Mon
Apr 19 2010 5:37pm

Tor’s 30th: T-4: Earliest Memories

As you may have heard elsewhere in the blogosphere, Tor.com’s corporate cousin—and the employer of many of its staffers—Tor Books is turning thirty years old on Friday, April 23rd. To commemorate the occasion, we’ve asked some staffers who are also Tor.com community members to tell us a few odd and charming anecdotes, some of which have not been retold in years...or possibly ever. We’ll highlight one question each day until Friday, at which point we’ll celebrate Tor’s birthday proper with more exclusive glances into the secret lives of Toroids. Happy birthday, cuz!

T-4: What is your earliest memory of life at Tor?

Beth Meacham, Executive Editor (started February 1984):

Walking into the loft space on 36th street where Tor’s first offices were. It was…crowded. My office (I had an office! Of my own!) was very small, and I didn’t have room for my plants. But the place was just humming with people coming in and out and getting books published and sold.

Claire Eddy, Senior Editor (started August 1985):

My earliest memory of Tor wasn’t specifically when I was working at Tor. I started my editorial life at Baen (which was/is) partially owned by Tom. We were all in the 36th Street offices at the time. Coming up on my one year anniversary at Baen I was a month away from getting married and going off an a month’s long honeymoon, when Beth Meacham approached me in the hall one day, called me into her office…and asked me if I would like to be her assistant. I happily agreed (with some good-natured ribbing from Jim Baen) and in August of 1985 I started my sojourn with Tor at our new offices on 24th Street.

How the heck did 25 years go by so fast?

One of the earliest things that sticks out in my mind from those days was the fact that we had all these spanking new shelves…with not a lot of books on them. Used to cramped spaces, it was an odd thing to see. We needed bookends to keep the books steady…and many of us scrounged around parks to pick up large rocks, which did an admirable job of it. Not to mention keeping errant computers humble.

David Hartwell, Senior Editor (started November 1983):

In the summer of 1983, after Jim Baen had been asked to start his own company to replace my imprint at S&S (ask Tom for the story of that), Tom Doherty spoke to me and asked if there was anything I would like to do for Tor. I told him that I was looking for another job in the fall, but that I had full pay through October and couldn't start anything new ‘til then.

And then in October Mike Bishop called me in distress, since his projected move from Timescape to Bantam was going awry. And it seemed reasonable to call Tom Doherty about doing that book, Ancient of Days. Tom hired me as a consulting editor starting in November, and I bought the book for Tor. And I have been working with Tor ever since. The next book I bought was Tiptree's novel, Brightness Falls from the Air, and I recall standing around Nancy Weisenfeld's table (otherwise known as the production department on 36th street) and covering it with little green morsels of paper with suggested titles from Allie Sheldon, talking to Mike Ford, who remarked that it was too bad that “Brightness Falls from the Air” was already a story title or it would be perfect. It was perfect, and we used it.

Irene Gallo, Art Director (started July 1993):

My earliest memory would be my interview. I’ll recount it in full:

:phone rings:
Person I never heard of before: I need you to be my assistant.
Me: Should I come over for an interview?
Person I never heard of before, who turned out to be Tor’s Art Director Maria Mellili: No.
Me: OK.

I then got a desk in “the pit,” which was highly coveted since the pit consisted of six people working in one room with four desks. Shortly after, I remember Jenna Felice throwing one of those balsawood airplanes I used to play with as a kid just as Tom was rounding the corner. Without missing a beat, Tom simply ducked his head to the side and kept walking. I knew, then, that was all the interview I needed.

Jim Frenkel, Senior Editor (started late summer of 1982):

I believe the first time I ever had anything to do with Tor I went up to see the offices in what must have been 1983 at the latest (yes, there was more than one office, but they were all in one part of a floor—the 6th floor—on 36th street, between 5th and 6th Avenues). If I remember correctly, Jim Baen and Harriet McDougal had a single office, with one desk, and needless to say, they didn't sit there at the same time. Tom had his own office, as I recall, and so did Barbara Doherty, who was the company Comptroller. And maybe Ralph Arnote had his own office as well. Not sure about that.

