Roundtable: The Silliest Thing…

Terry Bisson

No chewing tobacco and no ‘ain’t.’  (Nascar YA series)

Ellen Klages

But, no ain’t is a double negative!

I’m not a professor, and it’s not really a stupid question, but…

I was talking to a fifth grade class (at a private school), and a boy raised his hand and asked, “At what point in the writing process do you know where to put in the motifs?”

I’ve always imagined them like ice cream jimmies, or glitter: you spread the page with glue then sprinkle on the motifs, and just tap off the excess.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

I would take this to mean that the boy knew when to put in tifs, but was not sure when to put in MO tifs (or, how many MO tifs to put in).

Ellen Klages

Runner-up was a ten-year-old girl who asked (verbatim): At what point in your career do you expect your grandeur to eclipse that of J. K. Rowling?

(Can’t remember what I actually said, but what I was thinking was, “Oh, when pigs fly out of my butt, kid.”)

Maureen Kincaid Speller

It’s rather difficult to say anything about my adventures in copy-editing without identifying the accidentally guilty, but I have derived regrettably far too much joy over the years from watching people muddle ‘pallet’ and ‘palette’ and ‘palate’; one character did indeed spend the night asleep in a pile of paints, while another novel had mysteriously morphed into a tasty cannibal horror story when I turned the page, after the character apparently fell asleep in the roof of someone’s mouth.

Outside the genre, I was once asked to assess a writer’s unpublished manuscript, a biography of his wife, who had led a remarkably interesting life, on top of which she had suffered a debilitating illness, requiring the writer to nurse her back to health. It was well written and fascinating in its way though it had little commercial potential.

However, the most remarkable thing about it was that the writer did not once mention his wife by name at all. No surname, no forename, no means of identifying her in her own right. Nothing.

When I noted this in my report, I was informed it was a stylistic device, intended to create some distance between subject and author, so as not to distract from her achievements. I ran out of eyebrow to raise when I read that.

Gwenda Bond

I’ll just share one of my favorite stupid things said BY a teacher and to Christopher, not even to me. Christopher’s seventh grade science teacher told his class that, “Dogs are cold-blooded. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to sleep outside in the winter.”

Paul Witcover

Gwenda does remind me of the time in 5th grade that I was sent to the principal for insisting to my teacher that water did in fact conduct electricity, despite her statement to the contrary.  On reflection, however, perhaps I shouldn’t have challenged her to drop a radio into the tub the next time she was bathing …

Gardner Dozois

When our son was younger, we did run into a grade school English teacher who insisted that “tropical” was spelled “tropicle” and marked our son wrong for not spelling it that way, and who insisted that she was right even when shown the word in a dictionary.

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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