i n s t i t u t i o n a l  m e m o r y



“I think the reader has rights.”

It has been remarked that book publishing as a so-called gentleman’s occupation began to change about the time the phrase publishing industry came into use, around the mid-1970s. If true, it marks nicely the beginning of the kind of change I have been interested in tracing in the business of making and selling books.

Is it true, however: has the gentleman’s occupation changed so much, so quickly? Perhaps my assumption is faulty? An editor and publisher of long experience told me that he’d like to take the notion of “gentleman’s occupation” and kick it in the head. I liked this and asked him to say more. He did, and a lively conversation followed.

Substantially, however, what has changed in the business of making and selling books? For I think it can be agreed that enormous change has occurred. What sorts of people went into publishing then? Are they a different sort now? Are there fewer good books, more bad, than ever? Is the art of editing no longer practiced well in the trade? How can we speak of publishing “houses” after conglomeration? Do conglomerate managers know anything about books? I have been inquiring of distinguished representatives of an older generation ,and of my own generation of the Sixties, what they thought about these questions.

Generously, these persons have told how they entered the book trade; spoken about writers they’ve published and declined to publish; described the (changing) class structure of their domain; talked straight about money, commerce, and corporate capitalism; described their way of practicing responsible publishing. Without exception, they are serious readers, usually of more than one language. They recognize that times have changed. They speak with wary-friendly observation of the generations coming up.

Excerpts of these conversations will continue to appear regularly in Archipelago and may serve as an opening into an institutional memory contrasting itself with the current corporate structure, reflecting on glories of its own, revealing what remains constant amid the present flux. Despite their surround of gentility, these publishers are strong-minded characters engaged with their historical circumstances. Out of that engagement have appeared a number of books that we can say, rightly, belong to literature.


See also:

A Conversation with Marion Boyars, Archipelago, Vol. 1 No. 3
A Conversation with Cornelia and Michael Bessie, Vol. 1 No. 4  and Vol. 2, No. 1
A Conversation with William Strachan, Vol. 2, No. 4
Whatever He Says is Gospel”  -George Garrett


Samuel S. Vaughan, Editor-at-large, Random House
Former Editor-in-chief, President, and Publisher, Doubleday

Samuel S. Vaughan entered the publishing trade in 1951, as a desk man for King Features Syndicate. The following year he joined the syndication department of Doubleday, where he learned the craft of cutting books into serials, then selling rights to newspapers. He was promoted to advertising manager (1954-56), then to sales manager (1956-58). From sales he moved to editorial, becoming a senior editor in 1958; ten years later, he was made executive editor. In 1970 he was named publisher and president of the company and remained so for the next twelve years. From 1982 till 1985 he was editor-in-chief of Doubleday. The list of titles (it is incomplete) should indicate that he learned the art of publishing books from the ground up. He has done nearly every job in the trade, he supposed, except printing. “The equation of the publishing business is what I think I understood, and what the publisher is asked to understand and to deal with,” he said. “It is the major elements that the publisher can affect. I liked all parts of publishing. I like the editorial job; I like the publishing and promotion, the advertising job; I like the sales jobs. It was important to me to give everybody a fair shake.”

Sam Vaughan is known as a man of his word. “You can take what he says as gospel,” the novelist George Garrett told me. A woman of wide experience in the business, whose first job had been as his assistant, said simply, “He is a great man.”

Sam Vaughan, though claiming to be semi-retired, is at present editor-at-large at Random House, once a competitor of Doubleday; now both large companies are owned by the same German publising company. A visitor to the Random House skyscraper signs in, is given a badge, and takes an express elevator to an upper floor, where she is met by a tall, courteous man resembling James Stewart in aspect and voice, who apologizes (unnecessarily) about his small, book-filled office. Thoughtfully, he has provided coffee. He is interested in what the other publishers have had to say, seeming to converse with them as much as with his caller. He takes issue with received ideas, and he is careful about facts.

I spoke with Sam Vaughan in the Spring of 1999; twice we met at his office, the third time at the august Century club, where he gave me a pleasant luncheon. He expressed interest in the theme of “institutional” memory, while commenting wryly about the capacity of his own. His is a fine, dry humor, without irony but rather, enlarged by compassion and honest indignation.

A gentleman of contraries

KATHERINE McNAMARA: You’ve, very engagingly, called yourself a “contrarian.”

SAM VAUGHAN: It’s a stock market term, and I’m not much of a financial wizard, but I just don’t agree with much of the conventional current comment about publishing. Although in the beginning I did, because I was learning. Now I’m beyond learning.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: What are you contrarian about?

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, we’re still selling trade books by the pound, pricing them according to weight, not intrinsic value, or the limits of the presumed market or audience as reflected in the first printing, or their likely ability to pay. Publishers are still letting untrained, inexperienced people loose on books, refusing to train or develop them except by the ancient system of an unstructured apprenticeship. And, we allow myths to perpetuate. For example, I’m trying to write an introduction to a new edition of a fairly well-known publisher’s memoir — that’s an oxymoron — called AN OCCUPATION FOR GENTLEMEN, by Frederick Warburg. I want to talk about the impact of the title, because people have picked up on it: that this was such an occupation. What I’d like to kick in the head is the idea that publishing was an occupation for gentlemen. It has led to many misconceptions about the origins and nature of publishing.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Why do you say this?

SAM VAUGHAN: The word gentleman, it seems to me, doesn’t have a precise definition, but it implies a person of independent means, who doesn’t really have to work. In the Warburg memoir, the title comes from an anecdote. He was in conversation at a party with a man who was the head of Marks & Spencer, the big retailer. When Mr. Warburg said he was in publishing (after the usual ‘What do you do?’ kind of thing, which was not so common in London then) Mr. Marks-&-Spencer said, “Is publishing an occupation for gentlemen or is it a real business?”

I don’t mean to say that there never have been gentlemen, by whatever definition, or gentlewomen, but the history of books and publishing is not a history of gentlemen dabbling in a pleasant occupation. As far as I can tell, the first books were in the hands of literate elites, meaning the church and high priests, scholars and scribes, who despite their exalted position were not exactly gentlemen. Then, following Gutenberg, publishing was often in the hands of printers and ultimately booksellers. They were tradesmen, sometimes middle-class. That’s what we came out of, in large part.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Do you think the term “trade publishing” began, in fact, with the jobbing printers?

SAM VAUGHAN: As far I know, it begins with publishing for the retail book trade, as opposed to publishing for schools. A big part of publishing, now and for a long time, has been for schools and colleges and for libraries. I think the reference was to the book trade, i.e., booksellers.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: When would that have come about?

