Dean from Cthulhu Reborn was recently going through a cache of old documents handed to him by Horror on the Orient Express writer Geoff Gillan, and found the following epistle. It is addressed “Dear Famous Orient Express Author” and signed “Infamous Orient Express Editor”.
I had forgotten all about this. It’s the form letter I included when I sent out the 8 numbered editions of the typescript manuscript for the original campaign. This was the version before it left Australia and went to Lynn for editing. I donated my copy of the ms. a while back to Paul of Cthulhu for the archives at Innsmouth House, aka the home of Yog-Sothoth.com.
Here is Dean’s scan and typescript of the letter. It’s not quite a Letter of Note, but it was cool to see this again after 20+ years. Warning, it contains a Bad Word.
Dear Famous Orient Express Author,
This is it, your personal copy of the entire manuscript. Hang on to it, because whatever Lynn publishes, it's going to be different in many billion ways. The Willis Edit is going to be as different from the Morrison Edit as, say, the Morrison Edit was from your own work.
Which brings me to my next point. I'm sorry, but I did what I hadn't planned to do when I started out on this: I changed things. In some cases not much, in some cases quite a bit. These were my objectives:
- To try to keep the page length down. Where something was said twice, or perhaps not said in the most economical way, I pared it back.
- To mesh with the entire back story, as interpereted by me. If your scenario tossed up something that I couldn't work with, it went.
- To conform to certain conventions that I developed while working on this. The principal one was, I wanted to avoid predicting the investigator's emotions and actions as much as possible.
- Unless the plot required it, or something needed to be explained a bit, I did my level best to avoid inserting anything new into your work. I hope you can still look at all (or, at least, most) of it and think, yep, I did that.
I've had my own scenarios rewritten. I've found in them things that I would not have put there myself. Some added to the work, and some detracted from it. In one case I found something in there which I found morally repugnant (I may be on thin ice here. I set a horrible situation up; the editor just explained it in a way that I would never have). So I know that when someone has been clomping through your prose, it's a bastard of a thing to have to look at. But I also came to understand that, when you're editing a roleplaying book, which is after all a product to be marketed, you have to shape it in the way that makes most sense to you. So I did.
I don't really mean to grovel or snarl here, I just wanted to let you know that things happened. I reckon that, as it stands, it's a fucking great book. I hope you'll agree, without a diminished sense of your own invaluable contribution to it.
Infamous Orient Express Editor
There it is, 1991 Morrison trying to placate the authors. You’d have to ask them if it worked or not. I’ll write more about editing then and now in a future post.
And, as for the “morally repugnant” scenario, I think I know the one I was referring to, and I ran it again recently without thinking twice about the content. 1991 Morrison was so sensitive. Looking at it again, I think the editor really did just come out and say what I’d put in there psychologically, and in doing so made the scenario more true. If you can’t stand the horror, stay out of the abattoir.
Thanks again to Dean from Cthulhu Reborn for dragging this missive out of the archives for me. He does splendid work, and has recently cooked up some super PDF versions of three of our scenarios from long ago, originally published on Shannon Appel’s Chaosium Digest:
- Penny’s 1920s Dreamlands scenario Porphyry & Asphodel;
- Geoff’s 1990s scenario The Past is Doomed;
- My scenario Deadwave, adapted by Dean for 1890s, 1920s or Modern.
5 responses to “Infamous Orient Express Editor”
Fascinating stuff – what was the morally repugnant scenario?
Glad you enjoyed it. I thought I’d leave the scenario unnamed, because I might have remembered the wrong one. With luck, all of my work from those times will have a whiff of moral repugnancy to it. If it’s the one I think it is, it was only one small detail, and the editor was right and I was wrong (and something of a prat about it, it seems).
Ah ah, Morrison, a letter I didn’t receive ( which is quite understandable as I was lost in Charenton Asylum at the time 😉 Should we point some of these good people to a treasure trove of such letters, or does the spoiler heavy content make it a really bad idea?
Aha! When the trove has been unearthed in full I had in mind to request that we represent it here in chronological order, with your permission. Spoilers there are for sure, not merely the details of the plot but also the sordid arguing of writers. Roll SAN!
Less cryptically, we refer to Christian’s amazing archive of original Call of Cthulhu letters, posted on Yog-Sothoth. Enjoy!
great, Mark. I am poised to unleash some really great letters, the last ones of the bunch, but they’re FULL OF SPOILERS, be warned. Of course the archive can be reproduced here in chronological order, but that’s a lot of work… I’ll see if I can help by putting the files in order and then we’ll see how to do it