February 2, 2011
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An Editorial Nightmare

An editor for Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2011 seems to have decided to improve Mima Simić’s story, “My Girlfriend”. Simić is very unhappy about the changes, especially one that establishes the narrator as male when the author had taken great pains to keep the narrator’s gender ambiguous.

I don’t write straight stories; and I don’t want anyone to be straightening my stories, in any way, sexual or textual—and certainly not without my consent.

A surprising train wreck, all the more remarkable because Dalkey, usually Web savvy and sensitive, seems slow to get off the dime on the question. The changes can be interpreted as political, though a more charitable (and, I suspect, more probable) interpretation might be that a junior editor or intern got carried away or didn’t think things through. In that case, Dalkey’s editors wouldn’t want to leave the intern on the clothesline, but a blanket “OMG what were we thinking?” would help.

There’s also the possibility of “gremlins ate my file”; no one meant to make changes, but changes were made. Things happen. You open a file one evening, you say to yourself, “I could make this better,” you take a shot, and you realize you were wrong. You quit – and you never noticed that you hit “save”.

Or, you get the letter from the outraged author. “I didn’t touch it!” you say to yourself. “Heads will roll!” You ask everyone, but no one touched the story. No one can figure out how the change happened. Small presses are busy places, nobody has enough time, nobody has enough computers. And of course the backups are inconclusive, and fresh deadlines loom. In the old days, you’d Blame The Compositors. Now, I think it’s the fault of the office pixies .