From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a novel about a struggling writer who gets his big break, with a little help from the most famous woman in America.
After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackieor Mrs. Onassis, as she's known in the officehas fallen in love with James's candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family. But when the book's forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can't bring himself to finish the manuscript.
Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page...
From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a funny, poignant, and highly original novel about an author whose relationship with his very famous book editor will change him foreverboth as a writer and a son.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Steven Rowley is the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus, which has been translated into nineteen languages. He has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist, and screenwriter. Originally from Portland, Maine, Rowley is a graduate of Emerson College. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
She moves quickly and with purpose, threading the tight corridor between a hedge maze of cubicles and the string of office doors. Her stride is serious; I have a thousand questions, but the snap to her step suggests I should select only one. Maybe two. Nope, one. I try to take everything in, to remember the details-I'm going to want to recount them later, to relive this in my head-but we're moving so fast. I see paper. Lots of paper. And push-pins, I think, colorful ones, tacked directly into the cubicle walls, holding calendars, schedules, memos, and important lists (more paper!) in place. Marketing standees announce titles as Coming Soon, and a parade of book covers framed like art hang evenly spaced on the walls between doorframes, following me down the hall as if I'm viewing them through a zoetrope.
"I'm sorry, where are we going?" Just like that, my one question wasted. And I hate that I apologize. I have been invited here and I need to act like I belong before they figure out that I'm the wrong guy. An imposter. A dupe.
Without looking back, she says, "Conference room. End of the hall." Then, with barely a pause, "Would you like some water, James?" The sound of my name startles me. Hers is Lila. She told me, by the bank of elevators, where we were introduced. My agent's assistant told me it was Lisa, but that's typical Donna. Thank goodness Lila introduced herself before I had a chance to call her by the wrong name. That would have really started things out on the wrong foot. Lila has blond hair, but not so blond that you can't take her seriously. I really like her shoes.
"No. No water, thank you." I can't imagine walking this fast with a glass of water and not sloshing it everywhere, on my sleeve, or-heaven forbid-down the front of my pants. "I'm sorry I was late." Another apology, but this one is warranted.
"You were five minutes early."
Was I? "I'm usually ten minutes early, so in that sense I was late."
Lila ushers me inside the last room at the end of the hall. "Here we are. Conference room." She stares at me, and for the first time I notice her clothes are impeccably tailored. She's serious for a beige girl. That's what I've heard people call a lot of young women in publishing. I'm not fond of the term; it reeks of an unnecessary sexism. They're called that, beige girls, because they wear understated monotones and sweaters to match. But this girl (woman!) is a different animal. Power beige. Like a café-au-lait color, or camel or ecru.
"It's nice," I say, about the conference room, which is stupid. It makes me sound impressed, like I've never seen such a room before, and of course I have. I've worked at pretty much every office in Midtown in a never-ending string of toxic, depressing temp jobs. This conference room is exactly like any other conference room, with a bulletin board, a whiteboard, a phone in the center of a long table (at least I think it's a phone-it looks somewhat like a light-up game I had as a child), and a set of dry-erase markers.
"It serves a purpose." Her enthusiasm is considerably less than mine.
Yes, conferencing. For some reason I try to sell her on it. "It has everything. Even a window." Then, as an afterthought, "Anyone ever jumped?"
"Out the window?" She is appalled. I can tell. She tucks her hair back behind an ear while pursing her lips.
"It's just . . . I can imagine these meetings get a little . . . I mean, I know I'm feeling . . ." Fraught? Power Beige is just staring at me. "I'm sorry." I cringe. My third apology inside two minutes. "You're not interested in my twaddle."
For the first time in our incredibly brief relationship, she perks up. "I'm interested if you're going to jump out the window."
"I promise I'm not going to jump out the window."
She exhales. Disappointed? Perhaps. "Why don't you just have a seat, then." We've officially run out of things to say.
Which I abhor.
I pull a chair back from the table and start to sit and then stop. There's a loud ringing in my ears similar to the one I would get as a kid after swimming endless summer hours in Lake George. "I always thought I'd be more of a pills person."
"More twaddle?" There is the vaguest hint of a smile. She's joking with me, letting me know to relax.
