WEBSITE UPDATE–12-22-16: CHRISTMAS AND COMMONPLACE BOOKS

loveactuallyA few years ago I discovered a book called A CHRISTMAS CRACKER, which its author described as a collection of entries from his commonplace book. I didn’t know what that was, but when I looked up the definition, I realized I did and that I’d been keeping them for years. I just didn’t know what they were called.

Commonplace books, which became popular in the 1400s, are simply personal scrapbooks of sayings, poems, quotations, and anecdotes compiled by an individual. I started my first one in high school in one of those black-and-white marbleized notebooks, with a quote from ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, and I still have it. I’ve also kept them and added to them ever since. I also keep a separate commonplace book for Christmas, a holiday, which as you all know, I love.

Anyway, the author of CHRISTMAS CRACKERS (and MORE CHRISTMAS CRACKERS and STILL MORE CHRISTMAS CRACKERS), John Julius Norwich, gave his friends a sampling of his favorite quotes, etc., from his commonplace book, for Christmas, and I thought that seemed like a great idea.

So, here for your Christmas delectation, are some selections from my Christmas commonplace book. Enjoy!

“Humanity must be forgiven much for having invented Christmas.”
Christopher Morley
* * * * *

“The first worldwide tweet: Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!”
* * * * *

“Do you know what Darth Vader said to Luke Skywalker?”
“I know what you’re getting for Christmas. I felt your presents.”

Whoever it is who thinks up terrible jokes * * * * *

“I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time; a time when men and women seem to open their hearts freely, and so I say, God bless Christmas!” Charles Dickens * * * * *

“Christmas is a three-day festival dedicated to the birth of Bing Crosby.”
Willis Hall
* * * * *
“May you have the greatest two gifts of all on these holidays–someone to love and someone who loves you.”

John Sinor
* * * * *

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.”
Shirley Temple
* * * * *
“(At Christmas) we ask ourselves why can’t the world be like this all the time…If we expect the world to change, I’m afraid we will always be bitterly disappointed because there are a great many obstacles to change, human nature perhaps being chief among them. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change ourselves. And that change may bring about other positive changes. The world did not change in Dickens Christmas tale, but Ebenezer Scrooge did after listening to his ghostly visitors, and that was enough to change the lives of those around him for the better. So too it may be with us.”

“Visions of Sugar Plums”
MagisterLud
* * * * *

“There are three things you never want to see on a Christmas present:
One size fits all.
Fun for all ages.
Removes unwanted hair.”
Jim Mullen in Entertainment Weekly
* * * * *

“Just for a few hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the stupid, harsh mechanism of the world runs down, and we permit ourselves to live according to untrammeled common sense, the unconquerable efficiency of good will.”
Christopher Morley
* * * * *

“Christmas is 1,940 years old and Hitler is only 51. he can’t spoil our Christmas.”
Sign in a London shop window, 1940

* * * * *

Have a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, joyful Kwanzaa, fun Festivus, and/or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year. Like the fact that the shortest day is over, and, despite all appearances to the contrary, light is coming back into the world.

Connie Willis

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WEBSITE UPDATE–“SILENT NIGHT”

A few years back I wrote a novella called “All Seated on the Ground,” about an alien invasion in which the aliens didn’t attack or try to take over the planet or even demand, “Take me to your leader”–they just stood there, glaring like the heroine’s disapproving Aunt Judith, while people tried frantically to figure out what they wanted.

The answer involved the lyrics to Christmas songs (it’s a long story), and in the course of the story I talked about everything from “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

Including a way-out-there rendition of “Silent Night,” which was the only version of any song the aliens (called Altairi) responded to.

“But that’s good, isn’t it?” I asked. “Now we can analyze what it was that was different about it that they were responding to. Which version was it?”

Instead of answering, [Calvin] walked over to the CD player and hit play. A loud chorus of nasal female voices began belting out, “Silent night, holy night,” shouting to be heard over a cacophony of clicks and clacks.
“What is that?” I asked.

“The Broadway chorus of the musical 42nd Street singing and tap-dancing to ‘Silent Night.’ They recorded it for a special Broadway Christmas charity project.”

I looked over at the Altair, thinking maybe Calvin was wrong and they hadn’t really fallen asleep, but in spite of the din, they had sagged limply over; their heads nearly touching the ground, looking almost peaceful. Their glares had faded from full-bore Aunt Judith to only mildly disapproving.
I listened to the 42nd Street chorines tapping and belting out “Silent Night” at the top of their lungs some more. “It is kind of appealing,” I said, “especially the part where they shout out ‘Mother and child!'”
“I know,” he said. “I’d like it played at our wedding.”

