The Windycon Toastmaster Speech

Richard Chwedyk

(Given on the evening of Friday, November 9, 2007 in the ballroom of the Wyndham O'Hare Rosemont at the Opening Ceremonies of Windycon 34. This isn't an exact transcript of what I said that evening, but the notes I brought up with me, which I slightly revised, edited and altered on the spot — a writer learns to adjust his words when working before an audience. But this is pretty much the letter, and spirit, of what I had to say.)

First of all, I want to say "Hiya!" to you all.

Thanks for coming to the Opening Ceremonies.

Thanks for coming to Windycon.

Thanks for being Windycon.

Because that's what we are.

We are Windycon. Hear us roar.

And yes, I will tell you who I am, and what I — this apparent interloper, this invader, this charlatan, is doing here, speaking to you tonight.

But first —

The theme of the con this year is "The Worlds of Others," and I love it. I can't think of a better one. I like the plurals. I like the plurality.

Because we all live at least a little in the worlds of others. It's what we do.

And we all, at least a little, make our own worlds.

And what we make of our worlds, we share.

Windycon has been a point of convergence for these many worlds for thirty-four years.

For science fiction in all its varieties. For fantasy in all shapes and themes — even the darker of the dark fantasies called "Horror" in some circles. We're all here.

All the stretchier uses of the imagination — that most underrated of prizes that comes free in every package that we call our selves (well, almost every package) — are welcome here.

Imagination 'R' Us.

That's what Windycon is all about.

That's the Windycon Way.

The Windycon Way is to approach our visitors from the four corners of the imaginative universe — from literature, the visual arts, the various collaborations and hybrids of media, music, graphic literature, theater, games and all the heretofore unheralded new stops on the imaginative (and often electronic) highway — and welcome them.

In a word, to say "Hiya!"

"Hiya! Welcome to our worlds."

That's what I want you to do tonight.

I would like nothing better than for you to greet our Guests of Honor with a hearty, heartfelt "Hiya!"

Why, you may ask, "Hiya!"

Why not, "Yo!"? Why not, "How's it goin'"? Why not, "Whazzup!"? Why not "Where Yat?"

Well, first of all, because I'm the Toastmaster. And the Toastmaster chooses the greeting.

Don't believe me? You can look it up in Wikipedia. It says right there: "The Toastmaster chooses the greeting." I should know because I just "edited" it in there this morning.

Second, and much more dear to my heart, "Hiya!" represents for me something about this process of living in the worlds of others and others living in our worlds.

You see, you may not recognize it, with this clever disguise I'm wearing, but I'm a writer.

A slow writer.

A shy writer.

A writer who prefers the darkened garrets and musty libraries. Afraid of people. Afraid of crowds — crowds that might turn upon me and crush me — smear me into the carpet until I'm completely obliterated — EEEEYYAAAAAHH!

[duck under the lectern — then return, slowly]

That is — I write stuff.

And one thing I wrote about is this character named Axel — a small bioengineered theropod dinosaur. A little blue guy, who started out existence as a toy and, like many toys, Axel wasn't treated very well by his owners. Eventually, he ended up in a home where he and about a hundred other bioengineered dinosaur-looking beings live in a kind of shelter.

Axel is the kind of guy for whom the universe holds no bounds.

Axel is the kind of guy who wants to build robots.

Axel is the kind of guy who wants to send messages to "Space Guys."

Axel is the kind of guy who wakes up in the morning, gets a first glimpse of the rising sun and says, "Yeah!"

His understanding of how the universe works is simple, though that's something I think we can all say of ourselves, but his capacity for wonder at its workings is limitless.

At least so far, and this in spite of his experience of the world as being something less than a friendly place.

He can still say, "The sun is coming! And the sun is a star! And it's spinning through space! And we're spinning through space around the sun! And — there's stuff to do!"

He can still look up at the stars and say, "It's the biggest, best universe in the whole world!"

He still greets everyone, whether they acknowledge him or not, with a big "Hiya!"

Axel is just a character, or I should say "just" a character. He's just words on paper. But for me he's a lot more. And the wonderful, miraculous thing about characters made of words on paper (or even made of electrons on a screen), he means a lot to others.