SAM VAUGHAN: I don’t know that. English publishers in the 1920s and s had what they called a “trade counter” in the publishing house. The trade counter was — I’m laughing because of the contrast with the current scene — where the ‘trade’ was supposed to come and pick up their books. In a really aggressive house the publisher might have a person or two who took books out and carried them to the booksellers.

English publishing, when I first started to visit London, in the 1950s, was sort of frozen, en gelée. I remember an English publisher who did a lot of visiting back and forth. We were each doing the same book. I said, “Our jacket for the book is just ready, would you like to see it?” He said, “Well, yes, that would be very nice.” We got the jacket out for him to look at. I held it up. He stared at it for awhile. I said, “Like it?” “Yes,” he said, “but don’t you think it’s a little ‘market-seeking’?”

That was a leftover attitude. In any case, I don’t know whether the English were ever so uncommercial as they appeared to be.

On the other hand, German publishers tend, by-and-large, to be well-trained for business. My young assistant, Mr. Ulf Büchholz, is a case-in-point. He was trained by Bertelsmann [owners of Random House, Inc. and Doubleday/Bantam/Dell] in Germany. I once was one of the authors of a report for the Publishers Association, which I titled “The Accidental Profession.” In Germany, publishing is much less accidental. The bookseller is a professional, trained in a sort of guild-fashion. The relationship between the bookseller and the publisher is one of mutual respect.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: So, the phrase “the accidental profession” is yours?

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. We found that almost none of us had set out to be in book publishing — but were.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: How, then, did you come into this trade?

SAM VAUGHAN: I was like Mr. Marks-&-Spencer: I had never thought about book publishing as an occupation. I had thought about magazine-, but not book-, publishing.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: How were these different, would you say?

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, I’d been an editor as an undergraduate of a magazine, a humor magazine first and a literary magazine second. And therefore I wanted to work in magazines; it was a form I thought I knew. But, fortunately for me, I didn’t work in magazines. Of course, in the ’50s and ’60s, mass-circulation magazines were about to encounter very heavy weather, and some disappeared.

The interesting difference, from the point of view of the writer, between a magazine- and a book-publisher is that, when you write for a magazine, the magazine owns the piece. You’re writing in the magazine’s voice, or you’re at least being edited by the magazine, and it tends to have a certain style. When you write a book, you’re really writing for yourself: you lease what you write to the publisher. So when publishers say, “I bought a book,” they misstate the case slightly. What they do is make a contract that gives them the right to vend the book in various forms, for a period of time. The author, always downtrodden and always fragile, is nonetheless the owner of what he or she created.

Learning the business

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you talk a bit about your background, where you were raised and educated?

SAM VAUGHAN: I was raised in Philadelphia, in the city itself, in the section called South Philadelphia. And my wife was born a block away. Well, Jo is half Italian by ancestry and I’m not at all Italian by ancestry. My folks were leftover WASPs, and so I had the delightful experience of learning how to be a WASP minority. With a name like Sam, and a long nose, and a Welsh surname, going to school was quite colorful. But because my parents spoke English, I had a head-start program of my own, and, therefore, my teachers treated me very well, and I got the idea I was smart. And, despite the evidence of later years, I never quite gave it up. I went to Penn State, and, as I said, I majored in putting out undergraduate magazines. Terrible student in high school and in college. But I did learn something about pasting up off-set proofs, selling advertising, and trying to get writers — people who said they were writers — to write.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You read, though; a lot?

SAM VAUGHAN: I’m poorly-read. I suppose a number of people in publishing secretly feel that, because we’re surrounded by books. We had some books in my house, and my parents were readers; but I’m not well-read in any formal sense. I’m a person who needs a Great Books curriculum. When I got to college they tested us in English and I was put in an advanced-placement freshman class. All the teachers of advanced freshmen decided they were sick of the classics, and they taught, instead, off-beat books. Instead of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, they taught Olive Schreiner’s THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: A wonderful book….

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. Well, I read EYELESS IN GAZA, when I might have been reading WAR AND PEACE. Not to say that one book is bad and the other book is good; it’s just I missed a lot.

After an interlude in the Marine Corps, I got out of college. There was only one place for me to work — an idea planted in my head by my peers — and that was New York. I came here and got a job, through a college-magazine friend, at King Features Syndicate, a Hearst organization. The big business there was comics. I had the most minor of editorial jobs, called, according to the union, a “desk-man.” I did proof-reading and the preparation of boiler-plate, the stuff that was sent out to small newspapers that couldn’t afford to compose their own Sunday puzzle pages. I wrote Minute Mysteries, in one of which the bad guy’s name was Italian. My boss rapped my knuckles; even back then he said: “You can’t do that.” That was a lesson in what’s now called political correctness: or, simply, avoiding stereotypes.

My boss was a good guy named Clark Kinnaird. He was very concerned, when he hired me, about whether or not I could, as a married man (I was married as an undergraduate, and had a child), make it in New York on $77.50 a week. I assured him I could; and did; and three months later, he was even more appalled when he fired me.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: A man with a heart.

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, it wasn’t his doing. William Randolph Hearst had had the bad taste to die right after I was hired, and right after he died they started to clean house, and so, last one in, first one out. There was nothing unfair about it; I mean, they got rid of lots of people.

But Mr. Kinnaird did his best to help me find a job. After I had shopped around for awhile he said, “Would you like to have a job at the Washington Star ?” I said, “I’d love it.” He sent me out to Washington, New Jersey, to a paper there at that time, for a job that I, in turn, didn’t get. In any case, I made the rounds for months, and, meanwhile, delivered the mail in Washington Heights, and got a job at Doubleday, in a small arm of their rights department they called the Syndicate. I came in at the tail end of the time when books were fairly widely syndicated in newspapers in this country. The papers carried books in serial form. Doubleday had books that had made a lot of money by licensing them to outside syndicates, books like Fulton Oursler’s THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. The money had to be divided 50/50 with the syndicate, and then 50/50 with the author, so the author got 25%, the publisher got 25%. Then Doubleday, in its wisdom, decided to do it themselves. So, I got this job preparing books for syndication; also traveling to sell them. I wasn’t notably good at it, but I got to see the country.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: How did you prepare them? Did you actually do the editing, divide them into usable chapters, and so on?