I knew the song because we’d seen a Broadway musical some years ago, and the cast had sold CDs of the charity album, which included all sorts of Christmas songs done by the casts of shows on Broadway at the time, after the performance. But our favorite was 42nd Street’s “Silent Night,” which was bold, brassy, and ridiculously at odds with the usual sickly renditions of the carol. Energetically tapping and shouting out the lyrics introduced a whole new and funny dimension to the song, and we’ve played it every Christmas since.

I’m telling you all this because this fall I got a great e-mail from Mylinda Hull, a Broadway actress living in Brooklyn who had played Anytime Annie in the 2001 revival of 42nd Street (reprinted here with her permission):

“My name is Mylinda Hull and I arranged the version of “Silent Night” sung by the cast of 42nd Street for “Carols for a Cure” that she used as a plot point in her marvelous novella, “All Seated on the Ground.”

I came to the story randomly, browsing through the Brooklyn Public Library, and my eyeballs rolled around in my head for quite a while when I came to the part where she wrote about the song.

So I just wanted to tell Connie, thank you. I’m so glad she enjoyed it enough to include it. It must have tickled her, as it did me, to have the loudest tap dancing-est, trumpet blaring-est “Silent Night” on record. I’m curious to know if she happened upon it by chance, or if she did a search for group-sung versions of the song when she needed one for her story.”

I wrote her back:

“Thank you so much for your e-mail! I’m delighted to know who arranged it, since it’s my favorite “Silent Night” ever. The reason I knew about it is that I and my family went to New York the year of the 9-11 attacks. Mayor Giuliani (who I have since had many problems with, but who was great right after 9-11) had said to support the city by coming and spending money, so we did. We went to the Macy’s Parade, had Thanksgiving dinner at a deli off Times Square, visited Ground Zero, and saw the Rockettes’ Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. We also went to see the musical Urinetown, and at that performance they were selling the “Carols for a Cure” CD, which my daughter bought and we all loved. Lots of great carols, but yours was the most amazing!

I love irony in all its myriad forms–one of my other favorite ironic songs is Barbra Streisand’s sad, torch-song version of “Happy Days Are Here Again”–but your song is my absolute favorite! Particularly since I spent years and years in church choirs singing versions of “Silent Night” which put everyone–including the choir–to sleep. I honestly thought there was nothing to be done that could save the song, but you proved me wrong! We’re not the only ones who love it. We play it for everyone at Christmas, and everyone who hears it adores it!”

I asked her if the song was available anywhere else or if the CD could be bought somewhere, and she replied:

Yes, I looked and the album is still available at the Broadway Cares online store http://broadwaycares.stores.yahoo.net/caforcucds.html [2001 edition] and a person can buy single tracks on itunes. I made another recording for them, in the 2005 version when I was in Sweet Charity, the one with Christina Applegate. Much sillier, a Christmas comedy sketch of sorts, it’s called “Joy to the World.” As a fellow connoisseur of curious Christmas lyrics, you might enjoy that one as well.

So if you’re interested, you can listen to it, too. This is what I love about writing. You meet the coolest people! And what I love about libraries–you never know what you might find when you start browsing in them!

Connie Willis

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Turing Law

THE TURING LAW

I just read that the British Parliament is moving forward with a bill which will pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of homosexuality. (The actual crimes they were charged with ranged from buggery and gross indecency to loitering with intent, most of which are no longer on the books.

The law, named the Turing Law, will also give pardons posthumously, and its passage is not without controversy. Some LGBT advocacy groups don’t think it goes far enough, since it requires a case-by-case review instead of a blanket pardon, and others say a pardon is the wrong solution since it implies wrongdoing on the part of those who were convicted. As one of the men who would be pardoned under the law said, “I wasn’t guilty of anything.”

I see their point, and I agree “pardon” is probably the wrong word. I’d like something more on the lines of what the judge said in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison when Harriet Vane was absolved of the crime she’d been charged with: “The Crown, by withdrawing this dreadful charge against you, has demonstrated your innocence in the clearest possible way. After this, nobody will be able to suppose that the slightest imputation rests upon you, and I most heartily congratulate you on this very satisfactory ending to your ordeal.”
But even given the problems with calling it a pardon and the fact that living individuals will have to apply for pardons rather than having it given to them automatically, I hope the Turing Law goes into effect because of all the people who will have their names cleared under it, including those who will be pardoned posthumously.

