I was mistaken for Ted Chiang. (Note: Not by anyone running LonCon 3, the Hugo Awards, or the Hugo Ceremony.) I can win a Hugo but, ultimately, nothing has changed. I need to keep doing what I do but better. I need to write the best, most mind-blowingly awesome stories I can. I need to keep adding tools to my toolbox so that there’s never any questions of whether I can achieve the effects that I want. The work is what is the most important.
(Edited: added missing word “expected” in paragraph 4.)