Rest in Peace, Billjohn

Last night I and the SF community at large lost a terrific and very tall writer with whom I collaborated upon occasion, Bill Johnson. Bill wrote a lot of stories, which he sold mostly to Analog; but some years back I convinced him to submit one instead to Asimov’s Magazine and it won him a Hugo Award. When his name was announced at the awards banquet, nobody was more amazed than Bill. He was self-effacing (no mean feat when you’re six foot seven), unpretentious, and probably the smartest guy in the room all the time. We were roommates in college, students together in a class led by Joe Haldeman & Larry Martin, and both accepted that same year into the Clarion SF Writers Workshop (possibly the only time that three members of a class taught by one of the writers teaching at Clarion that year made the cut into the program). People tend to bond at Clarions; we already had that bond between us but we added to the list other students from that year, including Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Crais, Lois Metzger, and Michael Armstrong. The only thing I’ll add is, there wasn’t a ceiling tile that was safe from Bill in that dormitory…

Bill was nearly unflappable. Which isn’t true of me, so he worked that for all the laughs he could get. He was a very quietly hilarious guy. But he also suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome, which I understand plagues tall people like Bill. When we were in college he confessed that it probably meant he would have a short life, and he wasn’t sure he would get to see his (hypothetical at that point) kids grow up. Fortunately, he outlived the prognosis, though I suspect he had more stents in him than any other human on the planet.

There are too many stories to recount here. It’s enough perhaps to say that he met in college and married the love of his life, Gretchen, and had great kids, who he got to watch grow up.

Rest in peace my old friend–

Ghosts of ICON past

I was recently in New York and had dinner with Lois Metzger, author (Ellen’s Case, Missing Girls) and editor (Bones, Bites). We hadn’t seen each other in years and it was wonderful to catch up. Back in 1975 Lois and I had attended Clarion (which, if you are unfamiliar with it, is an intensive 6-week writing program for hopeful fantasy & SF writers that now comes in two flavors in the U.S.: one housed at UCSD in San Diego, and the other in Seattle).

Thus it was with delight that I came across the attached photo taken later that year at the first ICON science fiction convention in Iowa City, Iowa. I had asked one of our Clarion instructors, Roger Zelazny, to be the guest at our convention and he had agreed. So here we are flanking Roger on some panel (I suspect the topic was in fact Clarion…which seems to be the punishment inflicted on Clarion graduates at sf conventions for years afterwards). Have to say, too, I really miss Roger. He was a huge influence on me.


Finally, I want to note that ICON itself is still alive and kicking all these years later, though it has moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Its 37th incarnation takes place this November 2-4. See for more on that.