The law’s named after Alan Turing, who, in case you haven’t seen The Imitation Game,
cracked Germany’s Enigma code, designed the modern computer, was a major reason we won World War II–and was convicted on homosexuality charges in 1952 and forced to undergo chemical castration, which led directly to his suicide. But he won’t be pardoned under the law. Turing was already officially pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013, and the government has apologized for its shameful treatment of him.

But Oscar Wilde hasn’t been pardoned or apologized to. Oscar was one of late Victorian England’s most brilliant writers, one of its most popular lecturers (he even came to Leadville, Colorado, where he gave a speech to a wildly enthusiastic bunch of miners), and the wittiest man in London, delivering such lines as “I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability,” and, “Always forgive your enemies–nothing annoys them so much,” and, “All of us live in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
He was the most famous writer of his time, the most popular, and the most quoted–none of which kept him from being convicted of sodomy (for having an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, who had a vengeful father) and being sentenced to two years’ hard labor, during most of which he was forbidden to have pen and paper.

And lest you’re thinking, “But what’s the point of pardoning him now? You can’t change what’s already happened. It’s too little, too late, and this won’t help Oscar. He’s long dead, and it’s all water under the bridge anyway,” here’s what Oscar wrote about his being transferred from the Hospital Ward of Wandsworth Prison to Reading Gaol:

“On November 13, 1895, I was brought down here from London. From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress and handcuffed, for the world to look at. I had been taken out of the Hospital Ward without a moment’s notice being given to me. Of all possible objects I was the most grotesque. When people saw me, they laughed. Each train as it came up swelled the audience. Nothing could exceed their amusement. That was, of course, before they knew who I was. As soon as they had been informed, they laughed still more. For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.”

You’re right–a pardon won’t fully make up for what was done to him. But it’s still something. And it’s never too late to try to make amends for past wrongs.

So here’s to the Turing Law! May it make up a little for what you had to endure, Oscar.
Connie Willis

{editor’s note – information on what actually happened in Parliment can be found here  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing_law )

 

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Post Election Thoughts From Connie Willis

Wednesday, November 9, 2016
The Day After the Election

My mom died when I was twelve, and one of the things I remember about that day was how strange it felt that the world continued to go on going to work, eating, shopping, laughing, chatting about the weather, and watching TV, as if the world had not catastrophically, irrevocably changed.

I had that same feeling this morning as we walked our dog, amazed that our neighbors had put out their trash, that the students on campus were still blithely talking about term papers and being late to class. “How can you be worried about that?” I wanted to scream at them. “Don’t you understand what’s just happened?”

America, the country I love, has elected a man who supports torture, “even if it doesn’t work,” and who’s promised to deport millions of immigrants, put Muslims under surveillance, require a religious test for citizenship, pull out of NATO and leave Europe at the mercy of Russia, leave Japan and South Korea at the mercy of North Korea, put his political opponent in jail, dismantle freedom of the press, and require everyone to say, “Merry Christmas.”

It’s elected a man who mocks people and calls them names, talks publicly about his own sexual prowess in the most crass way, insults war heroes and Gold Star families, cruelly imitates the disabled, and, by his own admission, sexually assaults women. And then threatens to sue them when they confirm his crimes.

In one fell stroke, Americans have changed forever the way we’ll be seen by the rest of the world, and worse, the way we see ourselves. Nations can survive almost anything (look at England in World War II.) The one thing they can’t survive is their citizens losing faith in what they stand for. And yesterday our nation said it stands for racism, misogyny, homophobia, bullying, the breaking of treaties, and the use of brute force and/or blackmail to get its way, things I could never stand for, never believe in.

It handed the One Ring to Sauron, and now all hell is about to break loose.
So how can the sky still be blue? How can the sun still be shining?

To quote W.H. Auden:

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”

Connie Willis

Thursday.
Two days after the election.

Feeling a little better, not because my assessment of things is any less grim than it was yesterday. but I’ve been remembering World War II and the Blitz and how the Brits held up in the face of certain disaster, and it’s made me a bit more cheerful. I knew all that research for “Fire Watch” and Blackout/All Clear would come in handy someday.

