Monday, October 22, 2012
What happened with Me with Strange Horizons

I’ve posted my article that was supposed to appear in Strange Horizons today here on my site. The Eleusinian Mysteries of Octavia E. Butler: The Mother-Daughter Struggle in Parable of the Talents I withdrew it last night from publication. Why did I withdraw my article? Well, here’s what happened… (and please forgive the typos and grammar mistakes. As I am kinda still upset about this, I really really don’t want to go over this post again)

When I submitted my latest article to Strange Horizons for publication, I held my breath for 64 days before I got my acceptance email on August 1 of this year. That’s when things became strange. They assigned me an editor who remained silent on edits until I sent an email to “poke” her on Oct 2. She gave me some excuse then the next day sent a .doc file as an “edit” but what is clearly a re-write of my piece. And I was given 3-4 days to respond. Here is a .pdf of what was sent.

I was taken back. And then I got angry. Many of these “edits” not only re-wrote my essay but demonstrated that she didn’t understand what my essay was about while cutting out whole sections of the piece and even introducing a new thesis.

I pushed back. I said that I needed more that 3-4 days to go through this file and said I would take a week. I took my original piece, swallowed my spit, an went through what was sent to me, trying to eek out as many useful edits as I could and returned my essay to the “editor” (and cc’d to the editing management of SH) with this message in an email—

Looking over your edits, I have to say that I’m a bit surprised. This is a complete re-write of my piece. I will happily update my essay with suggestions that improve the piece, but I will not re-write my work into another person’s voice.

A few days later I received another set of edits. This time it was closer to my original and yet still there were sections of text re-written by the “editor” this time with no markup in the file at all and with code in it. Here is a .pdf of what was sent.

First I had to convert it to HTML and pull the file up in a browser so that I could read it. Then again I went through it as best I could over the course of a few days finding numerous sentences changed sometimes, it seems for no reason. THIS GOES AGAINST THEIR OWN POLICY, as stated in their article submission guidelines:


We prefer not to edit heavily. If we like your ideas, but feel that your article needs significant editing for those ideas to come across, we’ll send it back to you with lots of suggestions and recommendations. Otherwise, one of the articles editors will fix typos, correct grammar (unless used in dialogue) and adjust punctuation to our house style. We might change the odd sentence, but usually only after checking with you. Once the article has been converted to a web document, our proofreaders go over it again and find any mistakes the editors missed (or added).

I went through my essay finding places where my words were changed into the editor’s words. Many times for no reason. The sentences would basically mean the same thing or sometimes a shade of meaning would be lost in the editor’s “translation.” She even removed a cite stating that “the Eleusinian Mysteries” is common knowledge. Well, I don’t believe it is common knowledge and I demanded that my cite be returned. This is what I stated in my email—

* On page 1, first sentence, 2nd para, The cite of the “Classical Mythology” from Oxford University Press was there to clarify the Eleusinian Mysteries in historical and academic depth. You removed it AGAIN. You stated in the earlier edit you removed it because you believe this story is “common knowledge.” Well, I do not believe that it is common knowledge, so I have replaced the cite. Thought, I am using “Encyclopedia Mythica” instead of the Oxford citing since the Oxford site is now asking for a username/password and I am unsure if this is a glitch or something new they are doing to their otherwise free and open sources. I did the cite formatting to the best of my ability to conform with SH standards. ===> Also the Eleusinian Mysteries WERE a part of the initiation rites into the cult of Demeter as I stated in my original text. (Please look at the source that I am citing or type “initiation rites Demeter” into Google and this can be seen to be clearly so) Therefore this sentence has been returned to its original form.

She wrote back to me that the “Encyclopedia Mythica” was not a scholarly source. So Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D. writes a piece that is published by “Encyclopedia Mythica” and she is not a scholarly source? I don’t know this woman, but in her defense I would say that yes she is. (The editor sent back an email later that she had jumped the gun and that this was a good source). AND STILL she was changing my text!! We were supposed to publish this essay on Oct 22 and on Oct 21 my text was still being changed!!! With no notice to me, no involvement with me, and without my permission.

So I pulled my essay. If it is not going to be my words, my thoughts, my essay, then my name is not going on it.

Now, I don’t know what is going on Strange Horizons. I know that they have gone through a recent change in editorial staff. Yet, I cannot understand why no one stepped in even after I’m cc’ing everyone on their staff. It’s been dead silent from them on this thus far. I was hoping beyond hope that they would have said something, done something. Instead I got this email

Dear Ms. Brissett,
I’m sorry to hear this. We were very much looking forward to publishing your piece. We take a commitment to robust scholarship seriously, and it’s unfortunate that Vanessa and yourself were unable to work out a solution that addressed both our concerns and your own.
Best of luck,
David Nagdeman
Senior Articles Editor
Strange Horizons

to which I responded

> “We take a commitment to robust scholarship seriously,”

This has nothing to do with scholarship. It has everything to do with someone re-writing another person’s work. I would think that SH would have some sense that one writer would not appreciate another person changing their words. It would have also been appropriate for the editorial staff to reign in you editors, given your own policy.
I know that I am not a big name. I know that I have no clout in the science fiction world. But I feel a great deal about the integrity of my work, not to mention the integrity of Octavia E. Butler’s work, whose legacy is something the piece was all about trying to preserve in the first place. If I were to allow the essay to be published as it was and with your editor still constantly changing my words without informing me, it would not have been my essay at all. Actually, as it stands because she was still changing things I have no idea what would have been put up on your site tomorrow, but it would have had my name on it.

If my work was so bad that it needed a complete rewrite, why did they accept it in the first place?? 

I am beyond sick about this. I really wanted my work to be published in Strange Horizons. I cannot believe how badly I have been treated here. I’m so insulted by this whole process right down to that last email. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in days. I suppose what shocks me about all of this is that I didn’t expect this from SH. I have never heard of this kind of behavior from them before. Yet, here it is. Strange Horizons is one of the first speculative fiction magazines I ever read. It is where my first published work of anything was published which was an interview with Sheree R. Thomas. I guess I shouldn’t have let this get to me the way that it did. But I wanted this sooooooooooooooo much. I have lost all respect for the magazine and it will be a long time—if ever—that I will be able to look at it again. Integrity has to mean something in this world. Apparently, I was dealing with some people who don’t understand that.

In the cool of the morning of the next day: My guess is that this happened because I ran into an “editor” who is a former classics major who wanted to write her own essay about something she felt she was expert on. She lost sight of her job and SH failed to do theirs in terms of reigning her in. Her job was not to rewrite my essay but to catch grammer mistakes, make sure it was formatted into SH standards, and make MY essay the best it could be. In the end my essay and its thesis that Octavia E. Butler used and ancient myth as a theme in Parable of the Talents was lost in the shuffle. For that I am very sorry ... and hurt.


Posted by Jenn on 10/22 at 11:24 AM
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Categories: Science Fiction Writing

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