acquisition story, 2006: summer at tiffany

On Friday January 27, 2006, I traveled to San Diego–for my very first trip to California–to attend the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference for a weekend of workshops, consultation appointments, and meetings with aspiring authors. Days before the conference began, I received ten pages each of twenty-five separate projects, whose authors I would meet over the long weekend.

As my plane took off from New York, I dipped in to the various folders, making editorial notes of counsel and advice that I would pass on during my appointments before wishing them good luck. And then I opened a manila folder whose attached title was “Summer at Tiffany.”

I still have that envelope.

As I read the opening pages, I immediately felt that I was right there on the double-decker bus with Marjorie and Marty: desperately hoping to get a job at Lord and Taylor; devastated when it looked like hope for a position as a shop girl was lost; and nervously following Marty’s charge through Tiffany’s front door with my own timid steps. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be them. And I certainly wanted to know what happened next. Closing my eyes to get some sleep (editors work straight through a conference weekend and I’d left for the airport at 4:30am) I started thinking about my own twenty-first summer, when my best friend decided on a whim that we must get summer jobs on Martha’s Vineyard–and also of my own first day in New York City in 1998, which serendipitously ended at William Morrow, with an unexpected and unscheduled job interview—and days later a job offer.

Arriving in San Diego a few hours later, and meeting up with fellow attendees, including agent and editor friends, I could speak of nothing else but how I couldn’t wait to meet Marjorie Hart. While I had until Sunday morning to make my decision amongst my 25 submissions as to which project would receive my “Editor’s Choice Award” for the conference, my decision had been made. Without meeting a single writer on my list, and before even knowing where her story would lead, I already had a feeling that this author and I were meant to work together. But when I received my schedule, and saw she was meant to be my last appointment of the weekend I could hardly stand the suspense, and worried that there would be another agent or editor, who couldn’t get enough of those opening pages of “Summer at Tiffany.”

When at last we met for our consultation appointment in the last hours of the three day conference, Marjorie wore a blue ribbon announcing the prize she had won, as my “Editor’s Choice” and an incredulous expression. I gave her hug as we sat down at the table, and began to tell her how much I had loved reading her chapter, and how I was determined to publish her book. She shook her head in disbelief as I told her how I couldn’t wait to read on—asking her if this was just the beginning, or if she already had a manuscript.

Having been overwhelmed by the conference whirl, Marjorie was still cautious that my enthusiasm would wane and she showed me a one page pitch sheet that she had prepared about her book in the hopes that she could convince me that there was something there (not knowing I was already head-over-heels). Her one page pitch took my breath away, and confirmed my instincts. Marjorie’s further description of a dizzy summer in the big city in the company of her best friend, working at one of the world’s most iconic stores and interacting with individuals such as Old Man Tiffany and Judy Garland was irresistible. And so was the Xerox copy of the 1945 Tiffany brochure she told me she had been given to her by a colleague at Tiffany on her very last day (that showed me just what the store must have looked like when she served as a page on the sales floor).

As we talked, Marjorie told me how her granddaughter had spoken with her the night before our appointment and told her not to worry, that if someone didn’t fall in love with her story that she was prepared to go to New York and approach publishers one by one until someone took notice. But Marjorie also confided that she had always just thought of her story as being just for family—she’d written it for her grandchildren after her retirement and had never imagined while she wrote and revised for all those years that it might one day be published–but she had decided to come to local conference and try her luck.

Though she was still skeptical, I reassured her that I couldn’t wait to read more, and we talked for a long time before she had to go and call her family to help her believe that this was all very real. She attended Loretta Barrett’s famous “Mock Auction”–on which I was a panelist–later that afternoon (which illustrates for the audience how book deals sometimes come together from submission through sale), and then we said our goodbyes, and I promised Marjorie I would be calling very very soon.

I returned to New York City and the office on Tuesday morning off the red eye–after a whirlwind one day visit to Los Angeles for the first time with author Lolita Files–and called Marjorie as soon as it was late enough on the west coast to do so. I’d already shared my discovery with my Publisher, and proved to him the story’s truth by producing the author’s W2 form from 1945.

Over the weeks ahead Marjorie sent me the additional chapters that made up the manuscript. From my first pitch at the William Morrow editorial meeting (that first day I returned to New York City from Los Angeles), I established a “fan base” amongst my colleagues for whom I would Xerox each latest chapter as she delivered it to me. Some loved Summer at Tiffany for what it said to them about the power of best girlfriends, others adored the heady, intoxicating, and familiar feeling of coming to New York for the very first time; one lauded the “Frank Capra-esque” quality of Marjorie and her best friend’s Lucy and Ethel antics; and yet another told me the story of how his parents took him as a child to Marjorie’s favorite lunch spot The Horn and Hardart Automat—telling him to remember the moment, as the Automat would soon be no more.

As winter melted to spring in 2006, I couldn’t wait to see what came next in 1945 as her story arrived–chapter by chapter–but knew as well as we celebrated the Eisenhower Parade and VJ Day, mourned the loss of life in the Pacific, and as Marjorie’s Manhattan heat gave way to cooler breezes, that we were growing close to the end of her fateful summer that changed everything…

Working with Marjorie toward the final draft of her manuscript–is sure to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my career (even spending both Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends in the AC-free office trying to get everything done so the book could make an April 2007 publication date–just in time for Mother’s Day.) It’s not often in our fast paced, modern lives that two very different generations of women born fifty-one years apart, and living 3000 miles apart, have the opportunity to meet, and to become close girlfriends in their own right—though its also very much our modern era and its airlines; long distance; email; and expanded opportunities for women that made our connection possible. In the first six months that I knew Marjorie and worked with her on her manuscript, she became very dear to me as I got to know her, her husband, and her family (from her four children to her grandchildren) from across the continent. I can hardly imagine 2006 without our daily phone calls, letters and emails in which we shared everything from her shock thay I would walk home from the office after 10pm to her mother’s recipe for Kringla.

We had no idea that summer and fall of 2006 as it went into production–the last illustration commissioned of the Astor Hotel; the final permissions cleared with The New York Times; incredibly generous blurbs received from Adriana Trigiani and Emily Giffin (through the kindness of the book being shared by editor Lee Boudreaux and agent Stephany Evans)–all that would happen in the spring of 2007 and beyond once the book went on sale. But we’re both thrilled for all the readers who have loved spending a summer in 1945. And I am very grateful to Marjorie’s children and grandchildren for allowing “their” favorite story to be shared.