When it was announced that Connie Willis will become the newest SFWA Grand Master (the title to be officially bestowed in May), this was one reaction:

“When I heard that Connie was going to be named a Grand Master, I was surprised," said Joe Haldeman.

Har, har, har....

If this writing gig doesn't pan out, perhaps the Ministry of Propaganda will hire me. But if you insist on knowing a bit more about Mr Haldeman's reaction, here's a fuller quote:

“When I heard that Connie was going to be named a Grand Master, I was surprised, because I assumed she’d long since been given the honor. It’s overdue and well deserved – congratulations, Connie, and welcome to the club.”

...which isn't nearly as funny.

At this point, you might think I've just been mean to someone who's widely regarded as being a very nice person indeed, in addition to being a super-talented writer. But that's because you don't know what she's really like.

The year: 1996. The scene: a blazing hot California morning, and a group of people meeting in a parking lot outside the Anaheim Conference Center in Los Angeles. Among them is a young writer called John, clutching a fax in his trembling hand - one that reads: "Congratulations, you have a two-book deal."

It is this young fellow's first novel sale (and he had not dreamed of getting a contract for two books), the news faxed through overnight from his agent in London.

Then Connie tells the story of her first short-story sale to a magazine. This magazine had a very unusual practice, which was this: along with every acceptance letter, they would enclose the cheque for the story. (This really is unique.)

"But the problem was," she says, "that the cheque was made out to someone else. A totally different name. I couldn't stop saying to myself, 'It's not really me. They've sent the letter to the wrong person.'"

Then, she takes hold of John's fax between forefinger and thumb.

"And you'll probably find that this" - she smiles a smile of hellish humour - "is actually a mistake."

Everyone else falls about laughing, while young John sobs.

Honestly. And people think she's nice.


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