Some insights that might be helpful in our current situation:

–Just because things look bleak, it doesn’t mean you should give up.
Things looked worse than bleak for Britain.. Not only had France been totally occupied, the British Army’s equipment abandoned on the beaches of Dunkirk, the RAF badly decimated, London–and Liverpool and Manchester and Coventry–pounded into dust, but for four and a half years Great Britain lost battle after battle, convoy after convoy, and there was scarcely any good news. But they didn’t give up. And they eventually won the war.

–It’s entirely appropriate to feel kicked in the gut, scared, and despairing right now.
When all this first happened, the British weren’t the “Keep Calm and Carry On” heroes we all know about and admire. After the soldiers were rescued off Dunkirk, they came home exhausted, battle-shocked, and completely demoralized, and at the beginning of the Blitz, Londoners were terrified and close to panic. It took them a few days to pull themselves together, and during that time they were really scared. But then they rallied. And decided to not give up without a fight.

–Don’t think there’s nothing you can do.
The British never took the attitude of “I’m only one person. What can I possibly do?” Instead, they each did their bit, volunteering to spot fires and drive ambulances, signing up for the Home Guard and the ARP, manning anti-aircraft guns and putting on ENSA revues and passing out tea and sandwiches at canteens.

And they performed miracles. A flotilla of retired sailors and weekend mariners and young kids rescued the entire British Army from Dunkirk right from under Hitler’s nose. A ragtag bunch of choir directors, vergers, and church staff saved St. Paul’s Cathedral. A bevy of naked girls kept the Windmill Theater open. And an eccentric band of mathematicians and college professors and crossword puzzle enthusiasts broke the Enigma code and won the war.

So do your bit. Demonstrate. Protest injustices. Write your senators and congressmen. Donate to the organizations who can fight for the causes which are in danger. Write blogs. Speak out.

–Don’t let this ruin everything in your life.
The British didn’t let Hitler ruin their daily lives or their morale. He may have been raining bombs down on them, but they continued to have Christmas parties in the Underground shelters, continued to go dancing and shopping and to concerts and the movies and church, continued to laugh and fall in love and have children. They continued to read and wrote books, put on plays, work to keep all the things they cared about alive. And in the process, they kept civilization going.

–Follow Virginia Woolf’s example described below.
Virginia was working in the garden, and her husband Leonard called out for her to come inside, that Hitler was just about to speak on the radio.
Virginia refused. “I am planting irises,” she said, “and they will be here long after Hitler is gone.”

And they are. You can go see the irises at their house, still blooming.

Connie Willis

Oh, and one other thing.

To all you people who voted for Trump:

I’m already hearing a lot of talk about how liberals brought this on by living in a bubble or not understanding Trump’s supporters’ point of view or not realizing how much white men have been hurting, etc. So let me get this straight. Because we foolishly thought this was a country that was kinder and more enlightened than it actually is, because we foolishly thought all Americans believed in the same principles of freedom and fairness we did, you were forced to elect a bullying, arrogant, lying, anti-gay, anti-women, anti-immigrant, cruel, authoritarian narcissist to the position of the most powerful person in the world.
I’m not buying it. This is the kind of thing abusers say to justify their crimes–“You forced me to hit you. If you hadn’t made me mad, it would never have happened.”

But that’s a lie. And an excuse. The truth is: I didn’t do this, and neither did the left or the Democrats or anybody who voted for Hillary. You did this, and we have no intention of taking the blame for it.

I’ve spent the last two years obsessively following Trump’s campaign, becoming more and more alarmed, and telling anyone who would listen how dangerous he is. I worked Hillary’s campaign, donated money, helped get the vote out, and voted for her. *I* wasn’t the one who voted for someone racist who abused women and mocked the disabled and advocated torture “even if it doesn’t work,” and neither were the Democrats or the left. You  were.

You set us on a course that will lead us relentlessly not just into the past, but into the dark, ugly past we’ve fought so hard to come out of. It’s a course which is likely to spin out of control and take us places we can’t even imagine. And whatever happens, whatever damage he does, whatever whirlwind we end up reaping, it will be your fault and nobody else’s.

We’re all going to suffer for what you’ve done, but we’re jolly well not going to take the fall for this, too. The blame is squarely on you and only you.

Connie Willis

*Please note, Connie sends her updates to be posted here, but she is not personally on this blog and I (the webmaster) usually have comments turned off.

