She Let Me Know What She Didn't Want

She told me that she was "not interested in O. Henry stories."

Judith Moore remains an enigma to me.

When first asked to write for the Reader, I was instructed to run everything by Judith. Who was this lady? Why did she live in Berkeley if she edited a San Diego paper?

I no longer remember the first piece I wrote for the Reader, but I still remember the first time I spoke to Judith. Her aloof tone made me feel like a fool. I like to know the people I work with, but Judith projected a barrier not to be crossed. I wanted to ask her about herself, but I didn't dare. I also wanted to be published and improve my skills. Judith helped me by letting me know what she didn't want.

She never told me my introductions were unnecessary. She just slashed them. If I had an idea for a story that didn't work, she said, "That's not what we're looking for," and it was over.

I made the mistake of testing her once. Someone approached me with information about a corrupt doctor. I e-mailed the idea to her. She responded with "That's a good way to get sued." I tried to go over her head by e-mailing the editor-in-chief and in five minutes found my e-mail returned by her, reiterating that I should leave the story alone. I was convinced that she would stop sending me work. I was wrong.

But she didn't give me much advice either. Once, when I had a story idea that was loaded with irony, she told me that she was "not interested in O. Henry stories." She made me feel foolish so often I could have hated her, but I knew she didn't hold her position on the strength of her pithy comebacks. Talent deserves respect. Still, I communicated with her only when necessary. I finally saw another side when I sent her a sincere compliment on a piece she had written about poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. She e-mailed me her thanks. Then she called. She was warm and appreciative. I was even more confused.

When she died, many of my writing peers expressed a great sense of loss, so I was determined to learn more about her. I read her memoir Fat Girl. It was sad to know how much she suffered. I had a fat period as a preteen that still haunts me, so I empathized -- but it was too late. Judith was a talented writer and editor. She knew what she was looking for. For some, she was a mentor. For me, she was a boss, and I regret that I never got to know her better. Of those who knew her as a mentor, I remain jealous.

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