When I started this blog, I had the same trepidation I had when I began work on Victoria. Would I find enough material to engage readers and followers? The first day that the doors of our new offices opened at Victoria and we were joined for the first time with the advertising staff (an unusual situation in the magazine world back then), I absolutely panicked. I called my husband and related that here were all these people whose livelihoods were depending on whether or not I would be able to produce enough engaging material. The wise man, I love so, remarked: "Nancy, you could make a good story out of a piece of ribbon." Well, I don't know about his unbounded confidence, but we did manage to produce issues of the magazine for a good many years--a good many stories. And some of them about pieces of ribbon.
I have just finished reading a review of Francine Prose's new book, Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, entitled The Girl in the Attic. It's evidence that when you keep your pores open, good material comes your way. Francine wrote for us several times as Victoria, and I'm sure that she would have been a writer in residence if I had stayed on at the magazine. She's not only a gifted writer, but a woman committed to her subject matter. She had a core that I've always admired. (On a personal note, one of our staffers lived near Francine's mother in Ulster County, and we all felt a personal connection to her through this lovely lady.)
By the way, I stay fiercely proud of our writers program. We brought good writing and good writers to our audience. Some were familiar, like Madeleine L'Engle; some were new voices, like Susan Minot. Kitty Ross, our literary editor, did a fabulous job of managing our literary side. The book she edited, called The Quiet Center (it has since been retitled) was a celebration for our 10th anniversary. What better heritage could Victoria have than to encourage talented and perceptive women in the last decade of the 20th Century to write of their lives and times?
So it seems that material comes naturally to me for this blog. In many cases, blending my past editing with my present inclinations. Read the review in The New York Times Book Review, and you'll realize what an inquiring mind Francine Prose has. When you combine that with good writing and good instincts, you have a work in the tradition of books to pay attention to.
And now to Anne Frank's diary: One of the things I took comfort from in the review is that many publishers in America turned the book down. All kinds of reasons, for saying "no thanks," and among them was the quality of the literary content. This book that has been read by millions the world around and its relevance was missed by the people who were supposed to know what people want to read. I suppose that as a person who has been told "I don't think so," more than once, I have to toast the brave souls who said "Yes!" and took a chance on something they believed in. There should be a special hall of fame for them somewhere; some prize that goes to the publishing house or film studio that went with their better instincts instead of the prevailing winds. I don't know if houses have an office for the "no's" to be reviewed, but it wouldn't be a bad idea. They might discover a book like The Diary of Anne Frank or a film like Casablanca.
If you're being told you're crazy about your pursuing your aspirations, always listen. After all, there are lots of wonderful and successful books published by people who know a thing or two. But also give the judgment a healthy degree of skepticism. If something is burning a hole in your heart, pay attention. It might take time and courage, and even if it doesn't work, at least you tried. If I sound like a Pollyanna, blame my grandmother. She taught me to tilt at windmills when I really thought I had a good reason to. Success stories, please.