Wed
Apr 21 2010 6:32pm

Tor’s 30th: T-2: Professional Fans

Today’s question celebrating the thirtieth birthday of Tor Books was suggested by editor Kristin Sevick:

What was your most gratifying—or most embarrassing—fanboy or fangirl episode since you went pro?

It was no real surprise to find that the anecdotes that emerged feature some of the biggest stars in the specific universe; and it’s no exaggeration to say that one of the biggest fangirl perks of my own (relatively) short career has been getting to work alongside people with stories like these.

Beth Meacham, Executive Editor (started February 1984):

The most gratifying AND most embarrassing moments have been when I was put in a position to edit writers that I grew up reading. I was an SF-reading kid; I grew up on Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Gordon Dickson, and Robert Heinlein. To say I admire them is a colossal understatement. And since I became an SF editor, I have answered the phone and had a voice say “This is Robert Heinlein.” I have discovered Isaac Asimov waiting outside my office to deliver a manuscript…he always delivered his manuscripts in person. I have edited, actually edited! Gordon Dickson. And had a good time doing so, despite the fangirl inside going “squee.”

Claire Eddy, Senior Editor (started August 1985):

I had been on the job for a couple of months. My office was a corner space just outside of Beth Meacham’s office; my desk faced the corridor and people would walk by all day long. I soon learned to tune it all out. One day I was working on a manuscript and was deep in the process. I heard someone laughing gently in front of my desk and I glanced up…to see what for all the world looked like a disheveled leprechaun. He grinned and whispered, “Do you want to know a secret?” Wondering how this person managed to get into our offices, I said, sure, trying to judge if he was safe to talk to. He leaned in close and pointed at the manuscript saying, “Doing what you’re doing. This is best part of all of this!” He winked and then walked down the hall to Tom’s office. I got up slowly, wondering just who this guy was and should I let somebody know he was wandering our halls…and was properly introduced to Ian Ballantine, creator of what we know as the mass market paperback, and Tom’s mentor.

Thank heavens I didn’t call the cops. But he was and is right about the editing part of my job…

David Hartwell, Senior Editor (started November 1983):

Most gratifying moment:

Luncheon celebrating his clients (Bester, Herbert, Heinlein, Pournelle, and many others) hosted by Lurton Blassingame in the penthouse suite of the Worldcon hotel in Kansas City in 1976 (Big Mac). There was a buffet, and little teeny tables on the quarry tile balconies. I sat down and was joined by Virginia Heinlein and Sally Rand, who had never met. I hope you know who they are because it is otherwise too long an explanation. They were both charming and profoundly uncomfortable with one another. I will dine out on the substance of their conversation for the rest of my life.

I choose this over the dinner in Philadelphia at which Connie Willis and Nancy Kress were topping one another with outrageous gossip, only by a small margin. None of it is repeatable. I have had a gratifying life as an editor.

Irene Gallo, Art Director (started July 1993):

Jeez, it’s like everyday is a squee fest around here. It’s one of the great things about working in both science fiction and illustration—the boundaries between fan and pro are so fluid. I can’t imagine two other industries that would get me as close to my idols as these. And, almost invariably, those “OMG, I can’t believe I’m working with so-and-so”s turn into old friends after a few years.

Melissa Singer, Senior Editor (started January 1985):

My favorite fangirl moment, which was actually more than a moment long, was when I became Robert Bloch’s editor. I mean, he was ROBERT BLOCH!!!!! He’d scared the pants off me more than once while I was growing up. He was an icon, a master, creator of some of the scariest stuff ever put to paper. By that time, I’d met many of my childhood idols, but usually they were being edited by someone else so if I went all weak at the knees or said something stupid when I shook their hands, it wasn’t exactly a disaster. I’d started in the business very young, at 19, and many writers were extremely gracious about my social awkwardness and the ineptitude of youth.

And then there was Robert Bloch. Who was old enough to be my grandfather. Who was Robert Bloch. I mean, how could I possibly be Robert Bloch’s editor? I was just a kid from Queens!

Bob was the most kind, gentle, warm-hearted, and wonderful person. He and his wife, Ellie, kind of adopted me; they’d send me little notes for no particular reason at all (I have been lucky to have had several adoptive grandparents in my career, including Verna Smith Trestrail, daughter of E.E. “Doc” Smith. I loved her to pieces.) and we spoke often. When we were first introduced, by Tom Doherty at a convention, I think I babbled senselessly for several minutes, but Bob was quite used to that and waited patiently for me to run out of steam so that we could begin a real conversation.