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October is Crosstalk Month – Signings and Cons (NYCC and MileHiCon)

crosstalklgCrosstalk comes out in the US on October 4th and Connie has a very busy month ahead.  She is not doing a full book tour but will be signing at several Colorado  book stores (and on Albuquerque one) who will be more than happy to take your order for a signed copy of Crosstalk.

She will be a guest at New York Comic Con and will also take part in a post NYCC Author Coffee Klatsch at Penguin Random House with several other authors.  If you can make that, please RSVP to them ASAP.   Connie will also be at the long running MileHiCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Denver, CO at the end of October.  I will add Connie’s program schedule to this post once we have those details.

October 4–Book launch and signingTattered Cover,2526 E. Colfax Avenue,
Denver, CO–7 p.m.

October 6-9–New York Comic Con–Javits Center, 655 W. 34th Street, Manhattan, NY
        Oct. 6–12:00 to 1:00 p.m.–Signing–Del Rey Booth 2110
                    2:45-3:45 p.m.–Panel:  Women in Geek Media–12A21
                    4:00-5:00 p.m.–Signing–Hall 1B Autographing Area–Table 22
        Oct. 7–12:00 to 1:00 p.m.–Signing–Del Rey Booth 2110
        Oct. 8–2:45-3:45 p.m.–Panel:  Geek Geek Revolution–1A18
                       4:00-5:00 p.m.–Signing–Hall 1B Autographing Area–Table 22
        Oct. 9–1:3–2:30 p.m.–Signing–Del Rey Booth 2110
       
October 10–Author Coffee Klatsch at Random House–1745 Broadway,
Manhattan–11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
RSVP: Please RSVP to delrey@randomhouse.com with “RSVP” in the subject line and the full names of everyone in your party in the e-mail body.

The authors attending this year are Katherine Arden, Chuck Wendig, C.A. Higgins, Connie Willis, Naomi Novik, Peter V. Brett, Myke Cole, Daniel Jose Older, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Kuhn, Aaron McConnell, and Bill Schweigart.

October 12–Signing–Old Firehouse Books–232 Walnut Street, Fort
Collins, CO–6:30 p.m.  Event at Old Town Library,201 Peterson St, Fort Collins, CO 80524

October 22–Signing–Broadway Book Mall–200 S. Broadway, Denver,
CO–3:00 p.m.

October 28-30–Milehicon— Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center–7800 E.
Tufts Avenue, Denver, CO

November 22 — Signing–Page 1 Books850 Eubank Suite B-41, Abq, NM–6:30 p.m.

 

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The Coode Street Podcast and GoodReads interviews Connie Willis

Episode 285 of The Coode Street Podcast interviews Connie Willis about Crosstalk, which is now out in the U. K. and Australia.

itunescoodestreetuk_crosstalk_tpb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there’s also a new interview on Goodreads with Connie.

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Silent Night

WEBSITE UPDATE–“SILENT NIGHT”

I got a great e-mail from Mylinda Hull, a Broadway actress living in Brooklyn who had played Anytime Annie in the 2001 revival of 42nd Street (reprinted here with her permission):

“My name is Mylinda Hull and I arranged the version of “Silent Night” sung by the cast of 42nd Street for “Carols for a Cure” that she used as a plot point in her marvelous novella, “All Seated on the Ground.”

I came to the story randomly, browsing through the Brooklyn Public Library, and my eyeballs rolled around in my head for quite awhile when I came to the part where she wrote about the song.

So I just wanted to tell Connie, thank you.  I’m so glad she enjoyed it enough to include it.  It must have tickled her, as it did me, to have the loudest tap dancing-est, trumpet blaring-est “Silent Night” on record.  I’m curious to know if she happened upon it by chance, or if she did a search for group-sung versions of the song when she needed one for her story.”

I wrote her back:

“Thank you so much for your e-mail!  I’m delighted to know who arranged it, since it’s my favorite “Silent Night” ever.  The reason I knew about it is that I and my family went to New York the year of the 9-11 attacks.  Mayor Giuliani (who I have since had many problems with) had said to support the city by coming and spending money, so we did.  We went to the Macy’s Parade, had Thanksgiving dinner at a deli off Times Square, visited Ground Zero, and saw the Rockettes’ Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.  We also went to see the musical Urinetown, and at that performance they were selling the “Carols for a Cure” CD, which my daughter bought and we all loved.  Lots of great carols, but yours was the most amazing!

