Mormons and Monsters: Musing upon one point of editing


In editing The Fob Bible, I ignored any agony at including my own work. The constraints of the anthology demanded it. With Monsters and Mormons, I was planning on stepping aside and not filling any pages with my own writing. After all, I have generally found it rather obnoxious when editors include their own work. The first time I remember thinking this was reading a humor collection edited by Louis Untermeyer  (Amazon). The book, he claimed, contained only the best work from the English-speaking world’s funniest writers. And then he included himself. So I judged him by his own standard (only twice as hard) and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since. And I’ve read enough anthologies now to know that 75% of the time, the editor’s stories show—not surprisingly—the least editing.

(Note: I’m not including Angela’s story in that 75% because it was good and also because it had been clearly vetted by several awards and publication processes. She didn’t just invent it for her collection under the assumption she was awesome.)

Then Lee Allred said this response to my recent interview with Angela Hallstrom:

On authors putting their own stories in an anthology.

Angela, I feel like giving you a whack upside the head for even worrying about this.

It’s a very common practice, almost expected. (Not counting DISPENSATION, four of the five writer-edited anthologies I’ve been in have had stories by the writer/editor in them.)

As a reader, I always prefer anthologies with stories by the writer/editor. It gives me a benchmark for judging their selection criteria. It also indicates to me that if the author has a story in the book (particularly a new one crafted just for the anthology), the project was important to the author/editor personally (at least enough to spend time and effort writing for it) and the editor isn’t just phoning it in.

DISPENSATION is a much better book in several ways for having your story inside its pages.

I’ve been mulling this over for almost a week now and I would like to do an informal poll:

Where ONE is insufferably pretentious and TEN is evidence of attempted excellence, how do you feel about author/editors including their own work in anthologies they put together?

Defend your number in the comments.

(And please note this poll is not binding upon Mr Morris.)

23 thoughts on “Mormons and Monsters: Musing upon one point of editing”

  1. Seth Roberts quotes from a New York Times book review by Janet Maslin and concludes, “Perhaps Maslin has found that if she writes like this her editors will edit her less, not being quite sure what those words mean. I attended many talks at UC Berkeley in which the speaker left out crucial information, such as the meaning of the y axis of a graph. And, virtually every time, no one asked about it, not even the four or five professors present. Gradually I realized why: they were insecure.”

    So either way, just don’t be insecure about it. Or as my old violin teacher used to say when criticizing timid strokes of the bow: “If you’re going to play a wrong note, make sure everybody can hear it.”

  2. Eugene has already expressed what I think. An editor should have a strong point of view and be invested in a project. If he or she has a story that fits, then I see nothing wrong with it.

    I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do — I’m still focused on my entry for the Irreantum Fiction Contest. But if I do write something, I’ll have no compunction pushing to include it. Of course, if it’s not up to par, then I hope that a) Theric will be straight with me [I’m pretty sure he willbe] and b) I will have the guts to axe my own work. This might be one of the few situations where being a critic and a fiction writer helps rather than hinders. I can be ruthless with my own work.

  3. Now that you mention it, I have noticed that tendency with a lot of the anthologies I have read…but I’m not the slightest bit concerned about your efforts, I expected to see them.

    After all how could you resist writing for this collection? I certainly can’t.

  4. Also: should we decide to submit work, I bet Theric and I could find someone to guest edit our stories.

    And that reminds me of one thing I want to mention: we’re going to protect our submitters so we won’t reveal details about them or their work without permission, but other than that, we plan on being rather open and transparent about the process and progress of this project and (being the bloggers that we are) use it as an occasion at times to mull over certain topics about editing, genre, etc. Probably more than anybody cares about.

  5. Overall, my feelings are more positive than negative on the subject of the editor including his/her own work, though it varies for me depending on context and based on my own perceptions of the quality of the story. In other words, if it’s noticeably worse than most of the other stories, then I’ll think the editor didn’t know what he/she was doing. On the other hand, if the story is a solid one, it helps support my sense of the editor’s credentials.