SAM VAUGHAN: You would cut them into a week-long series, or a twelve part series, and it was learned by doing. It was surgery on the helpless body of the author. But I think we showed the cut versions to the authors, and they were usually happy to have some extra readership, publicity, and income.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Just for curiosity’s sake, what was the money like?

SAM VAUGHAN: It ranged from $50.00 to a couple of thousand. A paper would buy a series from us. A big paper in Chicago might pay $2,000; a small paper anywhere might pay $50.00. You had to give them territorial rights, because big papers tended to claim everything.

But one of the books my boss got interested in, when I was first there, was one by a young Dutch girl. He sold it to the New York Post for a small amount of money before publication. But what we got out of it was that the Post did its own version. Every day I went down to the Post and got, hot off the press, their installment. I came back and typed it on stencils. Then we went on the road to sell it. My boss sent me, naturally, to Philadelphia. I sat down with a man named Stuart Taylor, of the Bulletin. He was an elegant fellow; newspapermen could be elegant in those days. Thinking back to what I had told my boss, I said: “This isn’t exactly good newspaper material, it’s a diary of a young girl who was a real pain in the ass. Who could love a teenage girl? I mean, that’s the worst time of life to love someone.”

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: And the book was—

SAM VAUGHAN: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL, by Anne Frank. That was its first title, I believe. —

Stuart Taylor listened to my story and bought it from me on the spot, for very good money. I almost fell off the chair. We in fact only sold it to about ten or twelve papers; but it was part of the publication “buzz,” as they would call it these days. I had no idea that the book would last forever. I guess I had certain sympathy for what we knew of Anne Frank’s life and death, but I just didn’t ‘feel the mystery’ at that point. That was my first observation of a publishing phenomenon. It’s an interesting study, a publishing phenomenon. I don’t mean ‘bestseller,’ I mean books as phenomena. That was also my first example of a book that passes from the intended audience to an incidental audience, one of which happened to be young women.

I don’t mean that they’re incidental, but that nobody said, “This is a book for young women.” Nobody said, “This is a book for Jewish people.” In fact, you didn’t say that in those days, not out of any sensitivity, but because that was before the revolution in which Jewish writers became some of our most interesting and important writers. We published EXODUS [by Leon Uris] in that period, which we called “the story of the birth of a nation.” We published [Herman Wouk’s] MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, which we described as a “love story of a young girl in New York,” never saying the word “Jewish.”

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Indeed, I remember hearing about those books when I was coming up, and it never even occurred to me that they were, as it were, separate from me.

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, “Anne Frank” was published as an adult trade book, and it sold extremely well as such, but then passed on, over the decades, into the hands of young people.

That’s a good topic to explore, sometime: the book that, published for one presumed audience, transmutes itself for another. For example, the book that is published as an adult book, and gets taken up by kids. Or, the book that is published for children and gets taken up by adults. There’s a history in that.

Selling books for Doubleday

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: There you were in the syndicate department, selling syndicate rights; but that didn’t continue. Something changed.

SAM VAUGHAN: “Corporate culture” is a phrase used with a sneer, but any organization worth a damn has its own culture. Doubleday was proud of the fact that it trained its people well. It believed in certain sporadic attempts at formal training, but mostly, it trained by letting you move from job to job. In the first six years, I had three jobs, along a curious path. None were in Editorial. Well, the syndicate, in a minor way, was editorial. But all were in publishing.

Then I was promoted to become advertising manager . I did that for a couple of years, and loved it, because I thought that the book advertising was terrible, stodgy, and still do. Routinely, book advertising today is no better than it was then. It’s what I call “the parade of the rectangles.” Run a picture of the book, write a headline, quote some reviews, and get it out. It’s a very limited view of what you might say about a book and how to present it.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: What is an expanded view?

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, I tried to show books in context. I tried to show that books didn’t float in air, they existed somewhere: in your hands, in your home, in your travels, or wherever. I spent a lot of money on photography. I suppose the peak of all that was when we got a Publisher’s Ad Club award [1956] for an action novel called MR. HAMISH GLEAVE, by Richard Llewellyn. A wonderful novel, I fell in love with it, and I probably spent too much money on it. But I got a photographer to go down to Wall Street. I said: “The character in this book is a member of the British Establishment, he has been spying for the Russians for a long time, he’s about to leave the country.” And I had some idea of a situation, but the photographer came up with something much better. He photographed our guy in his Homburg and his dark suit and his tight umbrella, running down a very long flight of steps outside one of those Wall Street buildings. You just don’t see a man dressed like that running; it was a marvelous piece of work. I wrote some short copy to go with it, and it was a very effective ad. That’s the kind of thing I thought should be done, and still do. There’s one consistently brilliant advertising manager, Nina Bourne, at Knopf, who can make an ordinary review ad look extraordinary. She never stops amazing me, and amusing me, with variations on that theme.

A so-called company man

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: When you look back over the works you’ve published, do you find continuities; do you find themes?

SAM VAUGHAN: One of the virtues of growing older is that you find the themes and the connections of your own life. I came of age as an adult in the ’50s. One big question at the time was conformity, and therefore conformity is important to me still. Or, perhaps, non-conformity, while pretending to conform. Books like BABBITT and THE ORGANIZATION MAN were formative books for me. They had a lot to say to me. I’ve always worked for organizations, fairly sizable ones, so the question of whether you become a so-called company man or not was somewhere in the air. I’ve been a bit of a fraud because I’ve “passed.”

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Speaking metaphorically.

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. I guess I looked the part. Once, a woman came up to me at a party and said, “Did you go to Princeton?” I said, “No.” She insisted that I did.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Recently, I read an article about changes in publishing, with a similar theme. The author talks of a moment when publishers actually hired people who didn’t have a ‘good’ college education, because they wanted to sell to the mass market. The claim he made was that, instead of the ‘old school tie,’ they used some other kind of criterion. I’m interested in that, because you very nicely go around that whole issue of class, while at the same time almost alluding to it in several of your pieces, as you did just now.

SAM VAUGHAN: Mike Bessie [see Archipelago, Vol. 1, No. 4] and I belong to an informal group of editors who meet for dinner six or eight times a year. The great Cass Canfield, who was the head of Harper for so long, once said to Mike, as we were sitting around the table: “Well, there’s nobody here who hasn’t gone to Harvard or Yale, is there?” Mike had to point out, gently, that there might be a few who hadn’t. But that expectation may have been typical of the sort of people they let into publishing then. Doubleday was more democratic than some houses, in that it was more accessible as a place to work. They published a lot of middle-brow stuff, and they had a more national view. It was not a New York house, although it was owned by an old New York family. I used to say to people who lived in Manhattan, because I lived in New Jersey, that I lived “on the mainland.” Doubleday was interested in publishing for “the mainland.” We had a bigger sales force than most, and we thought that St. Louis and Detroit and Houston, and so forth, were important.

