The 45th Williamson Lectureship, held April 7-9, 2022 in Portales NM, was a smaller event after two years of COVID, but those who attended were happy to see each other. “I’m so glad we’re in-person this year,” Connie Willis said at Friday’s luncheon. “It’s so nice to see people’s faces, whether masked or not. I am so pleased we’re here today, and not on Zoom.”
“Speculative Fiction: Never the Same Story Twice” was a timely theme for the return of the Lectureship, held to honor SF pioneer Jack Williamson, at Eastern NM University with casual gatherings around town. Author Walter Jon Williams was guest of honor and Willis served as toastmaster.
San Jose criminalist Cordelia Willis started off events on April 7 with an online “Real-Life CSI Q&A” screened to ENMU students and SF fans in the Jack Williamson Liberal Arts building.
The first in-person Thursday event featured Willis interviewing Williams for an audience of 36. Asked what he likes about writing, Williams responded, “The hours. I only work a couple of hours a day. I tend to write late at night. I wish I could be a morning writer as they seem to get more done. The worst thing is that it’s a solitary job. It’s not lonely, but it is solitary and you have to do it on your own. Sometimes I brainstorm with other authors and that’s nice. When I was younger, I was compelled to do it. I couldn’t help myself. I’d go into the office and write and write. Now it’s a choice. I’ve slowed down a bit, and I have to make myself write every day.
“I got lucky and I admit it,” he continued. “I can’t imagine doing anything else besides writing. I think I was four years old when I decided I wanted to write. Even before I could read and write I was dictating stories to my parents, who wrote it all down. And then I’d illustrate the stories with my crayons. Luckily, none of that survived.”
Asked to give any writing advice, Williams said, “If you’re a real writer, you won’t be able to help yourself. Read everything you can in every field you can. Network with others. Oh, and write. Don’t just talk about it. You have to actually write.”
A large dinner gathering at a local steakhouse finished out the first day after Williams’s retrospective.
Due to a local restaurant closing, there was no large group breakfast on Friday as in years past. The Lectureship’s full day began with a reading by Williams to about 40 people at Golden Student Success Center. Williams read a section from Quillifer the Knight. He said, “I took a walk near an irrigation ditch near my house a couple of years ago. By the time I came home, I had the full outline for a six-book fantasy series in my head. Three Quillifer books are out so far.
“A lot of what I write is about power,” he continued. “How you get it, how it can be lost, and what it is to have it. Power, class and money define a character and reveal things. In my world building, I find administration details interesting and important. And if something in the situation is absurd or eccentric, I will point it out.”
Williams said that some people see the Praxis series as military SF in space, but he does not. “The books are space opera. At first they didn’t sell that well, but over the years the sales have continued. Imperium Restored, the sixth book, will be out in September. It’s planned as eight or nine books. I’m now working on the third Metropolitan book. It’s been 25 years, so that seems long enough to wait on a book.”
Williams also said that New Mexico, where he lives, shows up in some of his creations. “Days of Atonement is set here. New Mexico really is an alien planet. And it turns up, oddly, in the Praxis where one world is settled by people from northern New Mexico. The state also shows up in Hardwired. There probably are bits and pieces of New Mexico in my other works as well.”
During the last two years, “I got a ton done during the pandemic. I wrote two books, did some cooking, and eventually got COVID. It was fairly mild, but I do have some minor long-term symptoms.”
Lectureship organizer David Sweeten welcomed 65 people to Friday’s luncheon with a trivia quiz. ENMU President Caldwell told attendees, “There are two homecomings at Eastern. One for alumni in October, and one for our Lectureship family. It’s good to have our science fiction family back after a couple of years off. This is a family affair – the Williamson Lectureship – and science fiction is the quintessential American genre. Jack was raised on it, and produced and wrote it for nine decades.”
