Connie Willis Sasquan (WorldCon 2015) Report



As if there wasn’t enough anxiety about Worldcon this year after what Bob Silverberg described as a summer of “apprehension, tension, and dissension,” in science fiction, our trip to the World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane got off to a bad start before we even arrived. Lots of people had decided not to come because of the Rabid/Sad Puppies controversy, I was nervous about flying only four weeks after having had eye surgery, and when we arrived, there were no cabs at the airport, and the people in the line we joined said there never would be any.

“We’ve been here forty-five minutes without seeing one,” they reported. A call to the hotel’s shuttle number produced a reprimand to the effect that we should have received a place on one when we booked the hotel or earlier (???), and a subsequent call to the number for the taxi service taped to the wall connected us to a semi-hysterical voice saying, “We don’t have any cabs! They’re all out! You’ll just have to wait!”

After many moons, a shuttle from our hotel finally arrived, and we got on, feeling like we were taking the last lifeboat on the Titanic, and looking guiltily back at all the fellow convention-goers we’d left behind. The mood wasn’t helped by the shuttle driver, who cheerily pointed out the casino we were passing on the way into Spokane (still several miles away) and saying, “It’s got a really fancy gourmet restaurant. Lots of visitors come out here for dinner.”

“How?” we asked, but he didn’t hear us. He was busy praising Spokane’s other fancy gourmet restaurants. “We’ve got an Applebee’s. And a P.F. Chang’s.” But at least we were on our way to safety.

Or so we thought. But instead of being taken to rescue on the Carpathia–or even the Hyatt–we were transported to a true shipwreck of a hotel.

It was brand-new and ultramodern, but upon closer examination, it was like those strange nightmare hotels in a “we’re already dead but don’t know it yet” movie. The blinds couldn’t be worked manually, and we couldn’t find any controls. There was no bathtub. The shower closely resembled the one in a high-school locker room, and there was no door between it and the toilet. (I am not making this up.) The clock had no controls for setting an alarm–a call to the front desk revealed that was intentional: “We prefer our clients to call us and request a wake-up call”–and when you turned the room lights off, the bright blue glow from the clock face enveloped the room in Cherenkhov radiation, and there was no way to unplug it. We tried putting a towel and then a pillow over it and ended up having to turn it face-down.

That wasn’t all. If you sat on the edge of the bed or lay too close to the edge, you slid off onto the floor, a phenomenon we got to test later on when we began giving tours of our room to disbelieving friends. “Don’t sit on the end of the bed,” we told them. “You’ll slide off,” and then watched them as they did.

We had encountered a mattress like this once before in LaPorte, Indiana, but that was at a fleabag hotel we stayed at because it was the only place with a vacancy. here the slidiness seemed to be a feature, not a bug. There were signs all over our room and the lobby telling us how we could buy a mattress just like it to take home with us. (I am not making this up, I swear.)

Best of all, the driver of the hotel shuttle that took us to dinner (because there still weren’t any taxis) assured us we could just call as soon as we were done and they’d pick us up immediately. When we did, he said, “It will be at least an hour,” and the maître d’ told us our chances of finding a taxi at this hour (9 p.m.) were nil. So we walked.

Through the smoke from the forest fires burning on all sides of the city. It went from hazy on the first day to thick yellow fog full of drifting pieces of white ash on Saturday. The TV news declared a Code Red and advised people to stay inside and take shallow breaths, and the people filming Syfy’s Z Nation, a Zombie-Apocalypse TV series which films in Spokane had to put filters on to remove some of the smokiness from their end-of-the-world landscape.

In the meantime, the sun had gone bright orange, the moon had turned to blood, some of the Strolls with the Stars walks had to be cancelled, and the maps showed that the fires were getting closer and closer to Spokane–at which point we started wondering what the eleven thousand people at the con were going to do if we got the call to evacuate–and there was only one taxi in the entire city.

And face it, we were already nervous. The Sad/Rabid Puppies mess had been escalating all summer, with threats from them of dire consequences and organized disruptions if even one “No Award” was given. And one of the Puppies had sent a letter to the Spokane Police Department making false and possibly libelous accusations against David Gerrold (see File 770 for a full account.)

So it was no wonder we approached the night of the Hugo Awards Ceremony with…shall we say? trepidation. Which wasn’t helped by the fact that for the first time in my experience of Hugo Awards Ceremonies, we had to go through a security bag check to get into the auditorium.

But none of the disasters the omens had been predicting came to pass (except, of course, that half the state of Washington burned down.) But the Hugo ceremony went off without a hitch. The co-emcees David Gerrold and Tananarive Due were great, everyone there had a great time, and I witnessed something I never thought I’d see in this lifetime: Robert Silverberg leading the audience in a soothing chant of “Hare Krishna.”


The membership voted overwhelmingly to reject the Puppies’ coup attempt and their slate of nominees, giving “No Award” in five categories, and everyone who appeared onstage was terrific, including the people who won. They gave thoughtful, serious acceptance speeches about what the award meant to them and how they felt about what had happened, saying many things that the people charged with running the ceremony couldn’t and emphatically voicing their love of science fiction.

As you may know from my previous statement on this website, I had refused to present an award at the Hugos because I didn’t want to lend credibility to the hijacking of the award nominations by the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

On the other hand, I very much wanted to support emcee (and old friend) David Gerrold, and when he asked me to come onstage to give him and his co-host Tananarive Due a supportive hug and then do a little schtick about emceeing, or as David said, “go off on a wild tangent”, I was more than happy to oblige.

