Anne (netmouse) wrote,

Neil and his Hugo

At the end of Noreascon Four, as the last of my obligations in assisting him for the weekend, I went with Neil Gaiman to the train station. It was a very successful Worldcon for him. It was fun for me to have seen him look forward to it, heard him hope to win another Hugo award there, to have watched and assisted while he get caught up with other plans and responsibilities, and at the end, to finally see him off, having, in the midst of the whirlwind, won his Hugo award after all.

A little more than a month ago, at Mythcon 35, Neil and I talked a couple of times about how his short story "A Study in Emerald" was up for the Hugo Award. On Friday of Mythcon he asked me what I thought his chances were and that night I read the rest of the short story nominees (I had to do that anyway; Saturday night was the deadline for voting). The next day I told him I thought his chances were actually pretty good.

Neil explained, as I have now heard him explain to many people, that back when they asked him to MC the Hugos he mentally reviewed all the things he'd had published in 2003 and didn't honestly think anything stood a chance of getting nominated. Otherwise, he would have declined to MC the awards. Because being a nominee and the MC was bound to be awkward.

But he had read "A Study in Emerald" at Torcon, and he read it at Penguicon, and this really nice little story published in a somewhat obscure collection called Shadows Over Baker Street got enough attention that it made it on the ballot. Then, unlike nearly every year previous, all of the Hugo-nominated stories went up on the web, and so the internet-savvy voting public was very well-educated. And his little story stood, as I evaluated it that Saturday a month past, a pretty good chance of earning him a rocket.

He was actually quite excited about that possibility, for the fundamental honor and also because it would make him the first person since Ursula Le Guin to win Hugos in three different categories.

Other conversations about the Hugos at Mythcon involved how Neil ought to figure out in advance what he was going to wear, and how what he was really trying to figure out was what his "schtick" was going to be as MC. Ellen Kushner suggested it should be his accent. He didn't end up doing that - his main schtick, if he had one, had to do with language... {quotes very approximate}

"It has been brought to my attention that at previous Hugo ceremonies, there has, regrettably, been some bad language used during acceptance speeches.
"Please, I'm asking tonight's winners to keep it clean.
"As my preschool teacher used to say, 'It's not funny, it's not clever, Neil, and no one is the slightest bit impressed.'"


"Fuck, I'm MC-ing the Hugos."

Other than that running joke, he took things pretty seriously, where serious for him involves many jokes and funny anecdotes, but is also very respectful for the people and the weight of the ceremony. He had never done something quite like this before, and he was working on what he was going to say right up to when he went on. He had put together some loose notes, and some fully written pieces, which he had me print out with lots of space between things so he could write things in. He sent me back up to his room to get some other printed bios and things 40 minutes before he went on. When I told him it was quarter to eight, and time to go in, his answer was a simple unbelieving "No." In other words, everything I observed corroborates the statement he made later that evening to many people and on his blog, which was that he was too concerned about how things were going to go as MC to be nervous about winning the Hugo.

His main comment about whether or not his story might win, shortly before the awards, was that one way or another it was going to be awkward and embarrassing.

Speaking of which, I'd like to go back a minute there to what he was going to wear. A month in advance he spoke of a morning suit that he thought might work. A week before the con he referred to getting it out of mothballs. I suggested he might want to do that more than two days in advance, just to be sure. When I first saw him at Noreascon, he mentioned he had some options in the closet and he was hoping that Cheryl and I, or just I, would get a chance to take a look at it Friday and make sure everything looked all right. We didn't have him put his outfit on on Friday. If ever there's a next time I'll make that a higher priority. As anyone who reads Neil's blog knows, on Saturday Neil tried his outfit on (at around 3:30), realized that the shirt he was planning to wear required cufflinks, and sent me on a happily successful mission to get some (Bill came along and helped). We actually returned with some given to us for free from Classic Tuxedo, which still baffles me but is, for my purposes here, another story for another time. He tried some different options for ties and settled on black, and went back and forth a couple times on whether his vest would be buttoned all the way down or unbuttoned right at the bottom as he said it should be, and on how his tie looked. At one point it must have become clear I thought he was stressing about it too much. He told me this was easy for me: I had nothing to lose. "You're right," I said. "You're fabulously succesful, everybody loves you, and it could all be ruined if your tie is done wrong." He relaxed a little after that, which was good.

What I wanted to get at here was that Neil was somewhat self-conscious about how he looked that evening, as someone most comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt and leather jacket and who, when wearing a suit, tends to feel like he's in drag, according to him. You could tell he was concerned; I mean, he even had me get him a comb. But this was all about being up there as MC, not as a potential Hugo winner. (The overall look came off pretty well.. somewhere in the area of Victorian bad guy, an idea which seemed to please him.)

The way the Hugo ceremony was set up, the Hugo rockets were being given to Neil, who later handed them to the presenter(s) to give to the winner(s). When it came to the Short Story category, Neil declined to hold the award and the volunteer stood there with it until the winner was announced. Some people misread this as a giveaway that Neil had won it, but it was just avoiding putting him in the position of being tempted to look at the plaque in advance. When he won the Hugo, Neil said some quick thanks and made a joke about the fact that he didn't have a place to put it, then placed his Hugo on the floor stage left of the podium. After the awards, while all the winners lined up to get their picture taken, Neil was rather subdued compared to the rest of the pack, fiddling with his phone, which he finally handed back to me in order to fulfill his promise to call his daughter Holly immediately. (She didn't answer -- I left her a message.) In most pictures he's not particularly smiling, though that may not mean much -- he usually puts a deep look on his face instead of a smile for pictures.

[Beth Gwinn caught him with a bit of a smile in this picture.]

For Saturday evening he circulated with his award and accepted many congratulations, but that evening and even all day Sunday it didn't seem to really sink in that he'd won the award. He was mostly just pleased that the MC-ing went well, and he was busy with his schedule and visiting with everyone, showing off his new books and talking about future projects. The Hugo sat on a table back in his room.

On Monday I helped Neil pack his things, including a box to ship home. His Hugo went with him instead of in the box and he was careful to pack it so that he could easily pull it out to show off. I accompanied him to the train station, where he was headed for a short stay in New York. On the way up the stairs outside the station, he picked up his carry-on and swore.

"Damn, this thing is heavy! You'd think there was a huge piece of metal in it or something!"

When I looked over, he was watching me slyly to see if I caught what he meant. When I grinned at him, a quiet smile sweetened his face, the rare one that I've come to recognize as a sign that he's truly pleased with himself.

It had finally sunk in - he was taking home another Hugo.
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