Willis said she had missed everything about Portales and the Lectureship, even the unfortunate things like getting a speeding ticket one time and the blowing dirt. She also updated everyone on cow news, such as cows running loose through Queens and the Bronx, and dairy cows having complex social networks – giving her the opportunity for several groan-inducing puns.
She noted the Lectureship started in 1977 in honor of Williamson. “If you don’t know who Jack was, shame on you. He was beloved by everyone who knew him.” She finished with a line from Williamson’s story “Space Family Smiths”, which sums up his optimism: “Trust yourselves, and fine things will happen.”
Williams said that many people had asked whether he was going to repeat his Atlanta Airport story from the 2005 Lectureship in which he saw Williamson across the way and realized the escalators, the baggage claim carousels, and the passenger trains were the future Williamson created in his stories. “Actually the first time I met Jack Williamson was at a convention in Denver in the mid-1970s. We were in line waiting for a table in the hotel’s restaurant, and Jack invited me to sit with him. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I’m sure I mostly talked about myself. At the end of the evening, Jack picked up the tab. That was his second kindness of the weekend to me. The first was taking me seriously as a writer.
“Jack never lost his curiosity, which means he never lost his creativity,” he continued in his luncheon speech. “Jack evolved, which is what a writer should do. He never told the same story twice. We are all part of the same dream, and I hope the dream goes on forever.”
After lunch, there was a tabletop gaming session organized by students at the Golden Center. Some Lectureship attendees also visited new special collections librarian Regina Bouley Sweeten and the Williamson collections, while others went in search of ice cream.
In the afternoon, about 40 people attended panel discussions held upstairs at the Golden Center. The first discussion was on “Remixing and Genre” with Willis, Jeffe Kennedy, Emily Mah, Reese Hogan, and Williams, in which Willis observed, “Everyone likes to find something to look down on. That’s a natural impulse. When I started, science fiction was at the bottom, so science fiction people looked down on fantasy and comics. Those became more popular, and the pecking order changed. But they’re all legitimate ways of telling a story. That’s the bottom line – they’re all good.”
The “History and/of Science Fiction” panel included Willis, Ian Tregillis, Hogan, and Williams. They talked about how history is injected into science fiction and fantasy. Willis said, “There are different ways to use history. There’s alternate history, directly using real history, and taking a historical event and moving it into the future as a template.” The “Craft of a Story/Story crafting” panel featured Mah, Darynda Jones, and Kennedy talking about how stories can be broken into three acts, the use of research and details, and how each of them tackles their stories.
Willis, Mah, and Williams were on the “Never the Same Story Twice” panel, discussing how ideas and life inspire stories, but how writers make each one different.
Across from that, Kennedy, Jones, and Hogan addressed random topics in the “Short Attention Span” panel, such as how they get to the end of a story, their favorite fan fiction or story about a fan, and any place they’d love to go.
Friday evening’s dinner party was held at the ENMU President’s house. About 28 people chatted and visited, while enjoying food and drinks.
Scattered Saturday breakfasts were followed by a writers’ workshop for 25 college students and fans led by Willis with Williams assisting.
Attendees at the Lectureship included Jack Williamson’s niece, Betty Williamson; Bubonicon organizers Craig W. Chrissinger, Jessica Coyle, Kristen Dorland & Kennard Wilson, and Patricia Rogers; author S.E. Burr; publisher Stephen Haffner; Williams’ wife, Kathy Hedges; scientist Courtney Willis; retired librarian Gene Bundy; University president Caldwell; Lectureship organizers Mary Ayala, Dave Asplund, Jon Barr, Geni Flores, Barbara Senn, David Sweeten; and special collections librarians Regina Bouley Sweeten and Susan Asplund.
Saturday afternoon finished out the Lectureship with lunch, varied conversations and good-byes. Plans for April 2023’s Lectureship soon will be underway, including a guest of honor announcement for the 46th Lectureship.
– Craig W. Chrissinger
This report and more like it in the May 2022 issue of Locus.
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