A Connie Willis Story

I just remembered this story after reading Connie Willis’ heartfelt (and to my mind absolutely correct) assessment of the Sad Puppies debacle, which might more accurately be termed a hostage situation, since the Hugo Award–and by extension the question of how the science fiction field wants to be perceived by itself–is being held hostage by a few people who…well, read Connie’s thoughts on the topic.

Anyway, the story:

In the late 1990s, while living in Denver for grad school, I was a member of the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop, an august institution to which I frequently brought stories. The practice was to bring a story to the group, hand it out, and then workshop it the next month. I did this with a story called “Intimations of Immortality,” and then I got antsy. I couldn’t wait. I put the story in the mail to F&SF even though it was still waiting for the workshop.

The workshop came around, and when it was over, “Intimations of Immortality” had been so thoroughly savaged that I slunk home with my tail between my legs, thinking I really shouldn’t have put it in the mail, questioning whether I really knew what I was doing, et cetera. At this point I’d only ever sold one story, “Rossetti Song,” and whatever confidence I had as a writer was sporadic and fragile.

Before I went inside my house, I checked the mail. In it was a check from F&SF.

Talk about a mood swing. I went from a funk of self-doubt to (I’m not going to lie) a brief frenzy of imagined I-told-you-so gloating. Then I settled down a little and just enjoyed the fact that I was going to have another story published! Maybe I was getting this writing thing figured out after all!

At the next workshop I told everyone about this and we all had a good laugh. Then a couple of months later, MileHiCon rolled around, and I was on a panel or something, and while I was standing around with a couple of NCWW colleagues who should walk up but Connie Willis. I had never met her before, and have never spoken to her since, but I was and am a long-time admirer of her fiction.

One of the other NCWW people–I think it was Ed Bryant, but I don’t remember for sure–told Connie the first part of this anecdote and then handed it off to me so I could add the big finish about coming home to find a check in the mail for this story that they had so mercilessly annihilated.

She looked me dead in the eye and without missing a beat said, “Well, just because you sold the story doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.”

Which is technically true, but jeez, Connie. Anyway, she’s exactly right about the Hugos, I think, and I’m glad she spoke up the way she did.

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