I love irony in all its myriad forms–one of my other favorite ironic songs is Barbra Streisand’s sad, torch-song version of “Happy Days Are Here Again”–but your song is my absolute favorite!  Particularly since I spent years and years in church choirs singing versions of “Silent Night” which put everyone–including the choir–to sleep.  I honestly thought there was nothing to be done that could save the song, but you proved me wrong!  We’re not the only ones who love it.  We play it for everyone at Christmas, and everyone who hears it adores it!”

I asked her if the song was available anywhere else or if the CD could be bought somewhere, and she replied:

Yes, I looked and the album is still available at the Broadway Cares online store http://broadwaycares.stores.yahoo.net/caforcucds.html and a person can buy single tracks on itunes.  I made another recording for them, in the 2005 version when I was in Sweet Charity, the one with Christina Applegate.  Much sillier, a Christmas comedy sketch of sorts, it’s called “Joy to the World.”  As a fellow connoisseur of curious Christmas lyrics, you might enjoy that one as well.

So if you’re interested, you can listen to it, too.  This is what I love about writing.  You meet the coolest people!  And what I love about libraries–you never know what you might find when you start browsing in them!

Connie Willis

 

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Crosstalk – News and Information

crosstalklg

Crosstalk by Connie Willis is being published by Del Rey on October 4th, 2016.

Part romantic comedy and part social satire, here one of science fiction’s most lauded authors examines the consequences of having too much connectivity, and what happens in a world where, suddenly, nothing is private.

One of science fiction’s premiere humorists turns her eagle eye to the crushing societal implications of telepathy. In a not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure that has been promised to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage. So when Briddey Flannigan’s fiancé proposes that he and Briddey undergo the procedure, she is delighted! Only…the results aren’t quite as expected. Instead of gaining an increased empathetic link with her fiancé, Briddey finds herself hearing the actual thoughts of one of the nerdiest techs in her office. And that’s the least of her problems.

For more information, visit the GoodReads page for Crosstalk

There will also be a signed limited edition from Subterranean Press Note that the book summary there I’d consider much more spoilerly than the one above.

The U.K. edition is being published in paperback by Gollancz on September 15, 2016.

http://www.gollancz.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/9781473200937_Crosstalk_TPB.jpg

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NOTES FROM WALES I: BUCKLAND AND WESTMARCH AND ELVES, OH MY!

NOTES FROM WALES I:
BUCKLAND AND WESTMARCH AND ELVES, OH MY!

My family and I just got back from England, where we spent two weeks touring Cornwall and Wales. We saw Doc Martin’s village, Tintagel Castle, Dartmoor, Tintern Abbey, the shop of the Tailor of Gloucester, and lots of other fascinating things, which I hope to be writing posts about in coming weeks.

None of us had ever been to Wales and we weren’t sure what to expect. My husband’s ancestors came from Wales. They settled in Colorado, probably drawn there by mining, either the gold and silver being dug out of the mountains or the coal being mined around Louisville, but that was all we knew about them.

Or about Wales, for that matter. Our knowledge was pretty much limited to How Green Was My Valley and The Man Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain, and we had vague notions of coal mines, castles, and mountain valleys (all of which we saw.)

I was also aware of some of the literary connections–Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey; Portmerion, where The Prisoner was filmed; Llandudno, where the real Alice in Wonderland spent her summers; Doctor Who; and, of course, Dylan Thomas.

But the literary connection I hadn’t expected to find was that of J.R.R. Tolkien–I hadn’t even realized he’d been to Wales. But its influence on The Lord of the Rings was everywhere in the names–the Border Marches, Buckland, Dinas Bran, Dwimmerlaik, the Hillmen, Olwen, Elidir–and in the woods and rushing streams and dells, the mountains and mines and the promise of the sea beyond.

Standing on the battlements of Conwy Castle, looking out across the estuary, I felt like Pippin in Minas Tirith. I kept expecting the black-sailed ships of the Corsairs of Umbar to come sailing up from the sea. Picking our way along a stony path over tangles of exposed roots to get to a waterfall you could walk behind, we might have been Frodo and Sam being led by Faramir to the Window of the West. And one night of pouring rain we ate in a warm, smoky old pub that was a dead ringer for the inn at Bree.

