Let Me Tell You a Story

by Hilary B. Bisenieks

Back when I was young–well, younger than I am today–and the biggest publication credit I had to my name was a piece in my high school lit-mag, back when I first realized that I wanted to Write, I wrote a story.  Compared to my more recent work, it wasn’t much, but it was the first story I’d written of which I was proud.  I thought it was pretty good.  Not only that, but other people thought it was pretty good.  So good, they told me I should try to get it published.

Back in the mid-80’s, back before I was born, my father worked for Amazing Science Fiction.  The head editor at Amazing was a man named George Scithers.  During my early childhood, George lived a few blocks away from us in West Philadelphia.  My dad would take me to George’s house when he went to pick up manuscripts that he was proofreading for George, and I would marvel at all the books and the old-fashioned phone on the wall and the huge desk that dominated George’s study.  George would call me “Sprout,” and toss my hair, and then he and my dad would talk books for a little while.

Later, George took the reins at Weird Tales, a magazine which I revered, even though I had read very little of its recent publication run.  I knew the name because it had helped make a name for Lovecraft and others back in the 20’s.  I knew that I wanted to get published there.

So I polished up my story, found a big envelope, and sent my manuscript to Weird Tales.  By this point, George was living in Maryland, and that’s where Weird Tales was being published from, otherwise I mights have been tempted to walk the MS over myself and stick it in the mail slot of that house on Larchwood Street.  And then I waited.

And I waited.

And one afternoon, there was a phone call.  Not to my cell phone, the number of which I had put on the MS, but on the house phone.  It was George.  He told me that he’d read my story.  He was a great man for many reasons, but one certainly was that he’d read anything by anyone, regardless of whether he’d heard of them.  Of course it didn’t hurt that he’d seen me grow up.

He told me that he thought my story was “damn good.”  His words.  For real.  Then he took half an hour to tell me how it could be an even better story.

So I sent a revision.  And he sent back a marked up copy, telling me in no uncertain words what needed changing.

By the time I sent my next revision, there had been an editorial shakeup at the magazine, and George wasn’t there to give his time to a young, unheard-of writer like me anymore.  Several years later, I heard that he’d died.  I was sad.  I’m still a bit sad.  Sad that George didn’t get to see any of my stories published.  Sad that I lost my first writing mentor.  Sad that the sf/f community lost someone so amazing.

And today I’m sad that, after another change in leadership, Weird Tales has betrayed the trust of its readers and betrayed the vision that George, and Ann VanderMeer after him, worked towards to promote good, chilling, dark, beautiful weird fiction.