Before Production Went Paperless…

By Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Senior Editor

Those walls on 24th Street, the ones that didn’t go all the way to the ceiling? Their load-bearing capacity was limited. Nancy Weisenfeld, Tor’s first full-time managing editor, installed a set of bracket-and-standard shelves on the wall of her office, and like all managing editors, immediately filled those shelves with several thousand pages of manuscripts.

One day, while Nancy was briefly out of her office, the whole wall came down, covering her entire office with an alluvial flow of genre fiction. It happened that William Rotsler, the sometime novelist and prolific fanzine cartoonist, was in the office that day. The above cartoon ensued. The reader will note that while the part of David Hartwell is played by a generic Rotsler Blob, the glowering Beth Meacham is startlingly recognizable.

The cartoon, inherited from Beth, has lived framed above my office door for over two decades, as a reminder of several things—not least of which are Tor’s roots in the kind of science fiction fandom that included people like Bill Rotsler.

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7 thoughts on “Before Production Went Paperless…

  1. Are you sure that he didn’t look in through my computer moniter and see my office? It sure looks llike that :>)

  2. I’m happy to say you’ve conflated two old Mg. Ed. war stories, which gives me an excuse to tell both of them.

    1. What’s wonderful about Rotsler’s cartoon, aside from his instantly recognizable caricatures of David Hartwell and Beth Meacham, is that he drew it before the Great Shelf Collapse. Rotsler was in the Tor offices on a day when David Hartwell was piling manuscript after manuscript onto Nancy Weisenfeld, burying her figuratively but not literally. Rotsler nevertheless perceived the essential truth of the situation, as demonstrated by later events.

    2. Nancy installed the bracket-and-standard shelves in the Managing Editor’s office, but it was her successor and former assistant, Tracy Kuehn, who let them fill up from top to bottom, back to front, and side to side. It was a piece of pure luck that Tracy had stepped out of her office for a few minutes when the shelves collapsed.

    The next Managing Editor, Martha Schwartz, refused to allow the shelves to be re-mounted on the walls, on the grounds that people would just put stuff on them and it would all happen again. Martha kept manuscripts and repro in the department’s file cabinets, all of which took to spitting out their ball bearings and breaking down. The vendor’s response to complaints about this problem was a classic: “You must have put things in them.”

    Martha’s successor (me!) successfully petitioned for a freestanding steel shelving unit that was rated to hold bins of machine parts. Not only did it not collapse; you could use it as a ladder if you needed to get at something on the ceiling.

    I forget whether Robert Legault or Kij Johnson was the Managing Editor who came up with the final solution: make someone else store the repro.

  3. Hilarious, Tracey then went on to fill the shelves at Berkley Books/Putnam (JOVE BOOKS) from top to bottom, back to front, and side to side. I would get in and out of her office in a hurry always wondering if the shelving would hold or if I would be covered in manuscripts. Good thing I hadn’t seen this cartoon then or I never would have set foot in the office.

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