Saturday, March 12, 2011

Good Intentions

I've told this story before, but I don't see it on the blog right off, and somebody asked about bad editorial experiences, so I'm gonna tell it again.

Some years ago, I was asked to write a story for the local paper's Sunday magazine, a special issue featuring local science fiction and fantasy writers.

The length was short, so I decided to do a twist-ending, aka "tomato surprise" story. Not in O. Henry's class, but with that kind of nailer at the end.

My piece was about a running competition in a future where the winner gets to be the city's mayor. I had two candidates, and I was careful when describing one of them to be absolutely gender-neutra,l in my description, attribution, even the name, which was "Jackie." The reversal/reveal was that the character was a woman. That mattered to the story. That was the point of the story. 

My editor, a pleasant man who was a good non-fiction editor and who taught classes at the local U in how-to-write well, completely misread my intent and point. 

He obviously thought I didn't know how to use a pronoun, so everywhere that I had been scrupulous in not offering one, he changed the text to read "she," or "her."

Bam! Deader'n black plastic, the story.

But the surprise was mortally wounded before the story even started, because in his cleverness, he changed the title from what I'd had to "Gender Gap." 

No clue there. 

More, he didn't tell me about any of this, so that I could have explained what I was doing. I saw it when the story came out, and the result was a piece that made no sense whatsoever.
And a lot of jumping up and down and screaming on my part.

I called him, really steamed, and he was quick to apologize. It was the name, he said. His name was Jack, and he had hated being called "Jackie" as a boy, because to his mind, that was a girl's name. When he saw it in my story, he leaped to the conclusion–which was correct–that "Jackie" was a girl. Which I planned to tell people in the last graph, I wasn't going to hide forever, but by then, it was completely unnecessary.

I point this one out now and then to show that even a good editor can miss something, and that a good editor will also run his or her changes past the writer to make sure he doesn't screw it up  ...

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