NYCC 2016: “Crosstalk” Author Connie Willis Discusses the Past, Present & Future of Relationships & Technology

Ahead of New York Comic Con 2016, we read and reviewed Crosstalk by Connie Willis and greatly enjoyed this new romantic comedy sci-fi offering and we were fortunate enough to catch up with Connie Willis at the convention to talk a little bit more about the book.

On top of that, we discussed the inspiration behind the book, how technology is not necessarily making relationships better or easier at all, those clever pop culture references she put into the text, as well as female representation in geek media.

Read our interview below to get all of the details!

First, how do you pronounce the main character, Briddey’s, name?

Brid-ee, it’s short for Bridget.

I wasn’t sure, because it’s Irish – it could have been Tabitha. (laughter)

Right, it’s Irish, so it could be anything! Her name is Brid-ee and Maeve (Mave) is the little girl, and Oona is the aunt. I think those are the only tricky names.

What was the inspiration behind writing Crosstalk?

Lots of things! I think we’re so bombarded with information all the time and we have all these new tools. We can date online, we can talk to people across the world face to face, we can do all this stuff and yet I’m not seeing a lot of improvement in relationships, you know?

I’m not seeing a lot of improvement in actual communication. We always think that technology can solve our problems and it really can’t. So that was one of the things I was thinking about – how many people are doing all these different things to supposedly get more intimate relationships and more open and honest relationships. Not that I think that’s necessarily a good idea, I think there’s such a thing as too open and too honest. That was one inspiration.

Another one was that I lived through the 1970s, which were a terrible period of let it all hang out. They had these encounter sessions where you would say, “We’re all going to go around in a group and we’re all going to say one thing we hate about Mary and then we’re all going to bond.” And I thought no, nothing good can come from this. Mary will be left in a sobbing heap on the ground and everyone else will feel – I don’t know how they’ll feel – but she’ll feel terrible!

So I’m all for keeping your thoughts to yourself. I think that’s the best plan and when I hear people say, “Oh, but telepathy would be so great, we’d know what people were actually thinking.” We do not want to know what people are actually thinking and we don’t want them to know what we are actually thinking.

I know I’d like to keep my thoughts to myself most of the time – especially when I’m behind someone really slow in the line at grocery store.

Do you consider Crosstalk to be a look into the future or an alternate reality at all?

I think it’s more – telepathy is not real, we’re not going to get telepathy any time soon – but I do think it would be entirely possible that we will once again feel that some technological fix is going to save us from ourselves. So I think it’s a story that could pretty much happen any time.

Usually, for future novels like this that utilize technology, authors tend to use chatspeak for their characters’ interactions. Did you deliberately avoid using acronyms and chatspeak?

Yes because I’m looking to tell a story that a lot of different kinds of people can read. Usually my readers aren’t just limited to fantasy and science fiction. I have a lot of those readers, but I also have a lot of readers who are really intimidated by science fiction books. They’ll pick it up and if there’s a lot of jargon on the first page or unfamiliar talk of any kind, they get totally thrown out of the story. So I want everybody to be able to follow this story.

And the other problem is that the most dangerous part of writing things that are now or day after tomorrow kind of stuff is that everything changes to quickly. You know, for instance, I was picking the couples to use as examples for this surgery in the book. I picked people that had been around in the tabloids for at least ten years, people that I thought were still going to be around for another ten, so that people would know who I was talking about and it wouldn’t become dated. I thought Brangelina was a sure thing and then the minute the book was in print, they broke up! You cannot break up, I’m sorry, I put you in this book!

Speaking of the pop culture references and Brangelina, how did you pick them out?

I know, it’s so awful! And of course, one of the points is that these aren’t necessarily couples that are emotionally bonded to each other – or if they are, it’s complicated. We are complicated people and one of the things I did for this book was to constantly read all of the ‘Dear Abby’ columns in the paper, but also the ‘Dear Abby’ equivalents online.

The problems people write about are the same they’ve always written about – they don’t get along with their mother-in-law, they don’t get along with their husband, they want to tell a secret that will do nobody any good if they tell it, and they’re looking for closeness, but they don’t know how to do it. I think those are constants, so that part of the book I don’t think will go out of date.

Did you find the advice changing at all between online and print?

