…next to my Hugo.

Two years ago, I had the chance to get eviscerated by one of the best short story editors in the nation.

*

At the very beginning of the session, before we had even finished individual introductions, the editor used my piece as an example of terrible writing. He said that I was untrustworthy and did not respect my readers enough to care about the details.

That was a nightmare.

It could only have been worse if I had suddenly realized I was naked… but then it really would have been a nightmare and I could have flown quickly away or used my powers of invisibility to sneak out.

So it really only could have been worse if I had cried or audibly farted.

Thankfully, I did neither.

I was dumbfounded by his words. I sat in total silence. I didn’t feel anger or sadness or anything. I was experiencing ‘tonic immobility’. It was sort of peaceful. I lost a few seconds of time, I think.  When I came back, he was still talking. About how much it sucked.

I had turned in a story that had been through seven drafts. I considered it to be representative of my best work. I had prepared myself for the possibility that he might not like it and not have much to offer in way of advice but I had not planned on total annihilation before the session had even started.

I thought, boy, this is going to be a looooong day. Like seriously mother-fucking long.

The inspiring part was when the other writers immediately pointed out that his specific examples of my ‘disrespect’ were in fact explained in the story.

Basically, I turned in an experimental piece that was written to be read out loud, in character, like a monologue. It was written in the first person (he said he doesn’t like that) and in the present tense (not his favorite either). The narrator’s attitude is intentionally sanctimonious and condescending.

He was immediately turned off by this and could barely push his way through the story.  He used a mistaken assumption that I had carelessly inserted an anachronism into the story (a Zippo in the 18th Century) as the reasoning for no longer being able to trust me as a writer and no longer believing in the story. He did a marvelous line edit though, which he obviously phoned in but at his caliber it was still impressive.

So, anyhow, the other writers pointed out that the Zippo was not the only anachronism. There was also the Gulf War vet, the cars on the street below, and the flashing neon sign outside of the window. So, perhaps, the story was not set in the 18th Century.

He said, “but the narrator specifically states that we are watching something that happened at least 200 years ago.”

And the other writers pointed out that the story was about time travel and that the narrator was living…. wait for it…  200 years in the future.

Hilarity ensued.

Not really.

He said, Oh. Well. I didn’t get that from the story. She should work that in there.

Everyone else seemed to think I already had.

By the time we actually got to the time slot for my story to be critiqued (after a delicious crepe lunch that I only pushed around on my plate and brought home in a doggie bag to enjoy for dinner and left on a chair while I went to the bathroom so MY DOG ACTUALLY ATE IT DAMMIT) he had some wonderful and helpful suggestions. Everyone did! I couldn’t write down their notes fast enough. Every single one of them made me think. Every single one of them will make this story better. And most of the people actually liked it and weren’t just saying that because I cried.

I didn’t cry.

Bad dog. Bad, bad dog. NO CREPE FOR YOU.

Bad dog. Bad, bad dog. NO CREPE FOR YOU.

My ego is big enough to take the blow (like, seriously big). I know I’m a decent writer. I know that piece had an annoying narrator and s/he might turn some folks off right away but I was, and still am, seriously peeved that he didn’t bother to really read it, especially since he signed on to DO JUST THAT… but the rest of the day was marvelous.

I’m going to make him sign the copy of my manuscript that he wrote all over with red ink (my punctuation was terrible and I spelled Hemingway wrong… seriously, my bad… and yet another anachronism) and then I’m going to have the last page, where he wrote down all of that stuff he shared with the class at the beginning of the day, fucking framed. It will look good next to my Hugo.

It could happen. Just sayin’.

About Violet Graves

Writer of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Sex with a Vengeance www.violetgraves.com
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3 Responses to …next to my Hugo.

  1. A few years back, I was critiquing manuscripts at a writers’ workshop in the larger context of a science fiction convention, something I did for many years. There were four editors and three hopeful writers. When it came time to critique a particular story, one of our number did a hatchet job that still stands out in my memory. He totally eviscerated the author, declared that there was nothing salvageable or worthy at all in the story, and all but told him not to bother to write anything else. He went on to invalidate any further critiques, saying that no-one could have anything different to say that merited discussion, because he was an editor, and he knew better (He neither knew nor apparently cared that every critiquer there was a professional writer and editor.). He actually SAID “Don’t listen to anything anyone else says about this story. I’m an editor…” etc. My rather more detailed critique had gone before his, and in his mind was apparently as invalid as those to come. Two more editors had to follow his rant with their own critiques, when what they really wanted to do was visit Great Bodily Harm on our “colleague.” I know this because we discussed it at length later.

    The author of the gutted story sat there, dazed, immobile, blinking, while this man betrayed his lack of editorial acumen, social awareness, and basic humanity. When the editor was through pronouncing, I turned to the writer and said, “Don’t go anywhere when this is over. I want to buy you a drink.” And we spend an hour or so in the bar, and I tried to inoculate him against people like this in our industry.

    The editor is still out there, and people have told me he’s “less of an asshole” now, but I wonder. Sounds like him or someone just as clueless is still doing his best to damage writers wherever he goes. It’s nothing new, but I really, really hate it.

    • Bless you for taking that writer out for a drink. My fellow workshop attendees did offer their condolences. I could see the relief in their eyes that they had not been so thoroughly chopped. I have fond memories of the experience because the feedback I received (from the other writers) really made the story shine. By the way, I loved “The Little Things” and I got a thrill when I saw that Bridget McKenna had posted a comment on my invisible blog. I may have squeed a little bit in my pants.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about “The Little Things,” Violet! I don’t have to tell you that writers never tire of praise for their stories, and I’m certainly no exception. Keep up the excellent work on the blog.

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