Roundtable: The Silliest Thing…
Somewhere, in some journal in the 1960s, in Toronto, I mentioned Thomas Pynchon’s V. a couple of times. The printed version had been carefully edited in each case so that it read Thomas Pynchon’s W.
I don’t know that this qualifies as the “stupidest” thing an editor said to me (and, as an editor, I’m sure there are some writers out there still shaking their heads in disbelief at some of the inane things I have said), but it does illuminate the over-reliance on-less-than-reliable information when fact-checking. A copyeditor on a book I co-edited changed the publication date of a Robert Bloch novel from 1990 to 1991. I insisted 1990 was correct. He insisted adamantly that 1991 was correct. When I asked him on what authority he was basing this change, he cited an online genre database he was looking at (and which I knew not to be entirely accurate).
He then challenged me to tell him what authority I was basing MY chosen date on. I replied, “The first printing of the book, whose copyright page I’m looking at as we speak.”
The smug bastard in me couldn’t help responding, “I guess it’s too late to tell the publisher they goofed.”
On another project, I referred in text to Robert Bloch’s Once Around the Bloch, which I described as “jokingly subtitled ‘An Unauthorized Autobiography.’ ” I got marked up pages back from the copyeditor asking me if I might explain what joke I was referring to.
I’m sure Robert Bloch would be amused to know he was the source of so much humor.
Karen Joy Fowler
On more than one occasion (and I know I’m not alone in this) I’ve had writing students tell me they don’t read as a deliberate policy so as not to taint their own work. I might not use the word stupid for this: there is a logic here. But I think it an unlikely road to success. Or happiness.
I’ve heard that too. Also writing students who say that they don’t LIKE to read, and almost never read anything. Both among the saddest–and stupidest–statements I’ve heard from the younger generations.
My eighth grade History teacher kept talking about the Com-promise of 1850. After about the third usage, I couldn’t stand it. I raised my hand and said, “it’s com-preh-mize!”
I had to sit in the back of the room for the rest of the year.
4 thoughts on “Roundtable: The Silliest Thing…”
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.
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.
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.
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.