  6. I’m at a 10, or maybe even an eleven, but you probably gathered that since my remarks kicked off the whole discussion.

    I always prefer the author/editor to have an oar in the water. I’m usually buying the author-edited anthology because the author’s name is on the cover — I’m expecting a story from them.

    In the sf genre, it’s very common to have an author/editor include one of their own stories in the anthology. If there’s a stigma attached to it in the sf genre, I’ve yet to encounter it.

    Often it’s done for economic reasons. Author-editors don’t have to pay themselves for their own stories. It also unbinds the mouth of the kine — the author/editor’s sacrificed writing time to work on the project. Having their editor-self give their writer-self a slot is a reasonable perk of the job. RHIP.

    Frankly, I think this issue is a case of “Mormon Nice” gone amok.* Now, I’m usually the first in line letting my “Mormon Nice” gallop off and get the best of me, but if I ever edit an anthology, I’ll include one of mine in it without a second thought.

    Some might contend editors including their own stories means less space for others, but to be blunt, without them creating the project in the first place there wouldn’t be ANY space. 95% is better than 0%.

    If William or Theric want to include their own stories in MONST/MORM, I’ve no more problem with that then I did Angela including her story in DISPENSATION.

    — Lee Allred

    * “Mormon Nice” seems to be a much more virulent strain of nicety than “Minnesota Nice” — I sometimes wonder if it’s a Scandinavian-heritage thing.

  7. To me it’s a little like the writer/director of a film casting himself in a major role.

    He knows the script, the characters, and his vision for the film better than anyone, so it makes sense that he could carry it. But having said that, he’d better give a good performance.

  8. Frankly, I think this issue is a case of “Mormon Nice” gone amok.* […] * “Mormon Nice” seems to be a much more virulent strain of nicety than “Minnesota Nice” — I sometimes wonder if it’s a Scandinavian-heritage thing.

    Lee, have I told you yet today how much I adore you?

    Re Theric’s work: I vote for inclusion. I like everything of his I’ve ever read. That said, he is my editor, so take my opinion with as many grains of salt as you need.

  9. .

    Given the modern American diet, you probably don’t need any more salt.

    Okay. I’m feeling pretty convinced (which means it’s time for the haters to come out) so I suppose I should start brainstorming.

    Disclaimer as written by my movie-studio-lawyer friend: I promise that if I don’t accept your story, it’s not because I’m stealing your idea.

    Disclaimer as appropriated from William: Rest assured. As he says, we have checks and balances in place to stop me from sucking things up. And I have experience with rejecting my own work when working on The Fob Bible (a novella called “And Jeremiah Is in Prison”; though, if I could do it again, I would also reject my poem “Gomer”).

  10. I don’t think it’s so much Mormon nice as bending-over-backwards to appear objective, which may be a variety of parochial paranoia over appearing parochial.

  11. I know this probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway because I think some of the comments suggest that _Monsters and Mormons_ and _Dispensation_ are the same type of fruit, which they really aren’t. If I understand, Theric, you will be the editor of _M&M_. You are planning to write a story for it and are considering including that work. This would make you both writer and editor.

    Angela, however, did not edit her own story; she included it. Its was edited by the both the good folks at _Dialogue_ and then Beth at Parables. (I don’t really know which came first.) But the writer of “Thanksgiving” was certainly not self-editing.

    I think any editor will be taking a huge risk if he/she edits his/her own work. If its edited by someone other than yourself, your dear friend or your mother–a pro, really, is what I’m saying–and there is a concensus among respected voices that the editor’s story deserves a place in the collection more than this other guy over here, put it in.

  12. I say _M&M_ and _Dispensation_ are different fruit because _Dispensation_ is a collection of previously published (and professionally edited) stories which Angela compiled. But _M&M_ will be a collection of new work, never before handled by an editor or publisher. Hence, an apple and an orange.