I talked about the trials of emceeing the Hugos and all the things that could go wrong, from reading the wrong name to having the award literally fall apart in your hands, plus all the stuff completely out of your control, like technical glitches, unruly award recipients (you know who you are), and Brazilian mediums.

conniewdavidandtdueI’ve posted my speech below, in case you want to read it. I wish I was able to post Robert Silverberg’s, which was, as usual, hilarious and delivered in the cool, dry, sophisticated manner nobody can come close to imitating. I also wish I could post the emcees’ great riffs on Star Trek, Dr. Who, Game of Thrones (“George R.R. Martin isn’t on Twitter anymore because he killed all 140 characters”), and trying to find the right page in their script.
I was really glad I was there, in spite of the smoke and the Kafka Hotel and all the apprehension, tension, and dissension.  [You can watch the entire ceremony here]

This is not to say that I’m not still furious about the whole thing. Because of the Puppies’ machinations, people who should have won didn’t, people who should have been nominated weren’t, people who were felt they had to turn down the nomination, and innocent people were caught in the crossfire. But my greatest fear, that the controversy would tear science fiction apart, didn’t come to pass. The community presented a united front and affirmed the tolerance, diversity, and classiness of the field I love.

And Spokane turned out to have some great restaurants, including Anthony’s, which has a great view of the falls, yummy fish, and a delicious peach slump (though they might want to work on the name. On second thought, cobbler isn’t much better as a name.)

Our favorite, though, has to have been Luigi’s, located just a couple of blocks from our hotel. It was an old-time Italian restaurant with wonderful sausage and peppers and an amazing spaghetti mizithra. It was great.

And so was Worldcon. In spite of all the challenges, Spokane put on a great convention. And a great Hugo Awards ceremony.

Oh, and my eye’s fine.

Connie Willis

I couldn’t ask for better Sasquan bookends: Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg!

A photo posted by Scott Edelman (@scottedelman) on

Photos courtesy of John O’Halloran and Scott Edelman

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Here is the text of Connie Willis’ speech given during the Hugo Awards ceremony during Sasquan in Spokane, WA.    You can view the livestream of the ceremony here.

Emceeing the Hugo Awards ceremonies is a much tougher job than most people realize.
You have NO idea how many things can go wrong.

I mean, like you might forget an entire category.
Or the name of the wrong winner’s in the envelope.
Or the right name’s in the envelope,
but a completely different name is on the screens behind you.

Or the tech doesn’t work,
and you have to improvise for 45 minutes
while they try to fix it.

Or the tech DOES work,
only the slides somehow get out of order somehow
so that as you’re announcing Best Fan Artist,
the screens are showing the name of the Best Novel Winner.
Or the Hugo Awards fall completely apart.
I’m not talking about the ceremony.
I’m talking about the awards themselves.

This one year they had these great Hugos,
with sort of a modernist sculpture look,
a big angled ring of Saturn thing with the rocket ship sticking up through it
and marbles representing planets,
and brass nuts and bolts and stuff.

They looked great,
but they weren’t glued together very well,
and by the time Samuel R. Delaney got off the stage,
his Hugo was in both hands
and his pockets
and on the floor,
and mine had lost several pieces altogether.

“Did you lose your marbles?” I whispered to Gardner backstage.

“No,” Gardner whispered back in that voice of his
that can be heard in the back row,
“My balls didn’t fall off, but my toilet seat broke!”

I told you, emceeing’s a tough job.

So many things are out of your control.
One of the winners can trip coming up the steps.
Or pass out at the podium.

Or make a speech that goes on and on and on,
and just when you think they’re finished,
they go off on some tangent,
and you think they’re never going to shut up.
So anyway, it’s a really hard job,
which is why I’m here to give the emcees a big hug,
and tell them they’re doing great!

Though you can do a great job
and still have everything go to hell.

Like that time in Baltimore
where somebody thought it was a good idea
to have a crab feast before the awards,
which meant everyone in the audience had a wooden mallet!

And then there was the time I was emceeing,
and I had to present an award to H…um…Never mind.

My POINT is, that no matter how well-prepared you are–
this year, for instance,
I wrote down my speech so I wouldn’t go off on a tangent
and shortened my skirt so I wouldn’t trip over it
and got my rabies shots in case I got bitten by a bat again
like I did when I was emceeing at the Locus Awards.

Well, I didn’t actually get bitten at the Locus Awards.
I was at home.
In bed.
Two days before I was supposed to leave for the Locus Awards.
And this bat bit me.
While I was asleep!
Just like Dracula!

Only it bit me on the ankle,
and I didn’t turn into a vampire…
although the last few days I’ve had this insatiable desire
to read all the TWILIGHT books.
Which are the best-written, most literary novels I have ever read,
and I don’t know why they didn’t ALL win Hugos!

Where was I?

Oh, yes, giving the emcees hugs.

They deserve them.
Because no matter what you do to plan a well-ordered Hugo ceremony,
things can get out of control.

Like this year, for instance,
you could be bitten by a rabid marmot.
Or an old man could come up to you and make you sing “Hare Krishna.”
Or the smoke could get so bad they tell us to evacuate–
and there’s only one taxi in this entire town!

Or there could be some kind of problem with the ballot.

I don’t know if you’ve heard about what’s been going on recently,
but down in Brazil
there are all these spiritualists
claiming their books were dictated to them
by the ghosts of Victor Hugo
and Charles Dickens.

None of them have claimed they’re channeling SF authors yet,
but what if they do?
Who do we give the Hugo to, the medium or H.G. Wells?
And if we’re giving it to Wells, HOW do we give it?
Do we have to send somebody to the other side to deliver it?
And if so, who should we send?

As I was SAYING,
emceeing is a thankless job.

So thankless our emcees not only deserve a hug
but a medal of valor.

conniewvalor (produces medals)

And let’s hope I don’t stab them
as I try to pin the medal on,
or suddenly feel an insatiable desire to bite them on the neck…
umm, maybe I’d better let them pin it on themselves.

Let’s hear it for our terrific emcees,
David and Tananarive!

conniewdavidandtduePhotos courtesy of John O’Halloran

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Crosstalk UPDATE–October 27, 2015


Oh, frabjous day! Calloo-dallay!

