Monday, October 12, 2009

The Girl in the Attic

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.


  1. No success stories (yet) for me except that once I was working for a mean boss who dismissed all my ideas on a serious subject matter. After reading a pertaining article in The Boston Globe, I penned from my heart, a letter to the editor that was printed the next Sunday. The office phone rang off the hook with calls from my boss's colleagues wanted to talk to me. My boss came in a simply sniffed, "Nice letter."


  2. Good morning, Nancy,

    Victoria opened my eyes to so much wonderful literature. I loved the literary quality of the writing and the presentation of books both old and new. One issue included an essay, I believe, with George Eliot's quotation, "It is never too late to be what you might have been."
    Now, in my 50s, I'm fulfilling a lifelong dream and am in my third year of studying for a degree in French. I know that I will have just 10 years or so to teach, but I'm content. I lived overseas for 20 years (Victoria was treasured in my jungle home) and raised my children. They all have their degrees, my husband has his, and now it's time for mine.

    Victoria's examples of women who forged ahead has influenced me in many, many ways. And now, I'm finding new kindred spirits through blogging.

    I'm so thrilled to be writing to you. Your dream and vision of Victoria lingers long.


  3. I'm delighted to see the word "once" in your reference to a boss who obviously didn't deserve you. I think you have given us a success story. You didn't just sit back and sulk. I've always disliked the term "boss," unless it was said with affection. Most enterprises require that everyone feels part of the mission. Yes, somebody has to make decisions and take the heat for them--but if that person is wise, he or she gets all the input one can from people who do the work. Those people should always feel free to pitch in ideas. A good leader weighs the options then makes the best decisions. I suspect Mr. Mean Boss didn't go far in his career. And if he did, more's the pity. Perhaps he had redeeming features, we'll give him that.

    When efficiency experts are hired by companies, the first thing they do is talk to the workers--the ones that management wasn't listening to, for whatever reason. Companies pay lots of money to find out what a trip down the hall and a sit-down over a cup of tea or coffee could have accomplished.

  4. How inspiring a post, Nancy! I love it! For the last few years I've been toiling away as a food writer and enjoying it for many reasons, but, as many people do, had ribbons on colorful passions as yet unfurled, one being my adoration of all things fashion. This past year, I decided to take that passion to the next level, after years of giving it short shrift by costuming only myself for special presentations at a local cinema (one that shows silver screen classics). I asked our community playhouse if they could use a costumer for an upcoming production of "The Importance of Being Earnest". You won't be surprised to hear that they leaped at it, but had some small concerns when I gathered diverse garments they thought might not "work." I asked them to trust me, and they did (what else could they do?). The production ran, a judge from the New York State theater association came to adjudicate and....drum roll, please,....I was awarded the honor of an "Excellence in Costuming" by that august body! Can you imagine how thrilled I was...and how encouraging that was for my fledgling effort? My director was overjoyed and so proud she wept. I'll admit to a few happy tears, too. Next up: Murder on the Nile, set in out world!!!
    Karen Marline, newly minted COSTUMER!

  5. Nancy - words can not express how happy I am to read your journal. When I found out that there was a blog by "Nancy Lindemeyer" I could't believe that it could actually be you. Your Victoria saw me through so much, and I treasure each issue (I have them all). I even have one autogrphed by you during an event in Glandale, CA some years ago. Thank you for coming back to us and sharing your life and thoughts. You have been missed.


  6. Nancy - I found Victoria at a time in my life of change from the parent of a busy teenager to an empty nester. Victoria was such a small miracle for me, but I didn't realize how much it changed my outlook and daily life until you so graciously allowed us back in your life.

    Each issue seemed to speak to me to reach out of myself and dream. My home not only changed from what I called a "teen hideout" to a serene haven, but I sought out some artistic challenges I had long forgotten. The introduction to writers and artists-in-residences inspired me read more and look at everything around me with fresh eyes. One of my biggest inspirations was Toshi Otsuki. Right now his photo spread from "Gardens of Pristine Beauty" in May, 1990, is open before me. I could never even touch his magical work, but it hasn't kept me from trying.

    One issue introduced me to shadowbox pictures and I now have a very small home business called Captured Memories. I love to take special pictures and combine them with keepsakes to create a family memory. One of my Captured Memories used pictures of a beloved uncle and glasses and springs from his clock repair hobby. When a cousin told me it captured just exactly who he was, I felt great.
    My children and grandchildren have enjoyed my effort of scrapbooks with family memories and pictures.

    Thank you Nancy and your staff for creating magazines that we all read over and over. Each time I see and feel something I missed. Best of all I am loving hearing your voice again.