"Ha, no. It's just, I don't like it when other people have to clean up my messes." Talk of suicide has gone on so long, it may be professional suicide. To change the subject, I try to steer us toward business. "So, my manuscript. You've read it?"
I replay that last bit in my head; it doesn't sit right. "Not that I think my manuscript is one of my messes! I just wanted that to be clear."
"It was. Clear." Lila picks up a dry-erase marker from the table and sets it on the lip of the whiteboard. In doing this, she softens slightly. "And even if it wasn't, that's an editor's job sometimes. To clean up."
"And you're interested? In being my editor?"
"You ask a lot of questions."
"It's nerves, I guess. I tend to . . ." I make a motion with my hands like I'm vomiting words. Lila grabs the corner wastebasket and holds it out for me. She smiles again, this time more broadly. I decide I like her; she has the ability to play along.
"No," she responds.
"Oh." I can feel the heat in my cheeks.
"You're here to meet with someone else."
"Oh my gosh. I'm sorry. I was told by my agent's assistant to ask for Lila. Well, she said Lisa, but she can't read her own handwriting." I'm going to have real words with Donna for putting me in this predicament.
"James, it's okay. I set up the meeting for you and this editor."
"And he liked it? The editor I'll be meeting with?"
"Sorry." Apology number four! I wince. This must be some sort of record.
"Take a deep breath. We're not really in the business of calling writers in to personally tell them how much we didn't like their work."
A wave of relief. "No. I don't suppose that's the best use of anyone's time."
"It's easier to do that in a letter."
"I received plenty of those," I say, before realizing how unvarnished that truth sounds. "Well, not plenty. A normal amount." Pause. "Lila." I use her name as punctuation, unsure if it sounds like an exclamation point or a period.
She pulls the chair out farther and pats the back of it. "It won't be long now. If you'd like to have a seat."
I sit before I get myself in any more trouble, and she leaves the room, closing the door behind her. I swear I can hear her chuckle on the other side before heading off down the hall.
Alone, I rifle through my bag to make sure I have a copy of my manuscript, should they ask to see it. I do. I walk over to the window and press my forehead against the glass to look straight down at moving vehicles that look like Matchbox cars. SPLAT. That would do it. I cross back to the phone. What was the name of that game? Simon. There's one visible button, and without thinking, I push it. It beeps loudly and I jump, but then there's a dial tone. I push the button again, quickly, and it stops. I pray the commotion doesn't summon Lila. She would not be pleased.
I've been a writer for ten years. Since I graduated college. Or maybe it's twenty-five years. Depending on when you start counting. My mother had an old Swiss Hermes typewriter when I was growing up; I have no idea where she acquired it or why she had it, but it was a thing of beauty to me. It was robin's-egg blue and came with a lid that clamped to the typewriter itself, turning it into a stylish, if heavy, attaché. The keys clacked and the bell dinged and I always pulled the lever for the carriage return like I was casting the deciding vote in a crucial election.
"You're not writing about me, are you?" I remember my mother asking, when I was only seven or eight years old. Like many of her questions, she delivered it more like a command.
"No," I would say, and at the time that was the truth. My stories were small, trite, about cats and the neighbors with the horse stables and a pond in the woods that wasn't much more than a puddle. But I felt they carried literary heft once they were typed. To me, typing was akin to publishing. I lived for that typewriter, and I would agonize when the ribbon became twisted, or the keys stuck, and I needed my mother's assistance. She didn't prioritize typewriter repair the same way I did. When I would point this out to her she would roll her eyes and say, "One day you can tell your therapist." She said that about a lot of things. But instead of getting a therapist, I became a writer. Instead of telling one person, I aspire to tell the world.
I rearrange the thumbtacks in the bulletin board on the wall into a peace symbol before having a seat. At least I think it's a peace symbol. It may be the Mercedes-Benz logo. I often get those two confused, so I get back up to undo my work in order to keep my mind on track.
I had some early success. As a writer. Two short stories published in two different literary journals. With typical youthful naïveté, I thought it would always be that way, but, of course, it wasn't. I took odd jobs to pay bills, convincing myself the whole time that these jobs provided life experience-essential to a writer who wants to have something important to say. But I don't have much insight from these experiences to share other than how to make coffee and remain invisible in a room full of people and battle a growing depression. It's been years now since I've had anything published, so long that I wonder if it's still acceptable to call myself a writer. That thought in itself is depressing, so I sit. Someone, an editor, is finally interested in my work, I remind myself, and I have to make the most of this nibble. I have to turn it into a bite.