Happiness! Fireworks! Delirium! Joy!

I’ve finally finished my novel. I know, I know, I said that a year ago, and I did think it was finished when I turned it in– and then spent months and months doing the revisions (three separate rounds of changes and cuts) and cursing the day I’d decided to write the stupid thing.

But now it’s done–well, not quite; I still have the copy-edited manuscript and the galley to go–and it will be out next fall! Yay!

It’s called CROSSTALK, and it’s about telepathy–and our overly communicating world. It’s also about helicopter mothers, social media, Joan of Arc, sugared cereals, Bridey Murphy, online dating, zombie movies, Victorian novels, and those annoying songs you get stuck in your head and can’t get rid of!

Here’s the set-up: My heroine Briddey Flannigan works at a smartphone company . Her on-the-fast-track boyfriend Trent has just talked her into the two of them having an EED, a minor surgical procedure that makes it possible for the couple to sense each other’s feelings–but only if you’re both emotionally committed. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.

“Oh, you’re so lucky!” her assistant enthuses. “It proves he loves you!” And everyone else is thrilled for her–except for C.B. Schwartz, the scruffy tech genius down in the basement, and her constantly meddling Irish-American family, who all think it’s a terrible idea. And dangerous.

“What if you come out of the surgery a vegetable?” C.B. asks her.

“It’s perfectly safe,” she assures him. Brad and Angelina have had it done. And Kate and William. And nobody’s had any bad side effects. What could possibly go wrong? And in spite of their warnings, Briddey goes ahead and has it done.

And nothing does go wrong: she comes through the surgery just fine, and even begins sensing emotions earlier than the doctor said she would. Only they’re not Trent’s emotions. And a few minutes later, when she finds herself not just empathetic, but telepathic, she’s linked not to Trent, but to C.B.

And she can’t tell Trent because you’re only supposed to be able to connect to someone you’re in love with, and she can’t tell her family because they’ll say, “I told you so!”, and she can’t tell the doctor because he’ll think she’s crazy, and meanwhile, C.B. is making smart remarks and offering all sorts of unhelpful advice. And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Things are about to get much, much worse…

The novel was partly inspired by our wildly over-connected world, in which we’re constantly bombarded with communication, most of it unwelcome, and partly by the misconceptions people have about what being telepathic would be like. They always assume it would either be profitable (finding out people’s computer codes or social security numbers or blackmailable personal secrets) or fun.

So not true. In the first place, people think all kinds of things we don’t want to hear. “No man is a hero to his valet,” Madame Cornuel famously said. Or to anyone who can hear what he’s thinking. I mean, do you really want to be privy to all the crabby, spiteful, nasty, malicious, and downright unhinged things people think?

In the second place, listening to people’s thoughts would be terminally boring. I often write at Starbucks and unwillingly overhear lots of conversations. On one occasion I was stuck next to two women having a riveting discussion. “I’ve got to go to the grocery store after I leave here,” one of them said. “I don’t know what to buy for supper. I was thinking a beef roast and potatoes with carrots or maybe green beans, only Bob doesn’t like them. Maybe I could make a meat loaf. Or pork chops.” This went on for forty-five minutes while her friend said not a word. (Actually, it might have been interesting to hear what she was thinking.) Do you really want to be stuck listening to that? Or to some guy going on and on about how he hates his boss–or his ex-wife? And just think what the upcoming election season would be like?

And there’s no reason to think you’d be able to just listen to the parts you wanted to, like Mel Gibson did in that awful movie, What Women Want. Or that you could choose who to listen to. You might very well hear them night and day. And there’s no guarantee it would be limited to people you know. You might be stuck hearing that bratty five-year-old on the plane behind you. Or the thoughts of a serial killer. Or a Wall Street broker. Not a pretty picture.

I considered all these unpleasant possibilities–and a bunch of others–when I was writing Crosstalk. So I guess you could call it an anti-telepathy telepathy novel. On the other hand, there might be some aspects of being mentally connected to another person that might be truly lovely, like…

No, I’d better let you find those out for yourselves. Crosstalk, coming out from Random
House next fall. I’ll keep you posted on exactly when.

And in the meantime, Hurray! I’m done!

Connie Willis

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Sasquan (Worldcon 2015) Schedule

Connie Willis and her daughter, Cordelia, will be doing programming at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention happening this coming weekend (Aug 19-23) in Spokane, Washington.

Connie’s schedule on the Sasquan Web Site

Cordelia’s Schedule on the Sasquan Web Site

Here’s their schedules in text format

Connie Willis

Hard SF Movies: Rare but Not Extinct
Wednesday 14:00 – 14:45, Bays 111C (CC)
Hard SF has always been rare in the movies.  Forbidden Planet, 2001, 2010, and a few others set the standard.  Recently, Interstellar had a well-known physicist keeping the science (mostly) in line with reality, and next year we’ll have The Martian.   What are the great works of hard SF in the movies?  What tried and failed?  Are there cases where they tried to keep the science so hard they hurt the story? (We can all name pieces of written SF that did that.)
Connie Willis (M) , Fonda Lee, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Reading – Connie Willis
Thursday 16:00 – 16:45, 300C (CC)

Kaffee Klatche – Connie Willis
Friday 11:00 – 11:45, 202B-KK3 (CC)
Join a panelist and up to 9 other fans for a small discussion.  Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor.
Requires advance sign-up

Stroll with the Stars
Saturday 09:00 – 09:45, Breezeway/Statue (CC)
A gentle morning stroll with some of your favorite authors, artists and editors. Meeting each morning at 9AM in the Breezeway between the INB Theater and the Convention Center (check your map), and returning in time for 10AM programming.
Stu Segal (M), Kevin J. Anderson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Troy Bucher, Vincent Docherty, Doug Farren, Toni Weisskopf, Connie Willis