Unless I'm misremembering, before I left, I had agreed to edit a book for Tor. Of course, back then we had no real art department--nor any real publicity department, not to mention editorial assistants, a contracts department, or a production department. The editors commissioned all the cover art, and I remember bringing a contract form from Dell that I used as the basis for the first Tor contract I ever put together. I remember transcribing the contract into a file that I saved on my Apple 2-E (which probably took a couple minutes) and printed it out on my dot matrix printer (which definitely took longer than that.)

The first Tor Book I actually presided over was Mallworld by Somtow Sucharitkul. After that, there were all sorts of others—a biography of Prince, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure kinds of books, movie tie-ins, and—oh, yes—science fiction and fantasy. It was a simpler time...

Melissa Singer, Senior Editor (started January 1985):

My job interview with Tom was a conversation at a party at World Fantasy Con—a party I was hosting on behalf of my then employer, mind you…and then I actually interviewed with Beth while I had the flu, rose from my sickbed to have lunch with her with a temperature of over 100….

My first official act at Tor was to attend the company Christmas party; I wasn’t formally on staff yet but I had left my previous job. We all fit around a long table at Keen’s.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor and Manager of Science Fiction (started September 1988):

I’m pretty sure my earliest memory of Tor is from early 1985, when the company was on 36th Street. I was either delivering something to David Hartwell or picking something up, and my basic impression was of a level of crowding similar to what you see described in articles about the entire population of a rural Chinese village being smuggled into the US in a shipping container. Time has blurred the details, but I’m pretty sure I remember David climbing over a desk, possibly his own, because there wasn’t enough passageway otherwise.

I didn’t visit Tor again until 1987, when my and Teresa’s old friend Debbie Notkin, longtime Bay Area fan and bookseller, moved to New York City to work for a year for Beth Meacham, then Tor’s editor-in-chief.

By then the company was in more spacious digs on 24th just east of Sixth Avenue, complete with actual passageways, offices with doors that closed, and other such wild luxuries. Of course it is a cardinal rule of book publishing that no amount of empty space remains empty for long, because book people believe in their heart of hearts that empty space exists primarily in order to stack immense ziggurats of books into it. By the time I starting working full-time in the Tor offices in the fall of 1988, first as a temp and then as Debbie’s replacement, the place was well on its way to recapping the crowdedness of old. These days we occupy well over a floor’s worth of the famous Flatiron building, and yet just the simple act of getting from my own office, past Liz's desk, and to the hallway is often an athletic exercise in dodging teetering stacks of papers and books. Perhaps in the glistening new age of books made entirely of pure electronic virtuality, book publishers will luxuriate in unimpeded vistas of tastefully-appointed, largely-empty space. Do you believe that? I don’t.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Consulting Editor (started February 1988):

Among my jobs as Associate Managing Editor was checking sets of first-pass galley pages that had come back from proofreaders. One day I found a query from a proofreader that I couldn’t answer. The author had implied a relatively recent date for some major point of Catholic dogma—I think it was Immaculate Conception, though it might have been Papal Infallibility—and the proofreader thought it must have been older than that.

My boss Martha Schwartz was away at that moment, so I went across the office to the Editorial corner, stood in the passageway between their cubicles, and asked as a general question whether anyone knew the date at which that particular doctrine was promulgated. The results I got impressed me for three reasons:

1. I was immediately given the answer to my question.
2. More than one editor started to answer it.
3. The editor who got the answer out first wasn’t Catholic.

That was the first moment I remember feeling like I was starting to understand what kind of place Tor was.

