So I'm here at Orbital 2008, which is this year's Eastercon. The Eastercon is apparently a long-running thing in the UK--it's a science fiction convention of a more literary bent, a bit like WorldCon, only not quite as enormous. It's held on Easter weekend, because that tends to be a slow weekend in the hotel industry, so it's easier to find a place to hold it for a reasonable rate. (Interestingly, there's a convention in Atlanta called Frolicon that likewise is held Easter weekend for much the same reason. A rather, um, different kind of convention, though.)
I am here because one of the guests is a writer named Tanith Lee. There's also a writer named Neil Gaiman in attendance, and it's been groovy to see him, but I honestly wouldn't have come if it had just been him, since he actually shows up in America more often than not. Tanith Lee hasn't been to America in some time, so if I wanted to see her, the mountain had to come to Mohammed.
My sister had a large collection of Tanith Lee books on her shelves and I read my way through them a number of times. The one that particularly stuck with me, especially in my adolescence, was a book called Don't Bite the Sun. I love that book to bits, I will pimp it to everyone until the day I die. (By the way, it's back in print, bound along with its sequel Drinking Sapphire Wine under the name Biting the Sun. Look in science fiction paperbacks under Lee. You can thank me later.)
She also wrote many other books that I read over and over again,, weaving their way into the fabric of my inner life--The Birthgrave, The Silver Metal Lover, the Flat Earth series . . . I could go for days listing titles, but I'll spare you. I consider her a huge influence on my writing, perhaps not in a direct I-want-to-write-just-like-her way, but a lot of my clumsy first efforts at fantasy stories owed a lot to her. (Thank heavens there was no internet back then, or some of the things I wrote might still be out there to be Googled. At it was, the internet was still in its infancy in those days, so my bad writing in public was largely confined to computer bulletin board systems that are now utterly obsolete.)
So I bought my membership ages in advance and when it came time to decide if I was going or not, I booked the flight. I made it one of my New Year's Resolutions--Attend Orbital 2008.
Orbital is a very relaxed little gathering of geeks. Reminds me a bit of Chattacon in Chattanooga--panels where people talk about geek stuff, including panels about writing and the almighty question of How To Get Published. As I mentioned, I submitted the first 3,000 words of my novel and I'll be getting it critiqued on Monday. I met Martin Owton, who was organizing it and he introduced me to Gaie Sebold and Sarah Ellender, the lovely ladies who will be doing the critiquing. (When I gave them my name, one of them said "Sheila O'Shea! Oh, Soft Places, right?" I guess that's a good sign if they remember the title.) I've been to a few writerly panels and it's been really inspiring and made me that much more determined to whip this thing of mine into shape and get it sent out.
And I met Tanith Lee. She was a sort of foyer area, talking to a few people and I hovered a bit and finally found a moment, steeled my nerve and walked up to her.
"I came all the way from the United States of America to see you," I said, "And I think that probably says it all."
And then I burst into tears.
Thankfully, she didn't seem to be too disturbed by this. She was genuinely surprised that someone would go to such trouble for her. I tried to explain, between sobs, how much her work had meant to me, how Don't Bite the Sun had been a mirror for my awkward adolescence, how I felt much like the protagonist who had too much of an imagination to fit in her head, lived in a kind of paradise and yet didn't quite fit in.
It is such an amazing moment to be able to look someone in the eye, someone who has created things that uplifted you, that inspired you, that filtered their way into your sense of self and to be able to tell that person how much those creations meant to you.
Ms. Lee (I still feel weird calling her Tanith) was very kind and very inspiring to me. She said she hoped that I wasn't too disappointed to find out that she was merely a human being. I assured her it wasn't a problem. She asked if I was a writer; I told her I was and I told her about the novel that I'm bashing into shape right now. She said she was looking forward to reading it when it was published.
I met her again the next day, and she signed my copies of Don't Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine. She wrote a lovely note, pointing out that what we get out of books comes from within us. "You are the magician," she wrote.
I'll wrap this entry up with this--when I arrived on Friday morning, I had to fill out a something called a Landing Card which they make you fill out if you're an alien entering the UK. They had a line for "Occupation." I filled it in with the word WRITER.
On one level, it's not like they're going to track me down and say "You lie! Your bills are paid by being a paralegal!" On another level, it is a signal sent to the universe, a signal of intention, the intention to make that declaration a completely honest one.