Autographing – Brenda Cooper, Daniel Kimmel, Fonda Lee, William Campbell Powell, Kristine Rusch, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis
Saturday 15:00 – 15:45, Exhibit Hall B (CC)

Colleagues as Family
Sunday 13:00 – 13:45, Integra Telecom Ballroom 100B (CC)
Unlike many other jobs, it is a brave, lonely, and financially very risky thing to be a fiction writer. But despite the physical distances, many writers develop close friendships with other writers and editors.
Melinda Snodgrass (M), George R. R. Martin, Vonda N. McIntyre, Connie Willis, David Gerrold

Cordelia Willis

Stage Movement and Presentation
Thursday 15:00 – 15:45, Spokane Falls Suite A/B (Doubletree)
How to move effectively on the masquerade stage. What does it mean to upstage someone? How do you get across an idea quickly and easily within the confines of the masquerade time limit? People should be prepared to get up and move.
Tanglwyst de Holloway, Torrey Stenmark, Cordelia Willis, Kevin Roche

Getting Started: Costuming
Thursday 16:00 – 16:45, 206A (CC)
Where do you find information? Resources? Who to ask? Where to look? Where can I find other people who share my interest? The information that most newcomers to costuming want to know.
Jared Dashoff (M), Tanglwyst de Holloway, Leslie Johnston , Cordelia Willis

Bad Science on TV
Friday 13:00 – 13:45, 300C (CC)
Science is a hot topic in TV entertainment: from CSI to Orphan Black to The Big Bang Theory to Person of Interest. Some of it is good, but much of it is bad. The panel will bash the bad science and clue you in to those shows that seem like the science is good, but not really.
Deb Geisler (M), Julie McGalliard, Janna Silverstein, Cordelia Willis

Getting Started: Cosplay
Friday 14:00 – 14:45, 206A (CC)
How to find information, groups, and Internet sources for cosplay topics.
Alicia Faires, Johanna Mead, Torrey Stenmark, Cordelia Willis

Masquerade Versus Cosplay
Sunday 11:00 – 11:45, 302AB (CC)
What are the differences between what everyone thinks of as a standard Worldcon masquerade and cosplay?
Ada Palmer (M), Johanna Mead, Cordelia Willis, Tanglwyst de Holloway

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Surgery Update

There is now a “Fans of Connie Willis” facebook page where short updates may occur as well as other news.

The latest update from Connie post surgery is

Dear Everybody: I’m recovering nicely from the surgery (as witness the fact that I’m able to write my own updates now.) No more double vision, which is wonderful, and not a lot of pain (though I’m still on painkillers, so maybe I do have pain and just don’t know it.) My main problem is exhaustion. I think I feel fine, but then when I try to do anything, I wear out very, very fast, and so spend lots of time taking naps. My eye looks horrific–like something out of a scary movie or King Lear or something–and I have a black eye, but otherwise no signs of the surgery. Cordelia was here for the surgery and the first few days, and that was great! I don’t know if Courtney or I appreciated it more. She was a wonderful nurse. My brother Lee is here now for a couple of days. Thanks to all of you for your kind thoughts and cards and everything.

Connie Willis

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Every year on D-Day, my husband and I watch The Longest Day, one of my all-time favorite war movies. This year, because we were going to be in Chicago for the Nebula Awards Weekend, we watched it the week before–on two nights since it’s so long (and we are so old.) When we originally saw the movie in the theater way back in 1962, it had an intermission, but our current DVD doesn’t, and Courtney and I had a fight over where it should be, the particulars of which I can’t tell you without giving you spoilers.

I know, I know, what spoilers can there be? We landed on Normandy beaches, lost gazillions of soldiers, won the war–all of which I assume aren’t spoilers, although you never know. When I was writing Lincoln’s Dreams, which is set in the Civil War, a member of my writers’ group said, “You need to explain more. I mean, who’s this Lee person? And Grant? And you don’t even tell us who won!” I am not making this up.

But how we did it is an amazing story most people don’t know the particulars of, and that’s what The Longest Day is about. It’s an impossible story to tell because the invasion isn’t just about the landings on Omaha Beach, but also about the French Resistance who cut the lines and blew up railroad tracks, about the paratroopers and gliders who went in the night before, about the game plans and diversions and disasters–the plan hadn’t been going five minutes before everything went completely to hell, but it didn’t matter. They had backups. And backups to the backups. It’s about the codebreakers and the generals and the soldiers and the intelligence officers and even the meteorologists, who gave the forecast that made Ike say, “Go.”

And that’s just on our side. There’s also the German response to the invasion, composed of over-confident generals and bad decisions and unlucky coincidences, which has to be shown, and the local farmers and housewives and nuns and… The D-Day invasion involved hundreds of thousands of people scattered all over France and Germany and much of England, and they’re all in this movie. (It stars virtually every major actor and teen idol in Hollywood in 1962, from John Wayne and Henry Fonda to Fabian and an impossibly young-looking pre-Bond Sean Connery. Plus there’s a bulldog.)

I have no idea how they came up with the script for this movie. It must have been a nightmare to keep all these people and events straight, let alone make a coherent movie out of it, especially with no centralized locations, no characters who saw the whole thing, and dozens of small and scattered plots to follow.

Yet they somehow manage not only to pull it off, but to do a spectacular job. The Longest Day not only shows you the invasion in all of its sprawling and deadly complexity, but it also shows you the small, intimate, improbable details that make history so much more fascinating than fiction could ever be, from the soldier who gets a “Dear John” letter right before the invasion to General Rommel’s going to Berlin for his wife’s birthday at the worst possible moment, from an airman’s wound being safety-pinned together by a medic who’d lost his kit on landing to officers on both sides muttering disgustedly, “I wonder whose side God is on.” Which they actually said. Many of the lines spoken by characters are straight out of the history books.