More 30th Birthday Musings: Funniest Memories * Professional Fans * Into the Future

14 comments
Rikka Cordin
1. Rikka
April 23rd is Friday. I know because it's /my/ birthday!
Liz Gorinsky
2. TooMuchExposition
Holy cow, we've apparently been suffering from some massive date confusion. Friday is right. We'll fix that ASAP.
Bridget McGovern
3. BMcGovern
Also, happy birthday, Rikka! Thanks for setting us straight :)
Caleigh Minshall
4. caleighm
This is the cutest! Can't wait for more stories :)
Nicholas Alcock
5. NullNix
PNH's comment on book people and book ziggurats is absolutely spot on. Everyone reading this already knows that it doesn't just apply to publishers' offices, and that any filing system to keep the books in order will immediately be overwhelmed, no matter how carefully one might try to maintain it.

Also, how did Patrick see inside my living room? :)
Richard Fife
6. R.Fife
Having visited the Tor offices when they were empty of people, I can only imagine what they are like when they are full. I don't think I was so aware of the vast storehouse of knowledge and ideas that surrounded me even when I visited the Library of Congress or the "stacks" at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (3rd largest library in the world, fyi, beaten only by Yale and LoC).

For the rest, gosh darn it, you make me want to work on the publishing side instead of the creating side of the house, just listening to the stories. Of course, that'd be to join the enemy, wouldn't it? (ignores his by-lines and who his technical employer is)
Jason Erik Lundberg
7. jelundberg
Book people believe in their heart of hearts that empty space exists primarily in order to stack immense ziggurats of books into it.

Apt, and absolutely true, Patrick.

April 23 is also World Book Day, which I think is a lovely coincidence.

Happy Birthday, Tor! To another 30 years and beyond!
Jason Erik Lundberg
8. jelundberg
Book people believe in their heart of hearts that empty space exists primarily in order to stack immense ziggurats of books into it.

Apt, and absolutely true, Patrick.

April 23 is also World Book Day, which I think is a lovely coincidence.

Happy Birthday, Tor! To another 30 years and beyond!
Irene Gallo
9. Irene
Egads, At 17 yrs, this makes me a more-than-half-lifer at Tor....and _still_ junior to everyone else who chimed in. This is both scary (ie, my age) and a great testament to Tom's leadership.
Brit Mandelo
10. BritMandelo
These stories were adorable and sweet--excellent post.
Marcus W
11. toryx
Happy Birthday, Tor.

I can't help but think of all the times that I've passed the Flatiron building (including four or five times last weekend) and thought fondly of those offices that I've never even seen. My brief foray into publishing gives me an insight into what it'd look like but I still hope to have an opportunity to visit and see for myself someday.
David Dyer-Bennet
12. dd-b
Love hearing these bits of history!

I've been in the current Tor offices, and that gives me some standard of comparison for the degrees of crowding in the earlier smaller spaces :-). I'm guessing fire marshals don't visit publishers very often.
merav
13. merav
Happy birthday, you guys! May you have many more.

My favorite early Tor memory was discovering that whoever was doing the filing before me had been happily bypassing the entire cabinet in what was then Jim Minz's office, and simply creating duplicate files in the two adjoining cabinets, which were both in the hall.

I figured it out when I discovered that an entire series had no file whatsoever in the visible cabinets, which seemed deeply suspicious, so I went and looked and sure enough, there was another whole file cabinet. Sixteen hours of cross-correlating later the file system was back to Tor standards of normal.
merav
14. Katya Pendill
How wonderful! Happy birthday to Tor!

My job interview at Tor was indicative: Tom liked it _a lot_ that I'd paid my way through college working in sales; Jim asked me about my studies and said "anyone with the nerve to be a classics major deserves a job." I found out that afternoon that I'd got the ultimate tripartite + job: Tom's assistant; Jim's editorial assistant and managing editor! Thank heavens for Harriet, who became the best mentor anyone ever had.....and we went on from there.

One of my favorite memories of Tor was being informed by the folks in accounting that I was eligible for extra vacation time based upon length of service. When told the amount of time, I was amazed, as was Tom. Both our jaws dropped when we learned that I was eligible for more vacation time than Tom, as I predated him on the payroll. The joys of having been the first employee!

Thanks Tor for the superlative startup experience, and for friends I have to this day.

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