Then I have to turn that bite into a sharklike chomp.
As soon as I'm settled in the chair the door opens. A woman enters, immediately turning her back to me so that all I can see is her slender frame and that she is a brunette and tall. She closes the door, taking pains to do so as gently as possible.
I scramble to my feet, knocking a knee against the table with a deafening whack. And even though I want to scream out in pain, to sink back into the chair and massage my leg, when she turns around and I meet her gaze, I stop. And then, strangely, I begin to bow.
Because . . . because . . . I don't know the protocol.
I don't know the rules of conduct in this situation.
But I no longer feel any pain. I don't remember that I have knees, that everyone has knees or what knees are even for. I'm completely mesmerized by her hair, blown back and resting gently on her shoulders, and a demure smile both shy and radiant. I look down at the ground as if I've dropped something, convinced when I look up again it will be someone else, a look-alike, perhaps, a woman who molded her style after hers.
But when I look up it's still . . .
It's you. I almost say it out loud.
She's immediately recognizable. Her posture, her eyes-there is no mistaking her. Of course I know who she is. But that's an understatement. I try to breathe. Have I not been breathing? In fact, it's perhaps the biggest understatement in the history of understating things. Which on its face sounds hyperbolic, but in this case I don't think it is. It's not even whatever falls just shy of hyperbole. Embellishment? Overstatement? No. It's a simple declaration of fact.
Because everyone knows who she is.
Now I try to remember how to breathe. What is breathing? The process of moving air in and out of your lungs. It involves the diaphragm? Something expands, something collapses, the blood gets what it needs. Oxygen in, CO2 out. My inner dialogue is as deafening as it is dull.
"James," she says. "Lovely to make your acquaintance." Her voice is breathy, impossibly feminine, even in her . . . I try to attempt some quick math . . . late fifties? She's wearing dark slacks. A cashmere pullover. A jacket. It has shoulder pads. Chanel, maybe. Something distinguished like that. I'm not good with designers or labels. Daniel would know. He knows these things. She's very still and her gestures are small, her arms stay close to her body; it's as if she's spent a lifetime trying not to make sudden, attention-grabbing moves. When she steps farther into the room, she glides with a seamless light-footedness.
"I'm Jacqueline," she says, somewhere between the French and American pronunciations. That voice! Is it real? Is it really addressing me? She holds out her hand and I watch as my arm rises reflexively (lifted, perhaps, by an invisible bouquet of helium balloons), and as my hand reaches out for hers, I try to say something, but words fail me. That's not good for a writer. She looks at me quizzically before moving her hand the rest of the way to meet mine. We shake. Her skin is soft. My only thought is that she uses lotion. "You are James, aren't you?"
I blink. My own name somehow passes my lips. "James." I manage another word. And my last name. "Yes. Smale."
She smiles and our hands drop back to our sides. "Very good. And you were offered something to drink?" She pulls back a chair for herself but hesitates before sitting.
"Not anything strong enough for this."
"I'm sorry?" Her apology has an airy lightness; it's not clumsy like mine. It's less an expression of regret and more a cue for me to make yet another apology myself.
"No, I'm sorry. I may be in the wrong place. I was told by Lisa to wait here for an editor regarding my manuscript." It's a sentence, but it ends on an upswing, impersonating a question.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Editor is a fictional novel about first time author James Smale who sells his book to Doubleday during the 1990's only to find out his editor is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The story is very lovely and awkward and funny at times as James tries to feel comfortable with his new editor and not make a complete fool of himself in the process of getting to know her. As Jackie and James do begin to bond, James' other relationships, with his mother and family, whom the book is based, on begin to fall apart (more than they already had been), as does his long-time relationship with his partner Daniel. Although he looks to Jackie for notes on his book, she seems to sense his anxiety and tries to give him the life advice he so desperately needs to finish his work and perhaps make peace with his life. One of the best chapter sequences is the Thanksgiving Dinner at James' mother's house. Most of us can empathize with the tensions that sometimes erupt, and how deeply hidden secrets can come spewing out! I laughed and gasped and laughed again! But throughout the book it is his relationship with Jackie which helps him to finally find a grown-up ending for his novel and perhaps assists him in actually becoming a real man himself. The writing is so creatively crafted and although completely fiction, what a testament to Rowley's writing style to make you feel James' relationship with Jackie really took place. I loved the humor, the insight and the sadness he brought into the story. Great story!