The sort of World War II movie I usually like is the “keyhole movie,” a story which deals with one small part of the war. Hope and Glory is like that, showing you the Blitz from a little boy’s point of view, and so is Father Goose, which involves a plane-spotter in the South Pacific, a stranded schoolteacher, her charges, and a Japanese cruiser.

Both show just one small aspect of the war, but by getting involved with their story, you glimpse the wider war. It’s like looking through a keyhole, and it’s usually far more effective (and emotional) than trying to portray the whole thing.

It’s what I write, too, and why I chose to show you World War II through the eyes of a handful of time travelers, a small group of Londoners sheltering in the Tube, and a couple of kids, rather than, say, writing The Winds of War.

Panoramic views of the war are rarely successful (I include The Winds of War in the unsuccessful category) because World War II was just too big, and I can only think of a couple that work: Tora, Tora, Tora (which is great) and Midway.

And, of course, The Longest Day. It’s got everything, sweeping battle scenes, cruel tricks of fate, acts of astonishing courage, humor, tragedy, horrific moments, and stuff you could never make up. It’s great watched on D-Day, but I wouldn’t wait. I’d watch it now.

NOTE: I said The Longest Day was one of my favorite war movies. Here’s a list of the others, in no particular order:

  1. Hope and Glory
  2. The Big Red One
  3. Tora, Tora, Tora
  4. Enigma
  5. Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  6. Father Goose
  7. Paradise Road
  8. Sahara
  9. Mister Roberts
  10. The Imitation Game
  11. Mrs. Henderson Presents

      I also love Hanover Street and Force 10 From Navarone, even though they’re bad movies–Hanover Street has a plot hole you could drive a bus through right in the middle of it, and Christopher Plummer is not a boring, middle-aged British bureaucrat, and I know I’ll only be accused of liking them because Harrison Ford is in them, which is probably true. But I still like them, and Force 10 has a great ending. Plus, of course, Harrison Ford is really cute.

It’s got it all.

The only thing missing is the letter Eisenhower wrote the night before the invasion to the American public telling them why it had failed.

Connie Willis

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You know how Queen Elizabeth talked about her annus horribilus–the awful year when her daughter Anne got a divorce and so did the Duke of York and Fergie, to say nothing of Windsor Castle nearly burning down? Well, I’ve been having a mensis horribilus.

It all started a few weeks ago when I was bitten by a bat. Yes, a BAT! I was lying harmlessly asleep in bed when I woke to find the cats going nuts. I assumed they were chasing a moth–we have tons of millers this time of year–and then realized they had a bat cornered up by the ceiling. I called Courtney, who hadn’t come to bed yet, and we chased around after it, trying to confine it so we could call Animal Control, in the process of which I realized that my ankle hurt and looked down to see two bleeding puncture wounds.

So we went to the emergency room, where I had to have the first round of rabies shots–no, they’re not in the stomach anymore, they’re in the leg, but you still have to have four rounds of five shots, one a bright purple rabies vaccination and the others very large shots of gamma globulin to pump up your immune system enough that it can (hopefully) hold off the rabies, which is pretty much always fatal.

This, of course, was right before I was supposed to go be the emcee for the Locus Awards and the next two rounds of shots were the day I was supposed to leave and the day I was supposed to fly home, so travel arrangements had to be changed and the possibility that I couldn’t go at all considered.

Luckily, we caught the bat, which tested negative for rabies, and we got the test back just in time to keep me from having to have the second round of shots–and from having nightmares about that scene in To Kill a Mockingbird where they have to shoot the rabid dog. I was able to go off to the Locus Awards and do my emceeing (which was way fun), and the only thing I have to worry about from the experience is a sudden, overwhelming desire to read the Twilight novels.

The worst part about the whole affair was finding out that bats really do attack you while you’re sleeping, just like in Dracula, which I had always assumed was a made-up thing, but no!

Well, so anyway, I dodged that bullet, only to do a face-plant at a garage sale the day before I was supposed to leave to teach at Clarion West. It was on a steeply slanting driveway with one of those curved, molded-all-in-one-piece curbs, and I didn’t so much trip as step wrong, but because the driveway was slanted, instead of hitting knee first, then hand, then head, with each impact slowing your momentum, I pretty much hit every part of my body with the same impact, or, as Courtney said, I went down like a board, and then couldn’t see anything–it was like one of those Picasso paintings where the image is all sliced into triangles, followed by double vision.

It turns out I’d fractured the floor of my eye socket, and the eye muscle was trapped in the fracture, which sounds disgusting and is, though the eye surgeon seemed unfazed by it. (He called it a blowout fracture with entanglement and said the surgery has an almost one hundred percent chance of success.) I’m having it operated on on Wednesday, after which point I’ll hopefully be able to read–and write–again instead of just watching one-eyed television (you have no idea how many truly awful movies are on the Turner Classics channel) and not lifting, not bending over, and not blowing my nose, all of which are forbidden activities.

Lots of people have inquired about how I’m doing, so I thought I’d better try to let everybody know just what was going on. And yes, I am wearing an eye patch (this in response to a question from Bob Silverberg.) And no, it isn’t just like Johnny Depp’s. And, yes, I am aware that Queen Elizabeth was wrong about that being her annus horribilus and that things got way worse for her just a short time later.

Connie Willis

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on WEBSITE UPDATE–INJURIES–JULY 20, 2015



When we were first married many, many, many years ago, my husband Courtney and I were driving back to our teaching jobs in Connecticut, and as we drove through Indiana, I saw on the map that we were only a few miles from the Limberlost Swamp, the location of one of my favorite books, A Girl of the Limberlost.