  13. Lisa,

    Good points. Taking it a step further, there are two different “editorial” functions that we’re talking about here: selection, and guiding the author in making revisions. For both roles, I think it’s probably a good idea to involve someone besides just the author of the work — but for the latter function, I agree that it’s critical.

    I also think Dispensation was a different beast in yet a different way, in that its publication included an (implicit or explicit) claim to be a selection from among the best of a given literary field. M&M is a rather different thing: an offering of stories within a particular niche. I suspect there’s a lot more stringent standard regarding self-inclusion in something of the Dispensation type, and rightly so.

  14. I find both the characterization of the two projects as well as the need to delineate between the two and any attendant anxiety in relation to issues such as self-inclusion representative of a concern for literary gentility that doesn’t interest me as much as it once did. That doesn’t mean I don’t value those points of view because I need to be pushed back at often. In fact, more often. I’m just reporting where I’m at at the moment in my thinking and interests.

    Let me be clear: my M&M co-editor gave Dispensation a good review, and it’s on the top my list to buy (well, maybe second to Rift). I also hope some day to edit a more literary-fiction oriented project somewhat similar to Dispensation.

    Let me be doubly clear: We’re hoping that writers of all stripes and definitions and levels of experience and reputation will participate in M&M. I have a personal interest in the meeting of literary and genre so I would be very happy if any of the writers included in Dispensation and any of the writers published in Irreantum over the past few years were to try their hand at the challenge we’ve presented.

    And speaking of that challenge/task/lark/holy mission: as hypocritical as it may be, I don’t know yet if I personally as a writer of literary and genre fiction am up to the challenge. We’ll see. And I’m sure I’ll spill all when it comes time for me to take it up.

    As editor, project manager and marketer though, I’m quite sure that I’m capable. This is not an expression of anxiety. I just want to be triply clear that the editor/critic is totally gung ho and armed to the teeth for this expedition. The literary/genre writer is still sitting at the bar fidgeting a coaster.

  15. I’m with Lisa — I don’t mind as long as the story has been edited independently of the author.

    I also think the editor’s experience and name enter into the equation. For a big-name author, sure you generally expect the author to include his story in the anthology.

    But if the author has little or no experience and doesn’t have a name that will attract readers, I’m suspicious when I see their own work in an anthology. I’m less likely to purchase it if I think the editor has put his own story into the anthology to complete the book or fan his own ego.

  16. To quote our current president, “Let me be clear.” I’m fine with an editor including his/her work in an anthology. I just think the editing process leading to publication needs to be top notch and, well, detached from the writer. We all think our stories are “ready” when we submit. I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve never met an editor who didn’t make me look a lot better than I am. No writer should rob himself of that experience.

    And William, I’m glad to hear that you’d like to see M&M combine the talents of genre writers and literary writers. Personally, I love the supernatural in stories, the monstrous, ghostly, creepy crawly supernatural. I’ve messed with the genre in children’s fiction, but not in fiction for grown-ups. I read about this project and, at the gut level, I thought how fun. I’d love to give it a whirl, but I’ve got other projects to finish. Remind us all of the deadline.

  17. .

    The deadline is this October. So you have some time but not loads.

    And I agree that there is a distinct and important difference between D and M&M. Differences I have been mulling for a while now. And while I have no doubt I could pull a story off for this antho, I agree that the editor experience betters any story and I refuse to give it up. With this collection everyone who is accepted will get notes from both William and myself (probably; this is not a contract). If I do include myself, I will want to duplicate that experience for myself.

  18. .

    Now that the book’s been out a year, I’m open to any comments on the middle ground I ended up camping upon.

  19. And this just reminds we that I wish we had gotten a little more representation from the Irreantum/Dispensation crowd, although I’m

    a) very happy with what’s in the anthology; in fact, I thought I’d arrive at a moment where I wouldn’t be (second guesser of myself that I am), but nope. I love all the varied pieces, each in its own way.
    b) we did includes work from Kate Woodbury and S.P. Bailey, both of whom have been published by Irreantum

    And: I’m totally biased but the middle ground worked very well. A clever solution, I think.

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