Roundtable: The Silliest Thing…

Elizabeth Hand

Maybe not exactly stupid, but I had an early story rejected by the editor of Weird Tales for being “too bizarre.”  It immediately sold elsewhere, but I always treasured being too weird for Weird Tales.

Cecelia Holland

I don’t know if this counts (and it’s pretty boring, actually) but I once had a copy-editor change the name of a major character all the way through a 120k word ms, on the grounds that the name I used was a sobriquet (it was Eadric Streona), and the usage was improper: “you wouldn’t call Alexander simply ‘The Great’.” I pointed out a lot of people called William I simply The Bastard and changed the name back.Tthe result was I was distracted from the last read of the ms and missed a bunch of other stuff.

Another copy-editor wanted me to change “everybody has one story in him” to “everybody has one story in them”, to avoid what she saw as gender bias. I didn’t buy this one either.

Paul Witcover

Oh, thank God–I thought for a minute there you were asking for the stupidest things we have said!

Gardner Dozois

If so, then for me there wouldn’t be enough room to answer.

Adrienne Martini

I teach a Theater Appreciation class, in addition to some writing and a little comm. The students in the Theater class have to see productions on campus and write about all of the elements of theater that we’ve talked about in class, including the sort of stage that it was presented on. As a refresher, the major types of stage are thrust, proscenium and arena.

And the student wrote: The Marriage of Figaro was on a perineum stage.

Which really made me wonder what show she saw.

Nancy Kress

I want to see that production!

Gary K. Wolfe

Some of you have probably heard me tell this, and it has nothing to do with SF, but since it involves two unbelievably opaque students, it might be worth adding.

Several years ago I was teaching a unit on Native American culture in my humanities class for adult students–we read a neat contemporary anthology called The Man to Send Rain Clouds, Robert Penn Warren’s Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce, saw a couple of movies, etc., and spent a fair amount of time on stereotypes. You need to understand how much time we’d spent on this. On the last day we had a guest speaker, an historian who talked on current Navajo culture, and even showed off some ceremonial costumes.  When it came time for questions, the dialogue went like this:
STUDENT (a woman probably in her thirties):  “What I’ve always wanted to know is, why do they wear their costumes on the bus?”
HISTORIAN:  “Um, I’m not sure what you mean.  It’s possible, I suppose, that someone on their way to some event at the American Indian Center on Wilson . . . ”
STUDENT:  “No, I live way south on 79th, and I see them in their costumes all the time.”
SECOND STUDENT (apparently a friend of the first):  “Yeah, I noticed that too.  And why do they have those dots on their foreheads?”

Maureen Kincaid Speller

My sympathies, Gary I am wincing as I read this.

The Ph.D I am currently working on focuses on Native American literature and this story encapsulates so many of the reasons why I am extremely cautious about mentioning my thesis topic off-campus (and for that matter, on campus). It is amazing how many people one meets casually in the UK who feel obliged to tell one that they possess Native American blood or are descended from a Cherokee princess. It is utterly baffling.

4 thoughts on “Roundtable: The Silliest Thing…

  • December 21, 2011 at 10:25 am

    I once wrote to a famous author and offered to bring several of his early books back into print. Since I proposed to reset rather than photo-reproduce the texts, I indicated this would give him the chance to make any changes he felt desirable. He wrote back outraged I should think any of his work would need changes. All his books were perfect as they stood and he would rather not allow a philistine like me to publish any of them.

  • December 22, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    I once had a physics student argue that gravity on Venus had to be stronger than Earth’s because it was closer to the sun.

  • December 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    As a neophyte writer I am at the mercy of editors. I recently submitted a story in which the subtext dealt with college level math and included an alien name with a superscript number in it. The editor suggested that it just looked sloppy and that words should only contain letters. When I provided several examples of similar words by some giants in the field he replied that he had dozens of stories to edit and didn’t have time to argue over a single word that really wasn’t that important anyway.

  • December 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    If you’re discussing teachers…when I was in grade school, the teacher wrote “PENISULA” on the blackboard and we took turns mispronouncing it. It was over twenty years before I realized is was supposed to be “PENINSULA” with another “N”…

    As for editors…well, probably the silliest thing an editor told me is that I have talent.


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