It’s the story of a young girl, Elnora, and her awful mother who live in the Limberlost, a swamp full of old-growth hardwood trees, birds, butterflies, rattlesnakes, and quicksand. Elnora wants to go to school, but her mother refuses to pay for the necessary books and clothes, so Elnora earns her way by collecting butterflies and moths for a naturalist, and then she meets this guy who’s been sent there for his health (in spite of the rattlers and the quicksand, I guess), and they…anyway, I loved this book when I was a teenager, and what I remembered most about it was the beauty of the Limberlost. So when I saw it on the map on that wedding trip, I desperately wanted to go see it.

But we didn’t have time then to take even a short detour. I’d always regretted our not going, and when I realized that by being in Chicago for the Nebulas, we were only four hours away from it, my husband offered to take me there. “Consider it a belated wedding present,” he said.

It was quite an impressive wedding present, especially considering he had to deal with Chicago rush hour both ways and the Limberlost no longer exists. “You drove eight hours to see a swamp that isn’t there?” Nancy Kress said when we told her about it.

Yes, but Gene Stratton Porter’s house is still there, and her moth-and-butterfly collection and the conservatory Freckles stood in the night he came to deliver the message to the Swamp Angel and the actual photos the Bird Woman took of the baby vulture and her books, including a copy of the same edition of A Girl of the Limberlost that I read when I was fifteen (the one with the irises on the cover.)

A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles were both international bestsellers, A Girl of the Limberlost was the first book to be translated into Arabic, and Teddy Roosevelt wrote Porter a letter to tell her the book was so realistic that “I’m sitting here by the fire, and I got my feet wet.”

But Gene Stratton Porter was even more of a naturalist than she was a novelist. The reason she wrote A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles and Laddie: A True Blue Story in the first place was to offset the expense of her nature books like Moths and Butterflies of the Limberlost and Homing with the Birds, which were full of photographic plates and therefore very expensive to publish, and was one of the foremost female naturalists of the early twentieth century.

She took all her own photos, sometimes lying in the swamp for hours while things crawled over her and wasps stung her, trying to capture a bird or butterfly on the primitive film equipment of the time, which took forever to take a picture. At one point, a representative from Kodak came to her front door to ask her how she was able to get such good pictures out of their cameras. She was ashamed to tell them she developed them in her bathtub and rinsed them on turkey platters.

The Limberlost, a wetlands filled with old-growth hardwood trees worth a fortune to loggers and thousands of rare bird, butterfly, and moth species, was in the process of being destroyed even as she documented it–first by loggers (which is what her novel Freckles is about) and then by companies drilling for oil and gas, and now it’s all cornfields, although thanks to her, parts of the wetlands are in the process of being restored.

For now, though, you can tour the visitors’ center, the garden, and the house which Gene Stratton Porter designed herself. It’s done in a style somewhere between late Victorian and early Arts-and-Crafts, and it’s open and airy, with big windows everywhere. You can see the writing desk with its typewriter, where she worked, and the aforementioned conservatory, where she kept the oriole she’d raised from a baby and dozens of other birds. Her moth and butterfly collection is there, including the beautiful pale-green Luna moth and the rare yellow Empress moths she immortalized in A Girl of the Limberlost, and you can see the sitting room porch she stood on one magic night.

She had been sleeping in the sitting room–it was a very hot night–and she woke up and went out on the little porch in her white nightgown, stopping first to move a moth from the inside of the screen door so it wouldn’t get out when she opened the door. As she did, holding it on her finger to transfer it gently to the window screen, it sprayed her with pheromones.

She put the moth down and went outside. The moon was full, the two apple trees beyond the porch were in bloom, and there was a carnival uptown, its bright lights attracting every moth for miles, and as she stood there in the moonlight, all dressed in white, hundreds of them converged on her, landing on the porch railings, her hair, her shoulders, her arms, her nightdress.

Most people would have frantically swiped at their hair and bodies, trying to get them off, but not Porter. For her, it was a magical moment of transcendent beauty she remembered for the rest of her life.

That incident is in A Girl of the Limberlost, and so is Porter’s first disastrous attempt to collect moths, only to have them eaten by the insects in the moss she used for mounting, the effort to take the vulture chick photos is in Freckles, and all her novels are full of actual events of her life, including more horrific events.

When she was six, her beloved brother Leander, the only person in her large, overburdened family who paid any attention to her, drowned in the Wabash River–right in front of her. He had dived in to save a friend who couldn’t swim, and Gene Stratton Porter was holding his boots, clutching them to her chest, when he died, and the loss (and all its accompanying complicated emotions) echo through all her work, from Laddie to A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles.

As a writer, I was entranced by all this–her life and her house and her problems with juggling family and writing and dealing with publishers (they made her change the ending to Freckles, to her everlasting regret.)

But Courtney loved it, too, and fell in love with the big old house, with its naturally stained woodworking and doors that could be slid back to open up the entire house, and the surrounding towns, especially as we drove through them in the late summer evening, looking at the turn-of-the-century houses. He also loved the fact that he was finally seeing the Wabash River, and spent a lot of the trip singing, “Oh, the moonlight’s fair tonight along the Wabash. From the fields there comes the breath of new-mown hay.”

There was a breath of new-mown hay from the fields around Geneva (it’s a Mennonite community), and the scent of roses and irises and peonies, and the countryside was lovely. The only disappointment of the entire trip was that we were too early in the year for fireflies. According to the locals, they don’t appear until around the Fourth of July.

Otherwise, it was a perfect wedding present, late or soon. Thank you, Courtney!


NOTE: I adored A Girl of the Limberlost when I read it as a teenager. When I read it again a few years ago, it seemed overly-sentimental and given to the linguistic flourishes and sometimes impenetrable prose of girls’ books of the time, so it may not appeal to modern readers like it did to me. But it still told an exciting story, and Porter’s heroines are courageous, determined, plain-spoken, and very likeable. And the descriptions of the swamp are indelibly vivid.