And I couldn't have gotten that character out on paper without the encouragement of others. Like the brilliant writer Martin Mundt, who was one of my first copyeditors when "The Measure of All Things" was first published in a chapbook by the wonderful people at Twilight Tales.

Marty told me, "You know, I really love this character, Axel. How he just keeps saying 'Hiya!' to the visitor who's trying to ignore him. Axel won't take ‘no' for an answer. You should do more with that character."

And that, for any of you taking notes out there, is how you win a Nebula Award.

You listen to the Axel inside you, you don't take "no" for an answer. And you listen to Marty Mundt. And the many others who made the same suggestion (see Tina Jens for one).

It is a small accomplishment, but mine own.

And that's why "Hiya!"

It's all I got. Someone else already made a "Toastmaster" costume and played the role of a second-tier comic book villain to a second-tier comic book hero, Waffleman. And Neal Stephenson, that scene-stealing publicity-grabber, already used the gag of bringing a toaster up on stage, a Sunbeam, at the Seattle Nebs, popping in slices and timing the acceptance speeches by how many slices he could make while the winners spoke.

It's all been done. All I've got is "Hiya!"

It doesn't hurt that when it acquires that back-of-the-tongue-lightly-up-against-the-roof-of-your-mouth "ch" sound, "Hiya!" becomes the Hebrew word, "Life."


And "chaya" is something I hope we can celebrate here this weekend.

And so, in the interest of bringing out a little of the Axel in all of us, I want you to try a little practice "Hiya!"

Come on — try it: "Hiya! Welcome to our worlds!"

A little louder: "Hiya! Welcome to our worlds!"

Give it all you've got: "HIYA! Welcome to our worlds!"

That's right. I want to take you "Hiya!"

Good. Good. Keep that up. Hold that spirit.

That's what I like about coming to Windycon: all the dreams are out of their boxes.

These are our worlds — and welcome to them!

These guests have all given freely of their talents — their unique gifts. They've produced works that perhaps bring pleasure to themselves, but also bring pleasure to us.

They welcomed you into their worlds. And now it's time for us to welcome them into ours.

And for those of you who think this might be a little silly, maybe a bit too "Gosh-wow!" —

You're right. It is silly. It is "Gosh-wow!"

But too "Gosh-wow!"?

Are you kidding?

Sf and fantasy have come a long way from the days of "Gosh-wow!" We may be lined up, waiting for the Library of America editions of our works to come out. Waiting to be interviewed by NPR and asked by Terry Gross or Bob Edwards why our work isn't like that "Buck Rogers stuff" or unicorns and elves. Eeeeeuuuu! — Or we're waiting, number in hand, to get out of Development Hell and launch into production with Angelina Jolie and Viggo Mortenson, Peter Jackson at the helm and a budget where one lunch break equals the combined budgets of every sf/fantasy film made before 1976.

Big time! Nobel Prizes! Tenure! Barnes and Noble gift cards in three digit figures for everyone on the holiday list.

Even snide remarks from Harold Bloom.

Oh, wait! We've got those already.

But "Gosh-wow!" got us here.

"Gosh-wow!" is your parent — or at least a close aunt.

And are you going to act like an adolescent at the mall and make "Gosh-wow!" follow twelve feet behind you? Are you going to tell "Gosh-wow!": "Don't look like that. Don't dress like that. And please please please, when we get there don't let anyone see you talking to me!"

Is that how you're going to treat "Gosh-wow!"?

I didn't think so. You're Windycon.

"Gosh-wow!" has been there for you. And it always will. That's what "Gosh-wow!" is all about. And that's what Windycon always remembers.

And so, with no further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce our Guests.

[At this point I introduced guests Tanya Huff, Jody A. Lee, Richard Hatch, George Price, Bill and Brenda Sutton, and embarrassed some other "special guests" in the audience including Betty Anne Hull, Mike Resnick, Phyllis and Alex Eisenstein, Jody Lynn Nye and Tina Jens.]

And now, I believe my work here is finished.

Take the spirit of "Hiya!" with you wherever you go this weekend. Greet your old acquaintances. Greet your new friends. Within our community and outside, it is our openness to new experiences and new worlds that's our best cause for hope.

Thank you. See you around.

And welcome!