The Editor by Steven Rowley is a highly recommended novel about a debut author with a famous editor. Set in 1990's NYC, James Smale is a struggling writer who has an editor at a major publishing house actually wants to publish his first book. When he discovers the editor is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mrs. Onassis, he is incredulous, tongue-tied, and awkward during their first meeting. Mrs. Onassis loves his autobiographical novel about a dysfunctional family, but feels that he needs to resolve his troubled relationship with his mother to find the truth behind their relationship and, in turn, her motivations in order to help him fix the ending of his novel. James' mother, however, is not thrilled with a novel about her and doesn't want to talk about it. The premise of the novel focuses more on James and his relationship with his parents. His partner Daniel is loving and long-suffering as James works through the editing process (with Jackie!) and is rather self-involved. The truth behind his relationship with his mother leads to a shocking family secret being revealed. Although Jackie is a part of the novel, the main focus is on James. Jackie's role as an editor is more that of a guiding force to lead him to the greater truths behind his family's dynamics. The writing is very good in The Editor. The plot is a little slow-going and introspective as James reflects on his life with both of his parents. It is definitely a novel about James and not Jackie, although dealing with her fame is part of the novel as is a sort of friendship with James. The main focus of the novel is the roots of a dysfunctional family, a long-held secret, and, ultimately, forgiveness. This is a popular premise for a novel, although in this case The Editor is dependent upon Mrs. Onassis as the editor to set it apart. This wasn't completely successful. James is a well-developed character, although not always that likeable. With all the contemplation of his past interactions with his father and his mother, the plot is definitely dependent upon the reader keeping their interest in James and the outcome of his confronting his mother and finishing the ending of his book. He is an interesting character, but also perpetually awkward and nervous. His mother doesn't come across well at all. She's distant and passive-aggressive. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.
What a captivating read. The main character, James Smale, is an author, and the reader follows his journey from writing to self-discovery. Every book carries pieces of the author. This book beautifully illustrates that process, and the impact it has on this author was illuminated and keep me riveted to the story. While the title may be The Editor, this is much more a story of an Author.
An aspiring gay novelist in 1990s New York lands a publishing deal exploring the estranged relationship between a mother and son and discovers his Doubleday editor is none other than former First Lady of the United States, Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The Editor was touching, introspective, and full of nuanced emotional character arcs. Right off the bat: this story is not focused on Jackie Kennedy. She is a pivotal character, but her arc in The Editor takes a strong third place to the events of both the protagonist and the protagonist's quest to finish his novel. One of the strongest aspects of The Editor is its sense of place—you never forget you're in the 90s. Talk of Clinton's election is prominent throughout and the perception of the homosexual community feels accurate to the time period. The Editor follows James as he works (under Jackie Kennedy's direction) to find an accurate resolution to his novel, which involves the painful confrontation between the protagonist and his aloof mother. This is an obviously autobiographical work, as James himself has many conflicted issues with his mother and is attempting to repair those bridges indirectly/directly through his novel. One of the book's selling points is in the reparation process between James and his mother—it was fascinating. However, due to the nature of James' constant search for internal reparations and external quest for resolution I found sections of this book to be long winded and entirely focused on James' thoughts and feelings. There were huge paragraphs with no dialogue and minimal action at the start of almost every chapter, lending a sense of odd pacing and making me bored with James. As soon as the dialogue/action resumed in each section, I reengaged. Overall, a great read! Recommended for fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and others who enjoy intimate and emotional tales.