So, there was, I suppose you’d call it, a democratic moment, which was good for people like me — and also for women, ultimately.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: People “like you” meaning, you went to Penn State instead of an Ivy League school.

SAM VAUGHAN: Sure. Periodically, we were assigned to read an out-of-town paper, to see what was going on. I love that expression, “out-of-town,” as if everything outside of New York were “elsewhere.”

Popular literature

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: When you joined Doubleday, it was still owned by the Doubleday family. Why do you say it wasn’t a “New York house”?

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, their interests were not confined — I’m exaggerating, of course — but their interests were not circumscribed by the Hudson River, as some houses’ seemed to be. There were some houses which were very “New York.” They seemed to cultivate the high opinion of literary persons in New York, they thought most of the important reviewers and critics were in New York, and that most book readers were, too. It was a sort of Lincoln Tunnel vision. At Doubleday, we liked popular fiction, we liked popular history, we liked politics, all sides — I was going to say except for extreme radical stuff, except that, in the ’60s, we got radicalized, too, to an extent. The house was what they called “Establishment” — we liked to publish ex-presidents and such — and, at the same time, not an elitist house. The house had a healthy attitude towards the rest of the country, which wasn’t charity: it was good business. The Literary Guild, which Doubleday owned and ran, was not famous for biographies of Joyce and Eliot; that was not their fare, while the Book of the Month Club might take on such substantial works.

It was also a family-owned house, and it tried to instill, loosely, and with some success, a family-feeling among the employees who stayed there. We had a sense of who we were, and what kind of things we wanted to publish, and also, importantly, what kind of things we didn’t want to publish. There were some popular books which we felt happy to leave to others.


SAM VAUGHAN: Once, when John Sargent was our chairman, we were at Frankfort [Book Fair], and he said, “I received some information that suggests that” — I think it was — “Jacqueline Susann is winking at us. What do you think?” I said, “John, do you really think she’s someone we want to publish?” That ended the conversation, and ended the pursuit, at least on our side. Here I was being a snob; but it was the kind of book that wouldn’t have done well on our list, handled by our people.

One book that somehow got on our list was based on conversations with prostitutes; this was in the early ’60s, I think, and, although the author was given a contract, that book hit an invisible wall inside the house, so it was as if it didn’t get published.

Now, Doubleday has one blot on their escutcheon that I know about, and anyone who knows literary history knows about, and it’s this. SISTER CARRIE was under contract to Doubleday; but the then-Mrs. Doubleday objected to it on moral grounds, and so it was what a friend of mine, the publisher-author Dick Grossman — I think he invented the term — called “privished”: that is, it wasn’t fully published.

And some of it was edited out, apparently. The nice irony was that, decades later, a university press, I think it was, re-published the novel, un-Bowdlerized, or in the original version. That rare person, a wholly objective critic, writing in The Nation or The New Republic, perhaps, said it was better as first published. Dreiser may not have had a cloven hoof but he did write with both feet.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You had a feel, surely, for what then was popular. Was what you meant by “popular” then, what “pop” means now?

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, you’re on to one of my favorite subjects. It wasn’t exactly what pop means now, because pop now may include the avant-garde — and, after all, there’s Pop Art, which is not art for the masses, in a way. So I don’t think it means the same thing. I meant that Doubleday lived for the most part on fiction by Herman Wouk, Arthur Haley, Leon Uris, historical novels by Irving Stone, and the women novelists with three names who wrote clean romances.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: That brings to mind Edna Ferber. Did you publish her?

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes, we did. We published Ferber, referred to around the house as “Miss Ferber.” When she died she left her desk and typewriter to us. It sat in the hall for a long time, until we couldn’t stand it. We finally donated it.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: She was a presence, was she?

SAM VAUGHAN: She was a presence, and so were some of the other house authors. I never met Somerset Maugham, but Maugham was a presence. The house’s first lists were built on a consummate Anglophilia: Conrad and Maugham and Kipling and any number of people came to the list from England. Mr. Maugham, as he was called, was a real presence, as if he had an office there.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You said that it was because of him that Ken McCormick was named the editor-in-chief? [Kenneth McCormick (1906-1997) was editor-in-chief of Doubleday from 1942 to 1971.]

SAM VAUGHAN: That’s the story. It wasn’t only because of Maugham, but his endorsement couldn’t have hurt.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: May I return to my question about popular writing? What would you consider “popular literature”? Did it feel as if you, at Doubleday, were speaking with your readership? Because I suspect that there was a relationship, there, between publisher and readers.

SAM VAUGHAN: I once had a conversation with the great Bob Gottlieb [former editor-in-chief at Knopf, then of The New Yorker] — and I mean great. We were in a cab going somewhere and he said, “Tell me about popular fiction: I really don’t understand it.” And he was one of the great editor/publishers of fiction, who was candid enough to admit that he didn’t understand popular fiction.

I ‘inherited’ Arthur Haley as an author. Now, when I came out of college, I was like any other smart-ass entering publishing: I was in love with prose style. If you could write well, it didn’t matter to me what you wrote about. I learned at Doubleday, because of feeling respect for popular writers, a decent respect for the well-written, straightforward sentence; for the well-plotted, sturdy novel of the sort that Arthur did. At first I was contemptuous of it, I mean silently, secretly; but as I got to know something of the people who wrote those books, and something about the readers who read them, I dropped all that nonsense. What I would read for my own pleasure was one thing. Popular non-stylists could flourish: and why not? They had something that people wanted to read.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: I asked the late Marion Boyars [Vol. 1, No. 3] this question: What is commercial fiction? Her answer was, “I don’t know!” But I would guess that it’s not the same as what you mean by popular fiction; or, not wholly.

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, it’s wonderful when a book that you and I might easily agree is beautifully written becomes popular. And that happens often enough to not be an aberration.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you give some examples of books that you consider such?

SAM VAUGHAN: COLD MOUNTAIN, recently; or SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS. But there are certain authors of whom it can be said that there is not much chance they will ever lapse into writing a ‘popular’ novel: they are too demanding of the reader. Now, some readers love to be demanded of. But, in general (if you can make a statement about a large group of people), they mostly just don’t want to be taxed heavily. Now, there are degrees of difficulty. John Le Carré is popular but not an easy read, because he writes in a style that holds back information with English reticence, but he certainly is a commercial author, and he sells like a mass-market author. There are gradations of difference between popular and mass-market. Our tendency to divide everything into this or that annoys the hell out of me, but we find it inescapable. The Europeans love to refer to publishers as “serious” or “not-.” We know what they mean, of course. But it’s such a damning indictment that any publisher would not be considered “serious.”

