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Monday, November 29

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Feature Mon Dec 20 2010

Answers and Questions: Carol Fisher Saller

Answers and Questions is a biweekly column that asks Chicago writers to remember the funniest or strangest things they've been asked in a question-and-answer session, during a talk, or in an interview.

Carol Fisher Saller, author of 2009 book The Subversive Copy Editor, gets a lot of "off-the-wall questions" as editor of the University of Chicago Press's Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A:

"How do I get gum off of concrete?"

"In serial colons, should the last colon be replaced by a comma?"

"There's this guy I like. How do I get him to notice me?"

But the most awkward questions I remember were at a panel last year at the Chicago Cultural Center. The panel was called "Going Pro: Taking Your Literary Venture to the Next Level," and my part was to talk about the editorial issues involved. I thought I'd made it pretty clear that my background was editorial; I had a handout called "50 Questions for Editorial Planning." The other two panelists talked about the business aspects (profit vs. nonprofit, how to use corporate-speak, getting funding, etc.).

Three of us spoke, then a moderator directed questions to us individually. She started with me -- and I didn't know the answer. I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that I don't know everything and that it's not shameful to admit it. So I lobbed the question to one of the other panelists.

When it was my turn again, I couldn't believe it -- the second question was also completely outside my area! (Both of the questions were based on the assumption that I had actually started a literary business of my own at some point.) Deferring the first question might look cool and confident, but doing it twice would just look stupid. So I took a stab at it.

Blab, blab, blab -- I spouted nonsense and sounded like a bag of hot air. I should have said, "Honest, I really do know stuff! You just have to ask the right questions." I might at least have gotten a laugh.

Anyway, I learned my lesson: next time I'm on the spot, I'll go for funny instead of fathead.

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