Francis is an insecure stereotypical new writer who has written and just sold his first novel. He has been assigned an editor at Doubleday, the publishing firm that just bought his novel. What he does with that editor will determine whether his novel is published or lays dormant. What follows is an oh so normal but poignant story, a gift in James’s life. Imagine the surprise when James meets Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or “Mrs. Onassis” as she invites him to call her. Down-to-earth, practical and inspiring, she leads James to rewrite the end of his novel which both know is incomplete. This involves James having to explore the depths of his relationship with his mother and father. The family is known for skirting around important issues, replacing truth with sarcasm and edgy humor. While this is occurring, Mrs. Onassis invites James to her summer home where they explore the title Ithaca, its meaning and the journey that is yet to be finished. They share meals, drinks and funny moments. Jacquie treasures her privacy and never goes beyond snippets about her past, all of which are poignant reminders of what she has endured. The reader picks up her implications that she just wanted to be normal and not a continuous fixture of American fascination. However, since that is a fantasy, she does what she can to maintain a regular life as an editor (of fourteen years). Her fascination and admiration for his novel lies in the recognition “as familiar truth, but also as wisdom you’re hearing voiced in a new and articulate way.” Francis’s lover, Daniel, seems oddly less supportive of Francis’ efforts but does the best he can. Mark, an assistant of Mrs. Onassis, is helpful but also one step short of coming onto Francis. Who is Francis? A man aching to be seen in truth by his family and lover. There are poignant secrets that gradually are revealed which dramatically change the writer’s life with his mother and help him to recognize and admire her truth as a person. It’s described as an erupting volcano, a healing end to his finally finished story. The ending of this novel, in which readers fall in love with James, his family and Jacquie, is so sad as he honors the marvelous journey he has made with the loving support of his friend and editor. Remarkable, powerful, endearing historical fiction that readers will remember forever! Lovely, simple yet profound writing that makes this reviewer want to read more from this skilled writer! Highly recommended!
I actually squealed when I first read the synopsis for this one. I thought it was such a clever idea for a historical fiction book and I was really impressed with the author's ability to think a little outside the box. Instead of having a story revolve around Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her time as First Lady, this book features a writer who receives quite the surprise when he finds out Mrs. Onassis is going to be the editor for his book. Her time working for a publishing house and the last few years of her life haven't been written about as much as some of the earlier periods of her life so I was excited to read this one. I wouldn't even say I'm a big fan of the Kennedy family, but I do find them fascinating, particularly the women, and find myself reading either historical fiction or non-fiction books about them every once in awhile. Now while this book falls into the historical fiction category it is more fiction than fact based. Essentially the author took a fact about Jackie, in this case she was an editor, and used his imagination to come up with the rest of the story. All in all, I think he did a pretty good job at depicting the former First Lady. I loved how this book took place in the publishing world in the 1990s and really enjoyed that feeling like I was getting an inside look into the process a book goes through before it is published. I was actually surprised at how much depth there was to the story as it wasn't just a simple story about a writer and his extremely famous editor. It takes awhile to head in a meaningful direction but it does eventually explore some interesting subjects including mother-son dynamics. So if the whole writing thing or even Jackie O isn't all that appealing consider checking this one out as you might still find it to be a worthwhile read. The only small criticism I have is I didn't like the plot device that was used during the Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, it set the stage for things to come but I was still disappointed. Basically I wish the author would have come up with something else in order to accomplish everything he wanted to in the rest of the story. This is just a nitpick though as overall I really enjoyed the book. Definitely recommend as a good read. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy! I was under no obligation to post a review here and all views expressed are my honest opinion.
Steven Rowley, Author of “The Editor” has written an entertaining, intriguing, heartwarming, and amusing novel. The Genres for this Novel are Fiction, and Women’s Fiction. The author describes his characters as determined, motivated, complicated and complex. Some are dysfunctional and quirky. The story takes place mostly in New York City. around the 1990’s. James Smale is a struggling writer and finally has some luck. He is going to meet his new editor about his autobiographical book, which does describe his dysfunctional family. James has a very estranged relationship with his mother. James Smale is absolutely shocked to find that his editor is none other than” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.” I loved reading about the friendship that evolved between the former first lady and James. It reminds me of a “normal” mother-son relationship. James is challenged to complete his novel and unravel some frightening and dark secrets in his family. I appreciate that Steven Rowley describes the difficulties that authors do, and speaks about communication, family, friendship, forgiveness, love and hope. I would recommend this novel to readers who enjoy a delightful novel.