One of the things I dearly love about book publishing is its pluralism. I used what I call the “stewardess test.” When I was flying somewhere I would ask the stewardess what she was reading, because they have a lot of down time, sitting in those fold-down seats. She would usually say something like: “I’m reading Taylor Caldwell,” or Danielle Steele, or Barbara Taylor Bradford. But she might, instead, be reading Ayn Rand; or she might be reading WAR AND PEACE. Without meaning to, she refused to sit in a category. I have a file at home bigger than you are on the issue of what I call “pop and lit.” It’s an old argument that should have been resolved a long time ago. On the other hand, it fuels a lot of cocktail party conversation and reviews, so maybe I’ll subside.

I remember a list we published at Doubleday, in the 1950s, when I was advertising manager. It was a very important list to us because it had four big books on it: Truman’s memoirs; Robert Ruark’s novel SOMETHING OF VALUE; André Malraux’ VOICES OF SILENCE; and THE COLUMBIA HISTORICAL PORTRAIT OF NEW YORK. That’s pluralism; that’s diversity in publishing. That’s why I’ve never wanted to be known just as a literary editor: because I find it too confining.

The mid-list

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Hovering, then, is a discussion about the mid-list.

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. “Mid-list” is as imprecise as the expression “non-fiction,” which, too, embraces everything from the Bible to Peanuts. It’s the dreaded equivalent of  “middling.” Still….

The new chairman of Random House, Inc., Peter Olson, was nice enough to take me to lunch recently. He was speaking with an almost embarrassed smile about having taken over when the business was going so well. That doesn’t mean that everything works, or that every division is doing well, but it means that, all over, the company is doing very well. “And,” he said, “it’s not only phenomenal books, the books like THE CENTURY, by Peter Jennings, and the Tom Brokaw book [THE GREATEST GENERATION], it’s a lot of the mid-list.” I was so delighted to hear a well-trained publishing executive speak affectionately of the mid-list. I’ve had other conversations with other publishers. When they start in on the mid-list, I’ve said to them: “If you published 500 books a year, 350 of them would be mid-list.” We once published 500 books a year.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: That’s extraordinary, isn’t it?

SAM VAUGHAN: Well, it was extraordinary. But if you published five books a year, three of them would be mid-list. There’s no escaping the mid-list. The fact is, the mid-list is the place where you lose the most money, and it’s also the place where you make the purest profit when a book works. That’s because you usually don’t have so much money invested.

An editor named Tom Congdon, who had been at The Saturday Evening Post, told me one day his editor used an expression which haunted Tom ever afterward. He said: “I don’t want a lot of little gray articles.” There are little gray books: which doesn’t mean they have no value or virtue. It means that a mid-list can be cluttered. Every book has a reason: a reason why the author wrote it, a reason why somebody decided it should be published. But it can also choke you, like too much wheat. On the other hand, there may be a baby in the bulrushes; you don’t know.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Can you give a sense of the texture of a mid-list?

SAM VAUGHAN: No, I can’t. A mid-list is the most assorted list. Books are graded in some kind of crude sorting. As for “mid-list”: all that means is that the book is not an obvious candidate for super best-sellerdom; or it’s not a first novel destined to be published merely because it should be published.

ROOTS was a mid-list book. ROOTS was not conceived, ever, by us as a blockbuster, as a phenomenon. You don’t predict phenomena: that’s why they are phenomena. But that book was signed up and written in the period when the attitude of the book trade was, “We’ve had enough black books, we’ve had a lot of them in the past decade, they’re over.” The book trade gets like that from time to time. Booksellers, in their wisdom, and in their sincerity, and in their dopiness, will make statements like that, and so do we. But what we couldn’t see coming was that this book, which was not bought for no money — there was money put into it, over and over — was going to strike a nerve: we didn’t see that. And, we didn’t see the effect of Alex Haley’s constant traveling and speaking to groups. There was an audience clamoring, practically hitting the door down, when we published. That had nothing to do with television. When the television series came along it multiplied the effect. Now, that’s not a typical mid-list book, but it came out of the mid-list. After all, Alex had done an earlier book, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOM X.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: That’s right. Had you published that book at Doubleday?

SAM VAUGHAN: Doubleday had it under contract and gave it up. It helps to recall the atmosphere at that time. Before the book appeared, Malcolm X was assassinated. Nelson Doubleday became concerned that, because of  Doubleday’s nearly unique situation — only Scribner had the same one: we had people working at street level in the Doubleday bookshops. There was real fear in the air. He became concerned that it might result in some broken glass, and people getting hurt. And so — I wasn’t in the middle of this — we told Alex to keep the money we’d paid him and he was free to publish elsewhere, which he did promptly. It became a classic and sold forever, and nobody got hurt; but that’s why, I was told, we gave it up. We managed somehow to keep on with Alex, and did the next book.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: That’s interesting. He wasn’t ‘your’ author.

SAM VAUGHAN: No; we became friends but he was first Ken McCormick’s, and then Lisa Drew’s author. Alex has a remarkable persistence. He wasn’t what I would call tough-minded, because he did some things that showed he was soft; but he was durable and persistent. That book: again, I only brought it up because it came out of the mid-list; but all ‘phenomena’ are interesting to follow.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Is it a canard that the mid-list is shrinking? We know that publishers are cutting back their lists.

SAM VAUGHAN: I hear it everywhere, and it’s probably true. There are a lot of canards in publishing; but even fewer facts. I do think that the annual count of books published in the U.S. has declined or has held steady at a lower level than it might have been assumed. I think we were headed toward more than 50,000 new titles a year, though I don’t think it’s gone much over that. That’s got to affect the mid-list, since the mid-list books are most books. But I don’t know the facts. I know that the questions are asked: Who are we going to sell it to? Do we really need this book? — questions which, one way or another, have been asked for a long time, but are perhaps being asked more often than they were. I’m amused by the question: “Who’s going to read this book?” because we know so little about readers. So it seems like a sensible question, but it’s largely unanswerable.

Who needs this book?

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Your other question though, also is interesting because of all the directions it goes in: “Do we need this book?” Who’s we? What does “we” mean?

