Tor’s 30th: T-3: Funniest Memories

For the next stop in our brief series commemorating the thirtieth birthday of SF publisher Tor Books, I’ve asked some of our long-time employees to tell me their funniest memories. Practically everyone who responded started off their story with some variation on, “But the stories we can’t share are even better!” I suspect you’ll have to corner these guys in a bar to hear those stories, but they’ve still managed to relate a fantastic crop of memories that won’t get us into too much trouble, and are even (mostly) worksafe.

T-3: Tuesday: “What was the funniest moment in your career to date?”

Beth Meacham, Executive Editor (started February 1984):

I don’t think anything will ever top the big presentation of a year’s list to the buyers at a Big Chain. We arrived in the offices with our presentation on slides in a carousel, having been assured they’d have a projector for us. And they did. But the first projector didn’t work. So a second was found. And the bulb on that one burned out two or three slides into our presentation. There wasn’t a third projector. There wasn’t a replacement bulb.

Tom, Ralph, and I did that presentation while passing the slides themselves around the table so that the buyers could hold them up to the light and sort of see the covers and sales keynotes. I think it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

Claire Eddy, Senior Editor (started August 1985):

Hmm, that one is a bit harder. There are a bunch of funny stories but many that can’t be printed.

More amusing than funny, I remember we had a young editor here for a number of years, Anna Magee, who delighted in all things gothic and macabre. She would decorate her space to reflect this…right down to the gang of plastic rodents that lived on her desk. It always was a treat to watch visitors who came to Tor during the holidays as they would turn a corner, look at Anna’s desk and say, “Um, is that a nativity scene filled with rats?”

David Hartwell, Senior Editor (started November 1983):

Probably the funniest moment in my recollection at Tor was that moment at SMP Sales conference in Teaneck, New Jersey in the 1980s, when the corporation was not feeling well-heeled, when we went into dinner and the main course was franks and beans. You had to be there.

Close behind that was the wholesale sales conference in Florida at which they put a squirt gun at each place setting. By the time dinner ended some Tor people had gone mad and attacked each other and most everyone nearby.

A lot of collateral damage. Everyone got wet.

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

Some of the funny moments are impossible to share, but here’s one that I remember that happened a few years ago:

I’ve been editing both Vernor Vinge and Joan D. Vinge for a number of years—Joan since 1976 when I was working for Dell and we published her story “Phoenix in the Ashes” in the anthology Millenial Woman and then bought Fireship and The Snow Queen; Vernor, I’ve worked with since 1980 when I bought “True Names” for Dell’s Binary Stars series; and I’ve edited all of the novels the two of them have published since.

So it was with some surprise that I was told the following story. Two SF reading guys were browsing the shelves of a specialty store. They were looking at the section where authors with last names that start with V had their books. One guy looks at a Vernor Vinge book and says to the other guy, “You know, I really like Vinge’s books. I heard that he writes under two names—Vernor for the really hard-SF stuff, and Joan D. Vinge for the less-hardcore SF.”

When I heard about this, all I could think was that this guy must think there’s a wonderfully elaborate conspiracy of Vinge’s going on, what with author biographies on the various Vernor and Joan books that must be fictional, since they are “actually” the same person. And the author photos that must be phony, because there are all sorts of pictures of the two of them, one a guy—sometimes with a beard; the other a woman, with not a trace—must be an actress posing for the shot. And then there’s that other thing—if you look at her website, she actually has children!

It made me wonder at the ability of what could only be rumor and active imagination to create disorder in the minds of some readers…

But it’s true. There aren’t a lot of pictures with the two Vinges shown at the same time. Hmmm.

Melissa Singer, Senior Editor (started January 1985):

All my favorite funny moments have to do with sales conference, it seems…

There was a sales conference where we were explaining subcategories of science fiction, fantasy, and horror to the sales reps, a difficult task under the best of circumstances, made worse by it being at least halfway through sales conference, so the reps’ eyes were glazing over. And it was about to be my turn to explain the different types of horror.

Buried under my shy and sometimes terror-stricken exterior lives a performer who has never been afraid of making a fool of herself, and she was determined to make the most of her moment on the dais.

I turned into a carnival barker. I gave a completely ad-lib, off-script “tour” of a haunted house, where each room was a subgenre. I was a little insane at that moment, I think. Everyone woke up—literally, in one case—and started laughing, and some people actually took notes. For the rest of sales conference, people came up to me to talk about it.

Then there was the sales conference where we went to Medieval Times, which was then a fairly new attraction. This was at the height of the time when I and several friends were studying theatrical sword-fighting and stage combat. One of my fellow weapons enthusiasts was Madeleine Robins, at that time another Tor employee; we cast a fairly critical eye on the battles and the sword-slinging techniques used during the Medieval Times performance, much to the amusement of the rest of the editorial staff (and everyone joined in on picking apart the “history” being laid out before us). As we left the performance space, Madeleine and I were deconstructing and demonstrating a series of moves we’d just seen. At the end of the sequence, I “killed” her and she did a lovely backward dying fall…and landed right at the feet of Sally Richardson, publisher of SMP, and Tom Doherty. One of us said something about Tor editors taking their fantasy seriously as I helped Madeleine up, and the nearby reps applauded as we all cracked up.

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

As Claire suggests, many of the better anecdotes from the Plasticene Age* of Tor concern the much-missed Anna Magee, who looked like a demure Wednesday Adams and could deliver a deadpan remark with viciously good timing. Teresa’s cataplexy always got a workout when Anna was around.

One day Teresa and I came back from lunch. Anna had been subbing for the receptionist while the receptionist got her own lunch, and was now headed out to grab a bite for herself. We crossed paths, us getting off the elevator while she got on.

She held the elevator door open and called after us. “Just wanted to let you know,” she said. “Someone phoned and wanted to know whether Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden were husband-and-wife or brother-and-sister.”

“No kidding,” Teresa said. “I presume you straightened them out.”

“Yes,” said Anna, letting the elevator door slowly close. “I told them you’re brother and sister, but you have sex anyway.”

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

* As everyone knows, the Plasticene Age was when plastic dinosaurs ruled the earth.


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