Once I had the pleasure of visiting Bob and his wife at their home, one of those modern hilltop residences commonly associated with people who work in the film and television industries. It had huge glass walls and I remember that the living room was all white—deep-pile shag carpeting, sectional furniture, modern art pieces scattered about. I met Bob and Ellie’s cats, who magically never seemed to shed on the white furniture and were pretty cuddly.

Perhaps my favorite Bob Bloch memory is of a working lunch we had at a convention—we were discussing body disposal methods and talking about his new book. Yes, I actually edited Robert Bloch, and he was a dream to work with. He loved discussing the ins and outs of plotting and characterization and was happy to plug away on something that wasn’t quite working until he got it right. Anyway, our lunch discussion was rather graphic, and when I returned to the same restaurant with a different author the next day, the host informed me that Bob and I had totally creeped out our server the day before. I assured him that our conversation had been completely innocent. Later, Bob and I tried to remember exactly what we’d been talking about when the server had visited the table, and concluded that she had probably overheard either our conversation about insect development in corpses or the best way of using quicklime.

I had the pleasure of working with Bob on several books and never quite got over the fact that I was working with ROBERT BLOCH.

And there was this: early in my career at Tor, I was in LA, visiting authors. My first night in town, the phone rang in my motel and it was Harlan Ellison. I’d known Harlan for a few years by then but we weren’t working together. He’d heard through the grapevine that I was in town and had called the Tor offices in New York to find out where I was staying. Upon hearing that I had no dinner plans for that night, he invited me to his and Susan’s home for chili.

I walked in and was introduced to Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Frank Miller. My little heart went pit-a-pat—I’ve only been a comics geek since I was 6, after all. I kept my mouth shut and my ears open and had a wonderful time. Plus I got to see Harlan’s really cool house, eat excellent chili, and drink out of Harlan’s collection of jelly glasses.

The next day I called my parents and told them all about it. And because they were both SF fans and my dad was a comics fan, they totally got it.

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

I'm pretty sure my second biggest “fanboy moment” in twenty-one years at Tor was the time that Tom Doherty and I were informed that Arthur C. Clarke was in town, briefly, staying (as he always did when in New York) at the Chelsea Hotel, just three blocks down 23rd Street from Tor—and that the great man would be pleased to grant us an audience that afternoon.

Mind you, when most people think of the storied Chelsea Hotel, they think of it as a shrine to several generations of New York bohemia. Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road there. Residents have ranged from Mark Twain and O. Henry to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Andy Warhol directed a film about his Factory residents' life at the hotel (Chelsea Girls, 1966). Sid stabbed Nancy at the hotel.

So one of my favorite contrarian facts has always been that, while God only knows what other Dionysian rites were going on in that shambling structure on West 23rd Street in the high palmy days of 1967, Arthur C. Clarke was also there, writing the novel to accompany his and Stanley Kubrick's shimmering paen to apotheosis-via-technology: 2001: A Space Odyssey. And why not? Everything contains its opposite. There was always a coolly rational, self-assessing side to the eruptions that we now call “the 1960s” (meaning, of course, 1964 to 1972). And there has always been, at the core of the most shirt-pocket-protector-y, horn-rimmed-glasses-ish “hard SF”, a tropism toward transcendence. Nobody epitomized this better than Arthur C. Clarke, whose work, over and over again, culminates in what I once called the “numinous explosion of mystical awe that's built up to, step by rational step.”

So of course we walked over to the hotel. And met the large Sri Lankan family whose multigenerational family business appeared, in fact, to consist of taking care of Arthur C. Clarke. And were ushered, down echoing halls festooned with abtract art, into a large, high-ceilinged room, almost bare of furnishing, in the middle of which sat Clarke, in a wheelchair, alone. It was like one of the quieter scenes from Dhalgren as directed by Stanley Kubrick. Clarke kindly asked after our well-being and then proceeded, with the aid of a file folder full of fan letters and media clips, to talk uninterruptedly about himself for about an hour.

That makes it sound dreadful. It wasn't. Let me be clear: when you achieve as much as Arthur C. Clarke, I'll be delighted to listen to you talk about yourself for an hour as well. Tom and I were both honored. It was as pure a “fanboy moment” as one could want.

(Afterwards, Teresa tried to get me to remember the contents of the Clarkean clip file. “Well, there was a note from the Dalai Lama,” I said. “He has very elegant stationary. It just says ‘THE DALAI LAMA.’”

(“That stands to reason,” Teresa said. “If you want to reach him, just pray.”)

But: second greatest fanboy moment? I'm afraid so. I already wrote about the greatest one, right here on Tor.com. And I suspect that will be my record-holder for a long time to come.

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

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