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Connie Willis

by Deb Geisler

Mention Connie Willis to the average SF reader, and they will probably think of her Hugo and Nebula Awards, or the John W. Campbell Award she won for her first novel, Lincoln’s Dreams. They will think of her vivid writing, her wit, and her piercing evaluations of social movement excesses.

Willis is certainly one of the most-awarded authors in SF history. She’s won six Hugos and an equal number of Nebula Awards, for work of all lengths: short stories, novellas, novelettes and novels alike.

But there is a lot more to Connie Willis than her fiction.

She loves the soap opera All My Children (she’s been an avid viewer since it started). She watched the entire O.J. Simpson trial. She sings soprano in a Congregationalist choir, and claims that everything you need to know about the world "can be learned in a church choir." And she’s much in demand as a speaker and program participant at conventions, making a notable (and much-acclaimed) appearance as the Toastmaster at L.A.con III in 1996.

Willis, a Colorado native, is the mother of one daughter, Cordelia, and the wife of Courtney Willis, a university physics professor. She featured her dog (Gracie) and her cat (Lori Darlin’) in a recent book, and says her own favorite book is Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter ("Nobody’s ever heard of her, even though she won the Nobel prize in 1920, but her books are wonderful").

She has heroes: "Fred Astaire is my hero. I love him because he was willing to kill himself to make his art look effortless. And because he proved it’s possible to be an artist and a good person," she told SF Weekly [http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue17/interview.html] "[Robert] Heinlein is probably the biggest influence on my writing," she noted in an August 1998 online chat with Gardner Dozois [available at http://www.cybling.com/artists/awillis.html]. "I love his sense of humor, his down-to-earth approach to the future, and his clever plots."

Willis notes that many of the writers who have influenced her are (not surprisingly) short story writers like Zenna Henderson, Kit Reed, Fredric Brown, Shirley Jackson, and Damon Knight. "I love everybody’s work and I love the short story more than anything. I think almost all the great SF has been written at shorter lengths," she said in the Dozois chat.

Willis knew she wanted to be a writer, but worked as an elementary school teacher for two years. "Then I had a baby, quit to stay home with the baby and thought that was a good time to write. Ha ha ha," she quipped to Dozois. She wrote SF for eight years, during which time her first SF story sale, "The Secret of Santa Titicaca," appeared in 1971 in Worlds of If. (It’s about sentient Inca frogs.)

Her writing career has included collaborative work (with Cynthia Felice) and solo work, SF and "tawdry confession" stories for True Romance and True Confessions magazines. The latter were, said Willis, "great fun to write," and kept her writing before her SF career began.

But, she told Dozois and the online audience, "I think SF is the most free and open of all the genres. Romances, you’re tied to a single plot with a couple of variations. Westerns, you’re tied to a locale and a lot of conventions of detail. Mystery, the mystery has to be central, not the characterization. But in SF you can do anything!"

Certainly you can do anything in SF – if you’re Connie Willis, who does it all well.