No, it’s all the same! The one thing that I honestly cannot believe, I would swear that three-fourths of all of the inquiries are about someone who didn’t thank you properly with a thank you note for a gift. I’m like, “Get over it, everyone!” If someone calls you and says thank you, that’s it! That’s all you get! Try not to obsess!

I try to look at what are they really writing about, rather than what the problem is that they say they’re writing about, and I think it’s mostly, “I’m not being appreciated, I’m not being loved enough, I want more reassurances.” That never changes, people never change unfortunately.

Since telepathy is not real, social media is kind of our biggest connector right now. What kind of social media do you have, do you use anything?

I try very hard to stay off of everything. It’s a horrible confession to make, this will instantly make people think that they should not ever read any of my books, but I’m just now learning a smartphone. I have resisted this for years, but I need the texting for when I’m at things like New York Comic Con, so I’m forced to learn this.

I try very hard to stay off the grid as much as possible because it’s such a timesink. I’m obsessive, I’m a political junkie and especially this political season I could spend my entire life looking at stuff – just hours and hours go by, the timesink aspects of the internet and Facebook and everything are just amazing. I have trouble finishing my books anyway, I don’t need any more timesinks!

I looked at the Twitter for this book and I think there were four tweets on it that were spread across the last two months maybe.

Yeah, it’s so – I love aspects of it and there are things about our information society that I adore. IMDB is my favorite thing in the world because I never can remember who that guy is in that scene. I used to have to call my daughter and say, “Go see this movie! It’s a terrible movie, but in the third scene there’s this guy behind the bar. You’ll have to tell me what other movie he was in.” Now, I don’t have to do that, which is really nice for her.

But I get very nervous about other things. I especially worry about online dating because the whole idea that we’re – it’s bad enough that we’re pretty much appearance obsessed anyway in our society. How can you make it worse? I know, let’s give the ability to swipe right or swipe left just on the basis of someone’s picture! Can you be any more shallow, is this really how we’re going to do it?

And then the dating sites with their algorithms and all that. I’ve been married almost fifty years, trust me, you don’t stay together because you both like spaghetti and red wine or Brad Pitt movies, that’s not it! That is not what keeps you together.

The qualities that keep you together have nothing to do with the algorithms that they use and I probably will be writing more about that in the future. It drives me crazy that people don’t understand how relationships really work.

I don’t see online dating getting any less popular in the future unfortunately.

I don’t either, but I’m not sure it’s – except that when people don’t get what they want, then they start shifting their ideas – but relationships are difficult and that’s one of the reasons I love writing romantic comedies.

They’re – unlike romances, I hate romances, I never write romances. Romances are all about wooing and being wooed and conquest and surrender and all of those things. Romantic comedies are about how actual good, positive adult relationships are formed by trusting each other and demanding things of each other and forming a team and working through your battles and all those things. They’ve been doing it in a fun way since Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

I don’t believe you should write books to teach people how to behave, but I do think they’re great role models for how to do good relationships. That’s why I love writing romantic comedies. I believe that men and women were meant to be allies, they were meant to get along, that they were meant to stand and work side by side plus sex, so it couldn’t be better!

The one thing about romantic comedies is that they show the fun side of relationships. That’s the other thing I see in advice columns – grim beyond imagination. It’s just hard work and, “My husband and I, we have our contract of which duties we’re supposed to have.” I’m just like, don’t you ever have any fun? Is there no fun here at all? And I think romantic comedies are always fun.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was your Women in Geek Media panel for this convention as well. How important do you feel like representation is for women in geek media? What are you covering in your panel?

I don’t know what they’re going to talk about. We’re having everything from the ridiculous meltdown over Ghostbusters, which I’m sorry boys, just get over it! As a woman, I was in a field that was largely dominated by men when I got in and it still is, although women are much closer to equal now.

I was lucky because it was a very welcoming field, but I know that not all fields are that way and I’m personally sick and tired of having to fight these battles over and over and over. But, they have to be fought. I think that women are doing great in all of these fields and may be a little threatening possibly, boys.

Like I say, I feel that men and women were meant to be allies working together. They’ve done studies of societies where the women are not allowed equal positions and the societies on every single scale do worse. If you are using everyone in your society and taking advantage of everyone’s assets and qualities and positive strengths, then you have a great society and you move forward. You can tell which side I’m on.

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Pick up your copy of Crosstalk today!