Life Time Achievement Award

goodaward smLast Saturday evening the Willamette Writers honored me with a lifetime achievement award.  I was stunned when I got the news several weeks before.  Willamette Writers is one of the largest regional writers organizations with 1700 members and 4 daughter chapters throughout Oregon.  Over 800 writers, published and aspiring attended their 40th annual conference.

You can find more information at www.willamettewriters.com

My dear friend Lizzy Shannon introduced me.

“The Willamette Writers lifetime achievement award is given annually to a Pacific Northwest author, and tonight it is both an honor and a privilege to be able to introduce you to a local role model of note, and a lady of distinction.

“We actually ran into a bit of bother with this year’s award, because as the lady writes under three different names (that we know of) we weren’t certain which of her personalities to give the award to.  But only one of them is a registered Oregon voter.  Irene Radford has distinguished herself as a world class science fiction and fantasy author.  Her highly successful Dragon Nimbus series is available in many languages all over the globe.  Even in unexpected places such as rough-and-tumble Irish guest houses in the remote Mourne Mountains.  When visiting my family in Ireland recently, the local publican, usually a dour, sullen man, became effusive with glee when he found out I knew Irene.  He showed me where he kept all of her books, well thumbed and very grubby, but obviously well loved.  I am charged with the task of purloining Irene’s signed photo for him to hang in the bar.

“When I first met this unassuming, quiet lady at a science fiction convention almost 10 years ago, I was dressed as a Klingon, and she resembled one of the fragile faery folk from one of her stories.  Afraid I might break her, I reined in my clumsy enthusiasm enough to share with her my hope to be published some day.  As she has done with so many would-be authors, she listened carefully, took me seriously (despite my extremely odd appearance) and has encouraged and mentored me every step of the way.  She is always generous with advice and help, sharing her wealth of knowledge by talking on panels at conventions, hosting writing retreats where she has an interesting mix of seasoned and unpublished authors, and teaching workshops at our very own Willamette Writers meetings in the Old Church in downtown Portland.

“Tonight it is my absolute pleasure both as a friend and as a board member, to invite Phyllis Irene Radford up here to accept the Willamette Writers Lifetime Achievement Award.”

I was so touched I could barely read the text of my own speech through my tears.  I did remember to thank the board and all the members for the honor.award speech sm

The award is stunning and elegant.  It nearly left me speechless.  Now when had anyone in that room ever expected to hear those words from me.  Fortunately I made notes.

August 8, 2009

“Let me tell you a story:

“How many times has that phrase been used? Since time out of mind, humankind has told stories to make a point, demonstrate a moral, teach a lesson, or just to entertain. Stories around a campfire in the Olduvai Gorge or after a grand hunt in the Lascaux Caves, or a Coventry morality play draw upon group history and culture to convey subtle nuances and jokes that the audience can appreciate.

“Many today say that the myths and legends of ages past are obsolete.  Those common references are meaningless in our polyglot, multi ethnic, dilute society. Ursula K. LeGuin talks about this a bit in her collection of essays Language Of The Night.  Excellent Book by the way.

“I collect books about folklore, myth and legend. I’m learning to appreciate these subtle nuances in Pacific Northwest native lore. I know enough about Celtic culture to find some hidden puns in the names given to fantastic creatures. Even some of the Russian tales speak to me – I got snowed in twice last winter and appreciate the endless lessons on how to survive the cold. But Arabian, Chinese, and African lore kind of go over my head. There are universal truths buried in there, but I have to dig deep to find them beneath recipes for cooking obscure roots and dialogue with gods I’ve never heard of.

“Just a quick aside, almost every culture on earth has a variation of the Cinderella story. Only the versions before the German Catholic Church edited the Brothers Grimm, tell the story of a girl who is abused by her own father and runs away to serve in another household rather than be a princess in her own.

“We have Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyon, Johnny Appleseed, and John Henry in this country.  Newer myths based on local legends.  And let’s not forget George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.  All have legends surrounding them that we love to expand.  Has anyone read the series of mysteries with Ben Franklin as the detective?  Did George Washington really chop down that cherry tree?

“It’s these universal truths that make a story important and memorable. (I’m going to use film references here because more people have seen the same movies than have read the same books)  We’re a literate group of writers. So I bet a higher percentage of you have read Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur than the average person you encounter at the coffee shop. But I bet nearly all of the people in the coffee shop have seen or know about Star Wars.  I’m talking about the original trilogy—episodes 4,5,&6 in the current lexicon—Those episodes contain more than a few echoes of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. You have the sword, you have the magical mentor, you have the evil overlord and vast hordes of invaders held off by a scrappy few freedom fighters. You even have the secret child who rises to glory and hints of a love affair with the fair princess who is in truth the hero’s sister, unknown to both at the time.

“Same story. Same moral tales. Different cultural references. May the Force be with you.

“How about Bridget Jones Diary? Pride and Prejudice updated. The movie Clueless is a rewrite of Jane Austen’s Emma.  In fact on my copy of the DVD of the Gweneth Paltrow version, the blurb reads: If you’re a fan of “Clueless” you’ll love “Emma.”Phyl01_WW

“Shakespeare is so universal we don’t even need to change the language much, just the setting and the background music to make it memorable and universal. West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet set to music – and yes armed gangs, usually wearing the colored livery for one lord or another – were as common in Elizabethan England as they are in the streets of NY today.

“How many retellings of Beauty and the Beast do we need to understand that sometimes beautiful people are ugly inside and some ugly people have beautiful souls?

“Gold digging, greedy step parents are still cheating Snow White out of substantial inheritances. We see that story weekly on various TV mystery series.

“The story is the same, the delivery is different.

“Writers of today – meaning all of us in this room tonight – are creating a new mythology out of the old.

“So let me tell you about a little girl who taught herself to read before kindergarten so that she wouldn’t have to waste time in school before learning to write.  She desperately needed to write down her own stories. She put herself to sleep every night living those stories in her imagination and continuing them night after night, sometimes for years. That little girl grew up to write her stories in secret because her parents and teachers almost convinced her that she was going to fail at being a full time writer so why bother trying? Better to get a real job and earn real money.

“Those same parents and teachers wouldn’t allow her to read comics or science fiction and fantasy books because their only contact with the genre was the horrible B grade Godzilla movies of the 1950’s.  She needed to read real books.

“Guess what? That little girl is me, and my 20th SF/F book came out this week and you have given me a lifetime achievement award. I fell into SF/F because it’s the proper medium for me to tell my stories.  You can believe that I did it just to prove my elders wrong if you want.  And yes I have my own version of the Arthurian Legends out there.

“It is after all, about the story. That’s why we write, whether it’s fiction, or memoir, or screenplays, biography, or essay. We have a story to tell.  We have modern myths to bring to our audience.  We have folklore to create.

“Just to finish this off, there’s a tag line wandering around the internet attributed to me, and yes I said it. “We all get rejections. So cry, complain, throw things. Then apply butt to chair and hands to keyboard and get back to work.”

At that point the applause told me to quit while I was ahead, leaving off the final paragraph.  I’ll let you see it though.

“That philosophy has sustained me through 20 books and 20+ short stories in print and contracts for more. All since 1994, that’s only 15 years. My work is never done and I don’t intend to stop telling stories until the coroner surgically removes me from my computer and hauls me out in a body bag. l figure that gives me another 25 years of work at least so can I get this award again?”

Phyllis Irene Radford
Aka Irene Radford
Aka P.R. Frost
Aka C.F. Bentley

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About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: www.ireneradford.net Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.

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