We saw wide rushing rivers that were the image of the Bruinen that Glorfindel carried Frodo across, stone houses perched high up on the side of a mountain like Rivendell, dark, ominous tarns like the one that lay just outside the gates of Moria, and ugly slag heaps straight out of Mordor.

And listen to this description from a Victorian guidebook of the view from a peak in Snowdonia:
“…to the west and north, the mountains of Gwynedd, including Snowdon, home of the 4 eagles…to the southwest, a line of serrated hills, running far into the sea, forms the promontory of Eivion and Lleyn, land of gigantic fortresses and weird, lonely peaks, to the east…the iron and lead hills of Flint, shading into the distant vale of Maelor, to the south the upper waters of the holy Dee and the Berwyn ranges: Aran, Cader Idris, Cader Vronwen…to the east, the hills of Powys fade away into the dim, distant lowlands of England…”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like Tolkien? I know he said the attempted ascent of Caradhras was inspired by a trip to the Alps, but it’s obvious Wales’s mountains had an influence on him, too.

And so did Wales’s history. Everything we learned about it reminded us of Lord of the Rings, too, from the Red Book of Hergest (the inspiration for the Red Book of Westmarch?) to Legolas’s longbow. The Welsh invented the longbow and were deadly at it, and when they joined the English at Crecy and Agincourt, they were unstoppable. Reading about the battles, I couldn’t help thinking of the army of elves, marching in with their longbows to fight with Aragorn at Helm’s Deep.

And when I read about Owen Glendower, a hero with royal blood who was forced to live the life of an outlaw in the wilderness, waiting to regain his birthright, it was impossible not to think of Aragorn. Especially when Glendower appeared out of nowhere to save the day, unfurling his banner as he rode–a white banner with a golden dragon on it.

When I got home, I did some research on Wales and Tolkien and discovered that not only had he taught medieval Welsh at the University of Leeds from 1920 to 1925, but that he’d written part of The Lord of the Rings while staying in Talybout-on-Usk, only a few miles from the Buckland Estate. But when I looked up “Wales’ Influence on Tolkien,” I could only find essays on the elves’ language and their singing. Wales’s influence on them can’t be denied. The Welsh are famous for their choirs and their beautiful voices, from Ivor Novello to Charlotte Church. And the origin of Elvish is obvious. As one elderly native speaker said of the elves when she saw the movie, “Why, they’re speaking Welsh!”

But it’s clear to me after having been in Wales, that its influence on The Lord of the Rings was much broader. Everywhere you look, you are of reminded of Mirkwood and Minas Tirith, of old wars and rings of power and abandoned mines. And elves. And dragons. “I love Wales, and especially the Welsh language,” Tolkien once said, and that was obvious everywhere we went. Wales is definitely Tolkien country!

 

Conwy Castle, or the walls of Minas Tirith

Brecon Beacons, or Faramir’s path

Snowdonia, or the Misty Mountains

  Sgwd Isaf Clwn-gwyn (White Meadow Falls), or Window of the West

Swallow Falls near Betws-y-Coed, or Bruinen

The mining slag heaps at Blaeunau Ffestiniog, or Mordor

Photos courtesy of Cordelia Willis

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THE JACK WILLIAMSON LECTURESHIP

