Friday, May 25, 2012

Generally Horrible Questions: Katie Adams

The giant beer is a dead giveaway that this woman
is an editor....
I met Katie a few years ago, when Other Press became a distribution client for Random House (which means that the RH sales force handles the rep duties and our warehouse ships the books) and Katie attended sales conference.  I find the Other Press list of titles and staff invigorating--new voices, fresh perspectives, and a lot of energy make them a joy to represent.  Katie is one of those people who starts talking about the book she's working on and her enthusiasm is contagious; because of this infectious joy I'm willing to overlook that she roots for the Red Sox and has never made me brownies.  She doesn't know that she's supposed to make me brownies, mind you, but why should I have to state my needs so explicitly?  She reads this blog (She's our fan! Possibly the only one remaining!).  She knows I'm not right in the head.  Anyway, in the last year Katie left Other Press to accept a job with Liveright, a newly re-formed division of Norton, but in spite of her abandonment she was still good enough to answer our horrible questions.  She's our first editor....she might have been drunk when she agreed.

Generally Horrible Questions: Katie Adams

1. How’d you become an editor? Tell us your life story.
The long story is a boring one: lifelong reader, naturally bossy, etc. But the crucial lucky break came when I was a senior at Columbia. I was taking a graduate seminar on Dickens, and one of the grad students asked me about my plans after graduation. I murmured vague thoughts about publishing, and she said, “Oh, I used to be an editorial assistant at FSG, give them my name and get an internship there during your final semester.” At the time I’d never even heard of FSG (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, one of the absolute best houses in the business, as I quickly learned), but after a few days of typing out permissions forms for Robert Lowell poems and photocopying Michael Cunningham’s new novel, I was hooked. [For those keeping track, Katie has mentioned Columbia University, graduate seminars, Dickens, FSG, and Robert Lowell.  We love a woman who embraces her nerdiness so openly.]

What book do you point to with pride and think “I worked on that?”
Well, I’ve been so lucky – I’m proud of all the books I’ve had a hand in, whether as an editorial assistant, desk editor, or acquiring editor. But my first real pinch-me moment was probably when Claire Messud wrote a glowing full-page of Mrs. Woolf and the Servants, my first acquisition, in the New York Times. An intellectual endorsement from Messud (a genius) about a book on Virginia Woolf (possibly the greatest English writer since Shakespeare): “an absorbing and complex portrait of Woolf’s particular relation to domestics and domesticity.” Heaven. [Here's the problem--there's too much we like about this statement to mock it.  Virginia Woolf?  LOVE.  Claire Messud?  LOVE (and she has a new novel coming next spring!).  Katie's really short.  We're also starting a rumor that she has six toes on her left foot.  Spread the word.]

What are the best and worst moments in your editorial career?
The absolute worst (so far) was probably when I was an editorial assistant. I sent a deal memo, which contains all of the nitty gritty – and might I add, confidential – details about an author’s book deal, to the wrong person. I meant to send it to the foreign publisher with whom we’d done the deal, but instead I sent it to a fierce literary agent with the same first name, who must have thought she could do even better by the author, because she later picked him up as a client! That was a lay-face-down-on-the-office-floor moment. But really one of the hardest parts of the job is the books that get away, for whatever reason, and then it’s death by a thousand cuts as they come out to rave reviews. ["The books that get away"--is this code for Fifty Shades of Grey?]

Bests, I’ve had a few. Michael Crummey is one of my favorite authors, and when I found out that he hadn’t read Moby Dick (the horror – his latest book features a whale for God’s sake!) I immediately rushed him a copy. Not only did he love it, he wrote a beautiful essay  about reading it. I felt I’d given a little something back to him after his book had given me so much. But there are smaller moments as well. Just last week an author from my last job emailed to say that his daughter had been accepted to her first choice college. I love these personal tidbits I get as the relationship deepens, and I was so thrilled for this proud papa. [Zorro pooped in his litter box for the first time in four years last week!  Send me brownies!]

Any author gossip that you’re willing to reveal? Don’t worry—no one reads this blog.
Ha! If there’s one thing I know about authors, it’s that they find any and every mention of themselves online. [Exactly!  We need the hits from people other than the ones searching Google for free porn!  Tell tales!  Make stuff up.  We certainly do.  Gianna and E.L. James are the same person.]

As a Red Sox fan, describe in detail how much you hate the Yankees. Feel free to rationalize the designated hitter rule for us too; we’re National League fans.
The Yankees are the guy at the bar who hits on you so loudly and so publicly that you can’t tell if he’s actually serious. His ego is performance art. Depending on your answer, he’ll either perform the swaggering jerk that gets the girl, or he’ll perform the impervious couldn’t-care-less reject, but regardless it will be ALL ABOUT HIM. That’s the Yankees. [We were just going to say that they're assholes.]