I’d never read Freckles, so I read it specifically for the trip, and it was great, too. I think she was probably right about her original ending being better (especially since the new one seems tacked-on and wildly improbable), but on the other hand, it would probably have been too much for the readers to take. (It broke my cardinal “Don’t kill the dog” rule. Even if the dog is a human being.) But I’d definitely recommend both books to modern readers, even though it might be a bit of a slog. But then again, it is a swamp!


NOTE: We didn’t sing “On the Banks of the Wabash” the entire time. On our way there, we passed Gary, Indiana, which led to lots of “Gary Indiana, that’s the town that knew me when” and other songs from The Music Man.

We also passed LaPorte, Indiana, where we’d spent a memorable (not in a good way) night on that long-ago wedding trip. We’d been unable to find a place to stay in Chicago (this was in the days before Holiday Inn Express and making reservations online), and we ended up at midnight passing motel after motel whose “No Vacancy” signs were lit up.

A toll booth guy finally suggested we try the hotel in downtown LaPorte, and we did. It was…interesting. The lobby was full of sleeping-it-off drunks, Hemingway was typing his novel somewhere down the hall, the transom wouldn’t shut, the door from the bathroom to the room next to ours wouldn’t lock, and the bed was constructed in such a way that you could choose between sleeping on the very edge and falling off or, rolling to the middle and being smothered by the very old mattress and probably bedbug-filled mattress.

On the other hand, we got a great story out of it, which we’ve been telling for the last forty-seven years!

Connie Willis


Some Limberlost Links:

Limberlost Swamp (Wikipedia)

Limberlost Historic Park

Limberlost and Found (Audobon Magazine)

Posted in Updates | Comments Off on WEBSITE UPDATE–LIMBERLOST–JUNE 7, 2015


One of the nicest things about this year’s Nebula Awards Weekend was that it was held in Chicago, which is one of my all-time favorite cities. Next year’s Nebulas will be held there, too, so if you’re going, or if you didn’t have time to see everything this time, here’s a list of my favorite Chicago things:

  1. All the Tiffany stained glass. I’ve been a Tiffany freak ever since I accidentally stumbled across the Tiffany windows at the First Presbyterian Church in Topeka, Kansas, of all places. They were astonishingly beautiful, and ever since then I’ve sought them out wherever I could find them, from the Unitarian Church on the Boston Common to a beautiful jasmine skylight in Nebraska.

Chicago has tons of Tiffany stained glass. There’s the dome at the Chicago Public Library (now the Chicago Cultural Center), nine windows at the Second Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue, and miles of it in the corridors of the Navy Pier.

Tiffany’s colors are like nobody else’s. Most stained glass is reds and blues and yellows, but Tiffany’s is all azure and lavender-blue and rust-gold, plus he does pearlized clouds and multicolored sunsets and trees whose leaves you can almost see shimmer in the sunlight. His faces are angelically beautiful, his scenes are transcendent, and he makes you feel like you’re seeing the beauty of skies and flowers and Nature for the first time.

  1. The Museum of Science and Industry, though I never get to see much of it because I am stuck watching the baby chicks hatch. Last time I was there, I spent four hours standing there watching an already-cracked and slightly-rolling egg, waiting for the chick to emerge and convinced it was going to happen any second. The heck with all those modern interactive exhibits designed to make museums into “a participatory learning experience.” The baby chicks are the best interactive experience ever, with children (including me) literally having to be dragged away, sobbing “Just a few more minutes! It’s going to hatch any second!”

P.S. The egg I was watching did eventually hatch, collapsing on the incubator floor so wet and exhausted I was afraid something was wrong with it, but after a few minutes it opened its eyes, perked up, and turned into the fluffy yellow chick it was supposed to. It was great! I didn’t even mind having missed the coal mine or the train.

  1. The sliced person. This is my second-favorite thing at the Museum of Science and Industry, which I now go visit first thing because I know I’m not going to be able to tear myself away from the baby chicks. It is actually two people, one sliced vertically and one horizontally, their organs stained different colors so you can identify them easily, and then the slices put between large pieces of glass. You know those racks of posters in stores that you can flip through? Well, the sliced person is like that, and you can flip through to look at your appendix and liver and brain and bones and stuff. It’s very cool.

I can’t tell you where it is because they keep moving it to more and more obscure places. (It’s been upstaged lately by those Body Worlds travelling exhibits, which are very cool, too.)   You’ll have to ask at the information desk. But the first time I saw it, it was on the stair-landing just outside the ladies’ room. Since I was there with a pregnant friend, I had lots of time to look at the slices.

  1. The Bean. This enormous chrome sculpture (whose name is actually “Cloud Gate,” though nobody ever calls it that) is to my mind the perfect outdoor sculpture. You can walk all around it, under it, and up to it–and sometimes into it, since it’s concave, so your image looks some distance behind the surface and it’s easy to crash right into it, and lots of people do. Kids love it, adults can take funhouse pictures of themselves in it, and it reflects the afore-mentioned tourists, the Art Deco skyscrapers of Michigan Avenue, the lake, and the endlessly changing sky. Absolutely beautiful!
  2. The skyscrapers. A lot of Chicago was built in the first part of the last century (helped along by the Great Chicago Fire), so many of its buildings are wonderful Art Deco skyscrapers which were meant to be the height of modernity and which now look elegantly retro, with their soaring, streamlined towers (think the Chrysler Building in New York City) and linear, geometric designs. There’s the Chicago Tribune, the Carbide and Carbon building (whose top was designed to look like a battery), and the long row of skyscrapers along Michigan Avenue.

    Just looking at them makes you feel like you’re back in the Twenties, in the Chicago of Ben Hecht, who wrote The Front Page and His Girl Friday, and the play Chicago (in the Twenties!) which was made into the Broadway musical Chicago. “Find a writer who has something American to say,” he wrote, “and nine times out of ten you will find he has some connection with the gargantuan abattoir by Lake Michigan.”

