Shoplifters World

I learned two valuable lessons during my marketing of this story about a department-store detective and the strange discovery he makes.

Lesson Number One: Even when you think you’ve kept a copy of the original manuscript of a story, check again: When I received my contributor’s copy of the Winter 1983 issue of The Magic Aura, I was horrified to see that almost every line of the story had been rewritten. And in those pre-computer days, I was even more horrified to discover that I had not saved a photocopy or a carbon, something that I was usually meticulous about. So as far as I’m concerned, my story of this title no longer exists. Don’t expect to ever see it reprinted, as I doubt that I could ever reconstitute it from what saw print. Shame on the editor for doing such a heavy-handed edit without my approval, but shame on me for not making sure that whatever an editor might do, my original story would still survive.

Lesson Number Two: Never rewrite to an editor’s suggestions unless you fully agree with those suggestions, even if it means passing up a potential sale: In February of 1981, at age 25, I hadn’t yet learned enough about the history of the science fiction to know what is now said about the talents of legendary editor Horace Gold—that he could take a mediocre story and turn it into a good story, but that he could also take a great story and turn it into a good story. (He was, as I learned, also the man who wanted to give “Flowers for Algernon” an upbeat ending.) But I didn’t know this at the time, so when I received a letter from Gold that began with the magic words, “I’ll buy this if you’ll … ,” I was thrilled, and proceeded to do (or so I thought) exactly what his specific and very detailed suggestions requested. I even used the replacement title he recommended—”Jake’s World.”

Well, he bounced the story quickly, as can be seen by the dates on his letters—he originally asked for the rewrite on February 25, and then rejected it on March 10. Perhaps this was because my rewrite was done half-heartedly, without believing in it, but that doesn’t explain why he didn’t like the new title I’d used, even though it was his title! That made me leery of rewrite requests. From that day forward, I only rewrote when an editor pointed out something that, if I had been a better writer, I would have had the sense to realize would improve the story in the first place.