As an impartial sports fan of New England descent, Astros or Cubs?
I used to empathize with the Cubs, but now I’m kinda mad at Theo Epstein [former Red Sox GM who is now the Cubs GM], plus the Astros no longer suffer under the curse of Roger Clemens, so…Astros. [And Liz's love for Katie lives on....]

What book(s) made you squeal with delight and led you into the dark world of publishing?
The true first would have to be Mickey Mouse’s Picnic, which my sainted mother read to me thousands upon thousands of times. Then it’s a straight line through Where the Red Fern Grows, Mrs. Mike, The Thorn Birds, Persuasion, To the Lighthouse, Bartleby the Scrivener, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Hours, Olive Kitteridge. Or so I say today. [First, Mickey Mouse is the evil overlord that has oppressed the maligned Donald Duck for decades.  Liz is quite serious about this topic.  Curse you for your duck bigotry.  The other books on your list, though, make us happy.]

What are you working on now that has you excited?
Oh so much good stuff. There’s a work of history called For Adam’s Sake, slated for next spring, which reads like Downton Abbey set in 17th century Connecticut. There’s a beautiful, crushing memoir coming next April called My Foreign Cities, about a young couple who, due to illness, have to live their whole marriage in the ten years they know they’ll have together. And a truly fabulous novel called The Last Summer of the Camperdowns about a young girl, a long summer, and a big secret. [Spoiler: she has cooties?] It’s the perfect summer book: “That dear old house. If there is a heaven, I will spend eternity on the back porch, sipping ice tea and eating radish and mayonnaise sandwiches, listening to the birds chirp, watching the mulberries ripen, hearing the waves roll in, reading Sun Tzu when my father is looking; Trixie Belden when he isn’t.” I have the best job in the world. [And cooties.]

You’re married to an editor. Tell the truth: are you better?
It really depends on what you mean by better. I’m definitely more emotional/obsessive about work (and everything), which can drive my authors crazy or make them feel like centers of the universe. But my brilliant husband is utterly unflappable, a crucial piece of the job for which I’m still searching. Also, when we took a sample Wonderlic test (given to college athletes to determine intelligence before they turn pro) my husband scored higher. And he’s also taller. I appreciate this question because it gets at the goal of marriage, which is to determine a winner and a loser. [Exactly.  We're sure you're aware that the Liz and Gianna battle for supremacy rages on.]

Liz or Gianna?
Liz picked Galore as her favorite book of 2011. For that, Liz would also win against either or both of my parents. [Excellent.  And the answer, of course, is always Liz.]

Gilda?  She's a bitch.  How could one NOT choose Zorro?
Liz’s cat Zorro or Gianna’s dog Gilda?
Gilda! Cats are too judgmental. [...You're dead to me (liz).  Unless you send brownies.]

What are your biggest grammatical pet peeves? And what’s your position on the Oxford comma?
Your/you’re. Its/it’s. Two complete sentences joined by “and” but no punctuation. YES to the Oxford comma. Long may it reign. It’s one thing to cast aside these rules in an email, but in your manuscript…for heaven’s sake! [Most of our emails disregard all punctuation and are typed as abbreviations...like "TWSS" for "That's what she said.  Most of our email correspondence is a violation of multiple codes of conduct.  Or involves poop.]

Will you edit Liz and Gianna: A Joint Memoir? We guarantee nudity and violence.
Liveright published this book.
I think it's about a dump
or something.
Only if the book jacket can look like the movie posters for Face/Off. [Absolutely!  GIANNA IS JUST LIKE JOHN TRAVOLTA...or rather, just like his masseur.  She confessed that if Travolta offered her $400, she'd make him a regular client.  She's classy like that.  Also the Face/Off cover would be ideal since we look so much alike.]

Tell us about Liveright, the new line at Norton.
Liveright is the rebirth of one of the great names in publishing. Boni & Liveright (later just Liveright) had a remarkable heyday in the 1920s and 30s. Led by boozy, chorus-girl chasing, literary savant-whisperer Horace Liveright, they published a remarkable array of stars including T.S. Eliot, Anita Loos, Theodore Dreiser, Dorothy Parker, Hart Crane, early Hemingway, early Faulkner etc etc etc. W.W. Norton bought it decades ago and decided to re-launch it this year in order to bring back some of the Liveright classics (books like My Life by Isadora Duncan and The Theater of E.E. Cummings) and to recognize and further draw upon the talents of my amazing boss – a legend in his own right – Bob Weil. [With the Liz and Gianna memoir on the list, you'll be legendary yourself.  What is the record for fastest career-ender for an editor?  Judith Regan with the OJ Simpson book?  We can top that. Gianna's even a boozy, chorus girl.]

Thanks Katie!

(By the way--the best thing about harassing an editor?  All of her answers were spelled properly.  Gianna would never send in a blog post with such polish.)

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