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes, you’re right. The editor may say, “We certainly do.” It may mean that she needs the book, or he needs the book, as an ornament or as a potentially profitable part of his own individual list; or it may be that she sees a palpable need for the book out there. For example, Larry Ashmead, my friend at Harper, has always edited a differing stream of books, including books on what I call “popular diseases.” I would first hear about a disease from Larry, and I would take his word for it that there was a need for a book to help people who had it, or thought they had it. Many books are done that way, because there is a real need. You may be premature; very often you are late in the field.

The question of need for books is interesting because there are so many books for which there really is a need. A lot of reading, a lot of bookselling, a lot of book publishing, is composed of utilitarian books. My favorite example is a book near the top of our back- list — which was a 4,000-5,000-title back-list for years — called THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS. Now, THE ASHLEY was a big, bulky book with, I suppose, every knot ever devised by man. We used to speculate about who was buying it. Somebody would say “Boy Scouts,” so we’d take that as part of an answer. I was very pleased to find that Annie Proulx used a quote from THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS for an epigraph in a chapter of THE SHIPPING NEWS, a most distinctive novel.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Or, it could be a book like GRAY’S ANATOMY. You see it everywhere, and all sorts of people buy it. I had a copy for years. Why? Because you might need it.

SAM VAUGHAN: Sure. We all tried to get the distribution of the MERCK MANUAL, for example. The RED CROSS HANDBOOKS are eternally useful. There’s a real, not very mysterious need for so much of publishing.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: I’d like to put in a word, although I’m sure I don’t need to, for the serious or literary writers: people who write out of that other kind of need: because there’s no help for it. They themselves say that they need to write. Or, you’ll read a book and know that this book has to be in the world. It’s that other kind of need, a metaphysical need, if you like.

SAM VAUGHAN: So many books are, or seem to be, written out of a need to communicate with another human being. We all know that there’s a meeting of at least two minds in a good book. There is so much loneliness in the world. It’s one of my favorite themes. If a book has loneliness at its heart, it stands a good chance of finding an audience eventually.... After all, we go through life alone. Whether we’re lucky enough to have people around us whom we love, and vice-versa, or not, every person walks alone. Think of the loneliness of Lindbergh, of Anne Frank, of what someone recently observed as “the magnificent loneness” of the principle figure in THE STORY OF O, of Quixote. THE LONELY CROWD was a work of sociology which sold rather well; but I don’t think it was an accident. It was inspired.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: It was a late-’50s kind of book, if you want, appearing at the end of a time, but also becoming the mark of a time. And that would be, I think, your kind of book. It was ‘your’ book. Yes, I know you said that; but I can see why, now, in retrospect, having learned some of the themes that interest you.

SAM VAUGHAN: I guess what we’re talking about is the need to write, and the need to read, which are not very well summed up into simple statements. Many of the alarms about publishing are just that: alarms. I don’t think we generally realize that reading is not a passing fancy or an idle diversion. Reading, I really believe — or let me say, storytelling, one kind of story or another — is a human need as basic as bread. You don’t have to go far down the list of human needs: there’s something about the need for story that is immense. That doesn’t mean that people have to get stories in book form; but that’s one way to get them. As people will get stories, in whatever form they choose to get them in, whatever form they’re available in, some will tend to move in cyclical ways from books to movies to television to theater, and back again. We haven’t gone back to sitting around a campfire, but nevertheless, all the traditional means of telling stories are available. It’s only the illiterate who are really poor, in that sense.

The editor’s work

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you talk about the experience of making a book: finding the author; having the author find you; and, if you would, describe that whole adventure?

SAM VAUGHAN: It is that. If I liked fishing, I’d say it was like fishing. Where do the books come from? They come from writers. One of the great sources of finding writers is other writers. Probably the most efficient source, because there’s less waste when a writer recommends a writer. If your insurance man recommends his adolescent son who has a gift for verse…. Know what I mean?


SAM VAUGHAN: Another source, of course, is — these are all very obvious — reading. You have the greatest excuse in the world to read all the time. You can read anything. It’s one of my challenges to myself, still, although I should get over it: when I pick up a magazine or a journal or a newspaper, I want to see if there’s something in there that would lead to a writer or a book.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You have attached yourself to writers who write across a broad range of subjects. Do you find that still true? Have you narrowed your interests, or focused them?

SAM VAUGHAN: I’ve never wanted to be typecast as a literary editor, or a public affairs editor, or a history editor. It’s very different than being a textbook editor, where you’re expected to be, partly, an expert. I represent the ‘great unwashed and unknowing.’ I cherish my amateur standing. Also, it keeps refreshing itself more that way. I’ve often counseled younger editors who set out to be known as a literary editor not to put too much coal on that fire alone — be it, don’t say it. Everybody has to be economically justified, sooner or later, and you have a better chance of doing it if you handle a range of books.

At times I’ve fallen into pockets of specialty. I did a lot of books by political figures, for a while, not by design but because that’s the way it worked out.


SAM VAUGHAN: Early on, I handled one of the books written by a man named Ezra Taft Benson, who was Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture. I ‘inherited’ a contract with him, from Adam Yarmolinsky, who was, briefly, an editor with Doubleday. It was for a staff-written book called FREEDOM TO FARM, I believe. The book was dull, and I’ve never been terribly interested in agriculture; but I got to know him a little. He decided, at the end of his time there in Washington, that he would write a memoir, which he did, because he was the only cabinet member to spend the full eight years with Eisenhower. So I went into that Mormon household a number of times. Mrs. Benson fed me, while I worked down in the basement on the manuscript and photographs. We got a rather good memoir out of it, because Secretary Benson, who was a church elder and became head of the Mormon Church, was a good storyteller. We also got some news out of it, in that he recommended the ticket of — I think it was — Nixon and Rockefeller, at the time: anyhow, it was a peculiar, or surprising, pairing, because he was more conservative than anybody else in the Eisenhower administration.

I went from there to doing a book by a man named Lewis Strauss, who was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and had been nominated by Eisenhower to be Secretary of Commerce, and, for almost the first time since the Civil War, had been denied that innocuous post by the Senate. I pursued him for a book.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Was there a reason he was denied? It was just a little before my time.

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. The reason was that he was a powerful friend and a powerful enemy, and he had become an opponent of Robert Oppenheimer, and thus, the fans of Robert Oppenheimer in the Senate. He believed Oppenheimer to be a security risk. Oppenheimer’s principal defender was a senator, from New Mexico, I believe, and he collected all his due-bills from his colleagues, and they denied Lewis Strauss the nomination.