 WEBSITE UPDATE–May 10, 2016   – THE WILLIAMSON LECTURESHIP

I just returned from attending the Jack Williamson Lectureship, which I’ve gone to for over fifteen years. It’s a wonderful two-day conference–like a mini-science-fiction convention, with great guests of honor, speeches, readings, panels, great conversations, and wonderful food.
This year’s Lectureship featured Albuquerque author Vic Milan, the author of The Dragon Lords series, and other guests included Laura Mixon, Walter Jon Williams, Emily Mah, and Joan Saberhagen. There was a reading of Jack Williamson-inspired works, panels on “The Perennial Appeal of Dinosaurs” and “CAUTION: Writers at Work,” a student SF film competition, and, as always, a tour of the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Collection.
Each time I go, I am struck all over again by how wonderful this collection is, and how surprised people passing through the little town of Portales would be to know that ENMU houses one of the finest collections in the country, or the circumstances under which it came to be there.
Jack Williamson was one of the forefathers of science fiction and its dean, writing groundbreaking work like “Seetee Ship”, Darker Than You Think, “With Folded Hands,” The Humanoids, The Legion of Time, and the award-winning autobiography, Wonder’s Child; publishing from 1928 into the next century (and the next millennium); and shaping the field in extraordinary ways. Readers of today might not recognize the names of his stories–but they would definitely recognize the words and concepts he invented while writing them: androids, genetic engineering, terraforming, and artificial intelligence.
He pioneered the study of science fiction as a serious form of literature, and the teaching of it as a discipline, served as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and traveled all over the world, from Europe to China, as an ambassador of science fiction.
He won the Hugo and Nebula Awards (the Oscars of science fiction), was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, was named a SFWA Grand Master of Science Fiction, was invited to watch a shsuttle launch at NASA, and had an asteroid named after him.
He also endowed the university and established the Lectureship, an annual gathering of science fiction and fantasy writers, fans, and readers, which has had as guests such luminaries as Greg Bear, George R.R. Martin, Michael Swanwick, Nalo Hopkinson, and Nancy Kress, Hollywood screenwriters Melinda Snodgrass and Michael Cassutt, editors Gardner Dozois and Stephen Haffner, and a record six SFWA Grand Masters: Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, and James Gunn–seven counting Jack.
And he donated his personal collection of manuscripts, correspondence, awards, and other memorabilia to the university, which became the foundation for the “Special Collections” section of the campus library.
The collection is the third largest SF collection in the United States which is available to the public. Visitors can see his awards, original typed manuscripts of his stories, photographs, his correspondence with editors, agents, and publishers, first editions of his books, the SF pulp magazines which inspired him, the original drawings of his syndicated Sunday-funnies comic strip, Beyond Mars, and letters from Isaac Asimov, Algis Budrys, Leigh Brackett, and Ray Bradbury.
The collection also has signed books by a large number of other authors and the Duane and Kathryn Elms collection of first editions, signed editions, collectible publications, and SF memorabilia.
Gene Bundy, his staff, Golden Library’s librarians, and ENMU have worked to make this collection into a first-class archive and research resource. It’s a true treasure and an invaluable collection.
But collections and libraries are only as stable as the social and political climate around them, and they’re always in danger of being downsized, co-opted, or squeezed out.
I know this from personal experience. There’ve been at least two attempts to close the Lincoln Park branch of our public library here in Greeley since I moved here, and at one point a president of our university decided that the university’s library, Michener Library, (which incidentally contains many of the manuscripts and private effects of James Michener) wasn’t necessary at all. After all, CSU and CU were less than 60 miles away; the students could be bused there. And there was always Interlibrary Loan, wasn’t there?
This isn’t new. When Andrew Carnegie set out on his ambitious project to build public libraries in every town in America, he made them sign a contract which would ensure that the libraries wouldn’t instantly be coopted for something else the minute he left town. He knew full well that mayors and city councils would be eager to get their hands on his libraries and turn them, say, into a larger office for the mayor.
Even when things are relatively stable, funding is always a problem and libraries constantly have to fight for space and resources and against the idea that libraries are outdated and unnecessary.
The Jack Williamson Collection is no exception. Right now Golden Library is undergoing a major renovation and restructuring, with the very real possibility that the collection will not be allowed to grow and might even have the space available to it reduced in the future.
Because of this, I’ve written a letter to the president of ENMU, to the head of the New Mexico State Department of Education, to Gene Bundy, and to the head of Golden Library, telling them how much the collection means to me as a science fiction writer and reader.
And Laura Mixon and I are putting out the word, requesting people to send respectful letters and e-mails in support of the SFF Special Collections library and the Lectureship.
The collection is in no immediate danger of shrinking and/or disappearing, but I want to make sure people know now how important the collection is, not after it’s too late. And Andrew Carnegie was right. There’s always somebody who can think of a much better use for that space. It’s up to the people who care about something like the collection to make sure nothing happens to it.
Here are the addresses and e-mail addresses for telling them what the Jack Williamson Collection and the Lectureship mean to you:

Steven Gamble, President
Eastern New Mexico University
ADM 102
1500 S. Ave. K
Portales, NM 88130
Phone: 575-562-2121
email: steven.gamble@enmu.edu

Dr. Barbara Damron
Cabinet Secretary, Department of Higher Education
2048 Galisteo St.
Santa Fe, NM 87505-2100

Melveta Walker
Director of Library Services
LIB 111
Golden Library
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, NM 88130

Gene Bundy, Special Collections Librarian, Golden Library
Eastern New Mexico University
LIB 227D
Portales, NM 88130
email: gene.bundy@enmu.edu

Thanks for your help. Connie Willis

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