published Friday, September 16th, 2011

Courter: Hugo Award brings changes for author Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal has a new name. The daughter of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga Vice President Marilyn Harrison will from now on be known as Hugo Award winner Mary Robinette Kowal.

Hugo Awards, which are shaped like a spaceship, are given for science-fiction writing.

"Besides now having a shiny rocket ship, when my next novel comes out, I will have a new first name," Kowal said during a recent visit to Chattanooga. She was here with friends and fellow authors doing a mini writers workshop.

Whether the award means more than a trophy and a new name depends on "how ruthless and savvy I am about exploiting it," she said.

She received the award, her first, Aug. 20 for her short story "For Want of a Nail." In it, she paired a human character who has dementia with a machine with artificial intelligence whose memory has been hacked.

"I think the judges, and it's always hard to know, liked it because it combined an interesting science-fiction premise that shed some light on a common human condition," Kowal said.

"It's about how much memory shapes who you are and how much of that goes away when we lose our memories."

This was Kowal's second nomination for a Hugo Award. She won a Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her debut novel, "Shades of Milk and Honey," was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2010.

Kowal's other career is as a professional puppeteer. These days she is doing less of that and concentrating more on her writing.

"Writing allows me to get my storytelling jollies without the pain that comes with puppetry. It's very physical."

She said the two mediums share some similarities.

"People have similar reactions to science fiction and puppetry, which is that they think they know what each is, which is something for kids," she said. "After experiencing it, they come up and say, 'Oh, this completely changes my perception."

* * * * *

Thom Cavin has worked in the production end of the television and music industry for decades, but in his heart of hearts, he is a songwriter. He, along with Joe Logan, recently conceived a way to encourage and help fellow crafters by starting the Chattanooga Songwriters Association. The group is currently hosting a weekly Writers Night at Sugar's Ribs downtown every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. through Nov. 10.

Each week, a group of a half-dozen local and a regional artists will perform and discuss their work. You can apply to be one of those performers online at www.chattanoogasongwriters

"We will talk about the mechanics of writing songs," Cavin said. "We'll talk about the rewards and the letdowns. We want originals only. If you didn't write it, you don't play it."

Over the years, Cavin has produced for television and film just about everything related to the music industry there is.

"I love producing TV stories, but I'm really a musician. Working in Nashville, you are working for someone else's career. I want to spend the rest of my days as a performing songwriter."

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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