Strauss wrote a book called MEN AND DECISIONS. It was reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, was taken seriously, sold very well, and exposed me to a kind of mind, and kind of person, that — again, I was about as likely to become friends with an ex-Kuhn, Loeb banker as I was with a farmer. I liked that about politics: it made me open my cheerfully-closed mind.

And then, it turned out that we got a contract for Eisenhower’s post-Presidential memoirs. Ken McCormick had been the editor of CRUSADE IN EUROPE, the book published after the war. But he was the chief editor and couldn’t spend the time required to do these two volumes; so I got posted to Gettysburg, at age 28. It was a good assignment. It taught me the usual lesson, which is: There are not two sides to every story, there are 24 sides. And it exposed me to a seemingly-genial, seemingly-bland, likable individual who had been turned out of office the way we send most of our presidents out of office, which is, in tatters, at a low point in public esteem. He was said to be the “chairman of the board” and “didn’t really know what was going on.”

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: It was not long after the U-2 incident.

SAM VAUGHAN: Not long after. And of course, he turned out to be a lot more complex than that. I watched the process go on, which still goes on, which is: the Eisenhower reappraisal industry. It’s become a major activity in academia. It happens with other presidents, too.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Truman, for instance.

SAM VAUGHAN: Sure. So, that’s the kind of thing that got me into politics. I worked with Republicans for a long time, because I was the only editor of my age and stage who spoke Republican. Most editors were liberals and left, to whatever degree they were left, and Democrats therefore; and so, there weren’t many editors in our place, as middle-of-the-road as it was, that you could put with a Republican. I enjoyed myself. I had fun.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Are you saying that you were a Republican?

SAM VAUGHAN: No. I wasn’t a Republican. And I’m not. Although my wife thinks I am.

Eventually, I came to work with Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie, and others; and I liked them, too. But, the experience of working on the other side of the street, politically, was very good for me. It is the dark side of my personality that I like politicians. How could you resist a guy like Humphrey? He overflowed with ideas and energy and invention and compromise and ideals, and all that stew! But then, eventually, when I edited a book for Senator Muskie, published on the day he withdrew from the presidential race, the book not only sank like a stone, it sank without a trace. And I’m afraid I burned out at that point. I’ve been less eager to get back into it, and have not done much in that line.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you say more about the adventure of finding and working with writers?

SAM VAUGHAN: When you start out as an editor, you don’t have writers. You don’t have what they used to call ‘the following.’ All the senior editors have all the writers, seemingly, and all the agents go to them, seemingly. But if you put out your lines, and you exert yourself — you read a lot, you write a lot of letters, and you make a lot of phone calls, and you see a lot of movies; you go to agents’ offices and you try to get established, in their eyes, as a person — you eventually begin to see proposals and manuscripts. And it becomes cumulative, so that, when you’re really an established senior editorial person, you’re still looking, but things do come to you just because you’re there. You get to be known for handling certain kinds of books well. Or, simply, because you and the agent like each other; or you like a kind of writing, and when the agent turns up a writer in that category, you may get a shot at it. That part is fun — sort of disorganized; not measurable.

I have some good friends among the agents, but I’ve never been quite as dependent on agents as many editors. Not by design; it’s just the way it is.

And I love the business of commissioning a book, when you have the idea for the book and you go out to find the writer who might want to do it.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you describe such a book or situation?

SAM VAUGHAN: When I was in the political stream, it occurred to me that the great unwritten presidential memoir was FDR’s. And so, I talked to a friend, who was working part-time as an editor for us, named Eric Larabee. We’ll come back to him, because he had a wonderful expression I want to tell you about.—

Anyway, I said to Eric: “Find me somebody who might take this idea up, if it is an idea.” He introduced me to a writer named Bernard Asbell, who had written a book about the end of FDR’s life. We had a drink one day, and after we skirmished around politely, Asbell said, “What do you have on your mind?” I said, “I want you to write Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s memoirs.” He said, “He’s dead.” I said, “By God you’re right, he is.”

I said, “It seems to me that any president trying to write a memoir has to do a certain number of things in preparation. Why don’t you just do that?” Well, Bernie Asbell is the kind of writer who is an editor’s dream. He always gives you more than you asked for. He did this as a kind of report to Roosevelt, saying he’d been hired to help prepare for the memoir, and had taken the liberty of drafting some chapters. That’s the way he got into it. He had captured the voice immaculately.

Turned out, he could only do the New Deal years; he couldn’t do the whole life because it was just too full. So we did that book, which, thanks to Asbell, was a real tour de force, subtitled “A Speculation on History.” What didn’t happen was what sank the chance of doing the sequel. I expected the idea to outrage historians — and it didn’t. They didn’t get ruffled at all.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: They probably loved it, especially the younger ones.

SAM VAUGHAN: And several senior ones, too. Well, let me tell you about Larabee’s line, because I think it bears on so much. It has to do with, well, the readership and, quote, marketing. He wrote an essay once called “The Imaginary Audience.” Part of the argument was, The audience does not sit there fully assembled, waiting for the performer. The performer assembles the audience.


SAM VAUGHAN: That, to me, is a mantra. The idea that the audience is sitting out there saying, “Send me a book about a Civil War soldier walking home from the war, or a story about the relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II” is, by-and-large, nonsense. The author assembles the audience; the artist does; the musician does.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: The word of the moment, the one that goes along with “sell,” is “branding.” It seems to me that it’s a sort of rubber-stamp idea, “branding.” Well, Eric Larabee wasn’t talking about something like “branding,” was he? And you aren’t? You’re talking about the artistry of it.

SAM VAUGHAN: If ‘branding’ would work in the case of books, all you would have to do is do the same book over and over again, with variations. Some of that does happen. Some people would say John Grisham does it, or Stephen King does it. But that’s to underestimate the writers. Their books are never quite alike. They assemble an audience with certain predilections. But they’re both adventurers, in a certain way, and they don’t get credit for taking risks. They get credit for being acts, and formula writers, and pop stars. So, I don’t think ‘branding’ works for human beings the way it does for soap or corn flakes.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: There’s an awful lot of talk about it, though, in publishing, as if they think it might work.

SAM VAUGHAN: In publishing, there’s always a certain amount of rueful envy of other businesses which are, seemingly, so logical.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: And that make ‘product.’

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes, and that make ‘product.’ Ken [McCormick], the gentlest of men, would throw a man out of the room who said “product.”