He loved Chicago and its skyscrapers, writing, “look again at the fire escapes that are stamped like letter Z’s against the mysterious rectangles; at the rhythmic flight of windows whose black-and-silver wings are tipped with the yellow winking of corset and ice cream signs.”

The buildings also make you think of Carl Sandburg, who captured the city of Big Shoulders, as he called it, better than anybody else: “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.” He wrote about the skyscrapers “looming in the smoke and sun,” given a soul by the “men and women, boys and girls poured in all day,” and out again, “back to the streets, prairies and valleys.”

Sandburg seemed to be everywhere. One of the days we were there, the fog poured in on “little cat feet,” just like in his poem, and the elevated train rumbled past our hotel, winding through the city, “broken across with slashes of light,” just like he’d described it so many years ago.

My favorite thing by Sandburg is his biography of Lincoln, which may be full of inaccuracies and confabulations, but which captured the spirit of Lincoln like no other book ever has. It I love Sandburg for that, and for talking about it every day while he was writing it. He was working at the Chicago Daily News, and he talked about it so much to his friend and fellow reporter Lloyd Lewis, that Lewis fell in love with Lincoln, too, and wrote one of my favorite books of all time–Myths After Lincoln.

It’s all about Lincoln’s death and its aftermath–Lincoln’s dreams of his impending death and the funeral train and the grave robbers and all the myths and legends that have grown up around Lincoln in the years since, and it’s full of fascinating facts. Did you know that Seward was almost killed, too, in the assassination plot, and that he was saved because he fell down behind the bed and his killers couldn’t get to him? Or that his son Willie’s body rode along with his on the train that carried him back to Illinois?

Myths After Lincoln was my constant companion when I was writing Lincoln’s Dreams. I couldn’t have written the book without it. Copies are hard to come by, but Myths After Lincoln is definitely worth tracking down. So are Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. And his poems, particularly “Limited” and “Arithmetic”–and the lovely “The Long Shadow of Lincoln: A Litany.”

Connie Willis

Posted in Updates | Comments Off on WEBSITE UPDATE–NEBULA AWARDS WEEKEND II–June 17, 2015


I was very flattered to be asked to attend the Nebula Award Weekend this year as a special guest, though there was really no need for SFWA to have done that–I’ve been going to the Nebulas every year since 1982. This year was special, though. It marked the fiftieth anniversary of SFWA. Next year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Nebula Awards, which will be in Chicago, too, so it’s an historic occasion to be a part of, and SFWA has gone all out, including inviting its Grand Masters, to make it a great celebration!

It was, starting with the fact that it was held in Chicago, which is one of my favorite cities. Lots of people attended, and it was great to see everybody–from Nancy Kress and Greg Bear and Ellen Datlow to Joe Haldeman and Laura Mixon and Cat Rambo and Beth Gwinn and Gary Wolfe and Steve Gould and…oh, gosh, lots of people.

I got to spend time with Cynthia Felice and John Stith–yes, I know they live in Colorado, but we seem to only see each other at conventions–and whine to my agent and eat pizza with my webmaster Lee Whiteside and have lunch with Sheila Williams and attend the Asimov’s Awards breakfast and meet lots of the Nebula nominees.

I also got to talk to Larry Niven, who was just named a SFWA Grand Master. If you’ve never read his wonderful book, RINGWORLD, you should take this opportunity to. It’s both hard science fiction and Wizard-of-Oz-like magical journey as the characters explore an immense artificially-constructed ring created by an alien race, and it’s got great characters like Speaker and Teela Brown (who’s my favorite.) Congratulations to Larry!

The whole weekend was made better by the fact that it took place at the Palmer House, one of Chicago’s oldest and most beautiful hotels. It was built as a wedding gift for Potter Palmer’s bride in 1871, which turned out to be a terrible time to build. Thirteen days later it burned to the ground along with everything else in the Great Chicago Fire.

It was rebuilt and then expanded, and along the way became the first hotel to have electric lights and telephones in the rooms. It also invented the chocolate fudge brownie–for the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1892–thank you, Palmer House! And it hosted everybody important, from President Harding to William Jennings Bryan of Scopes Trial fame, and Edna Ferber used it as a setting from her novel, Showboat. Everybody stayed there: Ulysses S. Grant, Harry Truman, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, L. Frank Baum. And now it can also claim the science fiction writers who were at the Nebulas.

The Palmer House has kept all its original charm, from the revolving doors to the marble registration desk and the photographs lining the walls of all the stars who’ve played the Empire Room: Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and Liberace. Sophie Tucker was right outside our room, and there was a charming photo of Jimmy Durante rehearsing a number in the corridor by the elevator.

The Palmer House is an absolutely gorgeous hotel, with golden-peacock doors designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, curving marble staircases, and an elegant central lobby with a painted ceiling by Rigal. It’s easy to imagine Magnolia and Ravenal from Showboat walking through the lobby or sitting at the bar.

Rudyard Kipling apparently hated the place. He called it “a gilded and mirrored rabbit warren” and complained that the lobby was “a huge hall of tessellated marble crammed with people talking about money and spitting about everywhere.” He sounds a lot like a modern reviewer I read on Expedia who sniffed that it has “too many tourists,” though you have to wonder who else you’re going to find there. It is, after all, a hotel, guys.

And it’s only a block from the Art Institute, two blocks from the Bean (about which more in my next post), and just a few blocks from the old Public Library and Giordano’s, which may well be the best place for pizza in Chicago. So what else could you want, really?

The Palmer House was the cherry on top of a delicious weekend and Nebula celebration. Congratulations to all the Nebula winners, to all the finalists, and to our new Grand Master, Larry Niven!

Connie Willis

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