George Garrett

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You’re a senior editor; writers come to you—

SAM VAUGHAN: Yes; meanwhile, you continue to ‘trawl.’ You never give it up, really. And that becomes so satisfying, in a way. Although publishing means having to say you’re sorry, quite a lot. But the only thing worse than having to say you’re sorry is having nothing to say anything at all about.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: One of the writers who came to you was George Garrett. Would you talk about George Garrett, who, I want to say, is an American man of letters, the genuine article, in a time, perhaps, when that occupation is under-appreciated.

SAM VAUGHAN: It certainly is; and, to be literal, in George’s case, he’s a man of letters written on long yellow pads with a Mont Blanc fountain pen. When you take on George, as a friend or as an author, or both, you have to put a wing on your office to file the letters in. They’re wonderful to have: scurrilous and libelous and funny and generous. I don’t recall quite how we got together. The first manuscript I had anything to do with was DO, LORD, REMEMBER ME. But I can’t tell you, at this moment, how I got to see it.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: I think he told me it was rather by accident.

SAM VAUGHAN: My facts are no more reliable than George’s, so take that into account. [See comments from George Garrett, following.]

I think I got that manuscript in the mail, from an agent. It was kind of tattered, beat-up. There had been no attempt to pretend it was a virginal submission. I liked what I read, but I was uneasy about it. And then, before I did anything, which always takes time, another version of the manuscript arrived which was just as clean and presentable and dressed-up as I could imagine. We went ahead and published it.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You’re saying he’d done something more than erase the marks and—

SAM VAUGHAN: I’m not even going to attempt to say what he did, because I just don’t know.

I remember the first book in the Elizabethan trilogy [THE DEATH OF THE FOX; THE SUCCESSION; ENTERED FROM THE SUN]. I heard about that; not from George, I think, but possibly. It was under contract, or under option, to a company like Appleton-Century-Crofts, which was busy going out of business at the time. They not only didn’t offer him a contract, they didn’t have anybody there to read it. So, it came over to me.

It was intimidating, because it was in three bright-orange boxes that took up half the office. I began to read it and of course was swept away, and still am. I got in touch with George, and we made a contract for it. I said, “George, the only editing I’m going to do on this” — because it’s long — “is, I’m going to draw a pencil line in the margin of any page where I fall off the rails, or fall off my chair, or fall asleep, whatever kind of barometer: because only you know what’s really important in this book, and I don’t know nearly as well.” So that’s what we did, apart from little dinky stuff like chasing the inevitable repetitions, and so forth.

I had the great fortune: I knew that it was a wonderful book, and it should look wonderful. The company I was with was not known for producing wonderful-looking books, because a lot of books were made close to book-club specifications, cheaply-made. Our printers had two kinds of paper. One was the cheap paper, and one was Bible paper. If a manuscript was beyond a certain length, it got printed on Bible paper. George’s manuscript was beyond all lengths, so we got it printed on Bible paper, which had some finish, some feel, texture. It looked like the goods, and it was the goods.

We did the second novel in a couple of years, and the third Cork [Corliss] Smith did, at Harcourt. I don’t know whether I had left Doubleday at that point, or whatever had happened, but in any case, the trilogy was finished with Cork, elsewhere.

Speaking of writers as a source of writers, George is a great friend to writers. He’s spent more of his life writing for little magazines and going to writers conferences than almost anybody I know. He has 10,000 friends and 10,000 due-bills, things owed to him which he doesn’t invoke very much at all. His wife, Susan Garrett, is good writer, too.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Yes, she is: a very good writer. I loved TAKING CARE OF OUR OWN. A fine book; and the newer one [MILES TO GO] is, also.

Hannah Green

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You are the editor of Hannah Green’s posthumous novel. Would you speak about that?

SAM VAUGHAN: It’s not a novel, but it has a novelistic quality. Hannah Green wrote one of the most admired novels of the time, THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE. The posthumous book she left is quite different. For some reason, she never quite finished it: which is part of the challenge of the moment. It was finished; but she didn’t think it was finished, and she kept delivering it to me and taking it away. I used to talk and commiserate with her friend and teacher Wallace Stegner about Hannah. We both wanted to kick her hard in her fanny, because she would never finish the book. I didn’t think she was going to die before she did: that came out of nowhere, and should have stayed nowhere.

Anyhow, it’s a book about one day out of many seasons spent in a small village in France, called Conques, which sounds like the conch shell: apparently, the village is shaped like one. In that village reside the bones, or the relics, of St. Foy. Hannah and Jack Wesley, her husband, an artist, used to spend part of the year in that village. Hannah entered into a relationship, you’d have to say, with St. Foy; that is, St. Foy was a living presence to her. Now, this was a Protestant girl, from Ohio, I think, who was having a sort of Roman Catholic experience.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Initiation into the mysteries.

SAM VAUGHAN: I think you’re right. Actually, her love has no denomination. It’s a total immersion into the life of a little girl who lived a long, long time ago and was a martyr to her faith. And so, Hannah’s written this book which is partly meditation, partly poetry; has, I said, certain novelistic aspects; and, finally, is a love song to the village and the people of the village. The problem — I’ve never faced it before — is, I know how much Hannah resisted editing. Not that I edited THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE, but I was around the publishing house [Doubleday] when it was done; I think Ann Freedgood was the editor. But I know Hannah was very skittish about editing; polite but nervous; and therefore, I don’t feel that I have a free hand. So, what I’ve done is this. There are two people involved with Hannah, out of many who liked or loved her. One is her husband; the other is a writer named Sarah Glasscock, in Texas, and whose first novel I edited [ANNA L.M.N.O.]. I think Hannah sent it to me. So, it’s a love affair all around. I like Jack, and I like Sarah, and I liked Hannah; and vice versa.

Sarah helped Hannah with her book by typing endless drafts or versions, and if anybody on earth knows what Hannah’s intentions were, it’s Sarah. Having the widower and the colleague, or amanuensis, to rely on, I did some work on the manuscript. Then I gave it to a copy editor, named Virginia Avery. I gave her the background of the book and said, “I don’t know how much you or I should be allowed to do. Why don’t you edit a piece of it the way you would any other book? We’ll show it to Sarah; we’ll show it Jack Wesley; and, if they have no problem with it, we’ll go ahead.” And that’s where we are.

Because, on the one hand, I owe it to Hannah not to over-edit her writing. On the other hand, I owe her the duty of getting the best book out of it that we can, which is the task of the editor of any book. Having these other people helping to mediate the whole thing eases me immensely.

Continued in Part II


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